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Mysic Manor Courtesy of DAPSMAGIC.com

The future is here and it is unrestricted. Since the dawn of the dark ride and amusement park history the thrill of a ride has always been restricted to a metal rail, the ageless relative of the railroad track, that has long served as the backbone of both the ancient and modern thrill ride. Those days may be over…and it may be the single best thing that has ever happened to the themed entertainment industry.

Recall for a moment your favorite theme park attraction, how it felt to experience it for the first time, the thrill, the uniqueness, the sheer excitement of turning that corner out of the load station for the first time…

Now, imagine that same experience without any restrictions, no guidance rail that spoils the direction you’re headed, nothing binding you to the center of a track enabling completely free movement through a space. Now that’s easily said, but take a moment and really think about what that means…the Haunted Mansion with wood floors, simulated staircases, actual hills you descend down in the graveyard, no glaringly obvious track, no fixed viewing points and the ability to visit completely different areas of the house than you did before. Now take this and multiply it by every dark ride you have experienced and you begin to see the scope of this advancement. Now obviously, this is just an example, but the possibilities are breathtaking. The technology improves every aspect of the experience from immersion to reliability now that there is no track to be bound to and by extension no wheels and train components to have to replace/repair. Reduced down time, exponentially more ride experience variations, interactivity between vehicles, scenes that use the floor as a thrill point/scene itself, we really are only seeing the birthing stage of the trackless ride system and while current examples still bear many of the design restrictions of a standard track system, you can indeed see that Imagineers and ride designers are starting to realize the possibilities.

Point-in-case, Hong Kong Disneyland’s brand new ride Mystic Manor, a trackless first for the Walt Disney Company that clearly is the best example of what this technology can do. No on-board attractions host is needed and the ride floats effortlessly around corners and through the doorways of Mystic Manor, following the misadventure of the mischievous monkey Albert as he opens an ancient music box that brings inanimate objects to life throughout the antiquity-filled mansion. This ride has two tracks and is a seamless 360 ride experience, meaning no blank walls, no restricted viewing, nothing to ruin the illusion. In fact, the ride path even crosses over itself in the whirlwind finale that has to be seen to be believed, something that never would have been possible with track systems. Don’t believe it? See it in action for yourself.

Sea World’s Antarctica: Empire of the Penguins is another excellent example of how the ride can work. Sea World took a better approach when thinking of the ride track and

Antarctica, Courtesy of Attractions Magazine

really played with the mechanics of no longer have fixed cars, weaving the cars in and out of each other’s paths, facing other pods as they enter and exit spaces, using the exposure to the other riders as an enhancement rather than distraction, etc. Sea World’s ride itself may have a few issues with quality and general story, but the execution of technology is the true star in this attraction and it really seems Sea World wanted to show off the new system as the centerpiece of the entire experience and indeed, it is almost more entertaining to watch the other cars move and glide than it is to pay attention to the actual show (which is a huge problem in actuality, but hey, we’re having fun here.)

The story revolves around a penguin who you meet in the queue as an infant and follows his story as he learns about life for the penguins as well as his beautiful and dangerous home, Antarctica. Seals chase you under the sea, you emerge into luminescent caverns of glacial ice, sea water flows and falls around you as you glide through the caverns with your trusted friend on his journey, culminating in an unbelievable (to the point where it has already caused problems) finale where you are face to face with the penguins themselves, all while freezing at an authentic 0 to 1 degrees Celsius throughout the experience.

We are not there yet with this technology, we have only begun to tap the surface of trackless ride systems and the innovative possibilities they hold that are just waiting for the taking. It will take an entire paradigm shift, a completely new way of thinking and creating to use this technology to its fullest. The dark ride rule book is about to be rewritten and I will be on board for the ride, will you?

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….Suddenly, overhead, using the same projection technology as before in the queue, Hermoine appears and throws floo powder on you, spewing a tiny plume of green fog into your face, sending you flying  up into the air and through the floo network, emerging into the Astronomy Tower. I hate to say this, but the floo network sequence is HORRIBLE. It is very obviously a projection, and a bad one at that, with the edges of the projection visible to all of the riders and the motion of the seats, although smooth, feeling very inorganic. Additionally, the floo network itself is video-game quality CGI, which only adds to the unbelievability. The whole effect, including the lackluster fog at the beginning, is not very well done. Why they couldn’t have it appear as though you are entering a fireplace, even if doing so sideways, and THEN flying through the floo network after getting consumed by green flames, is beyond me, but they needed to (and if at all possible, need to think about reprogramming/updating to include that) because what they have now is laughably BAD. Out of the floo network, you emerge into a practical themed area which is the Astronomy Tower, a surprisingly immense and beautiful space that acts a anchor to the reality of what you are about to encounter, complete with an enormous armillary sphere and blue sky beyond the pillars of the astronomy tower. From here, you fly left to a concave screen of Harry and Ron high above Hogwarts, both of who greet you and quickly whisk you down closer to the castle where you suddenly meet Hagrid and Fang who ask if you’ve seen a dragon, menacingly producing an enormous chain with nothing attached to the end of it…

