Tuesday, April 8, 2014

When Is a Ride Not a Ride-When It's at Disneyland and Walt Disney World of Course!

A Look At How A Grown Man Came to Love Disney Rides

Back in the Stone Age before I discovered Disneyland, theme parks meant rides and rides meant roller coasters, the bigger and faster the better or so I thought. Giant roller coasters were few and far between on the east coast in the 60’s but I went on a few and the actual ride though fun was always less than the expectation and there was a nagging feeling that this just wasn’t all that great.

A while back I spent a fun day of frantically chasing a much younger and much smaller Zack around Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, CA. Six Flags has a large
compliment of exciting roller coasters, both steel and wood, that go straight up into the air with inverted loops aplenty, or straight down and bone jarring and everything in between. Zack had to go on every roller coaster multiple times and of course if he wanted to go on a coaster multiple times so did I. I did my best, honest I did. I kept up with him but after the fourth or fifth time on Roar, a giant old school wooden coaster, my kidneys were rattling, my spleen was ready to come up my throat and I felt sure I must be hemoraging internally. I realized at that moment roller coasters really weren’t my thing. And I realized another thing. There are roller coasters at Disneyland but not very many and there’s a reason for that. At Disneyland every ride tells a story.

A roller coaster anywhere else is a huge mass of wood or steel that can be incredibly thrilling for the moment and if the adrenaline rush is enough for you than that’s just fine and dandy. But at Disney parks the story is the thing and everything about the ride is in service to the story. Some stories are journeys through exotic places like the Jungle Cruise. Some rides put you in a movie scene like Star Tours or Peter Pan’s Flight. Others want to take you to really scary places like Tower of Terror or the Haunted Mansion. Some rides have a very specific message presented in an extremely entertaining way like It’s A Small World. The common denominator is that every ride has a story. Even the gentlest rides like Storybook Land Boat Canals, which I happen to like quite a bit, serves as a great travelogue through Disneyized fairy tale lands.

What about the coasters at Disneyland and Disney World? They’re all about great stories. Like all Disney rides there’s a prequel, that wait in the Queue that at any other park is a boring prelude to a ride but at Disney sets the stage for the ride with all manner of story telling techniques. Take Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom for example. You start at a travel agency, progress through a tearoom, equipment room and a Yeti Museum all of which advance the story of the Yeti on Mt. Everest and all building excitement for the coaster expedition. Then you get into a rickety steam powered car and go on an exciting expedition through the Himalayas through dangerous appearing mountain passes with tracks that seemingly end abruptly evading very scary Yetis before emerging hopefully unscathed. Not only have you been on a great coaster ride but also you’ve just been through a great story.

How about some of the other Disney coasters? Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith takes you on a journey through Los Angeles’ convoluted freeway system in order to make it to the big show on time. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad takes us on a trip through an abandonad mining camp on haunted trains.

Even California Screamin’ which doesn’t seem to have a story is meant to be a coaster in an idealized version of a beach boardwalk amusement park like the one in Santa Cruz but to me really harkens back to Coney Island or Atlantic City in the 50’s or 60’s.

I like all the Disney coasters but as I said earlier I discovered that coasters really aren’t my thing. So what is my thing? I like the dark rides and the journeys at Disney best. My favorite rides in no particular order are Haunted Mansion, Soarin’ Over California, Pirates Of The Caribbean, Tower of Terror, and Jungle Cruise. Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing about each of these rides but first I’m going to need to do some extra research. Luckily I’ll be going as a family member to the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration at Disneyland this week and  I intend to spend some quality time on my favorite rides. I’ll see you with more soon.

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