Category Archives: Tomorrowland

Autopia Fireworks

As I’ve mentioned before, the fireworks at Disneyland are something special. I’ve heard the best place to watch them is from the Storybook Canal Boats or the Matterhorn, but one night we caught them while we were riding Autopia.

And mixing fireworks with a ride like Autopia is pretty much all kinds of awesome.

The show started before we boarded.

Autopia is one of Theo’s favorite rides, and why not? It’s one of my favorite rides too!

I always thought that driving the cars was awesome but that once I could grow up and drive a real car, that would be even better. NOT TRUE!!! There’s just something about driving the miniature Autopia car that is just pure fun.

You don't get to really pick your car color. Thank goodness Theo was down for red.

Theo has just now hit the height of what’s allowed on Autopia. He can officially drive.

Hold tight, big guy!

He cannot, however, actually see over the steering wheel.

Just the top of his head

Since Theo is on a Mr. Independence streak, he refused to let me steer or even curl my arms around his back and then sneak up and steer.

No Mommy! No steer!

So basically I just let him ram into the rails on the whole path. Whatever.

Anyway, it was really awesome seeing the fireworks from the ground. And I had handed over the camera to Kevin for this, so…


actually, Kevin IS an awesome photographer, but this is not his best work.

Anyway, snuggling with Theo is always fun.

Huggy bear kissy face

But the fireworks were the most fun of all.

The happy face ones I particularly love

It’s always interesting getting a view of the fireworks from various places in the park.

Castle effects

But overall, I just love Disneyland fireworks everywhere I see them :).

Right over the Monorail track!

Astro Orbitor

Once upon a time, a better time, there was a ride called the Peoplemover (or as it was known by cast members, the “Peoplemaker” because of the very large number of people who took the opportunity to make out in relative comfort and privacy). On top of the Peoplemover loading station was a ride called the Rocket Jets.

The Rocket Jets were ALL KINDS of awesome.

They were space ships that you rode in way up in the sky around and around like you were totally the shiz. The fact that it was way up high in the sky, on top of the Peoplemover, added a totally excellent element. Up high was the way to go.

You may have noticed that I’m harping a bit on the up high part. That’s because when they re-did the ride from the Rocket Jets to the Astro Orbitor, they put it down on the ground, and that is the single biggest tragedy of all. The second biggest tragedy is its very inconvenient location. But mostly the height thing.

I’d show you a picture of the Astro Orbitor on the ground, but I forgot to take one. Oh well.

Anyway, the AO is very much like Dumbo in that your ride vehicle is on a long arm and you can go up and down by pulling a lever. In fact, I’ve heard the AO called the “Space Dumbo” before. And like Dumbo, due to the nature of the ride, the load time is very slow and sporadic, so the line backs way up.

Imagine my surprise then, when Kristin, Monica, our 5 combined children, and I saw a very, very short line for the AO. We pretty much jumped right in.

Astro Orbitor pilots at the ready! Lexie, Anderson (of Jedi Training Academy fame), Annika, and Theo.

Yes, I know that’s only four. We left the baby and the camera with Monica.

The queue is an unexciting chain switchback, but when you get close to the ride, the operator is in a futuristic booth and stuff.

Theo liked this part a lot

I attempted to take a vertical picture of the whole ride, but cleverly positioned a rocket right in the way of the details of the ride.

Good job!

Incidentally, this was my first time on this ride, so yay My Year With The Mouse!!

Theo has become quite an independent little bugger, but he really looks up to Anderson so it’s pretty easy to keep him in check by having him hold Anderson’s hand.

Big boy!

The AO loads at ground level which as you may have picked up, kind of bums me out.

Wouldn't life be better on top of the Peoplemover?

…and supposedly seats 3 in the bobsled-style seating, but to be honest I seriously had to cram myself in there with two very small children.

I was pretty sure they were going to need a can opener to get me out.

We decided to split up into the boy’s rocket and the girl’s rocket.

