Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland Introduction

by josh on May 12, 2010

Tomorrowland’s theme is the “future that never was” and Disney designed the area based on how science fiction writers from the 1920s and 1930s imagined the future.  In practice, Tomorrowland doesn’t feel particularly futuristic, but it’s unlikely visitors will care much because there’s so much to see and do.  Tomorrowland is the largest section of the Magic Kingdom and features several of its most popular attractions.  You’ll also find seven shops and a half dozen dining locations.  Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café is the best counter service in Tomorrowland and one of the top three at the Magic Kingdom, offering the largest selection of food and plentiful indoor and outdoor seating.  For those on the Dining Plan, the most expensive counter service meal can also be found here, in the form of the $14.19 half chicken and rib combo plate (currently only available after 4pm).  Below is a quick breakdown of the eight rides and attractions in Tomorrowland.  Full reviews follow.

Must visit: Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Space Mountain

Visit in the afternoon or whenever you need a break from walking: Carousel of Progress, Monsters Inc Laughing Floor, Tomorrowland Transit Authority

Visit only with young children: Tomorrowland Indy Speedway

Easily Skippable: Astro Orbiter, Stitch’s Great Escape

FASTPASS Available: Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and Space Mountain.

Morning Extra Magic Hours: Astro Orbiter, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Stitch’s Great Escape, Space Mountain, Tomorrowland Authority People Mover, Tomorrowland Indy Speedway, Walt Disney Carousel of Progress

Evening Extra Magic Hours: Astro Orbiter, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, Stitch’s Great Escape, Space Mountain, Tomorrowland Indy Speedway

The two best and most popular attractions in Tomorrowland are Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and Space Mountain.  You’ll want to ride these as soon as possible in the morning, in the last hour the Magic Kingdom is open, or during the last 90 minutes of evening Extra Magic Hours.

In the afternoon, visit the sit-down theater shows (Monsters Inc Laugh Floor, Stitch’s Great Escape, Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress) for a break from walking around or to kill time while waiting for a FASTPASS to come due.

Stitch’s Great Escape is not a priority and the Astro Orbiter and Indy Speedway should only be ridden if you have plenty of time, there is a short wait, or you have kids begging to ride.  Try the Astro Orbiter and Tomorrowland Indy Speedway during the last 90 minutes of evening Extra Magic Hours if possible or before 9:30am.  They both have lousy capacities, which equate to long waits even when relatively few people are in line.

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Astro Orbiter

by josh on May 12, 2010

Astro Orbiter

Opened: November 28, 1974 as Star Jets and reopened as the Astro Orbiter on February 25, 1995

Location: In the middle of Tomorrowland.  The entrance is opposite of the entrance to Space Mountain near the entrance to Tomorrowland PeopleMover

Extra Magic Hours: Morning and Evening usually, though it isn’t listed on DisneyWorld.com

FASTPASS: No

Type: Carousel

Similar To: Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Magic Carpets of Aladdin, TriceraTop Spin

Requirements: None

Scary Factor: Low.  People with a severe fear of heights may want to skip because the ride has a maximum height of about 80 feet.  Riders also have to board an elevator which is cramped and usually filled to capacity, so it may not be the best ride for the severely claustrophobic either.

What to Expect: This is another “hub and spoke” carousel ride along the same lines as Dumbo, TriceraTop Spin, and others.  The difference is that you have to take an elevator up to the platform to board it and the ride vehicles are themed like space rockets.  Each vehicle holds two people and there is a joystick onboard that riders can use to move the space rocket up and down as the ride circles around the hub at approximately 11 revolutions per minute.  Believe it or not, the Astro Orbiter actually loads even slower than Dumbo.  With a maximum capacity of just 24 people, even a short line can equal a long wait.  Undoubtedly, the best part of the Astro Orbiter is flying high over Tomorrowland and the rest of the Magic Kingdom.

When To Go: Astro Orbiter is an attraction that should be experienced before 9:30am or as late in the evening as possible.  While it’s far from “the most popular attraction” in Magic Kingdom and it won’t appear like the line is that long, the abysmal capacity necessitates you to arrive early or stay late when few people are around.

Expect to Wait: The line will be 30+ minutes throughout the day pretty much no matter what.  Most people won’t get in line if the line exceeds 30 minutes, but it only takes about 150 people ahead of you to hit a 30 minute wait.  Max waits can be in the 45 to 60 minute range.