Harry and Ron disregard him and fly underneath the bridge and on towards the Quidditch pitch, but suddenly, the dragon flies up and begins to chase the boys as well as you, bumping you down away from the screen and into the bridge (as featured prominently in the Prisoner of Azkaban). The Bridge/dragon sequence is hands down the most thrilling and best part of the entire ride. It is done entirely through practical effects and is actually kind of scary for a few seconds. Once inside, you fly through the covered wooden bridge at a dizzying pace as the dragon’s wing appears menacingly in front of you beyond the bridge, flapping as flaming rips tear through the roof of the bridge. Suddenly, there is a roar and the crash of splintering wood and suddenly, you are faced with the broken bridge, falling down into its support beams where the dragon is waiting for you. Coming within inches of each other, the dragon spews flaming fog into your face, propelling you back down into the Forbidden Forest. (Just as a side note, that dragon head is a practical effect as well, and it is SPECTACULAR, a fully-operational animatronic that is frightening to behold and unnerving to literally come within inches of. Just so you know!). Now in the dark and misty Forbidden Forest, you see the thin thread of spider silk surrounding you as spiders drop from the trees, spitting venom at you as you delve deeper into Aragog’s layer. Suddenly (and if you blink you’ll miss it), you come face to face with Aragog himself, the dark, blind Acromantula that inhabits the grotto of the Forbidden Forest. He is terrifying, especially considering how close you are to him, but he is lit very poorly and you speed past him in a flurry. If you close your eyes at the wrong moment (or, if you’re arachnophobic, at the right moment) you’ll miss him completely, even though he’s literally right in your face and even spits on you, so keep those eyes open! Trust me, you’ll regret it if you don’t!

The entire Aragog sequence is very, VERY dark and potentially terrifying to severe arachnophobes. None of the animatronics are very complex or advanced, and truthfully, beyond the unnerving hissing noise that they feed into the benches, the atmosphere itself is a bit barren, but just like Disney’s DINOSAUR, this is one place where a dark room, some loud noises and couple of carefully placed ‘startle’ moments really turn an otherwise boring sequence into something that was, surprisingly, talked about after the ride.

Flying out of the grotto, you are greeted (rather randomly may I add…hmmm…) by Hermoine who, for some reason, appears in a hole in the side of the grotto telling you to quickly head towards the Quidditch pitch (which makes absolutely NO SENSE, seeing as we are muggles and have no clue how to get out of the Forbidden Forrest, much less make it to the Quidditch pitch, but I digress…). From here,  you emerge into a giant room that is very obviously a metal warehouse room that houses the enormous Whomping Willow. This is the first place in the ride where the magic is broken a bit, as you can clearly see the room containing the ill-tempered tree, despite it being very dark, and the tree itself does not move save for two separate branches, one of which flings randomly in the air overhead and the other of which ‘slams’ down onto the flying benches. Unfortunately, you can clearly see where these branches connect into the trunk of the tree with no blending of the static and dynamic occurring themeing wise here. Lastly, a sharp burst of air blasts you as are ‘hit’ by the bulbous tree branch.

Normally, this might be an enhancing effect to an otherwise lackluster event-room in the ride, but the pneumatic compressors used to produce the blast of air are so painfully loud that they overpower the soundtrack and are even audible upon first entering the room itself (which is NEVER a good thing- the audience should never see or be aware of an effect before they reach it).  Following this blast of air, you are thrown upward/sideways into another concave screen (all of which I should add are hidden VERY well, not at all suffering from the same ‘blending’ problem that plagues the screens of The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman that is just across the Islands lagoon)   where you are confronted by Harry who whisks you off into the throes of a Quidditch match alongside Ron. Like the other moments in front of the screens, the flying bench moves very smoothly, (in my opinion unnaturally so, but many who have ridden actually like how smooth it is, so there you go!).

After only minutes in the match, zipping around the field, a dark funnel cloud swirls down from the sky from which pour a deluge of Dementors. Harry, naturally, flips his lid and pulls you down into the trench run of the Quidditch pitch with Draco Malfoy tailing you like the obnoxious little git that he is…until, suddenly, a Dementor flies in front of you and the bench is knocked backwards into a dark cave. In a flash, a Dementor vaults from the dark and into your face, its ghoulish breaths filling the air around you.  Now, almost nothing on this ride up to this point made me recoil or feel even the slightest twinge of fear, but this part scared the willies out of me…it is so unexpected and so quick, you literally have no time to prepare for it and before you know it, that soul-sucking beast is within inches of your face! I was startled, freaked out and simultaneously proud of Universal for being smart enough to engineer a scare like this! It was strangely refreshing in a way (What does that say about me as a person? Hmmmm….oh well, I’m weird, you all know that by now…)

