Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Summer Nightastic Review

Standing in the boiler room, you hear thunder clap in the distance. The lights blink and then go out. The cables of the elevators spark and almost snap. A little girl can be heard singing faintly somewhere in the background.

This is the new Tower of Terror - Summer Nightastic style. And it's awesome. Dare I say, I might like it better than the original. And it's not all that's great about Summer Nightastic.

This being said, I do admit that when Disney first announced their plans for Nightastic a few months ago, I was underwhelmed. I thought it was a poor attempt at trying to counter Harry Potter over at Universal. But then I came to understand that it wasn't supposed to go toe-to-toe, and it took experiencing it to fully understand. What it's supposed to be is a fun and cool evening treat for people who want something new in WDW. And that is definitely what it delivers - at least for the most part. And what it does, it does really well.

Basically, Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom hit this one out of the park. What they offer is outstanding. The Main Street Electrical Parade and The Summer Nightastic Fireworks Spectacular are AWESOME. I needed to see the MSEP in person to fully appreciate it (youtube does it no justice at all). And as we mentioned in the last article, it was a hit. I now see why those WDW old-schoolers were giddy with excitement for its return; it is a LOT of FUN, plain and simple.

The fireworks are also equally impressive. The 180 degree blasts really add to the spectacle. And when the castle goes to battle with Captain Hook - it's phenomenal. I loved it - it's as much a different experience from Wishes as is MSEP is from SpectroMagic. Both Wishes and Spectro pull at the heart strings while MSEP and the Nightastic Fireworks are all about the fun. A very different experience for sure, and for those who have seen the Spectro/Wishes combo multiple times, a welcome change. That's not so say we don't like the previous combo, but a little update to the Magic Kingdom evening presentation is a breath of fresh air. A little tip: stand somewhere in the Hub in front of the castle or on the Railroad platform; standing in the middle of Main Street, USA will obstruct your view of the peripheral fireworks.

Hollywood Studios' effort is also first-rate as well. First, the Rock & Glow concert under the giant Sorcerer's hat is also a tremendous amount of fun. Lead by Mulch, Sweat & Shears (one of my favorite live acts in WDW) and several different DJ's, it really adds to the festive, party atmosphere meant for Summer Nightastic. Mulch is a great amount of fun and those guys are really talented. I'm glad they are being showcased here. Their 80's set is particularly great.

But The Studios really hits the mark with the Tower of Terror. Now, I've heard several reviews that don't agree with the changes, but I can't disagree with that sentiment more. I LOVED the changes. What they've done has made the ride more creepy and exciting. And, in my opinion, it actually melds with the theming better. I'd love for it to stay this way.

The changes begin in the boiler room. You do hear thunder in the distance rumble and roll, and every once in a while a clap occurs followed by a dimming of the lights and finally they go out completely...and slowwwwwwly come back on. You also do hear the faint singing of the little girl who was on the elevator in 1939...it is very much creepy and effective.

After boarding the elevator, during the first stop after the door opens, a bright flash takes your picture...then the sequence happens where the "ghosts" appear, then the window breaks. Then you move on.

The next stop is the forward-moving sequence. But instead of the Twilight Zone inspired odd set pieces along both sides of the hallway, it has been turned into a black starlight field. After turning the corner and heading toward the drop sequence, a large photo appears of the elevator with all the guests seated (the pic taken during the last stop). The guests are then electrified and begin to dissolve and disappear from the seats...a very awesome effect.

After this, the doors open and you move into the elevator shaft. Instead of the typical "YOU ARE ABOUT TO DISCOVER..." line, there is nothing but darkness and creepy jazz music...and boy, does that work. Then the sound of thunder and cables snapping...and WHOOOOOOSH you drop. Then up to the top 3 full times. It is incredible...I can't rave enough about the Tower of Terror. And remember, we're talking about what was arguably my single favorite attraction in all of WDW to begin with - so it had set a high bar for itself. And it blew it away. I loved it; so did the whole family.

For everything that Magic Kingdom and The Studios did correctly, Epcot and especially Animal Kingdom didn't do AT ALL.