Length: 2 minutes

Rating: 6/10

Commentary: The Astro Orbiter isn’t much more than a barely-themed carnival ride, but it is fun to fly high over the Magic Kingdom.  If you’re only going to ride one of the “hub and spoke” type rides, make it this one if you can get on with a wait of 15 minutes or less.  Otherwise, it really isn’t worth the wait unless you’ve completed everything else you want to do or have kids that are begging to ride.  Your best bet it to check the line about 90 minutes into evening Extra Magic Hours or first thing in the morning.  Chances are good you can ride with a minimal wait then.  Astro Orbiter is another of the attractions that is (arguably) better at night when Magic Kingdom is lit up.

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Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin

by josh on May 12, 2010

Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin

Opened: November 3, 1998

Location: Tomorrowland, in between Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor and Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress.

Extra Magic Hours: Morning, Evening

FASTPASS: Yes.  FASTPASSes are widely available with return times that are usually 40 to 60 minutes in the future.

Type: Shooting Gallery, Omnimover

Similar To: Toy Story Midway Mania

Requirements: None

Scary Factor: Zero.  Although it’s possible to spin the vehicles around manually, it shouldn’t upset even the most prone to motion sickness.

What to Expect: The queue for Buzz Lightyear is both outdoors and indoors, depending on length.  The interior waiting area is brightly colored and features a lot to see, including an oversized Buzz Lightyear animatronic figurine.  Once you make it to the front of the line, you will board a vehicle similar to those found at Spaceship Earth, the Haunted Mansion, and other similar Omnimover/dark rides that move slowly on a conveyer-belt-like contraption.  Each vehicles seats two or three, but is only outfitted with two guns, so I would recommend limiting each vehicle to two people unless one person is okay with not having a gun to use.  There is also a small joystick that can be used to turn the car 360 degrees to get a better angle at the targets.  The object of the Space Ranger Spin is to use your mounted laser gun to shoot targets found throughout the 13 Toy Story themed scenes.  Unlike Toy Story Midway Mania, the scenery is “real” and not merely images projected onto a screen.  Don’t be worried about the laser beam, it’s been tested and shown to be completely safe.  Just don’t tell Buzz.  He’ll be devastated.

When To Go: Buzz Lightyear is extremely popular due to its accessibility to all age groups.  Ride as early in the morning as possible, with a FASTPASS, at the end of the day, or during the last 90 minutes of evening Extra Magic Hours.  Buzz Lightyear is often a walk-on during the last hour of evening Extra Magic Hours and before 10am.

Expect to Wait: Expect waits in the 15 to 30 minute range by 11am and 30 minutes to an hour in the afternoon.  Lines will be shorter during recommended times.  When Magic Kingdom is busy, wait times can hit 50 to 70 minutes.

Length: 5 minutes

Rating: 8/10

Commentary: Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin is unique in that it’s a favorite of riders in all age groups.  It’s like being in a “real life” video game.  Scores from each rider are tallied at the end so there is a competitive aspect as well.  Don’t be surprised if the person with the lowest score has the most fun though.  Buzz Lightyear should be on every itinerary and you will likely want to ride it more than once during your trip.  It’s extremely rare for anyone to exit the ride and not want to get right back on for a second go-around.  If the stand-by line is longer than 20 minutes, get a FASTPASS or return just before the Magic Kingdom closes or during evening Extra Magic Hours for another go-around.

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Carousel of Progress

by josh on May 12, 2010

Carousel of Progress

Opened: January 15, 1975

Location: In the back of Tomorrowland, in between Space Mountain on its left and Buzz Lightyear to its right.

Extra Magic Hours: Yes, Morning.  DisneyWorld.com may not list it, but it is usually listed on the Times Guide.  Either way, this is certainly not one you want to take the time to ride first thing in the morning.

FASTPASS: No

Type: Audio-animatronics theater show

Similar To: Hall of Presidents

Requirements: None

Scary Factor: Only if you are deathly afraid of mannequins or animatronics

Seasonal Opening: The Carousel of Progress is occasionally listed as “seasonal,” but it’s open every day.

What to Expect: The Carousel of Progress isn’t a carousel like Prince Regal Carousel.  Instead, the “carousel” in the name refers to the theater sections that move from scene to scene in a circle around the stage.  This allows new visitors to enter the attraction without having to wait for the entire show to end.

The Carousel of Progress is an audio-animatronics show that follows the lives of a family as they discover and adapt to changing technology throughout the 20th century and beyond.  There are four main scenes, each of which depicts a distinct time period in history.  The theater is comfortable and air-conditioned and there is a short video preshow explaining the history of the attraction.

Where to Sit: For the best view, sit near the back in the middle of a row.  Shows are usually so empty that you have your choice of seats.

When To Go: This is an excellent attraction to visit in the middle of the day when the Magic Kingdom is at its hottest and most crowded.  Also consider visiting while waiting for a FASTPASS for a nearby ride (Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin) to become due.

