To most, theme parks are a place of fountain sodas, roller coasters, fanny packs and overpriced merchandise. Not exactly chic and high-tech. But Walt Disney World's Epcot is different. It's the home of the NASA-endorsed Mission Space, GM-sponsored Test track, and now a newly renovated and totally cool Spaceship Earth (the geodesic sphere known more commonly as the "golf ball").
Spaceship Earth is a ride designed to send you through a crash course in communications history from the safety of your people-mover car. Recent renovations, which debuted to the public in February, promised a new take on the 26-year-old ride.
I finally got a chance to head on down to WDW in Orlando, Florida, and I fell in love with the fun use of technology in the new Siemens-sponsored Spaceship Earth Ride.
The ride vehicle includes an interactive feature that quizzes riders about their names and hometowns, as well as their opinions on vacation plans, city vs. rural living and what they think technology should do for them in the future. You enter your answers with the touch-screen monitor built into the "dashboard" of your people-mover car; then the ride takes a snapshot of you and sends you on your way into the era of cavemen.
The entire ride is cool and informative, but I was particularly interested in a vignette near the end of the ride depicting a young man in a "garage in California" in "the late '70s." The jury is out on whether the man, seen only from behind, is Steve Jobs or Steve Wozniak. What do you think?
Near the end of the ride, the screen in your car plays back a video showing you what the future of communications tells for you. Your photo becomes the head on a cartoon figure that shares your name and your same views on all of the opinions you entered earlier. (My video let me know how my apartment in the city might one day feed and take care of my dog while I go on a long European vacation.)
Once you get off the ride, you enter a high-ceilinged parlor and watch all of your fellow riders' pictures appear on a huge projection globe in the center of the room, where they shrink into pinpoints of light to show who came from where on any given day.
It's definitely a new way to spend a day at Disney World.