Thursday, October 12, 2006

Finding Clamshells

Now that The Land pavillion at Epcot has gotten a new lease on life with the addition of "Soarin'," the Living Seas is following suit with a make-over. I was quite impressed with "Turtle Talk," which opened a while back. It's a show in which you actually get to talk to Crush, the ancient turtle dude from "Finding Nemo" And when I say "talk to," I mean that quite literally. Crush answers back and calls on individual audience members, responding to their specific questions. It's quite a marvel of technology; I'm sure that the little kids leave the theater believing that they really just met Crush.

Now, the newest edition is just about ready to open to the general public. I'm not sure of the official name, but to me it's the "Clam Shell Ride." It's a cute little Nemo-themed dark ride that takes guests on a journey to find the elusive little clownfish yet again. He sure does have a propensity for getting lost...maybe Marlin should buy one of those "kid leashes" for him!

Hubby and I got a sneak peak, courtesy of a cast member friend. The cast preview was this morning, so we all piled into Canyonero and headed off to Epcot bright and early. Our plan was to grab Fast Passes for "Soarin'", aka "The Ride of the Ever Expanding Line," and then to head over to the Living Seas to check out the clams.

The sky was an ominous shade of smoky gray as we entered the park gates, but it looked like the rain would hold off long enough to let us fulfill our carefully laid plans. We had to leave early anyway, as hubby and I had to get back to work. I figured that even if we only got one ride on the clams and then "Soarin'", I would consider it a successful foray.

It's so funny to arrive early and watch how the crowd channels itself. "Soarin'" seems to have some sort of magnetic draw; 80 percent of the human-cattle crowd heads straight to The Land pavillion. It's amazing how what is essentially a motion simulator Omnimax can attract (and wow) a jaded themepark crowd. But there is something magical about "Soarin'". I can't put my finger on it, but I am one of the addicts who has to see it on a regular basis. I even have the soundtrack on CD so I can get a fix inbetween times, although I don't go so far as to close my eyes and imagine the movie while forcing hubby to hold pine needs and peeled oranges under my nose.

The above line probably doesn't make sense for those who've never been on the ride. Basically, "Soarin'" is a simulated (but very, very tame) hang gliding experience. You sit in three rows of chairs with your feet danging, held in by a seatbelt. Then, the rows all whisk up into the "sky"...if you are in row one, you'll be at the highest point, with row two in the middle and row three at the lowest point. Rows two and three are a bit disconcerting, since you can see the dangling legs of the guests above you.

Soon an Omnimax movie of various California scenes fills the screen, accompanied by appropriate smells (pine needles in the forest, oranges in the citrus groves, etc.) and a rousing musical score. There is some movement of your seat, too, but not enough to frighten the faint of heart. This ride is suitable for anyone from Junior to Grandma.

My favorite part of the music starts with the orange grove scene, the scent reminds me of the long-gone "Horizons" ride, which also featured scented orange trees. I love the scene that follows, which shows riders galloping along a mountain trail. Every time I see it, I imagine flying along on Figment's back.

I also like the skiing scene, especially the poor guy who jumps off a giant rock and wipes out. It always reminds me of the "Agony of Defeat" segment of ABC Sports. I recently found "Soarin'" on YouTube, and for some reason you can hear the voices of the people better on the recording than while watching the live version. Most of their vocalizations are just yells and whoops anyway, but for the first time ever, I realized that the ski guy yells out, "I'm okay!"

I knew that the clam ride wasn't likely to supplant "Soarin'" as my favorite, but I was still quite curious to see it. When we arrived at the pavillion, we discovered that the preview hadn't started yet due to technical difficulties. We hung around for a bit, and soon enough they were ready for us. We trooped through a nicely-themed but neverending queue (they must be expecting some pretty impressive crowds over the holiday season) and hopped about the giant pink clamshells, which look quite a bit like the Haunted Mansion ride vehicles and which are boarded in the same way (i.e. on a moving walkway).

I do have to say that the clam ride is a marvel of modern dark-ride technology. I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but suffice it to say that you will see almost all of your favorites, from Marlin and Dory to Bruce and Crush, and you'll even brave the jelly fish forest. For some reason, Bruce is rather evil in the ride...his spiel makes it sound like he's definitely fallen off the wagon and is ready for a fish dinner. You'll get to surf the East Australian Current, which can be a bit disconcerting (think of the tunnel with all the animation on the walls in the Buzz Lightyear ride, only milder), and at the end you can't help but be amazed when you see Nemo and all this buddies in the real tank with the other denizens of the Living Seas.

I was sad to see that the aquarium fish were absent (too bad...Gill is my favorite), as was Darla (I know the ride takes place under the sea, but couldn't her dentist uncle take her scuba diving?). One resident of the aquarium was there, though, and she has the best line. Peach, the starfish, is hanging on the glass at the very end, just past a scene in which all the young fish are singing a Disney-style happy ending song. Peach says something like, "It's a nice song, but it goes on...and on....and on...." Dory has some good lines too; you'll need to ride it a couple times to hear all of them.

We did the ride twice, and I think we still didn't catch all of the detail. Even the queue is worth of close scrutiny; I didn't realize that there was a boat above us till someone pointed it out to me. There are neat little touches everywhere, and I'll be watching for more in future rides.

After riding the clams, we managed to catch "Turtle Talk" (it was my CM friend's first time seeing it) and rode "Soarin'" twice. We had Fast Passes both times, which was a good thing because by the second time the standby line was up to 75 minutes.

All too soon it was time to head home for work, but it had certainly been a fun morning. That's one of the advantages to living in Celebation....having the ability to slip four theme park rides into your workday!

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