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I'd hear rumors of the existence of "7 a.m." But I hadn't actually seen it myself in many years. I'm a guy who likes his sleep, and it takes an awful lot to get me to sacrifice it . But the opportunity to experience a theme park ride over seven years in the making was such an occasion. So shortly after dawn I headed out to Universal's Islands of Adventure for a preview of the new "High in the Sky Seuss Trolley" Train Ride.
Photo by Seth Kubersky
What kind of ride takes 7 years of engineering and testing to open? Not a cutting edge E-Ticket, but a modest yet endearing family ride. Since IOA opened in May of 1999, guests in Seuss Landing have seen the tracks snaking overhead, and the intermittent signs reading "Coming Soon." But aside from the occasional lone car rolling along, the tracks of the former "Sylvester McMonkey McBean's Very Unusual Driving Machines" have laid dormant since opening day. Rumors why ranged from problems with the contractors to difficulty with aerial evacuations. Now the originals I-beam style tracks have been retrofitted for a powered coaster, the show scenes have been renovated, and new narration tracks recorded. The result -- while perhaps not befitting a 7-year wait -- should please anyone with realistic expectations.
You enter the Trolley Train Ride through the "Sneeches In" tunnel next to the Snookers & Snookers Sweet Candy Cookers shop. The first thing you'll notice is the brightly painted queue line, with storybook panels telling the Sneech story on the walls, and a ramp spiraling up around a multi-story Seussian contraption. The second thing you'll notice (if you're there on a rainy day like I was) is the sheets of water pouring into the queue. It seems the charming circus tent-like roofs over the queue have no gutters, and they funnel rainwater over guests, speakers, the décor, etc. I hope they can address this. If only so they don't have to constantly repaint and repair water damage.
At the top of the ramp you'll be directed to either the purple or aqua train track. 20-passenger trains (5 cars, 2 rows per car, 2 seats per row) with individual lap bars take you above the island on a journey that lasts just under 3 minutes. The 2 different tracks are actually one; they cross at the end so if you get on the aqua side you disembark on the purple track. The 2 tracks take different paths around the island, and each side has 2 different narrations, so there is some built-in re-ride value. One track takes you through the interior of the Circus McGurkus restaurant ...
Photo by Seth Kubersky
... and a Sneech "Star On/Star Off" machine, while you listen to a girl narrate a tour of the island, or a play-along narration about different sounds. On the other side, you start with a brief train-wash, then tour the area accompanied by a recitation of the alphabet, or snippets of Seuss stories. Both tracks finale with exterior and interior show scenes featuring Mr. McBean and some weiner-roasting Sneeches.
The show scenes, which are very brief and simple, may disappoint some. They feature simple figure with very limited animation and no high-tech effects.
The "Star On/Star Off Machine" is not the elaborate spectacle depicted in the "Sneetches" book, as one might hope. But the scenes are colorful and sculpted in a style keeping with the rest of the island. The final outdoor show scene, a miniature residential street with a humorous clothesline, is particularly well-detailed. The real attraction though is not the show scenes, but the views of the island and park. It's wonderful to get a different perspective on the themeing of Seuss Landing, many details of which could never be properly seen before now. You get fantastic views of the characters inside Circus McGurkus atop the Caro-seuss-el ...
... and lying on Sneech Beech. Better yet, you can take a look across the lagoon and see the Hulk roaring through its loops.
The "High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride" might be the Peoplemover/Tomorrowland Transit Authority of IOA. It's a pleasant if unambitious journey that gives you some time off your feet, a nice view of the park, and maybe a smile. I can see it having the re-ride and retro-nostalgia value to make it a cult hit. But if there's anything that will hold it back from reaching the classic status of the beloved TTA, it's capacity and duration. In short, it's too short.
I suspect the original plan may have been a single ride path, but in the current incarnation you only experience half the track each time you ride. Combine that with trains that, while they are by no means fast, do move along at brisk pace, and you have a ride that clocks in at just under 3 minutes. In previews, the small number of trains (4 total, one of which ran empty) and easily-distracted rookie staff made for some moderate wait times despite the miniscule crowd. If they could cut the speed of the trains, and put more trains on the track, they could increase capacity and give a better show. TTA's fans appreciate that it's a ride you can enjoy over and over with virtually no wait. But I predict "High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride" will have lines queued up all summer long.