The lovely ladies

I'm an honorary boy

Wave good-by to the Earthlings–your flight is about to begin!

See ya!

And then blast off for space!

The girls in back

And I’ll be honest–despite the fact that it’s located on the ground, we felt like we went surprisingly high.

Monica got a great shot of both of our rockets. Poor little Theo is too tiny to be seen in the front of mine.

Fly, Kristin! Fly like a bird!

And apparently there was an original Astro Jets soon after Disneyland opened which were again located on the ground. So I guess it’s not so much messing with an original, as it is going back to an inferior position. And the location pretty much bites. It’s right at the entrance of Tomorrowland, which creates very narrow passages for entering the land (did we not learn our lesson from Adventureland?), particularly with the line for the new Star Tours.

But you know, despite all of that, I actually really liked it.

Jedi Training Academy Part 2: Confronting the Dark Side

Be sure to read Part 1: Selection and Training, before proceeding with this post, particularly if you’re looking for tips on how to get chosen for the Jedi Training Academy.

Let’s just dive right in, shall we? Everyone turn on their John Williams albums… (no, seriously, if you’re a Star Wars and/or John Williams fan, you need to watch that video) and settle in. The Dark Side awaits.

We last left our well-trained Padawans gathering by the side of the stage as the Imperial March echoed through the terrace. Then much to everyone’s surprise (not really), the stage, in a slow-motion smoke-filled dramatic manner, rises and our intrepid enemy appears.

I can admit it, the Star Wars geek in me squeals a little every time I see this

The main Jedi Master kind of stands there and tries to have a reasonable conversation with Vader, who must be really hot–but wait, actually the real Darth Vader’s cut little outfit breathed for him so I’m assuming that was air conditioned–surely Disneyland’s version is as well.

Or maybe there’s a reason why you don’t see him around the park signing autographs in July (or any other month, for that matter–what a bummer!)

Vader blows off the Jedi Master to have a little chitchat with our newly-minted trainees.

Whatever, Jedi Master dude, I'm talking to these kids myself.

Now I’m actually going to backtrack a second and insert an earlier picture because I want to talk about something I actually only noticed this time. You can see here that the kids have already been roughly separated into two lines, one across the front of the stage and one up the stairs. Darth Maul will come out in a second (god Shelby, talk about ruining the surprise!) and when the fighting starts, half the group will go on stage to fight Vader and the other half will stay on the ground and fight Maul.

Here’s the previous picture.

They're like little brown-robed sheep!

This is where the Jedi Masters are separating the kids into lines. Prior to this viewing I had thought it was roughly random, but it’s actually really not. All of the bigger kids are lined up to fight Maul, while the little ones go on stage with Vader (I keep wanting to call him Darth, but they’re both Darths. That must get awkward at cocktail parties). Additionally, the less confident kids and the smallest kids are placed at the ends of the lines. Since Anderson was having some trouble with his light saber earlier, he missed some of the training practice. They placed him second-to-last in the Vader line. I thought this was a brilliant move, because it gave him a chance to see the “fight” several times before it was his turn, and I think it really helped him.

And as far as Vader vs. Maul, I have to say that Darth Maul is actually really scary. And I’m saying that as an adult. He is very intimidating and his mask is just effin’ terrifying. He is very menacing on the floor. And while Vader is scary too, to a little kid, he’s more iconic, easily recognized, less like a human, and just less frightening all the way around. I’m positive that’s why they send the older and bigger kids up against Maul and the little ones to Vader.

And speaking of Maul…

Late to the party, as usual. What? You had trouble finding a sitter too? Riiiiiiiiight.

Maul jumps off the stage and terrorizes the audience a bit.

I'll get you, my pretty--and your little dog, too!

Also, Maul’s light saber is double-ended, which makes him simultaneously really scary and completely badass.

Bring it, Jedi

As I said, the kids go up individually to battle their respective Darth. And also as I said, because repeating myself is awesome, Anderson was at the end of his line. The kids sitting down have already finished their battle.

