Saturday, May 21, 2011

Star Tours: My Adventure Continues

My adventure continued unexpectedly the other day. After checking my wait times app, I noticed that for Hollywood Studios, Star Tours was registering a time. I asked around at Epcot, and as seemed to be the rule of the week-long vacation I took (to go to the place I work), I got a lousy answer that left me back at where I started. The only way to find out if the ride was indeed open would have to be to check it myself.

Your Starspeeder awaits
So, me and my girlfriend who was visiting headed over to Hollywood Studios from Epcot. (To emphasize how slow those friendship boats are, we missed the one leaving from Epcot, so we went to the bathroom, then walked to the Swan and Dolphin and caught the same boat. But that’s besides the point) We walked into Hollywood Studios, walked over to the area where Star Tours is, and were greeted with a glowing red wait time sign reading “45 minutes.” Hoorah! The new attraction was having its soft opening!

So we got in the queue, and waited. It was boring until we got inside, and were greeted by the new queue. It looked pretty much the same as the old one (at least Disneyland’s old one, I don’t know what the old Hollywood Studios queue looked like), except much shinier, and with that new carpet smell.

Looks are about where the similarities started and ended. The new screen advertising the different destinations Star Tours offered, as well as flight statues, was crisp and gorgeous, advertising all the new destinations available that the adventure is being continued.

IN the second part of the queue, I noticed Rex, the old Star Tours pilot droid voiced by Paul Reubens, sitting in a box labeled “defective,” waiting to be shipped back to the manufacturer. It was one of those touches that makes Disney stand out above the rest.

Move up the queue, and there were silouhettes of different inhabitants of the Star Wars universe walking by, boarding their Starspeeders. Before that, there’s a hilarious little robot performing baggage checks, who talks to the queue about himself, his desires, and the contents of the baggage he’s inspecting. In front of him sits a screen, showing those in the queue the contents of the bags, which includes things like Indiana Jone’s hate, the Incredible’s suits, and many other Disney references, making it wholly entertaining. After that, there’s a droid taking infared shots of people in the queue, adding a slightly interavtive element, like the green-screen at the end of Magic Kingdom’s “Space Mountain.”

Then there’s the actual attraction. Before boarding, a video is show of what’s going on outside your star Starspeeder as it gets ready to take off. Some droids provide a bit of slapstick humor as they try to clean the Starspeeder. Then, C-3PO goes in to fix some problems with something that has to do with binary, replacing the pilot in the pilots seat, and becomes stuck in the cabin. This is when you’re greeted by Aly, voiced by Allison Janney, who tells you the business (don’t take pictures, smoke, yada yada.) You then board your Star Speeder and the Adventure begins.

C-3PO greets you in the queue
First off, there are two options, you either get stopped by Storm Troopers or Darth Vader, both of whom are looking for a Rebel Spy who happens to be on your star speeder. This rebel spy could be you, as a picture is taken of someone in the Starspeeder and used in the ride. This got a good laugh the five times I went on the ride, and is a great way to make each tour through the universe seem unique and personal. Then you take off to a Tatooine, Hoth, Kashyyyk, the Death Star, Naboo or Corsucant leave the planet, get a transmission of either Princess Leia, Yoda or Admiral Ackbar, then take off to one of the aforementioned planets that you haven’t visited yet. The order is always interception, planet, transmission, planet, but different combinations are possible, making there 50-something possibilities, all of which you can log on your Star Tours passport at on your mobile. Take advantage of that. It’s cool, at least to me, but I like to keep everything recorded.

Congratulations! You’ve made it this far. You must really be interested in Star Tours. My thoughts on the ride are: it’s a gigantic improvement on the last Star Tours, which was great for its time, but desperately needed an upgrade. It got one worthy of the Star Wars and Star Tours names. There was a family that rode behind us our second ride, and it was there first time. They went into the ride apprehensive, sighting the aged style of the original, and they came out of it ecstatic. I was also ecstatic that second time because it was completely different than the first. The third-through-fifth times repeated certain aspects, but were never exactly the same. Though I never got a transmission from Yoda, which I was disappointed about.

By the fourth time I went on the attraction in a row, I was also pretty darn nauseous, as was my girlfriend. The combination of 3D and motion simulation gave my head quite a spin. So watch out for that. The new attraction was amaing though, especially since the wait got down to nothing by the end of the night, and I got to go on it before it’s official opening. In the future, I know the ride will be one that’s fun to repeat during a week or so long vacation. Going on it four times in a row, the repeats got a little tired, but over a couple of days, the ride will no doubt stay engaging. It’ll be a great addition to the ride-barren Hollywood Studios, and be just another cherry on top for Disneyland when it opens there in June.  

