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Why For are the ride vehicles for Luigi's Flying Tires being retooled

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Why For are the ride vehicles for Luigi's Flying Tires being retooled

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Pirate Pete wrote in this weekend to say:

Have you been following what's been going on with the Luigi's Flying Tires ride at DCA's Cars Land? Why exactly did they remove the balls from that attraction? Was it a safety issue?

Photo by Paul Hiffmeyer. Copyright Disneyland. All rights reserved

Pirate Pete --

The balls weren't removed from this reimagining of Disneyland's classic Flying Saucers ride because of safety concerns. But -- rather -- because they were slowing down the load / unload procedure for what was already a very slow loading / low capacity attraction. And given the large number of Guest complaints that this newly-retooled theme park was getting from people who've literally spent hours in line on to then have a two minute-long experience aboard Luigi's Flying Tires ... Well, the Imagineers knew that they had to do something.

Mind you, what's kind of ironic about this is that the Spring 2012 decision to add all of those beach balls to Luigi's -- give this new DCA attraction a colorful, kinetic element (which was then supposed to distract Guests from noticing that the Flying Tires don't exactly zoom around. That this supposedly thrilling, interactive ride is really more of a mild, slow-moving experience) -- came very late in the game. With the Imagineers reportedly drawing their inspiration from a piece of archival footage that they'd discovered of Disneyland's original Flying Saucers attraction which showed this Tomorrowland attraction filled with colorful balloons. Which were then knocked into the air as Guests deliberately drove their Flying Saucers through those piles of balloons that were scattered around the floor.

Of course, what the Imagineers didn't initially realize was that this archival footage of Disneyland's Flying Saucers attraction had come from a 1960s era episode of "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color." And because the film crew which had been tasked with filming this then-still-new Tomorrowland attraction had decided that the Saucers were (all of their own) a little too slow-moving & bland-looking to give them the sort of colorful, dramatic footage that they really needed for this TV show ... Well, that's when the decision was made to pour hundreds of balloons to the air cushion pen that Disneyland's Flying Saucers floated around in.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So as you can see, even back in the early 1960s, Disney insiders were looking for ways to make this floating-on-air attraction appear to be far more exciting & colorful than it actually was.

Anyway ...  Now that all of those beach balls are gone, what are the Imagineers going to do to try and improve the ride experience that Guests have once they climb aboard one of Luigi's Flying Tires? Given all of  this attraction's safety protocols (i.e. each vehicle must be individually visually inspected to make sure that all occupants are restrained by a safety belt before the Cast Members are then allowed to fire the underground engines which then provide the cushion of air that these oversized tires ride on), it's always going to be a very-slow-to-load attraction. So what WDI is now concentrating on is trying to make Luigi's Flying Tires an overall far more satisfying ride experience.

"And how exactly are they going to pull that off?," you ask. Well, you have to understand that -- during the initial test phase of Luigi's Flying Tires -- each of these Flying Saucer-like ride vehicle was equipped with a joy  stick-type control mechanism. Which -- depending on what direction you pushed this joy stick in -- sent your Flying Tire floating off towards that side of the attraction.

John Lasseter in an early promotional video for Luigi's Flying Saucers. Please note
-- directly to the left of Lasseter -- the original joy stick / ride control mechanism for
this DCA attraction. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

The only problem was the Disneyland Resort Cast Members who were recruited to take part in the early, early onsite tests for Luigi's Flying Tires found this joy stick-like ride control system confusing / difficult to use. And the Imagineers figured that -- if Cast Members (some of whom literally spend 8 hours a day dealing with the balky ride control systems on various DCA & Disneyland attractions) couldn't figure out how the ride control system on Luigi's Flying Tires actually operated ... Well, what chance did members of the general public have?

So during the test-and-adjust phase for this new Cars Land attraction, the Imagineers actually removed these joy sticks from all of the control consoles on the Luigi's Flying Tires ride vehicles. Though -- that said -- there's still 20 pounds of hardware hidden deep  down inside of each of these Tires which was supposed to respond every time you pushed that joy stick.

The Imagineers are hoping that -- if they remove the rest of that joy stick hardware (and thereby decrease the weight of each of these ride vehicles by 20 pounds) -- that single change will make Luigi's Flying Tires that much more satisfying an attraction. That -- because all of these ride vehicles will soon be lighter -- they'll then be able to zoom around the air cushioned floor of this Cars Land attraction that much quicker. Which will make for a far more satisfying Guest experience.

