The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train finally soft-opened to the public on Friday 5/23, which also happened to be the 24 hour day. While I didn’t show up there until the late afternoon, I got to sample the ride six times in that first day (lines move much faster when there’s no FastPass+) and have some initial reviews to offer. Note that the first half of this report is spoiler-free.

067b - IMG_9525

Let’s cut right to the chase: the ride exceeded my expectations. I have always assumed, since the announcement, that as a ride it would be situated somewhere between Barnstormer and Big Thunder, and indeed that about sums up the thrill level of the attraction. It’s not meant to be an E-Ticket. Those of you with outsized expectations, expecting a power coaster like Big Thunder, will actually be disappointed. The swinging action, as I grew to suspect in the final weeks, mostly does not ADD to the thrill but rather dampens it (more on this later, however).

I went in to the ride without knowing the spoilers and without having seen any videos, so your level of expectation may be different. I had heard enough to expect that the indoor scenes would be short and not that involved. That led me to expect extremely limited things. In retrospect, I guess I was expecting something like the temple (indoor) scenes in the Orlando Jungle Cruise–about a minute or so only and just passing by some static displays. Well, the “dark ride” portion of the attraction was very much above my expectations. Yes, the animatronics were surprising for how detailed and lifelike they were, but mostly it’s the set design and lighting that had me wowed. That said, I don’t want to raise YOUR expectations too high. This part of the ride is unfortunately too short.

I considered calling this a “C Ticket” attraction, mostly because the level of thrill is just not that high. But there is a charm in this attraction that is hard to put your finger on. It has none of the coldness and distance of Under the Sea. It feels intimate and warm, and instantly familiar, while nonetheless delivering surprises and (short) visual feasts. Frankly, on the level of execution in some ways it could even be an “E Ticket”, especially if you remind yourself that in Walt’s day, most E-Ticket rides were NOT thrill rides; they were about theme and immersion. But it doesn’t quite reach that level, mostly because of its brevity. Part of me wishes they’d not tried to make a roller-coaster. A next-gen dark ride with zero thrill at all could have had tons of show scenes. If they were all of this quality, we’d be having a whole different conversation.

038 - IMG_9308

The bottom line is that this is a “starter coaster” for children, but it’s one that no other theme park could ever match. Its innovative ride system gives it a tech boost that renders the ride itself unbelievably smooth, for one thing, but that is overshadowed by the charm and technical know-how in the show (animatronics/environment). It’s hard to imagine any Disney competitor truly delivering as much on that level as this ride provides. I also enjoy that it’s a “terrain coaster” (ie, the peaks and valleys are not bare steel, but follow the contours of the artificial hills and dips). Yes, it’s a tiny one, but this IS part of the Disney mountain range. It’s easily the brightest star of the New Fantasyland constellation.

Theme; “Look and Feel”

Let’s face it: this ride feels like it belongs at Disneyland. It’s small, it’s cute, and it’s intimate. Portions of the ride feel like other Disney experiences. When the queue goes downhill next to a stone wall, it reminds me of Anaheim’s Big Thunder queue. When we reach the loading zone, it reminds me of Journey to the Center of the Earth in Tokyo on a smaller scale. The reason for this is that the entire environment around you in the indoor queue (walls, floors, even ceilings) are sculpted concrete, and we’re talking high-effort patterns. It’s not craftsmanship; it’s artistry, and it’s astounding. All that effort works silently to make you feel like you’re really in a mining cave, and it’s highly successful.

The outdoor portions of the ride, in terms of theme, largely remind me of Expedition Everest. There’s really on vegetation to look at, and at this point in its lifespan, all the vegetation looks a bit sparse. That’s sure to change later, of course (and I love how many trees this area has!), but in general, there’s not as much “there” there as you’d want.

Size and Length

As noted earlier, the ride is too short. As a coaster, you’re almost expecting a third upramp and a final act, but instead, you’re at the finish line by that point. There are only two upramps in the ride. While all this is true, it would not be easy to imagine how designers could have made a longer roller-coaster out of this. They could have maybe made a slow dark ride last longer in this same space, but a coaster needed to be just this short. The problem, of course, is one of available land. The footprint for the attraction was dictated by existing structures, so it’s hard to fault the designers on this.

Thrill

The coaster mostly feels like Barnstormer, except perhaps that drops are a touch longer, and the turns obviously more numerous and not as tight. The speed is a bit faster than Barnstormer, but not yet Big Thunder. It truly is a mix between both of those. But as noted earlier, you don’t go to Disney for thrill. Most Walt-era rides were not about physical thrills. And besides, it’s worth remembering that the Magic Kingdom aims for a wide spectrum of thrills since it attracts the entire range of visitors, from young kids to old. Disney is successful precisely because it doesn’t try to make every attraction an E-Ticket ride.