Unfortunately, this bright moment is quickly snuffed out as a continuous barrage of Dementors attack you in the cave. While the first Dementor was well planned, well placed and adequately hidden, the rest are visible long before you ever reach them and many, even, are still interacting with the car in front/behind you! Clear as day! Now, this may not seem like much, but it ultimately destroys the entire surprise factor. Couple this with the fact that the Dementors’ hydraulic arms (including limited-edition accessories of green LED indicator lights and fabulous electrical cords) are not even attempted to be hidden and you have yourself a hot, Dementor mess. However, apart from that initial one, when you get a good look at these things, which are supposed to be the single scariest thing in all of the Potterverse (according to JK Rowling) then you begin to see that they appear to be nothing more than standard, garden-variety Halloween decorations. Their black capes actually looked like shreds of old cheesecloth and their heads, which could have been organic and dynamic and terrifying to behold, looked like oversized Nerf footballs covered in pantyhose….they were so poorly done and so obviously animatronic that it was laughable by the end of their scene.

However, in the middle of the Dementor sequence, you emerge into a spectacular space and truly one of the best scenes of the ride (visually speaking): The Chamber of Secrets. This room contains all of the fixings of the film version of the legendary vault of Salazaar Slytherin, including a giant, carved portrait of a man (whose mouth you fly through…enough said…), stone snake heads and perfect rockwork/lighting. The space is immense, interesting and like the rest of the scenes on the ride, doesn’t last long enough for you to truly take it in. After flying sideways through the agape mouth, you are confronted by a final Dementor who leans in close and sucks your souls from your body, portrayed rather comically by an LED light in the mouth of the Dementor and a smoke screen displaying a picture taken of your bench earlier in the journey.

Now, this effect is fun, funny and a great way to make you feel a part of the magic…when it works, that is. Altogether, I rode this 4 times over the course of a week and the effect only worked properly once, with the smoke screen (think Davey Jones on the Pirates of the Carribean) failing to cover enough space for the projection to work twice and one time, the Dementor that does the ‘soul sucking’ never even moved… it wasn’t good. Particularly seeing as this is the final big thrill of the ride as you are then propelled into another concave screen where you see Harry shout ‘expecto-patronum’ and blast away the Dementors attacking you. The moment could have been  (and SHOULD have been) the climax of the entire ride with a blast of practical effects and slew of animatronic Dementors flying back as you charge through them in a flurry, but instead, he shouts the famous spell with about as much gusto as Snape on bath day. The next part, made me cringe in shame…. Harry yells “it’s caving in” and the bench follows the movement of the screen as CGI rocks fall from the ceiling, almost crushing Harry before he valiantly escapes and emerges out above the grounds and flies back to Hogwarts. This concept is not inherently bad (though certainly not original either) and it could have provided a much needed traditional thrill to the ride with the benches suddenly plunging down (as in a REAL hill, just like a rollercoaster would do)  as the rocks just barely miss the riders as they descend only to suddenly spring back up and out over Hogwarts (which could have been a separate screen at the top of the next supposed hill). This would have been thrilling and unexpected, but no such luck. Instead, you get a few seconds of motion simulation before you are thrown back into the Great Hall where you are greeted by all of Hogwarts, clapping and waving through the doors of the halls. The moment is neat and the practical themeing surrounding the screen is very, very well done. Flying again to the right, you reach another doorway and another screen, where Dumbledore says thank you, proclaims that you are always welcome back and to tuck in your elbows as you are flung once more into the Floo Network (UGH…it’s SOOO BAD!) and finally descend back onto the loading dock to disembark. Thus ends your Forbidden Journey through Hogwarts!

Overview:

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a fun, innovative and generally well-conceived ride that, with some tweaking, will stand out for years to come. It does have flaws though, and the flaws that it has are fairly major ones that did draw notice and criticism from other riders beyond myself. Universal, once it gets a handle on the ridiculous crowds, needs to go back in and redo a number of things  on the Forbidden Journey during the off-season, including (but not limited to): entirely new/reworked floo network sequences, new Dementors (or at least new heads…Creepier/more realistic please!) , retooled Whomping Willow scene, a fix for the hit-or-miss soul sucking Dementor, and finally, a re-imagined ‘expecto-patronum’ moment at the end. All of these fixes are well within Universal’s capability and budget, it is just a matter of willingness on the part of Universal Creative (who, admittedly, may have bigger fish to fry with the looming end of the Marvel contract which was bought by Disney just this last year).

Overall, the Forbidden Journey is a fun, magical but flawed experience that is great for fans and newcomers alike. Don’t expect huge thrills or scares and you won’t be disappointed by what Hogwarts has to offer!

