It might be Walt Disney World’s 50th celebration year, but it’s also the 40th anniversary of one of its parks, Epcot.
Walt Disney first envisioned this Experimental Prototype City Of Tomorrow as a real town — not sure how residents of that prime real estate would feel about Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, looking to strip the 40 square miles of Disney World of its special status.
Like many of her age, Epcot has been getting a big facelift, evidenced by big chunks of the park hidden behind construction panels. Finally, some walls are beginning to come down and a truly spiffy new roller coaster — the park’s first — is set to open tomorrow, (Like a lot of the park’s plans, COVID delayed the launch.)
The new Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind coaster, which sits where the Universe of Energy used to be, is a much more high-octane ride than that dinosaur plod, which aficionados will remember featured Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Nye the Science Guy.
Instead, get ready for a truly unique sweep through the galaxy.
The queue into this dark ride stretches through a selection of Xandar renderings and “artefacts,” plus snippets of the “Guardians,” including a “Good Morning Xandar,” clip where Quill (Chris Pratt), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Groot (Vin Diesel) are interviewed. Riders then arrive at a boarding area where they are zapped through a wormhole to Xandar itself.
As luck would have it, Eson, a black hole-sized demonic creature who had a cameo in the first movie, has other ideas, wanting to use the technology for no good. Irani Rael (Glenn Close) calls up the Guardians, who suggest the use of some escape pods which we can hijack to track down the baddie and thwart his evil plan.
And that’s where the real fun starts. Described as an “omnicoaster” because it features action screened all around the coaster, with riders put through fast loops and dips all as the cars spin around to view the 3D action. There’s a reverse launch just to get you going, all set to music, with six randomly chosen tracks iconic to the movies to add to the fun. Each song has a slightly different accompanying narrative too, so you’ll need to ride a few times to get all the tunes, permutations, jokes and Easter eggs.
Wyatt Winter, senior producer of Disney Imagineering, admitted it was hard to know if they’d achieved the “light and flowy and drifting along” feeling until the track was built, and they also tested out more than 100 different music options before picking the ones they did.
So, yes, I did ride it six times to try and get the set, and weirdly, the ride feels different with each track. Blondie’’s “One Way or Another” pumps it up, while Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” makes you float, almost as if the curves of the track were designed to fit the music. You dance along with the Trammps “Disco Inferno” and “I Ran (So Far Away)” by Flock of Seagulls, and feel old when the person next to you doesn’t know Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” I never did get Miami Sound Machine’s “Conga.”
Described as a family coaster, Winter suggests it’s a few notches above Space Mountain, but not as intense as Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith (it doesn’t invert). It’s super smooth — you do feel like you are riding through the galaxy — and it’s also long. Winters wouldn’t say how long, or how fast (does make the eyes water) or how much track they used, but it’s been clocked at just over three minutes of spiraling about, in contrast to said Aerosmith ride at Hollywood Studios which takes just 90 explosive seconds.
Winter said that the whole experience from entering the building to, naturally, exiting through the Treasures of Xandar gift shop is designed to take about an hour. For the time being, at least, there will be no walk-up, or Lighting Lane (which, when it opens, will cost extra). Instead there’s a virtual queue only, which means you have to get a reservation to ride via the My Disney Experience app.
As for what’s behind those walls all over the rest of Epcot’s, we’re told the front of the park will be reformed into three sections. World Discovery is where you’ll find the Guardians ride, and which also features the new Space 220 restaurant; World Nature will house the Journey of Water inspired by “Moana;” and World Celebration, which is where the golf ball Spaceship Earth is getting some reflective panels to up its nightlight game. It will also feature indoor and outdoor event space to host live entertainment.
Just past Spaceship Earth, there are also plans for a dramatic overlook of World Showcase, complete with a painstakingly realistic statue of Walt himself, casually seated and looking out over the extensive view. It’s the perfect spot for a selfie with Walt.
Mr. DeSantis, we have some Mickey ears you can borrow.