Welcome to Jim Hill Media - Entertainment News : Theme Parks Movies Television

Is it possible to experience your favorite Disney Park attraction for the very first time … again?

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

Is it possible to experience your favorite Disney Park attraction for the very first time … again?

Rate This
  • Comments 9
At last month’s “Practically Perfect Night at Mary Poppins” event at LA’s Ahmanson Theatre, a D23 member stood up and asked the cast of the North American touring company of this Disney / Cameron Mackintosh production how they did it. Where they found the energy to perform like that, night after night after night …

Which is when Mike O’Carroll – the stage veteran who plays both Admiral Boom and the Chairman of the Bank in this musical – shared a story that Anthony Lyn (i.e. the tour director for “Mary Poppins”) had told this cast while they were still in rehearsal.

“Tony told us ‘Imagine that – somewhere in this theater – there’s someone who’s seeing their first Broadway show. And now imagine that – in this same theater – there’s someone who’s seeing a live stage show for the very last time. These are the people you want to keep in mind while you’re up on stage. So that you can then deliver the sort of performance that they’ll remember forever.' ”

The cast of Disney's Mary Poppins stage musical performing the number Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious
Photo by Joan Marcus. Copyright 2010 Disney. All Rights Reserved

For the last week or so, O’Carroll’s anecdote has been rattling around in my head. And I can’t help but connect this story with something that happened to Angela Ragno & I while we were at Disneyland last September.

You see, after the D23 EXPO had wrapped, Ms. Ragno and I found ourselves over at the theme park. Doing some last minute souvenir shopping and such before we went back to our hotel room, got packed up and then headed out for the airport.

But as we were walking through Tomorrowland, I glanced over at “Star Tours” and thought: “Jay Rasulo just announced that ‘Star Tours II’ is coming. That the updated version of this simulator ride will be opening at Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2011. And since WDI has yet to reveal when it will be closing this Tomorrowland attraction so that the Imagineers can then reprogram the simulators as well as load in the new ride film … Well, this could be my very last chance to experience the original version of ‘Star Tours.’ “

A moment in the pod race from Star Wars
Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

So I turned to Angela and said “Could we? Please?” And being the good sport that she is, Ms. Ragno (with very little grumbling) then followed me into “Star Tours.” And as we made our way through the queue, walking past pre-show scenes that (to be blunt) were looking a bit worn, were showing their age, I thought: “Well, I’m glad that Imagineering will soon be giving this Tomorrowland attraction all the TLC that it deserves. Because this simulator ride really used to be something back in the day.”

So Angela and I get loaded into our StarSpeeder 3000. Into the front row, to be exact. And as I’m about to surrender myself to the nostalgia of getting in one last ride on the original version of “Star Tours” … this family enters the cabin and quickly takes their seats. And the Mother – after she clicks her safety harness into place – then turns to me and says “This ride? What’s it about?”

I’m serious. This woman actually asked what “Star Tours” was about.

In the queue for Star Tours the ride
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

And I have to admit that – in the wake of her question – I was left temporarily speechless. I mean, these people had just walked past Audio Animatronic versions of R2D2 & C3PO. Surely this family is familiar with the films of George Lucas. How can you have lived on Earth for the past 30+ years and not know about “Star Wars” ?

So I try and cobble together a quick explanation as to what “Star Tours” is all about before Rex can then lower the cockpit shield and begin his usual spiel. I stutter something to the effect of “Um … It’s a ride that takes you out into space.”

The Mother quickly turns around and relays this information to her rather large brood. Who are now seated next to Angela and I as well as in the row directly behind us. Then the cabin lights dim as C3PO welcomes us aboard.

Rex the robot tour guide from Star Tours
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

And for the first 30 seconds or so, the Mother stares up quizzically at the screen and Rex. Waiting for the real adventure to begin. And as our StarSpeeder 3000 begins chugging through that tunnel, heading for our departure point, this woman turns to me and says “I thought that you said that this ride took us out into space.”

Which is when Rex began screaming about “… Brakes. Brakes! Where are the brakes!” And our StarSpeeder crashes through that safety railing and then drops straight down into the maintenance bay.

