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Things continue on their uneven pace around here at Walt Disney World. At Splash Mountain, we showed you an inexcusable mess a few weeks ago, with all animatronics broken on the finale riverboat. They fixed that the same week, and it looked good again the following weekend. I’ve heard three reports, however, that significant numbers of animatronics were broken again on February 5 (apparently the entire top row on the riverboat). This is a priority. They can’t just install a strobe light here and call it a day.

It’s also been weeks since they’ve had the Blackbeard mist effect working on Pirates of the Caribbean. At the moment, you hear the booming voice and see nothing unusual at all; the entire mist apparatus has been removed from the ceiling. If you look up, you’ll see scaffolding. Maybe some asbestos, too. No word on when (if?) the effect is coming back.

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom doesn’t officially open for weeks yet, but the beta testing is now taking place every day of the week (rather than just three days a week). They continue to tweak things, and I’m still in favor of this NextGen game.

Read what you’re missing...

A friend made an interesting observation: what does it mean that Tomorrowland is the only land without a SotMK presence? I think he’s right that it implies there is a blue-sky project lined up for Tomorrowland. Something big that will mean plenty of construction and for a long time. There have been several E-Tickets bandied about on various online message boards, but obviously nothing is fully greenlit yet or we’d hear more chatter.

This past weekend, they rolled out the seasonal overlay to “Magic, Memories and You” castle projections, in the form of romance-themed love songs. There was an emphasis on Lady and the Tramp and the usual princesses (Snow White, Belle, etc) that was a bit hard to see on the castle, and in a bit everyone is talking about, the lantern release from Tangled. On the whole, it was a worthwhile addition and I love that they are doing seasonal overlays. The possibilities for this technology just keep going, and I’m glad they keep innovating. That said, the Christmas overlay was better; it was more recognizable and had better animation.

A scene from the romance segment.

Bad Habits

But the real dish and chatter right not will not be projections or Sorcerers; my money is on FastPass. Apparently (no rock-solid confirmation yet) starting on March 7, FastPass return times were to be strictly enforced (and by “strictly”, what they mean is a 15-minute grace period at the end and a newly-created five minute grace period for “early return”).

This is going to create some problems with infrequent visitors, many of whom have been trained by 12 years of “lazy FastPass” to just come back whenever they want. They’ve come to think of FP as a chance to come back “later” in the day (at any point), leaving them free to treat the day with serendipity or otherwise keep reservations they DO hold (and must be met on time), like restaurant reservations. Parades that get in the way will no longer be valid excuses.

This is being done to clear the way for the coming XPass, the reserve-at-home FastPass to debut first for highest-paying hotel visitors (and probably not for the stay-off-property crowd, at least not at first, and maybe never?)

Soon people really will be able to plan their entire day out before they leave for the airport. Let’s read WITH the grain for a second. You’re on a once in a lifetime trip for your family. You spend big on the deluxe Disney hotel for a week, and get free dining included (maybe it’s after the summer season ends). You not only make restaurant reservations, you make ride reservations too. You pay for the whole thing up front, months early, and when the big day arrives for your vacation, all that’s left to do is show up and experience it. The entire event has been paid for, reserved in advance, and kept booked just for you.

The ride reservations are exactly like the restaurant reservations: show up on time or miss it. Voila: you’ve just experienced the Disney Cruise Line… except it’s the Disney theme parks instead. Disney has been chasing the “pay everything and reserve everything up front” model for a vacation ever since the cruise lines debuted, and now it’s about to become a reality for the theme parks too, at least in Orlando (there’s no word yet about such changes in Anaheim).

Keeping with the positive, we could point out that it’s obviously true that return time windows are clearly posted BEFORE you get your ticket. If the posted window is too close to a restaurant reservation or a planned parade viewing, patrons can opt to skip the FastPass entirely.

Unrelated: the train station in Fantasyland is taking shape (and looks great).

But there are lots of ways to read AGAINST the grain, too. People will be angry, and many will take it out on the poor front line cast members. I certainly don’t blame those CMs. I may, in fact, go out of my way to make life easy on them for a little while.

What will happen when rides break? What if people are stuck on rides? Or restaurants don’t seat people on time per the ADR? Perhaps this will be handled on a case by case basis. We are sure to see calls for a longer return window (90 or 120 minutes rather than 60), but it is what it is. For now, anyway.

Lots of folks will decry the loss of spontaneity. They may feel that they will be “maneuvered” to get XPass, since to do without is to suffer in comparison to everyone else (the same way that using only Standby in today’s world is to suffer next to the FastPass users). And then, they say, the whole formula will have changed. A vacation that is planned out to the last minute isn’t much relaxation. That’s true for a segment of the population (myself among them). Look, I agree that people are different, and I admit that some ultra-planners will like the certainty that comes with this new system.