Tony Shaloub at Uptempo Studios earlier this year recording the
audio components for Luigi's Flying Tires. Copyright Uptempo

That's WDI's hope, anyway. But let's remember that these are the same folks who brought Tony Shaloub back in at the last minute to record all of these "Cars" - inspired Italian parody songs. With the hope that this new musical element would then add an additional layer of fun to this DCA attraction.

But the hard fact of the matter is -- no matter how many beach balls WDI adds and/or Italian-inspired comical songs they play -- there's just no getting around the fact that Luigi's Flying Tires (just like the classic Disneyland ride which inspired it) is always going to be a slow loading / low capacity attraction with a short ride time which is also short on thrills. Which means that DCA's Guest Relations staffers are pretty much guaranteed to be getting a steady stream of complaints about Luigi's Flying Tires from people who feel that they spent far too much time in line to then experience such an underwhelming attraction.

Mind you, there used to be people who worked at Walt Disney Imagineering who knew things like this. Veteran Imagineers who had actually worked on the original Disneyland version of  Flying Saucers and who could speak at great length about how difficult it was to operate & properly maintain this particular Tomorrowland attraction. Which is one of the main reasons that the Flying Saucers only operated at  Disneyland from August of 1961 through August of 1966 before Walt himself pulled the plug on this problematic ride.

John Hench and Walt Disney onsite as the demolition
of Disneyland's original Tomorrowland gets underway
in September of 1966. Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

You get that, right? That Walt Disney himself -- when he was putting together his final plans for 1967's New Tomorrowland -- deliberately decided not to include a revamped version of the Flying Saucers as part of his Disneyland redo because -- even back then -- this ride for slow to load, difficult to operate and didn't deliver all that great a Guest experience.

Which perhaps explains what I witnessed on the night of June 13th of this year. Which was the night that the Disneyland Resort's PR staff held their big Cars Land Media Party.

Let me take a moment to properly set the stage here: I'm in line for Luigi's Flying Tires. And as I'm making my way through this attraction's queue, I realize that there's something very  familiar about the older gentleman who's directly ahead of me in line. Eventually I realize that this guy is Disney Legend Ron Dominguez.

This obviously isn't how it actually went down. But -- rather -- its Charles Boyer's fantasy
of how young Ron Dominguez learned about what Walt Disney had in the works for the
orange groves that his family opened in Anaheim. Boyer painted this image for the
cover of the Disneyland Line (i.e. that theme park's employee newsletter) which
was published on July 17, 1980 for the 25th anniversary of this theme park.
Walt Disney Company. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

For those of you who don't know: Dominguez literally is a native Disneylander. His family actually owned 10 acres of the land that Walt Disney had to purchase in Anaheim in order to build the Happiest Place on Earth. And to hear Ron tell the story, the Dominguez family manse (which had been built in Orange County back in the 1880s) was originally located in New Orleans Square, somewhere between Pirates of the Caribbean and Cafe Orleans.

Anyway, given that Ron was looking for a summer job back in 1955, four days before Disneyland opened to the public, Dominguez took a position as a ticket taker at this theme park's front. And Ron then stayed on at the Disneyland Resort for the next 39 years, eventually rising through the ranks to become Executive Vice President of Walt Disney Attractions for the entire West Coast.

So you get what I'm saying here, right? If there's ever a person who knew his early Disneyland history, it's Ron Dominguez. By that I mean, this guy lived it firsthand.

Ron Dominguez (on the right, wearing the dark tie)
rides the Tomorrowland Skyway with his then-boss
Dick Nunis in the Fall of 1980 as they discuss the
upcoming reimagining of Disneyland's Fantasyland
section. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Which is why -- when Ron finally made it to the part of the Luigi's Flying Tires queue where you can actually look out  and see the ride vehicles -- I just had to laugh. Dominguez took one look at those Flying Saucers-like ride vehicles and then loudly said "Oh, God. Not these things again." And with that, Ron turned around and -- after saying "Come on. We're getting out of here" to the pair of women he was traveling with that night -- Dominguez quickly exited the queue.

Okay. I know. That's the reaction of a single individual. But you gotta remember that -- back in 1962 -- Ron Dominguez was actually named supervisor of  Tomorrowland. So if there's ever been a person who's intimately aware of how difficult Disneyland's Flying Saucer attraction was to operate, it's this guy. So the fact that Ron would immediately turn tail and run at the mere sight of Luigi's Flying Tires ... Well, that doesn't exactly bode well for the future of this Cars Land attraction.