The Good: Dragon Sequence, AWESOME queue line, Chamber of Secrets scene, smooth ride motion, Great practical themeing.

The BAD: FLOO NETWORK ( YES. It really is THAT bad.), Dementors, Whomping Willow, Cave-in moment.

WWoHP: Review Part I

WWoHP: Review Part II

WWoHP: Review Part II

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Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (The Queue…YES, it DOES require an ENTIRE blog of its own…)

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey begins as you enter the gates of Hogwarts, greeted by winged hogs standing atop fiber optic pillars beautifully displaying the name of the coming experience. Upon entering into the castle itself that is soaring overhead, you emerge into a dark corridor as an attendant greets you and gives you some instructions.

Special ‘Magical’ Rant: If you have any carry-on items of ANY kind, be aware they WILL have to be put into a locker that is located in a separate corridor just off to the right as soon as you enter Hogwarts. Don’t fight the attendant and for the love of humanity, do not think you know better than he/she does, because once you get on this ride, you’ll quickly realize exactly why those carry-ons are not permitted. The lockers are free too, so just shut up and do it. If you can’t tell, Universal was having problems with belligerent guests who think they know better trying to take their stuff with them only to be stopped later on and faced with the decision of putting their items in a PAY locker just off to the side, or forfeiting their place in line and returning to the entrance to stow their belongings and wait all over again. It was annoying to listen to, it held up the line and the guests almost always become mad and demanding when they are **gasp** stopped before entering the ride after being warned by: A. Video B. Signage C. The attendant at the entrance to the Castle and D. The attendant inside the castle. That’s four layers of warning! Take the hint, just don’t do it. And if you plan on trying to, know this: Universal has a zero tolerance policy about violating this rule (as well they should), so you can scream, cuss, fuss, fling insults and call everyone and their house elf a “Floppy-wanded dementor-bogart”, but you’re still going to put that stuff in a locker if you want to ride. PERIOD.  Just saying. 🙂

Okay, where were we…ah yes… this attendant will direct you to one of two paths (she’s a Divination major no doubt):

1. The regular queue: Go here if you: A. Don’t want to be split up as a group B. Wish to experience the entire castle and/or story C.If you have small children who are easily scared (note the height requirement though! A lot parents make the mistake of thinking that their child can ride anything as long as they come along, do not make this mistake! It will only end in tears for your child and frustration for you and everyone else in your party because if your child does not meet the height requirement of 48 inches that is posted throughout the entrance, queue, in the park maps and at information kiosks, they WILL NOT RIDE. Again, do your worst, they’re still not getting on, and you’ll just end up looking like a hot, tired, defeated jerk. Plus, you’ll hold up the line, which Universal, nor the people who actually DID follow the instructions, appreciate. Again, JUST DON’T DO IT.)

I recommend using the “stand-by” line for your first-ever trip on the Forbidden Journey. It establishes the story, allows you to see the castle in all of its wonder and properly builds the anticipation of what is to come. The “single rider” line on the other hand is for repeat rides on the Forbidden Journey, featuring a VERY abbreviated tour of Hogwarts and effectively dumping you directly into the Room of Requirement loading dock where you’ll board the flying benches, which is perfect for quick “flights” through Hogwarts.

Proceeding through the stand-by entrance, you’ll emerge outdoors in a conifer garden. As a landscaping lover, I was really thrilled and a bit bewildered by the fact that Universal was able to bring typically cold-weather conifers to Orlando and plant them around the grounds both there in the queue and around Hogsmeade. I was not able to get close enough to determine if they were real or not (I am assuming they’re real, because if they’re fake, then somebody should get an award for fake-tree-awesomeness), but the effect was enchanting nonetheless. Proceeding through this garden area you emerge into the greenhouses of Hogwarts. I can see what Universal was trying to do here with the greenhouse queue, but it just falls flat on every level. They should have had animatronic Mandrake roots that pop up and scream at guests periodically, plants that playfully snap at guests or spit water at them, etc. This greenhouse had the ability to be a truly wondrous, interactive queue that would have added exponentially to the magic of Hogwarts. Instead, it is nothing more than a glass-topped outdoor space with an uphill queue that turns into Hogwarts.

Don’t fret though, for this turn into Hogwarts is where the magic really begins…

Entering into a vaulted-ceiling hallway complete with cathedral windows glowing with the looming twilight outside, you pass tall bronze statues of the famous Hogwarts’ foes: Salazaar Slytherin and Godric Gryffindor, flanking the astonishingly beautiful bronze, glass and gem-filled Point counter for the houses. Proceeding forward, you reach the Phoenix statue entrance to Headmaster Dumbledore’s office. Hanging a left past it, you emerge into the Headmaster’s office. This is truly a spectacular room, at the back, the room is filled with all of Dumbledore’s favorite mechanical and magical tch0chkes (sp?) including the coveted Pensieve. Opposite of these items is the main event of the room, Dumbledore’s desk, complete with tall vaulted ceilings, hanging armillary sphere and even Dumbledore himself.

