To Boldly Go Where I Will Never Go Again --
by Deb Wills
All Ears® Editor-In-Chief
This article appeared in the August 19, 2003, Issue #204 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
Hmmm... well, perhaps not NEVER, but it will be awhile before "I Choose to Go" again.
Stardate 08.15.2003 -- the International Space Training Center
For several years, Epcot's beloved Horizons attraction, with its famous orange scent and deep sea, desert and space adventures, sat idle while speculation ran rampant. Rumors of a "space"-oriented attraction filled Internet message boards and the dreams of many hopeful Disney fans. Eventually, the walls of Horizon began to come down and it was announced that a new, state-of-the-art space travel attraction would take its place. It would be called Mission: SPACE!
Mission:SPACE is the most anticipated attraction at Walt Disney World since its neighbor Test Track opened a few years ago. Six-hundred-fifty Walt Disney Imagineers spent more than 350,000 hours developing this attraction over a five-year period. On August 15, a team of ALL EARS® staff members and friends eagerly walked through Epcot to join the hundreds of guests waiting to see what all the buzz was about.
The premise of the story is -- well, if you haven't read all about the storyline for this attraction yet, you can find a detailed description and see photos on our Mission: SPACE page at http://allears.net/tp/ep/e_ms.htm, so I won't go into specifics here. Instead, I want to tell you about my experience and the impressions of those I spoke with on the "Official" Soft Opening Day.
Our party of five (including ALL EARS® writer Pete Saroufim, another teen and three adults) first went to the MS FastPass machines, just in case we wanted to ride again immediately after our first ride. The FastPass tickets were stamped "Inaugural Launch," which we thought was a nice touch. We eagerly got in the 60-minute standby line and entered into a queue area that Walt himself would be proud of. (There is also a "singles line", which accommodates riders traveling solo or those willing to be separated from their party -- this had a 30-minute wait time posted.) Winding in and out of the queue we found ourselves staring at our mirror images -- there's a square tiled mirror that is so pristine (at least at this point) that you can take a photo that shows two images of all of you. Just after this point, we entered the inside queue area, slightly reminiscent of Test Track's rather industrial design.
The Space Simulation Lab gets you in the mood for your mission as you watch the slow spinning of the massive 35-foot diameter Gravity Wheel, which contains exercise rooms, offices and work areas for space teams. The very center of the wheel contains a tribute to the Horizons attraction with the original logo visible. Also in the lab is an authentic Apollo mission-era Lunar Rover on loan from the Smithsonian Institute.
I have to admit that I was so overwhelmed at this point that I failed to observe many of the little details in the queue. I was very excited and, yes, even a bit nervous. I'm not a thrill-ride seeker, but I have gone on every single ride and attraction at WDW at least once, so I HAD to ride Mission: SPACE. Also, my first time through an attraction, I like to put away the mental pad and pencil and be a "regular" guest. Well, I missed a number of things, such as the numerous health warnings concerning the ride. I only saw one sign and heard the warning spoken once. Maybe I tuned them out, since I knew I was going on the ride no matter what... at least once. Later on, while talking with ALL EARS® Columnist Zamgwar and his wife Karen, I mentioned that I hadn't seen many warnings, to which Karen shouted, "WHAT? You DIDN'T?" Zamgwar even asked me incredulously if we had been on the same attraction. (He absolutely loved the ride, by the way, especially the attention to detail throughout the queue area and the ride itself.)
I loved the launch despite the fact that the G-forces caused my eyes to tear uncontrollably for several seconds. While I only "felt" myself spinning in the centrifuge once, my body clearly felt the sensations almost immediately after the initial launch sequence. Several times I felt waves of nausea and had to revert to breathing exercises to keep things in check. The ride lasts four minutes, but two-and-a-half minutes were plenty for me. Because I was feeling poorly, I really didn't see the last portion of the ride, when your crew reaches Mars and attempts to land. When the light came signaling that I should be pressing buttons and using the control stick, I listened to it flap back and forth repeatedly -- there was no way my hands were leaving the harness!
