Sunday, January 9, 2011
Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, but nothing produces greater stress in me at Disney World than rope drop at DHS, for it is there that I am faced with what can only be described, despite appearances to the contrary, as no choice at all: The need to run toward Toy Story Midway Mania and grab a fastpass or wait forever in the standby line. Following the horde, inching ahead of parents with strollers, I grab my child's hand and squeeze through the crowd. I realize, of course, that this isn’t very good manners, but I need that fastpass and so I reason that it's okay just this once. Despite my efforts, there's a good hundred or so people ahead of me by the time I get to the fastpass distribution area and most of them are getting fastpasses for large groups. By the time I get mine, my return time is 11:30.
The usual strategy with headliner attractions doesn't work here. You can't jump in the standby line first thing in the morning, ride the attraction, and then grab a fastpass on your way out, thereby assuring yourself a second visit. This is because TSMM fastpasses run out by late morning or at best, the return time is very late in the day, ensuring you'll spend the entire day in DHS, missing dining reservations and headliner attractions in other parks. So, if you want to ride twice, you make your choice: Ride first and gamble that there will be fastpasses left or wait for a fastpass, the value of it being something akin to gold at that moment, and then wait forever in the standby line for a second chance. If you do choose to ride twice in the morning, by the time you get out every other attraction in the park will have longer waits. And since the line just gets longer as they day wears on, waiting until the afternoon doesn't do you any good either.
Of course, that's the real problem. By devoting so much of your park time to one, admittedly enjoyable, attraction, you end up forgoing shorter lines elsewhere in the park. Clearly, because the majority of guests are running toward TSMM at rope drop, there are smaller crowds on Tower of Terror and Rock and Rollercoaster, attractions that are arguably just as good. This means you can easily ride these attractions several times before the lines get longer. The downside is that you've set yourself up for a 60-85 minute wait on TSMM later in the day, even during slower times of the year.
Disney has attempted to make the wait for TSMM more attractive by having what I suppose could be called an interactive queue, the idea being that you are shrunk down to the size of a toy in Andy's room, surrounded by larger, familiar objects from the movies. The problem is that while staring at large replicas of games like "Operation" or a full-size Lincoln Log house is fun for a few minutes, especially for nostalgic grown-ups, there's little else to do: You can't touch anything like you can in the new Winnie the Pooh queue, nor are there any games along the way to distract you from the long line, so the whole idea behind an interactive queue is really lost. The lines are clearly marked by red bars, to discourage exploring the toys, which has the benefit of effectively keeping all but the most rambunctious kids in check while, unfortunately, at the same time giving them something to climb. After some waiting, you find yourself inexplicably thrown into a carnival scene where Mr. Potatohead acts as a barker.
The ultimate question is, of course, is it worth it? Truthfully, it’s one of my favorite attractions: It's fast-paced, bright, and remarkably entertaining, even if it does only last a few minutes. For parents with young children or those who are visiting for the first time, it’s absolutely worth arranging your DHS day so that you can enjoy it, preferably twice, even if it does make for some stress. I’m not going to speculate what Disney could have done to make this ride less of a bottleneck, but the fact that they didn’t while at the same time creating such an extraordinary experience is still surprising to me.
Oddly and most likely unintentionally (because intentionally would be too devious, right?), the way TSMM is set up has one positive side-effect: It forces you to stay in Hollywood Studios longer than you normally might and causes you see some attractions and shows you might pass by. I think this is especially beneficial in a park like DHS, which has so many low-profile treasures that are easily dismissed in favor of bright, blaring E-ticket experiences. In that respect, it’s a success, excessive wait times or not.