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Walt Disney World's overlooked attractions: Disney Quest

Walt Disney World's overlooked attractions: Disney Quest

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"Well, I'll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. A quest for fun. I'm gonna have fun and you're gonna have fun."

-- Clark Griswold

Thanks to our old friend Clark W. Griswold (a.k.a. Chevy Chase) in 1983's Vacation for the perfect opening quote for today's article. In our quest for fun, we're going to take a look at a frequently overlooked attraction at Walt Disney World - Disney Quest.

One of the most common questions we get asked at Mouseketrips is what the difference is between the regular Park Hopper and the Park Hopper Plus theme park admissions passes offered at Walt Disney World. Similarly, many people want to know how a Premium Annual Passport differs from a regular Annual Passport. When told that the Park Hopper Plus pass and the Premium Annual passport include admission to the two WDW water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, most folks understand. And when we say that admission to Pleasure Island is also provided, we get very few blank stares. But when we tell clients that the upgraded passes also include admissions to Disney Quest the response "...um...okay...what's that?" is almost guaranteed.

Disney's official description for Disney Quest is "a one-of-a-kind indoor interactive Theme Park bursting with games that give "state-of-the-art" new meaning." Originally conceived as a "theme park in a box" concept that could be easily transplanted into other cities throughout the country and around the world, Disney Quest is a different and unique concept.

Developed over a two-year period starting in 1996 by Walt Disney Imagineering, there were to have been up to 30 Disney Quest locations both domestically and internationally. The idea was to give visitors a virtual-reality, 3-D Disney theme-park experience without the need to travel to a Disney theme park. The project, which was headed by then-vice president of new ventures for WDI Joe DiNunzio, was to package within a 100,000 square-foot, 5-story building a complete theme park experience. Each Disney Quest building would house several different "lands," just like in the theme parks, and each of the lands would be accessible via the tried-and-true Disney hub and spoke topography.

The design challenges faced by the Imagineers in making Disney Quest live up to the Disney standards were significant and remarkable. Creating six different "lands", or zones as they're called at Disney Quest, each with its own unique theme, was nothing new to WDI. They'd done it in theme parks time and time again. However, separating those lands, while quite easy to do with landscaping, berms, and pure distance in a theme park, became a major hurdle within an enclosed building. Indeed, visitors to Disney Quest likely will never notice the engineering, lighting, technology, and even a few theatrical tricks used to make the transition from one zone to another.

The first Disney Quest, located in the Downtown Disney district of Walt Disney World, opened with great fanfare in the summer of 1998. It was followed by a second location in Chicago, which opened its doors in the summer of 1999. A third Disney Quest location was to have followed shortly thereafter in Philadelphia, but that plan ran into delays due to problems with the proposed location, and was later abandoned.

Unfortunately, the public never really caught on to the concept of Disney Quest. Attendance numbers never came close to projections, and the Chicago location closed its doors permanently in 2001. Plans for other locations of Disney Quest were shelved, and the only remaining location today is the original at Walt Disney World. However, there is still strong support for the concept within the Disney company, as is evidenced by several new attractions having been added to the WDW Disney Quest over the past 18 months. This constant freshening by the Imagineers has ensured that Disney Quest's attractions, atmosphere, and technology have remained cutting-edge.

So what, then, is Disney Quest? Probably the best way to describe it is a high-tech virtual reality arcade, although it is so much more than just an arcade. Each Disney Quest adventure begins with a trip on a "Cybrolator," which is an elevator with some special built-in Disney-type surprises. The Cybrolator will transport you to Venture Port on the third floor of the building, which serves as the central hub. From Venture Port you can access any of the four different zones which make up the bulk of the Disney Quest building.

The Explore Zone, located on the first floor of the building, contains such adventures as Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Buccaneer Gold, where you and your team endeavor to sink rival ships with your virtual "cannons" and thus claim the treasure within, and the Virtual Jungle Cruise that puts you in a raft that must be properly "paddled" with electronic oars in order to complete your trip down the river.

The building's second floor houses the Create Zone, where visitors can create their own songs at the new Song Maker attraction, or learn to be a Disney animator at The Animation Academy. You can design your own toys at Sid's Create-a-Toy, and, for an additional price, even pick up your custom designed toy later in the day. By far the most popular attraction in the Create Zone, however, is Cyber Space Mountain. Hosted by Bill Nye the Science Guy, this attraction allows you to custom-design your own roller coaster, and then board a simulator to actually "ride" your creation.

The third, fourth, and fifth floors at Disney Quest are where you'll find the Replay Zone. Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters is best described as bumper cars on steroids. Each car, which holds two people, one driver and one gunner. The object is to scoop up and shoot nerf-type balls at the other cars. A direct hit causes the car to spin out of control momentarily. Other popular arcade and simulator games can also be found here.

Finally, the Score Zone is located on the fourth and fifth floors. Popular attractions here include the Mighty Ducks Pinball Slam, where YOU are the ball in a giant pinball game, Ride the Comix, where you don a virtual reality helmet and use your light saber to battle the bad guys, and Invasion! An ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter where a team of three gunners and one pilot attempt to rescue stranded colonists on an alien planet while neutralizing as many aliens as possible.

Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Well, in short, it is! If you ever need something to do when the weather turns bad and you don't want to brave the parks in the rain, or if you arrive on a late flight and don't want to burn a day of your Park Hopper pass, make sure you find your way over to Disney Quest.

Since no Jim Hill Media article would be complete without a few tips, tricks, and secrets, here are just a few that you might find interesting.

  • If you choose to design your own coaster at the Cyber Space Mountain attraction, go for as many inversions as you can and avoid drops. The simulator that you ride in after designing your coaster doesn't do a very good job with the drops, and they end up being disappointing. However, the inversions are great fun, and as far as I can tell, the record number of inversions for one ride stands at 12.
  • The food court at Disney Quest is operated by the Cheesecake Factory. For those of you unfamiliar with this restaurant chain, they do lots more than just cheesecake, and all of it is fantastic. The food is outstanding and quite reasonably priced for Disney, and the portions are HUGE. The cheesecake is, of course, their specialty item and it is fabulous. My personal favorite is the Key Lime cheesecake, while my wife just can't pass up a slice of White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle.
  • Disney Quest is also the only place on Disney property where you will find an Internet café. It's not advertised or promoted, but in two different locations in the building, one of which is in the food court, there are computer terminals with Internet access. These terminals allow you to surf the Internet and send e-mail, although access is somewhat restricted. Some popular sites such as AOL and Hotmail are blocked, and e-mail cannot be sent to addresses with "questionable" words or phrases.

Well, I hope you've enjoyed our brief tour of Disney Quest. While I've tried to discuss the most popular and significant attractions, this list is by no means exhaustive. In fact, Disney Quest claims over 250 games and attractions, with something for all members of the family. Drop by and give it a try sometime - you won't be sorry!

Scott Liljenquist is co-owner of Mouseketrips.com, the web's best Disney-only travel agency. A graduate of the College of Disney Knowledge, he suffers from a serious Disney Obsession Disorder. Unhappy unless he's either on a WDW vacation or planning the next one, he can usually be found scouring the 'net for the latest Disney news, rumors, and gossip. For further information on the sorts of trips and tours that Mouseketrips offers, visit the Mouseketrips web site.

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