Walt Disney World Resort in Florida’s brand new NBA Experience had its grand opening on 12 August, with big-name athletes from the National Basketball Association and Women’s National Basketball Association in attendance, plus a surprise visit from Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse in their sportswear finest.
Instead of focusing on well-known players, though, the whole experience is about you, and it’s designed to give guests the feeling they are “entering the world of professional basketball” through 13 different activities spread throughout the two-storey building.
The experience starts when you walk through a tunnel similar to the tunnels through which sports stars enter the court. And, in fact, Center Court is the first place you see, and you can choose your direction from there. The first floor has five challenges, and the second floor (accessible via twin stairways or by elevator) has an additional eight, so you’re going to want to spend a few hours here, at least!
So what’s in store? The chance to test and improve your shooting, dunking, dribbling and trophy-lifting skills, just to start with, plus arcade games, trivia games, and even a ‘selfie’ with a lifelike version of NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
But wait. There’s more. Here are the highlights, which are accessed by tapping your admission card on a scanner to activate each challenge:
Dribble!: You won’t get far as a basketball player without knowing the basic skill of dribbling the ball, but even those who have never held a basketball before will come away from this tutorial feeling successful. Your [video] ‘coach’ demonstrates the skill you’ll be performing, building on basic handling and dribbling all the way up to advanced ‘trick’ dribbling, and be assured, it’s a workout! Don’t be surprised if the youngsters in your group have as much or more stamina as the adults as each tutorial gets harder and harder to do.
Dunk!: The basketball photos that make the sports section’s front page are usually the ones involving slam dunks, and this time you get to be the star. Because the hoops are on height-adjustable backboards, it doesn’t matter if you’re 3-foot tall or 7-foot tall; it’s all about style—and the cameras are rolling, so you’re sure to have live footage of your perfect slam dunk!
Slingshot: Remember when you were a kid and your best chance at getting the ball through the hoop was by cradling it in both hands and launching it upward as hard as you could? This is a variation on that theme, but even more fun because the ball is in a slingshot, and you can get a lot of momentum going! Challenge yourself, or go up against other players in this family-friendly version even young children will enjoy.
Shoot!: This is where it all gets real, and the pressure of the game is on your shoulders. Stand on half of a full-sized court, with the ‘crowd’ cheering you on, and see how many shots you can make before the clock runs out.
Combine: How does your reach and your jump compare to professional players? Find out in this challenge that also lets you toss the ball into the net—and then sends it right back to you for another go.
Draft: You’ve done it! You passed the test, and you’ve been drafted by the NBA or the WNBA! Now it’s Draft Day, and it’s your turn to have a photo taken with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
Replay: Maybe you’re more cut out to be the part of the replay review team than the player, or maybe you’re a couch critic who doesn’t always agree with the call. Either way, this is your chance to take over the replay booth and either confirm the referee’s call as it stands or overturn the call.
Players: This mock locker room gives you a look at team rosters, records, highlights, and jerseys, including, of course, a locker for Central Florida’s own Orlando Magic team.
Champions: The final payoff for all your hard work? Lifting the NBA Championship Trophy or the MVP Trophy. Which will you have your photo taken with? (Hint: why not lift both?)
Trivia: You’ve proven your skills on the court, now you can earn bragging rights for knowing more about the past and present of the NBA and WNBA than your competitors in this multi-player, real-time competition of wits.
The smallest guests aren’t forgotten here, either, with a mini version of a shoot-around. The ball and hoop are sized just right for little hands, and you may find you have your own basketball superstar in the making!
There are also two inspirational 180-degree cinematic experiences to enjoy, ‘Game Time’ and ‘Together’ plus an interactive games arcade that includes Pop-A-Shot and current NBA video games. And, when you’re done, drop by the NBA Store and take something home to honour your favourite team.
All that exercise is sure to work up an appetite (and a thirst!) and you’re in the right place for that, too. Disney Springs now features 62 excellent options for grabbing a snack, having a quick bite to eat, enjoying a full-service meal designed by a celebrity chef, indulging in a scrummy cupcake or a decadent pastry, or just relaxing with a cocktail, a balmy breeze and a view of pretty Lake Buena Vista.
Whether you’re looking for rainy-day fun, time out of the sun, or another way to make magical memories, you’ll find a totally unique experience here that the whole family can enjoy.
The NBA Experience is in Disney Springs West Side, across from House of Blues, and it’s open from noon to 11pm Sun-Thurs, 11.30pm Fri-Sat. Entry and card for game play is $34 adults, $29 ages 3 to 9, excluding tax. Under 3s free.
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