Thursday, May 2, 2024

Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind Review


This may be old news to some of you, but Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind opened at Epcot about a month after we had visited in 2022.  Just recently we had our first opportunities to ride this attraction, so I wanted to post my thoughts on this.  We'll talk about how to ride, how it stacks up to other recent additions and address some of the questions and concerns that have been talked about since the ride opened.

For some background, Guardians is the first ever coaster at Epcot (which is an impressive feat, given that Epcot has now been open for more than 40 years).  The pavilion that houses the coaster replaced the Universe of Energy pavilion, which closed in 2017.  Originally announced as opening in 2021, this attraction, like so many things, was delayed by Covid and eventually opened on May 27, 2022.

As noted, this is an enclosed pavilion, meaning you can't see the track from the outside.  The pavilion itself is billed as the Wonders of Xandar, making it Epcot's first "other world showcase", which is a pretty clever if ham-fisted attempt to make Guardians "fit" at Epcot.  If your issue is that Disney intellectual property doesn't belong at Epcot, I hate to tell you that this shipped has sailed long ago.  You can either be upset by this or accept that this is the way of things now.  Personally, that latter way is the better answer, as it will allow you to enjoy a state of the art attraction rather than worry about how it doesn't belong at this park.

In any case, the queue begins in what's called the "Galaxarium", where a Xandarian AI computer named World Mind talks to you about how they're learning about Terrans (what they call people from Earth).  This room has a lot of switchbacks, and ultimately climbs upward, until you turn a corner and continue into the rest of the queue.

This section contains a map of Xandar, as well as some models of ships and uniforms worn by their officers.  There are also videos of interviews with various members of the Guardians, including Peter Quill, who recounts how he had visited Epcot as a child.  The inside joke here is that much of what he remembers is no longer there - this is a nice nod to nostalgia, as well as a way to tie in the story of the attraction with the park.

I'll be honest - I didn't see a lot of these rooms.  We ended up riding Guardians twice, though we had actually planned to do it three times.  The first time was a bit of a mess, as I'll detail below.  But suffice it to say that we saw a LOT of that first room (with World Mind) while the line barely moved.  We ended up ditching it before we reached the top, and the other times we (successfully) rode it, we pretty much breezed through this second section.

From here, you end up in the pre-show room, which ends up being a ton of fun, very much in line with the Guardians movies.  A member of the Nova Corps (played by Terry Crews) welcomes you and talks about how they are going to demonstrate the Cosmic Generator, which creates jump points, allowing for near instantaneous space travel.  There's a fair amount of set up here that I think people might miss, but the general point is fairly obvious - you are passengers along for this ride from a culture that has technology that is far more advanced than we have.

After this, you head into the teleportation chamber to begin your "journey" to a Nova ship.  But wouldn't you know it?  The Cosmic Generator is stolen!  Nova Prime (Glenn Close) calls the Guardians and you see a transmission from your favorite characters - Star Lord, Drax, Gamora, Rocket and Groot.  It turns out a giant being (a Celestial, I assume?  I'm not as well versed in Marvel lore as some people) is behind the theft and talks about going back in time to erase a "mistake", ie, the creation of mankind.  Guests are made a part of the story here, as their evacuation shuttles have been programmed by Rocket to follow this "unusually large man" (as Drax calls him) so we can track him until the Guardians get here.

The pre-show is one of the best parts of this attraction, which is to take nothing away from the ride itself.  But it's classic Guardians - fun, witty and engaging.  These long form stories have become a part of more current attractions at Disney; the lengthy set up and multiple rooms here reminds me a lot of Rise of the Resistance, the tentpole Star Wars attraction at Hollywood Studios.

The ride itself is cutting edge, and worthy of being the first coaster at Epcot.  First, there's the reverse launch, a unique feature for a Disney coaster.  The ride vehicles themselves are incredibly versatile, and they move and spin on the track in a way that a regular coaster could not.  The vehicles are referred to as "omnicoasters" in Disney press releases, which is a nod to the "omnimover" vehicles of the Haunted Mansion.  

