ORLANDO, FL—Visitors to the Walt Disney World theme park stood in line for hours Monday waiting to get on the Whirly Merge, a new thrill ride that promises all the excitement of the 1996 merger between the Walt Disney Company and Capital Cities/ABC, Disney officials said Wednesday.
“This ride has been 12 years in the making,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said. “Now you can experience for yourself the heart-stopping suspense when [former Disney chief] Michael Eisner tries to convince the board of directors to diversify its holdings and become the world’s largest entertainment conglomerate.”
Described in a Disney press release as “It’s A Small World and Space Mountain meets Barbarians At The Gate,” the Whirly Merge transports its riders, who are strapped in plush leather chairs to “boardroom tables,” through a series of fast-paced and intricate business meetings, all leading to the climactic acquisition stage.
Riders are led by Roy Disney, nephew of Walt Disney and a longtime Disney executive and major shareholder, whose disembodied voice guides them through the experience via a speakerphone in the middle of the table. The voice recounts how in the early 1990s, “a time of legend and magic,” the company was flush with profits from its animated film successes The Lion King and Beauty And The Beast. As holographic accountants dance in giant piles of cash, Michael Eisner conceives a plan to invest the money rather than pay exorbitant taxes on the new windfall.
The boardroom table then takes a plunge into Herb Allen’s media conference, where Eisner has put feelers out to see if either ABC or CBS is in a vulnerable position that Disney can leverage for a buyout. Figures like investor Warren Buffett and former Disney president Michael Ovitz lunge forward unexpectedly, but before riders can gather their bearings, the boardroom table plummets in an 80-foot “Due Diligence Drop.”
Riders are also treated to a dizzying laser-light e-mail exchange and a lightning-speed courier chase as they spin down the seemingly endless “Paper Trail.”
“The Imagineers really outdid themselves this time,” Iger said. “With so much attention to vivid detail, the Whirly Merge gives riders something new every time, from the subtle pink dots on the lawyers’ power ties to the Dolby Digital Surround Sound–generated whoosh of legal-pad pages in your ear.”
“And was that me in the background of the shareholder announcement?” Iger added. “You’ll just have to ride again to find out.”
Park-goers clamored to get their pictures taken with the distinctive Whirly Merge characters, who roam the grounds in their trademark business suits and oversized heads. Meanwhile, Disney Stores nationwide reported that they have already sold out their stock of suit-patterned Whirly Merge T-shirts and Iger-themed stuffed plush toys.
The ride is getting a thumbs-up from perhaps the toughest critics of all: young children.
“I loved the part where they were integrating the databases,” 9-year-old Pattie Dahm said. “And just when you thought it was all worked out, there was that system crash that lost tons of important corporate information and employee e-mail. It was so cool.”
“The [boardroom] shake-up was really scary,” Tyler James, 10, said. “I felt a little sick during the arbitrage part, but I still want to go again!”
The attraction has already proven popular enough to start production on a major motion picture, as well as a straight-to-DVD release, Walt & Son, a lighthearted animated reworking of the relationship between brash and spunky ABC and its parent company Disney. A sequel ride which details the ouster of Michael Eisner as CEO is rumored to be opening in 2009.