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Behind the Ride: Alien Swirling Saucers

The Experience: a smashing good time

The Trick: whipping effects that thrust passengers together

Image: DisneyDisney suggests that up to three guests may ride in a single cabin on Alien Swirling Saucers. Unlike virtually any other Disney attraction, the number of riders directly impacts the experience itself.

When you have three people, you'll move less and also crash less. With two riders, you could make a mortal enemy during this ride. You will smash into one another repeatedly and violently. A single passenger suffers a different fate. Even with the elongated safety belt in place, you’ll still slide unencumbered from one side of the ride cart to the other.

Why does this happen? The attraction’s name is Alien Swirling Saucers, and the swirling part references the novel twirling system at play. While many analysts compare this ride to Mad Tea Party, it has only vague similarities.

Image: DisneyOn Mad Tea Party, guests are in charge of spinning a ride cart across a series of turntables. With Alien Swirling Saucers, your alien friends are the pilots. You’re simply along for the ride, and the ride gets rough. Imagineers don’t give riders control of the experience for a simple reason. It’s better from a scientific perspective.

When you board Alien Swirling Saucers, you’re ceding control of your body to the whims of centripetal force. In scientific terms, your ride cart must follow a curved path in a circle. Like Mad Tea Party, your vehicle spins around a turntable. However, the whipping aka the swirling occurs when your elongated spaceship stretches too far.

Centripetal force dictates that you whip back into place in the circle, which is the turntable. It’s a violent correction caused by natural laws of geometry and physics. And the logical outcome of this behavior is that you go crashing from side to side of the ride cart. Anyone in your way will get smashed.

Image: DisneyWith three people, you have less movement due to a lack of open space. With only two riders, Alien Swirling Saucers is like a car wreck. Your best hope is to give as good as you get during the human equivalent of a demolition derby.

With a single rider, you’ll ram into the doors of the ride cart but only after sliding all the way from side to side. It’s open-ended mayhem that your kids will relish. They finally have an excuse to pound on their parents!

The Experience: Changing colors and musical accompaniments

The Trick: Planning for different times of day/year

Image: DisneyImagineers knew far in advance that Alien Swirling Saucers would reside outdoors. While some park guests lament this situation, Disney turned it into a huge positive. The open air allows onlookers to witness the ride from the nearby walking path. And it’s gorgeous!

Well, I should say that Alien Swirling Saucers is gorgeous at night. During the day, you’ll only notice them if you look up (See? Always remember to look up!), but the ceiling of the main building features a series of spotlights.

These multi-colored lights fulfill the theming of the ride by swirling around and thereby illuminating the alien saucers. It’s a funkier setting that would seem right at home at a rave inasmuch at a Disney theme park. Even the signage for Alien Swirling Saucers is neon, giving the place a kind of glow after dark.

Image: DisneyImagineers created a set of eight unique songs from Toy Story movies that alternate during the rides. Disney artists remade the music so that it’s completely original to Alien Swirling Saucers. The spotlights twirl in league with the tunes to create a slightly different ride experience for each musical accompaniment.

A few months after Alien Swirling Saucers opened, Imagineers unveiled an even more impressive part of their ride overlay system. It can change with the season! Yes, this attraction includes a yuletide overlay, complete with remastered versions of holiday music! 

Image: DisneyThe spotlight colors are distinctly Christmas-y, with red and green colors matched to songs like “Deck the Halls” and “Up on the Rooftop.” It’s just another way to improve the ride experience, one that proves an overall point here.

Alien Swirling Saucers is much deeper and more impressive than it seems at first blush. Imagineers have created one of the best children’s rides ever, and not enough people have realized it yet. 

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