Things change. Summer becomes fall. And bell-bottoms go out of style.
Alas, even the Magic Kingdom, that paragon of consistency, sees occasional changes. But there’s always a great, big, beautiful tomorrow, shinin’ at the end of ev’ry day, and while old favorites disappear. new ones appear. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Snow White’s Scary Adventures are gone, but many of the new rides are even better. Here’s a quick glance at my favorites.
The Roller Coaster (Seven Dwarfs Mine Train)
If you’re still looking to get scared by a Snow White ride, there’s still hope with the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. A roller coaster in the tradition of Big Thunder Mountain, the carts actually wobble a bit on the tracks, as if you were in an actual mining cart. The ride just opened last year, and the lines are the longest in the park. Last time I went, the queue was 30 minutes long within ten minutes of the park opening and didn’t let up for the entire day. This is an excellent ride on which to use a FastPass.
Like the other Disney roller coasters, the Mine Train is made for a younger crowd. It moves at a high speed and has plenty of twists, giving you the impression that you are about to fall off the mountain, but there are none of the loops or huge dips that you would find on a roller coaster at Six Flags. You’ll get a good two minutes flying around the “mine” and if you are a fan of Big Thunder Mountain, you’ll be a fan of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, as well. And if your youngster isn’t quite ready for the “big” roller coater, check out The Barnstormer, which is also in Fantasyland. No mountain and no mine carts, but enough thrills to make a five-year-old happy.
The “Flying” Ride (The Magic Carpets of Aladdin)
There’s nothing that kids like more than to be able to control their own little world, and the “flying” rides, such as long-time favorite Dumbo and Astro Orbiter, are perfect ways to give the little ones the conn for a few minutes. Built about 15 years ago, The Magic Carpets of Aladdin is one of the newer experiences at the park and will appeal to the younger kids in the crew. There are four people per “carpet,” with those in the front controlling how high (or low) the carpet flies, while those in the back can tilt it forward or backwards. Added bonus: a mechanical camel spits water at the carpets every few seconds. If you happen to be right in front of it when it does its thing, you can end up getting wet.
There’s nothing scary about the ride and it’s not particularly long, clocking in at about 90 seconds. My kids are six and I feel like they were among the older kids on it. But the ability to move your carpet around individually and the shorter lines (They always seemed to be about 20 minutes, no matter what time of day we went.) made it a good choice to fill in some time during the day.
More interested in The Little Mermaid? No problem. Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid can be found in Fantasyland.
The Shooting Gallery Ride (Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin)
Disney describes Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin as a “thrilling space battle.” Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but this was one of the few rides where I saw people of every age equally excited to hop on. The “theme” of the attraction is that Emperor Zurg has stolen batteries from a bunch of toys, and it’s your job to defeat him (and, theoretically, recover the batteries). You and your partner will share a space cruiser, which is taken along a track through outer space. Along the way, you’ll see Zurg and his minions, who will have conveniently located targets right on them. You’ll shoot lasers from your space cannons and, the closer you get to the center of the target, the more points you’ll score. The ammo itself is actually an infrared laser, and the spot where your shot “lands” will be shown on the target with a small red dot, allowing you to adjust your aim as necessary. The navigator will also have the ability to pull a lever and shift whether your cruiser is facing to either the right or the left. It’s impossible to hit every alien, since there are often targets on the left and right simultaneously, but a child (or adult, as the case may be) spinning the cart can get a lot of “hits,” no matter how bad their aim is.
Very small children may get frustrated with their inability to hit the targets, but a laser dot will show where the hit landed and allow your child to make minute adjustments as you go. The cruiser will keep track of your hits and allow adventurers of all ages to score big points.
And, as an added bonus, the ride empties right into an enormous gift shop, where your children will have the opportunity to beg you for every Toy Story souvenir imaginable, as well as a few that you never could have imagined.
The Show (Mickey’s PhilharMagic)
And then there’s my new favorite, Mickey’s PhilharMagic, a “3D” movie that incorporates music from Disney’s classic films. Let’s just say that it’s a few years ahead of the Tiki Birds.
Frankly, they had me at “sitting down and air-conditioned,” so everything else was a bonus. But it was a heck of a bonus.
A 3D movie is all about the quality of production. The movie itself is secondary. On the low end, we have films like 2010’s “Clash of the Titans,” which was shot in 2D and converted into 3D, meaning that the sharpness of the special effects is muted. On the other end, we have “Avatar,” which may have had the worst script in the history of cinema but had stunning special effects.
Fortunately, Disney doesn’t do anything halfway. The 10-minute experience was simply spectacular, with characters popping up in front of your face, thrown objects coming straight at you and trips through Ariel’s Grotto almost getting you wet. Come to think of it, you do get wet. Disney has incorporated the elements of smell and touch into the show, so when you are being served cherry pie while Lumiere sings “Be Our Guest,” the smell of dessert is pumped into the room. As you dive into the sea, you might find yourself getting sprinkled with water. And, well, I’ll let you discover on your own what happens when you hop on Aladdin’s carpet. You’ll move from scene to scene, with songs from Disney’s popular movies incorporated into the show.
The PhilharMagic is not a “ride” in the traditional sense, but it’s still stunning in its quality. People were coming out of the show and then filing back in to watch it again, and the movie itself is only slightly more fun than watching little kids reaching out to try and grab Donald Duck as his 3D image flew by their faces. Even better, there was never a line for it, as the theater was big enough to accommodate anyone who wanted to come in. Be sure to hit this one at about 2pm, when the weather is at its hottest. Just be aware that you will want to go back at 3pm, and 4pm and 5pm…
Want a back-up show? Head over to Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, where Mike Wazowski leads a stand-up comedy club that incorporates members of the audience. It doesn’t quite have the razzle-dazzle of Mickey’s PhilharMagic, but you’ll still get more than a few laughs.
And One to Skip…
I don’t know who came up with the concept of Stitch’s Great Escape, but it’s proof that even Disney doesn’t get it right all the time. You’re a recruit at the Galactic Federation Prisoner Teleport Center on your first day and dealing with an escaped alien. You’re strapped into a chair and forced to watch as the creepy Stitch escapes and races around the theater. Yum, nothing like smelling Stitch burp in your face, using the same type of effects that work so well at Mickey’s PhilharMagic but fail so miserably here. We had trouble finding anyone who liked it.