The doors of the ride vehicle open immediately once the ride stops. It would have been nice to have 10-15 seconds of quiet "nothingness" to regain my senses. I tried to stand up, but felt very wobbly, as did one of my riding companions. We walked down the long hallway very slowly, our arms around each other to steady ourselves. We were not feeling very good. As I stood still in the postshow area, I started to feel better, but if I looked up at the videos and screens, the waves of queasiness started up again.
After I recovered, I decided that I wanted a memento of my space flight, but the lines in the gift shop were SO long. An opening day pin would have been nice to add to my collection, but that line went outside and seemed almost as long as the line to get on the ride itself. A special Limited Edition lithograph was on sale and the artist was there signing copies, but the $295 price tag was a bit rich for me. I'll sneak back to the gift shop, if not the ride, some other day.
As folks exited the ride, ALL EARS® Team Member Dotti Saroufim conducted an informal poll. Would you believe that more than 85 percent of the folks we spoke to told us that they made the trip to WDW that weekend specifically to ride Mission: SPACE? And were they disappointed? Of those surveyed, nearly three-fourths (73 percent) gave Mission: SPACE a high 5 on our scale of 1 to 5. Only 16 percent rated it below average. Some folks (including our Pete) thought the ride had been hyped so much that it didn't meet their expectations. But that certainly wasn't the norm -- two-thirds of the guests we spoke to were as enthusiastic as Stephen, Chad, Jim and Bill, young men from Nashville who said they would immediately ride again. In fact these guys had just finished their second ride of the morning and had even made t-shirts bearing the attraction's "We Choose to Go" slogan. All rated the attraction a 5.
A small, but significant, number of riders, including myself, had a more difficult time with the ride, and would probably not venture on it again.
Based on the folks we talked with though, you can't really predict what age or type of person will enjoy this ride. Some youngsters loved it, some didn't. Some older folks enjoyed it enthusiastically, while others wouldn't even try it. The range of experiences ran the gamut and spanned all ages. For example, Floridian Garrett Funk, 7, gave the ride a 4 after his second trip. His mom, on the other hand, gave the ride itself a 4 or 5, but rated her experience just a 2, explaining that it was not her "cup of tea" and that she didn't like when it felt as if all the air pressure was sucked out of cabin. A family from Baltimore also had mixed experiences. One 8-year-old girl who felt sick to her stomach rated it only a 2; of the five family members who went on, three said they probably wouldn't ride it again. But the other two said not only that they would, but that they would go again immediately.
Thirtysomething Kenny Cottrell, a periodic guest columnist for ALL EARS® rode MS for the 100th time on August 15 (he's been able to catch it during sneak previews during the last month or so). He has rated the attraction a 4 after each flight. Making so many flights has not detracted from the experience for him -- in fact, he says his favorite parts of the ride are the Launch, the Lunar Orbital Insertion Landing, and descending on Mars. Why does he keep riding? "I love to try to figure things out. It's much more fun to do it yourself than to have people tell you how things work." So has he figured it out? "I think I need to ride it a few more times."
Unlike Kenny, I probably won't be riding again -- at least not any time soon. Don't get me wrong, though. As an attraction, I rate Mission: SPACE a 4+. The experience that it creates allows us the tiniest glimpse into what it is like for those who have traveled to the moon and work each day in the Space Shuttle Program. In spite of this, and in spite of my unwavering dedication to Disney, I still believe Universal's Spiderman attraction is the best operating in an Orlando theme park today.
No matter what your feelings or experience, just about everyone raves about the launch. And like Karen, who always dreamed of flying through the stars, told me, "It's the closest I'll ever come to that, and for that opportunity, I thank Disney." And Karen, while it may not have been my cup of tea, I totally agree with you... thank you, Disney!
For Opening Day photos, visit: http://allears.net/tp/ep/e_ms4.htm
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.