Cruzin’ Disney’s California Adventure — On a Segway!

Laura Gilbreath, September 2007

I've twice done the "Around the World on a Segway" tour at Epcot, so I was excited when I found out they were finally doing a Segway tour here in California! And I was not disappointed – it was a great tour – maybe even better than the Epcot tour – and I had a wonderful time.

My friend Patty called and signed us up for the tour 30 days in advance – as Annual Passholders we received a 20% discount off the $99 price, and paid $79. Patty picked up our tickets at DCA's Guest Relations window a day or two before the actual tour – if you don't pick them up in advance I'm not quite sure how you could get them on the morning of the tour since there's not much open at 7:00 in the morning! We were told to meet our tour guides at the big letter "C" outside Disney's California Adventure (DCA) at 7:15. There were 12 of us signed up for the tour that morning, including a family with two teenage boys for whom it was a surprise – they had no idea what they were doing and why they had to get up so early! They had a blast, though.

We had two guides – Ashley and Matt. They took us into a room behind the Guest Relations office where there was a continental breakfast available to us – muffins, pieces of fresh fruit, and juice and coffee. We signed our liability waivers and they offered parking vouchers to anyone who had parked in the Downtown Disney parking area (the only parking area open at that time of the morning.). Matt gave us a brief overview/demonstration on the characteristics/safety features of the Segway i2 – it's a bit different than the older model Segways that I had ridden at Epcot. But I'll get into that a bit more later.

One thing they did not tell us about when we signed up for the tour is that backpacks/purses are not permitted on the tour – we could wear a waist pack but not a backpack. The Segways at Epcot had a bag on the front where we could put our stuff but these newer ones do not – only the guides have a bag. The guides carried whatever would fit in their bags, and offered to get a locker for any overflow, though fortunately that wasn't an issue for any of us.

Then we were off to the fun part – actually riding the Segways. They walked us into DCA and back into the Hollywood Studios Backlot area, where 12 Segways were parked. But first we had to be fitted with our safety helmets. They use skateboard helmets, with either small, medium, or large padding to go in them. This worked very well, and fit my small head much better than I could ever get the bicycle helmets at Epcot to fit.

Ok, so *then* the fun really started. They split us into two groups, and each guide worked with each person in their group individually to get them up on their Segway the first time. We had to practice getting on and off several times and moving forward and back and stopping and turning until our guide was satisfied that we had gotten the basics. Then we did some group exercises – follow-the-leader around the fountain and ducking under an obstacle (I wondered why Matt was carrying a light saber on his belt!). We also practiced getting off the Segway and using the power assist mode to get it over an obstacle (such as a hose) and riding the Segway up and down a sloped surface (the exit ramp for Muppets 3D).

Ok, so that's when the real fun started. As a group we went on a tour of the park – this was before the park was open to guests, so we had it mostly to ourselves, though there were a few people working and driving trucks or carts around that we had to watch out for. We'd been asked not to take photographs of any of that, and not to take photos at all when we were on our Segways. Ashley was our tour guide, with Matt bringing up the rear, and at each stop she told us something interesting about the area and/or the history behind it. Since we were back in the Hollywood area our first stop was in front of the Hyperion Theater, and then we moved onto Condor Flats, followed by a turn around the Grizzly Peak Recreation Area, where we stopped for a photo op, and Ashley took pictures of anyone who wanted one. From there we went to the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, and that provided enough twists and turns to be a little more challenging than anything we'd done earlier. We made a short stop near Golden Dreams before making a longer rest stop outside Burger Invasion, where we all got off of the Segways for a while. One thing people don't realize about the Segways is that your legs/feet get pretty tired standing in one position for so long, and you need to remember to shift your weight and bend your knees to give your feet a rest.

Ok, and then the fun *really* started. No, this time I mean it! We went over to Paradise Pier near the Sun Wheel, and Matt and Ashley told us we had some free time where we could go anywhere we wanted in the area between the Sun Wheel and California Screamin'. This included navigating the twisty ramps of the Sun Wheel queue, which was a lot of fun, the King Triton's Carousel queue, and slaloming around benches and trees and trashcans. I think everyone had a really good time – I know I did. It was a much larger area with more interesting obstacles than the area they gave us at Epcot.

