Hello fellow Mice Chatters! We’re Team “Mickey’s Agents of M.O.U.S.E.,” reporting back from last week’s Gumball Rally Classic. This report will be relatively light on pictures, unfortunately, as we forgot the #2 rule of the rally: Don’t forget to take pictures! (the #1 rule, of course, is have fun). In lieu of pictures, though, we’ll be discussing lots of strategy.
This was our first rally and we had a ton of fun meeting the other teams, experiencing the park in a new way, and planning, planning, planning. We spent an obsessive amount of time preparing for our own individual race… so it’s hard to fathom the time and effort that the Micechat leadership, rally staff and volunteers put into organizing this day for all of us. We owe them (and the sponsors) all a big THANK YOU for making it happen. We were seriously impressed with every facet of the event and how well-put-together it was. This will go down as one of our favorite days at Disneyland, ever. Thank you!
Before we dive into the report, here are some stats for the day (averaged across our team):
Exercise/activity stats for the whole day Steps Taken: 22,545
Calories Burned: 3,565
Distance Traveled: 10.70mi
“Very Active” Time: 120 minutes
“Fairly Active” Time: 2.4 hours
“Lightly Active” Time: 2.6 hours
Floors Climbed (1 “floor” = 10 vertical feet): 27*
*does not include vehicular motion
Estimates for the race portion of the day only Steps Taken: 14,000
Distance Traveled: 6.1mi
Scoring and placement stats Placement: 10th Place
Final Score: 86 points (out of 100 possible)
Score we were capable of with better decisions: 89 points
With better decisions and no broken attractions: 91 points
Attractions skipped: Splash Mountain, Winnie the Pooh, Haunted Mansion, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Casey Jr. Circus Train., Monorail
Our Gumball Rally planning started back in January; we’re one of those obsessive teams which keeps a spreadsheet full of wait times so we can analyze how they change hour-by-hour on any given Saturday. Since teams aren’t allowed to consult the wait-time apps on actual race day, the only way to stay in-the-know is to plan trips by the wait board in Disneyland’s hub… but with a thorough spreadsheet, a well-prepared team can make informed assumptions about what wait times across the park should look like at any point in time.
We initially tried to write a computer program to mine the data for an “optimal path,” but this proved to be more difficult than anticipated. The idea was to represent the problem as a series of nodes (representing attractions: wait time + ride time) connected by edges (representing walking times between attractions), and then run a modified version of Dijkstra’s Algorithm on the resulting data structure. The whole thing got way too complicated when we started trying to factor in Fast Pass returns and shows with discrete (yet unpredictable) start times. We were halfway to programming our own version of RideMax when we eventually abandoned this approach in favor of just using some old-fashioned brain-power and pen-and-paper to formulate our strategy.
After a series of reconnaissance trips (to gather the data which the wait-time apps couldn’t tell us) and practice runs, we were ready to race.
The first critical decision on race day is choosing how much water to pack. We brought six bottles of water to split between the two of us, and it was nowhere close to enough. Even after heeding Dusty’s sage advice about staying hydrated, we still underestimated just how much the temperature would factor into things. In fact, the heat was almost our downfall in more ways than one… more on that later.
The rally organizers included a helpful Tip Sheet in each team’s registration packet. We studied this page for clues and made several strategy adjustments over breakfast at the ESPN Zone. The five key takeaways for us were:
1. The Monorail was listed as a “multi-question” attraction, where every question in that particular series needed to be answered in order to earn the points. We assumed that this meant that the Monorail would probably need to be ridden both ways, so we decided not to ride it into the park.
2. In one of several fun twists, the Soundsational parade would be worth a significant amount of points despite not being listed as an “attraction” on the official Disneyland map. We knew that this meant we would have to be over in Fantasyland by 4:00 and that we would be riding Storybook immediately after the parade at 4:25.
3. There would be a group photo which would essentially take you out of medal-contention if you missed it, so we had to factor in time for that.
