Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Ghost Hosts

My friend posted a cool little Halloween decoration today featuring the Hitchhiking Ghosts from Disney's Haunted Mansion attraction.  This reminded me of a moment from my childhood that I thought I'd share. 

Most of you who know me also know that I've had a nearly lifelong fascination with theme park design and technology.  That fixation began suddenly when I was (I think) 10 years old.  Up until then, I always said I wanted to grow up to be an Inventor.  Specifically, I wanted to build robots.

So one day when I was 10, I was exploring the attic for lost treasures when I found some old postcards from my parents' previous visit to Disneyland.  Then I flipped to a postcard that looked a lot like this picture.  I made my Mom explain to me what they were.  Translucent robot puppets in a ride that looked like a giant funhouse of special effects.  Something snapped in my head.  From that moment on, there was no way for me to get enough information about Disney.  Suddenly, I wanted to design and build my own parks which eventually turned into a desire to become a Disney Imagineer.

By the time my family made my first trip to Walt Disney World a year later, I had already collected tons of articles and books and photos of the parks.  I already had the maps of the parks memorized and had detailed knowledge of the contents of most attractions (including names of some of the designers).  It was everything I hoped it would be and more.

15 years later, I got to work for both Walt Disney World and Imagineering.  I've taken many side-trips in my career but that goal of being a theme park designer has never changed.  Even my decision to leave Disney was made as a step towards achieving that goal by varying my experience and moving closer to California where most of that work happens.  I'm still working on it.

I've been asked many times throughout the years why I have this apparent obsession.  I don't really know for sure (but it's probably this).  All I know for certain is that moment when it started.  I think it's strange, wonderful, and a bit scary that most of the direction of my life was dictated by a chance encounter with a postcard.

I'm just grateful my parents didn't have pictures of car dealerships in the attic.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sea World's Journey to Atlantis

The Journey to Atlantis attraction was installed in Sea World Orlando while I lived in Florida but I never got the opportunity to check it out.  I heard that it had unique ride systems and the reviews were mixed.  However, I never let anybody that had ridden it tell me much.  I honestly wanted it to be a surprise and I've been excited to see it for a long time.

Years later, I live in Vegas but this past week, Danny and I took a trip to Sea World San Diego where I was pleased to discover the ride existed there too.  Finally!  Due various boring logistics, we didn't get to ride it until the very end of the day... twice.  Now I understand the mixed reviews.

This ride has a great deal of potential.  The ride systems are technologically very interesting.  It switches between a traditional water flume ride and a simple roller coaster.  It also has a cool tilting elevator.  Really neat.  I must say that Atlantis is one of my favorite mythological themes and the architecture of the structure is pretty cool.  Finally, as an element that is very unique to Sea World, the attraction has a large, nicely themed aquarium housing Commerson's Dolphins.  These small black and white dolphins are very energetic, interactive, and amusing.  They spend about 50% of their time swimming around upside-down.  They are the best part of the attraction and you don't have to get in line or ride the ride to see them.

However, this attraction is very disappointing in some respects.  It is almost entirely devoid of any recognizable story.  They did put some effort into a storyline in the form of a disembodied female voice that talks to you from great big obvious speakers sitting on the sides of the track.  She says something about talking to dolphins and "redemption for Atlantis".  The implication is that the ride is a series of challenges to survive.  The dolphin element is tied in via some CGI versions of them that appear on a video screen in the elevator.  I think they saved us or something.  My personal opinion is NEVER use a CGI animal when riders have just seen the real thing up close mere minutes before.  Finally, this ride lasts what feels like about 30 seconds.

So close!  Honestly, I think this same ride system (and even the theme) would be best served in an indoor attraction.  Perhaps a dark ride that has a surprising and sudden thrill ride element that you don't see coming.  I'm thinking of something like a Splash Mountain 2.0.  From what I've read, the Orlando version of this ride does have more dark ride-like elements to it but I can't really judge that version yet.

Anyway, I'm glad I finally got to do this.  There were great elements that I enjoyed immensely but as an entire attraction it felt unfinished.  Now they just need to build a Kraken and Manta in San Diego so I can try that out.

Click here for more pictures from our Sea World visit...