The humble flip phone may revolutionize the way we experience theme parks. It’s all happening at Disney World’s Epcot, courtesy of a girl named Kim.
“The Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure simply gives guests something that they want. People want to be active, physically and mentally,” Jonathan Ackley – who directs Walt Disney Imagineering’s Interactive Division – told The Durable Human.
My 8-year-old cousin, Tess – like many girls of a certain age – loves Kim Possible. Kim stars in her own Disney Channel animated series as a high school cheerleader who turns secret agent. On our recent trip to Disney World, Tess heard on the bus from the airport that there was Something Kim at Epcot and I knew I wouldn’t hear the end of it until we found her.
With a little effort we tracked down one of the low-profile Kim Possible Recruitment Centers scattered throughout the park. Pressing a button on the self-serve display, out popped a ticket with our Adventure appointment. A half hour later, we reported to a kiosk outside the Norway Pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase. A smartly-uniformed Kim Team member asked Tess if she was ready for the mission. After a deep and serious nod, Tess was handed a “Kimmunicator”—the retooled ‘06-era cell phone which would serve as our guide.
When Tess pressed the OK button, Kim’s brainy cartoon side-kick, Wade, appeared on the phone’s tiny screen and instructed us to go straight to Mexico. Inside that pavilion, Tess again activated the Kimmunicator and we were startled to see our first clue: an Aztec blaze briefly appeared on the back wall of a nearby artifact display case. We continued to range through the building, solving puzzles and discovering clues for our eyes only. Here, a pinata near the ceiling momentarily flashed a code number. There, a guitar strummed out a clue. I don’t wish to disclose all the details, but suffice it to say that by the time we were done we managed to save the world.
Our exploits were exhilarating. We actually felt like secret agents, sliding unnoticed through the crowds, surrounded by people totally unaware of our stealthy business.
Ackley, former Lego designer and creator of the Kim experience, says people love the free-range approach. “Visitors have really been enjoying the attraction, some playing for hours on end. That’s high praise considering all the other fantastic things at Disney World. Kids love being secret agents, triggering high-tech gadgets and uncovering mysteries. Parents love the humor, and most importantly the time spent playing with their families.”
But kids aren’t the only takers, says Ackley. “I’ve also seen retired couples enjoying the attraction without any children in tow. And I’ve seen teens and twenty/thirty/forty-somethings enjoying the experience as well.”
Although Ackley says the Kim Adventure incorporates play patterns “as old as human history,” Tess and I felt like cutting edge, active controllers of our own amusement, which he says is by design.
“Today, people can play fantastic video games sitting at home in front of their TV sets. But when they come to the park, they get immersed in ways they can’t at home. You can play a super-hero at home. But at Disney, you really are a super hero, and super-heroes have to do some leg-work now and then.”
Could free-range adventures ever replace typical theme park fare? “I don’t believe that this kind of attraction will replace dark rides or roller coasters,” claims Ackley. “But it’s a new color on the palette.”
There is one other similar adventure elsewhere in the world – at Tokyo’s DisneySea park. As in Kim Possible, guests are the main characters of the story, but in “Leonardo Challenge”, a magic map leads them through an enchanted Renaissance fortress to unravel clues left by Leonardo Da Vinci.