Yes, I meant that last bit. Dumbledore really does appear on the balcony overlooking his office, using the same projection technology Universal first employed on DISASTER! ,  the famed wizard greets the guests of Hogwarts welcoming the first tour of ‘muggles’ (potter-talk for non-magical folk) into the castle. He tells you that you will be heading into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom for a ‘rousing’ 4 hour lecture on the history of Hogwarts. Okay, so…I gotta break for a minute to tell you about this projection of Dumbledore. While infinitely better than a simple video shown on a TV or screen, this effect is presented multiple times throughout the experience and I simply have to say that it is just not done that well. Although, again, a huge improvement over the norm, the projection is very obvious even to the casual eye and in some places even the  refracting glass was visible (eek!). However, the biggest problem with this arose when you ventured beyond this room and into the classroom, at which point the queue design allowed for you, the viewer, to realize the 2-dimensional nature of the projection which ran in a continuous loop.  I don’t know what they did differently between this and DISASTER! but the disaster effect is dazzling and neat, this version….not so much.

Proceeding through another stone archway/corridor, you enter into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. If you need a reference point as to what this looks like, watch either the Chamber of Secrets or the Prisoner of Azkaban, both of which feature this room prominently, because this part of the queue is quite literally a PERFECT replica of that room. Truly. If you are at all familiar with that space, you will be astounded. And, like the previous room, there is another use of the projection effect on the balcony overlooking the classroom, only this time, it’s the infamous trio of Ron, Harry and Hermoine. (The effect is just a poorly done here as well, but I’ll leave it be.) They inform you, rather comically, that they have a better idea for the muggle visitors than sitting around and listening to a four hour lecture. Their idea? Go to a Quidditch match!  As they have planned it, Hermoine will use a rather unique spell she discovered (after all, and as the ride states over and over again, she IS the brightest witch of her age), to enchant regular, everyday Hogwarts benches, turning them into magical, flying benches for you to join in the fun!

Hint: If you would like, and are okay with letting people proceed before you in line, you should know that there are actually several versions of this speech the trio give, all with slightly different interactions and a different spell that Hermoine casts over the heads of the muggle guests in the queue. It’s kind of fun to see all of the different effects and interactions, if you are willing to wait!

From here, you turn out of the classroom and into a narrow corridor. It is here that you meet the Fat Lady, guardian of the entrance to Gryffindor tower. Her part, played by the always wonderful Dawn French, is perfect. Complete with the classic ‘breaking the glass’ bit from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It is truly one of the most fun bits of the queue and because of the same mind-blowing technique used to bring the moving-portraits to life in the stairwell, she seems to be completely painted onto the entrance way (I call it that, because technically that is what it is, even though in the queue it is, disappointingly, nothing more than a prop standing off to the side) with many guests not realizing that she is watching them as they pass until, suddenly, she awakens and ushers you into the Gryffindor common room in between bouts of ghastly opera that she believes she is entertaining you with. It was probably one of my favorite parts of the entire queue and was definitely the funniest with multiple guests laughing as they passed.

It is at this point that you enter a disappointing space in the queue: the Gryffindor common room. I don’t know if the designers had to make sacrifices due to space or if someone just wasn’t thinking things through that day in the design meeting, but this room is a failure on multiple levels. Entering the common room, you emerged into a tall, open space with an archway in front of you that is covered n three different moving portraits and through which you are able to clearly see the rest of the queue which here becomes just a long, straight line to the Room of Requirement. As you look around the room and more specifically in the right hand corner, the aesthetic of the Gryffindor common roombecomes far more evident with the recognizable tapestries, radio, fireplace and steps leading to the dormitories visible from the queue. Sadly, opposite this display, the room is quite literally a blank, stone, wall. This is where the immersion of the rest of the castle falls apart a bit and for the first time in the queue you are able to recognize that you are about to board a ride.  However, all is not lost, as the moving portraits here, once again, are the saving grace. They consist of three different, former wizards, a lady, a student and an older gentleman, who inform you about the restrictions of the ride, how to board the ride vehicle, what is and what is not permitted on the ride, and exactly what these ‘flying benches’ will be doing. They are funny, creative and surprisingly informative with their speeches sparking some questions and concerns from the guests who later asked the attendant standing underneath these portraits/the archway before proceeding through the rest of the line.