The thing is, the system will FORCE everyone to become ultra-planners, the same way FastPass forced everyone to abandon spontaneity (and restaurant reservations did the same thing). When it comes right down to it, FastPass is the villain here (and has been for 12 years). In a way, I kind of applaud Disney for realizing that the halfway measure we’ve had for 12 years is incomplete. Either we have reservations or we don’t. I would prefer a world without any reservations, but if we’re going to have them, let’s at least do it all the way. Maybe then people will realize what damage FastPass has done to the parks.

I wonder if Universal will turn this to their advantage. Their parks have Express Pass that is given out to their hotel guests (a small sliver of the overall population inside the park) or upsold to people with money and desire to buy it (an equally small sliver), so in practice their parks have almost no ride reservations, and everyone just waits in the standby line. I can almost imagine the TV commercial now, taunting Disney!

One thing I don’t expect to change at Disney is the Standby line. We don’t know yet if the coming Xpass will reduce the total number of tickets reserved for a given day, or increase it, or leave it the same. If the first two, the standby line will see a change as well, depending on which was chosen (unless the total number of reservations stays the same). I do not expect that late FP returnees made a big dent on the system in times past (it’s not as if FastPass changes the hourly capacity of the ride). For those who think the abuses of “late returning” on the old system clogged up the system, just remember that if they are coming late, that means the line was moving faster earlier in the day during the nominal return time. Thus, things had a way of balancing out. A day of standby lines in 2013 is likely to feel a lot like a day of standby lines in 2009.

This is a heated topic with lots of deeply-held beliefs on both sides. I expect some vigorous debate for weeks to come. The Chinese “curse” of living in interesting times comes to mind!

Habit Heroes

It won’t open officially for a while yet, but the new exhibit in Innoventions is available  for daily, full-time testing now. Called Habit Heroes, it replaces the Don’t Waste It trash truck game. Verdict: I actually kind of liked two-thirds of it, especially if they tweak the competition segments. But the last third of the experience will be reviled by probably 80 or 90% of visitors.

The comic book design doesn’t extend into the booth itself.

You’re ushered in to a waiting area in groups of 12. Here, you stand in a fake alleyway with painted flats that kind of reminded me of Spider-Man at Islands of Adventure. We were given rubber bracelets in four different colors; these noted our teams. Then we were beckoned into the next room, which was a turn of the century style gymnasium / weight room. Trophies lined one wall, and old photos on the other gave it theme.

This room felt authentic.

The screen flickered to life, and after a slideshow of old-time athletes and workouts, we see a modern movie. In fact, it’s in the future. The man and woman here are using touch-screens in the air like Tom Cruise in Minority Report, and are monitoring health and lifestyle. They bemoan the standard teenager of today, who eats too much and does no exercise. So they are going to recruit us to fix the problem. The whole thing kind of reeked of Lazy Town in terms of theme (shouldn’t they have hired Stephanie?!) but I was willing to give that a pass.

The hosts are a little freaky, if you ask me.

There are three rooms to the experience itself. They were all fairly large, and I was amazed that it all fit into the former trash truck area. Color me impressed by that.

The first room was a slender oval, with large screens running across the top. The bad guy “control freak” (get it? Like a remote control) was dropping stuff from the ceiling, and it was our job to zap it. I didn’t catch what they were. TV monitors maybe? Anyway, we do the zapping by hitting a button on the console. If it’s a red TV, you slap a red button and it sends out a lightning bolt to do your bidding. The consoles with buttons were all over the room, and you were only supposed to zap the TVs with the same color as your wristband, so in theory you’re supposed to run all over the room. This was the exercise to combat the lazytown (er, laziness). In practice, though, you could hit any button any time, with the practical result that people who were lazy, confused, or just plain exuberant would kill all TVs within sight, regardless of wristband color.

Run around! Push buttons!

Enter my first big critique: the wristbands don’t seem to have any point. Maybe the tallying software was just broken on the day of our visit (and the thing isn’t officially open), but there seemed to be no reason to have us in teams. I would have expected the Yellow Team to get its own score after that first game, but there was nothing on screen apart from a generic “you win” video that was pretty forgettable.

The second room consisted of two rows of Toy Story Midway Mania cannons facing away from each other, and toward screens on the sides of the room. Park vets will know what to do; pull the string to fire (there’s also a helpful button at the top if you don’t want to pull the string). I pushed the button rapidly, but the “reload” time seemed pretty long. On the DisneyQuest Pirates of the Caribbean game, which uses the same cannons, you could rapid-fire (the same is true at Toy Story Mania), but that seemed less the case here.

Ready for more action?