Which – I know – for those of us who have ridden “Star Tours” before, this moment in the ride isn’t really that all that big a surprise. But for the family seated behind / next to Angela & I, who had evidently never been on this Tomorrowland attraction before … They were delighted that things had suddenly gone horribly wrong. These people laughed & screamed all the way through this 4 1/2 minute-long ride film. They had an absolute blast on this simulator.

Disney's Star Tours
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

And as the cabin doors opened and the “Star Wars” theme blared, this family unbuckled their safety straps and then raced for the exit. With those kids pleading with their Mother to please let them go on “Star Tours" one more time.

Now I know that there are Disneyana fans out there who would have bitched & moaned if they ever found themselves stuck next to a family like this. Who would have grumbled about how being around people who were this loud, that boisterous would have just ruined a trip to the Parks for them.

But I gotta tell you … Being seated next to this family who had never ever ridden “Star Tours” before, their enthusiasm was infectious. Their reaction reminded me of how terrific I thought this Tomorrowland attraction was the very first time that I rode it. And if this was how I got to experience this version of Disney’s premiere simulator ride for the last time … Well, it was a great way to go out.

Star Tours poster
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

So I guess what I’m saying here is … To circle back on Mr. O’Carroll’s first time / last time “Mary Poppins” anecdote … I know that a lot of JHM readers have made numerous trips to Disney’s Parks & Resorts. Which is why it’s easy to fixate on what wasn’t there (EX: Epcot’s Lights of Winter) and/or what wasn’t working properly (EX: Fantasmic’s new dragon) during your visit.

But if you can just do what Angela & I did this past September and suddenly see an old favorite through new eyes … That’s when you remember why tens of millions of people visit these places year after year after year... Not to find the Hidden Mickeys. Not to hear the back story and/or point out where the budget got cut. But because these are places where families can go to have fun together. Which is why Walt built the very first Disneyland back in 1955. Not so people on the Internet would then have something new to complain and/or obsess about.

So what about you folks? Has something like this ever happen to any of you? Have you ever had an experience at one of the Disney theme parks that suddenly reminded you of what it felt like the very first time you saw your favorite show and/or rode your favorite ride?

Your thoughts?

Blog - Post Feedback Form
Your comment has been posted.   Close
Thank you, your comment requires moderation so it may take a while to appear.   Close
Leave a Comment
  • * Please enter your name
  • * Please enter a comment
  • Post
  • I got this feeling everytime one of my kids went on a ride for the first time....and why I prefer going to the parks with friends who have never been, or haven't been for years.  Seeing their reactions to every ride, or even just to walking into a new park or new land, reminds me of when I was in their shoes.

  • Going to the parks always is great with my daughter. We now know which horses on the carousel were sold to Walt by my relatives which makes it that much more special. Now if they's just fix the band organ by the Dumbo ride; rebuild the People Mover; Fix the new Monorails; rebuild the Skyway; things would be fine. Oh and guess what? I never did ride Star Tours. (It was usually down during our visits.)

  • Bravo! Great Story! I enjoy seeing and telling people about Disney parks and attractions who have never been or experienced them. There is a certain feeling of re-living the experience thru them. Thanks for the story and for the reminder of what the parks are all about. As diehard fans, it's easy to get caught up in the grumbling and complaining about all that we see wrong and forget to relax and take in the magic that does still exist.

  • Wow...and thanks!

    We experienced this many times over with a large party of people this year, including people who had never been to WDW as well as children who were now *just tall enough* to ride the rides w/ the 40 inch and taller restriction.

    I was taking my daughter on her second ride ever (first ride she didn't want to go, the second ride she asked to "go into space agian" so Star Wars Daddy is pretty proud). A large, very fan-looking middle aged man was taking pictures of everything. He was nice enough to let us around him, but he had an air of one of those people who does what he wants and was going to stop every two feet to get another angle of C-3PO or Admiral Akbar. I thought, "Oh great, Fanboy is going to get somebody in trouble when he holds up the line or bumps into somebody while trying to get that perfect angle."

    Sure enough, he delayed our trip because he did not buckle his seat belt as the doors were closing. He had to be reminded to do so and all I could think was "He's one of those 501st Legion people that they hate. The ones who think that the rules don't apply to him so he's going to try and cabin surf or take pictures or something disruptive like that."

