Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fantasyland Expansion Update!

For months now, Disney fans have speculated on what changes Disney will make to the Fantasyland expansion since it was deemed too princess-oriented last fall. One of the biggest rumors we’ve heard from the very beginning has been that Goofy’s Barnstormer would be re-designed along a Seven Dwarves mine theme. It turns out, that rumor is partly true: There will be a new rollercoaster ride in the expansion, but it won’t replace Goofy’s Barnstormer. Instead, it will replace the Cinderella and Aurora meet and greets that were scrapped with the revision. The coaster will be a step up from Goofy’s Barnstormer and feature cars that rock back and forth , as well as music and characters from the movie.

I never liked the idea of the Cinderella and Aurora interactive meet and greets that were originally planned as part of the expansion. I didn’t have a problem with the fact that they were “too girly” as much as I thought they would require too much time and focus from really small children, the target audience of these meet and greets. The princesses will now get a new meet and greet in what is currently Snow White’s Scary Adventure. While I generally love classic Disney attractions and will happily give them a pass when they start to look dated as they inevitably will when compared with newer technology, this attraction has always seemed pretty rough around the edges even after being updated several years ago. I find the background details really distracting and poorly done, so I won’t be sad to see it go. I think the Seven Dwarves ride will give this classic fairytale a more fitting treatment.

Princess Meet and Greet. Skipping Chidlren not included.

As most of us already knew, the plan for Pixie Hallow was scrapped, but Disney took it a step further and completely booted the fairies from the park. They’ll be residing in Epcot now, most likely in the United Kingdom in keeping with Tinkerbelle’s connection to British author James Barrie. I love the UK pavilion and I’m looking forward to seeing what Disney imagineers will come up with.

Storybook Circus.  These people are not running in a panic.

Next, Mickey’s Toontown Fair will shutter next month and work will begin on a new mini-land called the Storybook Circus, presided over by the Great Goofini. In addition to building a double Dumbo with an interactive queue and refurbing Goofy’s Barnstormer, there will be several play areas, at least one of which will be water themed. From the drawings and description, it looks like a rehash of Toontown, in that it’s all about the under-5 set, which is fine by me. I still think the concept of a circus theme misses the point with children today, but as a parent of young children, I’ve been grateful many times for these types of play areas, so I'm going to reserve judgment on this one. It’s good to let little ones stretch their legs and run around after sitting in a stroller or waiting in long lines and I know that parents have lamented the possible loss of the play areas in Toontown, so this should be reassuring. Hopefully, the restrooms won't be as bad as Pete’s Garage.

Finally, for those of you waiting for official word on when Star Tours will re-open, wait no more. You can ride through Coruscant and to other new destinations to your heart’s content starting on May 20th. Personally, I’m hoping for a passholder preview the week before during the big D23 conference taking place May 12-15.

The big question, of course, is when is all this going to open? Disney is saying that the expansion will open in phases starting in late 2012. I’m a bit disappointed in this, since for months now rumor control has had it that at least some part of the expansion will be open in October, when the Magic Kingdom celebrates its 40th anniversary. I’m still holding out hope, but less so now that Disney has pushed the dates so far into 2012. Whatever the case, I’m absolutely thrilled at the changes that will happen in the next few years.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Hobson's Choice and the Dilemma of Toy Story Midway Mania.

I recently read that a guest was in Disney Hollywood Studios selling fastpasses to Toy Story Midway Mania? Sounds strange to sell something that’s free, right? Well, not if you know anything about this attraction whose lines have vexed park goers since it’s opening nearly three years ago.

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.

There's some interaction with the crowd, but not on the level of say, Crush from Turtle Talk. It's less spontaneous and seems canned. You then turn a corner and, for those who are visiting for the first time, get the shock of seeing an even longer line, this one with stairs. After waiting in a dark, uninteresting little hallway, you get your first glance of the ride.

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.