Theme Park Ranger
October 23, 2009
You can ride a roller coaster without messing up your hair — well, virtually — at the newest installation at Epcot's Innoventions.
The Sum of All Thrills simulator attraction also can put you in the pilot's seat for a jet or a bobsled without air-sickness bag or parka.
The exhibit, located in Innovations East near the Don't Waste It! area, showcases four mechanical arms that fling, spin, hurl and invert guests in the air two at a time through courses they created for mild or wild rides. Watching others inside the Sum machines is entertaining unto itself. They resemble steam shovels turned Transformers.
We trekked through its line three times to sample each variation: bobsled, roller coaster and jet. (Note: Folks were lined up to just about the end of the queue area when we arrived. A cast member told us it would be 40 to 50 minutes, but the whole experience was more like 20-25 minutes.)
All participants are given swipe cards and then go through videotaped briefing process. Here we learned that mathematicians and scientists are rock stars, creating face cars, video games, bridges and fun toys. (This message is brought to you by the mathematicians and scientists of Raytheon.) The scenario is similar to other Disney World pre-shows: hipster-dufus dude (Spencer) enthusiastically explains what you're about to experience while patient smart gal (Grace) fills in the gaps that he forgets.
We also meet Crash, an animated "test bot" that's (thankfully) little seen and alerts — in a squeaky robotic tone — if your coaster design isn't safe.
Each group is then escorted to large touch-screen stations to select elements of their creation. They are arranged in increasing intensity. For each desired segment — such as a double hill, curved bank, dramatic loop — you also pick a height and speed to achieve, factoring in whether you have enough energy available.
Here's where math comes in, but don't worry, you won't have to do math in your head, and there are no pop quizzes. The display or Crash indicate whether your speed or structure is too high. Approved plans are uploaded onto the swipe card, which guests take upstairs to be placed on the arms.
The seating is similar to roller coaster vehicles that let legs dangle; however, the upper half of your body is encased in a drop-down hood with a personal screen. The tight quarters are similar in feel to sister attraction Mission: Space, but you can see your ride partner only via a picture-in-picture inset on the screen.
This is not for the claustrophobic or big-big-boned. When the hood came down and latched between my legs, I had a "gulp!" moment of anxiety, but I also felt strangely secure. There are sample seats downstairs to try if you have doubts. If you freak out mid-ride, there's a button on board that halt the process and returns the module to the dock.
Finally, you're ready to take off on your personalized thrill ride. The screen reflects your options and vehicle type: snowy for the bobsled, speeding along in the jet (and dodging boulders) and a more traditional roller coaster.
Some of it is not pure illusion. The KUKA arm literally takes riders upside down and through corkscrew motions. That was the most fun part for me, both in the air and watching with feet planted firmly on solid Epcot ground.
The inversions appear to be a key point with the staff. We were asked each time if we knew it was going to go upside down and were we OK with that. Height restrictions are 48 inches, unless you've picked an inversion. Then riders must be at least 54 inches tall. (Note: inversions aren't an option on the bobsled course.)
There are free lockers up in the loading area. Use them. We don't want spare change all over Innoventions.
The swooping elements were effective (from the ground, they reminded me of a Janet Jackson dance move). My head banged about in the harness a bit, but it was bearable because the enclosed portion of the experience lasts only about a minute.
The aftermath wasn't jarring either. It was easy to walk straight over to the Food & Wine Festival to regain our footing. Yeah, that's it — regain our footing.
Studios notes: Take threeFull disclosure: I hadn't been to Disney's Hollywood Studios in a while. We've been Halloween-happy lately, and the pumpkin population at the Studios is thin. But last week I visited for an afternoon and bumped into a few things I've missed:
•I finally saw Luxo Jr. in action after several foiled attempts. The bigger-than-life desk lamp that's also the Pixar mascot, appears on a ledge across from Toy Story Mania. The version I saw featured Luxo dancing to a variety of music (two-step, Riverdance, disco) but eventually sulking at the music selections. Naturally, he perks back up with "You've Got a Friend in Me," takes a bow and retreats.
•There's another gateway to American Idol Experience auditions. A big, blue arch is up just beyond Sounds Dangerous and is essentially a shortcut to the entrance once only reached via Commissary Lane. Cast members say it has been there about a month.
•New joke at Idol in relation to it being OK to boo while at Disney: "We're tougher now," the warm-up guy says. "We just bought Marvel."
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