Swinging

I’ve been on some suspended coasters where the swinging action really makes a difference and adds to the thrill, but the swinging on a terrain coaster dampens the thrill. It smooths out the turns and you feel them LESS. Perhaps we are fooling ourselves, but after several rides and experiments, we discovered that you can increase the amount of swing by leaning into/out of the turns strategically. It also helps if you plant the heavier people in your two-row car on the same side. With increased swing comes increased thrill.

Interactive queue games

There are three interactive games in the queue, and all three of them are perfect. They offer quick engagement; they are easily to grasp and start attempting to master, and they are easy to walk away from (because the line is moving again). That last point is extra nice since the line won’t back up and then surge, at least not too much. This is arguably the first time Imagineers have gotten the interactive game thing just right. They help pass the time but don’t dominate.

018 - IMG_9235

Spoilers Below

The remainder of this article will contain spoilers. If you haven’t yet seen video of the attraction or been on it yourself, you may want to skip this section for now.

Plot

It wouldn’t be a Disney ride without a story behind it. The story here seems to be that we enter the mine where the dwarfs are working while still in the queue. In fact, we pass through the “Vault” door seen in the movie, complete with the key Dopey leaves right next to it. Then, we board vehicles while still inside one part of the mine, and instantly head outdoors (that part reminds me strongly of Crush’s Coaster in Paris; the ride starting with a quick trip outdoors on a short drop). We navigate through some nature and get used to the coaster dynamics, then head into a tunnel.

021 - IMG_9208

This turns out to be the part of the mine where the diamonds are, and we see all seven dwarfs hard at work (or play). There’s music here, and animatronics that look as good as anything Disney has produced in the past. The faces are projected onto the figures, a little bit like Buzz Lightyear in his attraction, but with less white-out effect and more character. The figures also move a lot, and fluidly. Having that many moving animatronics on both sides of the vehicle is information overload, made even more dazzling by the seemingly hundreds of colorful diamonds in the walls, illuminated by lights. It’s overpowering in all the right ways, and similar in feel to Pirates of the Caribbean–way too much to see on your first, or even tenth, visit. It demands you return (again in a good way).

051 - IMG_8642

054c - IMG_9084

056 - IMG_8747

At the end of the mine, Doc calls quitting time with “Heigh-Ho”, and the upramp shows us shadows of the dwarfs heading home, which is a nice touch. There is a Hidden Oswald on the left side wall here somewhere; I only saw it once and can’t find it again to snap a picture (someone help in the comments!) Then it’s down the big hill, which isn’t really THAT big but certainly is the top thrill of this attraction. Around the corner and over the bridge brings us to the S-turn, where the swinging is maximized, and then around another bend to the end.

Except the end isn’t the end. That cottage you saw from the queue isn’t just background; it has a show scene from this side of the ride, which surprised me. The dwarfs in here are props from the old ride, except the ones dancing with Snow White (that dancing group actually moves around inside the cottage on a complicated turntable pattern), and there are other animal props recycled here too. (Of note: the vultures atop the first upramp were also recycled from the former attraction).

077 - IMG_9090

The cottage is the hold/brake zone before the unload dock, and it’s brilliant to put something here to look at. I wish every attraction had such a show scene in this place. As your vehicle finally starts moving again, look to the side of the cottage for one final surprise: the queen/hag with her apples cackling at the window.

I’ve put together an extensive photo-tour of the attraction (both queue plus ride) here. Or, you may wish to watch a video (not mine) of the ride:

Where to Ride

As with any coaster, you’ll get a different experience in the front versus in the back. The front brings you enhanced views of everything, plus you can see the hag cackle at the end of the cottage (everyone else just sees her static). The back increases the perceived speed of the attraction and definitely increases the swing.

Ultimate Orlando Clicks #16 – 24 Hour Day in Orlando

The 24-hour party at the Magic Kingdom on May 24 gave many surprises and costumes; we look at the props, the characters, and the dance floor. Plus, we tour Tinker Bell’s new meet and greet facility on Main Street and catch up with some minor additions to signage at the Magic Kingdom.

Direct link: http://youtu.be/NsJ1OxB0mxQ

Ultimate Orlando

I’ve maintained a “side blog” since 2006 and have unified all my social networking around one site and brand. That means I only use the “Ultimate Orlando” venues/accounts on Facebook and Twitter, and a dedicated YouTube channel and playlist. If you follow me on any of these services, please update your bookmarks: