Figments, Wookies, and Scavenger Hunts, Oh My!

It’s breathtaking, if you think about it, just how much change there is here at Walt Disney World. It is unfathomable to imagine a weekend with nothing to look at. This weekend, Universal Studios hosted the Nickelodeon group Big Time Rush, and, oh yeah, announced a new mini-golf course to be built near (but not displacing) valet parking. SeaWorld is basking in the press of its new orca show, and Fantasy of Flight brought out still more WWII veterans. Busch Gardens Tampa announced a new animal care center and next week will open a brand new mega coaster in the form of Cheetah Hunt (MAN am I excited for that one). Here back at the (Disney) ranch, there was a car show at Downtown Disney this weekend, and the Flower and Garden festival at Epcot ended with a bang courtesy of Pixar Weekend.

I didn’t get to see any of that this past weekend. I was too busy with the D23 convention Destination D, and the soft openings of Star Tours. What a grand time to be a Disney fan living in Orlando.

Free Scavenger Hunt This Sunday May 22

Before we get too far into it, though, I need to announce a different event, since it’s happening this next weekend! My free scavenger hunt (called Magic Pursuit) is returning yet again, this time at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS) on Sunday. I was inspired by the recent D23 Scavenger Hunt (which I couldn’t attend due to other conflicts).

My alternative is coming to you as a grassroots push from three different Disney bloggers: myself, Shane Lindsay at Parkeology.com, and John Frost at TheDisneyBlog.com. Together we’ve built for you a Disney-style, unofficial scavenger hunt game. And the registration is a crowd-pleasing “zero dollars” per team.

That’s right—it’s free! If you’ve been a reader for a while, you’ve seen me advertise these games before, under various names. The newest game keeps the old name: Magic Pursuit. You can read about the history of these games, and download samples of old ones, at http://www.magicpursuit.com/.

In a nutshell, expect a series of puzzles and scavenger hunts. You don’t need to know any Disney trivia to do well, though it will help to know the park. In this case, we’ll be in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Here are the full details:

Date: May 22
Time: 4pm-7pm
Location: Studio Catering Company (outdoor restaurant near HISTA playset)
Cost: Free (though you have to use your own admission to the park)
Teams: 2-4 people per team

Registration: email [email protected] by May 20
with the names of the members of your team.
Also, we need the number of a cell phone that can receive
text messages (maximum ten at this event).

There will be a social media component to the game using that cell phone (or an old-fashioned analog workaround, for those without advanced technology), but let’s not overstress that for the moment. Let’s just instead focus on how fun it will be! See you there?

Star Tours

By now, you’ve heard that soft openings have been occurring in Orlando since Saturday. Let me not mince words: in my opinion, this is an extremely strong addition to the lineup here in Florida. In fact, I had to cast my mind back to find an equivalent experience. Is this the strongest addition to WDW since Everest? Easily. I think it’s better than Everest (what can I say? I’m a big Star Wars fan), so I’m going to back even further. I’m way out on a limb here, but I’m going to say that Star Tours The Adventure Continues is the best thing added to Walt Disney World since 1994, when Tower of Terror opened.

Concept artwork of the refreshed queue.

Like Tower of Terror, the new Star Tours “forgets” to do what the rest of the park does: namely, pretend it’s part of a movie shoot, and the walls are all intentionally false sets. This was always grating in the past, as we’d walk by “director’s chairs” for C3PO and R2D2. Tower of Terror wonderfully did away with that phoniest of flimsy illusions, and instead offered a full-bodied simulation, as if we were actually there, rather than ironically celebrating a film-set version of “there.” The new Star Tours does this too. Gone are the fake walls. Alas, the AT-AT outside still has a frontal façade only (and it’s “naked” from the backside), and the exit shop still has all the “sound stage” dressing, so it’s only halfway implemented. But this is loads better than what was here before.

It was formerly a “hot set” as we saw at the (old) entrance to Star Tours.

As for what the ride is, let me quote other MiceAge/MiceChat reviews of what to expect:

Note: this section and the next contain spoilers!
Click here to jump past them and into the next section

Al Lutz did a great job of describing the various combinations your journey may take. We are copying them here.

Each journey begins in the boarding queue where a pre-show will explain who your captain is and how C3PO bumbles his way accidentally into the cockpit.

You will then board the starspeeder and your adventure will begin. You'll find yourself setting out of the spaceport with C3PO trying to convince R2D2 to return for the real captain. It is at this point that you will experience one of the different plot twists, or “branches” as the Imagineers call it, which will begin the various storylines.

The 54 different versions of the ride are cycled through automatically, and they can slot in with any of the previous branches of plotline in any cabin. The various plot points and options are as follows;

Part 1: Your Starspeeder begins to depart the spaceport as R2D2 is trying to override the autopilot, but you are suddenly stopped by either Darth Vader or a battalion of Stormtroopers who are looking for a Rebel Spy suspected to be onboard your ship. The video screen in the cabin displays the image of one of your fellow passengers and sets up the base plot that they are a spy.

Part 2: After some fighting with Vader or the Stormtroopers, R2D2 jumps to light speed just in time and you are on your way to either Tatooine, Kashyyyk, or Hoth. You arrive at whichever planet the branching plotline led you to, and the typical mayhem and excitement ensues as you explore the planet. Tatooine leads to the obligatory Boonta Eve pod race, the Kashyyyk plotline involves racing Imperial Scout troopers on speeder bikes through the forest with help from friendly Wookies, and the visit to Hoth quickly devolves into an icy toboggan run down the mountains dodging Empire AT-ATs along the way.

Part 3: The action is brought to an end when R2D2 launches you off each planet and back into space where you suddenly receive a hologram transmission from either Princess Leia, Admiral Ackbar, or Yoda. They give you instructions on how and where to safely deliver the Rebel spy onboard, and with another jump to light speed you are on your way to a second destination.

Part 4: You arrive from the light speed jump at either Coruscant, Naboo, or an asteroid field that leads you to the Death Star. In typical WDI fashion, something goes terribly wrong here and you go through a final ordeal of either outer space dog fighting, dodging wrong way traffic, or fending off alien sea creatures. Each of these options leads to an obligatory happy ending with the spy satisfactorily delivered, and then you gather your belongings and exit to your right and out to the gift shop.

You may have heard there are more than 50 variations, but that’s accounting for all eleven elements (listed above) showing up in the various permutations. I don’t think even serious geeks care about that level of detail. Once you’ve seen all eleven elements, you can safely stop counting. It took us five trips to see all the elements, though we also talked to someone who had 7 trips under his belt and he had still never seen one sequence.

The entire experience is phenomenal. The graphics are crisp and realistic (with the possible exception of one scene in the preshow). The action is exciting, well-paced, and it just feels authentic. It feels like a Star Wars movie. As a huge SW fan, I can’t tell you how excited this made me. We actually liked Star Tours better than Episode 1-3 in the theaters. It just felt right.

Suddenly new again.

Here at DHS, the ride will have a profound effect on the park. The former FastPass champ, Toy Story Midway Mania, will no longer run out of FP by 10am. That honor will now go to Star Tours. I guess that means more Mania in my future? That would be a shame, though, since Star Tours is so intensely awesome.

Star Tours Inside Jokes & Tributes

Part of what makes the new Star Tours so awesome, for me at least, is the incredible level of inside jokes, remnants, and homages. Here’s what I’ve been able to find so far, listed “chronologically” as we progress through the queue and ride:

Rain kept the lines down below 20 minutes. That won’t last!

THX1138. On the terminal boarding announcements, watch the bottom of the screen for Flight 1138 to Chandrila.

Captain Rex. As you cross into the second queue room, look to your left to spot Rex, our former pilot. He’s now marked “defective” and is being sent back for repairs. Listen for a while and you’ll hear some audio from the original ride. I love this tribute, but I’m aware that it’s anachronistic. We’re in the time frame between Episode 3 and Episode 4, so the Rex pilot we know and love hasn’t even been installed yet—having a joke about him is a bit “out of time.” I suppose this is an “even earlier” version of Rex we’re looking at? It’s weak, but it’s the only way to make sense of it.

Robot Birds. In the original Orlando queue, robotic birds sat atop the entry door just after the second G2 droid—they looked a bit like Salacious Crumb, the lackey “monkey” near Jabba in the movies. They are now encased in a cage near Rex, no longer animated.

TK-421. The Stormtrooper who “wasn’t at his post” in the original Star Wars movie is honored here with a sign just above Rex and the other droids.

Star Tours-Anaheim’s Opening Date. Star Tours in Anaheim opened on January 9, 1987 (I was there!), so the mention of 109.87 is no accident! This number appears on the front side of the “suitcase tube” behind G2-9T (the “take a picture it will last longer” droid).

The new G2-9T.

Movie references. The suitcase scanner looks inside baggage to illuminate what’s inside, and there’s often a joke here, like C3PO’s head, Wall-E’s eyes, the Aladdin lamp, or the Incredibles outfit.

K-DROID. In the original Star Tours queue in Anaheim, a radio sat opposite G2-9T on the first upramp, displaying “107.9” (it was different in Orlando) with the announcer calling it K-DROID every few moments. In the new queue, wait until you are on the second platform, looking down at G2-9T, and you’ll spot a panel labeled KDRD 107.9.

Alison Janney. Ali San San’s name can be traced to its voice: actress Alison Janney (the ‘sound’ of the name is similar).

WDI Street Address. We’re on Flight 1401. Sound familiar? WDI is located at 1401 Flower St in Glendale, CA.

PeopleMover. Vehicles at the start of the movie moving luggage are shaped like Orlando’s PeopleMover TTA cars, but they are colored white (with a blue stripe) like Anaheim’s PeopleMover.

Rex’s Death Star run. In the original movie, Rex claims “I’ve always wanted to do this! We’re going in!” In the new movie, C3PO says something similar in Tatooine: “Oh a podrace! I’ve always wanted to do this!”

A sign in the exit corridor.

Rex’s lack of brakes. In the original movie, Rex ends by screaming “Brakes! Brakes! Where are the brakes?!” C3PO says the same exact phrase at the end of the Naboo sequence.

Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Leia’s famous phrase is here relayed as “Help me, Star Tours. You’re my only hope.”

What message? C3PO’s famous phrase is also repeated here (and Threepio is still talking to R2D2!)

Mission Space homage. The finale of the Mission Space ride at Epcot includes a moment where the spaceship teeters at the edge of an icy canyon, and our host Gary Sinise says “Don’t move a muscle.” The exact phrase is used when our Starspeeder-1000 teeters on the edge of an icy canyon on Hoth.

FUEL Truck. We almost crashed into a truck labeled FUEL (all caps) in the original movie, and a similarly-named truck can be seen at the end of the Coruscant sequence.

Hidden Mickeys. Look to the back wall in the last scene of Coruscant for a whole row of Hidden Mickeys.

What’s missing? Well, there used to be a Hidden Kermit in the queue—it was a 3 foot robot shaped like the famous frog. I couldn’t find hide nor hair of him in the new queue… I hope he’s preserved somewhere!

The new Star Tours costumes look vaguely like Star Trek to me.

Welcome back to those readers who just skipped the spoilers.

Destination D

There was a LOT to like about the two-day mini-convention held this weekend at the Contemporary Hotel. The D23 membership has a lot of benefits for Southern California, but until now, the Orlando events have been few and far between… and horribly limited in terms of attendance. This convention drew 1,200 visitors, and it was the ‘right’ size audience. A giant audience (think Comic-Con) would mean you’d have to wait 3 hours before each panel—not a fan-friendly number.

For that matter, I can see why they had to charge not only for D23 membership, but also for this event. Making it free would mean that hordes would descend. There’s something to be said for market economics—it keeps the event to a smaller size where you can actually get things done, like autograph sessions.

The ballroom wasn’t too large, and the screens were huge.

I can also see why they’d never hold a full-sized D23 Expo here in Orlando. Transporting the bazillions of artifacts over here would cost a not-so-minor fortune. That would drive up fees for attending the conference. Better to just leave it in Anaheim. [and no, I can’t believe I just said that out loud!]

The big news that broke during Destination D was the announcement that the Tiki Room Under New Management show would not return as such. Instead, a new show “reminiscent” of the original show would return this summer. This was heavily rumored of late (some rumors even say the Orange Bird will appear as an animatronic—perhaps a former Iago?) but it’s nice to get confirmation.

There were so many photographs of WDW I’ve never seen before!

So much went right that it’s hard to finger the pinnacle. If not the Tiki Room announcement, maybe the segment at the finale featuring Richard Sherman? He’s hard to top, but boy did the crowd react with abandon when original Dreamfinder Ron Schneider appeared on stage, in full costume, to sing the rest of “One Little Spark.” He then led a sing-a-long, holding a Figment and cracking jokes, to an absolutely rapturous audience.

Richard Sherman was gracious and humble, as always.

Ron Schneider, the original Dreamfinder, started singing his
song midway through Richard’s version… it was perfect.

The Disney cast provided the capper after that, with a touching rendition of Golden Dreams and an almost messianic choral performance of a medley of Epcot songs. It was transcendent. Nothing captures the spirit of early EPCOT Center like its music. It could even be argued that while Disneyland has a richer history of attraction changes, WDW has a richer heritage for music. This is probably due to the fact that most of Epcot has been altered by now, and everything original there had been given an orchestral score. Most were inspirational. There’s no placing of the Midget Autopia side by side with Horizons.

Come to think of it, the crowd seemed to want Epcot stuff no matter what. The first thing to sell out at the merchandise table was the set of Epcot logo patches. I wondered why that would be. This is the 40th anniversary—meaning the ostensible park to celebrate is the Magic Kingdom. Yet Epcot was the focus. Is that because the Magic Kingdom is but a clone of Disneyland (and a weak one at that), while EPCOT Center was original? Or is it because Epcot has changed so much over the years, while the MK has remained mostly static? I think the crux may be that the fundamental message of the original Epcot was inspirational. Because the current Epcot shys away from that in favor of cartoon rides, people miss the original message.

The hunger for extinct-Epcot extended to The Making of Me.

Forget patches. They should have sold CDs of original EPCOT Center music. That would have gone like gangbusters!

But while a ton of things went right—and we really have to thank the volunteer staff as much as anyone else… these guys were using their own vacation days to be here!—there were also things that could have gone better. Most of the problems can be traced to programming decisions.

Former Disneyland President Jack Lindquist is one of the best of the best—
but was he as relevant to WDW history as others?

Frankly, it started off on the wrong foot. There were several segments of inside jokes about D23 staffers and manager Steven Clark. I daresay the audience just plain didn’t care. This wasn’t the Steven Clark convention, it was the D23 convention. The way to blow the lid off the roof with this crowd would have been to have Tony Baxter kick off the ceremonies.

Steven and Josh are good guys, but less D23 and more WDW would be better.

A show like this needs star power. The audience stood up for Tony, or later for Imagineer Bob Gurr. The panels of lawyers and vice-presidents had no chance against that kind of star power. Why not harness it? I’d rather see a 60 or 90 minute segment dedicated just to the star Imagineers. Don’t bury Bob Gurr in a panel.

For that matter, are panels really the best vehicle? I’d rather see one-on-one interviews, maybe done in Tonight Show fashion, where the previous person “moves down the couch” as the newest person comes on. They can still chime in, but by and large their time is done.

