Thursday, March 28, 2013

Chrismas Vacation 2012 - California (Part 5/6)

by Nathan Stout (of AccordingToWhim.com)

Welcome back! Today we are continuing with my 2012 Christmas Disney California vacation. This post will cover some of our 'magic morning'. Basically if you buy multi-day passes you get one 'magic morning' where you get into the park one hour early. This is totally worth it! We picked Christmas day for our 'magic morning' and we rode 3 rides within that hour (typically that would have taken us a couple or three hours normally). We high tailed it over to Tomorrowland and rode the Astro Blasters and Star Tours then Space Mountain.

Space Mountain:
What a whale of a tale to tell when it comes to Space Mountain! We initially rode this great ride with no issues (during our magic morning). We went back on our last night because my brother got 4 'fast passes' for announcing the leaving train (which you will read about in a bit). So that night, we got to the front of the line. It was my brother, his older stepson, me, and my wife. Right before the coaster is set to start off up the ramp some cast members come over with a set of moving stairs and have my brother and his stepson get off (the are in the front seats of the car). Me and the wife had NO IDEA what happened. They got off, then the ride continued on. Now let me describe the ride. It is an indoor roller coaster with a neat semi-rock soundtrack. The lights are all off in the main area and there are thousands and thousands of lights (kinda like disco ball lights) making it seem like you are traveling through space. It is fast and fun (no real unexpected craziness in the dark).

Anyway, we get back to the station and there is my brother and his stepson waiting for us. We get off and they tell us they got on the train right after ours. There was a restraint issue with the first ride and they pulled them off and let them right right after. They let us get right back on so we could all ride together. We went right to the front of the line (again) and all got on.

It's not over yet. We set off and head up the tunnel and begin our ride. Not 15 seconds into our trip the car stops (near the top) and the lights come on! Something really jacked up (another security precaution shuts the ride down). So there we were at the top as the cast members went from platform to platform, checking on everyone, the machinery, then manually pushing the trains off the platforms to continue to the bottom (in the lighted area). They finally get to us, ask us if things are ok, then once they get the clearance, they push us and we ride the track all the way to the bottom (lights on).

Finally we get to the end and the ride starts back up normally for everyone. We get to the disembark area and they ask us if we want to go again (since the mess-up). We agree and we get to go a 3rd time! We thoroughly enjoyed it (although my brother's stepson did not take it well). Here is the ride (with lights off) and here it is with lights on.

Pinocchio's Daring Journey:
One of Disneyland's dark rides, Pinocchio's Daring Journey is pretty much like Snow White's Scary Adventure. It tells the tale of the movie of Pinocchio using 1980's technology like hologram images and fiber optics. It's a little more interesting than Mr. Toad's Wild Ride but not as good as Peter Pan's flight. Here is the video.

Snow White's Scary Adventure:
One of the original rides from Disneyland's opening day I can't say I was too impressed. Now, don't get me wrong I enjoy ALL dark rides but this was probably less than the rest (even Mr. Toad's Wild Ride which I will talk about soon). Apparently some of the other Disney parks have a slightly less frightening version of this ride. Snow White's video...

Peter Pan's Flight:
Wow! What a ride! I seem to remember not being too impressed when I rode this back in 1991 at Disney World. I was shocked at how much better it was (as opposed to my memory). This is a dark ride but your car is actually hanging from a ceiling track and you 'fly' through the scenes of Peter Pan. The over London scenes are amazing! I highly recommend this one and I can say hands down it is the best of the Fantasyland dark rides. Enjoy but this video just can't do justice!

As a note, I heard that the rides are sped up during peak times of the year. I remember telling everyone that all the dark rides seems to move you though REALLY fast. It would have been nice to have gone a little slower (especially on Peter Pan's flight).