Expect to Wait: Waits should be 10 minutes or less.

Length: 20 minutes

Rating: 7/10

1964 New York World’s Fair: The Carousel of Progress was originally designed by Walt Disney himself and was one of his favorite attractions.  It debuted at the New York World’s Fair in 1964 to long lines, rave reviews, and amazed crowds.  After the Fair, it was moved to Disneyland and then transported to the Magic Kingdom where it resides to this day.

Commentary: If you’ve seen Disney’s other audio-animatronic shows and decided that they just aren’t for you, then I would still recommend the Carousel of Progress if you have the time.  If you’re only going to go to one audio-animatronics show at the Magic Kingdom then I would make this it as well.  The theme is slightly educational and it will give youngsters some perspective about what life was like prior to electricity, microwaves, television, iPhones, and all of the other technological advances we seem to take for granted.    It’s also a comfortable show and you’ll probably need at least one break from walking around during your day (if not five or ten).  The short wait and close proximity to the other popular Tomorrowland rides also makes the Carousel of Progress a worthy attraction in the middle of the day.  The only real downside is that the final scene that is supposed to show the current and future state of technology is sorely outdated.  Luckily, they did finally replace the tube TV with a Samsung flat screen.

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Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor

by josh on May 12, 2010

Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor

Opened: April 2, 2007

Location: As you walk into Tomorrowland from The Hub, you’ll see it on your right shortly after crossing the bridge.  It’s across the way from Stitch’s Great Escape.

Extra Magic Hours: Laugh Floor usually runs for part of evening Extra Magic Hours.  Check the Times Guide for the time of the last show of the evening.

FASTPASS: No

Type: Interactive theater show

Similar To: Turtle Talk with Crush

Requirements: None

Scary Factor: Very low.  They are Monsters, but if you’re familiar with the characters or the movie, then even the youngest children should be fine.

What to Expect: The queue for Monsters Inc. is indoors and air-conditioned, which makes it a good stop in the afternoon.  When Magic Kingdom is extremely busy, the line may extend out the door.  There isn’t much to see until the pre-show, but guests are invited to text in their jokes to be used during the show, so you might have some fun with that while you wait.  Once the doors open, you’ll be led into a large theater that seats about 400 people.  The theater is also nicely air-conditioned and the seats are relatively comfortable.

The plot of the Laughing Floor is that Mike Wazowski, the one-eyed green monster star of Monsters Inc., is putting on a comedy show to collect laughs from the audience to power Monstropolis.  Like Turtle Talk with Crush, the monsters will actually talk and interact with visitors in real time.  Several cast members move about the audience with microphones so the monsters can ask questions and make personalized jokes.  Also, one “lucky” guest will unknowingly play the role of “that guy.” The monsters will harass and tease this person throughout the show.  If you don’t want to risk being made fun of constantly, I would suggest looking like you’re having a good time prior to the show starting.

Where to Sit: Try to sit at least half way back near the middle of the theater.  Because of the way it’s set up, there really aren’t any bad seats in the theater.  Unlike most seating areas where the rows are long, this theater does have aisles.  You can usually park yourself in the middle of a row without getting in trouble because people can easily move around you.

When To Go: Visit in the mid-afternoon or early evening when you need a break from the crowds and heat.

Expect to Wait: The large capacity means you probably won’t have to wait for more than one show to let out before it’s your turn.  This equates to a wait of 15 minutes or less.  If the line is longer, try later in the evening.

Length: 10 minutes

Rating: 8/10

Commentary: Most of the jokes in Monsters Inc. Laughing Floor are corny and geared towards kids.  It’s still a cute show and both kids and adults generally find it charming and funny.  It’s a fantastic attraction to visit in the afternoon and wait times are relatively short.  Although this isn’t a “must-do” attraction, it’s at the top of my list of attractions that you should try to get to anyway.

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Space Mountain

by josh on May 12, 2010

Space Mountain

Opened: Originally opened January 15, 1975 and reopened after a major refurbishment on November 22, 2009.

Location: In the back of Tomorrowland in between Tomorrowland Indy Speedway and Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress.

Extra Magic Hours: Morning, Evening

FASTPASS: Yes, and you’ll want one unless riding immediately in the morning or at the very end of the night.

Type: Roller coaster

Similar To: Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster

Requirements: Must be 44” or taller

Scary Factor: Medium.  Space Mountain has a top speed of less than 30 miles per hour, but it seems like it’s going faster because the ride takes place inside of a pitch-black dome.  The recent refurbishment made the ride even darker so it’s now more difficult to see where you’re headed most of the time.  Overall, the course itself isn’t scary or intense, but the darkness may be enough to scare youngsters.  Also, the ride vehicles are single-file, which makes it difficult to reassure the nervous once the ride starts.

