EPCOT Center, 2014

I’m a massive thrill-seeker. I dominated Cedar Point when I was 12, and I did each coaster with my hands up the entire ride.

Thus, it’s a bit unusual that I love EPCOT [1] so much. Disney parks aren’t known for having especially thrilling rides. EPCOT itself is known more for its blend of science and global culture than its adrenaline rushes. To be fair, I’m strongly interested in both topics, which I suppose makes the park relevant to me. I think another factor is simply how freaking magical the Disney experience is.

Either way, I’ve been to EPCOT a few times in recent memory — spring 2005, spring 2007, and summer 2009. My family went today, New Year’s Day 2014. Here are my thoughts, presented in chronological order.

Entering

Oh God, New Year’s Day was a terrific day to go to a theme park, given that you’re good at the dodging asteroids part of Mission: Space. You’ll sure as hell be dodging tourists that don’t know how to walk on a sidewalk without stopping at arbitrary points in time.

Test Track

As a traditionalist, I figured I’d really hate the new theme and Chevrolet sponsorship. However, The Imagineers did something right in that the new emphasis on designing your car really helped smooth the queue out. More time spent in the pre-show translates to less time aimlessly waiting in line (pay attention, Soarin’). With that being said, the part of the queue that you do have to wait in is now boring and uninspired. There was something great about waiting for an hour with your friends and family seeing how car testing works. Now, there’s really not much to look at or do, up until the car design point.

The new theme itself reminded me of the whole flat design fad. I’ll admit that it was refreshing, but why did Disney have to go ahead and kill a perfectly good queue? Not to mention that Chevrolet is really kicking ass, taking names, and chewing bubblegum with their Volt, the ultimate disruptive innovator of motor vehicles. Oh, wait…

The ride itself is somewhat ruined. That’s because Disney took immutable track and tried to apply a new ride experience. As a result, several things are completely wrong with the new Test Track:

  1. No more German and Belgian blocks after the climb. You just drop for no reason.

  2. The old ABS section is completely pointless now. You just swerve for no reason on the first attempt, and you don’t swerve for no reason on the second attempt. Apparently there was supposed to be snow/ice on the road…couldn’t tell.

  3. The heat, cold, and corrosion tests were replaced by arbitrary scans for eco-efficiency and aerodynamic efficiency. Way lame.

  4. No more almost crashing into the wall.

I’d continue to hop on this ride in the future because it means so much to me, but I’m really disappointed with Disney’s execution. I think that the opportunity to design your own car and see how it handles on the track is great, but Disney changed too much of the actual ride experience. There’s now a disconnect between what the car is doing and what the ride is trying to tell you that it’s doing.

Mission: Space

Still my favorite ride at any Disney park. Turns out that my two younger sisters can’t hang and didn’t feel amazing after the ride. I’ve done this three consecutive times in the past, but when you’re with a family of varying ages and ride preferences, however, sacrifices are made. Time to move on.

On the bright side, lines were decently short all day for this bad boy. I’m going to attribute that partially to EPCOT simply not attracting thrill-seekers on New Year’s Day and partially to word-of-mouth that this ride is intense.

Bonus for myself: I finally put together two and two — Ken Mattingly from Apollo 13 (Gary Sinise) plays the mission commander (or whatever) in Mission: Space. Nice touch.

Soarin’

Soarin’ is pure Disney magic. You will truly feel immersed in the experience — given that you can manage to avoid looking down at the ground, up at everyone else’s feet, or to the side to see the other ride vehicles.

Of course, the whole line situation for Soarin’ is FUBAR. Nothing like an eight-across free-for-all that speeds along at about four rows of people every five minutes. There are supposed to be interactive games on the right-hand wall. Not on New Year’s Day, evidently. Hopefully one of the Imagineers set a New Year’s resolution to fix the Soarin’ queue, God forbid our family was forced to actually talk to each other for 90 minutes. [2] [3] Waitin’ for Soarin’ is torture.

The Fastpass situation is also FUBAR. Besides how quickly these things run out, the cast members really favor letting Fastpass holders into the pre-show area. Listen, if standby is going to have a queue listed at 80 minutes, then Fastpass should probably still have a 10 to 15-minute queue, not a walk-on experience. The current balance pushed us to a 95-minute wait despite it being listed at 80 minutes. And to think that the queue was listed at three hours by the time we got off the ride!

I guess Soarin’ has the opposite issue that Test Track has.

Ellen’s Energy Adventure

I’ve got a sweet spot for this one. Nothing’s changed, besides the addition of the man talking on his cell phone during the entire pre-show period. That was part of the ride, right?

Nine Dragons

The Chinese-American restaurant in the China pavilion of World Showcase. Overpriced by normal standards, perfectly priced by elasticity of demand. Disney, man; they know their microeconomics.

Maelstrom

Highlight of the ride was my seventeen-year-old sister freaking out and curling herself into the fetal position on the drop — not because she was scared of the speed, but because she didn’t want to get wet. Don’t worry, no splash on this one. No real thrill, either. This was a lot more fun when I was 9.

Spaceship Earth

Bring back Jeremy Irons. His voice was serious, captivating, and romantic. You wanted to learn about the history and future of communication. The new narrator, whose name I really don’t care to learn because of what a disservice she’s done to the ride, is horrible. I held this position in summer 2009, about a year after Spaceship Earth re-opened with this retrogression of a renovation, and I maintain it today. The interactive screens and stupid and detract from the beauty of the star scene as you slowly climb downhill backwards. Instead of holding a captivated gaze, you’re making stupid choices about what you wanted the future to be. [4] [5]

The guy who took a flash photo from his iPhone of the Earth at the climax of the freaking ride was a real winner, too.

Overall

Hey Disney, stop making bad changes and please make some needed changes. Did you forget that what makes Disney Disney is that the entire ride experience is supposed to be magical, not just the ride but also the pavilion, queue, and post-show? The only magical part of Soarin’, save for the ride itself, was hearing this song from the Apollo 13 soundtrack; the fact that Universal gave Disney the rights to use a song from one of their films is pretty magical, especially given the grueling bidding wars on the Harry Potter franchise rights.

And believe it or not, I actually enjoyed myself today. Can’t wait to go back again!

Footnotes

[1] Yes, I’m aware that Disney changed the park’s name from EPCOT Center to Epcot awhile back. If you haven’t noticed, I’m old-fashioned.

[2] Just kidding, we figured out that Disney now has complimentary wireless Internet in their parks and instead just dicked around on Words with Friends / Instagram / Snapchat / Hacker News.

[3] And of course, this is tongue-in-cheek. I love my family, and we spent a lot of quality time together on this vacation — which is increasingly rare now that two of us are in college. Hi, Mom!

[4] It was worth a couple of chuckles to mark down that my sister and I were from rural Siberia, however. I can only hope that we somehow will affect a few dollars of Disney’s marketing efforts as a result of providing them with that datum.

[5] And yes, I realize that the ride is more popular than ever due to the new Siemens sponsorship and overhaul. It’s still ruined to me.