After a fairly short (by Disney standards) remodeling turnaround, Test Track, which closed in April 2012, reopens this month with a pretty extensive new look. This new version is not your father's Test Track. While the track is the same and the vehicles themselves in shape and form are the same, everything else is extensively different. That's not a bad thing. In fact, it's pretty terrific.
Guests still face three options when they enter the queue for Test Track, presented by Chevrolet. After years of doing the Fastpass and Single Rider options myself on this attraction, I'm here to tell you that you might not want to go either of those routes. You will quickly get on the ride by doing so, but you will have missed a good chunk of the new experience. It is the equivalent of going on Under the Seas With Nemo and Friends but never really walking around the rest of The Living Seas Pavillion. Or it's like walking around World Showcase but never shopping, tasting the food, or enjoying the attractions.
I am by no means an automotive afficionado. But I enjoyed the entire experience that is found only in the stand-by queue, and find that this option is what really makes it an Epcot standout.
There are lots of spoilers here. But the primary purpose is to make a case for why one would spend their time in the stand-by queue. That's not easy. Lines can easily reach 90 minutes and beyond (disclosure: in my case I only waited some 35 minutes). But much of it is worth the wait even when it is longer, and that first part not only sets everything up for the ride itself, but also for much of the post-show that follows.
So let's walk the stand-by line and then contrast the experience to the Fastpass and single-rider queues.
Stepping inside the building, there is a sleek look and feel. Gone is the noise of car hoods and doors being tested. Also gone is the "different," but "oh-so-annoying" mechanical-sounding music that accompanied it. You see several high-concept cars on display. The emphasis is more on designing a great car, than in engineering one.
A key message in this area is the introduction of four components to designing a car, each represented by a different color:
This is perhaps the longest part of the wait. Everything here is a static display. You might feel tempted to catch up on your Twitter, Facebook, or e-mail, but do take a second look at the displays, as they give you a sense of the role they will play in the ride and in the vehicle you will create.
Did I mention designing a vehicle? That's the big focus of the queuing experience. As you step around the corner, you'll see a movie that shows how people approach designing vehicles. The film does a better job of occupying your attention.
After the movie area, you pass through a short hallway that again re-orients you to the four key themes. It also gives you a chance to work the interactive screens and get familiar with how the design of the car can impact those four factors.
You are then handed a card and invited to step on a number in the room (the cast member will tell you which one). Based on the crowds, you might be paired with someone else in your group, unless you are by yourself. Here you await your opportunity to design your own car.
When the doors open, you proceed to your monitor, which matches the color and number of the one you've been standing on. Swiping your card on the pad, you have a handful of minutes to design your car (the screen counts it down for you). Time goes very quickly during this period, so pace yourself accordingly. There are many steps to this, but here's a quick sense of how it works:
The first screen tells you that all designs begin with a line. It may seem daunting to start from scratch, but as Disney Legend and former Imagineer Marty Sklar used to say, a blank sheet of paper is not something to be feared, but something that can offer a great opportunity.
From the line screen, you advance to the vehicle itself. You look at shape, length, width, and engine. Pay attention to the numbers up on top, as they impact your performance.
Focus on this part of the design. Although you have additional time at the end for appearance issues, take your time with the initial design. It's the issues relative to shape length, width, and engine that impact your score on those four key components.
Toward the end, you can address appearance, paint, wheels, and accessories.
From there, it's a short walk up a ramp and into the loading area. But before we do that, let's take a quick look at what you experience if you go through the Fastpass route.
Both the Fastpass and stand-by lines offer banks of displays, but with the Fastpass display, you do not get the full design experience; instead, you simply select a vehicle, and are not given the option to customize it. For this reason, riders will spend less than a minute on these monitors.
When I first experienced the revised Test Track, I went through the stand-by line. No one was handing out a card; you picked one out of a basket. There were few instructions given, and even though I tried to make sure to verify my selection, it did not come up on one of the runs. I did, however, get on the ride in less than five minutes both times. But what I was doing and why the attraction was designed the way it was didn't make much sense. [Editor's note: These elements were fixed during the December 6 media preview.]
Back to the ride.
You enter the loading area immediately after finishing your designs in either the Fastpass or stand-by queue. There is no preshow film. The loading area is very similar to before, only there is a new look and feel to the cars. The big difference is that prior to boarding, you are given a chance to swipe your card and enter it into the test track competition.
The ride was always great. But now it's even better. Many have compared it to a Tron-type universe, and I would agree. I would also describe it as the largest dark ride ever created, because much of the design work is simply an elaborate and refined use of black light paint. Still, it looks really cool and different from before.
After your first light show the car goes to the second floor of the building, and you experience your first car test for capability. Remember that the track is the same as before, so during this test you will be swerving. The effect is much better, however, because the light level has been completely darkened. In the original Test Track, you could look up into the third floor sponsorship lounge, and between that spilling light and the design of the lighting system itself, the slot track was very obvious. Now the setting is completely dark, except for what Imagineers want you to see.
Turning the corner, we see what many have thought was a nod toward the city on the move in the closing scene of World of Motion. All of this contributes to a more futuristic feel and theme.
