Liberty Belle Riverboat Refurbishment Deals Blow to WDW49 Challenge

Early this year, the Liberty Belle Riverboat went under refurbishment, putting successful attempts at the Parkeology WDW47 Challenge on hold. With the opening of Toy Story Land last weekend and the dawn of the WDW49 version of the challenge, many of us have been anxiously awaiting the Riverboat’s return on July 20th.

Unfortunately this morning, Disney dealt the WDW49 Challenge a major blow by extending the Liberty Belle Riverboat refurbishment through August.

Through no fault of anyone, the challenge instantly became an autofail situation for 38 teams that had signed up for the challenge. Many teams have been planning for months. Tickets were purchased. Hotel bookings made. FastPass reservations set. And just like that, the rug has been pulled out from under us all.

We’ve heard from many of you already asking if there’s anything that can be done. Here are our thoughts.

Why It’s Heartbreaking

We are highly sympathetic to the teams that registered. We’ve been here ourselves. In the very first attempt at WDW47 in 2013, heavy rain shut down AstroOrbiter and Tomorrowland Speedway. We proved that completing the challenge was possible — even rode 3 duplicate rides — but did not actually reach the finish line on that first attempt.

A year later, we decided to make another run. We analyzed the park hours, picked a date, made hotel reservations, booked Ted’s flight from Chicago. We were all set to go.

Mere weeks before the date, Disney dropped a refurbishment onto the calendar (I think it was the Walt Disney World Railroad). Just like that, our plans went up in smoke. We had to postpone for a month, after which we became the first team to complete the challenge and kickstarted the Official WDW49 Challenge that we track here today.

When it comes to theme park operations, fate can be cruel. There are factors entirely out of our control. Not only did thunderstorms shut down the last 2 rides we needed in 2013, but operational issues in the new Frozen ride kept us one ride short of success in 2016. In 2015, Rock n Roller Coaster broke down the day before our run. They didn’t deliver the part it needed until several days later. Later that year, several teams showed up to perfect weather, low crowds, and dream hours, only to find some Disney Channel star recording a Christmas special in the middle of Main Street, canceling the Main Street Vehicles for the day. On another attempt, a father/son team was left standing in line for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train when the ride closed unexpectedly right before park closing. They missed by one ride.

It does not get any worse than standing in a line for a broken-down ride at the end of a grueling 17 hour day, knowing that if not for fate, a clip-art trophy on a niche website would be yours.

Why the Challenge Will Remain WDW49

As we’ve always stated on our official rules page, all rides must be operational and duplicate rides don’t count. The challenge is all or nothing. That’s why we don’t care about ride count. We may call the challenge WDW46 or WDW49, but you still need to complete 100%. The variables may change. Disney adds express bus transportation or they close a 40-minute long Epcot traveling theater or they open Slinky Dog coasters. The challenge remains the same.

One day. Every ride.

There have been several suggestions posted on Twitter, Facebook, and email such as:

  • Begin a separately branded version of the challenge to ride every open ride
  • Ride a duplicate ride in place of the Riverboat
  • Call the challenge WDW48 until the Riverboat refurbishment is complete.

There are many arguments in support of these ideas. Over the years, we’ve thought long and hard about this. We hate that people’s plans get thrown into turmoil. We have become good friends with many of former and future challengers who are just as obsessed with this thing as we are. The last thing we want is to see them disappointed.

But part of the challenge — in fact, the best part — is dealing with all the hidden variables. The Riverboat is a great example of this. It’s not at all like most rides. Here is a ride that runs for limited hours during the day, usually in an 8-hour window. It’s 20-minutes long, far longer than most rides. It’s the only ride that runs on a consistent schedule — top and bottom of the hour. Unique rides like this are part of what makes the challenge so great. To simply omit the ride because it is temporarily closed removes the appeal.

We can’t justify changing the rules when past teams have already dealt with this unique ride and future teams will still have to do so.

We’d have to make an exception for every other ride that goes into refurbishment. What about that time earlier this year when massively popular Flight of Passage and Navi River Journey both closed unexpectedly for several days? Or when concrete work occasionally shuts down the Main Street Vehicles? We just can’t see how it would keep the challenge pure.

The Solution

There’s actually a solution to all this that might seem breathtakingly easy.

If anyone is disappointed, if they’ve already planned the trip, if they were really, really, really looking forward to their attempt…

Just run it.

What’s the worst that could happen? You’ll spend all day at Disney World, riding tons of rides, experiencing the parks like never before. If you want to, you can even tweet out your progress as per the rules of the challenge and experience the thrill of having hundreds of strangers on the internet cheering you on. You’ll feel all the same highs and lows. You’ll call an audible on a ride and score a great pickup. Some ride will break down right when you need it. That impossible FastPass will magically appear on the app. The Main Street Vehicles will openly taunt you.