Okay, ONE of us has got to take this guy out

By the time it was Anderson’s turn, he looked a LOT more confident. Here he gets his final pre-battle briefing.

Remember your training, young Padawan, and be sure to tell Mommy she can pick up the souvenir photo at the store on Main Street

Anderson doesn’t even waver as he bravely faces off Vader.

OMG, he's so little and cute!!!

Let the duel commence!

I seriously love everything about this picture

He actually let go of the light saber with one hand and was going at Vader tennis racket-style, so the Jedi Master paused to remind him to use both hands. Rather than taking the opportunity to chop off his hand, Vader obligingly waited until Anderson was in battle shape again.

Both hands, now. Hate to lose one. Bad form.

The battle recommenced, but…


One more tip from the Jedi Master and Anderson is ready for the leg cut

It kind of looks like Vader is golfing here

And the final move–head shot!

Go Anderson! Great job!

And as you have likely noticed, the Jedi Master was right there with his light saber deployed to block any errant saber swoops from either side.

I’ll back you up another time too to point out a fun effect they did. About halfway through, they selected one of the kids–one of the particularly confident-looking ones–to use the Force against the Storm Troopers. They had him hold out his hand and a Storm Trooper stumbled backwards like he’d been hit. Then they did the other one, and then they did both.

This was adorable too

After all of the hand-to-hand combat was done, the Padawans gathered at the side of the stage and Vader came over to try one last convincing argument to turn them to the Dark Side.

"Come to the Dark Side--we have cookies!"

No way, no how, SeƱor Vader.

Just don't swing those around, okay?

And then Maul comes over to try to convince them too, but he can’t speak and let’s be honest, he just doesn’t have the persuasive kind of personality that Vader does.

Darth Maul isn't what you might call a "people-pleaser"

Completely rebuffed, they march back to their moving platform on stage with Vader doing his dramatic cape-swooping thing that’s like the ultimate walking off in a huff maneuver.

Fine. Be that way.

The Imperial March fires up again as Vader and Maul descend into the abyss, probably to get a much-needed drink of ice water.

"I'll be back." Oh wait, wrong movie.

Our victorious Padawans are lined up against the stage again. I mean, it’s no Rebel Alliance celebration like Luke Skywalker got, but close.

Right this way, kids.

They get one final pep talk about always using the Force for good and don’t join the Dark Side and drink your milk.

Drugs are bad, mmkay?

Then they turn around to face the audience for one final picture. Unfortunately, I think Anderson didn’t hear him when they said to turn, so I didn’t get a picture of his face, but he’s still adorable.

"Parents, stay where you are and let your kids come to you. Otherwise we're seriously talking mass chaos"

I was incredibly proud of both Theo and Annika (known troublemakers, the pair of them), who stayed seated and watched the entire show!

Kristin, I would like you to know that despite the fact that Audrey tried to bite my kid, I forgive you

The kids turned in their robes and got their Jedi Training Academy diplomas. Anderson was immensely proud

Who faught Darth Vader? Oh yeah, that was me.

and goofy


It wasn’t until after we rode Small World that I remembered to take a picture of Anderson and his actual diploma.

One proud kid.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the Jedi Training Academy.

Jedi Training Academy Part 1: Selection and Training

***This information is for the JTA at Disneyland park in California. The selection process at Walt Disney World is different***

I have some great childhood memories of Disneyland and there were lots of cool things there at that time (bring back the Skyway!), but I am deeply, deeply envious of any child who gets to participate in the Jedi Training Academy.

If there were some kind of "get younger" pill, I would totally go back to age 6 and hit up the Jedi Training Academy.

I would, in fact, be willing to trade the Skyway for the Jedi Training Academy. Alas…

The Jedi Training Academy is a show that takes place on the Tomorrowland Terrace–a stage in front of the quick service restaurant also known as the Tomorrowland Terrace. And it’s all in (wait for it, wait for it…) Tomorrowland.