Warning: It is at this point that anyone the attendants might suspect of being “of unusual body proportions” to sit down in a test-seat of the moving benches and make sure they are able to ride. Now, don’t assume anything! Because, although you may fight into the seat itself, the attendants MUST be able to lower the shoulder harness and ‘click it down’ 3 TIMES. If it clicks down only once or twice, despite their best efforts to make you fit, you WILL be asked to forfeit your place in line. Sound unfair? Well, in a way, it is…and Universal understands that it is…which is why they ask EVERYONE to test the seats at the entrance to the ride FIRST before getting in line.  Ultimately, if the attendant cannot get the bar down 3 clicks, you are not going to ride. End of story. Again, cuss, fuss, sling mud, cast charms, do your worst, you’re not getting on and you’d be surprised how many people get insanely agitated by this despite Universal’s continued warnings and opportunities to test the seat. My advice? Know thyself. If you’re a fatty, really tall or really buff, don’t fool yourself into thinking you can get away with it. Avoid the wait, avoid the embarrassment and just test the seat to make sure (remember! 3 clicks!).  Now, some good news: Universal is actively working with KUKA, the makers of the ride vehicle, to ‘fix’ the seats so that, in the future, only one click is needed, effectively allowing pretty much anyone who wants to ride the ability to do so. BUT, that is WAY in the future (at least a year from now. AT LEAST. So plan your trip accordingly if you think your size might be a problem).

From this testing area, the queue makes its final leg up to the Sorting Hat, which is an insanely cool and fun animatronic that rhymes to you the requirements to ride once again, just for good measure. Guests were going crazy about this thing and for good reason! It is truly one of the most believable and spectacular animatronics I have ever seen (and that is including Obama/Jack Sparrow from Magic Kingdom). Turning past him, you are sorted into groups of 4 and ushered into the Room of Requirement which is a really neat space featuring the candle ceiling effect seen on the Dragon Challenge and walls of glass mirrors, just like in the films. The entire rooms functions as a giant optical effect to hid the immense ride system through theming, and, if I may say so, it is done PERFECTLY. From here, things move quickly so stay alert, as you are immediately ushered onto a moving conveyor belt and assigned to a bench where you sit down and the attendants close the harnesses for you. It all happens very quickly and once you’re on the belt, if you get scared or no longer want to ride, then tough luck, because at this point, there’s only one way out…

What happens on the ride itself? Come back this Saturday to find out as I post the final review of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: The Forbidden Journey!

WWoHP: Review Part I

WWoHP: Review Part II

WWoHP: Review Part IV

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Copyright 2010 The Rogue Imagineer

June 18th, 2010 – Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure officially debuts The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to public fanfare and delight of muggles the world over!

July 18th, 2010 – I, The Rogue Imagineer, get the privilege of experiencing the park for myself…what I see, feel, taste and touch excites me, baffles me and somewhat shocks me. For the better AND for the worse…

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is truly an immersive gem in the theme park industry…for the most part. Upon entering Islands of Adventure, you can see Hogwarts castle towering in the distance, a sight I was very much excited to see. Unfortunately, the forced perspective used on Hogwarts does not work from this vantage point. AT ALL. To put it bluntly, the castle looked like something out of a really expensive miniature golf course  when viewed from that distance. However, skew my opinion I let it not! Continuing on, I made my way to the gates of Hogsmeade, which is where the ‘magic’ truly takes off. Here, the Hogwarts express greets you with steam billowing from its engines as the conductor ushers you further into the ‘world’. And let me tell you, at this point, what a magnificent world it is! Hogsmeade is PERFECTION. It simply has to be seen to be believed. The detail? Extraordinary. The shops? Pristine. The artistry? Infallible. From the cobble streets to the costumed workers, the entire ‘world’ is insanely realistic. Standing amongst the bustle of Hogsmeade, one looks up and sees Hogwarts as it was designed to be seen, and let me assure you, it is quite a sight! From the craggy, rocky base to the soaring towers, the fabled school is a dream to behold. Not at all a competitor to Disney’s Cinderella castle at Magic Kingdom, which still induces tears from guests as they enter, but then again it was never designed to be and it is magnificent in its own right, particularly at night!

Copyright 2010 The Rogue Imagineer

Walking through Hogsmeade you pass the muggle filled shops of The Owl Post, The Three Broomsticks, Honeydukes, Zonkos, Ollivander’s, the Hogs Head and Dervish and Banges. These stores, inside and out, from the animated props in the windows to the atmosphere of each, are jaw-dropping. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same thing for the products contained therein. Perhaps the thing I was looking forward to the most was the merchandise that would be available, after all, who wouldn’t love to experience a chocolate frog? Well, turns out, I didn’t…seeing as the 8oz piece of molded chocolate was being sold for a staggering $9.99. Yes folks, that’s right, ten buckaroos for a piece of candy in Harry Potter’s world! I thought to myself, “It’s a theme park! The prices are high! Something else will be more reasonable!”…I was wrong. Every single thing in Honeydukes is insanely overpriced, to the point that many entered the shop, but the checkout lanes were empty with employees just standing there. $10 for a jar of gumballs? $10 for a 20 count of Bertie Botts Every Flavor Bean?? It was disheartening, and a bit infuriating, to say the least.  Unfortunately, things only got worse price-wise…A robe? $100. A flimsy, light-up, plastic broom that is not even to scale? $30.00. A REAL broom stick? $300 or higher. A house-colored tie? $60.00. It was extortion and many around me were commenting not only in sticker-shock, but some in revulsion that Universal would price-gouge like that. Again, I know it’s a theme park. Better still, I know it’s an ORLANDO theme park, but these prices are astronomical even at those standards. The only things that I thought were reasonably priced were the two most popular and highly anticipated items (Surprised? Neither am I). A wand from Ollivander’s was a palatable $30 and a Butterbeer was a decently standard $4.00.  I bought a wand and I am very happy with its accuracy and quality! Universal obviously paid immaculate attention to detail and sought out J.K. Rowling’s help with these, and believe me, you can tell. Especially with Voldemort’s wand, which was insanely well done! Unfortunately, I wish I could say the same for the Butterbeer…

