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Avoid Disney Quest

What in the World?
A weekly peek at Walt Disney World

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I have done quite a bit with my premium annual pass in the year since I purchased it.  I’ve played golf at Oak Trail, visited all the theme parks.  Overall, its been a positive experience.  The one thing, however, that I have been avoiding is using my premium annual pass to try out Disney Quest at Downtown Disney’s West Side.  I’ve heard a lot of negative things about the five story building across from the House of Blues and put it off for as long as I could.  Recently, I had a chance to visit Disney Quest, and made a few observations while I was there.

Disney Quest is an "indoor interactive theme park" located in Downtown Disney at the Walt Disney World Resort and contains several virtual reality attractions, classic and semi-recent arcade video games.  The Disney Quest project was designed as a way for the Disney brand to reach populations that may not have the chance to travel to its various theme park destinations around the world and was specifically targeted at large cities and urban areas.  A second Disney Quest actually opened in Chicago in the late 90’s, but was closed in September 2001 due to low attendance.  The plan to build Disney Quests throughout the country was then scrapped, and the original one located at Downtown Disney became the only one in operation.

Disney Quest is housed in a five-story, windowless building where guests enter the first-floor lobby and are brought via elevator to the third floor atrium at the start of their visit.  There are a number of themed “zones” where certain rides and games are located. 

  • Explore Zone, a virtual adventureland where guests are immersed in exotic and ancient locales.
  • Score Zone, a superhero competition city where guests can match their gameplaying skills.
  • Create Zone, a private "Imagineering" studio for artistic self-expression and invention.
  • Replay Zone, a carnival on the moon where guests experience a retrofuturistic spin on classic rides and games.

Perhaps the biggest rides at Disney Quest can be found at the Create Zone and the Explore Zone:  CyberSpace Mountain, the Virtual Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean - Battle for Buccaneer Gold. 

In CyberSpace Mountain, you design your own roller coaster on a touch-screen computer, using a selection of tracks, themes, and speeds (like Roller Coaster Tycoon).  When you have finished you're 10,000 foot rollercoaster track, you can then jump into a simulator and actually ride your creation, complete with loops, barrel rolls, and twists.  While I found the idea of making a rollercoaster fun, I realized my body could not handle the loops and jumps I had designed.  The simulator was a bit too rough for my tastes. 

In the Virtual Jungle Cruise, you and a party of up to three others, climb aboard a life-sized raft on pressurized cushion.  You take a paddle and start rowing.  Depending the way you paddle and which side of the boat you paddle, the screen will (for the most part anyway) register the raft going in that particular direction.  It’s a pretty hefty workout for a ride, but the group part of the ride made it a worthwhile experience at least once.

In Pirates of the Caribbean - Battle for Buccaneer Gold, guests are made a part of a pirate ship crew, tasked with taking gold and treasure from other boats.  A captain will steer the pirate ship while the rest of the group mans the cannons (which seem like predecessors to the Toy Story Midway Mania guns).  This was perhaps the most enjoyable of the rides offered at Disney Quest, as the frantic game play and decent graphics made it the most engaging of Disney Quest’s offerings.

Unfortunately, the remainder of Disney Quest can be found at a local county fair (bumper cars) or old arcades.  While it is hard to deny that free play on arcade machines is not the best idea in the world for video game enthusiasts like myself, Disney Quest, is unfortunately stocked with some old games.  Even if you are a retro-gaming fan, the price of admission (about $42.50) is a bit steep if you just want to play Defender or Missile Command.  And as far as the “newer” games are concerned, there was more than one occasion where I was thinking that many of these games could be purchased or rented for a last generation home gaming console.  In other words, the biggest problem I had with the other offerings at Disney Quest was the complete void of value, even with all the machines changed to free play (as a side note, I realized that I am still TERRIBLE at pinball, despite having as many free games as I wanted). 

Aside from the arcades, Disney Quest offers other interactive experiences throughout the five stories that just aren’t all that fun.  In Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride, you sit on “a magic carpet” (which is really an exercise bike without peddles in my opinion), put on a virtual reality helmet, and you're transported to Agrabah and the Cave of Wonders to collect precious jewels along the way on your search for the magical scarab.  While that all sounds nice and futuristic, it is anything but.  The virtual reality helmets don’t work well with guests that wear glasses.  Even if you can see inside the helmets, the rendered locations and characters look terrible. Steering the magic carpet is difficult at best, and I found the in game instructions less than helpful.  There was nothing magical about that carpet ride.

Similarly, Mighty Ducks Pinball Slam is a different take on pinball, where an individual uses a rotating stand to control a puck.  The idea is to get the puck into the net, past the AI goalie.  While it is an interesting idea in concept, the execution is horrific.  The rules aren’t explained very well, such as how to accumulate points (other than hitting the puck into the net).  Moreover, the stand you use to control the puck is simply non-responsive, clunky, and nearly impossible to correctly maneuver. 

After experiencing Disney Quest for myself, I can see why the project was scrapped early on.  Arcades are a thing of the past.  With the increasing number of individuals and families using their personal computers or buying gaming consoles, the need to go to your local town arcade has become archaic, even if the Disney brand is involved.  Technology advances quickly, especially in the computer entertainment realm; and unfortunately for Disney Quest many of the games, and “rides” feel outdated and, quite frankly, a little laughable.  In 2009, most of the game experiences that Disney Quest offers are lacking in quality and depth.  Disney Quest is just an expensive arcade with a lackluster selection, peppered with only a handful of interesting interactive experiences.  In this columnist’s opinion, Disney Quest is not worth the price of admission… even for a premium annual passholder.