Now, at least Epcot has the return of the Sounds Like Summer concert series...and I do very much enjoy that and it's a welcome addition to the evenings at World Showcase. It is a lot of fun (when it's on the schedule), and even though it's not a brand new concept, it's something. And you can't complain too much about bringing something old back like the Sounds series since MK is using the same strategy with the Electrical Parade. But Magic Kingdom is also offering a lot more to go along with that. Epcot isn't.

And speaking of not offering anything, Animal Kingdom has cornered the market on this one for Summer Nightastic. Disney did proclaim that it would have "extended evening hours" for the summer, but I have yet to see that. Leaving the park open until 7 p.m. on most non-EMH nights is not my idea of "extended hours." I'm only upset about this because AK is so phenomenal at night - it's absolutely beautiful. But most people don't get to see that. This wouldn't be so bad if they actually did live up to their claim of extended hours, but they haven't. At least they are including the Taste Of Africa event after the Jammin' Jungle Parade every afternoon...however, that costs extra (sort of like a mini Food & Wine Festival). So, in essence, AK has really not done anything at all for Summer Nightastic.

But beside that, I love The Mouse's effort for this summer event. It's a whole lot of fun, and little extras like this is really what WDW excels in - it always adds so much to the park experience. I'm actually hoping they continue with the Electrical Parade, the Fireworks and the Tower of Terror changes well past the summer.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls...The Magic Kingdom Proudly Presents...

We had an opportunity to attend the passholder preview this past Saturday for the debut of Summer Nightastic! at Magic Kingdom. It didn't disappoint! In this article, we'll detail our first experience with The Mainstreet Electrical Parade. We watched both the 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. parade and the Summer Nightastic Fireworks Spectacular in between - we'll review the fireworks in an upcoming article.

I must start out by saying that my family really aren't huge parade fans (not that we don't like parades, we simply don't go out of our way to see them any more). I must also say that the kids had no idea about The Mainstreet Electrical Parade - the last time it came down the streets of MK, Chance wasn't even born yet and Katie was just a couple years old - so the news that it was finally coming back to The Mouse Of The South didn't hold much meaning for them. Hope remembers seeing it a very long time ago with only fleeting images as memories. I had never seen it in person.

The parade it replaced for the summer - Spectromagic - is cool. It has GREAT music and Hope loves the fact that it so heavily features princesses. The kids at this point could take it or leave it - the first couple times seeing it, it was more novel them, but not any more. So for us, it's a good time for a change. The Electrical Parade was just what the doctor ordered.

Now, I've heard the soundtrack on my ipod many times. I've also seen bits and pieces of the parade itself on youtube. So I was somewhat familiar with what it is...but that didn't do it justice at all. The Mainstreet Electrical Parade is unique and more importantly, FUN. I really enjoyed it, as did the whole family.

There's something very cool about how the lights shut off and the intro begins: "Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls...the Magic Kingdom proudly presents..." It builds a real sense of anticipation. And when you finally see the floats, it's very much a spectacle. For the first showing, we saw it from Liberty Square; seeing it coming across the Liberty Square bridge from the Hub helped feed that anticipation. Seeing these HUGE glowing floats from a distance coming closer as you're surrounded by a dark MK is a sight to behold...and a unique feeling to experience. For the second showing, we were in Town Square across from the Confectionary with a full view of the gates to backstage where the parade emerges from and then begins its route. Seeing it come out from backstage was also a treat.

My first impressions of the Mainstreet Electrical Parade was that it's...weird. Cool and fun, but strange. And for that, I love it. I want something different...something that really feels like its out of another place and time. It's sort of surreal. And I love it for that.

I mentioned how great Spectro's music is/was. And it is...but it is SO different from this one. Spectro's soundtrack is grand and sweeping - it evokes powerful feelings in return. Electrical Parade's is pure fun - people loved it so much that everyone broke out into clapping in unison. It's a feel-good parade in a different way that Spectro is a feel-good parade. And that's also not just an interesting comparison, but it says a lot for both. These parades are effective in that they bring out an emotional response in everyone - and a vastly different emotional response in each.

Unfortunately, I forgot the digital camera...I only brought the cell phone which has a very poor night-time camera, so the photos came out horrible. So for the sake of providing a visual, I'm inserting several from Kathy Werling's DisUnplugged blog...she's a great photog with great camera equipment...enjoy!

You can see Kathy's original blog post here.