What to Expect: The queue for Space Mountain is indoors and air-conditioned and the refurbishment brought interactive games for riders to play while they wait.  While it’s nice to have the option of something fun to do while waiting, it’s not uncommon for people to play the games more than once and “hold up” the line.  While there’s really nowhere to go other than inching up a bit towards the loading bay, you’re likely to hear some complaining and annoyed people.  Once you move through the queue, you’ll be placed in the loading bay where a six-person, single-file, rocket-themed vehicle will emerge from the darkness.  The seats are now better padded and the sides of the car are sturdy enough that they can support riders’ weight getting in and out of the vehicle.  This makes Space Mountain considerably more comfortable than it was pre-refurbishment.  Still, many people (your 27-year-old and otherwise healthy author included) find the ride too rough.  I always disembark in some sort of pain, so this is one that you may want to skip if back/shoulder/neck/etc. pain is even a nominal concern.  I like to joke that even if you don’t have neck trouble now, you will after you disembark your rocket.  And I’m only half kidding.

Space Mountain’s track and overall feel is similar to a “Wild Mouse” type coaster, but the darkness coupled with the space theme make the ride more fun and exciting than it would be if it was outside at your local fair or carnival.  One of the main goals of the refurbishment was to remove many of the light sources from the ride, so Space Mountain is even more dark than it was before which just adds to the atmosphere of the ride.  The stars, meteors, and other space travel icons on the ceiling have also been brightened.  The ride doesn’t feature any major drops, but there are sharp turns and surprising dips throughout.

When To Go: Most people  rush here, Peter Pan’s Flight, or Splash Mountain in the morning, so you’ll have to choose which one you want to hit first.  Try to ride before 10am or plan to use FASTPASS.  Lines are also shorter after 9pm or during the 3pm Parade.

Expect to Wait: Although wait times have improved with the refurbishment, this is still one of the two most popular rides at the Magic Kingdom.  Because it has decent capacity with both loading bays operating, afternoon wait times can be relatively short when Magic Kingdom isn’t busy.  Expect 30 to 40 minute peak waits when the overall crowd level is a 4 or below and Magic Kingdom is recommended.  When crowds are a 7+ or Magic Kingdom is expressly not recommended, peak wait times can easily hit 80 to 100 or more minutes in the afternoon and early evening.

Length: 3 minutes

Rating: Space Mountain is well reviewed by most people and the general consensus is somewhere around an 8 or 9 out of 10.  For your author, this is the only attraction at Disney World that he doesn’t enjoy riding.  It’s too rough.

Commentary: Like Splash Mountain, Space Mountain is one of Disney’s most classic attractions and a must-ride for any visitor tall enough.  While the ride is not particularly intense by modern standards, the theme more than makes up for the lack of speed.  This is an accessible roller coaster and shouldn’t be too intense for most people.  Some youngsters may be nervous about a roller coaster in the dark, but most kids enjoy the ride.

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Stitch’s Great Escape

by josh on May 12, 2010

Stitch’s Great Escape

Opened: November 16, 2004

Location: Across from Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor

Extra Magic Hours: Morning, Evening

FASTPASS: Yes

Type: Animatronic theater show

Similar To: Uniquely uncomfortable

Requirements: Must be 40” or taller

Scary Factor: High.  Stitch’s Great Escape may be frightening, with dark scenes, loud noises, and harness restraints that make visitors feel like they’re trapped in their seats.  I do not recommend this attraction for kids under the age of ten or those with claustrophobia.  This is one of the rare attractions at Disney World that has a height requirement and isn’t a roller coaster or thrill ride.  There’s no risk of bodily harm like there is with a rider that is too small for Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster or a similar ride.  Instead, Disney is purposefully trying to keep young riders out by posting the 40” height requirement, so take that into consideration when deciding to visit this attraction.

What to Expect: Stitch’s Great Escape replaced the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter that was housed in the same space.  Many people complained that the Alien Encounter was too scary for kids, so Disney finally shuttered the attraction and reopened with Stitch at the helm.  The new version is mostly the same, with similar special effects and a supporting cast that is exactly the same.  Visitors begin the attraction in the preshow area by watching a short video providing the background story.  After that, you’ll be seated in a large circular theater with harness-style restraints. The show begins and an audio-animatronic Stitch appears in the middle of the theater. He goes about his business, cutting the power to the building, spitting water on visitors sitting in the first two rows, and burping the stench of chili dogs.  The theater will intermittently go dark and it will seem as though Stitch is moving around the theater, touching people and creepily whispering in their ears. It’s a bizarre and unpleasant experience for many visitors from start to finish.

