by Paul Ruben
Innovation is to be celebrated, to be cherished. That’s why I was so pleased to revisit Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom to experience the crown jewel in the park’s New Fantasyland, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
Disney is a long-time leader in theme park innovations, and this attraction is no exception. Opening 28 May, it is packed with innovation. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is a delight not to be missed. It takes guests on a rollicking, musical ride into the mine “where a million diamonds shine.”
This family-style coaster features a first-of-its-kind ride system with a train of vehicles that playfully swing back and forth, responding to every twist and turn of the track. The journey is accompanied by music and animated figures from the classic Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. As you can see in the photo, I got a front-seat ride during the media event preceding the official opening. That’s Stephanie seated beside me, the escort assigned by Disney to keep me on schedule and out of trouble. Tough job, but she succeeded.
Innovation is found in the ride system that was built by Vekoma and is reminiscent of the old Arrow suspended coaster that would swing side-to-side from a pivot point above the passengers’ heads. Here, however, the cars pivot about a heart-line the length of the train. This is the 50th variation in rollercoaster design. Details of the ride system are found in US Patent US 20110319178 A1 by Derek Howard and assigned to Disney Enterprises. It describes a ride system that provides guest compartments with a roll degree of freedom through a pivoting connection. The guest compartment is attached to a track via a chassis. This is attached to the track so that the guest compartment rides substantially above the track but has a roll degree of freedom relative to the chassis.
Before Vekoma could build the ride system, however, Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) had to determine feasibility. Chris Beatty, senior creative director, told me they wanted “to make the quintessential family thrill ride. To develop the ride system, the swinging buckets, we first built a plywood box that could swing, mounted it in the back of a pickup truck, sat in the box, and drove around the WDI parking lot in Glendale, California. Doing this convinced us the ride would work.” Big guys riding in a plywood box in a pickup truck? That’s innovation?
Because of this degree of freedom, g-forces throughout the ride are directed down, through the seat of your pants. It makes for a very, very comfortable ride. But that’s not all. Inside the mine, the animated characters, including the dwarfs, Snow White and forest animals, appear more lifelike than earlier animatronics.
The only problem with this all this innovation is that Disney owns the patent and is unlikely to licence others to build similar coasters. This means I’ll just have to return to the Magic Kingdom to enjoy it, or go to Shanghai Disneyland where a similar ride will open next December.