Trivia = better than 700+ slides of ephemera.

Not every presenter did a great job in front of the large audience. If you’re not a natural showman (look no further than Jason, Jason and Alex for natural showmen/Imagineers), then you need to be a luminary in terms of creating park experiences. The ride creators had that almost by default, but the others—though they worked hard—seemed to be less accessible.

The crowd longed for Tony-Baxter style figures and visionaries. Speaking of that, where was Joe Rohde in all of this? Was D23 beneath him? Was he otherwise engaged? If DAK has a vision-leader in Joe (and it does), then he really should have been here. And the crowd deserved to hear how the other parks divide up the leadership in the fashion that Joe watches over DAK.

Local John Kurowski just dominated the trivia competition (here: contestant #4)

Lastly, a question. Does the Contemporary Hotel make “regular” conventioneers park at the TTC? I can’t imagine they do. Yet the second day of Destination D they did require everyone to park at the TTC. Apparently, they had been lax with the rule on the first day, but clamped down on the second.

It’s hard to read anything positive into this development. Either they assume that D23 members have annual passes and don’t mind the 40-minute detour of parking somewhere else, or they really don’t have the parking available for a convention at the hotel. If the latter, I fear for their reputation, so it really must be the former. And that is a gesture of disrespect. Would they have done this an outside company like Mashable? Why is it OK to banish your ardent fans but not the outside company holding a simultaneous convention? This is not correct, and it should be rectified for any future Destination D.

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.

2011 Kevin Yee

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Kevin's Disney Books

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

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.

History was on my mind as I composed this book. As you might expect, there is a section on additions, another on removals, and a third on events. But I wanted to make sure to include some prices from January 2010 in the book, the better to capture in future years (and future generations?) exactly what it costs to buy admission, parking, a night at each level of hotel, or such food items as a turkey leg. I also wanted to provide a bit more specificity to the unfolding of events, so the various additions and removals, as well as smaller alterations and debuts, are laid out in a timeline broken down month-by-month.

In short, the book is designed to appeal to those folks who are similarly history-minded, as well as those who are hungry to know what changed at Disney World since their last visit. Or perhaps it’s a worthwhile keepsake for anyone who DID visit in 2010—it captures what was new, after all.

Also recently issued...

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. When a ride closes, sometimes pieces or props from that ride are folded into the replacement attraction (think of the World of Motion car seen in the queue of Test Track). Other times, designers intentionally craft a tribute to the previous ride—an example of that might be the carving of a submarine in the cement tree created for Pooh’s Playful Spot where the 20,000 Leagues subs used to be.

The other kind of homage in the parks concerns not rides, but individuals. The designers, artists, engineers, executives, and people important to Disney’s history often provide the inspiration for names and titles used at the attractions. Sadly, these are almost always unheralded. All of these remnants and tributes are normally left for the truly obsessed to spot piecemeal. They are usually not even discussed in the official Disney books and tours. This book sets out to change that, and catalog all such remnants and tributes in one spot.

The final result is 225 pages of hyper-detailed historical factoids. Broadly speaking this is a “trivia” book, but remember that it’s a particular kind of trivia. You’ve known before that the Walt Disney World theme parks wove a thick tapestry of details and backstory into a seamless (and peerless) experience. But armed with the specifics of homages and tributes, you’ll become aware that the parks are even more alive, and layered with meaning, that you could have ever imagined.

Might this be an ideal present for the Disney fan on your shopping list? If so, please have a look.

Also written by Kevin...

  • Your Day at the Magic Kingdom is 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 Member provides the first authentic glimpse of what it's like to work at Disneyland.
  • The Walt Disney World Menu Book lists restaurants, their menus, and prices for entrees, all in one handy pocket-sized guide.
  • 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.
  • 101 Things You Never Knew About Walt Disney World follows the example of the Disneyland book, detailing tributes and homages in the four Disney World parks.

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