Scale Makes the Magic on Disney World's TRON Lightcycle Run

March 14, 2023, 4:24 PM · 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.

Until today.

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 Lightcycle Run and Space Mountain

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.

Laurie in the TRON test seat
Laurie in the TRON test seat

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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Replies (15)

March 14, 2023 at 8:32 PM

The Magic Kingdom always had the best Tomorrowland compared to the other Disney parks and the addition of Tron just widen the gap, and MK’s Tomorrowland has plenty of room to add even more quality attractions (Baymax, Wall-E, Wreck-It Ralph, etc.). Great job, WDW!

March 14, 2023 at 7:29 PM

This looks like fun and I'm bummed it won't be open when we're there this week. Ah well, something else to hit in the future.

March 15, 2023 at 7:41 AM

it was much more intense than i was expecting and wonder if maybe it doesn't belong more at epcot since it could be too much for the little ones. also, i was concerned about it being too short but i felt it was just about right. the queue is also a unique experience.

March 15, 2023 at 9:29 AM

Speaking of the queue, what is that experience like? It seems that there is a lot of coverage out there about the ride itself, but very little showing the queue aside from the lockers. I'm guessing most MK guests are peripherally familiar with Tron, but a majority probably have not actually seen the original and even fewer that likely recall the more recent Tron: Legacy. I would hope that there's Daft Punk and Journey pulsing throughout and plenty of clips from the movies, and maybe a mock up of Flynn's Arcade. Does Jeff Bridges make an appearance at any point (audio or visual)?

I've also been reading about the post-ride experience that includes an interactive exhibit presented by Enterprise (sounds like something you'd see at EPCOT) along with a make-your-own-action-figure experience in the post-ride gift shop. It sounds like Disney is doing a full-court-press for this highly anticipated attraction with unique merchandise, food, and other tie-ins to the ride.

Finally, is there any word from Disney higher-ups that Tron: Ares will officially get the green light and progress beyond the pre-production phase it's been stuck in for the past 5+ years.

March 15, 2023 at 9:51 AM

There is a small outside queue house under a roof, when you enter the building there is a short little video where it says "prepare to be digitized into the world of Tron" and then the screen changes and you see the train launch, leading into a small hallway where the queue is above the launch track. Then there is an indoor switchback where the loading instructions play on some screens and that leads to the lockers. Then immediately after that is the station.

Other than that there are some switchbacks outside of the rides main entrance with umbrellas. There are not any people from any of the movies, the girl who does the queue instructional video is also the narrator when you're on the ride.

The queue and area around the ride do a good job of showcasing the attraction but its clearly not built to hold over an hour of line. It's very Disney where it has some scenes and then leads to the ride platform, its not like Universal where they have massive physical queues.

March 15, 2023 at 2:56 PM

Looks fantastic but a one minute ride is lame.

March 15, 2023 at 7:32 PM

"Looks fantastic but a one minute ride is lame"

I think it's just a tad under 2 minutes, but even that seems short. Big fan of Tron: Legacy.

March 15, 2023 at 8:13 PM

Ride duration is 1:15 from launch to last brake run, same as Rock ‘n Roller Coaster.

March 15, 2023 at 10:12 PM

I know that Disney fans are used to longer dark ride experiences, but this seems pretty much on par for a non-Disney launch coaster ride to me.

March 16, 2023 at 1:05 AM

Not watching spoilers from this ride is getting tougher and tougher!

March 16, 2023 at 10:42 AM

@Mandy Barron, i never find coaster video spoilers to ruin the actual experience and Tron is no exception. i was very surprised at the intensity of the launch and even more so of the twist, turns and swoops inside. it's surprisingly forceful and that can't be captured on video.

March 17, 2023 at 11:38 PM

I appreciate the attention to detail that Disney has put into this attraction, such as the costumes worn by the cast members and the signage around the ride. It all adds to the sense of being transported to the world of TRON.

I can't wait to experience the TRON Lightcycle Run for myself and see firsthand how the scale of the attraction truly makes the magic. It's sure to be a thrilling ride that will be a highlight of any visit to Disney World.

March 17, 2023 at 7:58 AM

@RaptorK52 - My guess is that the character's Tron costumes are ONLY for the debut of the ride (media days, VIP events, and the official opening next month), and will likely be retired after the official opening. Disney is definitely going all in on this opening (I guess I would too if it was the only new thing to market for 4-6 months)

March 18, 2023 at 6:32 AM

Yes, It is possible that the Tron costumes worn by the characters are only for the debut of the ride, such as during media days, VIP events, and the official opening next month. It is likely that Disney is investing heavily in the promotion of this new attraction, as it may be their only major new offering for several months. After the initial launch period, it is possible that the Tron costumes may be retired and replaced with something else. However, it is ultimately up to Disney to decide how long the costumes will be used and when they will be retired.

March 20, 2023 at 1:36 PM

@RoptorK52 - Disney doesn't do "Big 5" meet and greets anywhere in Tomorrowland, so exactly where do you expect to find these characters after the initial promotion for the new attraction is completed? Disney has done this before (created unique costumes for the Big 5 for attraction debus and media events), and aside from occasional appearances in parades, special events, and occasional promotional work, costumes like this are rarely trotted out for very long - if they ever appear in public after the official opening day.

I agree that the costumes are very cool, but let's not pretend that guests should have any expectations of ever seeing (and certainly not meeting) the Big 5 wearing these outfits after the first week of April.

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