It was unprecedented. It was relentlessly fast-paced. It was the first-ever ACE Event at any Disney park. And it was incredible fun! On March 20, 2004, the Florida Region sponsored the E-TICKET CHALLENGE at Walt Disney World® and 60 members of ACE and their guests from five states took up the challenge: ride all of the coasters and the thrill rides at all four WDW parks in one day!
Months of intricate planning and thrice-weekly phone calls with the Walt Disney World Park and Events Services, Catering Managers, and Operations Vice Presidents resulted in a nearly flawless day. After our first group photo of the day beside our private luxury motor coach, driver Ray Tierno from BTM piloted us through the backstage areas, giving ACErs a look at the World that only Cast Members usually get to see as we were ferried from Epcot® where we parked our cars to the Magic Kingdom®, our first Challenge.
Three Disney Hosts, David, Erica and Matthew, met us backstage and escorted us into the park at 9am, and as we watched the General Public make a mad dash from the entrance plaza to Space Mountain®, escorted us through the FastPass® line for our first rides of the day: both sides of Space Mountain®. And the Mountain didn’t let us down. Rides were fast and zippy, the plunges wilder, rises more thrilling and laterals more intense because we were riding with fellow enthusiasts who added our own energy to the trains.
We gathered in the exit area of the Beta track and took our census in our soon to be familiar “No Challenger Left Behind” Countdown (the ACE member who had registered each group of Challengers became Group Leader, responsible for accounting for all group members before counting off). We’d need the countdown during the day, because from that point on, we hardly stopped moving. Led by one Disney Host and followed by another, with a third to shepherd any lost lambs, we had a five minute bathroom break, took a group photo in front of the Mountain, then were happily marched across the Magic Kingdom® to Splash Mountain®, where Disney Guests were asked to wait a moment while we were led right through the FastPass queue to the loading platform.
After challenging Splash Mountain®, its watery drops and furry bear bottoms, we discovered we were already falling behind schedule because instead of meeting our bus behind Big Thunder Mountain Railroad as planned, Park Security required that we would have to walk back across the park to Space Mountain®. So we took a vote and everyone agreed they wouldn’t be bitterly disappointed if we had to forego Goofy’s Barnstormer (except for Matthew, one of our Disney Hosts, who was heartbroken), and we proceeded right to the head of the line to Challenge Big Thunder.
Even with the recent modifications (and the addition of a few new strategically placed trim brakes), Big Thunder gave us its usual complement of fast-paced action, southwest scenery and animated critters. After another group photo with Big Thunder’s mountain behind us, we marched back across the park to board our bus. And we began to realize what a relentless pace we’d set for ourselves: go right to the head of the line, ride, pit stop, go right to the head of the line, ride, pit stop. No lingering for hours in a queue to rest and gather one’s energies. This was going to be a day of pure adrenaline rush and fast-paced fun. As we mounted our bus, we wondered -- were we going to be up to the Challenge? Yes we were!
behind the magic) and were met by 3 Animal Kingdom® Disney Hosts in their imposing security guard-like uniforms (some among us worried if we strayed off the paths, we might wind up imprisoned in the Tree of Life).
And so we were off to our next stop: Disney’s Animal Kingdom®. Again we were driven through the backstage area, arriving behind the Rainforest Café (where we glimpsed the magic)
Some of the Challengers had missed breakfast and after a few heartrending pleas for sustenance, we took a snack break. Then we were off to our first ride in Animal Kingdom®, DINOSAUR; after FastPassing to the head of the line and into our own private pre-show room, we watched the humorous antics and devious plan of the Dinosaur paleontologist together. Boarding time-traveling motion-simulator jeeps, we embarked on our wild and scary journey to Jurassic Earth where the dinosaurs were trying to snack on us! Everyone agreed that Dinosaur’s intensity provided a great start to the Animal Kingdom® Challenge.
Once again, we counted off, hoping we’d leave “No Challenger Left Behind”, and once assured, we whirled onto Animal Kingdom’s spinning roller coaster, Primeval Whirl®. For many it was their first experience on one of these zany spinning coasters, well themed to the surrounding area of Chester and Hester’s colorfully-tacky tourist trap, Dino-Rama. Primeval Whirl® is great fun, and the excitement doubles once you start to spin Tilt-A-Whirl style. No ride is ever the same, and sometimes you’re facing backwards when you hit the drops; spinning through the hairpin curves adds extra Gs to the G-forces.
We were then forced-marched across Animal Kingdom® to the Kali River Rapids®, and while the stand-by line averaged 35 minutes, our Hosts led us right onto this beautifully-themed river rapids ride with its surprise 18 foot waterfall drop. Since it was a gorgeous day in Central Florida, our rafts were filled with fellow soak-challenged ACE members, and we got to laugh at rafts-full of friends when they got drenched and they got to laugh back when it was our turn. Great fun!
We’d completed our ride challenge at Animal Kingdom®, so it was time for another Countdown – not to Extinction, but to lunch! And were we in for a treat! Our All You Can Eat Deli Buffet lunch was doubly delicious because it was set up in a private pavilion at the Flame Tree Restaurant by the river overlooking the Expedition Everest® construction site. An endless supply of smoked turkey, ham, roast beef, an assortment of cheeses, garlic basil mayonnaise and other gourmet sandwich spreads, fresh corn and roasted red pepper salad, red-potato salad and key lime pie filled us up and recharged our batteries. We made special presentations of Certificates of Appreciation to Dante Gibilisco, the miracle worker from Disney who’d made this day possible, and to Joe Schott, the Operations VP who’d set up the rest of the magic.