All is quiet, but I can sense the power of the Dark Side here. Can you?

The JTA happens generally about 6 times a day, morning and afternoon. Children from the ages of 4 to 12 are “randomly selected” from the audience and get Jedi robes and light sabers. They then learn a fighting routine and take the Jedi Oath, and then Darth Vader and Darth Maul and a couple of Storm Troopers show up and each kid battles one of the Darths directly until they are defeated. “Awesome!” you say.

I know, right?????????

Anyway, since Theo is too young for the JTA and I am ever-so-slightly too old, I was forced to borrow a child for this blog entry. I hit the park with Kristin, formerly known as the mother who left her two children at preschool in order to ride The Little Mermaid before it was open to the public. Anderson is one of those two children, and I think we made it up to him with the Jedi Training Academy.

I’ve watched the JTA a couple of times to see if I could crack the code of who gets chosen and who doesn’t. The number one thing I noticed were that some kids were carrying signs, and I have never seen a child with a sign not get chosen. Disneyland won’t let you bring in a giant sign, and some of the signs other kids had were just scribbled with a ballpoint pen on a piece of paper and they seemed to work too. However, because I had some time and was coming from home, I made a sign for Anderson this morning. I was also surprised to find that my computer has a Star Wars-esque font installed. Who knew?

I don’t think it really matters what your sign says, but of course I had to go for the humor.

Color or do not color. There is no try.

I arrived at the JTA stage earlier than Kristin, primarily because Kristin left her annual pass in her husband’s car and spent a bunch of time running around looking for it and then sweet-talking guest services into giving her a day pass, which apparently you can do once. Anyway, arriving early is another key to getting a good spot. It wasn’t really crowded today but I’ve seen the stage area get PACKED. I’d say arrive about 30 minutes before the posted showtime. Today it didn’t really start to fill up until about 15 minutes prior, but I’d still stake out a spot near the front earlier.

We got Anderson all set to go with Theo there next to him. I wasn’t sure that Theo would sit through the entire show (as opposed to jumping up and trying to participate in the middle of it) but he actually did really well.

The blazing sun was RIGHT in their faces. Bad seating choice, Shelby.

There were only a couple other kids with signs. We were also way off to the side of the stage and got chosen anyway, so they do take a good look around.

Other hopeful Jedi

Two Jedi Masters come out and start selecting kids. Now I think I’ll summarize all this at the bottom, but there definitely seems to be some kids who get chosen more quickly than others (if at all). Poor Anderson was pretty much baking in the sun by the time they came out so he wasn’t the most enthusiastic kid out there, but he was the third child chosen.

Woo hoo! Go Anderson!

So in addition to holding signs, the other kids who got chosen tended to be the most enthusiastic, particularly when everyone else’s enthusiasm seemed to wane. There are actually 24 children chosen, but it starts to look full before it is, so the kids who kept cheering did well. I had heard that wearing a Star Wars or Jedi Training Academy shirt or hat helped, but I actually saw a few kids with Star Wars clothes not get chosen and most of the kids who were chosen were not particularly theme-dressed. I don’t know that it tipped the balance either way, but it certainly couldn’t hurt. Because wearing Star Wars clothing is just cool anyway.

All right, scroll down for the summary of that at the end.

Okay, so the kids get chosen and dressed up and are then assigned a circle to stand on. This keeps everyone nice and spaced out so nobody gets beaned accidentally.

I'm sorry, but this is just adorable

Like I said, Anderson was the third child chosen so he had to stand there a while. The Jedi Masters then explained what was going to happen.

Darth Vader is bad, we're going to use the Force to defeat him, don't forget to pick up your souvenir photograph

Next they hand out the light sabers.

Sadly, not real light sabers

The light sabers were the telescoping plastic ones. Anderson had a little bit of difficulty with his at first because you had to press a button and hold it down while flicking the saber toward the ground, and I think he had trouble coordinating that.