Now, many of my constituents are praising Butterbeer for any number of reasons…and I seriously question the validity of their reviews now. Butterbeer, after much excitement and anticipation on my part, turned out to be, truly, nothing more than frothy cream soda. I am a huge cream soda fan/connoisseur, and trust me, this was cream soda if I’ve ever drank it. So much so, that I questioned whether I was going insane due to heat stroke…nope. I said aloud to myself “THIS IS JUST CREAM SODA!” while in line for Honeydukes and immediately several fellow Butterbeer drinkers in line around me started busting-up laughing. After questioning them and many, MANY other guests throughout the day, the consensus seemed to be that ‘Butterbeer’ (aka cream soda) could be obtained at any local drug store or grocery store and has, in fact, been in existence far  longer than Harry Potter has.  (Just for the record, I tried both the frozen and regular Butterbeer. The regular is better, but ultimately just buy some IBC Cream Soda and sadly, you’ve got a much cheaper, much better alternative…)

Moving on, Ollivander’s itself is a neat experience, but definitely not worth the 3 hour long wait it was commanding consistently throughout the day. Using my previous know-how of theme parks, I simply held-off and rode the Forbidden Journey once more, which put me out just 15 minutes after the park closed. Sure enough, Ollivander’s was relatively deserted! I walked right in, looked around, bought my wand and left. 20 minutes total and that is with ample ‘gawking’ time at theming. During my visit, I heard several guests grumbling about and even asked a few

Copyright 2010 The Rogue Imagineer

about what they thought of Ollivander’s. The general thought: NOT GOOD. I liked my experience, but I didn’t wait at all. You must consider that these who reviewed it so poorly waited upwards of 2 1/2 hours to get into a glorified theme park store. I wouldn’t be happy either. And as for the experience, generally speaking, it is only one person who gets to participate, it is almost always a very, very YOUNG child and it lasts less than five minutes after which everyone is crammed into the tiny Ollivander’s main store. As you can imagine, in 97 degree weather, after a 3 hour wait, it was a somewhat lackluster experience for them…thank the Lord I waited.

In conclusion of Part One of this review, Hogsmeade is a very expensive dream that while stunning to look at and behold, ultimately never sells the idea that you are actually ‘there’. I was constantly very aware that I was at Islands of Adventure the whole time, just in an insanely, meticulously designed land.  In my opinion, this is not at all a bad thing…it just contradicts the purpose of immersion, something Disney is far more successful at creating. This is not to say my dear, beloved Disney is perfect…oh no, far from it… but that  review is coming soon as well!

WWoHP: Review Part II

WWoHP: Review Part III

WWoHP: Review Part IV

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First broke by Lance at Screamscape… Disney Parks, as part of their ultra-top secret “Nex-Gen” initiative (a plan from Walt Disney Imagineering to completely reinvent the theme park experience), has been testing a talking Mickey Mouse walking character.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a real, live, TALKING Mickey Mouse is now wandering around Disneyland.

According to reports from within Disney Parks itself, the character is capable of interacting directly with guests, right down to saying their name and using completely improvised, unique material with each guest (think Turtle Talk with Crush only with a standing, breathing Mickey). The technology, if deemed succesful and ultimately accepted by the populous, could eventually be adapted in all of the suited characters in Disney Parks worldwide.

At first glance the effect is a bit unnerving, but I attribute this to the conditioning of the masses (like myself) who are used to the static characters already present in theme parks around the world. Once you experience it for a bit, the effect becomes natural and in all seriousness, completely changes the interaction for the better. To say it anthropomorphizes Mickey would be an understatement, it takes the much loved character/symbol to a new level of awesomeness unseen anywhere until Disney premiered the technology.

If this is the first step in the cloak & dagger-esque “Nex-Gen” initiative, then fans and Imagineers the world over should be very, VERY excited and Disney’s competitors very, VERY scared.