For some reason, the cannons had a lever at the bottom to switch between different types of ammunition. I saw blueberries and carrots on one machine, and tomatoes and something else on another machine. I wish I could tell you what the purpose of the two types of ammo was, but I have no clue. Either I missed it, or they never said. I can say that I was able to shoot faster with blueberries than carrots, but this seemed like a wasted opportunity.

We were shooting at junk foods on screen, and when they got hit enough, they wilted on screen. That was satisfying enough, and it was just like Toy Story Mania. The camera moved around a bit, so there was always something to shoot. One member of our team reported that his cannon was mis-adjusted by a few feet, so that it was hard to hit targets.

When it was over, there was again nothing about teams or colors. They said something out loud about a score on screen, which presumably would be related to the ‘day’ side or the ‘night’ side of the room rather than the wristband colors, but this was also missing in action.

The final room was dominated by lighted circles in the ground. Each person was to occupy a circle and face the large viewscreen, which showed our two “instructors” and an overweight cartoon guy. The story here is that we were to perform full-body gestures, and sensors in the walls would pick up our movement, thus moving the big guy on screen and getting him to exercise.

A little exercise never hurt anyone, right?

I might, just barely, be able to get behind this kind of activity if it weren’t embarrassing (and didn’t happen in front of strangers). Maybe it would be simple arm-waving. Alas, no such luck. Not only was it energetic motion, it was full-bodied Zumba or aerobics type maneuvers they wanted us to perform. It was almost dancing. If the designers don’t know it yet, they are surely learning the lesson now in beta testing: a bunch of folks do not actually like playing Dance Dance Revolution in front of strangers. Surprise! In our group full of strangers, a few did the moves full-bore, others made a half-hearted effort in embarrassment, and the rest did nothing at all.

Reviews for the new exhibit have been decidedly mixed. One person I spoke to said it made him miss the trash truck thing, and he didn’t say it with any particular affection.

Not yet opened, the final section will let you email yourself a photo of… yourself.

While I share his distaste for the dancing segment, the situation could be salvaged. If they made the aerobics less embarrassing (just arm swinging?) the last room would be much more tolerable. They also need to fine tune the instructions for the cannon game, and they desperately need to inject some kind of score-keeping for all three games for the wristbands. Or just ditch the wristbands entirely; that would be OK too.

My kids liked the first two rooms of the exhibit, so I imagine we’ll be back. Then again, they liked the trash truck exhibit, too. They are apparently the target audience of Innoventions: kids who have seen the rest of the theme park already and want to do something different. They are young enough to not feel insulted by the guilt trip and message to be healthy. Whether that’s true of the entire population of Disney park goers is another question.

Video Slideshow

As a reminder, look below the video for a bullet-point list of what’s talked about. For those of you about to watch the video, don’t peek at the bullet points! They would be “spoilers.”

Here are the topics in this week’s video update:

- Magic Memories and You Romance segment
- Grand Floridian DVC
- Fantasyland construction
- Habit Heroes at Innoventions (duplicated for those watching only the YouTube)
- All the antenna toppers at Mouse Gear

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Kevin Yee may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally. FTC-Mandated Disclosure: As of December 2009, bloggers are required by the Federal Trade Commission to disclose payments and freebies. Kevin Yee pays for his own admission to theme parks and their associated events, unless otherwise explicitly noted.

© 2012 Kevin Yee

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Kevin’s Disney Books

Kevin is the author of many books on Disney theme parks, including:

  • Jason’s Disneyland Almanac (co-written with Jason Schultz) is an exhaustive listing of every day in Disneyland history, from 1955 to 2010. You’ll find park operating hours, weather and temperatures, and openings and closings of any park attraction, shop, or restaurant… for every day in the park’s history.
  • The Unofficial Walt Disney World ‘Earbook 2010 is a photo-rich volume of 70 pages that park fans will find especially useful if they want to know what’s changed at WDW since their last visit.
  • Walt Disney World Hidden History: Remnants of Former Attractions and Other Tributes As the title implies, this is all about those little things in the parks that have significance to insiders and long-timers, but are never explained or highlighted.
  • Your Day at the Magic Kingdomis a full-color, hardcover interactive children’s book, where readers decide which attraction to ride next (and thus which page to turn to) - but watch out for some unexpected surprises!
  • Mouse Trap: Memoir of a Disneyland Cast Memberprovides the first authentic glimpse of what it’s like to work at Disneyland.
  • Tokyo Disney Made Easy is a travel guide to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySeas, written to make the entire trip stress-free for non-speakers of Japanese.
  • Magic Quizdom offers an exhaustive trivia quiz on Disneyland park, with expansive paragraph-length answers that flesh out the fuller story on this place rich with details.
  • 101 Things You Never Knew About Disneyland is a list-oriented book that covers ground left intentionally unexposed in the trivia book, namely the tributes and homages around Disneyland, especially to past rides and attractions.

More information on the above titles, along with ordering options are at this link.