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We Walt Disney World fans tend to treat the attractions in the parks like they are part of our families. Love them or hate them, in the end, try as we might, we always go back to them as they pull us back in. Their tricks and turns always cause us to marvel with awe and wonder even though we have them all memorized and are long past surprises. But Disney’s goal is always to enhance and plus our experiences, letting them grow.
Not too long ago Disney Imagineers decided to take one of the most boring parts of theme parks, lines (a.k.a. queues), and slowly being to change them pushing them towards interaction. We’d seen this previously with video games in the queues for attractions like Soarin’ and Space Mountain. And other attractions such as The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror have always had pre-shows and highly stylized theming to hold our interest. Now Disney has started to take that to the next level with queues designed to keep you occupied without resorting to video games.
The most recent attraction queue to get this makeover is The Haunted Mansion. Of course, when any sort of construction wall goes up at an opening-day attraction speculation, worry, and fear ensue (FUD). The graveyard and the view toward Tom Sawyer Island had been all walled up for a bit under 6 months. The payoff is interesting, and certainly not what everyone had expected. For example, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh turned out to be far more interactive after its makeover.
The thing I find most interesting is that not everyone who’s heading into The Haunted Mansion will be participating in the new queue experience. It seems odd to me, but the queue is now actually split. You go through the old “back and forth” part of the queue only to arrive at a castmember who sometimes tells you that you can go left to experience the new interactive queue or right and skip it. The choice is yours. In effect, the attraction ends up with a “fast lane” in place of a FASTPASS.
Upon entering the new queue you’re greeted by busts of the members of the Dread Family. These busts are very nicely crafted, and up close (yes you can walk up and touch them) they have the look and feel of smoothed sandstone. The busts themselves don’t move or make any sort of noise, but they do contain a puzzle. A murder mystery is to be solved as indicated on the pedestal for Uncle Jacob, “now try to discover who killed who”. Poems on the pedestals and certain markings on the busts are the key.
Some of the gravestones have been moved into the queue itself, most notably the one belonging to Master Gracey himself. From the size and shape, either he was cremated, very short, or killed by the Rocketeer villain Lothar. Also seen are the ones for Grandpa Marc (a tribute to Marc Davis) and Francis Xavier (a tribute to X Atencio) as well as a brand new tribute obelisk maker to Imagineer Collin Campbell. Sadly Campbell passed away shortly after its debut.
In addition, the gravestones that start at the front door with the seemingly “alive” one for Madame Leota (a tribute to Leota Toombs) climb up the hillside and then wrap back down around the queue toward Tom Sawyer Island. But what I find very interesting is a highly stylized emergency/evacuation exit. Instead of just being your typical door backstage, it’s a staircase themed along with the rest of the queue. And right next to it is a set of crypts for more Imagineers: Mister Frees (Paul Frees), Ken (Ken Anderson), Brother Roland (Roland Crump), and Uncle Blaine (Blaine Gibson).
A “musical mausoleum” has been dedicated to voice actor and singer Thurl Ravenscroft. There are three interactive sides to try out here, all of them are based on musical instruments. On the first side you are presented with a plaque number of standard musical instruments. Touching each will produce music as played by that instrument, and the more instruments that are touched the more melodic it becomes. Next you’re presented with an organ emblazoned with the name “Ravenscroft”. Pressing the keys plays music, but watch out as you’ll also end up getting sprayed with a water mist the more you play. Then you’re presented with another plaque containing more musical instruments only these are part animal, part bone, or all cat. A one-eyed black cat that is – both a tribute to the Edgar Allan Poe story, and part of the original mansion concepts and story.
Next up is the crypt for Captain Culpepper Clyne, “allergic to dirt so he’s pickled in brine”. He’s considered to be one of the Mansion’s Sinister Eleven. The first thing you’ll notice is that he’s singing various sea shanties. Occasionally, he’ll gurgle the water a bit and then bubbles will start spewing from his crypt. The entire time water will leak from the crypt through holes and cracks that are all over. You can actually spend time trying to use your fingers to plug up these holes. When you do, the water start leaking from a different point. The far side of crypt contains two portholes, but they don’t seem to do anything.
The final interactive element in the new queue is the mausoleum of Prudence Pock. The first side contains a memorial plaque declaring Prudence as a poetess who died of writer’s block. Two of the sides are what appear to be carvings of library stacks, however the books in these carvings keep popping in and out of their positions. Guests can try to push the books back in faster than they pop out. The books remind me of the Library scene inside the Mansion where the books move about. Finally, you’ll find that Prudence is still hard at work trying to overcome that writer’s block. She’ll write out the first part of a poem in a book inside her mausoleum, and you’ll help her finish it. Trust me, she’s listening.
Overall, I really enjoy these changes. I think it’s a smart move on Disney’s part to try to bring their guests into the attraction earlier, before they even get inside, and this is a great way to do just that. If you’re with children I would always choose the interactive side of the queue, there’s just a lot of things to keep them occupied while waiting. Heck, there’s a lot to keep me occupied. My only concern is that some of the new interactive queue is not covered by the canopy. That can be an issue for those trying to stay out of the sun or avoid the heat.
What about you? What do you think of the new Haunted Mansion queue? Like it? Love it? Give you more of it? Or are you just dying to see it? <insert evil laugh here>