Disney’s new Tron Lightcycle Run ride immerses fans in high-speed sci-fi action (Image Credit: Space.com)
Walt Disney World’s new Tron Lightcycle Run roller coaster immediately separates itself from the vacation destination’s other thrill rides with a pulse-pounding launch that propels users, er, guests nearly 60 miles per hour. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, literally, as the ambitious attraction makes quite an impression long before you board your lightcycle and white-knuckle your way through the grid.
The coaster, a clone of Shanghai Disneyland’s Tron Lightcycle Power Run, first grabs your attention from afar. Located near Space Mountain in the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland area, it features a towering, curvy canopy that covers the outdoor portion of the coaster’s 3000-plus feet track. The wave-inspired covering is a stunning addition to the land’s futuristic skyline, one you’ll definitely want to seek out when the sun sets. After dark, the canopy comes to life with vibrant, shifting illumination effects, while the slick ride vehicles whizzing just beneath it sport equally eye-popping details.
Of course, regardless of what time of day you decide to get digitized into the grid, you’ll still experience that same, adrenaline-spiking launch sequence, as well as all the immersive theming and story elements that precede it in the queue. While Tron Lightcycle Run doesn’t pack as many of these latter touches as Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind — which opened just last year in EPCOT — it generally does a fantastic job making you feel as though you’ve left Orlando behind and entered the world of Tron.
There’s plenty of props — including a replica of the ENCOM SHV 20905 lasers that zapped father and son Flynn in the films — as well as black walls and corridors starkly contrasted with glowing blue circuity and other aesthetic details that wouldn’t look out of place in 1982’s “Tron” or its 2010 sequel “Tron: Legacy.” And while it’s not explicitly communicated in the attraction, the coaster’s story is in fact set after the events of that second film.
Disney’s official synopsis offers this set-up: “TRON Lightcycle Run enables guests to enter the digital world via gateways that Grid creator Kevin Flynn’s son, Sam Flynn, opened. Sam created the Lightcycle Run competition as a ‘friendly’ way for Users and Programs to interact in a gaming-style, competitive event.”
You won’t find any obvious call-outs to Sam Flynn’s involvement, but fans of the cult-favorite sci-fi series will likely recognize the music and sound effects used throughout the attraction. The pulsing beats and moody score come courtesy of Joseph Trapanese, the composer who collaborated with electronic music duo Daft Punk on the score for “Tron: Legacy.” The tone is further set — and the tension ratcheted — by illuminated posters of previous lightcycle champions, a looping video of a female program explaining the rules and potential hazards of the game, and a voice-over reminding you of your imminent digitization.
The queue’s coolest section by far is tied to that latter element, as guests/users gather in a small room in front of a massive screen playing various visual effects. When the computer visuals — which represent the digitization process — disappear, it’s revealed that the display screen is actually a transparent glass wall offering a dramatic reveal and look at the launch area below. It’s an epic moment that effectively sells the sense you’ve officially left the real world for the digital frontier.
With the immersion — and your heart rate — elevated, it’s nearly time to proceed to the games. As the story goes, you’re a member of Team Blue, who’s competing against Team Orange to be the first to capture eight Energy Gates. And this brings us back to that aforementioned launch, which hurtles you forward at high speed and maintains that rewarding rush for the remainder of the ride.
Credit is due to the unconventional ride vehicles, which trade your typical roller coaster car for a motorbike-like design that mimics the look of the series’ iconic lightcycles. But it’s much more than authentic aesthetics, as guests straddle the vehicles like a motorcycle, tightly grip the handlebars, and lean forward. This unique position, which feels pretty similar to “riding” any of those motorbike-themed arcade racing games, definitely adds to the thrilling sense of speed, as well as the fantasy that you’re actually piloting the lightcycle.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that you spend the next minute or so blazing through sudden, sharp — albeit silky smooth — twists, turns, and drops. There are no inversions, so you needn’t worry about flipping upside down if that isn’t your thing. That said, plan on encountering some extreme leans that nearly put your lightcycle’s sides parallel to the ground.
The seat-of-the-pants launch will immediately elicit wide smiles from coaster fans, and not just because gravity is forcing the gleeful expression to stretch across their faces. The satisfying take-off is quickly followed by a brief trip outdoors, where Team Blue races beneath the canopy and onlookers get a glimpse of the zooming lightcycles … as well as the happy/terrified looks on their loved ones’ faces.
From there, the lightcycles travel back inside, where additional story elements and effects remind users they’re not on vacation but are competing for dominance on the grid. You’ll speed through the eight Energy Gates, while projections and other special effects trickery occasionally put you dangerously close to Team Orange’s determined racers. Due to the attraction’s pace and brevity — you’re at top speed for about a minute — your mileage will vary on how much of this you actually see. Attempt to lift your head a bit and spy the surroundings though, and you’ll see the competition crashing and derezzing while you maintain the lead.
We recommend riding twice, during the day and again at night, to experience the evening’s canopy effects as well as give yourself an additional opportunity to catch any show elements you might have missed the first time. If you can’t get on multiple times, or you’re simply not a fan of roller coasters, you can still enjoy much of the experience. Again, thanks in large part to that stunning canopy, Tron Lightcycle Run is worth checking out even if you don’t plan on being digitized. You can also get incredibly close to the attraction’s track, so non-participants have a front row seat of the competition.
Finally, like most Disney theme park experiences, this latest attraction isn’t limited to the roller coaster itself. Tron Lightcycle Run essentially hosts an entire pavilion, with plenty of photo opportunities, a massive themed merchandise shop — with lots of light-up clothing and accessories, obviously — and a Tron-inspired food kiosk aptly dubbed Energy Bytes. So, even if you skip the high-speed grid games, you can still enjoy an order of Digital Dumplings or pony up to put your digitized face on a Tron action figure.