The internet is full of news this past week about a major new attraction coming to the theme parks of Orlando in the coming year: the world's steepest water slide. The stories don't identify the specifc park where this wonderful new experience will be available, but I'm willing to bet it's in one of Universal's theme parks. The people who run Universal are, in my view, utterly unable to envision entertainment other than stomach-churning, dizzy-making, challenges of the sort that teenagers boast of. The roller-coaster experience, either high up in the air or duplicated by land-based rides that violently jerk you up and down or to the right or left--are apparently the limits of their imagination. And thus, roller-coasters are the featured attractions at Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando.
Recently, I visited the much-publicized Harry Potter exhibit at Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando, where the major attraction is a violent ride through a replica of Hogwarts Castle. That ride is emphasized to the virtual exclusion of anything else--other than stores selling Harry Potter memorabilia (magic wands and broomsticks). While there is a small outdoor stage on which various costumed figures cavort about for no apparent reason, that cheap-to-operate "entertainment" has about as much to do with the contents, humor, drama, and human interactions of the Harry Potter books, as the man in the moon. It's the castle that dominates the scene, and the violent ride through the castle is the only way to see most of its interior.
Recently, I took that ride through Hogwarts--that violent, wrenching, whip-lashing, nausea-inducing ride, on which you're strapped to your seat to avoid being flung to your death. The obvious effort is to duplicate the effect of a giant roller coaster, but on land, not in the air. The journey takes place at such speed that you can barely take in the brief views you have of various interior parts of the castle, each of which comes into view for, at best, a split second.
As the ride comes to a blessed end, you stagger from it, surrounded by posturing teenagers who are all aglow at having courageously tested themselves in this manner. It is as if they are alighting from the most extreme roller coaster they have ever encountered. And this is the exposure to the Harry Potter novels that the big wigs at Universal have devised, and which various compliant, unthinking journalists have raved about--a fit tribute to the Harry Potter books! It is also the experience that now, presumably, will be had on the "steepest water slide" in history, somewhere else on the grounds of Univeral Studio's theme park.
You may recall that Walt Disney created the original Disneyland for the express purpose of giving young Americans an alternative to the mindless carnival-type rides--the roller coasters, the chute-the-chutes, the ferris wheels--that made up the entirety (at that time) of theme-park-like carnivals. He wanted to appeal to a better part of our imaginations. And he brilliantly succeeded in his initial Magic Kingdoms and Epcots, which did not emphasize the experience of simply swooping up and down, or to the right and left.
With all their resources, their billions in accumulated earnings, couldn't Universal have found some imaginative person to design a park that would elevate, enliven and educate? Walt Disney was able to do so. Couldn't the highly-paid execs of Universal have invented something other than t-shirt shops, stores, and horizontal roller coasters? And isn't it time for people in the media to call them out for simply adding another roller-coaster-like ride to a park that already has too many of them?