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Is this the Twilight Zone?

This past weekend was the inaugural Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 13K and yours truly planned a trip down specifically because of this new event (like I really need an excuse to go to the Studios).  Like myself, many had high expectations for this event.  For those who enjoy races, this would be the first night time race at Walt Disney World so certainly something different than the usual fare of races.  For others, it’s a unique opportunity to have a hard ticketed after-hours at the Studios.  Unfortunately, the hype surrounding the event could not live up to what transpired as I left the Studios in the late hours of Saturday night underwhealmed and disappointed.

It’s hard for me to be hard on Disney because relatively speaking, we Disney guests are spoiled by the high level of customer satisfaction and quality of product we receive.  So even if people complain about a sub-par attraction (Stitch’s Great Escape or Sounds Dangerous) or debate the value in the dining plan, we all know that much of the worst Disney does would be pretty darn good anywhere else.  The Tower of Terror 13k really made me wonder if this was even a Disney event.  First, let’s look at the pre-race issues.  A few weeks before the event, runners and party goers were told they would need to go to Pleasure Island on the Friday or Saturday before the event to pick up race information.  Disney said this would be the only place and time to get it.  So I showed up at 3pm on Friday to Pleasure Island to find a line long enough to almost exist Pleasure Island.  The reality was I could have gone on Saturday to pick up the information and avoid the line.  But what really annoyed me were people showed up at the Studios the night of the event (hours before it started) and Disney was there to take their names and give out their information.  Why did I bother wasting my vacation time at Pleasure Island on Friday night?  This began a complete breakdown of communication that plagued the event.

What started as a joke quickly became quite annoying when you would ask nearly any Cast Member in the parks about the “party on Saturday night at the Studios” and receive the oddest looks back at you since many Cast Members had no idea there was an event going on. Many thought the guests were mistaken and were confused by Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and tried to explain that event.  I arrived at the Studios on Saturday at about 5.  The party was to start at 9:30 (coinciding with the start of the race at the same time).  The Studios officially closed at 7:30 and I hung around waiting for some sort of indication or word of what to do or where to go.  There was none.  No Cast Members telling guests where to go.  Again, many cast members not even knowing there was event that night.  Worse, the runners had no idea where to congregate before the race.  All the pre-race literature had indicated to just go to the “Disney-MGM Studios”.  All around the park you would see runners walking in opposite and random directions, looking for some sort of a sign or indication of where to go.

Eventually the few Cast Members in the know spread word that runners had to convene in the Cast Member parking lot and party guests? Line up in a line outside the Studios that would be changed a couple of times. Worse yet, the event was so unorganized and communication so unclear that the start of the race was delayed by 30 minutes because many runners were not where they were supposed to be for the start of the race.  Myself, I was waiting with some friends who were in the race and quickly decided to leave the race area, not because a Disney Cast Member told me I shouldn’t be there or I needed to leave but because I figured I should leave before I was stuck in a human version of “the running of the bulls”.  Remember that 30-minute delay for the start of the race? Partygoers, lined up at the front of the Studios, were told the delay was due to weather.  I don’t know if that was a flagrant lie or just more Cast Members not knowing anything.

When the race finally did start and partygoers were allowed into the park, we lined up along Hollywood Boulevard to cheer on the racers.  I talked to some Cast Members who were working the event.  Many were random Cast Members from all around the resort (not necessarily Studios Cast Members) who told me they arrived at 8pm backstage for the event and then sat around until 9:30pm before their managers told them to go do something. 

The good news is once the race did start and the party began, the rest of the night was uneventful and went according to what many expected.  Four attractions were open, Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n Roller Coaster, the Great Movie Ride and Star Tours.  The race ended at Rock ‘n Roller Coaster and the main stage was in front of the Sorcerer’s Hat and there was really no theme or feeling to the party at all.  In fact, if you didn’t know the name of the event, there really was no indication this event was named after the Tower of Terror.  Even worse, Star Tours was a ghost town on that end of the park in a dimly lit area that made you think you might be mistaken being in the area.  Prices for beverages were marked up from what they normally were ($4 for soda, $8 for domestic beer?).  All of this really left a sour taste in my mouth and although riding any of the four attractions without lines for much of the night was fun, the race and party were so poorly put together that I really don’t know if I can recommend going to it if the event is brought back in 2008.

I’m willing to give Disney a break since this was the first time this event was pulled off but Disney has done plenty of races before as well as plenty of hard ticketed events.  Things should not have been as discombobulated as they were.  Guests for the most part were happy I think despite everything.  There were some amazing athletic performances by the racers and some of the racers dressed up in costume for the event, which made for some good laughs and photo opportunities (someone dressed up as Forrest Gump while another guest as a Spartan from the film 300).

I really hope Disney does bring the event back in 2008 just so they can prove that 2007 was an aberration and not the type of event we can expect from Disney in the future.  Any Disney World fan should know Disney is capable of putting together some fantastic events that put other events outside the Mouse House to shame.  In retrospect, I guess everything that went bad makes sense now since the event is named after an attraction celebrating the Twilight Zone television show because it certainly felt as if we were somewhere in another dimension.

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A regular look into Disney's Hollywood Studios, both past and present, with commentary and analysis from Matt Hochberg.


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Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 by