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride:
WTF? I mean really... WTF? What were the Imagineers smoking when they came up with this ride?! Mr. Toad's Wild Ride is based on the Wind and the Willows books and the Imagineers decided to create a tale of their own that mixed up one of the stories where Mr. Toad stole a car and crashed it.

Mr. Toad has an issue... he is a figure of excess. He can't do a little of this and little of that... no, he has to do it all and do it big! He has this thing about cars and in the ride you race through various scenes as Mr. Toad, driving like a bat (or frog) out of hell. This is where it gets strange. You crash (with the help of a train) and go to hell. Yep, hell. Walt Disney sends your toddler and you to HELL. No real rhyme or reason. You drive fast, crash, and got to hell... then then ride is over.

The actual ride does not have 3D figures in it. It is all flat wood cut outs. It is very colorful and there are a few gags like the train horn and light and the effects of hell but everything is flat wood. I feel Disney could have done better but I can see that they were going for a particular look with this. You have to ride it just to say you did. Here is the madness...

That is it for this edition. Join me next time for my surprise favorite ride of the whole of Disneyland as well as the worst torture you can experience in Disneyland!

Click here for Part 1
Click here for Part 2
Click here for Part 3
Click here for Part 4
Click here for Part 5
Click here for Part 6

Monday, March 25, 2013

Chrismas Vacation 2012 - California (Part 4/6)

by Nathan Stout (of AccordingToWhim.com)

Today we are in the middle of my 2012 Christmas Disney Vacation. We just finished up with California Adventure (then Universal Studios before that) and now we are on to the oldest of the 3: Disneyland.

Like I said before when you compare Disneyland to California Adventure you get this 'old' or 'vintage' vibe from Disneyland. That's one of the reasons I like it so much. There is a LOT of history to this place and some of it (despite constant updates to the park) is still around.

We started our trip in Disneyland by stopping by City Hall to get our 'First Visit' badges. We moved around the park in no particular direction (there were 8 of us so there were a lot of suggestions). I can't remember in which order we visited the attractions but here you go...

Indiana Jones Adventure:
Apparently this ride went through a queue overall within the last year. The line area (which wasn't too full) was pretty awesome and detailed. The ride itself is one of those 'innovative' Disney rides like the Tower of Terror. The ride vehicle is car that rides along a fairly smooth path while the chassis is programmed to jerk about and swing wildly to simulate really rough and crazy terrain. You ride this car through a forbidden temple with Indiana Jones popping in from time to time to tell you stuff. The animatronic Harrison Ford doesn't look all that close to the actor (in facial features). I figured they could have done a little better. Perhaps they didn't get the rights to use his face... Anyway in Florida there is basically the same ride but Dinosaur themed. I can't wait to check that one out. PS, this was one of my wife's favorite rides. Here it is...

Haunted Mansion (Nightmare Before Christmas Edition):
I have this thing for The Haunted Mansion. I love the concept and (for the most part) the execution. I have read up on its development and creation. Apparently you had 2 conflicting opinions about the attraction. One designer thought it should be somewhat scary and the other one wanted it to be whimsical. That's why you get a mixture of the silly and serious. Either way it is awesome and there are some neat gags. I was somewhat disappointed to see that it would be the (once a year) Nightmare Before Christmas edition and not the regular version of the house. I wanted to see the newly re-vamped Bride character. Oh well. Anyway it has a twisted Christmas theme and was enjoyable but not as enjoyable as the regular version (at least for me). Here is the Holiday version.

Pirates of the Caribbean:
What trip to Disney would be complete without Pirates? Pirates of the Caribbean inspired the game makers at Lucasarts to make The Secret of Monkey Island (in the 80's). If you know this game you will know that there is a lot of similarities between it and the movies. Apparently the game inspired the movies a bit. A funny turn of events there... Anyway Disneyland has the 'extended' version of the ride (it is somewhat shorter at the other parks). I do remember the one in Florida being a lot shorter than this one. Anyway I loved it. My brother loved it. My wife... meh. She says when we go again she is going to take a book to read. The only think she really liked were the drops. Here is the video so you can love it or be bored.

