Tea Cups at the Disney Theme Parks
You either love 'em or you hate 'em. There isn't much middle ground when it comes to the Tea Cups. I categorize this attraction as a "Spin & Puke" ride so you can guess what camp I'm in. Actually, I will venture onto the Tea Cups just as long as my fellow passengers swear on their life that they will not turn the wheel inside the cups to make them spin faster. Usually the threat of wearing my recently consumed lunch is enough to make them keep their promise.
The Tea Cups are inspired by the Disney animated movie "Alice in Wonderland" which was released in 1951. Walt's retelling of this famous story is based primarily on Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" with a few additional elements from "Through the Looking-Glass."
The movie was not a success in its initial release. In fact, it was never rereleased in theaters during Walt's lifetime. Animator Ward Kimball blames the movie's lackluster performance on the fact that five directors managed the film and each tried to outdo the other. Walt believed the film failed because Alice had no heart. We didn't care about her emotionally. And when you think about it, he was right. When I watch "The Little Mermaid" or "Beauty and the Beast" I really care what happens to Ariel and Belle. But when it comes to Alice, I'm not really concerned that the Queen wants to lop off her head.
Despite the movie's poor reception, Walt still wanted the film represented in his new park, Disneyland. The Mad Tea Party was an opening day attraction, July 17, 1955. On June 14, 1958, a dark ride named "Alice in Wonderland" joined the park's roster of attractions. Like other dark rides, an abridged version of the movie is presented in just over three minutes. The Alice in Wonderland attraction is unique to Disneyland and a favorite of many.
In the early years, not all of the teacups sported fancy designs on their exterior. This could be very disturbing to a young child scurrying for the prettiest cup. You might also notice that the early Tea Cups did not have doors. Instead, a loose rope was draped across the opening.
In 1983, Disneyland's Fantasyland received a major facelift. The theme was changed from Medieval Tournament to European Village. During the remodel, the Mad Tea Party was moved from the heart of Fantasyland to an area directly in front of the Alice in Wonderland attraction. Having the two attractions together gave better continuity to the area. Even today, not all the cups have fancy designs, but at least the plain ones have a white stripe.
The ride itself is very basic and appeared in amusement parks long before Disneyland. Walt just took an old favorite and dressed it up and themed it after the Unbirthday Party seen in the movie. The ride system is quite simple. Within a large turntable (which turns counterclockwise) are three small turntables (which rotate clockwise). There are six cups on each of the smaller turntables which can be turned independently by rotating a large wheel located in the middle of each cup. It's this last feature that can add a gut-wrenching element to the ride.
The Tea Cups appear in all five Magic Kingdom-type parks around the world. This is partly due to the fact that this is a popular ride. But also, in the scheme of things, this is a relatively inexpensive attraction to build and maintain.
When the Magic Kingdom opened at Walt Disney World, the Mad Tea Party, as it is called as in Florida, did not have a roof. However, the brutal Florida sun and rain caused the Imagineers to rethink this initial design decision.
Near The Mad Tea Party is a beautiful topiary of Alice, the Mad Hatter, and the March Hare. This is a great picture spot.
Near the topiary is a leaf with an inspirational message. It was written by Randy Pausch.
Randy (born October 23, 1960) was a professor of Computer Science and Human-Computer Interaction & Design at Carnegie Mellon University. In 2006, Randy learned he had pancreatic cancer and in August 2007 was told he had three to six months of good health left. On September 18, 2007, Randy gave a talk at Carnegie Mellon entitled "The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams." Rather than being maudlin and morose, the lecture was upbeat and stirring. Randy discusses how he realized his childhood dreams and how he learned to be a better person. As it turns out, one of Randy's young ambitions was to be an Imagineer with Disney - a goal he did achieve.
During his lecture, Randy asks the audience, who would you rather be, Tigger or Eeyore? He hopes you pick Tigger, who has a zest for life.
After the success of his lecture, Randy and Jeffery Zaslow wrote a book titled "The Last Lecture," expanding on Randy's speech. The book was published by Hyperion, a company owned by Disney.
So why are Randy's words seen near the Mad Tea Party?
One of the curriculums Randy developed at Carnegie Mellon was called the Alice Program. This program advanced the idea that learning can be fun if presented in the right way. For example, instead of telling students they must learn a particular computer language, tell them their assignment is to make a movie - that requires the use of these computer skills. The students will then focus their enthusiasm on the movie and learn the computer language as a way to enhance their film. The Alice Program was an unqualified success. Disney chose to honor this courageous man next to an attraction that represents Alice.
Randy died on July 25, 2008 at the age of 47. If you are interested in seeing "The Last Lecture," click here. The presentation is 1 hour in 16 minutes in length and definitely worth your time. Over 14 million people have viewed it on YouTube.
Recently, the Enchanted Grove, the refreshment stand next to the Mad Tea Party, underwent a name change. It is now called the Cheshire Café to tie the restaurant and attraction together and add better continuity to the area. The Cheshire Café is a wonderful spot to buy a refreshing slushy on a hot day and relax for a while. Even on the busiest days, the lines are manageable here.
At Tokyo Disneyland, the tea cups are called "Alice's Tea Party. This attraction and the one in the Magic Kingdom are they only two versions of this ride to have a giant teapot in the center of the turntable.
At Disneyland Paris, the attraction is called "Mad Hatter's Tea Cups." With its glass roof, I think this version of the ride is the most visually appealing of them all.
At Hong Kong Disneyland, the ride is called "Mad Hatter Tea Cups." It's interesting to note, in Paris the name is possessive (Hatter's) while in Hong Kong it is not possessive (Hatter). If you study the roof, you'll notice the Hong Kong version matches the attraction covering in Tokyo.
I've always found this next sign at Hong Kong Disneyland to be interesting. Since they don't serve alcohol in the park, do they really have enough people showing up schnockered that they must post this warning?
Although I have video of the Tea Cups in Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong, and Florida, I felt sharing them all might be overkill. After all, once you've seen one tea cup spin, you've seen them all. So today you'll just be seeing a two minute video of the Magic Kingdom's version of the ride.
The duration of a ride on the Tea Cups lasts approximately one and a half minutes. To people like me, this seems like an eternity. But to teens, this interval is hardly enough - especially after waiting in a 30+ minute line.
Love 'em or hate 'em. How do you stand on the great Tea Cup debate?