At the end of the day, if you’ve ridden all 48 open rides with a half hour leftover for an imaginary Riverboat trip, wouldn’t that feel great? Isn’t that a story you could tell all your friends?

Here’s what you would miss out on: A clip-art trophy next to your name on our website.

People sometimes ask why we even bother to track the autofail attempts. This is the reason why. It’s cliche, but we truly believe that running the Parkeology WDW49 Challenge is more about the journey than the destination. Not everybody can plan their life around the perfect challenge date. Not everybody has the physical stamina to actually power through brutal heat across marathon-like distances, experiencing every twisting, turning, stomach-churning thrill ride in Walt Disney World. It’s about testing yourself, solving problems, spending time with your teammates if you have any or enjoying the solitary pursuit of a solo run.

One stat that might surprise you…

Even though we’ve had several teams do official runs during autofail conditions over the years, not a single team has ever managed to ride even all the open rides on those days. It has never happened. The challenge is that difficult.

So you can wait until September and hope that Disney doesn’t extend the Riverboat refurbishment again. Or you could run. We can track you on our board if you like, or you can just do it quietly for yourself.

It just might be worth it.

 

Shane was raised on a steady diet of EPCOT Center and Kenner action figures. Parkeology is the happy result. He is the creator along with his friend Ted of the WDW47 Challenge and the WDW49 Challenge — featured by such media giants as CNN, ABC, FoxNews, and the in-flight magazine for Norwegian Air. With his brother Tristan, Shane is the author of the adventure fantasy novels Arabian Heist and Johnny Shipwreck. He currently resides in the Swiss Family Treehouse.

8 thoughts on “Liberty Belle Riverboat Refurbishment Deals Blow to WDW49 Challenge

  1. I’m actually relieved about this news because it told me that I did not miss anything. After you did your post about the opening of Toy Story Land, I thought that I should rush to do the challenge before it opened and added two more rides. Life got in the way and I was kicking myself because June 30th came and went. But now you are saying that I could not have done it in the past month anyway because the river boat has not been operational? Obviously I did not start serious planning because I did not know that it was closed. So now I don’t have to feel bad!

    • Yes, it’s unfortunate. And only last week another refurb popped up for the Prince Charming Carousel. Aargh!

  2. I will always love the concept but personally, I find the inclusion of things like the riverboat silly in the first place. It’s not a theme park ride. It’s traveling on an old boat. With more real rides coming soon from star wars and in the years beyond. I feel it might be time to call a ride a ride, so that this challenge can continue for decades to come.

    It’s time to lose the following,
    Main Street Vehicles
    Walt Disney World Railroad (More debatable than the others)
    Rafts to Tom Sawyer Island
    Liberty Belle Riverboat
    Wildlife Express

    By your own wording on the side regarding things like the monorail,
    These are transportation methods, not attractions.

    At the VERY VERY least, by your transportation method and not an attraction rule.
    Shouldn’t we lose the Rafts to the island and Wildlife Express?

    • I think all of those are true attractions as opposed to the monorail, which exists outside the park. I think all of them are actually critical to making the challenge enjoyable, simply because they operate differently than a normal ride like Space Mountain. Limited hours, multiple stops, schedules, etc. In fact, I could argue that taking the MSV out of the challenge actually makes it easy to complete, because teams aren’t forced to go to MK in the morning.

      I also believe Star Wars, Ratatouille, Tron, Guardians, etc. will not doom the challenge. Disney is likely to close other old rides before those open and the challenge will morph again!

  3. I appreciate all the thought you’ve put into the “One Day, Every Ride” concept and regulations. It’s hard not to think that with the addition of Pandora and Toy Story Land, that the challenge will no longer be possible– especially with Star Wars Land on the horizon as well. I am usually an optimist, and nearly fainted with amazement the first time you two completed the challenge, but with only so many Fastpasses and increasing number of hoops to jump through, the WDW challenge might be going the way of the Backlot Tour. Toy Story Land will not always be the crowded sardine can it currently is, but it turns a park that used to be fairly quick to cross off the list into an unavoidable battlefield.

    Still want my ride vehicle t-shirt though! Can you sell it if you remove the Donald Duck image?

    • Speaking of the back lot tour multiple long form rides (back lot, great movie ride, universe of energy) have been removed from the challenge so I believe that with the right hours even with Galaxy’s Edge the challenge could still be possible as I think the actual ride time has decreased.

      • Scott, we tend to agree. There’s definitely been enough changes over the years to make things easier, even as new rides make it harder. For all we know, Disney will close the Riverboat for good.

    • The good news is that Toy Story Land is not catching on like Pandora. Apparently the public can tell the difference between off-the-shelf Six Flags rides and massively themed experiential lands.

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