Thursday, November 02, 2006
Rethinking Mission: Space
Especially for those of you who have accused me of "fuddy-duddiness" and incessant complaining about EPC-- er, Epcot, this will come as a total shock. I know it shocked me.
After my absolutely scathing indictment of Mission: Space several months ago, I ventured on board again during my recent vacation to Walt Disney World. Damn it all ... I kind of liked it.
Make no mistake: I absolutely hold to many of my original criticisms. The ride is absolutely not suitable for all guests -- in fact, I'd wager that the vast majority of Epcot visitors would leave the ride highly agitated. It is an intense experience with sensations that would best be described as disturbing to most non-teenagers and questionable for those who are younger. It is most decidedly not the kind of ride Walt Disney had in mind when he wanted to make a theme-park experience for the whole family, or what Imagineers had in mind when they created EPCOT Center.
And yet ...
I rode it four times in six days, and I learned how to enjoy it. It still left me queasy and slightly afraid for my own well-being. Even the "less intense" version is a borderline terrifying ordeal, one to which I would suggest most people to subject themselves.
But for those who can stomach it, there is some genuine awe on Mission: Space. I actually felt, for a few moments, that I was not at a theme park in Florida but on board a spacecraft headed to Mars. I felt the weightlessness, felt the extreme g-forces, felt the rush of excitement that comes with pushing the limits of what I ever thought I would allow myself to do.
(As a side note, it's a telling sign of the public's general rejection of this expensive addition that on a crowded Saturday afternoon the wait time for Mission: Space was listed as 10 minutes -- and in actuality was about three minutes -- while the 24-year-old Listen to the Land boat ride boasted a 35-minute-long queue.)
There's something almost addictive about Mission: Space, once you accept that it's a thrill ride through and through.
It's still very much the case that I learned nothing about space travel (and came away, after four rides, confused whether we're supposed to be going to Mars or, as the ride seems to indicate, just training for that). I'm not even sure if astronauts-in-training actually experience things like this. It left me with no sense of discovery or excitement other than a pure adrenaline rush.
At any other theme park, Mission: Space would be an extraordinary, noteworthy accomplishment, but at Epcot it remains just another example of trying to appeal to adrenaline-addicted teenagers.
Nonetheless ... I've softened just a tiny bit. Mission: Space is still all wrong for Epcot, but it is a heck of a ride.