Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What's new?

On this Disney Trip, I've done quite a bit which was new (to me), some of it because it's also new to the parks.  I had a mission of sorts to try to see some new things, in addition to hitting my old favorites.  What did I try new?
  • I've already written about Radiator Springs Racers, Luigi's Flying tires, the Ariel dark ride, Carthay Circle Restaurant and the World of Color show, which were all part of the California Adventure redo, and so these were all new to me.  All were magnificent.
  • I've also already talked about Star Tours: The Adventure Continues, which was a revamp from my last visit, and it was also pretty awesome.  Space Mountain wasn't technically a first, but a first in a very long time for me.
  • I decided to try the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in DCA.  I'd always been a little interested, because it's themed to the Twilight Zone (including an introduction by Rod Serling), and has a backstory about a hotel where five guests in an elevator vanished when the tower was struck by lightning.  But beyond all the theming and cool effects, the core ride mechanism is an "elevator" which raises and drops you repeatedly.  (In fact, I understand that Disney has made sure that the elevator drops faster than it would by gravity alone, because just falling a few stories repeatedly apparently isn't thrilling enough.)  That's a little wilder than I'm usually up for. But this trip, I had finally worked up the courage to conquer Space Mountain, and found that it wasn't as bad as it seemed, so I figured I'd try the Tower of Terror.
    It turned out that the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was as bad as it seemed.  I don't think I'll be trying that one again.  (This also put an end to any thoughts of trying California Screaming, the only serious roller coaster at the Disneyland resort.)  On the plus side, I did survive the drop from the tower, and you do get a great view of the parks at the top of the elevator.
    My biggest surprise in the "Hollywood Hotel" was discovering how small the hotel "lobby" in the queue actually was, having seen some pictures and video.  (Of course, some of the pictures I saw could have been from the Florida attraction, which could be larger.)
  • The Golden Zephyr is too much excitement for TMWA.  I'll stick to tame rides, like Space Mountain.
    The view from the platform is nice, 'though.
  • Golden Zephyr and Astro Orbiters are both spin-around type flying rides which don't move so fast, and probably appeal primarily to kids.  Nonetheless, both were a little intense for me at points.  Maybe I don't deal so well with spinning.  On the other hand, going on the Astro Orbiter does raise you high enough to see the top of the (now abandoned) PeopleMover track, which was pretty cool to me.  (I miss the PeopleMover.)
  • I took a ride up Main Street in a horse-drawn streetcar.  Not a major experience, but it was something I'd never done, and it was interesting.  Similarly, I stopped in on the Main Street Cinema, which shows several old black and white silent Disney cartoons along with Steamboat Willie (the first synchronized sound cartoon).  The theater was interesting, but much smaller than I'd imagined.  (I guess a lot of things at Disneyland have to be kind of "pocket-sized" due to land constraints.)
  • Goofy's Sky School is a re-theming of another wild-mouse style roller coaster at DCA which used to be called Mullholland Madness, in reference to Mullholland Drive in California.  This coaster had a single-rider line, but I only went once.  The height off the ground and sharp turns were a little off-putting to wimpy old me.
  • Below decks on the Columbia
  • I rode the sailing ship Columbia around the Rivers of America at Disneyland, and toured below the decks.  Normally the Mark Twain steamboat is operating, but on one day the Columbia was running.  The Columbia is a replica of a real ship called the Columbia, which is the first US ship to circumnavigate the globe.  I've been on this once, actually, but I didn't realize at that time that there is a museum of sorts below deck, where you can see displays about what ship life was like on board a real ship like the Columbia.
  • The sailing ship Columbia, seen from Tom Sawyer's Island
  • I also crossed the rivers via raft to Pirate's Lair on Tom Sawyer Island.  Now I'm not technically sure if I've been to Tom Sawyer's Island before or not.  At some point when I was a kid, we went either to this one or to the similar one in the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, and I have no idea which.  But I've never been back since I was an adult, and it's also been given a new pirate theme (to go with Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, of course) since then.  It's pretty much just some trails, with caves, treehouses, and forts for kids to run around and play on.  (This is another one where I think a 40-ish single man gets funny looks.  Next time I'll have to pay some kids to go with me.  Wait, that might sound wrong, too....)  They have also added some pirate props, like treasure chests and talking skeletons locked away in cells in the caves.  It is kind of cool, and I'm glad I saw it, but it's also surprisingly small.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Flying Tires or Saucers

From 1961 to 1966, Tomorrowland in Disneyland was home to the Flying Saucers.  Each guest climbed on board a saucer (which was really a hovercraft), and for a few minutes, you were buoyed aloft on a cushion of air from below.  The craft could (more or less) be steered by leaning.  The ride was futuristic, but slow to load and unload, and prone to breakdowns.  The tendency to break down contributed to the short life of the attraction.  Given that it was only around for five years, you have to be at least a bit of a Disneyphile to know about the flying saucers.  But now you only have to visit Disney California Adventure to experience them (more or less).

Behold "Luigi's Flying Tires", in the Car's Land expansion at DCA, where the ride has been reborn:
I'm not sure if the breakdown issues have been resolved with new technology or not.  The first time I visited (on my first morning in DCA), the attraction had just shut down.  But when I went back on my third night, it was operating, and I got in line before dinner.  These are a bit bigger than the original Flying Saucers; they seat about 2-3 per "tire".  (By the way, what looks like a large rubber tire from a distance appears on closer inspection to be cloth.  It's essentially the skirt of the hovercraft.  There are numerous instructions and warning to step over the tire to get in and out, supposedly for your safety, but I suspect the "tires" could be damaged if you stepped on them.)

