Having recently spent three wonderful days in Walt Disney World, let me tell you: the Most Magical Place on Earth is well on the way to being The Most Technologically Advanced Place on Earth.
Don’t worry; you can still enjoy your animatronic presidents and your “futuristic” monorail. But for those of you interested in real tech, you might prefer to chat with an armoire or design your own car. Here’s why.
Disney has always been way ahead of the tech game, but they’ve recently upped the ante with two exciting new editions: the reimagined Chevy Test Track
at Epcot and the New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom. Here are some of our favorite 21st century additions.
1. Animatronics so realistic you’ll find yourself talking back to them
I didn’t go to New Fantasyland looking for flashy tech, but whoa, was I surprised. The most impressive animatronics I’ve ever seen are part of the Enchanted Tales with Belle
attraction, which merges human interaction with a talking Lumiere and Armoire so perfectly crafted that you can’t believe they’re not real. The journey begins as guests walk through a magic mirror that has to be magic, as I still have no idea how it worked, which opens up out of a solid wall to welcome guests into Belle’s highly covetable library. The combination of animatronics and genuine human interaction drew the children into the story like nothing I’ve ever seen.
2. A snowstorm… in Florida?
Also of note is the gorgeous, posh, highly detailed new Be Our Guest restaurant
, the interior of which perfectly melds architecture, staging, and technology to really feel like you’re caught in a snowstorm in the Beast’s castle. Back outside, I was also blown away by a fire-breathing dragon flying across the night sky, but you’ll have to wait to experience that. You don’t have to wait to try the gray stuff in the castle, though; it’s delicious!
3. Little kids will actually believe they’re underwater or starring in the circus
The long awaited Ariel’s Grotto ride
is finally here, and it’s a colorful dream for little kids. Think more than 183 characters, amazing animatronics, holograms, and lights–a far cry from most of the older rides in Fantasyland (sorry Small World). The gigantic Ursula is impressive but not too scary. And the addition of a new Dumbo ride almost eliminates the famously long line–which is kind of sad, since the line is now indoors. However it does include a gorgeous, circus-themed playground for kids complete with cutting-edge animatronics. it’s nice to know that younger kids will be entertained and dazzled, even as they wait to ride.
3. Build your own car. And make it look fabulous!
Chevy’s new Test Track in EPCOT has upped the tech ante, big time. The experience is immersive and personalized, as guests use provided key cards to design their own truck, car, or crossover. But the design gets far more in-depth after that, provided you didn’t use your Fast Pass, which, oddly, streamlines the fun out of the process.
For me, the real joy came in customization. My final car was lime green, splattered with glitter stars, and had tubes, spoilers, and spinners. And I scored a 210 out of 232 overall, which is determined by giant computers after you’ve actually ridden the ride. I am not above getting competitive with my children.
4. Oh, wait. It’s also a roller coaster.
Topping 65 MPH, the fastest ride in all four Disney parks begins with a virtual testing environment, simulating the process a car undergoes before production. Then it shoots you outside, where you zoom around the track so quickly that everyone’s hair is a complete mess afterward. Yes, just for that, I rode it twice. Bring hair bands.
5. Kids will dig the post-ride computer games
After the ride, you use your key card to activate a series of interactive tools and games. Test drive your car on a video game track and try to beat your friends, create a video advertisement for your car, or have your picture taken with a real or digital sports car and emailed straight into your inbox. Goofy, but fun. See?
Sprinkled throughout the game room/show room are actual concept cars, Chevy cars (of course), and even some very fancy futuristic cars that our kids might drive one day. And you can check out the Chevy Traverse, which I test drove (and didn’t crash, honest!) and found to be pretty high tech, thanks to standard back-up cameras, alarms, and a fancy MyLink system that can store up to ten different devices via Bluetooth.
Ironically, my only real complaint amidst all this techy goodness is the noticeable lack of cell phone signal in the Disney hotels and around the park.
I had trouble locating my friends and tweeting pics of the stuff I loved, let alone using the Undercover Tourist App to track wait times. My smartphone spent so much energy hunting for a signal that it ran out of juice long before I was done. Let’s get some cell towers up, and add some charging stations in the air conditioning, okay, Mickey?.–Delilah