Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The five best rides at Walt Disney World

When the print division of my Cat Plaza media empire folded, I decided to continue the Cat Plaza journalism tradition as best as possible online. This December, I spent seven days at WDW in Orlando, Florida. While there, as usual, I became interested in the history, politics, and operations of Walt Disney World, which, in my opinion, is the North American tourist destination. I would have included this article in the next zine, but instead, it is presented here for your study and comment.

I will examine each of the five rides through a particular lens. These lenses can be used on really anything in the World. Click through for the list.

5. Saccharine Overload: it's a small world
Disney's imagineers built it's a small world for the 1964 World's Fair in New York. A success, they transported it to Disneyland in Anaheim, where it continues to operate. The Magic Kingdom unveiled its own version in 1971.

Over 300 dolls from around the world dance in various formations repeating the cloyingly sweet theme song. Boats move slowly through the sets, and riders are bombarded by the tune for what seems like forever. What makes it's a small world (use of the lower-case theirs) so powerful is its ability to utterly crush you with its sweetness. The song lodges itself in your skull, bounces around for hours or until you fall asleep as dolls parade on the backs of your eyelids. It's a visually-stunning and some say racist portrayal of the world's children that leaves passengers in a Manchurian Candidate-like trance. No ride in the World forces you to succumb like that. Get out of line at Dumbo and convince your kids that they can do better. They're just going to fly around at the top anyway.

4. Onboard Soundtrack: Dinosaur
Dinosaur, nestled in the Dinoland USA portion of Disney's Animal Kingdom, takes riders on a journey back into time to save the Iguanadon from extinction. Of course, stuff goes wrong, and your time rover might not make it back. Holy Moley, the audioanimatronic carnivores are scary too!

Dinosaur really succeeds because of its onboard soundtrack. The clear voices and music amplify the drama happening outside your car and provide a clear plot that anyone can follow. Other rides around the World employ onboard soundtracks (Test Track, Spaceship Earth), but none do it as well. So much else about the ride rocks too. You can imagine my dismay (and pleasure) at there being no lines during much of our trip. Will Dinosaur survive purgings at Animal Kingdom? Or will it go extinct like the dinosaurs inside? Well, that paragraph ended nicely.

3. Line Management: Mission: SPACE
Mission: SPACE took the place of Horizons at EPCOT in 2003. Walt Disney---and now that he's died, the rich men who (kind of, I mean, how would Walt really feel about EPCOT?) carry on his legacy---was fascinated by space exploration. Is Mission: SPACE the logical conclusion of this yearning to meet aliens, to introduce their piddly minds to the glory of Mickey Mouse? Let's hope so, as there are a jillion better issues to explore and spend $$$ on, and besides, EPCOT's been compromised enough.

All criticism aside, Mission: SPACE is a great experiment in line management and a great ride. When you queue, a cast member asks if you'd prefer to join the orange or green team. The green team---God bless them---don't ride Mission: SPACE as its intended to be ridden. They never spin (which is the whole point of the ride), and thus, they don't feel the g-forces, space-like pressure, the thrill.

It seems like all people talk about when they're in that area of the park is whether or not they're cut out for the orange team. Wimps defect to the green team constantly. Even I get nervous, and I'm a real coaster enthusiast. There are warnings, barf bags, mechanisms for coping with the stress (don't look sideways or eat an hour beforehand). Mission: SPACE's line is almost as entertaining as the ride itself, and that's impressive since the ride is a treat. It made me cry, and I only cry during The West Wing.

2. Infrastructure: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
When Walt Disney purchased the nearly 30k acres which comprise WDW in 1965, he used dummy corporations to keep land speculation down. Then, he essentially built the Magic Kingdom on stilts because the land is swampland. Man-made lakes, canals, trees,'s all there at WDW. Civil engineering heaven.

Anyway, I'm not sure if this counts as infrastructure, but the Tower of Terror is housed inside the skeleton of a hotel at one end of the Disney's Hollywood Studios. You can see the brown facade from points all around WDW. They could have built one of these, but of course, the imagineers wanted more. Disney goes to great lengths to make rides that are not only thrilling, but aesthetically pleasing and thematically coherent/ interesting.

1. Darkness: Space Mountain
Space Mountain is WDW's finest ride, and I'm not just saying that because I'm biased by C. A pair of rollercoasters housed inside a 183 foot tall white 'mountain,' Space Mountain's been in operation since 1975. Not without improvements, of course. Seriously, how dope is that structure?

The ride fails without its conceit: darkness. Without darkness, Space Mountain is nothing. Its rockets max out at 28 MPH, but in total darkness, they seem to speed. The turns are jarring. The dips are thrilling. Fortunately, Disney hasn't cut all of the retro-futuristic charms: the spacemen by the lift, the holograms in line, the projected novas on the ceiling. I'd prefer a return to the cheesy 70s orange motif, but you can't win 'em all. I don't love the renovation either.

Space Mountain is a milestone for young riders just tall enough, a Fastpass necessity, and a beacon in what is perhaps the Magic Kingdom's most interesting land. Don't reach out too far or you'll need to consult with Captain Hook.

1 comment:

izza said...

Thanks for giving out these best rides at Walt Disney! I'll gonna include this on our Disney getaway! baby strollers