We spent several days in an amusement park this month, riding roller coasters for what felt like forever, and as we waited in line after line I was treated to an endless array of warning signs. Posted notices that warned riders about every conceivable condition that could make their experience unpleasant. I’m guessing liability played a big part in the signs’ appearance in front of every ride, and I found myself taken back to a singularly horrifying experience in Disney World a few years ago.
(Hmmm…”horrifying” and “Disney World.” Those are two things you don’t usually see together.)
We were in Epcot trying out the new rides and stumbled upon a real winner named Mission: SPACE. Disney’s website describes it as “an authentic NASA-style training and an out-of-this-world space launch” on a shuttle simulator. I’d say it’s more like cruel and unusual punishment designed to make you vomit but hey, to-may-to, to-mah-to, right?
There weren’t people waiting out front so we hustled on up to the front where we saw two options, a line for “Orange team” and one for “Green team.” The color signs above the lines said that Green was “less intense” and Orange was the “more intense training.” BrightSide headed straight into the Orange team queue and when I hesitated he was all “Go big or go home, right?” (No, he didn’t actually say this, but that was the gist.) I was still uncertain but the kids were totally on board so into the Orange team line we went.
In retrospect, seeing this particular sign outside the ride would have been a huge help:
There are giant red flags for me all over this thing. Let’s put aside the fact that instinct told me to start with the lower level and we’ll look at all the other reasons I was stupid to 1) go on this ride in the first place, and 2) do anything other than the Green team.
And that big red triangle? Yeah, you see, those conditions applied. Not the expectant mother one, but back problems? Neck problems? Motion Sickness? Yes, yes, and hell yes.
Oh, and the enormous ATTENTION on there that’s designed to catch your eye with especially important information? It’s got that super helpful tip that you shouldn’t ride if you’re uncomfortable in dark enclosed spaces. Now there’s a piece of advice I really could have used…
We waited in line for twenty minutes or so, and there were at least four more signs just as explicit as this one. YOU SHOULD NOT RIDE if you have these conditions. YOU SHOULD NOT RIDE if you experience motion sickness. YOU SHOULD NOT RIDE if any of the following applies to you. There’s even one posted directly above the door you walk through to get on the damn thing.
The crazy of it was, I saw all of those signs. I’d read them and think “huh” then keep on keeping on because if I let all those liability warning signs stop me I’d never do anything so whatever. It’s never as bad as they make it out to be.
Except for Mission: SPACE. It IS that bad. And then some.
When you walk in the room you see the simulator, and there’s nothing terribly foreboding about it. Well, except for the one last warning sign posted in the room that should have made me run for the exit.
The deal is that four people ride in the simulator as crew members: navigator, pilot, commander, or engineer. Each crew member is responsible for “initiating” a critical part of the mission, a duty that quite frankly didn’t mean dick once I reached the simulator door and looked inside.
But I have this fatal flaw – thinking that recognizing my limitations in front of the kids would seem weak or teach them to be scared – so I marched myself in, took a seat, and pulled down the harness. I suddenly felt a cool breeze blowing directly on my face from the vent in front of me, and that’s about the time I noticed the air sickness bags.
Any ride that has a supply of air sick bags on hand has to make you wonder…what the hell goes on in here?!
Well, I didn’t have much time to think about it before things kicked into high gear. The simulator closed to start the ride, and suddenly the claustrophobic warning made perfect sense because it felt like a coffin in there. I was working hard to slow my breathing and heart rate since I suddenly knew to the depth of my being that things were going to get hard-core horrific. I grabbed onto the only piece of advice I could find – a small sign posted beneath my monitor stating that you should look directly at the screen in front of you, keep breathing, and under no circumstances should you close your eyes.
Here’s the basic concept of the ride: You’re in NASA training to become an astronaut. You’ll launch from the Earth, slingshot (yes, my stomach clenched when they actually used that term) around the moon, then attempt a landing on Mars.
What I’m only learning now (from the handy-dandy Disney website) is that “The Orange team experience uses a centrifuge that spins and tilts to simulate speed and G-forces during launch and re-entry.” Ummm…yeah.
Spoiler Alert: I’m going to describe Disney World’s Mission: SPACE from personal experience. If you’d like to have a completely unbiased first ride, read no further.
So here’s what really goes down.
The front of the simulator closes toward you until you’re confined in an impossibly small space. And by “impossibly small” I mean I now know what it would be like to be buried alive with three other people. The only thing that kept me from freaking out was the fact that T-man was sitting next to me, and I thought he might become alarmed if I began pounding on the walls.
Then the simulator tilts until you’re essentially lying on your back, in position for a rocket launch. Your screen reflects this perspective, a blue sky peppered with a few wispy clouds, until the actual launch begins. Noise, vibrations, and the appearance of rocket smoke on the screen indicate that things are about to get real. Suddenly you’re pressed back into your seat, and if you haven’t already availed yourself of the vomit bags then you’re out of luck because there’s no way you can reach for them.
After feeling like your belly button has been sucked into your spine there’s an abrupt shift to feeling weightless, and the screen shows you’ve left the Earth’s atmosphere and are drifting among the stars. There’s a whole lot of self-talk going on at this point, mainly “Focus on the screen. Do not close your eyes. Focus on the screen. Do not close your eyes.”
That second part gets particularly hard to do because it’s around this time that the spaceship uses the moon’s gravity to “slingshot” toward Mars. Roughly translated, that means your body feels like it’s hurtling forward in space then swings around counterclockwise at a furious rate, a feeling that’s accompanied by a delightful visual effect that made me wish desperately I had picked up one of those bags. (My eyes were starting to dry out a bit from the vent’s cool air, but I was only willing to blink very quickly because I firmly believed I WOULD get sick if I didn’t follow that sign’s advice to a tee.)
So you’ve got the basic idea. The landing on Mars portion involves plenty of icky movement accompanied by lots of those camera scenes where they swoop across the landscape. This kind of thing is exactly the reason I don’t watch those 3D movies – ugh! You experience a bumpy landing along with a bit of skidding before you finally (FINALLY) come to a stop.
There’s a brief moment of prayer to whatever higher order you believe in that this just might possibly be the end of the ride, and when the simulator finally opens you stumble out like some kind of shell-shocked war refugee. Eyes glassy, stomach rolling, you get shepherded through the gift shop (as if I want any reminder of this hellacious experience) and dropped into what I can only describe as a space activity room. It’s hard to say for sure what it looked like since the whole place was spinning.
It took at least an hour (probably more) to recover from that so-called “ride.” Personally, I think any activity that causes the majority of its participants to either vomit or want to shouldn’t be considered entertainment. That would fall more under the educational activity category for me.
Want to know what G-force feels like? Zero gravity? What it’s like to be trapped in an itty bitty space? Then Mission: SPACE is the ride for you.