5 More of Our Favorite Walt Disney World Expeditions
Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt continue to enthrall audiences with Disney’s Jungle Cruise movie, a hearty blend of humor and action that’s packed with inside jokes for the Disney faithful. Two weeks ago, in honor of the movie’s release, we visited our favorite expedition themed attractions at Animal Kingdom. This week, we’re taking a look at some of the best expeditions found in the rest of Walt Disney World.
Pirates of the Caribbean
Outside of the Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean is the granddaddy of all Disney adventure attractions. Originally opening at Disneyland in 1967, the Magic Kingdom Version opened six years later. The attraction is a wonder of storytelling and Imagineering know-how. In early iterations, it was conceived as a walkthrough attraction. However, Walt Disney’s experience with large crowds at the 1964 World’s Fair (along with narrative considerations) convinced Walt of the need for a more efficient means of crowd control. It was a fortunate decision for us, because it’s hard to imagine a more exciting experience than hopping in a boat to experience pirates at their swashbuckling best.
It became the first Disney attraction to inspire a major movie with the 2003 release of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Tower of Terror starring Steve Guttenberg and Kirsten Dunst was released in 1997, but was made for television). The movie would spawn an entire franchise of films that were so successful that it lead to changes within the attraction. A remarkable 11 Disney Legends worked on the creation of Pirates of the Caribbean, including Marc Davis, Claude Coats, X Atencio, and Yale Gracey. It also holds the distinction of being home to the infamous George. He’s the ghost that is rumored to inhabit the attraction! We’d love to ask him how he got there, but as they say, “Dead men tell no tales…”
Most of us will probably never venture off planet Earth and into the final frontier of space. Fortunately, Walt Disney World provides us with the next best thing: Mission: SPACE, located in Epcot. The attraction is an intense simulation of a space flight. You might not want to eat before stepping aboard, because you’ll be experiencing a g-force of 2.5 while spinning at 35 miles an hour around a centrifuge.
To ensure that the experience was as realistic as possible, Disney enlisted NASA in the attraction’s creation. Imagineers toured the Johnson Space Center facility, including Mission Control and the Advanced Space Suit Laboratory, consulted with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and even talked about the future of rocket propulsion with NASA engineers. The result was a voyage that makes Guests feel like they are truly slipping the bonds of our little blue planet. Story Musgrave, a former NASA astronaut and consultant on Mission Space, stated that the attraction is, “a place where guests can imagine our future in space and their role in it, walking in the footsteps of heroes and building on the wealth of technology we’ve developed to date.”
Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
For many (including your humble author) there’s no greater dream than the opportunity to pilot the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy. From the moment it first appeared in Star Wars: A New Hope, it became the spaceship to end all spaceships (sorry Enterprise fans). That dream became a reality with the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Hollywood Studios. While there, you can step aboard the Millennium Falcon as a smuggler in the employ of the space pirate Hondo Ohnaka (voiced by the legendary Jim Cummings).
Though it’s long existed on the silver screen, the Millennium Falcon seen outside of Smuggler’s Run is the first full scale version of the ship ever created. As you move through the attraction’s queue, you’ll spot the lounge where R2-D2 and Chewbacca played Dejarik (if you want to recreate the scene, remember: let the Wookie win). You can also take part in a scavenger hunt and decode alien languages using the Play Disney Park app. Once inside the ship, you’ll work as either the pilot, the gunner, engineer. There are over 200 interactive elements in the cabin, and your choices directly affect the outcome of the adventure (the author of this blog may or may not have been fired by Hondo Ohnaka because of his flight choices, and the author’s children may or may not have decreed that he should never pilot the Falcon again). As you would expect from Disney Imagineering, the attraction is an unparalleled opportunity to become a part of the Star Wars universe.
Star Tours: The Adventures Continue
Of course, Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run is not the only Star Wars voyage that Guests can take. We’d be remiss not to mention the original Star Wars attraction: Star Tours: The Adventures Continue. Originally known simply as Star Tours, the attraction first appeared at Walt Disney World in 1987. It was then that Guests were first allowed to take a trip with Star Tours, a galactic travel company. Voyaging on the StarSpeeder 3000, you got the chance to take a flight to Endor (what could possibly go wrong?). The ship was piloted by RX-24, more commonly known as Rex, before his work as a DJ in Oga’s Cantina.
In 2011, the attraction was re-branded as Star Tours: The Adventures Continue. Rex was no longer the pilot, and Guests no longer flew to Endor. Instead, they would travel to places like Hoth, Kashyyyk, Tatooine, and other far flung reaches of the galaxy as part of the Rebel Alliance. In its current incarnation, the attraction offers over 50 randomized scenarios, allowing Guests multiple re-rides for new experiences. There’s also the possibility that you’ll be singled out as a Rebel Spy. As an interesting side note, you may notice that on the new attraction you are aboard a StarSpeeder 1000. Why? (Considering your journey used to take place aboard the StarSpeeder 3000?) The timeline for the updated version takes place primarily between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope (while its predecessor took place after the events of Return of the Jedi), thus placing it earlier in the Star Wars timeline. WIth that being said, new scenes have been added that take place in the recent trilogy of films…we’ll just say that the Force is a mysterious thing.
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
Our last entry is not a thrill ride like Smugglers Run or Mission: SPACE, but it’s no less of a grand expedition for all of that. On Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, you are a cadet battling the Evil Emperor Zurg. To reach him, you must fly on a XP-37 armed with twin ion cannons. Along the way, you’ll battle robots, alien monsters, and more. While flying, you can use your ion cannons to fire lasers at a variety of targets located throughout the attraction. Hit the targets and you rack up points. Get enough points and you might just become a Galactic Hero. There are lots of little tips for getting a higher score, but for now we’ll just give you one for free: shot at the target on the inside of the left hand on the big orange robot in the first scene. Trust us.
The attraction uses an Omnimover system, but unlike most Omnimover vehicles in Walt Disney World, this one gives you the controls to spin your vehicle 360 degrees. You’ll need that ability to hit many of the targets you’ll encounter along the way. For old school Disney fans, you might also recognize the superspeed tunnel you travel through near the end of your voyage. It’s the same superspeed tunnel used in If You Had Wings, as well as the other attractions preceding Space Ranger Spin.
And there you have it! Five more of our favorite Walt Disney World expeditions. Go out and see The Jungle Cruise, whet your appetite for adventure, and then head for the parks. There are exciting journeys waiting around every corner. Which will you take first?