Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Toy Story Stringy Pull

Since Jim Dandy asked, I thought I should deliver. One of the hot, new attractions at DisneyWorld's Disney Hollywood Studios is Toy Story Mania. Let's explore at length:

By hot, I mean you cannot see the end of the line. No joke - at 15 minutes after a 9am park opening one fine day, the wait time for this thing was over 1 hour. Fastpasses were being distributed for a Noon return. The wait time to even get a Fastpass was close to 15 minutes.

The line to get in (called the Stand-by Line in Disney parlance these days) was mostly populated by the usual assortment of fanatics - their bodies and electric scooters dripping with Disney merchandise. The minority of line dwellers appeared to be zombie parents - always betrayed by their bewildered stare that cries out 'I have no memory of coming here...'. And there was the usual assortment of little kids - fidgeting, screaming, comatose, perched on weary parental shoulders, sucking on breakfast candy - all in some manner of 60-minute stasis to be rewarded with 6 minutes of high-tech interactive entertainment.

One elderly gent I befriended in the Fastpass Distribution line confided he was only there to enable his wife's addiction. She had somehow ended up near the front of the Stand-by Line for an early go-round with Buzz, Woody, and friends. She was already back in line for another shot while her devoted husband awaited his Fastpass for a 3rd ride later in the day. He looked a little hollow-eyed to me, but proud of their 'system' nonetheless.

Since waiting in line for an hour was not going to happen, we elected to do the Fastpass thing and return later. In all, we experienced this attraction twice during our Christmastime visit. So would it measure up to waiting in line for an hour or more?

Theming: It's Disney. You are in Andy's room and you are toy-sized. The immersiveness, the colours, and the attention-to-detail are the hallmarks of a Disney attraction.

Queuing: It's Disney. You stand in line for awhile, you look at lots of interesting stuff, and soon you're sure you're near the front of the line. Then you realize you're not as the line snakes around another corner and the process begins anew. Like I said, it's Disney.

Highlights: In the queue you'll be entertained by an audio-animatronic Mr. Potatohead. He moves, he tells jokes, he seems to talk to the audience - all very, very well-done. The various shooting-gallery stages of the ride, itself, are very well animated and cleverly funny.

Lowlights: It's just a series shooting galleries displayed (in 3D) on large screens. Your ride car takes you from gallery to gallery, and these transitions 'break the magic' by giving riders too much of a glimpse into the ride mechanisms. For all the theming in the queue and loading areas, it's mostly lost inside the ride, itself. As well, the 3D effects are minimal since everything is happening so quickly at each stage.

Overall: It's a fun ride. You ride around in little vehicles, you wear 3D glasses, you score points by shooting Toy Story cartoony things with a string-pull gun/canon device. While it may be one of the most technologically expensive attractions at DisneyWorld (something like $80 million to design and build), it really doesn't break any new ground from a entertainment perspective. It's simply a virtualized take on the traditional shooting gallery game. I suspect that the degree-of-difficulty was in designing something that could provide a fun experience while moving tourist bodies through a continuously loading ride platform. In short - it's not worth a long wait.

And now - pictures!

Outside theming in Pixar Place. Everyone loves monkeys.

Ride entrance. Notice the Stand-by Wait (click to enlarge).

Queue theming.

Nice detail on a giant videogame package.

More queuing.

I had one of these.

Big-ass Candyland box.

Contemplating the ceiling.

Entertaining spud-man.

Going upstairs. Must be getting close.

Ride queue overlook area. Definitely getting closer.

I see the loading area!

Down we go - ever closer to 6 minutes of fun.

Yes! That's it! We're next!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Old Tech Lazy-Ass Me

Okay, so I didn't post new pics in a day or two like I said I would. Other than a few Twitter and Facebook updates, I didn't post anything else here while I was away.

Wanna know why?

Number 1 - I found out how lazy I can be. Schleping through central Florida all day long takes it toll on my 47 year-old frame, it seems. Writing something longer than 140-ish characters just felt like work.

Number 2 - Mid-week I switched to an old CF-format camera for still photos. The pics are nice, but the laptop we took along don't know from CF cards. They're made of birchbark or something.

But I will post some Florida stuff here over the next few days. That's a promise.

Just a taste (for Jim Dandy) - The new TTA spiel sucks donkey ass (yeah, I went there). It's bland - like Disney Channel bland. The voice talent is as generically-exciting as oatmeal without the Bailey's. There is no "paging Mr. Tom Morrow". There's nothing but a fucking advertisement for Tomorrowland without any attempt at entertainment.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Story So Far...