Big Thunder Mountain:
This is a very fun roller coaster. Nothing too spectacular except there is some nice flat (non-crazy) areas of the track (something I like in rides) and a neat cave you go though to go to the top. We got to ride it 2 or 3 times. Very fun! Big Thunder video...

Mad Tea Party:
One of those rides that have been at Disney since the beginning Mad Tea Party is the famous teacup ride. My wife and niece rode it together and we spun it as fast as we could and we tried to see who could NOT crack a smile the entire time. Very hard to do. Enjoy the Mad Tea Party video.

Star Tours:
The revamped Star Tours is a fun ride with some great 3D. I have the same gripe I had with the old one... you just don't get to spend enough time on the ride! It's all action and I think the ride would double in fun if you just got to slow down a bit and really experience the ride simulation. Its oh so fast then 'get off for the next batch'. Somehow (even with over 54 different experiences) I got the same 'middle' segment (Kashyyyk) on both rides. I REALLY wanted Hoth. Here is a video but you can't really get a good feel for it, but anyway...

Finding Nemo Submarine Ride:
Converted from the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (which I just got done reading, BTW), Finding Nemo is basically a retelling of the story through the ride. I always like the fact that you were actually underwater. They now use high-def monitors to show the action of the fish and his friends. I was thinking how in the world could they put TVs underwater when I realized (poof, the magic is gone!) that the areas with the screens are actually buildings underwater with glass walls. You think you are looking at something in the watery cave, but you are actually looking through the little bit of water, through a large pane of glass at some monitors inside the building. Anyway it is a very slow ride and many people aren't that impressed with it. I think it would have been better if they just revamped the old ride with more sophisticated technology. Here is a video.

The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh:
Wow. Wow wow wow. Either A: The Imagineers were high when they developed this ride or B: Winnie the Pooh got into some 'tainted' hunny. It is supposed to be various scenes from Pooh lore as well as a tripped out dream (that would scare any child). This (and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride) were probably the most talked about rides amongst our family. Freak out from the comfort of your own PC!

Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters:
A fun interactive game Astro Blasters is a bit like a dark ride with a laser tag game mixed in. You ride through Buzz Lightyear's world and shoot at the targets and accumulate points. Its pretty fun since you are basically playing a game against your fellow riders. Here is the video.

The fun isn't over yet! Join me next time for the next part and I'll cover (most) the rest of the rides we rode at Disneyland!

Click here for Part 1
Click here for Part 2
Click here for Part 3
Click here for Part 4
Click here for Part 5
Click here for Part 6

Friday, March 22, 2013

Chrismas Vacation 2012 - California (Part 3/6)

by Nathan Stout (of AccordingToWhim.com)

Welcome to the next part of my Christmas 2012 California vacation. We will wrap up our experience at Disney's California Adventure this post and move on to Disneyland after that. Enjoy!

Animation Academy:
We also attended the Animation Academy where you get to sketch out a Disney character with the guidance of an animator. Our sketch was Jack Skellington. There were also various animation type attractions there at the Animation Academy including a really (and I mean REALLY) neat stop motion Toy Story display that STUNNED me. I really wasn't expecting it and never knew you could do that (in real life, not on paper). Check this out and be amazed!

Mater's Junkyard Jamboree:
We visited this ride on one of our Disneyland days. The CityPass tickets we bought let us get back to California Adventure so one evening we decided to ride this (since the lines were non-existent). It looks like a teacup-type ride at first but when you get on it you do something very different. There are 3 large round areas and your towtruck car actually transfers from one round area to another as the ride goes around and around. It was pretty fun but check out the video to figure out what I am talking about.