I'm told that -- after all of the ride vehicles for Luigi's Flying Tires have been lightened up (which should be completed sometime later this month) -- DCA's going to commission yet another Guest survey to see if the lightened-up versions of these tires are delivering a better Guest experience. And if not ... Well, it'll be interesting to see what the Imagineers do next here. Whether they do what WED did back in the mid-1960s, replace this Flying Saucers / Flying Tires ride with something that's easier to operate / more of a Guest satisfier. Maybe take that nearby expansion pad (which has been set aside for the DCA equivalent of DHS's popular Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater restaurant) and combine it with the property that Luigi's Flying Tires currently occupies to create a Cars-themed attraction which has a far higher theoretical hourly ride capacity as well as being a better overall Guest experience.

The interior of the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Does that answer your question, Pirate Pete? I hope so.

And just in case you're wondering, folks: Yeah, we're doing a little experimenting with JHM's content. Seeing how this site's readers might respond to Why For being a daily -- rather than weekly -- column. So if you've got any Disney or theme park-related questions that you'd like to see answered as part of this week's experiment, please send them along to [email protected]

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  • I just rode Luigi's tires last week Jim, and I have to say that I had a great experience on the ride.  I was able to getting the tire I was in going pretty fast, fast enough to have a pretty good time.  When the ride ended I had all the fun I wanted, and I would ride it again.  

    The thing about Luigi's tires is that it is a sort of novelty ride, you get to do something that you can't do anywhere else, and with the great theming of Carsland.  There are rides like Disneyland's Teacups all over the world, but the Alice in Wonderland overlay makes it fun, same sort of thing with Luigi's.

    As far as guest complaints go . .  . most of the guests looked like they were having a fun time.  The ride does require that you be more than just a passive guest, you actually have to really tilt the tire to get it going.  The ride is self-explanatory, so I don't think they will get a whole lot of guest complaints in the years to come as the regulars will get what the ride is about, and newcomers will have fun riding it at least once.

    Actually, the extra 20 lbs. is more than it seems because it is in the bottom of the tire, and via leverage, prevents the tire from being tilted much because it lowers the center of gravity.  Remember, the more you can tilt the tire, the funner the experience, meaning that the relatively small weight of 20 lbs. really slows down the ride by preventing the tire from being tilted.  Everybody on the internet thinks that sole reason Imagineers are removing the weight is because they are just trying to shed the extra 20 lbs, when really it is about center of gravity.

  • I heard rumors that  Disneyland's next big project will be a revamped Tomorrowland.  I know it needs a lot of work.  

    The last revision was poorly received.  Now it's just a big mish mash with cartoon overlays and an unused People Mover track --  to mention just a few problems.  What have you heard?

  • I rode Luigi's during the preview and again a few days ago. I agree that it was pretty slow going during the preview, but on my second ride the tire seemed faster and more responsive -- even though I had my son with me that time and was riding alone the first time. It felt to me like the air pressure was actually higher the second time around, and I'd love to know if that might be the case. A cast member told me that the vehicles were more responsive because the extra equipment had been removed, but it seems to me that it must be more than that since my 14-year-old son weighs significantly more than 20 pounds.

  • Actually, the removal of the balls from Luigi's WAS due to safety concerns, people were getting injured trying to reach (in awkward positions) those balls, and also their throwing them at people, sometimes resulting in injury.

    The issue about the balls slowing down the load was only an issue early on when CM's were running around trying to give everyone a ball before starting the ride. When they stopped that practice, the load time dropped and the balls were no longer an issue in slowing down load time.

    As for the load/unload of the original Flying Saucer attraction, it was a LOT more efficient than what they have now. In fact, I doubt that there could be a more efficient or faster load/unload system.

  • I call BS on your Ron Dominguez story. You think the first time he realized LFT was an updated version of flying saucers was that night? He doesn't live in a hole-in-the-ground. He was well aware of what this attraction was well before June 2012.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: You are -- of course -- entitled to your own opinion. But given that Mr. Dominguez was right there in front of me when he said these things (In fact, Ron had to ask me & Shelly Valladolid to please step out of the way so that he and his family could then hurriedly exit the queue for Luigi's Flying Tires that night), I am dead certain that they actually happened.