At the end of our play time we rode over to the amphitheater area near Golden Dreams where a Disney Photopass photographer took group and individual photos. From there we went into the Pacific Wharf and Flik's Fun Fair where we took a shortcut backstage and ended up in front of the Tower of Terror. Goofy was just coming to work, and fled in mock terror from the group of crazed Segway riders. Unfortunately our tour was almost at an end…we parked the Segways alongside the Monster's Inc. building and gave Matt our helmets and followed Ashley out to the park entrance. There she gave each of us our exclusive "Cruzin' Disney's California Adventure" Segway pin, and a copy of the group photo (and we had photopass cards which were linked to the other photos). The park had opened a few minutes before – Patty and I chose to remain in the park and Ashley scanned our annual passes. (One interesting thing about the Segway tour is that it does not require admission to DCA, but if you do not have a park ticket you are escorted out of the park at the end of the tour.)

So…what's it like riding a Segway? Lots of fun. 🙂 The Segway reacts instantly to very small changes in the rider's balance/orientation – it almost seems to read your mind – think about going forward and it goes forward, think about turning and it turns. The Segway uses a fully redundant system of gyroscopes, microprocessors and tilt sensors to maintain the balance of the rider. It makes 100 balance adjustments per second – even though we may think we are standing perfectly still, our bodies are making lots of adjustments themselves – we just aren't aware of it. By leaning slightly forward the Segway moves forward, and the more you lean, the faster it goes. Segways have a maximum speed of 12 mph, though ours were limited to 5 mph. Leaning back moves backwards, and when standing upright it remains still. The new Segway i2 model has a different steering mechanism than the ones I used before – in the old model you twisted the left hand grip left or right to turn, but in the new models the handlebar column pivots left and right and you lean left or right (which moves the column) to turn. Probably that's a bit more intuitive, though I never had any issues with the old steering mechanism.

They really are amazingly easy to learn to use – even the most timid users in our group looked like they'd been riding them for years after a very short time.

I mentioned earlier that I would write more later about the differences in the new Segways and the Epcot tour versus the DCA tour…I alluded to a couple of differences in the Segways already – no carrying pouch, and a different turning mechanism.

  • The new ones also have a keyless remote – instead of the "smiley face" display being on the Segway, it's on the key, and you simply push the button to turn the Segway on.
  • Before you can step on the Segway after turning it on it has to be balanced – and the new ones have a set of balance indicator lights on the base that tell you if you need to move the handle forward or back or left or right.
  • As soon as you set one foot on the Segway it goes into balance mode, and when you step off it goes into power assist mode.
  • With the pivoting handlebar column I think the new ones are a little more difficult for a first-timer to get onto – try as you might there's a tendency to tilt the handlebars left or right, which starts the thing turning as soon as you set foot on it.

Tour differences:

  • Even though it's a bit skimpy, the continental breakfast served before the DCA tour was a nice bonus.
  • All of the training is done outside at DCA, vs indoors at Epcot. I'm not sure what they would do if it were raining…but then "it never rains in southern California", right?
  • Better-fitting skateboard helmets instead of bike helmets.
  • I think the initial training at Epcot might be just a bit more challenging – certainly the slalom portion, with an oval of cones 3' apart, was more challenging than the shorter, further-spaced cone course we had at DCA.
  • The tour is about 30 minutes longer at DCA than at Epcot – about 2:30, and pretty close to 2 hours actually on board the Segway.
  • The DCA tour has a much larger and more interesting area for riders to explore during their free time – I remember getting pretty bored by the end of my Epcot time, but could've stayed longer in the Paradise Pier area.
  • There are no guests in the park during the tour, which gave us more freedom to ride around and not have to follow the tour guides in single file at the beginning and end of the tour (mainly to avoid guests who are completely oblivious of the fact that there is a gang of Segway riders closing in on them). Of course, that also meant we didn't get the chance to lord it over the other guests, and Disney loses out on a marketing opportunity!
  • Getting a copy of the group photo at the end of the tour was a very nice surprise.

Was it worth the money? Absolutely! This makes the third Segway tour I've done (twice at Epcot) and all three times I've had a lot of fun.

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