With this weekend's opening of the American Idol Experience at Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World has taken interactive entertainment to a new level. But there's an attraction at Epcot that gives parkgoers another new participatory experience — one that seems long overdue.
The Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure opened late last month and is based on the Disney Channel animated series. Think of it as a scavenger hunt where the goal is to save the world from Kim Possible villains. Using a "Kimmunicator" — a cell phone/remote control — available at kiosks throughout Epcot, "secret agents" are assigned a time and a country to begin their mission. The device uses the animated characters to direct players through a series of tasks — each about 30 minutes — in a country within the World Showcase.
"We have been very conscious of playing to both guests — those that know Kim Possible and those that don't," says show producer Jeanette Lomboy-Russo. The attraction had been under development for a number of years and was "play-tested" in 2006.
Mouse Trap's own play-testing during a recent soft opening (our players — both Kim Possible fans — were ages 10 and 16) confirms that it goes a long way in making the World Showcase more interesting for younger guests. The whole family can play, using the Kimmunicators to control features hidden inside the pavilions. Lomboy-Russo says Epcot still is fine-tuning some of these tasks (the timing was off when we helped transform a bonsai tree in Japan), but it's a kick for kids — and adults — to make things come to life.
Lomboy-Russo says another goal of the attraction is to help guest discovers "hidden corners" of the World Showcase, which seem more geared toward adults. Still, you need not participate in a mission to share in the benefits.
"If you are a guest sitting in Mexico and you happen to look over and see the volcano erupt — that's great for you," she says.
The other Kim Possible destinations in the World Showcase: Norway, China, Germany, Japan, France and the United Kingdom.
American Idol Experience
I accompanied St. Petersburg Times pop music critic Sean Daly to a preview of the American Idol Experience at Disney's Hollywood Studios and can attest to the attraction's eerie level of authenticity.entertainment. tampabay.com
"We kind of designed it as if American Idol had a headquarters, this would be the headquarters," project producer Laura Offerdahl, a Disney imagineering veteran, said.
Indeed. The effort Disney made to give both participants and audience members a real show-biz experience is impressive. (My only criticism: Producers may have gone a tad too far in the reality department. Do we really need more Simon Cowells?)
But much like the TV show on which it is based, the American Idol Experience should appeal to all ages. And get this, everyone is going to Hollywood!
Here are other happenings at Central Florida theme parks:
Universal Orlando: It's Mardi Gras time, and the good times roll every Saturday night through April 18. Additional dates are today and Friday, and March 17. As always, expect costumed characters, enough souvenir beads to make Jose Gaspar envious, parades, Cajun cuisine and live performances by headliners such as Barenaked Ladies, Kelly Clarkson, Trace Adkins and Nelly. All the Big Easy fun is included with regular admission ($75 plus tax for one park). There also is a special $45.99 ticket for admission after 5 p.m. on any one Mardi Gras event night. For ticket information and concert schedule, go to www.universal orlando.com/mardigras.
Fantasy of Flight: Polk City's aviation theme park is hosting a "Living History" Symposium Series that begins Feb. 27 and 28 with "They Dared to Fly." Three of the original Tuskegee Airmen will share their experiences of service in segregated America. In March, the series features the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots). The park has exhibits on both the Airmen and the WASPs. The seminars are included in the $28.95 daily admission (adults); $14.95 (ages 6-15). Go to www.fantasyofflight.com.
Peter Couture can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.