Experiment 626, otherwise known as Stitch from the animated film Lilo & Stitch, is the rambunctious, rude, out-of-control alien that has taken over this corner of Tomorrowland. Stitch’s Great Escape! is a dark ride that harnesses riders into a theater in the round and subjects them to some truly unpleasant sensations. So, what makes this experience such a stinker? Well, let’s go back in time just a bit, before Stitch arrived on the scene.
The year was 1995: the year that The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter ride opened in Walt Disney World’s Tomorrowland. Now, this wasn’t the first ride or even first update to the existing ride housed in this show building. Perhaps we will dive into that rich history further at another time. For now, we are starting with Alien Encounter because it has a significant influence on Stitch’s Great Escape! The ride was a severe departure from anything Disney had done before. Almost a decade earlier some Disney Imagineers began playing with the idea of a truly terrifying ride in the most magical place on Earth. Some, including Disney’s CEO at the time, Michael Eisner, believed the parks lacked relevance with teenage guests. So, Michael and his team of like-minded Imagineers set out to create something they believed would change the landscape of Disney rides. The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter would cater to a young crowd craving something cool. You know, something you could tell your friends you had the guts to tackle.
Well, there is a rich detailed story of how the Alien Encounter ride adapted and changed during that development. Again, we don’t have time to tell that whole story as we are covering Stitch’s Great Escape and not Alien Encounter. However, click this link to read how the ride began as a blockbuster starring the monster from the Alien movie franchise but morphed into a more generic low budget thriller. What is important to know is that The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter scared the living daylights out of most riders. Fittingly, the company featured on the ride was called X-S, with the motto, “If something can’t be done with X-S, then it shouldn’t be done at all!” The Imagineers had wanted to scare people, and they succeeded. The only problem? They may have done so with a little too much excess! The fright factor far outweighed the Disney magic to which guests were accustomed. It quickly became clear that this “cool” teenage friendly ride didn’t fit in with the rest of the Magic Kingdom bunch. Riders left with their heart racing, and rarely returned for a second visit.
So, Alien Encounter was tweaked and reworked, but after a few years Disney decided enough was enough. They had to find a way to make this ride more “kid friendly.” They wanted it to have a tie in with a Disney franchise or character. The question was, how can we do this without completely overhauling the ride? Well, how about keeping the ride the same but changing the monster? It just so happened Disney now had its own alien and he wasn’t tall and terrifying. He was short, kinda cute, and a little wacky. His name was Stitch and in 2002 he was the Anna & Elsa of his day! Surely, this little guy could save the ride. Right?
Well, sadly the answer to that question is a resounding “no.” Why? Let’s take a few minutes and see. In the original Alien Encounter ride, guests were escorted through the queue and brought to a pre-show area where the back story was set up. Riders were introduced to the idea of teleportation chambers and prepped for the terrifying experience which awaited in the main room. With Stitch’s Great Escape!, riders are welcomed to the Galactic Federation Prisoner Teleport Center. Here they are recruited as volunteer guards and escorted to the same pre-show area. Compared to Alien Encounter, the pre-show routine is more comical while recruits are introduced to the teleportation tubie thingies. Recruits learn that galactic criminals come in two sizes, Level 1 or Level 2. Before long the briefing is interrupted and it seems a Level 3 has been apprehended. A Level 3? What beast could merit an unheralded Level 3? Well, like Alien Encounter you have to proceed to the high security main teleportation chamber to find out.
Now, this is where things really start to go wrong with this ride. The main room is a theater in the round. There is an empty glass cylinder in the middle of the room which runs from the floor to the ceiling. This is where the once evil X-S Alien materialized, and is now where the incoming Level 3 criminal mastermind will appear. To view the show, you will take a seat in the circular rows facing the center of the room. Next, a heavy harness descends from above and rests firmly on your shoulders. Like it or not, you are literally locked in for the ride, we’ll call it the point of no return. Soon, the lights in the theater dim and the Level 3 prisoner is transported into the central tube. Lo and behold, the Level 3 turns out to be cute little Stitch. Feeling this must be a mistake the prison guards release the shield holding Stitch while they go to straighten things out.
Next, Stitch begins to spit on the surrounding equipment in the room to force malfunctions. The byproduct of this devious behavior is that you may feel the wet drops of Stitch’s saliva. Gross. After the laser canons lose targeting capabilities, Stitch makes a break for it, and begins jumping around the now dark room. A similar effect was used when the X-S Alien broke free from his chamber. Back then the room remained pitch black and your only clue to the monsters movements came from the speakers located in your harness. During that ride you could hear a technician meeting his untimely demise at the hands of the alien and then hear the monster flying around the room. Next, your harness would actually move up and down to simulate the weight of the creature moving above you. It was pretty scary stuff. So much so, one tweak the Imagineers had to make was to delay some of the effects to account for the time riders spent screaming. Originally, guests were missing important story clues because they were screaming right through them! Well, in Stitch’s Great Escape! the room moves between light and dark as the guards try to turn the power back on. Your harness still moves up and down to signify Stitch is bouncing around the room, but everything is intended to be more lighthearted than scary.