4. Single Rider was allowed this year, which meant we would not be skipping Matterhorn.
5. No early turn-in. This solidified our exit strategy: catch the 6:20 showing of Lincoln and stay out of the way of the 6:30 parade. We knew this would leave about 15 minutes of unused time on the table, but we reasoned that it was better to bank that time towards owning the tie-breaker rather than try to fight the parade on the way to the finish. (As it turns out, our reasoning may have been flawed on this one—we thought that the second parade would be a death-trap, but it seems like our reconnaissance was off, as several teams were able to attend and finish on-time without incident).
Just before Dusty gave his official rules speech, he clarified the rules on “sticking together:” teams had to enter the park together but could split up prior to that. David, the designated Team Pack-Mule, left early to scout the Downtown Disney Monorail line and move the backpack through security, while Team Captain Ashley stayed behind for the rules speech.
"Lanyards will be distributed on a case by case basis." —Agent Koenig (Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
The Race is On!
Without giving away everything, our general strategy for the Classic rally involves two phases. In Phase I, we focus on Fast Pass optimization (grabbing tickets in the right order, as soon as they’re available), making the Toontown opening, and hitting a handful of key attractions before the wait times blow up or they go 101.
In Phase II, we organize our time around trying to walk straight onto shows and other potential no-wait attractions just as they are loading. The idea is that since we ignore most of the low-hanging fruit in the morning in favor of the bigger targets, we can use the easier/quicker attractions as fodder later in the day to time our entrances perfectly.
So, we start the day by picking up fast passes for Space Mountain. Our reasoning is:
1. Space Mountain return times are quickly pushed late into the day, faster than any other attraction in Disneyland. The longer you wait to grab a FP, the later your return time. The later your return time, the longer your ability to use FP will be locked out.
2. Space Mountain is at high risk of going 101, and when it inevitably does, even the fast pass line can get backed up.
3. Space Mountain is worth a ton of points this year.
Following our Phase I strategy, we were able to complete 4 attractions (3 "big targets" and 1 "fodder") before rushing over to the Toontown opening. This is where we hit our first dose of bad luck. Our entire reason for coming to Toontown this early is to ride Roger Rabbit; we don’t want to fast-pass it later because then we’d have to spend that time walking all the way out to Toontown twice. Unfortunately, Roger Rabbit was 101 when Toontown opened, and it was still down after we finished all of the character houses. We had no choice but to abandon Roger Rabbit for the time being.
Luckily, the rest of the morning went smoothly… mostly. We did have to watch the Fix-it-Felix intro 3 times before agreeing on an answer (and writing a detailed explanation in the answer book). But on the flip side, the Star Tours question was one of two in the entire pamphlet that we already knew the answer to, so we got to ride that one without worrying about being laser-focused the whole time. (Side-note: the rally planners are great at picking questions. Going into the rally, we were wondering what they could possibly ask us about Dumbo that we didn’t already know. We knew what the safety sign said and we knew all of the major landmarks you could see from the air… but not in a million years would we have noticed how many antennas are on top of the Pinocchio show building until the game booklet specifically asked!)
Although the Roger Rabbit closure had hurt us earlier, not all ride closures are necessarily a detriment in terms of the competitive side of the race. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad went down early in the morning (according to the attractions board in the hub); this meant that fast pass distribution was also closed for a while, so by the time we actually wanted the tickets, the return time was way more favorable than we were used to seeing on our practice runs.
We met up for the group photo at noon (worth a whopping 15 points—a game-killer if you missed it). And then it was time to transition from Phase I of the plan to Phase II. The second part of the day went off to a good start as we completed most of Frontierland and were able to walk straight onto the Mark Twain with zero wait and enjoy a peaceful pre-packed lunch on the Rivers of America.
Thankfully, some of the more-experienced teams remembered to take pictures. Thanks, Dead Men Blow No Bubbles!