Next, we enter the chamber to look at the theme of efficiency. Again, the sense of being in the world of Tron is everywhere.
Emerging from the chambers, we head toward the winding forest to test responsiveness. Only those plywood trees look very different. They light up in neon with a certain sound effects that make you feel like the forest is responding to your presence.
We swerve from being hit by a neon-lit truck and turn the corner. Note that at the end of each of these sections you see a board that lights up with information on how your car ranked based and how it performed against the other cars on each one of the four key components.
The last design component is power. This is, of course, the best part of the ride. The car revs up then heads toward the wall, where it breaks through and goes outside for a fast run.
You exit the building and take the familiar spin around the track. Very little has changed in this section, and while thrilling, it seems to remove you from the immersive experience you have been in during the rest of the attraction.
You return to the station and disembark. Rounding the corner, you see your face on the photos. Not sure why this wasn't redesigned so that you could walk up to a monitor, swipe your card, and pull up your photo. The photo display has changed little.
Leaving the photo display, you enter a wall titled, "What's Your Score?" The best way to explain this is to compare the experience with Midway Mania. Do you remember how at the end, you not only see how you did against everyone riding with you, but how you did compared to everyone who had ridden that day? You see how your car did in each of the four key categories and how you did compared with others in the car. But this display also shows how you did in comparison with everyone else who has gone through Test Track that day. I'm presuming that a top score is 400. My score was 203. The top score when I went was 232. The screen also shows those top cars in terms of each of the four components.
For some it can be quite competitive and fun to see if your car makes it to the top. That's why going through the stand-by line makes taking the time to do so worthwhile. It doesn't change the ride experience itself, but it gives you a better appreciation of what goes into the ride experience.
Moving on, you come to another section where you can create a commercial to go with your car and email it to yourself.
Like much of this attraction, this only works if your card works. In my situation, it did not when I went to try it out after standing in the standby line. It doesn't mean so much if you simply chose a car in the Fastpass or single-rider line. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Moving further on, you can swipe the card and drive your car against others on a race track. I'm not sure how well your performance conforms to the car you chose. It seemed to simply act like any of the other vehicles on the track.
Adjacent to this is a small bank of monitors. Should you decide not to ride, you can enter via the exit and simply customize your own car here. I'm uncertain as to whether it will be ranked among others in the "What's Your Score?" panel, but it does allow you to race your car or create a commercial. And it will certainly help to occupy the time while others are riding.
From here you emerge into the showroom.
My inital response was surprise, as the previous showroom had impressive turntables that rotated through a variety of cars. My first thought was that since it was Chevrolet and not all of General Motors, perhaps they didn't have as many cars to display. But further examination showed that this, too, was much more of an interactive display. Four cars are placed to allow you to customize the look and feel of the background, and then stand in the photo where your photo is automatically taken and then sent to you via e-mail.
The final stop was the gift shop, which seemed smaller than before.
Absolutely! Even if you arent really get into cars, you ought to try it once. Epcot is more than rides, it's about learning and education. As a result of the experience, I really appreciated what went into the design of a car. There's one caveat: Electronically, everything needs to work. The swipe cards have to work. The design stations have to work. The attraction scoreboards have to work. And everything in the post-show has to work. Otherwise, why both going through the motion if you don't see the fruits of your labors. It's going to be a challenge on operations to keep all of the software and hardware systems up and running.
That said, if you absolutely can't stand the thought of waiting a couple of hours in the stand-by line, get the FastPass, and, when you come out of the attraction, look for the smaller set of monitors where you can still design your own car. It's still an interesting activity.
How does this new experience compare with the previous version?
I go back in my mind to the first time I rode World of Motion in 1988. We had just arrived at Walt Disney World for the first time and visited Epcot that evening, It was the second attraction we rode on after visiting Spaceship Earth. I was impressed by its scale. But I was not as impressed by its ability to be immersive; nor was I really feeling that it was about the future. After all, the attraction does reside in Future World, not Past World.
Fast forward some 10 years later and I also remember touring Test Track as a cast member months before it opened. It was delayed because of major engineering challenges. I could grasp the complications of making so many vehicles operate safely on their own without the passenger being able to accelerate or brake. It was a sophisticated ride system. And it looked exciting. But it still didn't feel like Future World. It was more like Today's World.
I believe the new Test Track attraction accomplishes the mission of Future World better than any attraction that has occupied that spot. I hope that 10 years from now, I still feel the same way. Of any experience in the entire arsenal of Disney attractions ever created, this one should speak of a world on the move. Indeed, a future World of Motion.
(Send an email to Jeff Kober)
J. Jeff Kober, (@MousePlanetJeff) president of Performance Journeys and CEO of World Class Benchmarking, is also a thought leader on best-in-business practices at the Walt Disney Company. He brings those ideas to organizations via keynotes, seminars, and workshops to organizations around the world. He has authored "The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney" as well as a "Disney at Work" series of apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch, available via DisneyatWork.com. You can find out more about his newest book, "Lead With Your Customer: Transform Culture and Brand into World-Class Excellence" at LeadWithYourCustomer.com.