I've recently been perusing the fascinating book Roller Coasters, Flumes, and Flying Saucers, about Arrow Development, the company which built (among other things) the original Flying Saucers for Disney. It notes that the idea of having each vehicle individually powered by its own motor (as a traditional hovercraft would) was abandoned for a very good reason:   With so many gasoline engines operating all day long, you would risk a leak and a spark starting a fire, and the high velocity air would have created the same effect as a blowtorch, roasting everyone on the ride.  I suppose these days electric engines might be possible, but the new system seems to still provide air from below.  In the Flying Saucers, generating airflow from below raised a tricky problem, 'though, since it would have required far too much pressure to blow air up out of the entire platform at once.  Arrow solved the original problem with a clever set of mechanical valves which remained closed unless they were pressurized from above, i.e., if one of the hovercraft were sitting on top of the valve, and the craft underside was currently pressurized.  That way, only the valves beneath a vehicle were releasing air, continuing to keep it aloft. However, this still required starting the vehicles hovering.  The solution was to pull all the vehicles into one small loading section, and lift the vehicles in just that section on an air cushion.  Then the remaining valves could be started throughout the rest of the platform, and the vehicles could start.  As a result of this complicated procedure, all the vehicles had to be corralled into the starting section (which was done via a mechanical arm), and if something went wrong, the system took a while to restart.

Now some things have changed.  The air holes in the concrete don't appear to have the same clever mechanical valves, although those could just hidden below the grates you can see.  I do know from my visit that the new vehicles start and stop from anywhere, which does speed up the loading; there is no special starting area.  I'm actually wondering if the problem was solved with some sort of electronic system.  I'd probably try some sort of proximity sensor which opens up the airflow whenever a vehicle is with x feet of a given valve.  But that's guessing; I have no idea how the new system works.

The line was slow-moving.  The problem of how to load and unload efficiently remains, even without having to move the vehicles into a special area.  (I did see cast members help a guest with a disability board, and this did involve the cast members moving a vehicle over to a special loading ramp.  It looked to me as if they were able to start up just one vehicle and move it over to the ramp, which would argue for my idea of an electronic system, but I could have been mistaken.)

I'm not sure if there is a good way to speed up loading and unloading, although the new multi-guest cars probably help cut down wait times a little.  I was actually running pretty close to my dinner reservation time, but I did get to make it on the attraction.  And the ride is fun!  I'm not sure what it is, but floating around on a hovercraft is actually pretty cool. I had an OK time with steering, too:  I picked up some good speed (and a nice spin, which I was working on) without too much trouble.  I suspect that in some ways I have an easier time steering since there's only one of me to coordinate leaning in one direction or another.  But I think it's probably more fun with someone else anyway.

I have to admit that I thought hovercraft were pretty cool ever since I was little.  I remember seeing plans in the back of Boy's Life for a hovercraft that you could supposedly build from a vacuum cleaner engine, and I thought that was awesome.  (There were also of course ads for x-ray specs, Charles Atlas' seven day exercise plan, 8' weather balloons, and magnets that were supposed to lift 250 pounds.)  I thought the idea of floating around, hovering, on a cushion of air was amazing.  So I guess in a way, riding the Flying Sau—oops! I mean Tires, Flying Tires, was sort of fulfillment of a childhood dream.  And isn't that pretty much what a trip to Disneyland is all about?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Jedi Training

Monday was my last full day at Disneyland, and I wandered around a bit looking for a good option for lunch.  Over at Tomorrowland Terrace, I found a salad with grilled chicken on the menu, and figured that would be fine.  When I got to the front of the line, my order somehow morphed into a bacon barbecue burger with a side of fries.  (Oh well: It was vacation.  I actually didn't finish the bun, but I did scarf down all the fries, which seemed unusually wonderful at the time.)

Although the outdoor dining area was pretty full, I did manage a seat, and I had a good view when the entertainment started up.  The Jedi Training Academy was running.
Jedi in training
Two Jedi masters appeared on stage and started recruiting children for light saber training.  (Boy, those Jedi must have had a long trip from that far away galaxy.  And I complained about the trip from Pennsylvania.)  The kids are given plastic light sabers and trained in a series of moves:  strike to the left arm, strike to the right arm, etc.  The lead Jedi asks: "Do you know what happens when you cut off your opponent's arms?  You disarm him!"  (Pause)  (Jedi wave) "You will all find my jokes funny..."

After a while of practicing this light saber kata, there is a disturbance in the force.  Suddenly, Darth Vader rises up from the stage, accompanied by storm troopers, shortly to be joined by Darth Maul.
Oh no—Vader!
Vader is there to lure the new Jedi to the Dark Side.  Not to worry, 'though; the Jedi assure the kids that if they remember their training, they can defeat Lord Vader.  So the kids line up and take turns either attacking Vader or Maul, running through the routine, with the encouragement of their Jedi teachers.  Left!  Right!  Duck!  (The "duck" was particularly fun, since the kids usually forgot that was part of the routine.  The bad guy swipes at the younglings at this point, and the adults all notice that the Sith Lord's light saber is passing over the head of the adult standing next to them, but I'm sure many of the kids think they have just barely evaded the strike.)  At one point, the storm troopers rush forward, and the student is told to use a "force push", which miraculously sends the troopers flying backwards.  (I just know the kid is still wondering how she did that....)  

At the end, we hear a word from Yoda (voice-over only), Vader and Maul are sent away defeated, and the galaxy is safe once again.  The whole thing is surprisingly entertaining to watch, even if you're neither a kid nor a parent of one.  And of course plastic light sabers are available in the gift shop.