Learning to Love the Thrill Rides

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By Teresa Pitman

Not long ago, I specialized in the wimpy rides. No drops, nothing scarier than the ghosts in Haunted Mansion. But as I wrote in a previous edition of Magically Speaking, I managed to work up from Barnstormer to Splash Mountain, and discovered that I loved it.

Well, you know what has to come next. Splash just whetted my appetite for more thrills.

First stop: just steps away from Splash Mountain, we have Big Thunder Mountain. The name sounds scary, but stand by the exit line for a bit and you’ll see four-year-olds walking off, laughing. To tell the truth, this turned out to be a pretty easy-to-enjoy thrill ride. Yes, it zips along and is in the darkness at times, but none of the drops are as big as Splash Mountain. There are places where it looks like it might drop down, but then the train swoops you off to the side. If you can do Splash, Big Thunder is a cinch.

I’d conquered two of the mountains!! What next?

My son — an experienced Disney thrill-seeker — told me that Space Mountain was basically Big Thunder Mountain in the dark. Really? I didn’t entirely trust him, but decided to give it a try — and he was right. No huge drops, just twists and turns in the dark. Once again, there are places where you climb upwards on the track in your little spaceship, and it looks like a big drop might be ahead, but the track will veer off into a loop and you’ll be gliding happily through space. I laughed through the whole ride! In fact, I loved it so much that we ran around to the end of the line and did it again.

Off to Animal Kingdom to conquer new heights. First, Primeval Whirl. This looked ominous to me as I approached, but once I gave it a good look, it was obvious that it wasn’t bad. That big climb at the beginning makes you think that it will be a big drop down, but in fact it comes down in stages. The biggest drop is smaller than and not as steep as Splash. The real challenge for many people is the spinning (I’ve seen grown men come off that ride looking quite green). I’m good with spinning (could do those Teacups all day long!) so I figured it was worth giving it a try. Once again — I loved it. It was fun to look out over Dinoland from the top, the spins added a little excitement, and I just laughed when we zipped through the drops.

And now the one I’d been longing to try: Expedition Everest. I’d already figured out that the one big drop – the one you can see – was probably about the same as Splash Mountain, just with a little more of a swoosh and speed at the bottom. And I can do Splash Mountain. But the going backwards in the dark part worried me. A lot.

On the other hand, I really wanted to do it. I’d watched videos of the ride and I was fascinated by the theming. Who doesn’t want to see a Yeti? My son Dan finally convinced me to give it a try by promising me a prize if I did. I know, you’d think that at my age I wouldn’t be so easily motivated. Apparently, that was the little push I needed.

Here’s the short version — once again, I loved it. Move over Splash Mountain, I have a new favorite ride! We climbed up towards the damaged tracks and I held my breath. Would I be able to cope with the backwards part? Our train started to rumble as we dropped back down the track and suddenly we were inside the dark mountain, still descending backwards. I clutched my son’s arm, but before I had a chance to get really scared, we swung forward again. As we started the big drop I looked down and realized that, yes, it was about the same as Splash Mountain, and I was going to be just fine. I remember yelling, “It’s good! It’s good!” We went back and did that one again, too.

My prize? A Yeti hat from the gift store that says, “I conquered Expedition Everest.” I wear it proudly.

Flushed with all this success, Dan convinced me to try his fave: Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Let’s just say it didn’t work out as well as the previous rides. Going upside down turned out to be my downfall. I couldn’t WAIT for that ride to be over! I didn’t even notice that there was music playing as we flew through the darkness, because I was screaming so loud.

On the other hand, I survived, and I intend to try it again.

This past summer I traveled to Disneyland and California Adventure for the second time — but it was my first time as a thrill-ride lover! More rides to do! I really wanted to give California Screamin’ a shot but I couldn’t help noticing that it goes upside down, and I remembered that I really didn’t like that feeling. So I skipped it — for now. Don’t worry; I’m confident that I’ll master the loop-the-loop roller coaster soon.

I was delighted to find that the California version of Space Mountain is faster and even more exciting than the Florida one — at least that’s how it seemed to me. It almost took my breath away! Did that one twice in a row as well.

I could tell I’d been completely transformed into a thrill-ride lover when I saw the ads for the new Disney Dream cruise ship with the Aquaduck water roller coaster that juts out over the ocean and falls down four decks. I HAD to go on that ride! So my entire family has booked a cruise at the end of next February, on the Dream, and I’m planning to be first in line for the Aquaduck.

And I give Disney full credit for this transformation. The parks thoughtfully provided rides that allowed me to gradually work my way up to potentially scarier thrills — from the mild excitement of Barnstormer to the upside-down screaming in Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster. The theming and storytelling gave me the incentive to try the rides, and distracted me from being terrified long enough for me to realize I was having fun. I didn’t think I could enjoy the Disney Parks any more than I already did, but now it’s like having a whole bunch of brand-new attractions to try — and I’m loving it!

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