Thursday, December 06, 2012

Test Track: Review and Photos

Color me impressed. The new Test Track is no mere reboot from a tired industrial setting to a multi-hued digital world that would look right at home in the movie Tron, a concept that struck many fans as lackluster when they heard the news or saw the concept art. But it delivers. Boy, does it ever deliver. In fact, after I rode the attraction I felt like I do following the debut of a major E ticket ride. This was no mere repainting of a few plywood fa├žades – – it was a full-scale reimagining and it blows New Fantasyland out of the water.

The hype in almost all press releases and media reports so far has been centered on New Fantasyland, perhaps because Disney wanted to reveal little about Test Track, or more likely, because they felt it would be foolish to promote a re-skinned attraction over something brand-new. Thus, Test Track has been flying under the radar for almost everybody. But in many ways, it exceeds its mandate, and it soars where New Fantasyland merely glides. My first visit to New Fantasyland was very positive. I liked the mermaid ride, partly because it has Audio-Animatronics, but mostly because it's a dark ride with an Omnimover. I also liked the meet and greet experiences, especially that vexing magic mirror effect. Most of all, I liked the sets and the atmosphere. New Fantasyland feels like an actual place and it just exudes that Disney vibe. But I left the land after my first visit in a kind of warm afterglow, grinning about the very effective atmospheric details. When I left Test Track, however, I was feeling pumped, energized, and jabbering away excitedly. I needed to go on the ride again, which I did. And again. I realized later that New Fantasyland had very little of that effect on me that I had to immediately return.

Test Track 2.0 improves in a million different ways over Test Track 1.0, and it's the sort of renovation that could have gone wrong in hundreds of tiny ways, but didn't. That's a real testament to the Imagineers in charge of this redo. Test Track now reclaims the crown from Soarin' as the parks premier attraction. As the evening ended, I found myself doubting that I would trade the new Test Track to have world of motion back. I would have traded the old Test Track for World of Motion in a heartbeat, but not the new one. Such a decision would cause me many long, agonizing nights of sleeplessness if I had to make it.

Ride Description — spoilers

The ride itself is unchanged from the old version, meaning the track layout is identical, and the cars have just been repainted that blue-white color we saw in a few early tests. As long as you know to expect a similar ride in terms of excitement and feeling, you ought to come away feeling very positive about this new experience. Based on the press releases, I thought perhaps we would see a Pepper's Ghost effect showing a reflection of our ride vehicles, but this is not what they meant when they said every person can customize his own car. It's not a physical effect, but rather a customization of an on-screen car that is compared to every car in your party on several factors, such as handling or power. This is the other major factor to keep in mind when setting your expectations. A few reviews online have been negative, and I think that might be because they were expecting the wrong thing. The car you're traveling in does not change, and its route and speeds are identical to the old version of the ride.

The queue is one thing that does look dramatically new and different. Here they kept essentially nothing from the old version. There is a warren of new rooms and walls and on a few occasions I became slightly disoriented about where we were versus the old version of the queue.

The first room is a modest show room with a new Chevy front and center, but also a new concept car that is essentially the Segway technology applied to an automobile (you stand up?!) The line winds around these two central exhibits, but there are also smaller cabinets and wall displays, making the place also feel just a little bit like a museum. The color scheme and the curbing handrails reminded me of the Men in Black attraction married to the old queue for Adventure thru Inner Space.

After passing by a small white model of the car onto which are projected designs and patterns (using the castle projection technology), we come to touch screen walls that show how to use your finger to trace a line as if designing a new car. This isn't yet the personalized experience, but it does show you how it will be done in a few moments, and thus saves a bit of time.

You are assigned to a design station and given an RFID card with a rubber band to identify you. Up to three people can share one design station, or every person can design his own. You have two minutes to craft the body of the car, and a further two minutes to choose accessories and colors. Then it's off to the merge points in the final stretch of the queue.