They really are groundbreaking as the vehicles rotate and turn at incredible speeds.  Before I had ridden, the attraction this most reminded me of was the Harry Potter ride Escape from Gringotts at Universal Orlando.  I made this comparison because this is a "story coaster" in the sense that you're in a real vehicle but there are scenes of things happening on screens around you, and you follow the story as you ride.

After riding, I'm not so sure this is a great comparison.  It is to some degree, but Gringotts allows more time to breathe in between movements of the vehicle - it's ride, story, ride.  Guardians is all gas, no brakes, as they say.  There is plenty going on around you, but it happens so rapidly that you can mostly only hold on and take things in as they whiz past you (or at least, that's how I saw it).  As a ride, the most apt comparison I can come up with now is one that most people haven't ridden - the Turbulence coaster at our local amusement park on Long Island, Adventureland (not to be confused with the land in Magic Kingdom).  This is mostly due to the shape of the vehicle and the way it rotates as it moves along the track.

In typical Guardians fashion, music is an important element to the ride.  Peter Quill's mixtape becomes a focal point, as one of six random songs is played as you rocket around outer space.  The first time we ended up with "September" by Earth, Wind and Fire, which I think is the quintessential song for this ride.  I won't spoil the ending, but since I'm writing this, you'll have to assume that we managed to foil the plan and return the Cosmic Generator to its rightful owners.

One thing that concerned me going into this ride was that many people have come off of it and felt nauseous.  I've had to battle this at Disney and Universal in the past, so I didn't know how I'd react.  Everyone is different, but for my personally (armed with Bonine, my new favorite nausea cure), I didn't feel sick at all.  Once I rode it the first time, I was able to enjoy it more the second time, knowing that I wasn't going to have any issues.  Obviously, your mileage may vary.  It is a pretty intense coaster with a lot of motion, so be aware of this going in.

As of now, there are only two ways to ride Guardians - virtual queue (VQ) or individual lightning lane (ILL).  Like other ILL rides, this is separate from Genie+ and needs to be purchased individually (as the name indicates).  So far, the range has been from $14-$17.  The "easier" way is the VQ.  This takes the place of the standby line - that means there is NO way to actually just wait in line and ride it.

There are two different times when you can try to join the VQ - once at 7:00 a.m. and once at 1:00 p.m.  If you have already gotten a boarding group (which is what they call your return time) for the first VQ, you are not eligible to join again at 1:00.  You don't need to be in the park for this one, but you do have to have tapped into Epcot at some point before then.  And if you are eligible for Extended Evening Hours (EEH), there is a third VQ at 6:00 p.m.  You don't need to be in the park for this one either, as long as you are staying at a qualifying resort.  

We actually used all three different VQ times and scored a boarding group for every one.  The least stressful one was definitely the 6:00 p.m. one for EEH.  There were far fewer people there and we got through this in no time.  Whether this is a good use of your limited time after the official park close is up for debate, but we'll talk about that in another post.

The morning VQ was also quite easy, but maybe we just got lucky with an early group.  The only bad experience was the 1:00 VQ on our arrival day.  My Disney Experience will actually tell you the estimated time to return to the attraction.  When we scored a boarding group, our estimated time was 3:45.  Every time, I checked, this got pushed back later and later until it was almost going to conflict with our dinner reservation.  

We gave it a shot anyway, figuring we could get in and out of there quickly, but I was dead wrong.  I noted above about how we gave up after about thirty minutes because we didn't want to miss dinner.  As sad as it was to leave without riding, in retrospect I'm glad we did it, as the dinner was more important to us as a family, and once I saw how long the queue actually went before you got to the pre-show, I figure it would have taken us almost two hours to ride if we had stayed.  I'm not sure why there was such a backup, but it didn't happen at any other time (or on Tron, which we'll talk about in another post) so I'll chalk it up to an unfortunate circumstance.

Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind is a great addition to Epcot.  If and when the VQ is dropped, this ride will have the longest standby line in the park - by far - for years to come.  It has become the "face" of the park and will have great longevity and re-rideability well into the future.  A lot has changed at Epcot lately, but this is a big one that they should be proud of, and can truly be looked at as the beginning of a new era for the park.

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