Saturday, February 03, 2007

“Rockin’ Both Parks” at Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure
Theme park attraction review by Sombrero Grande

From now until April 26th, the Disneyland Resort is “Rockin’ Both Parks” in a promotion to encourage southern California locals to buy a “2fer” pass that will get them into both Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure on two separate days. So what exactly does “Rockin’ Both Parks” entail? It’s a temporary, minimal “re-themeing” of the two parks’ most popular roller coasters with a new on-board soundtrack that remixes songs from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

So are these new “Rockin’” roller coasters worth a 2fer ticket? Well, far be it from me to discourage anyone from a trip to Disneyland, but honestly I would have been disappointed if I had ponied up for a 2fer ticket solely to experience Rockin’ Space Mountain and Rockin’ California Screamin’. Thankfully there’re plenty of other great attractions that make a trip worthwhile, but the both the “Rockin’” overlays seem to dumb down great attractions into merely “okay,” gimmicky experiences.

California Screamin’ is one of my favorite roller coasters anywhere. It’s the one saving grace of the whole otherwise disappointing Paradise Pier area of Disney’s California Adventure that riders can smoothly glide above it on such a fun thrill ride. Normally the coaster provides a subtle on-board soundtrack in tune with the beachfront boardwalk atmosphere of the area, synced effectively to the ride’s experience. For Rockin’ California Screamin’ the on-board audio begins as if someone was flipping through radio stations, leaving riders listening to annoying static as they await the initial launch onto the coaster. The song “Around the World” does not begin playing until the coaster cars are propelled up to the first hill. The track, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication album, has been remixed in an attempt to time it to the major events on the ride, but I found the audio distracting throughout. I realized early on I was paying more attention to the music, specifically realizing when abrupt cuts were made to the original song, than the movement of the coaster itself. The effect of this is that the ride felt a heck of a lot shorter to me as I realized just how much the song had been cut down to fit the coaster’s length. Instead of complimenting the ride as the regular soundtrack does, this new “Around the World” mix competed with it. At the end of the ride, for the slow roll back into the load/unload station, the mix awkwardly switches to a brief guitar portion of the song that keeps repeating over and over again until it gradually fades out when the car finally stops, leaving the whole experience feeling like a tacked-on, half-assed alteration that ultimately doesn’t gel with the attraction.

For Rockin’ Space Mountain, the overlay is more elaborate as the ride, being fully enclosed, offers up the opportunity to add additional show elements which the open-air Screamin’ doesn't. Still, though, the changes meant to “rock” Space Mountain come across as minimal. In line, the only change is so subtle that I suspect only a handful of people have even noticed it. There’s a flat screen at the front of the load station that reveals “Space Station 77” to be rotating around an orange planet. Occasionally, perhaps only once per minute or so, an astronaut with a guitar in hand floats quickly past. With that being the only indication that the ride will be any different from the norm, once on the ride nearly every bit of themeing to being in outer space disappears. Other than a radio disc jockey announcing over the on-board speakers that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are “on the space stage” and a brief star field at the ride’s conclusion, the “space” aspect of “Space Mountain” disappears entirely. Instead, riders speed through the track’s twists and turns encountering projections of dancers and concert-style lighting that illuminates the upcoming areas of track. I found it very interesting just how much less thrilling the ride became once the upcoming track was made visible. It also points out just how slowly the cars move as well. In the dark, fans are utilized to make riders feel as if they are zipping along at a much greater rate. The blinking colored lights decrease the thrill factor of the ride more than the song “Higher Ground,” from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Mother’s Milk album, blasting through the coaster’s speakers can make up for.

All in all, while experiencing both these attractions in a different, “rockin’” manner was interesting as a one-time deal, I’ll be happy when the rides are returned to normal again in late April. Even my wife, a fan of the Chili Peppers, found these thematic ride overlays underwhelming. If you do buy a 2fer ticket, avoid the long lines these attractions are bound to have and ride something else instead. Disneyland is capable of some great, seasonal attraction overlays (such as the holiday versions of both the Haunted Mansion and It’s a Small World), but the “rockin’” versions of Space Mountain and California Screamin’ are disappointing thrill-wise and not cohesive theme-wise.


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