Last weekend, DisneyLies was lucky enough to be invited — along with a few families and other select Disney media outlets — to attend a demonstration of a new guided tour technology that should be introduced into Disney parks some time in early 2009. The invitation was rather vague, offering only “a chance to interact with technology that will completely change the way guided tours are conducted.” After signing copious confidentiality and release forms, as well as a statement of good health, our representative was given official permission to participate and asked to join the group at the bottom of the Mickey and Friends parking structure at 9 a.m. the following Sunday.
Already we knew that something was a little odd about the setup. Guided tours generally begin either outside the park gates or in the tour garden. But once things got underway, the strange location made complete sense.
Our tour guide — a woman we’d never seen in the park before whose nametag showed her name as GLADys — reminded the group of its commitment to confidentiality before opening a large, black case and removing what can only be described as a cross between a science-fiction blaster gun and a three-fingered robotic hand. She asked us to stand back and fired the “gun” at the wall of the escalator. There was a blast of light that left behind a gaping hole in the side of the escalator, but this hole showed not the device’s mangled inner workings, but the guided tour pavilion!
It really isn’t possible to describe the surrealness of the sight. The guide explained to us that what we were seeing was a “portal” that had been opened up between our location and the location in the park. This was no image, but an actual, real, non-destructive hyperspace opening between two locations. The photo below doesn’t do justice to the display (but it does let you see our guide and catch a glimpse of the “gun” — neither of which we were really supposed to photograph).
Then we all, in turn, stepped through the portal and into the tour garden! One of the most striking sensations was of the scent in the air changing as the plane of the portal was crossed — from auto fumes to Disney-clean air in one step!
A brief description of the gun followed, none of which we could ever hope to understand. The main point seemed to be that this was a second-generation device, without the rough edges of its predecessor and proven completely safe for human transport over a series of artificial-intelligence-guided tests with individual humans. There could be only one pair of portals in the resort at a time, but the ends of the portals could be moved independently.
To demonstrate this latter point, the portal we had entered through flashed, and our view of the tram loading area changed to a view of the Jungle Cruise entrance.
(The tour guide didn’t fire her gun to effect this change, making us wonder if there was a second cast member running about the park, making exits for us.) We crossed into Adventureland.
Our guide explained that by using this technology, guided tours could cover much more of the park in far less time. This would greatly increase the possible number of tours per day, which would double guided-tour revenue, which would in turn make it possible for the portal guns to pay for themselves in less than a century.
Apparently there were still some bugs being worked out. For example, it is close to impossible to get a wheelchair through a portal, and the energy released by the guns has a tendency to permanently disable nearby electronics. But tests like the one we were participating in were designed to help Imagineers find ways around these shortcomings.
The portal changed once again, this time showing us an area near the end of the Indiana Jones ride queue. We were able to step right into line, waiting perhaps five minutes while other guests stood in line for up to an hour. Talk about your ultimate FASTPASS.
After the ride, our guide created a portal in a wall and transported us to the lower level of the Hungry Bear restaurant for a quick bathroom break. This particular transition, from darkness to sunlight, was particularly harsh.
Our guide talked a bit about the portal gun’s abilities and limitations. It can’t form a portal on liquids or on certain types of metal, and it can’t form a portal on a surface that is too uneven or small. It can, however, form portals on ceilings and floors. Which leads us to the next, and perhaps most bizarre, demonstration of the day.
A portal was created on the wall and one of the children in the group was invited to step through. We heard her squeal with delight and then saw her sort of twist out of the frame. This was a completely new experience. Before, it had looked like people crossing through the portal were merely stepping over a threshold — there was no flying about. The little girl’s parents were momentarily worried until their child peeked back through the portal at us with a smile on her face.
But what a strange angle she was at! It made no sense at all, but we were invited to step through ourselves to find the solution to the mystery.
It turns out that, hard as it may be to believe, we were walking from a hole in the wall of the Hungry Bear into a hole in the floor of the Mark Twain riverboat! The motion through the air was due to our bodies being reoriented (with the help of a cast member) as we experienced a change in the direction of gravity.
So here was a portal not only in the floor, but in the floor of a moving vehicle on a body of water!
We enjoyed the river for a few minutes (giving time for those who did not handle the gravity readjustment well to throw up or what have you) and then were portaled to the top of the steps at the Main Street train station.
Here, the tour guide fired a portal onto the ground at the bottom of the steps (the guns apparently have a pretty good range). Tomorrowland was clearly visible beyond, but obviously at quite a distance.
It was explained that this portal led to an exit portal high on the exterior of Innoventions. If we were to jump down the stairs and into the portal, our momentum and direction of movement would be preserved as we passed through, and we would be flung over Tomorrowland, landing right at the head of the Finding Nemo submarine attraction queue. This would let us skip a two-hour line, and thanks to special springs that would be attached to our feet before we made the jump, the landing wouldn’t kill us.
As exciting as this sounded, everyone declined the experience. (A passing guest did step into the hole and we were treated to the spectacle of her flailing through the air before slamming into a small group of teenagers, which was kind of funny.)
Our tour was coming to an end, so we were guided to an area near Guest Relations where a portal back to the parking structure was created.
There was no question-and-answer period, unfortunately, so we were not able to gain any additional information about the device or its potential uses. In particular, we wanted to know what would happen if a portal was placed in a ceiling above a portal in a floor, and whether guests would be able to use the guns themselves and perform such experiments.
The trip back to our level of the parking structure was, of course, effortless. Overall the experience was quite unique. We certainly can’t wait to see these portals in regular use. Our only disappointment was that the event invitation had promised that the tour would be followed by a reception at which cake would be served, but this never materialized.
Several guests complained that the cake was a lie, but all of us were rewarded for our participation with weighted My Companion Mickey cubes that are far better than cake. Our cube has become a close friend. We love it dearly.