Luigi's Flying Tires:
This is a ride that I think will be replaced very soon. The whole cars land was new for 2012 and I give Luigi's Flying Tires a year or two. The ride is based on a much older concept. You sit on a disc and the ground has holes that shoot air up, making your disc float about a bit. In this version you are sitting on a big tire. The ride is clunky and hardly works well. I don't recommend waiting more than 15 minutes to ride this. Here is the video.

World of Color:
This final 'attraction' isn't an attraction but a show put on at night. It's the World of Color. It takes place over the lake and involves water, projected video, lights, fireworks, explosions, and sound. It's like a fireworks show on steroids! I have never heard such perfect sound out of doors. It was amazing. It is basically a collage of different Disney songs set to all sorts of effects and has to be seen to be believed. Here is a video but it simply can't do justice to actually being there...

Pixar Parade:
Disney doesn't do thing half-assed and this parade is a perfect example. The Pixar Parade uses Disney's state of the art GPS tracking-thingy-technological-do-hickey to have the soundtrack of any of it's parades follow the action of the floats/performers. This parade features characters from Pixar movies. Kids go nutso for it. Here it is...

There were several rides we never got around to (anything in A Bug's Land) as well as the Silly Symphony chairs (another Disney re-branded ride... which looks terrifying actually), Jellyfish ride, etc... I fully believe that you can get to every ride in California Adventure in one day and have a little time for eating, shopping and such (as long as you utilize Fast Passes).

Join me next time for our 2 days at Disneyland (which is just a couple hundred feet across from California Adventure). Until then, later!

Click here for Part 1
Click here for Part 2
Click here for Part 3
Click here for Part 4
Click here for Part 5
Click here for Part 6

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Chrismas Vacation 2012 - California (Part 2/6)

by Nathan Stout (of AccordingToWhim.com)

Welcome to the second part of my Christmas Vacation 2012. Sorry this is a bit late but things got ontop of me and it sat unfinished. So here we go!

We were still in Disney's California Adventure last post and we will continue there. Just to let you know the videos I link to are not my trip, they are just ones I found on YouTube.

Goofy's Sky School:
Goofy's Sky School is a compact rollercoaster that used to be called Mulholland Madness. I really REALLY like all the old Goofy 'how to' cartoons and that is the theme of this coaster. There are a lot of sharp turns and some neat visual gags (like giant holes crashed-through in billboards ahead of your out-of-control coaster car) and other Goofy-esque type comedy. It was fun and I think the theme is better and the Mulholland one. Here you go.

Grizzly River Run:
Your typical river rapids ride, Grizzly River Run is beautifully decorated and has some neat views (and neat view for onlookers too). Not much to say about it. I did find the loading platform to be cool. The whole think spins to speed up the loading/unloading process. It was kinda cold so I made sure I went only after getting a poncho so I wouldn't get too wet. You won't get wet watching it.

Soarin' Over California:
This ride was so good (I assume) that they duplicated it at Disney World. Shouldn't it have been Soarin' over Florida? Anyway it is a neat MEGA screen that is in the shape of a slight bowl. You sit in these long line of chairs (like a bench with restraints) and when the ride starts up the bench swings forward and up so that you are in the bowl shape (so you don't see the ceiling or floor). You are then treated to a fly over of all sorts of California locations complete with the wind blowing in your face and the smell of oranges while you fly over California's orange groves. Enjoy.

Mickey's Fun Wheel:
Known previously as the Sun Wheel it was re branded to Mickey Mouse (which I prefer). I guess they renamed the rides to either generate re-interest or they simply wanted people who come visit Disney to be able to ride Disney-themed rides. Anyway this is a Ferris wheel with 2 choices. You can ride the slow, hardly moving cars or you can ride the crazy ones. They have a mini loop on their track so that when you get to certain spots your cart swings out in a crazy fashion. You are high up so it is quite a thrill when you get to those spots. My wife and I were riding with some locals so we were somewhat distracted by all the talking. Here is a video I found online.

