Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Western View - Southern California's New Big Hitters

Lately I’ve been focused on photo updates and lost sight of writing articles that are more than just captions.  Today we’re going to switch it up and I’m going to review the 2 major dark rides that recently opened in Southern California, Disney California Adventure’s Radiator Springs Racers and Universal Studios Hollywood’s Transformers: The Ride – 3D.

Radiator Springs Racers

First up is Radiator Springs Racers, which opened last Friday at Disney California Adventure (DCA). Cars Land is the final puzzle piece to the DCA billion dollar overhaul, and Radiator Springs Racers is the star attraction of the all-new land. 

Upon arrival to the park around 7:20am I noticed the usually busy Disneyland looked like a ghost town with almost no one trying to enter the park.  Across the esplanade, DCA had hundreds, if not thousands, awaiting their chance to enter.  It was very clear that Disneyland’s little brother has finally been noticed by guests to the resort.   The majority of the crowd opted to get fastpasses before waiting in line, making it easy for me to sneak into a short 15 minute wait thanks to the single rider line.

The ride begins with a slow, but breathtaking, drive along the land’s amazing rockwork and past a waterfall.  Disney uses spectacular music to emphasis the sites you see.  It’s hard not to get chills as you emerge from a small tunnel and the waterfall comes into view while the great music reaches a crescendo.
Not only does the ride have great theming, but so does that queue.
Next you head into the building getting into a few near misses with Mack, Van and Minny, and even a train.  You’re greeted by the Sherriff, who warns you to slow down, and then hands you off to Mater.  The Mater animatronics are some of the most impressive I’ve seen.   Not only is the face motion spot on, but his entire body movement as he drives looks just as it does in the films.   After some cow tipping shenanigans you find yourself in Radiator Springs where we meet most of the town folk.

Here is where Lightning and Sally separate the cars so they can race along side of each other.  You are sent into either Ramon’s paint shop or Luigi’s tire store.  Both rides I ended up in Luigi’s where you stop and view your car.   Guido quickly drops under the floor and moments later your car’s reflection is shown with new whitewall tires.

Moving from the shops you have a brief encounter with Doc Hudson who gives you some advice and sends you to the starting line.  Again, Disney works their magic as the animatronic looks amazing and syncs perfect with the car audio.  Just as you pass Doc you hear him on the “radio” finishing his instructions before the race.  The switch from the animatronic audio to the onboard audio is seamless as if he never stopped talking.
And then the moment for the big race is here.   Going into the ride knowing it only went at a relatively slow 40mph, I was expecting to only be mildly thrilled.   Surprisingly though, the ride has great positive forces in the banks and even gives you some decent airtime over the hills.

After the race is over you drive into a cavern with taillights jutting from the roof and floor.   This scene was the only one I didn’t care for as the props looked like they were made of plastic and didn’t blend well with the amazing rockwork.  Here you get a final word from Mater and Lightning and then you head into the station to exit.

Overall the ride is amazingly solid and a lot of fun.  The dark ride portion is one of the best Disney has ever done and the race is up there on the thrill scale for a Disney ride.  Radiator Springs Racers gets a strong A grade from me. The ride is sure to be a must for all visitors for many, many years to come, just expect to have to wait.

Transformers: The Ride – 3D

Next up, Universal Studios Hollywood has put in its bid for dark ride dominance in Southern California with the new Transformers: The Ride – 3D.   The ride, which was announced nearly 3 years ago, opened officially on May 25th and has been getting some outstanding reviews.  I set out on a mission the ride and judge for myself.
The entrance is not easy to miss. 
Like Radiator Springs Racers, I was able to utilize the ride’s single rider line and bypass the large 65 minute wait in a mere 10 minutes.  I can’t say enough about single rider lines, as they work sometimes better than a fastpass system for wait times as long as you are ok separating from your group.

Once aboard I had a vague idea of what to expect.  Prior to my visit, I made it a point to avoid any POVs on YouTube and be fully surprised with the experience.  I have ridden Curse of DarKastle at Busch Gardens Williamsburg; so I thought I knew what the ride would be like, at least from a movement standpoint going from screen to screen, but boy was I wrong. 

The ride is incredibly fast paced.  It gets going from the first scene and never lets up.  Drawing from my memory of DarKastle I recall always noticing when we got to a new movie screen, with Transformers the surroundings and videos blended seamlessly.  There was a few times where I felt speechless at the quality of theming and sheer size of the sets, only to realize that huge scene I was looking at was all CGI projections on a screen.  I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced such visual quality from a projected film on an amusement park attraction.

Like the park's Simpsons ride, Transformers has humorous and fun videos playing in the queue.
The ride’s story is easy to follow and exciting to watch unfold, and just like Indiana Jones Adventure, the ride never forgets you are simply tourist thrown into an extraordinary story.   Your transforming ride vehicle, EVAC, even talks you and tries to keep everyone calm as he tries to get everyone out of harms way.  I feel like this adds something to the ride, making it easier on the riders to suspend disbelief. 

By the end of the ride, the cars return with laughing cheering guests who are still riding the adrenaline rush.  And this ride succeeds in getting your adrenaline pumping, in fact I’m not sure a non-coaster has ever got my blood pumping quite like this thing.

After my ride I thought about how I would describe this attractions.  It’s not an ok ride; shoot, I can’t even describe it as a great ride.  The only two words I can really say are game changer.  What this ride says is that Universal will no longer back down in submission to Disney’s iron grip on the Southern California market.  This ride doesn’t just say Universal can also build big themed dark rides, it says they can build them better.  I will make one of the boldest statements I’ve probably ever said about a ride; Transformers is the best amusement park attraction I have ever experienced.  My grade for it is an A++.

That will wrap us up this time.  Check back later this week for a brief look at Buena Vista Street before we bring you full coverage of the openings of LEX LUTHOR: Drop of Doom and SUPERMAN Ultimate Flight.