RIP Billy Jack
Next, we made a reeeeaaaally poor strategic choice and tried to do Splash Mountain single rider, in the middle of the day, in the middle of a heat wave, with the only other water attraction shut down for refurbishment… what were we thinking? Well, in our practice runs, the single rider line was never more than 6 people deep, even in the middle of the day. But the warning signs were everywhere that race day was different from practice day, and we should have known better. We wasted a good 30 – 40 minutes accomplishing nothing in Critter Country, until Splash finally went 101 while we were waiting in line and we conceded that corner of the park. We know for a fact that at least one team had to wait to be evacuated from the ride, and we felt bad for them.
In retrospect, Haunted Mansion is a reliable people-eater and would have been a much smarter move than going to Splash, but we wound up skipping the mansion too as the line had grown to 40 minutes by the time we had escaped Critter Country. Tom Sawyer Island was worth way too many points to leave behind, though, so we completed the island Mini-Quest before leaving behind Critter Country and New Orleans Square for good. (By the end of the rally, we had left two whole lands completely untouched!)
By this point, our spirits were down, but then morale took a turn for the worse when we ran out of water while climbing the treehouse and then had to watch the water fountain in the Enchanted Tiki Room for the entire length of show while slowly dying of thirst. Why oh why couldn’t the “twist” have been that teams had to purchase a Dole Whip?
From the Tiki Room forward, we had a pretty flawless run, finally met our namesake allies, the Agents of D.I.S.N.E.Y., and knocked out a ton of attractions before grabbing Roger Rabbit fast-passes just before the parade. As the parade was wrapping up, we danced back and forth in front of the Storybook line to avoid being shooed away by the Cast Members directing traffic. Before you know it, no fewer than 20 other teams show up and we all high-fived each other all the way through the endlessly winding Storybook line. Several of the eventual medalists converged on this attraction, including team Super Mouse Bros., who would go on to place 1st.
(photo courtesy of George Taylor, ImagiNERDing)
My hat's off to you guys (ooh, burn!) ...really though, we're glad you found your hat.
The rest of the race, we just picked up points where we could and finished early before the second parade could catch us.
We scarfed down a tasty dinner at La Brea Bakery as we watched the other teams race to the finish.
We enjoyed a wonderful second dinner at Pizza Press on our way to the after-party. Hey, until you’ve rallied, don’t judge—rallying makes you hungry!
Once we arrived at the HoJo, we staked out some seats, kicked off our shoes and parked our tired feet in the wading pool in front of the front stage. After some fantastic MC-ing by Dusty and a wonderfully entertaining game show hosted by Monorail Man, we went back to our seats to watch the fireworks and await the awards ceremony.
We were shocked when Dusty called our team up for the placement medals. In truth, our competitive goal was just to make the top 50 and beat Team “Hail Hydra” (our friendly namesake rivals ). But by the skin of our teeth, we managed to take 10th place.
Our brains were pretty fried from the Saturday rally, but we dragged ourselves out of bed and drove back to Disneyland for the Sunday meet-up. It was great to meet some new faces!
We talked more strategy over lunch with a few of the other teams. I won’t reveal what was told to us in confidence, but I’ll just say that the way the other teams started their race was much wiser than the way we started ours. It seems that most of the top teams had the same idea, and we were the outliers.
We also got a glimpse into how some of the other teams prepare for the race—one person in particular showed us some elaborate maps he had made of the parks, containing something on the order of 65 thousand individual details, if we recall correctly. Needless to say, it put David’s crude, hand-drawn maps to shame. But it was really cool and inspiring to see how different teams bring their passions and personalities into the race. Whether it’s speaking in rhyme, sharing homemade cookies, handing out rainbow stickers, or filming an entire video documentary, each team brings something unique to the rally.
We had a ton of fun at this year’s rally. We’ll be back next time for sure—if not racing, then volunteering. To all of the teams we didn’t have a chance to meet: we hope to meet you next time! And to everyone we did have the pleasure of talking to, thanks for the memories.
—David and Ashley