Monsters Inc.:
This is another dark ride (I love me some dark rides). Not the most advanced but it was still fun. Lots of crazy monsters and some neat visual gags. Check it out.

Toy Story Midway Mania:
This is an interactive 3D dark ride (basically). You sit in cars that move between super large screens which have midway type games. You have a pop-gun type thing on your car and you shoot at the screens. It's all 3D and looks cool. You score is kept track of and you can see how you did against your family and friends. The screens could have been brighter but I guess when this ride came out the technology wasn't there. Here you go.

Ok, we will wrap up the California Adventure stuff in the next post then it is off to Disneyland! See you then...

Click here for Part 1
Click here for Part 2
Click here for Part 3
Click here for Part 4
Click here for Part 5
Click here for Part 6

Monday, March 18, 2013

Chrismas Vacation 2012 - California (Part 1/6)

by Nathan Stout (of AccordingToWhim.com)

Last year we took a quiet vacation to Port Aransas which you can read about here. We skipped the early/mid-year vacation in 2012 for Disneyland at Christmas time. Our vacation entailed buying a Citypass which lets you get into Disney for 3 days, Universal for one, and Sea World for one.

We started our vacation at Universal Studios but didn't get there until later in the day. Our first attraction was the studio tour. This is an hour and a half tram ride around the studio with a few 'attractions' which were like mini-rides. Here are the most notable bits...

King Kong 360 3D:

This ride is apart of the much dated Universal Backlot Tour. When the old King Kong part of the tour burnt down in 2008 (you can see the old snoozefest here) Universal got with Peter Jackson to make a new 3D attraction based on the newer movie.

Below is the link to the new Kong attraction. You can't really experience it since you aren't in the tram. It moves around (alot!) and really puts you in the action. There are also air effects and even some water spraying (from the dinosaurs when they roar right in your face).

I was going to embed the videos here in the blog but the width was too wide so I am just going to link to them. Here is a video of that part of the tour that shows the action pretty well.

All in all I was disappointed in the studio tour. The King Kong part was the only really good part. There was the old Jaws attraction, a kinda cool plane crash site from War of the Worlds, the old Earthquake attraction, a very out-dated fast and furious attraction, and the lame-o flooding street attraction. The rest was just empty sets. It was night and they weren't lit very well. The Jurassic Park part didn't even have the moving dinos.

Revenge of the Mummy:
Based on the Mummy remakes this (very short) roller coaster speeds you along in the dark. Apparently from video on YouTube the one in Florida is cooler. It was still fun though... when you see the bugs crawl out of the hole in the wall you feel them in the coaster car with you. They use little puffs of air to simulate the bugs. Here is the California version and here is the Florida version.

The Simpsons:
This motion simulator ride was pretty fun and ingenious. Riders load into carts and the carts are lifted into a dome-like theater (where all the other carts in the ride load) and the video plays out on the massive screen. The world of Springfield is in CCG and you are in Krustyland on a dangerous rollercoaster hijacked by Sideshow Bob. They use smell and water spray to add to the effects. The only gripe I have about the ride is that the screen was really dark. It could use some newer projection technology. Here it is. My favorite line is from Krusty 'Welcome on a magical journey through my mouth'.

Transformers 3D:
Based on the crappy movies over the last several years I almost gave this ride a pass. Fortunately the line looked low so we went for it. Wow! This had to be the greatest ride I have ever experienced. It is Universal's newest attraction and it blew my socks off. It is a motion simulator ride but it moves between rooms with massive screens which depict the ultra-sharp 3D movie. There are times in which you can't tell if what you are experiencing is real or the video. The videos can't even begin to let you know how this ride goes but it's close enough I guess. Check it out.

Jurassic Park River Adventure:
This ride is a slow moving raft ride (until the end) that moves you through the park and suddenly takes a wrong turn as the dinosaurs break free. This ride is now dated unfortunately. The technology is old and the dinosaurs are slow. I'm sure that when the movies were the hotness this ride was super exciting but now it just seems a bit old. The final drop is fun but in order to keep this thing fresh they are going to have to add at least 100% more dinosaurs. Here it is.