The Jedi Masters were great at helping the kids figure it all out

The Jedi Masters then demonstrate the battle sequence, which went something like right shoulder, left shoulder, duck, left leg, right leg, head shot. They practiced this a couple of times.

Don't you hate it when people walk into your pictures?

Much to my pleasure, Theo was sitting patiently, holding the sign and watching the show. When baby Audrey leaned in to take a bit out of his head, he shared part of his bagel.

Not everyone was happy about not being chosen

With the training complete, the young Jedi headed over to the side of the stage.

I am seriously jealous of each and every single one of these children

At which point we move into the second part of the show, the battle!

Duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh--you know, sing it or whatever

I know, I hate to do this to you, but I need to eat dinner and there’s a whole bunch more pictures so I’m going to cut this one off and call it Part 1.

But first, I’ll give a roundup of what I’ve personally witnessed in getting chosen for the Jedi Training Academy. As I said above, having a sign seems to really help. Having Star Wars clothing didn’t seem to help or hurt, but why not because it’s cool. I did notice a lot of kids in bright, solid colored t-shirts get chosen. The Jedi Masters say things like “The Padawan in the yellow shirt” rather than “The Padawan in the garish plaid what were your parents thinking?” So wear an easily-identifiable shirt or hat. Most of the volunteers were boys, but they did make it a point to pick girls, and I’d even say that a girl has a better than average chance of being chosen (sorry guys), particularly the enthusiastic ones. I have also heard and seen that siblings who are dressed alike (matching shirts) tend to get chosen as a pair. It seems that they don’t want to split up families, so if you’ve got two, make it very clear that they’re together.

Along the lines of enthusiasm, I also think it helps if the parents/family is also very loud and cheering. They want a lot of crowd involvement, and if your kid already has his or her own cheering section, they seem to like that.

Also, it says that the Training Academy is for kids 4-12 but to be honest, I’ve never seen a kid who looked older than about 8 or 9 be picked. They really do go for little ones.

I will warn you–this is kind of the unfair part, but…

There was also a kid right behind Anderson who came with his own light saber and seemed older (10 maybe?) and he did NOT get chosen. And I’ve actually seen that before. I know it seems counter-intuitive because it would seem like they would want to choose the real fans (as demonstrated by those showing up with their own weapons or in full regalia) but the boy today was very obviously overlooked–he was right behind Anderson and was tall, and both Anderson and a boy next to him were chosen. (The light saber’s mother was rather rudely pissed off after the selection). I’m sure there will be many thoughts on this, but I do have a theory. They have the kids enter into a fake battle with the Darths and they want them to do the specific set of moves they train which the Darths can then block. I think they are concerned that the older kids with their own light sabers are going to freelance in battle, and that can cause real problems. I will say I did see a slightly older kid in full Padawan regalia get chosen one time and he did grandstand and show off some light saber flipping and spinning skills when he wasn’t supposed to during the show (and was warned twice). I’m not going to say it’s nice or fair (it’s really not), but I really do think they try to avoid kids who are older and look like they may take it a little too seriously and go off-script. So I really do recommend leaving the personal light saber at home or at the hotel. I wouldn’t totally despair if your child is on the older side, but I’d leave the light saber at home and prep them to be enthusiastic but agreeable.

That said, here’s Shelby’s Guide to the Jedi Training Academy:

  1. Bring a sign
  2. Act enthusiastic, especially when it seems to die down a little. Jumping up and down really helps.
  3. Enthusiastic parents seem to help. Hold your kid up if you’re in the back.
  4. Wear a Star Wars shirt (no guarantee) or another brightly-colored, easily-identifiable shirt or hat
  5. Dress your children the same if you have more than one (more than two I’d split into different groups)
  6. Leave your own light saber at home

If you don’t happen to have a sign–don’t despair! Be brave and ask the parents of a child who was chosen if you can have their sign for the next show. I don’t think they care if they see the same sign twice. I passed ours on to a family when I overheard them saying that they were going to try again at the next show. And if you do bring a sign, share the love when you’re done!

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