This past Sunday the Backlot Tour reopened after a few months of being closed for rehab. Relatively speaking, it was a rather long rehab for the attraction and I had the opportunity to ride it fresh out of rehab and see what's changed and where this attraction stands today. Disney made one large change to the attraction, but the question in my mind was is the change large enough to change my opinion of this relic of an attraction.
The primary change made to the Backlot Tour during it's long rehab was the addition of an automated ride spiel. Instead of having a Cast Member onboard and giving the tour, there is now a recorded script that is played back for guests as they pass by certain areas. To the best of my knowledge, this automated recording is "activated" when the tram passes by certain pre-designated waypoints. The reason I know this is because a few times during my tour there would be a recording that was playing and all of a sudden it would cut off the end of the recording in favor of playing a new recording. Clearly, the timing needs to be improved to avoid such conflicts of recordings but since the ride was barely a few hours out of rehab, I'm sure there Cast Members will fine tune the process to avoid such conflicts down the line.
The recording itself sounds a lot like the recorded spiel you've likely heard on the Living with the Land attraction at Epcot. To it's credit, the recording does an adequate job of explaining things. Often I've had some Cast Members on the tram portion of the Backlot Tour that have had less than wonderful tour experiences and having a consistant recording like this is nice. One interesting addition is there is a different narrator during the Catastrophe Canyon scene. At first, they continue the ruse of Catastrophe Canyon being a real set, as the main narrator hands you off to someone else working on "the set". However, the new narrator doesn't try to fool you into thinking it's a real set and they've forgotten about the tourists on the set and nearly drowned and burned them. Rather, the narrator explains the effects and how everything is done. My main complaint is the volume was too low to really understand due to the rain, fire and flood effects going off at the same time.
Much of the rest of the tour is the same as it was from before the attraction went into rehab. A Cast Member told me there were some topiaries added to the tour that were from Epcot but the automatied spiel was the major new addition. There still is a Cast Member who rides in the tram in the same spot the tour guide would have been in before they automated the tour, but he/she doesn't say anything. My guess is the Cast Member is there to serve as a backup in case the recording goes awry.
So now I return to my original question, which is does this new addition make a real difference in changing my opinion of this attraction. Before the ride went down for rehab, I felt the Backlot Tour was a relic of it's former self and very irrelevant since there is no real production of note occuring at the Studios. Now that the automated spiel has been added, my opinion has not changed. It's still the same boring tour but with a better production value. The recording does give a good overall tour consistantly, but the subject matter is uninspiring. Old props from films that are 10-30 years old don't do much for me and since the entire premise of a Backlot Tour is to see some real production, aside from the costuming shops which are still in service, there is nothing else to see. Catastrophe Canyon is still a bore, the water tank is another snoozer and the rest of the tour is rather dull. At one point during the tour, there is a recording about the soundstages at the Studios and how wonderful they are, but I wanted to say "Yea, but no one uses them!".
In my opinion, one of two things need to happen. Either return real Hollywood production to the Studios or just bulldoze the entire attraction. I'm not sure why Disney spent all the money and time on installing an automated tour of something that isn't worthy of a tour. At least the Living with the Land attraction still grows real food and is used on a daily basis. Since real Hollywood production has been gone from the Studios since the earl part of this decade, it makes little sense to have this attraction around. The current Backlot Tour is like Ford giving a tour of a factory it closed 5 years ago; what's the point? Overall, the recording you hear has a good production value and helps with the issue of having a poor performance by a Cast Member, nonetheless, the attraction itself is still irrelevant and not worth your time if you've ever experienced the attraction before.