Apr. 23rd, 2017

mmcirvin: (Default)
Three and a half years ago we went to Walt Disney World for what was, for me, the first time. Over the past week we went back, and I got to ride some of the stuff I didn't last time (and some I did), including most of the park's best-known roller coasters. This was particularly fun for me because i've been hearing about some of this stuff ever since I was a little kid.

If there was an overarching theme to the ones that were new to me, it was darkness. Disney's people really like to use low light or even total darkness to kick something up a notch. Here's somebody's nice video of maybe the most famous coaster at Disney World, 1975's Space Mountain, which is inside a weirdly stylized conical building in the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland:

It's actually much darker in there than that low-light video implies; even the "space station" diorama you see going up the lift hill is suspended in dim murk, and the ride proper is in near-total darkness. With the lights on, you can see that it's a not-very-extreme coaster with a layout inspired by Disneyland's Matterhorn Bobsleds. There are actually two mirror-image copies of the coaster inside the conical ride building. The ride's not very fast, the drops are pretty small, and most of the thrill comes from the rather jerky turns and dips and the fact that you can't see them to ride defensively. It feels as if you are hurtling by mysterious means through a black void.

But then there's the presentation. The queue and loading station are themed like some sort of interplanetary spaceport, and the beginning and end of the ride involve passage through tunnels of pulsing blue and red light with throbbing sound effects. There are also more subdued light and sound effects inside the mountain while you're riding. There are even a few futuristic dioramas to look at while you're walking through the tunnel back to Tomorrowland after getting off the ride. The extras all make the little ride seem much more epic, kind of like the transformation of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree.

If I have a complaint, it's that the cars feel kind of cramped even for a guy my size. The current cars have three seats in single file, and if you've got long legs you kind of fold yourself in. (Apparently they used to have two seats each of which could hold two people, one sitting on the other's lap! This design probably made more sense in the context of Matterhorn Bobsleds.)

Most people seem to think the one at Disneyland, which was built slightly later (and extensively refurbished not long ago), is a better ride: it's a single, higher-capacity coaster with, apparently, more comfortable cars. I haven't ridden that one. Recently it was given a Star Wars-themed makeover that turned it into "Hyperspace Mountain"; that hasn't been done to the original in Orlando.
mmcirvin: (Default)
You know, the song "Dude Looks Like A Lady" has really not aged well.

That aside, the now-quaintly-dated "Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith" at Hollywood Studios is a lot of fun, and is also easily the most intense roller coaster at Walt Disney World, which is to say that the ride itself would be a respectable though certainly not record-breaking ride at, say, Hersheypark or a Six Flags. It's also another dark coaster, which makes it in some sense a descendant of Space Mountain.

The coaster's a Vekoma custom ride with three inversions; it begins with a powerful, high-speed launch into a twisty double inversion element, and there's a third corkscrew roll toward the end. It is actually not quite as fast as Test Track, but it's obviously a much more intense ride. There are over-the-shoulder restraints. I didn't find it untowardly uncomfortable or rough; it's forceful, but Space Mountain jerked me around more. The promotion for the ride plays up the 4 and a half gees you pull going into the first inversion, but that's pretty normal for this kind of ride. As usual, Coasterforce's East Coaster General has ridden it:

As with most other Disney coasters, much of the fun is in the theming. The building has a big photogenic weenie in front, a gigantic Fender Stratocaster whose strings transform into an overhead track bearing an upside-down car. The queue is a fake recording studio, and there's a scene in which Aerosmith and their "manager" (Illeana Douglas) appear in a video, and grant you backstage passes to a concert that you have to get to in an unreasonably short time. The ride's conceit is that you're rushing through the night in a stretch limo along the freeways of Los Angeles, which apparently go upside down for some unexplained reason.

So the ride is in a dark enclosure and there are old-fashioned, fluorescent-painted flats in there representing road signs and the Hollywood sign and such--all very cartoony once the ride starts, but that's part of the charm. The trains all have onboard audio playing different Aerosmith songs, of which I unfortunately drew the aforementioned transphobic anthem "Dude Looks Like A Lady."

Another dark ride from the same late-90s era is "Dinosaur" at Animal Kingdom. This was one of the first rides I rode on my trip, right after Expedition Everest (which I described a few years ago--it hasn't changed since then; the yeti's still broken but it's still a solid ride anyway).

But I hadn't ridden Dinosaur before. The name seems to have been changed from "Countdown to Extinction" as a tenuous tie-in with the nearly unrelated, largely forgotten Disney movie "Dinosaur". But the ride's actual plot is basically "how much can we rip off Jurassic Park without having the license at all?" Instead of a theme park with genetically engineered dinosaurs, there's a service associated with the "Dinosaur Institute" offering tours in a time-traveling car that takes you to the Cretaceous Era. ("How? That is proprietary," says the director, played by none other than Phylicia Rashad in the pre-show video.)

But an overweening scientist named "Dr. Grant Seeker", who is totally not a knockoff of the Wayne Knight character from Jurassic Park, then appears and wants to divert you to a time period mere seconds before the meteor impact that wiped out the dinosaurs, so you can pick up a specific Iguanodon he is interested in, who I guess is supposed to be the one from "Dinosaur", and this makes no sense but roll with it. Here's a pretty good low-light video of what follows:

 The ride itself is apparently a redressed duplicate of the ride system from the Disneyland Indiana Jones ride, which I have not had the pleasure of riding. It's fairly ingenious, basically a motion simulator bed that can move on rails while bouncing around to simulate a Jeep moving over rough terrain. There's a strange "time travel chamber" sequence that looks like you're being baked in an oven, then the vehicle darts and jolts rapidly through a dark environment full of noisy, menacing animatronic dinosaurs, an onboard computer voice identifies their species, and Dr. Seeker's voice shouts repeatedly that they're still not the one he wants. Finally you start dodging meteors, the Big One is about to hit, and there's a race against time to get back to the present; a giant Carnotaur lunges at you and you go into a small drop while Dr. Seeker yells "They're not gonna make it! They're not gonna make it!" He's kind of irritating, but I have to hand it to them, the storytelling during the ride proper is as simple, stark and clear as is possible. On a relatively fast action ride like this it can't be too complex.

A thing I noticed about this ride is that because it has a pretty low height limit, parents were taking fairly young kids on it, and it's actually kind of a scary ride, far spookier than, say, the Haunted Mansion. Much of the scariness comes from the combination of loud noises and rapid motions in the dark, more than from the dinosaur animatronics themselves, though they're fairly well-done. Anyway, there was a little girl sitting behind me who was utterly petrified by the ride and spent the whole time crying. Parents might want to pre-screen it via YouTube if nothing else.

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