Join me on the Wayback Machine for a journey back to the childhood of my Generation X. Paving a superhighway atop the path blazed by the TV show Star Trek, George Lucas' Star Wars drove a generation of young viewers (mostly boys, but not exclusively) into a love affair with science fiction.
Every studio demanded its copycat of Lucas' wildly lucrative franchise. Universal created Battlestar Galactica and revived Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Fox and Ridley Scott filmed Alien. James Bond flew into space on Moonraker. Even Star Trek came back, with a motion picture series that launched in 1979.
And Disney tried its hand at space-based sci-fi with 1979's The Black Hole. But the company found more enduring creative success with an Earth-bound sci-fi adventure in 1982 - TRON.
Perhaps the first motion picture to make extensive use of computer-generated imagery (CGI), TRON used CGI to digitize its protagonist, video game engineer Kevin Flynn, to do battle inside a computer for control of evil ENCOM's Master Control Program... and to win vindication.
The plot is not what most people remember about TRON. It was the thrilling Lightcycle race on the game grid inside the computer that left me more pumped than anything I had seen on screen since Star Wars' Death Star trench run. As an emerging theme park fan, those were the two movie scenes I most wanted to experience in real life on a theme park ride.
Fans like me had to wait 10 years after Star Wars' debut to go on that trench run, which provided the climax of the original Star Tours that first opened at Disneyland in 1987. But we did not get a chance to ride TRON's real-life Lightcycle until Shanghai Disneyland opened in 2016 - 34 years after TRON's theatrical debut.
Mrs. Theme Park Insider flexed on me by getting to ride the original TRON Lightcycle Power Run just weeks after it opened. [See A visit to Shanghai Disneyland, part 2 for her report from back then.] But I have not made it to Shanghai, so I have not had a chance to live my childhood dreams on the grid.
Walt Disney World's installation of TRON Lightcycle Run (they've dropped the "Power" here in Florida) opens officially April 4, and Disney invited reporters to preview the Vekoma family coaster today in the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland.
At first glance, Disney's TRON coaster seems a blown-up, plussed-up version of Knott's Berry Farm's Pony Express, a Zamperla moto coaster where riders straddle their seat while leaning forward, with a restraint on their back. But as anyone who's actually worked as a software engineer can testify, scale is everything in the computer world.
TRON impresses with its billowing, 105-foot canopy, standing in contrast and complement with the Magic Kingdom's more-sharply-angled Space Mountain next door. Once inside the queue, you will be digitized, like Kevin Flynn, to do battle with Team Blue on the grid.
TRON Lightcycle Run implements a free double-sided locker system inside the queue, as no large objects are allowed on the ride. I found this the easiest use of lockers yet on a theme park ride. Just tap your MagicBand or ticket card on one of the lockers that are lit up to show that they are available. Place your items inside the locker (which comfortably fit my laptop computer backpack), and you're on your way to load.
Forget your locker number after the ride? No problem. Just tap your MagicBand or ticket card at the ride exit, and a screen will tell you your locker number. Tap the locker again to retrieve your item. Easy.
If you wish, you may carry a cellphone past the lockers, but you will need to stow it - along with any unsecured wallet or eyeglasses - in a small cubby on your Lightcycle.
TRON's Lightcycle ride seats might feel odd at first, simply because they are so different from other coaster seats. You're pitched forward more than on Pony Express, almost to the point where you feel like you're on a flying coaster. But once you are in and the restraint comes down on your back, TRON provides enough "give" in the restraints that you can lift your torso and enjoy the views on your run without craning your neck.
Once on board, the system counts you down to your nearly 60 mph launch up and out of the building and around the exterior track you walked under on your way into the ride. I noticed a tiny hitch at the end of the launch, almost like the hesitation from a car after lifting up on the gas, but otherwise TRON delivered a silky smooth ride throughout.
(Laurie's still been on more TRON coasters than I have.)
Visually, beyond that launch, TRON is mostly a coaster in the dark. [If you want a front-facing POV, here it is from the original installation, which is identical, in Shanghai.] Some light elements provide you a place to focus here and there on the backside of the ride, but this is all about TRON's unique physical sensation - something that even revolutionary CGI never can match. The theme might be the grid, but this seems to me the closest that anyone without a professional license can come safely to running in a MotoGP race. TRON Lightcycle Run delivers pure, curve-hugging, high(ish)-speed motorcycle thrills - on a scale that dwarfs anything on even the biggest movie screen.
My only moment of discomfort came in my hands, actually, as I realized that I was clutching the textured handlebar grips too tightly. I'll blame the adrenaline, but once I relaxed a bit, I enjoyed TRON even more.
So for this TRON fan who waited much too long to claim a place on the grid, it's a mission accomplished. This lightcycle run is every bit as fun as I always had imagined.
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