Despite the summer heat and the oppressive humidity, Central Florida has a lot going for it. But let's not pretend it's about the pristine air quality (which we do have) or the lack of state income tax. It's about Walt Disney World being here, and it's about Walt Disney World being a tourist Mecca of such consistent drawing power that builders here incessantly roll out new attractions and overlays of old ones. That's the real joy of living here. New stuff constantly. Some of it is amazingly good (Expedition Everest), some is middling (Lights Motors Action) and some is downright bad (Laugh Floor). But there's so much that is new each season, the quantity makes up for the occasional lack of quality.
So it is with this by-now-familiar prickle of excitement that last week I welcomed the Mexico boat ride back to Epcot. Would this one be good, middling, or bad? I shall not leave you in suspense: it's good, and better than the older version of the ride, but it's neither amazing nor exciting enough to lure someone across the country. Still, to the extent not every new ride has to be a blockbuster, this one satisfies well enough to stand on its own two legs.
Let's just walk through the attraction scene by scene, pausing often to explain what the ride used to look like before the refurbishment, and then we'll come back to sum up the experience with a review. Warning: There are plenty of spoilers ahead, click here to get past them.
The arch for the attraction now sports the three caballeros themselves: Donald, Jose Carioca, and Panchito. As you can see, the ride has a new name: Gran Fiesta Tour.
Here's how it used to look, when the ride was called El Rio Del Tiempo.
Pausing even here, to ruminate on just the attraction names, is instructive. El Rio Del Tiempo was little more than a floating travelogue for Mexico, despite its name ("River of Time") and the promise of an exploration of history. The only history we saw was at the start of the attraction, in the form of pyramids. After that, we traveled about Mexico and saw some famous sights, and experienced a bit of the culture. Exactly what kind of culture has always been a bit dubious: was the country really that proud of the bartering and haggling?
But back to the notion of floating sedately through scenes of the country. The problem with a liquid travelogue is that is lacks any sort of action. For some folks, the tranquility was a boon, but for many, it was just this side of boring. The re-rideability of the attraction relied a bit too much on the air conditioning and the chance to unplug and unwind. But it wasn't really an attraction people looked forward to, or waited in much of a line for.
Contrast that with Gran Fiesta Tour, which as we will see injects not only a storyline, but action on every screen as we pass by, in place of mere scenery. The boats move at the same rate they always did, but nevertheless one has the sense that this new ride has a much faster pace. It's a marked contrast from the tempo of the original.
The new queue follows the usual switchback, but there are large posters of our three caballeros on one wall.
On the other wall is a simple poster. But don't be fooled, it's the key to understanding the entire storyline of the revised attraction. You see, Donald, Jose, and Panchito are three musical stars on tour, and the key words appear in the corner of the poster: there's a concert tonight.
The scheduling of the concert lends urgency to the rest of the attraction—as we'll see, Donald goes missing, and must be found quickly. Because there's a concert tonight. The loading area also sports large new images of our musical heroes.
But be sure to glance upwards, too. Those "papel picado" paper cutout banners aren't just random patterns: a few of them display Donald, Jose, and Panchito.
The ride starts off as it always has, sedately floating past the restaurant on one side and mysterious pyramid on the other side. I'm not sure if my memory is playing tricks on me, or if that waterfall near the pyramid is new? The mood lighting here certainly seems more colorful than my memory suggests. (A quick note before we get too far into this, a few of the shots may be less than optimal, rest assured we did out best in getting them taken and then processed for posting here.)
Once inside the tunnel, the changes begin. In El Rio Del Tiempo, a non-animated Aztec warrior appeared at the far end, and intoned that "Centuries ago, a Mexican civilization flourished."
Our boats rounded the corner in El Rio Del Tiempo, we saw pyramid and temple sets, with video sequences of feasting and dancing.
The films are now entirely different. The mannequin at the start has been replaced by yet another video, in vivid color and startling crispness. Jose and Panchito appear and try to introduce Donald, but realize he's gone, and rather unexpectedly.
They summon a flying serape (flying carpet), an invention straight out of the Three Caballeros movie, and off they fly to find Donald.