I'm alive. The flight was uneventful if you discount my Drama Queen aisle-mate and her 4 kids. I know her life story and it's been a hard-knock one at that. Otherwise, it was the typical trip into MCO and onto Disney in a crappy domestic rental car.

The first few nights were at the The Swan and we've moved to the Yacht Club for the remainder of the week. The weather is cool-ish, but just fine by me. We've had a bit of rain, but mostly sun so far.The crowds have been uneven - sometimes lots of people, sometimes not so much.

Some highlights so far: Backstage tour of the steam train operations at the Magic Kingdom, lunch at the Teppen Edo (Epcot) where a Japanese dude throws knives in frontof your face while he cooks your meal, after hours Christmas party at the Magic Kingdom, and riding lots of rides.

And some lowlights: rental scooters and wheelchairs for the morbidly obese and the ambulatory unethical - all for the chance to queue-jump where possble, people lining up for turkey legs (see previous), and NASCAR ('nuff said).

And now, pictures.

Main Street (Magic Kingdom) before opening.

The Roy O. Disney in the roundhouse.

Dee and The Boy doing the Astro Orbit.

A lonely Snow Speeder.

Christmas Castle.

Yacht Club dock.

View from The Swan towards The Dolphin.

Tom Sawyer's Island at the Magic Kingdom.

There's the fix of pics for now (requests will be considered). Tonight we're back to Disney Hollywood Studios for Fantasmic. Tomorrow we're going to stow away on th Shuttle out on the coast. Wish me luck.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Merry Sithmas to All

With any luck, this time tomorrow will see me comatose in the fluffy bosom of DisneyWorld. Between now and then lies a midday drive to Detroit, a dinner-time flight to Orlando, and a short negotiation from MCO to Disney through the predictable mid-Florida drizzle.

I'm really and truly hoping to put up a few blogposts over the next week - and I'll be sharing a few photos along the way. I'm kind of excited about this (assuming I have the stamina). In addition to the usual DisneyWorld stuff, we have a few special things planned: helping get the Magic Kingdom steam trains running before park opening, celebrating Christmas at an after-hours Disney party, checking out the Space Shuttle, and a few other surprises.

But I'm a cautious fellow, too. Some might even call me pessimistic. So in case the whole 'blogging from inside the magic' thing doesn't work out the way I hope it does, let me extend my very best Holiday Wishes to all of the geeks and ne'erdowells who stop in here from time to time.

See you soon (I hope).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Iffy Traditions

We send Christmas cards to people. Left to my own devices, no one would be getting any cardboard in the mail from me. I'm far too lazy to go through all the steps necessary to get a personalized piece of shiny paper into someone else's mailbox. At best, I suppose I could manage a mass email - perhaps some clever animation of a dancing elf sporting my head on its shoulders. So it's my sainted wife who drives the card production process every year while I hang on for the ride and sign my name where I'm told.
Some people love cards, some people hate them. I'm kind of in between. Even though we tend to re-use them for gift tags in our house, they are largely a waste of trees and ink. But I also recognize they are a form of personal recognition during a holiday season dedicated to such things. They are the nod exchanged between passers-by - an acknowledgement that other people exist in your mental inventory of Things That Matter. They are also terribly political - with vague rules about card reciprocation and such.
And then there are the letters. Time was when a few lucky folks on the card list would also get a lovely note in Dee's best handwriting - all for catching up those family details unknown to friends far away. But somewhere in time The Letter has become The Christmas Letter. No longer personal and handwritten, each Christmas card comes equipped with a folded 8.5-by-11 year-in-review in Arial 10-point font.
The Christmas Letter is a much-derided cliche. In the wrong hands, it's a soapbox to announce to everyone you know that you're still rich and successful - surrounded by an adoring family where nothing but blue eyes and blonde hair are allowed into the household gene pool. In the right hands, you get to remind your far-flung familiars that you're the same ol' sad sack you ever were, but getting older.
I enjoy writing the Christmas Letter, and I hope I fall into the latter category. But it's much too easy to fall into the trap of gushing about my kids' school grades and that my cat can jump to the top of the fridge in one leap. Impressive as these things are, I look at it all as a wry joke - a public admission that, yes, we're normal and boring and proceeding down life's path like everyone else.
So far no one is complaining and, in fact, some people tell us they look forward to the annual missive. Then again, they're all so polite...