  • Many years ago when Magic Mountain was new and wonderful they had an attraction called El Bumbo.  Basically  round boats in a long rectangle pool.  What I liked watching was the unload/loading process which was so fast.  A large arm would swing to one side pushing 24 boats together to unload/unload (walking on the sides of the boats) while the other side of  the pool the other 24 boats were free to bump for about 5 min. (or until the other side had been unloaded/loaded.  The large arm would then swing back and the system would be repeated.  When I first read about FLYING TIRES I thought for sure Disney would use this system knowing full and well how crowded  and popular the unique attraction would be.

  • I predict the tires will be removed within 3-5 years. Those Mater tractor's are much more fun and 1/4 of the wait.

    On a larger note regarding Cars Land, it is strange to have so much space with only 3 rides. Seems like such a waste of real estate.

  • When you remove the balls, the aggression decreases.

  • Aloha Jim!

    I enjoyed your Ron Dominguez  reaction... he's a great guy!

    On August 21st I posted a story on DbM about  the beach balls. (extract) "Gone are the giant Beach Balls, because of some “minor incidents” where visitors were hit by rowdy guests using the balls as weapons (how nice)! " I got this from several sources... but knowing them, they were probably the instigators! ;-)

  • I too recently was on LFT for the first time.  While the load times are not very fast the ride itself was fun for not only my wife and me, but our 10 year old twins had a blast.  I think the ride itself is not the problem as much as the load times and the fact that it is not very long.  I agree that there are better loading/unloading systems.  Much like Steve said, why not install a loading/unloading area where guests could unload and load the next ride while another set of riders were on the ride?  This would only take building a slightly larger area to be built next to the ride surface where the tires could be gathered for loading/unloading while other riders are on the ride.  It would significant increase the ride capacity or increase the ride time without increase the time spent waiting in line by allowing the next ride to start while people are unloading from the last ride and loading the next vehicle.

  • What I don't understand is why they didn't advance the concept. Could they have installed a propulsion system so the tires can go straight and turn? Certainly the joystick didn't work, but this means that they didn't know how to design it properly. They should design an exhaust system to force a current of air to turn the vehicle. This is a lost opportunity. Perhaps they can just replace it one day with a bumper car ride.

  • They should have turned this into a circular "track," allowing everyone to rack around.  That way, there'd be a goal or purpose behind what you're doing.  It would be similar to a go-kart concept, but riding the tires instead.  Worst case scenario, though, is that some guests wouldn't race... or wouldn't complete the circuit in a reasonable amount of time.  Still, if they could figure that out, it could improve the attraction.  Also, by having batches of vehicles going around the track simultaneously, they could potentially increase ride capacity.

    Just random thoughts...

  • Learning form passed experiences is not Imagineerings strong point these days, the new younger group has little to no respect for the experienced veteran designers, putting them down as oldtimers often in front of them in meetings.  Ask Tony Baxter, one such Imagineer did so in a concept meeting and was given kudos for putting old time thinking in its place.  As you stated, all the oldtimers knew this was a disaster of an attraction to bring back, but John Lasseter is also a steam roller to reality when he hears the young Imagineers over vocalize the experienced.  Plus it was John, in many meetings who verbally drove this attraction as a nostalgic touch of classic DIsney to help Disney-ize the park.  What John did not look at was exactly what you stated, Walt Disney cared about the guest experience and knew this attraction didn't work and never considered placing it in the Tomorrowland 1967 design.

    A thought about fixing.  If this attraction is suffering from slow load time and slow movement because of size and weight of the ride vehicles, does it not make sense to try bringing a single rider vehicle into play?  A lot of the time the tires have only one rider in them as it currently stands.  This would reduce the ride vehicle weight dramatically and in theory, make the ride more exciting, move faster, and possibly make the load/unload the same or faster.

  • When you remove the balls, the aggression decreases.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Didn't you make this exact same joke yesterday?

  • I agree with everyone that said this isn't a bad attraction, but it generates complaints because of the long wait times. This is certainly caused by the slow loading and unloading process. Removing the beach balls helps since not only are people not scrambling to get a beach ball before they board, but people are not tempted to keep playing with the beach balls after the ride ends. The bigger problem, IMHO, is the load/unload process for those who require help boarding the tires. Having to empty the ride and then restart it while cast members push a tire into the accessible loading area more than doubles the load time.

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