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Which Attraction Is Better Where? Fantasyland Edition, Part II

Here goes part two, people. I’m just going to jump right into it:

Walt Disney World's Version of Peter Pan's Flight
Dumbo the Flying Elephant: It's the same same ride at both places. Not uncommon. They’re differences between to two, though. Much like “Snow White’s Scary Adventure,” the Walt Disney World version will cease to exist when the new Fantasyland opens, at least in its current form. A new Dumbo, with two different sections of flying elephants, doubling the capacity, and a first-of-its-kind deli-ticket style line will open as part of the new Fantasyland. As it stands, the Disneyland version has superior theming, with the ride doubling as a water feature, taking off over a fountain of sorts, while the Disney World version takes off over a drab, cement slab.

Disneyland's Version of Peter Pan's flight. It's prettier
Peter Pan’s Flight: It’s a little repetitive, but the attractions are almost identical. The biggest difference is that the Walt Disney World version has a Fastpass option, which is both a good and bad thing. It’s a good thing if you have the a Fastpass, and bad thing if you decide to wait in stand-by. The Fastpass options can make the stand-by queue up to an hour longer, as a friend of mine who works the attraction has reported. So in terms of equality, the Disneyland version bests its Florida counterpart. Also, the theming of Disneyland’s Fantasyland is much more detailed and much less circus-like, so the Disneyland version has a more attractive facade.

it’s a small world: To the untrained eye, these two attractions can seem very similar on the inside as well. Anyone that can see can tell that Disneyland’s version has the superior facade, so large and triumphant that “The Magic, The Memories and You!” are projected onto it. Also, the cukoo-clock aspect of the whole shindig is great, and during Christmas, the projection show that takes place on it is fantastic. Then you go inside, and you’ll notice that Disneyland’s version is much more throughly themed, with less visible wires, better hidden ceilings, and what seems to be a more routine maintenance schedule. For some reason, the World version just seems cheap compared to its the original attraction in California.

Disneyland also has the Storybook Cruises, Casey Jr., Mr Toad’s Wild Ride and the Matterhorn, which at the moment makes it a far superior land. We’ll see how it compares to the new Fantasyland expansion in Walt Disney World, which will ad a re-themed Goofy’s Barn Stormer, a Beauty and the Beast themed restaurant, Ariel’s Undersea Adventure dark ride, Gaston’s Pub, and the aforementioned larger Dumbo and Seven Dwarves Mine Train. My sentiments are it’ll make it almost, but not exactly up to par with the original in California.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Which Attraction Is Better Where? Fantasyland Edition, Part I

Now that I’ve examined Tomorrowland, I figured I’d discuss its adjacent land: Fantasyland.

It may seem that the two Fantasylands are similar, but that’s not the case. It’s my opinion that the duplicate lands at Disneyland and Walt Disney World are more different than any other twin lands. This will be even more apparent when the new Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland Expansion opens in 2012, and the Florida version will almost stand a chance against it’s Anaheim counterpart.

I’ll start from East to West, which means:

Disneyland's Mad Tea Party 
The Mad Tea Party: The attractions themselves are similar. There are few ways you can vary on the concept of spinning tea cups. Where the rides differ, as with most other things in Disneyland and Walt Disney World, is the theming. And as is common, it’s weaker theming in the World. Over in Disneyland, the Mad Tea Party has it’s own little Alice in Wonderland area, with it’s sister dark ride sitting next to it. It also sits uncovered, with sightly vines and lanterns that hang overhead to form a canopy. At the World, the old bricks and Alice topiaries are a nice touch, but as it's under an unattractive old roof (which I know is necessary due to Florida weather) takes away the appeal. Also, the sort of island it creates makes it feel it’s obligated to be at Walt Disney World because of its popular counterpart at Disneyland, not because they had a place that it fit right into.

Walt Disney World's Mad Tea Party
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: The attractions themselves are almost identical, although in different areas of the parks, Disneyland’s in Critter Country and Walt Disney World’s in Fantasyland. What separates these two dark rides is the queue. At Disneyland, it’s just a queue, and one that is rarely full, while in Florida, it’s a new, revamped interactive queue, complete with Winnie the Pooh’s house (or Mr. Sanderz), touch-screen honey ooze, playground, and a number of other fun, interactive elements. It even has a Fastpass... on the opposite side of Fantasyland. It needs it, as the line often reaches 40 minutes to an hour, which could in part be because of the Fastpass.

Snow White’s Scary Adventure: These two dark rides also share very little variation, for now at least. Once the new Fantasyland expansion happens at The Magic Kingdom, they will share one huge difference: one will exist and the other will be but a memory, replaced with a hall to visit the princesses. In its place will be the thrilling Seven Dwarves Mine Train, a new age roller coaster experience. But it will still hurt; a classic attraction axed so a litter of princesses can be meet and greet with a specific audience, one much less general than the audience the classic dark ride appeals to. So I guess that makes the one at Disneyland the superior of the two, since it will exist next year.

Part II, with the rest of the Fantasyland attractions compared and contrasted, is coming soon! I didn't want to shock everyone out of reading the article with it's 1000+ word count, so I split it up. Yay!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Which Attraction Is Better Where? Tomorrowland Edition

Walt Disney World would not be here if it were not for the “Happiest Place on Earth,” Disneyland. The two parks share many attractions, amongst other things.

