How I Cracked the Code at Disney World and Figured Out How the Magic Happens
Several years ago we went to Disney World right before Christmas -- two weeks before to be exact. That's a time of the year when the parks are really slow (hardly anyone there). When the park wants to include visitors in their shows, escapades, events, etc. they have to really go looking for folks. On that ONE TRIP (over seven days) we got asked to be in THREE DIFFERENT EVENTS between Disney World and Universal Studios. That's A LOT. I go to theme parks all the time and I've never been picked.
Anyway, one of the things that we got to do is be in the Animal Kingdom Christmas parade. We were on the first float.
The wife and I were sitting there waiting for the parade to start backstage when we started a causal conversation about how the floats work. Everything is beat-matched with the music. As the float moves all the music stays in sync, the floats stay in sync, everything moves flawlessly, but how? There were no wires.
I told her how I thought it tones. In radio broadcasting we use tones to fire off automated systems. There's a sensor wired so that when a particular hertz of tone goes off, it sets off a reaction.
Anyway, I was explaining this theory to my wife when the guy standing next to us, who must have overheard our conversation, speaks up and says, "Yeah, you're right."
I asked, "How do you know?"
He said, "Because I'm the guy who designed it. I'm the head engineer for Disney World."
Hear that? That's the sound of my jaw dropping to the floor and eyes popping out of my head.
He explained how in Disneyland and Disney World a remote tone system with receivers in floats, buildings, rides, etc. is tied to a hard drive. When the receivers get a certain tone, it starts the music. That's how they sync up "It's a Small World" and all the floats, Pirates of the Caribbean -- they use it all over the place, honestly.
It was a cool moment, getting to sit and talk with one of the creators of the technology that makes all the magic happen in one of the greatest theme parks in all the world.