Monday, August 13, 2018

The Last Time I Ever Rode Ellen's Energy Adventure

(Mickey Views on Flickr)

In the course of my visits to Walt Disney World, there have been only four attractions that I personally experienced that have permanently closed (five if you include Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management, but that lousy show is irrelevant to this discussion). The first was Snow White's Scary Adventures, my absolute favorite attraction in Fantasyland and one that earned its own personal tribute to on this blog. Although I was quite sad at the time about losing this ride that was a cornerstone of my Disney World childhood, I was very excited at the construction of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (my excitement would come to a screeching halt two years later when I experienced that underwhelming and short ride for myself). In May of 2012, not very long before it closed, I rode a doomed attraction for the first time, and rode my beloved Snow White's Scary Adventures for the very last time. I already wrote about what it was like in my tribute to that attraction, but suffice to say, I never had had such a beautiful yet sad experience before, and have not had one like it since. When Maelstrom was about to close in 2014, I had the opportunity to ride it on its last day of operation, but was convinced by my parents because of the potential heat and crowds from the ride's closing and concurrent Food and Wine Festival to go to the Magic Kingdom instead. I can't say I exactly regret that decision knowing full well the madness of festival season at Epcot, but I was still pained by the knowledge I could never search for the spirit of Norway at Epcot again, and Maelstrom has also earned a three-part tribute on my blog.

Fast forward to February 2017. For the first time since I moved to Maryland almost two years ago, I am about to hop on my first plane flight ever to Orlando, meet my grandparents at the airport, ride to their house in Melbourne, and then a couple days later, have an amazing three day, two night vacation at Walt Disney World to celebrate my 18th birthday. Everything goes smoothly, and soon enough we are inside the gates of Walt Disney World, spending our first day at the Magic Kingdom. After our splendid first night at the Coronado Springs Resort, we prepare to go to Epcot. I hop on a bus well before my grandparents do, anxious to not let their leisurely pace slow me down. I arrive and take in the momentous sight of Spaceship Earth. In an effort to kill the time before my grandparents catch up with me, I decide to go to the perfect attraction for killing time inside a cool, dark building: Ellen's Energy Adventure.

(CL Photographs on Flickr)

Rumors have been swirling around for quite a while now that some Guardians of the Galaxy attraction will replace the Universe of Energy. Even for a company that replaced Snow White's Scary Adventures with a princess meet and greet and Maelstrom with Frozen Ever After, this particular rumor sounds ridiculous to me. I pay it little attention as I admire the exterior pool and seemingly endless mirror tiles on the dynamic triangle of a building on my way to entering the sliding doors. I examine the countdown on the fascinating tile wall. Perfect, I've arrived just in time to see the preshow in its entirety. Making my way to the large, dark preshow room, I sit down on the carpet just like I have done endless times, and enjoy the next few minutes of backstory, levity, and pure 90s throwback from Ellen and Bill Nye the Science Guy. After Ellen's words to any one who arrived late, it is time to enter the first theater. The utterly massive room, enveloped by black curtains and the masterful score of Bruce Broughton, and the sight of those impossibly huge traveling theater cars is still enough to captivate me and fill me with wonder. At first, I choose to sit down in what proves to be a heavily crowded theater car. But at the last possible moment, the wisdom of my father's seating choices in such attractions strikes me faster than a lunging rattlesnake, and I make my way out of that car and into my row of choice in one that is virtually empty.

(marada on Flickr)

The vehicle doors slide closed, the lights fade to black, and the theater cars silently rotate into place in front of the first screen. The show begins. After the explosive Big Bang and the formation of the Earth, one of the greatest (and loudest) spectacles I've ever seen on screen, Ellen and Bill at last arrive 220 million years ago in the Earth's past, and it is time to join them in the age of dinosaurs. The cars rotate away from the screen as the footsteps of a walking dino fade into a rising, dramatic, powerful musical crescendo courtesy of Bruce Broughton as those black curtains rise and reveal the stunning world of the Mesozoic. The cars stop as we hear an invisible Ellen struggling to make her way through the dense jungle. A clap of thunder and lightning convince her to move forward, and likewise, the cars start moving forward, starting with the one that is at the exact opposite corner of the formation from mine. After seeing the car behind it move as well, it is then I realize I've chosen the sixth car; the last one to leave the diorama! Quickly realizing my unprecedented opportunity, I scan the primeval forest around me, finding dimetrodons, giant snails, dragonflies, and centipedes, and taking in every lush detail of this triumph of a diorama. At last, my car moves, and the real journey through this prehistoric world begins. Brontosaurs tower over me, one loudly sneezing on unfortunate passersby below. A stegosaur and allosaur fight to the death as I pass beneath the mighty rocks they stand on. Duck billed trachodons stare with their strange gazes from thick brush. Ornithomimus gather around a marshy pool, one playfully spitting at me. Gigantic Pteranodons loom above me, cawing and croaking as their world threatens to be consumed by a fiery eruption of lava. All the while, I am sliding from end to end in my empty row, seizing the chance to get the best views of everything. Finally, after a passage through the foggy, strobe-lit cave, the journey is over. Many more minutes of nostalgic film of Ellen and Bill talking about energy and going on to win Jeopardy! await (I still can't believe the entire oil rig scene was a model all along!), but what I'll never forget is the amazing experience I have just had in the age of dinosaurs, all alone. Eventually I exit from the Universe of Energy, catch up to my grandparents, become exasperated all over again by the current Spaceship Earth descent, enjoy Living with the Land for the millionth time, ride (and become disappointed with) the new Soarin' for the first time, see (and fall in love with) Impressions de France for the first time, and culminate my explorations of World Showcase with a marvelous dinner at San Angel Inn and a ride in the front row of an empty boat on Gran Fiesta Tour just before watching Illuminations in full for the first time. As we go to bed in our Coronado Springs room (the pool there is the best), I reflect on the wonderful day I've had at Epcot.

(Dennis D on Flickr)
Several months later, the unthinkable happened. As it turns out, a Guardians of the Galaxy ride replacing Universe of Energy was not a horrible joke, but now a horrible reality. I would go on to vent my frustrations and express my sorrow at the closing of both Ellen's Energy Adventure and the Great Movie Ride (I hadn't ridden the latter since before its 2015 refurbishment) in a post I published on this blog one year ago this very night. One year later, not much has changed for me. The grand, gorgeous Grauman theater exterior still stands, while the inside has turned into an empty shell. There are no more tiles at the Energy pavilion, whether of the colored or mirror kind, and any dinosaur that was still left in that building as it was being gutted had until April of this year to be removed to safety or presumably be destroyed. The massive new building for the Guardians rollercoaster continues to rise, a figurative and literal eyesore for Epcot.

(Jeff Krause on Flickr)

A year has passed since Ellen's Energy Adventure closed, and even now, I still get chills from that moment when the curtains lifted and revealed the dinosaurs in their primeval world. The fact that I'll never experience that moment again still devastates me, much like never being able to see the Wizard of Oz or Raiders of the Lost Ark come to life in the Great Movie Ride. Considering I had absolutely no idea at the time that my ride in February of 2017 would be the last time I would ever ride on sunshine in the Universe of Energy, my choice to go to the car that was virtually empty and the last to leave the diorama may not have been as great of an ending to my adventures in the Universe of Energy as being evacuated from the ride inside the dinosaur diorama, but it's the next best thing I can think of, and I will be eternally grateful that I got to have that experience. As you reflect on your own fond memories of both of these attractions tonight, I just hope that they will always remain alive and well in your hearts. I know they will in mine.

Great Movie Ride (1989-2017)

Universe of Energy (1982-2017)