Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Ride Review - Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros

Happy Cinco De Mayo! Let’s celebrate with a look at the “Gran Fiesta Tour” in Epcot’s Mexico pavilion. It’s the ride that used to be known as “El Rio Del Tiempo” and was revamped in 2007. It now includes the Three Caballeros and swine flu!

Intro: I reviewed this one awhile back when it was simply known as “El Rio Del Tiempo” and it more or less sucked then. In the meantime they added more Disney characters, which fans of Disneyland’s “Small World” will tell you is never a bad idea…or something like that.

Queue: Go up the stairs, into the Aztec pyramid, through the little museum, down the ramp, past the fountain, through the marketplace, and next door to the restaurant. Easy guest access to this was a priority during Epcot’s initial construction. I visited about a month after the refurbishment and there were four or five people in line in front of me so, hey, already an improvement over the old ride!

Ride: We hop into our boats and are launched off into the Mexican evening. We head on past the marketplace and restaurant where it’s always twilight (just like the real Mexico!) We get just close enough to the tourists to beg for an overpriced burrito (just like the real Mexico!) and head past a volcano or pyramid or something, it’s really hard to tell since it’s twilight and all. Then it’s into the first room.

The three caballeros appear, projected in cartoon form on a wall, to introduce themselves. It’s actually only the two caballeros, as Donald is nowhere to be found, Panchito and Jose (si, that’s their names.) We make our way down a river, through some ancient ruins, as the birds look for their missing amigo. Donald is on one side of the river trying on sombreros while the birds fly around on the other side, oblivious. For reasons past anyone’s understanding, they do this while riding a magic carpet.

As we continue along, more cleverly disguised video screens play assorted scenes of Mexico ranging from normal (churches, Aztec pyramids) to absurd (a mariachi band playing, wearing giant sombreros and riding on a canoe.) A weather vain (don’t ask) directs Jose and Pancito to the next room, the Dia de los Muertos room from the original ride.

It’s kind of like “Small World-lite” where instead of dancing dolls there are dancing skeletons. No that wasn’t a swine flu joke, there seriously are. A banner helpfully informs us “Fiesta Hoy” (“party today” for the unenlightened) thus explaining why there are some children swinging a stick at a Donald Duck piñata. The skeletons, however, go unexplained.

Into the next room representing the tourist areas of Mexico as Donald goes parasailing while Jose and Panchito search for him at a cantina. We head on into the next room as the sun begins to set and Donald is reunited with his fellow Caballeros. They hold a giant party with the stereotypes and we head into the final room with the sweet fiberoptic fireworks display. The Caballeros perform a little musical number as we leave Mexico City and float past a giant map of the country and back into the dock.

Thoughts: Well that certainly was an adventure. I’m assuming that the imagineers who fail hallucinogenic drug tests are reassigned to design World Showcase attractions, that’s the only logical explanation.

Seriously though, the “Gran Fiesta Tour” is as delightful as it is baffling. It’s a fun ride despite being pretty disappointing considering the subject matter they were covering. The Three Caballeros layover provided the attraction with a cohesive story and the seemingly random scenes do fit in with the style of the movie. Unfortunately, doing cutesy gags with the cartoon characters takes away what little depth the old attraction had as it is no longer an attempt to showcase Mexican culture but rather uses the Mexican theme as a backdrop for wacky (and stereotypical) Donald Duck gags like trying to balance 10 sombreros on his head or swooning over a can can dancer.

Being perfectly fair, the new ride is an improvement over the old one but my general opinion doesn’t change. It’s a good respite for a hot afternoon in World Showcase. See it on a second day at Epcot (or while you’re waiting for a table at San Angel Inn.)

Overall Rating: ** ¾

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