Scott, the Disney Operations Executive who oversees Attraction Planning, gave us an extensive presentation on this exciting new ride during lunch, and then, in a special surprise, we were escorted over to the Expedition Everest® construction site where we were given even more information in a fun-filled Q&A session. We were able to get great insight on what looks and sounds to be – with its drops and G forces –an incredibly-exciting addition to Disney’s arsenal of roller coasters. We can’t wait for 2006!!
Then our Hosts led us back to our waiting motor coach, and bade their goodbyes. The trip over to the Disney-MGM studios was a fascinating glimpse into the private lands behind the African Safari area of Animal Kingdom®, with its high, Jurassic Park-like fences to keep the Florida wildlife away from the Disney wildlife. Our bus driver Ray, familiar with the backstage area, supplied interesting and educational tidbits of information as Challengers got to see things park guests don’t get to see.
Arriving backstage behind the Tower of Terror, we were again met by 3 Disney Hosts, who guided us through those Cast Member Only gates into the Disney-MGM Studios where we were FastPassed right onto Rock-N-Roller® Coaster Starring Aerosmith. For those who haven’t ridden yet, this is a fast-paced fantastic glow-in-the-dark stretch-limo-as-roller coaster experience. From the 0-60 LIM-launch to the unseen corkscrews and black-light LA-cut-out decor, Rock-N-Roller® Coaster provided high-speed swooping and dropping thrills. Many Challengers were impressed with Disney’s first US coaster that goes upside down.
From there it was time to Challenge the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™, Disney’s always thrilling “free fall” scream-machine, newly re-programmed and dubbed Tower of Terror 4 (or as the Disney ads state: Even More Tower of Terror). If there’s one thing ACE members love – it’s “air time”, and this new incarnation is Air Time MAX! We were constantly out of our seats as the elevators dropped four times, but in very unexpected ways – and since the programming is random, you never know which ride you’re going to get! We all screamed in terror and delight.
Challengers were given an hour of free time to shop, eat or visit other attractions at Disney MGM Studios, rendezvousing at Star Tours at 5 o’clock for Disney-MGM’s final Challenge -- and it ended up being the unexpected magical moment highlight of the day when our StarSpeeder inadvertently started without audio. Intrepid E-Ticket Challengers (who may have ridden Star Tours a few too many times) responded by voicing all of the dialogue, music and sound effects for ourselves and went hands up for the jump to light speed – both times. What a joy! They gave us a second ride with the audio on, but we still voiced the dialogue and sound effects along with the real thing. Challengers are still talking about the magic.
Bidding goodbye to our Disney-MGM Hosts, we boarded our motor coach for our final destination, the “Incredible Epcot® Center”. Once again, we entered backstage, parking almost directly beneath the Test Track high speed horizontal loop where Test vehicles screamed around the Track right over our heads. Since this part of the ride is not visible to guests from inside the park, again we were treated to a unique perspective. Many who had not ridden the ride before stood in amazement, watching the cars race through the high speed highly-banked curves.
Our Epcot® Hosts greeted us and led us to Maelstrom at the Norway Pavilion. A fantasy boat trip that revisits the legend of Norwegian Trolls, what makes this experience unique is negotiating the first flume drop backwards! A good start to the thrills that awaited us at Epcot.
Our next challenge was Test Track, which takes you through the experience of road testing a new car. After steep grade runs, bumpy road conditions, high speed braking and climate-condition testing, it’s pedal to the metal as you speed through two highly- banked curves and a long straightaway at 64 mph!
Our final ride experience at Epcot was Mission:Space, Disney’s newest thrill ride and what many feel is an incredibly-realistic journey into outer space. For one last time, we were escorted into the pre-show area through the FastPass lane for the first of four warnings (by Gary Sinise, yet!) that the ride spins rapidly, creating intense G-Forces. We were led to our waiting “capsules”. After some more enclosed space and spinning warnings which scared off a few Challengers, we were seated in our four-person pods.
Mission:Space is truly spectacular. Essentially four 40-passenger centrifuges, each pod can tilt forwards and backwards and rotate left and right, all of which are used to simulate the forces of rocketing to Mars in 2036. The lift off is intense and realistic as the ever-increasing sustained-for-18-seconds G-forces plaster you into your seat and your face muscles moosh back against your skull, and you begin to wonder if you really are blasting out of the building on your way to Mars!
Thrills continue as you “slingshot” around the moon, brave a meteor shower and a risky landing on the Martian surface fraught with hair raising situations. If you crave intense G-forces, then Mission:Space is for you. What a way to end our riding day!!
After another hour of free time to explore Epcot or eat dinner, we were escorted to our awesome private viewing area right on the water below the United Kingdom for our All You Can Eat Dessert Buffet (the chocolate never stopped coming, no matter how much we scarfed down) and Illuminations was never so spectacular as it was that night.
Everyone agreed the day exceeded all our expectations. We want to give special thanks to all the Disney Cast Members who went out of their way to make our day extra-magical. The logistics of the day were mind boggling, many questioned if it could even be done. But hey, we’re ACE members and we were up to the challenge! E-Ticket Challenge 2004 was a GREAT SUCCESS!
So look forward to E-TICKET CHALLENGE 2005! It’s going to be held on March 19, 2005, and will include dinner as well as lunch and a dessert buffet! Put it on your calendars now – it’s going to be another spectacular day at Walt Disney World®!