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Carousel of Progress


Our tour of Tomorrowland continues with a visit to an attraction whose pedigree extends all the way back to the New York World Fair of 1964 - Carousel of Progress.

This is one of those attractions at the Disney theme parks which oozes America and, in particular, Walt Disney's vision for the parks.  This is not a thrill ride.  This is not an experience based around a Disney film.  This is education and optimism and audio-animatronics.

For me, this is an attraction in the group that includes Great Moments with Abraham Lincoln which can be found in the Town Square at Disneyland.  Indeed, Carousel of Progress, after appearing at the World Fair, was a fixture at Disneyland until 1973. 

The attraction then moved to Disney World opening in 1975 and is still there to this day.  Although it has undergone a series of minor changes over the years, it is still, essentially, the same attraction viewed by visitors to the World Fair over 50 years ago!



Let's take a ride on Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress (as the Disney World version is now titled).

The queue line for Carousel of Progress is fairly ordinary.  It's outside (as many of the Tomorrowland queues seem to be) and snakes up a slight ramp to the main building.  A video plays for those waiting to board the rotating theatre detailing the history of the ride including footage of Walt with the Sherman brothers.  The building itself is adorned with colourful patterns echoing the 'cog' design from the rides main 'title'.

Guests enter through unassuming double doors into a large theatre with a green curtain at the front.  It's a very wide stage.  Taking their seats, the show begins as the green curtain lifts in the centre to reveal the ride's legend - Carousel of Progress - and guests listen to a short introduction to the attraction.  After this, the stage appears to rotate but it is, in fact, the seats rotating around the central, circular stage, to reach the first scene - a house at the turn of the century around about Valentine's Day.  Singing away, in the middle, is a middle-aged man called John and, seated at his feet, a dog (who reminds me of Sprockett from Fraggle Rock).  The song he is singing is the classic 'There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow'.  John is a triumph of animatronics and he goes on to detail all the amazing inventions his house has including a washing machine and a gramophone.

We are also introduced to John's wife and children who are revealed behind screens to the right and left of the main scene.  His wife is ironing while his daughter works on the washing machine.  His son is marvelling at a 3D viewscope and then we meet his older daughter preparing for a date.  John eventually bursts back into song and the audience rotate along to the next scene: 4th July in the 1920s.

John is still sitting centre stage, this time rather casually astride a chair leaning on its back.  His dog is still sitting at his feet.  Technology has moved on and as the family prepare for a fancy dress party, we discover some of the new mod-cons, and experience a powercut!

With another burst of song we move on to the 1940s and Hallowe'en.  The home is noticeably more modern with John now seated at a 'booth-like' table.  He comments on his dishwasher and commuting and Grandma is watching TV.  His daughter is still concerned with romance and is on an exercise machine of the sort I've always presumed did absolutely nothing - the one where a large strap just wobbles your behind a bit.  His wife, Sarah, is up a ladder doing some DIY and the automatic paint stirring machine, which John apparently made from a food mixer - slops paint all over the place.

With a reprise of the song, we move on to our final scene - 'modern' times.  This is the scene which has possibly changed the most over the years as it is supposed to reflect contemporary times.  As it is, there is a still an certain 'dated' feel to it, despite the widescreen TV, laptops and microwaves.  I think it's in the clothing of the characters which seems to retain a certain 1980s/1990s vibe to it.  One aspect which struck me as dated when I visited the attraction back in 2007 was the virtual reality gaming the son and grandma are partaking in.  Virtual reality was something which seemed like the new frontier of computers and gaming in the 80s and 90s but seemed to fizzle out and come to nothing.  Of course, 2016 saw the arrival of things such as the Occulus Rift and suddenly virtual reality and those silly headsets seem back in vogue.

This scene - now set at Christmas - is presented differently to the previous where John was always seated centre stage with his family members hidden behind screens on either side.  Here, the whole stage is one large living room/kitchen with all the family members visible around the set. 

The turkey burns in the fancy oven and then with a burst of song the ride revolves to its start again and guests disembark.

I'm not sure what I think of Carousel of Progress.  There is an American-ness to it which I don't think, as a Brit, I will ever be able to tap into (the theming of the 4th of July and Hallowe'en contributing to this).  That said, I admire the animatronics and the song is fun and not a little bit catchy.  I think Carousel of Progress epitomises some of Walt Disney's ideals and dreams for the parks and showcases the technology.  It's never going to be a favourite attraction of mine but it is one I would ride on any subsequent visits and would want my children to experience, just to be able to wonder at the animatronics if nothing else.


 

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