    When the gentleman turned around at the end of the ride to undo his seat belt, I noticed the "First Visit" button. He wasn't disrupitive at all. He was overwhelmed! The full-grown adult was so captivated by the moment that he completely forgot to fasten his seat belt and did not hear the attendant's first attempts to help him!

    Wow...I'm glad that I said nothing, and thought "Cool! This guy is experiencing ST for the first time as my daughter and I know that this will be the last time that we ride with Rex as he overshoots Endor."

    Thanks, Jim, for sharing your experience. I'm thrilled that Disney does have a gold standard when it comes to understanding that the majority of people on any day are experiencing everything for the very first time, but sometimes need to be reminded of this as well when the shine tarnishes just a little bit.

  • Great story, Jim.

    I hope you repeat your stories on the history of Star Tours.  Those were great articles!

  • It saddens me a bit that the old Star Tours is closing. I can't judge the new one, obviously, since I haven't ridden it yet, but look at it this way: Star Tours is literally the only thing in DL's Tomorrowland that hasn't changed since the '80s. Everything else has changed severely, some of it for the better (new monorails, new Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, the Nemo subs) but mostly for the worse (Innoventions, HISTA, closing the Skyway, softening Autopia, the Rocket Rods fiasco that resulted in no more Peoplemover, and the closing of Mission To Mars - which WOULD have been an improvement had they actually opened Alien Encounter, but now it's just another place to buy lousy overpriced pizza). I know it's TOMORROWland and all...and who knows, maybe Star Tours II WILL be an improvement. But once the original Star Tours closes and Captain EO ends its limited engagement, the land will officially have no connection to that fantastical, far-off year of 1986.

    Plus, this change is especially sad for old-school George Lucas fans. Even as George has continued his quest to demolish his own legacy more than any other artist in history by making those terrible prequels and adding all that pointless hoo-hah to the original trilogy...we always had STAR TOURS as our one unaltered slice of the Star Wars universe we remember so dear, and soon it will be gone. Sure it doesn't get 30-minute wait times that often anymore, but it still entertains families like that one just fine.

  • I was going to save my meager funds for a new computer this summer, but hearing that Star Tours is going to shut down in October, I decided to go to Comic-Con again this year (but they sold out of the five-day tix, so I bailed on that idea). My current plan for my trip to SoCal is thus: Get to Disneyland the moment it opens, bolt to Star Tours, ride, exit, get back in line. I am going to try to ride Star Tours as many times as possible in one operating day. Why For? New ST will use the prequels, and prequels are terrible. I've learned my lesson about Lucas's ideas post-1983, so I will be VERY skeptical of ST2

  • Jim Hill shares even more stories from last year’s D23 EXPO. Like which popular Hollywood Studios eatery is eventually going to be cloned for Carsland. And which upcoming WDW addition is going to be duplicated for Tokyo Disneyland

  • "Plus, this change is especially sad for old-school George Lucas fans. Even as George has continued his quest to demolish his own legacy more than any other artist in history by making those terrible prequels and adding all that pointless hoo-hah to the original trilogy...we always had STAR TOURS as our one unaltered slice of the Star Wars universe we remember so dear, and soon it will be gone."

    "New ST will use the prequels, and prequels are terrible."

    Wow, idiots like you two never cease to amaze me.  You've got nothing to back up your statements but your own (inane) opinions of the prequels.  They all got decent reviews (all three rated fresh by Rotten Tomatoes), they were all extremely popular.  (Especially with the target audience.  You know, kids.)

    There is a whole generation of Star Wars fans who do not understand what you people are talking about when you say the prequels are so much worse than the originals.  They've experienced all six films together and love them all as one.  And the TV series has brought even more new fans to the franchise.

    I'm sorry you have such tunnel vision that you can't see how entertaining the prequels are and how much current fans will enjoy seeing parts of the Star Wars universe missing from the old Star Tours.

    Really, it's your loss.  My mother would say you are biting off your nose to spite your face.  It's nicer, I suppose, than just saying you're stupid.

Page 1 of 1 (9 items)