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© Andrew A. Vest

An Excerpt from the Memoirs of Sir Winston Earl Grey IV

Good day my little Lemurs! As of writing this I am trolling down the enchanting streams of exotic Cambodia! I am simply dizzy with anticipation! Today, we are discussing the harrowing danger of SMEF’ing! Brace yourselves!

So, my cheeky wee monkeys! Exactly why is a raven like a writing desk? Well, let me tell you something: it isn’t! Whatever the utterly fabulous Lewis Carroll was smoking when he came up with this little nugget of tommyrot was definitely illegal. A raven is a bird! It flies through the skies! It poohs menacingly on unexpecting victims! Whereas a desk is…well…a desk. A bit of wood propped up on legs. That’s about it.

The two have absolutely nothing in common in the slightest! Save for one simple thing: their lot in life, and believe me, it’s wretched. So wretched, in fact, is the life of the raven and the writing desk that both are permanent members of the SMEF list.

“But Winston! What is the SMEF list?”

Allow me to illuminate you. SMEF is a naughty acronym derived from the brilliant mind of philosopher and all around ninnypants Douglas Adams of the 20th century. It stands for Sudden Massive Existence Failure. Simply put, a bit of matter (you, your dog, a paperclip, lint, the Republic of China, etc.) becomes so utterly distraught with its own existence that is simply decides to stop being.

Office supplies have a horrific tendency to SMEF, due to their likelihood of being lost forever behind desks, stuffed between seat cushions, made into cute desk ornaments or slobbered on by children. I recall the tale of King Bic, ruler of Stapledom. He was accidentally dethroned by a disgruntled insurance salesman having a steamy affair amongst his quarterly progress reports. Tragically, in the throes of angry sin, the insurance salesman thrashed his arm across his desk, casting King Bic into the bottomless abyss of Waste Basket, wherein he became so distraught with the hand he was dealt that he said to himself:

“I don’t think I want to exist anymore…” And POOF! He was gone.

Consequently, the absolute most incredible SMEF was performed by the entire city of Atlantis in 9600 BC. Luckily, a hotel has taken its place.

Ravens have no purpose in life and writing desks are rudely written on by writhing workers working while writing (say that twice and try not to cuss!). Both are such sensitive beings of existence that simply looking at either in a less-than-pleasant manner will cause them to implode unto themselves without a thought otherwise.

If you find yourself in the position of either the raven or the writing desk and feel as though you might not want to exist anymore, then simply think back on your life and consider that it could be a lot worse…you could have been a paperclip.

Cheers!

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It is just a little less than two months until Universal Orlando unveils the drooled over and dreamed about Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Now, I have been following this attraction literally since day one, long before an official announcement was ever made and my excitement grew to such a dorkishly palpable level that for this Christmas I asked for money to go the grand opening (No, not an iPod, blu-ray player or  TV, I asked for Harry Potter world…I apologize for nothing…). So far, the progress has been incredible. Hogwarts? In-FREAKING-credible.  Hogsmeade? HOLY CRAP. Aesthetics? WORLD CLASS (considering that one of the main designers was Production Designer Stuart Craig, the original production designer on the films, I am not surprised). What could possibly be wrong then? In short: A LOT.

Now, (I seem to like that word today) I should note that this information is not confirmed and I am completely speculating with what I am about to rip to shreds,  and dear God, please, please let me be wrong…but if the footage released by Universal today is in fact the on-ride footage fromHarry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, then Universal needs to take a heaping dose of Veritaserum, because the truth is that what they have created looks like a cheap DVD menu…NOT a multi-million dollar world class attraction.

Don’t believe me? See it for yourself:

Okay, so let’s state the obvious: A) I have not experienced the attraction (as far as I know no one has beyond Universal/Warner Brothers Executives, creative teams, etc.) B) The footage pictured may be purely promotional and have nothing to do with the ride itself C) The footage may not have yet been finished D) The appearance of the film could be changed drastically by atmosphere and special effects.  I must concede these points for the sake of being fair. Plus, I should give credit where it is deserved and very, very rarely has Universal sunk so much money into a project only to have it fail (although the Hollywood Rockit! is still pretty much a disaster).

However, I still have an Ellen Ripley-esque bad feeling about the Forbidden Journey, for the rest of the Wizarding World I am almost 100% confident of  “Magic” being created, but if my gut is right and Universal somehow manages to screw up the flagship ride of the island it could prove catastrophic for Universal’s reputation and bottom line. For a park, Islands of Adventure, that has not added a new attraction almost since its opening in 1999, this is an attraction that could finally solidify Universal Orlando as the ultimate competitor to the Walt Disney World Resort behemoth just 20 mins. away, but as it stands now, if the footage we are seeing IS indeed from the Forbidden Journey, then Universal may be headed to a “Whomping Willow” of trouble.

Let us pray “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey”, doesn’t become “The-ride-that-must-not-be-named”.

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