I say intended, because most riders find the ride more annoying or gross than they do comical. In Alien Encounter, your harness projected warm air on the back of your neck to simulate the alien’s breath. This was the climax of terror when all of your senses now told you a deadly beast was right behind you and there was no way for you to escape. Needless to say, the room was filled with screams. Well, wanting to use the same effect with a decidedly different outcome, the Imagineers decided to use Stitch’s breath a little differently. Rather than just breathe warm air, Stitch has to burp warm air. What is associated with burps? Foul smells of course! What did Stitch have for his last meal? That would be chili dogs. So, now you are trapped by a harness with nowhere to go and assaulted with chili dog alien breath. Yes, it is as gross as it sounds. While some riders can be heard laughing at this point, most can be heard groaning in disgust.
After this Stitch is heard but not really seen. Once the laser canons come back online, they begin firing over and over at Stitch. Of course he manages to avoid their fire, but you can’t avoid the loud repetitive laser sounds. Finally, power comes back on only to reveal Stitch has rewired the transportation device and is now ready to make his great escape! He teleports to Earth in the Florida system. It seems now he will be wreaking havoc on the Magic Kingdom.
So, the majority of this ride takes place in the dark with very little to see. The entire time you are confined to an uncomfortable seat. The effects, while intended to be funny, are primarily just unpleasant. On top of it all, the ride is still pretty scary for young kids. The addition of Stitch was designed to appeal to younger ages. However, the cute lovable Stitch that we see at the end of Lilo & Stitch is not the same character you will see on the ride. With no Lilo on Stitch’s Great Escape! we are left with Experiment 626, the rude, crude alien with attitude from the beginning of the movie. It is almost ironic, the small demographic that might enjoy this ride, young fans of the movie Lilo & Stitch, will be put off by the dark and scary elements. Without the charm of both main characters interacting together, the ride digresses into a loud, uncomfortable experience in the dark.
The one thing that made the Alien Encounter somewhat interesting to adults was its intensity. The entire purpose of the ride was to scare the pants off of you. Once that purpose was removed, the heart of the ride was gone. Stitch’s Great Escape! lacks the intensity of its predecessor and fails in its attempt to make up for it with comedy. Had the Imagineers started on a Lilo & Stitch ride from scratch, I think they would have come up with something very different, and much more enjoyable than Stitch’s Great Escape! By trying to fit these heart warming characters into a horror film environment, the result feels like pushing a square peg into a round hole. In short, I really don’t know if there is a target audience for this ride.
As I said at the beginning of today’s episode, I always do my best to help you understand what to expect of each ride so you can make an educated decision about where to spend your valuable Disney time. Today, is very unique in that I am actually recommending you skip this ride. I went on Stitch’s Great Escape! the last time I was in the Magic Kingdom for the sole purpose of the podcast. No one else in my party chose to accompany me. I hadn’t been on the ride for a few years and decided to give it a second chance. I was really hoping I would be pleasantly surprised and enjoy a better experience than I remembered. Well, that just didn’t happen. I left knowing I had just been on my last ride on Stitch’s Great Escape! After that, I debated for months about whether I was even going to cover this ride. Truth be told, I just couldn’t find enough redeeming qualities and I like to keep the podcast positive. However, with our Halloween themed month upon us, I had to make a decision. Ultimately, I decided it is just as important to shed light on the lowest rated ride as it is the highest.
Now, there are a lot worse things in the world than spending 30 minutes on a bad ride. If curiosity gets the best of you next time you walk into Tomorrowland and you just have to experience the ride for yourself, do me a couple of favors. Please don’t waste a Fastpass + on Stitch’s Great Escape! and please don’t wait for more than 10 minutes for this ride. Check it out if you must, but try not to do so at the expense of the other great rides in the Magic Kingdom.
All right, that is all the time we are going to give to this ride. I hope today has been informative. If you were on the fence about Stitch’s Great Escape!, I hope today has helped ease any sense that you might be missing out. If you are in the very small minority that actually enjoys this ride, then I would love to hear from you! Please write in and tell me what I’m missing. I enjoy a little healthy debate and this ride is ripe for that if you find it fun. You can comment over at our Facebook page or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.