Disney's newest Marvel-themed indoor thrill ride gives roller coasters a new twist -- a 360-degree twist. Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind opens to guests Friday at Epcot at Walt Disney World in Florida. It's billed as one of the largest indoor coasters and, along with being Disney's first reverse-launch coaster, it's something called an OmniCoaster. Each vehicle makes controlled rotations to keep you facing the action as you race down the track -- be it sideways or backward.
I got an early preview before it opened (see video embedded above). And after being hurled through the darkness of space and time to save the galaxy with Star-Lord and the gang (to the tune of Earth, Wind and Fire's September), I gotta say, this isn't like any other roller-coaster feeling. It's a smooth ride -- and a funny one, with Guardians characters cracking jokes about how you may not make it. There's almost a feeling of dancing as you glide toward different screens and props throughout the ride, but your mind can't predict which way your car will go next. There are no loops, drops or upside-down flips -- but boy, when you're taking a hard turn around a moon, facing sideways, you'll feel a new kind of coaster intensity: Disney magic messing with your inner-ear.
(Pro tip if you go: The last car has the best views, but for me it was the worst on the woozy factor. You can get a taste of how it moves in the Disney video embedded below.)
This ride goes big with screens too. Real big. Like, larger than a football field big. But you may not realize it when riding, because you're too busy screaming and trying to follow what's happening as you follow a giant space-monster thing to the dawn of time to stop it from destroying Earth and uh, everything as we know it.
But park guests who show up to Epcot today can't just walk up to the ride and wait in line. Guests will have to book an appointment to ride through the My Disney Experience app. If you have a reservation to enter Epcot, you'll be able to book a spot in a virtual queue. Spots in line are handed out starting at 7 a.m. on the day of your visit, so you better be logged on early.
If the virtual queue fills up, there'll be another window in the afternoon that opens up to book a time to ride. Or guests can buy their way into the line by purchasing a Lightning Lane pass, priced at $14-$17 plus tax per person, with prices varying by the day, according to theme park reporter Scott Gustin.
Disney didn't hold back on using new tech tricks to give the Marvel misfit heroes a hit attraction that could outshine Disney's other Marvel rides -- all with a goofy, Epcot-centric story. Some of the best illusions are even before you step inside the ride vehicle. The pre-show literally transports you off the planet... and of course that's when things go wrong.
But even as you face certain doom, it keeps things light with the playful humor of the Guardians. The whole time you're zipping around space, the characters are bantering jokes and the classic pop music Star-Lord loves is blaring through speakers in your ride car. The Disney Imagineers team tested more than 100 potential songs for the attraction, but it was narrowed down to six. Guests will have one of these songs randomly play as it blasts off: September, Disco Inferno, Conga, Everybody Wants to Rule the World, I Ran or One Way or Another.
This ride doesn't have any audio-animatronic figures -- instead, it sends guests racing down a track around planets and big action is projected on multiple surfaces to make it look like you're in space. One of those screens is bigger than a football field, according to Disney Imagineer Wyatt Winter, senior producer for Cosmic Rewind. In an interview during our press preview, he explained that the team wanted to make sure guests who didn't know much about Marvel could still enjoy this story -- and the gaps would be filled in during your wait in line.
Epcot is a park about celebrating the world's cultures and imagining the possibilities of future technology. And somehow, the style of humor for the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise made it so Disney could put a bunch of space adventurers into this park.
While waiting in the winding ride queue, guests learn the layered backstory: Star-Lord, the retro-music-loving leader of the Guardians played by Chris Pratt, visited the Epcot theme park as a child. And he is pretty famous among Xandarians, an alien race that looks exactly like us. The Xandarians traveled to Epcot to make a pavilion to teach us about their planet and share their advanced technologies. But something goes wrong when a Celestial steals some tech to destroy Earth.
Still following? As someone who is a bit fuzzy on the Nova Corps (sorta like space police from Xandar), and I know nothing about Celestials (universe God-things from the Eternals movie that I didn't watch yet), I found the adventure easy to understand because I was familiar with the Guardians characters.
Epcot fans will also find hidden references to old Epcot attractions and the ride that once stood in this spot: The Universe of Energy. (Star-Lord was a big fan of the ride with all the animatronic dinosaurs.)
My family and I have gone to Epcot many times, and just like Star-Lord, I'm also a fan of the classic park rides. I was worried about whether a talking raccoon with a laser blaster could feel like it belonged in the park -- and it was done in just the right way. Epcot isn't always the star theme park at Walt Disney World for thrill seekers (I find it more chill as a place to enjoy good food and beverages). This being Epcot's first big coaster, it could have families making sure they fit Epcot into their vacation plans.