Disneyland's Tomorrowland Hub Signage
Often, when attractions are on both coasts, there are slight differences, and those variations are usually big enough to make a certain attraction better than another. Sometimes, the attractions are almost identical, which is, to me, ideal. Being on a ride on one side of the country and knowing for certain that the grass is greener on the other side can make the experience that much less exciting.

So I’ve decided to make a list of sorts, naming of the attractions that exist at both resorts, citing which ones are better, worse, or the same.

Today, I’ll go through Tomorrowland. In the future I’ll do an entry on the other duplicate attractions, not specificaly in any order. Tomorrowland just has the most cross overs.

Walt Disney World's Tomorrowland Hub Signage
Space Mountain: Disneyland is by far the better mountain of the two. With it’s refurbishment taking much longer and having been much more extensive, the California version of this attraction is smoother, darker, and all around more fun. The new sound system installed on its Florida counterpart is a sad attempt at an “improvement,” and with the Disneyland version having speakers inside the “rockets,” Magic Kingdom’s Space Mountain just seems cheap.

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin/Astro Blasters: The scenes and almost everything else are the same at both parks, except one small difference: the guns and how they are mounted. In Disneyland, they are attached to a long cord, while at the Magic Kingdom they are mounted onto the ride vehicle. For me, this difference means I can get a much higher score in California because there is more freedom of motion, so for that the decision goes to Disneyland as the superior version.

Autopia/Tomorrowland Speedway: Tomorrowland Speedway seems like a copout. It’s just pavement and some speakers that make it sound like you’re on a raceway. There’s nothing to look at except the other drivers who you’re racing at a whopping five-miles-an-hour. The theming is nonexistent. So, again, the Disneyland version is better. It’s got more foliage and just a more exciting track in general. They both need some sort of update, though.

Astro Orbiter: This one goes to Disney World. Disneyland’s is on the ground, at the front of Tomorrowland, whereas Disney World’s is on elevated above the platform to board the People Mover in the center of Tomorrowland, providing a great view of Cinderella’s castle, the Contemporary resort, and the rest of Tomorrowland. How many version of Dumbo do we need? (three, apparently).

The People Mover: This one os more of a rhetorical question. Obviously, Disney World’s version is better, because it still exists, and for that I am grateful. Disneyland’s version of the ride went down years ago, and now the track just sits there, vacant.  Something needs to be done!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Port Orleans: It's Huge

I've been down here in Orlando, living the Walt Disney World life for a couple of months now. I've done just about everything I can do, with the exception of The American Idol Experience, because I'm a male and I'm not under the age of 15.

Oh. I also haven't gone to all the resorts at the Walt Disney World...Resort. There's a lot of them, and let's be honest for a second (all that other stuff I've written is a lie. This second, right here, this is going to be the truth second, so you better read what I intend you to read in the allotted time. Or your lollygagging will turn my truth into more lies. Lies!), making the choice between Rock N' Roller Coaster, even for the 42 time, or walking around a resort you'll never be able to afford to stay in, Rock 'N' Roller coaster seems like the clear winner.

It isn't always though. This time I went to Epcot first. Food! I got a bratwurst at Somerfest. Then I hopped on a bus and headed over to the Port Orleans resort, getting off at the first stop at the French Quarter, not knowing the marathon I was getting myself into. The place has like eight bus stops. Besides the Aligator Bayou, anything less would have been too small.

Some background: when I was a senior in high school, on spring break I did a service trip to Nawleans, touring the city and fixing up some houses. I apologize to the people's houses I wrecked with some cut rate dry-walling, and I thank the city of New Orleans for being so amazing. I fell in love with the wounded city, and I was looking forward to seeing how Disney captured its essence in resort form. It's already done a great job in land form with New Orleans square, which kicks Liberty Square in the pants, if you were wondering.

My first stop was the French Quarter. I enjoyed it immensely. It helps that Florida has the same, heavy weather that New Orleans and its swamps have, getting you in the right state of mind. They did a great job making the walkways feel like streets, and the buildings feel like crammed apartments. The water features were a sparkling touch. The pool, with its serpent, was a prime example of good theming, and the alligators surrounding it with their jazz instruments were a nice touch. Not as cool as the Polynesian's volcano, but it fit the resort well.

Then I took the pontoon over to Riverside, the grand daddy section of the resort. It had a magnificent lobby, retail store and quick service restaurant, with a mill theme. Then, like aforementioned, there was the Alligator Bayou. The flora and fauna were great, but the buildings were just buildings.

Later, I got to the sections themed after southern mansions, forgetting about all the sub-par stuff that preceded them. I've always loved southern mansions, with their grand stair cases, pillars, sprawling front yards, and weeping willows. Mostly this is due to my love of the film Forrest Gump. The pool was alright, not the best I've seen, but it also went well with the theme.

After the hike around the Port Orleans campus, I was a wee bit bummed that if I ever were to stay there, it would be a long while, and that it'd probably be just as long before I get to visit the Big Easy itself. But for now, the resort, and the square in Disneyland will have to do.