When To Go: Consider visiting in the afternoon or evening.  Although it isn’t a relaxing attraction, it is seated, air-conditioned, and unpopular.

Expect to Wait: The word is out on Stitch’s Great Escape and lines are generally shorter than most other attractions at the Magic Kingdom.  If the line is longer than 15 minutes, try again later.

Length: 10 minutes

Rating: 2/10

Commentary: Stitch’s Great Escape will likely scare youngsters and bore adults.  It’s not much more than watching a robot talk to you for 10 minutes while you’re stuck in a chair with uncomfortable shoulder restraints and a disgusting smell wafting about the room.  The darkness, coupled with the touching effects are enough to scare most kids, sometimes to the point where it ruins the rest of their day and will make it more difficult to get them to enjoy other, more fun shows in the future.  If your kids were scared on any other attraction at Disney World then you’ll probably want to skip this one.  If they aren’t scared, then they’ll be bored.  The only reason to visit it is to see if it’s really as bad as everyone says it is.  Trust me, it is.

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Tomorrowland Indy Speedway

by josh on May 12, 2010

Tomorrowland Indy Speedway

Opened: October 1, 1971

Location: Tomorrowland

Extra Magic Hours: Morning, Evening

FASTPASS: No

Type: Simulated car race

Similar To: Unique

Requirements: Must be 32” or taller to ride and 54” or taller to drive alone

Scary Factor: Zero

What to Expect: The Tomorrowland Speedway is themed like a race track and features more than 200 gas powered cars.  Unlike a NASCAR race, the cars have a maximum speed of about seven miles per hour and there are guide rails that keep cars traveling in a straight line.  The massive amount of exhaust leaving the cars makes the queue reek of gasoline and it is not shaded.  The “race track” is about 2,000 feet long (4/10 of a mile) and takes about five minutes to complete.

When To Go: Visit before 10am for the best chance of riding with a minimal wait.  Otherwise, return during the final hour of operation or during the last hour of evening Extra Magic Hours.

Expect to Wait: Because of its dismal capacity and decent popularity, wait times often peak in the 30 to 50 minute range from 11:30am – 5pm.  Before 10am, waits of ten minutes are more common. There is also a longer wait than usual to unload after the ride is over.  Expect to wait another 5-10 minutes then as well.

Length: 5 minutes

Rating: 3/10

Commentary: The queue for the Tomorrowland Speedway is brutal.  Uncovered and excruciatingly long, it’s one of the most unpleasant experiences at Disney World and not one I would recommend.  The ride itself doesn’t offer most adults much in the way of fun or entertainment either.  Youngsters tend to love it though, especially those tall enough to drive.  If you do decide to ride the Speedway, I would only visit first thing in the morning or late at night, unless you’re traveling at a particularly slow time and lines are relatively short.  If your group doesn’t include anyone under the age of ten, I would skip this unless you have a long vacation ahead of you.

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Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover

Opened: July 1, 1975

Name Change: Disney added “PeopleMover” to the name of the Tomorrowland Transit Authority on August 6th, 2010

Location: The entrance is located near Astro Orbiter (underneath the ride itself) and directly across from Carousel of Progress

Extra Magic Hours: Although it may not be listed, it’s usually open

FASTPASS: No

Type: Peoplemover

Similar To: Unique

Requirements: None

Scary Factor: Zero

What to Expect: Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover is an elevated tour of Tomorrowland.  Riders board slow moving, four-person cars that run via linear synchronous motors embedded in the track.  In other words, the cars emit no pollution because they’re pulled by magnets.  The highlight of the tour is the rare glimpse of the Space Mountain track as riders pass through the dome where the ride is housed.  The Transit Authority provides a recorded introduction to the other Tomorrowland attractions as well.  During the ride, you will also get a chance to view several dioramas of how Walt Disney envisioned the original EPCOT theme park to look.

When To Go: Ride whenever you need a break or want to sit down.  Since there’s rarely a line, I would save it for the afternoon when the Park is the most crowded.

Ride When Space Mountain is Down: If Space Mountain is temporarily down for repairs or otherwise closed, ride the Transit Authority for a chance see Space Mountain with the lights on.

Expect to Wait: Waits are usually less than five minutes and shouldn’t exceed ten.

Length: 10 minutes

Rating: 7/10

Commentary: There isn’t much to the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, but it is a relaxing and scenic way to spend ten minutes.  This isn’t by any means a “must do” ride, but if there’s no wait and you have the time then you might as well hop on.

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