That wraps up Universal studios in California. One final thing of note: the studio is built on a mountain so they installed several industrial-sized (and super steep) escalators to keep all those people moving. Expect to do a lot of riding on these. They are so steep that if you are not careful you will get vertigo (but that's half the fun of the park!).

Day 2,3, and 4 were devoted to Disney. In California the two parks (Disneyland and Disneyland California Adventure) are literally a couple of hundred feet apart. Most tickets are 'park-hopper' tickets that allow you to go back and forth between parks all day long.

Our first day was spent totally at California Adventure. It has a more modern feel wereas Disneyland feels more classic and older.

California Screamin:
This is Disney's biggest rollercoaster and is more like the traditional coasters you can find in most amusement parks. It was fun but (like most coasters) it is more fun the further back on the train you are. There is one loop in it as well. Check it out.

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror:
Apparently this (California) version is greatly different (in a bad way) than the one in Florida. Either way it is a creepy dropping elevator ride with lots of atmosphere. I wish it had been longer though. After watching the setup you stand in line in the super creepy basement of the hotel and wait to get into the haunted elevator. Once in you are shown what happens to you and everyone on the ride then the fun begins. There are several drops in the dark and at the top right before several drops the doors to the hotel open and you see the park laid out before you. The actual ride itself is only like 45 seconds long! Lookee here. If you are interested you can see the Florida version here.

Ariel's Undersea Adventure:
Based on The Little Mermaid this newer dark ride combines some new animatronic technology with classic people-mover tricks. The figures move alot more and have much more human-esque motion as opposed to the older rides (like Pirates or Haunted Mansion). Since it is a people-mover the line never lasts long and we got on it twice. Here it is.

Radiator Springs Racers:
This year Disney California opened Cars Land (based on the Cars movies) with the pricetag of over 1 billion dollars! It's an impressive part of the park, it looks just like the town of Radiator Spring from the Cars movies. The big attraction is the Radiator Springs Racers. It's a combination darkride /car coaster. Passengers ride slowly through the majestic canyons and into a short dark ride complete with full-sized animatronic characters from the movies. At the end of the dark part you partake in a race with another group of riders in a race around the canyon. The feeling you are in a car is quite good and you get up to some fast speeds during the race. Check it out.

This is it for Part One.
Click here for Part 2
Click here for Part 3
Click here for Part 4
Click here for Part 5
Click here for Part 6

Monday, March 11, 2013

Breaking Blog Silence

by Chris McGinty (AccordingToWhim.com)

I am going to attempt to break the silence here with a blog post. I had some real issues with Blogger last year. I would try to post to the blog and it wouldn't work. This was right after Blogger updated their interface. I'm hoping that they've updated it again, but this time fixing the issues I had with it.

Nathan and I got together tonight and worked on our game. We'll talk more about that when we get around to starting our Kickstarter later this year, but for now I'll just say that we're making good progress.

After the play-testing, we called Miguel and got a Google Hangout set up. Let me just say that I'm sort of irritated with Google right now, but Nathan has convinced me that it's really a problem with my web browser. Disliking Microsoft the way I do, I'm happy to entertain the thought that it's not Google's fault if it ends up being Microsoft's. In fact, I'm almost reasonably sure that could be the case. I've had my operating system crash on me twice now to the point it had to be reloaded, and the common factor was that it happened after I downloaded Windows Updates.

We're supposed to do an audio show with Miguel tomorrow, so I get to spend this evening (or possibly tomorrow since I didn't sleep much today) trying to get all of my Google related stuff working. I'm so happy.

Well, I've decided to keep my blog posts below 500 words in most cases, and I'm not sure this will post anyway, so I'll stop this one here. If this works, I'll write more during the week.