FASTPASS holders do not get the same customization opportunity. They get 30 seconds to adjust a few things from a template, but the focus is on getting them on to the attraction. This delighted me, because it meant that the attraction designers found a way to make the standby line better than the FASTPASS line. Having your own car design makes the ride more fun in several small but real ways, and it vastly changes how much you care about three of the post-show experiences. The integration of personalized elements into the show and the post-show offers the best example yet of how to use creativity to make the FASTPASS line seem like a bad idea. Bravo!

The ride itself has been redone with plywood back drops and cutouts next to the track, lit by neon and glowing with black light paint. Pause and picture that for a second. You can probably imagine how this might look incredibly stupid if done wrong. But it's not done wrong. It looks exciting and inviting and yes, it looks like you're in the world of Tron. There isn't much music to the attraction, and certainly not anything from Tron itself, though I wish it had that.

The overall sense I got from the lighted sets was that they did not cut corners, and it shows. To give you only one example, I need not look further than the top of the very first hill climb, which is now punctuated by faintly glowing purple orbs in the ceiling that generated alien starfield. Its subtle, but not too subtle.

I did not detect any tributes to World of Motion on my three rides, but maybe I don’t know where to look (tell me in the comments if you find any!) The truck that almost hit us in the old Test Track is still there, but you can’t see the LBJ cutout since the windows are now blacked out.

The high speed loop is the same as always. I wonder what it would take to enclose this whole section of track; I know they considered it already. That would be truly awesome. They could make a tunnel out of it, with racing lights, maybe even the technology you see in water-slide tunnels… too awesome to contemplate. Since it’s not here now, I’m guessing it will never happen. Maybe they can do that in a few years to plus the ride even further. Certainly it will have amazing word of mouth. This ride is everything that Disneyland’s Rocket Rods SHOULD have been.

The ride ends with a comparison of your individual car designs to all the other designs on the track right now (so it’s not just yours on the screen). Your lack of ultimate victory may depress you, but hold onto your RFID for a second. In the post-show, you can see your ultimate car score on a giant screen. It’s the sort of thing that will goad you into a second trip, to try to increase your score (and beat your buddy’s). They obviously know what they are doing here.

In the next post-show room, you can create a music video with your car—I didn’t have time for this one, but it looked engaging enough.

The post show room after that was the one I look forward to the most. Picture a motocross-type figure-eight racing track about the size of a baby hippo… projected on the floor. That’s what you get to race on, courtesy of some steering wheels stationed around the track. It’s a video game… with the very car you designed earlier!

The show room is next, and there are a few Chevy cars, but the side walls are now taken up by giant green screen photo booths, where you pose with props (yes, Chevy cars) and have photos sent to your email, all for free. It’s amazingly engaging.

I found the whole experience to be exciting, exhilarating, and rejuvenating. I went three times in 90 minutes (it was cast-and-friends preview night) and I was nowhere close to bored with it. I could have gone ten more times.

The new Test Track is better than New Fantasyland. It’s better even than World of Motion. I’d go so far as to say that it would be a coin toss if I wanted Test Track 2.0 or Cars Land if given the option to have just one. Test Track is THAT good of a fit for Future World.

In fact, looking back at recent WDW history, I’m hard pressed to say when another attraction exceeded my expectations quite this much. Toy Story Mania? Maybe, but it’s so small in comparison. Everest? It’s so dilapidated, and not in a good way. Frankly, we might have to go all the way back to 1994 to find a similar watershed, in the form of Tower of Terror. This is the best ride at WDW since Tower of Terror.

I close with a caveat. For the first time in many months, my wife and I disagree about a Disney attraction. Usually we agree in lockstep so much that we hardly need to give voice to the praise or the objections, but this time, she felt the ride was “just OK.” It’s possible her expectations were much higher than mine, and if so, you should calibrate your own expectations and don’t let my messianic praise build it up too much for you.

Click any picture below for a larger version.

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.