Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Florida trip report continues...


I got up at 7 so that J. and I could make it to the Disney-MGM Studios by the opening time of 9:00. My Number One Tip for seeing everything you want to see at Disney World is to get there early. You can get a lot done the first couple of hours a park is open - wait times, even for the major attractions are short, fastpasses are plentiful and the parks are more pleasant when they're not wall-to-wall people. If you're doing Disney, you're better off getting up early, going to the parks for a few hours, then returning to your hotel for the busiest part of the afternoon for a nap rather than sleeping in.

The morning was overcast and a bit drizzly, but we didn't let that stop us, and I suspected that it might keep the crowds down a bit. This was also ESPN: The Weekend, and there was a ton of sports related programing going on at the Studios all weekend long. I had a backup plan that if the park got unbearably crowded that we would hop over to Epcot or Animal Kingdom for the rest of the day.

We got there and did notice a fair amount of ESPN theming around the park. The biggest difference was a big stage set up in front of the Great Movie Ride, which was being used for player interviews by ESPN personalities during the day. There were also going to be special "sports only" games at Who Wants to be a Millionaire and an interactive play area. We spent quite a bit of time in the interactive area. J. had a good time hitting in a batting cage, doing some fly casting and playing some other games. I had a good time checking out "ESPN: The Truck" and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders who showed up to visit. During the course of the day we also saw some famous athletes, including Jerry Rice, Artis Gillmore and Mary Lou Retton, among others.

We managed to make it on quite a few attractions during the course of the day. Instead of going through them chronologically, I thought I'd just make a few comments on each ride we took.

Rock 'n' Roller Coaster: This is my new favorite ride at Disney. Great theming, great Aerosmith music and a really cool ride. It's a roller coaster that's in the dark. You go through a couple of inversions, but you can't really tell because it's dark. The ride is very smooth and we both really enjoyed it, although J. just barely made the height requirement.

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror: Another great ride. I'm a big fan of the original Twilight Zone TV show, so I love the theming here, too. The most publicized part of the ride is the multiple drops in the "elevator" (and you can actually feel yourself lift off the seat - the car is pushed down at a speed greater than gravity so you are actually weightless for a couple of seconds), but I just love the look of the place and the whole backstory that goes along with the ride.

Star Tours: Off to a galaxy far, far away. Maybe my best "suspension of disbelief" ride, as I can actually allow myself to believe for a few seconds that I'm rocketing around in a Star Wars spaceship. It may be a bit dated, but there are tons of little touches that I really enjoy. The full-sized AT-AT standing outside the entrance is just too cool. Good gift shop, too. J. picked up a lightsabre as his souvenir from the trip.

The Great Movie Ride: I'm a big movie buff, so I always enjoy this one. It's a tour through great moments in movie history and includes audio-animatronic scenes from movies like Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, Singin' in the Rain, Raiders of the Lost Ark and others. J. was a bit freaked out by the Alien section, especially when the "steam" started blasting at us from the ceiling.

The Magic of Disney Animation: This is an interesting show with a live narrator and the animated character Mushu from the movie Mulan (voiced by Eddie Murphy). It explains how an animated character evolves from the writer's first ideas for the character to what you see in the final film. After the show we then got to meet Mr. and Mrs. Incredible and Frozone from The Incredibles, which was a big hit with J. They also had some interactive voice and art stations that we played around with for a bit.

Disney-MGM Studios Backlot Tour: A nice behind the scenes look at how movies are made and a tram ride that takes you through Catastrophe Canyon, where you are subjected to floods, fire, explosions and an earthquake all at once! I like going through the "boneyard" on this tour, where old movie vehicles are stored and the big prop storage room. I noticed familiar props from a number of movies, including the rocket pack and helmet from The Rocketeer.

Walt Disney: One Man's Dream: J. was too impatient to hang with this for long, but I could have easily stayed a lot longer. It's basically a Walt Disney museum, with lots of exhibits arranged in a timeline and cool stuff to look at. There's also a movie, which we didn't watch, but I'd like to see it someday.

We also stopped in to see Mickey Mouse. I had bought a get well card for R. that I wanted to get some characters to sign, so we got Mickey (who signed it "Your Pal") and the Incredibles to sign.

Lunch was a hoot. We went to the '50s Prime Time Cafe, which is themed to look like a 1950's suburban kitchen. The theme even carries on to the staff. When your table is ready they call for the "Smith Kids". The wait staff play either mom or an aunt or uncle. They make you set the table, admonish you for bad manners and make you eat your vegetables, or no dessert. We didn't have dessert, but the dessert menu comes on a Viewmaster. The food was decent. I had a turkey sandwich and J. had chicken nuggets and both were pretty good.

One of the best memories of the trip came from our meal. J. put his elbows on the table and our "mom" told him not to do that. He asked me why, and I explained that it was rude, but it wasn't really a rule we enforced. Later on, I put my elbows on the table, and J. reminded me, but the waitress wasn't around. So when she came back J. tattled on me! "Mom" said, "Shame on you, Dad." and J. had a huge grin on his face. He still smiles whenever I tell the story.

Around 3:00, J. was starting to run out of steam so we headed home. We had pretty much seen everything we wanted (the Indiana Jones show was the only thing we decided to skip; I would have liked to have seen the Muppets 3D show, but J. wasn't interested.) We went back to the car and headed back to Mom & Dad's house.

They had someplace to go that evening, so I took J. to Wendy's for dinner. I was reminded by how slow fast food restaurants are in the south. I think the Wendy's on Boylston St. in Boston could have served about 100 people in the time it took this one to serve 5. After dinner, we went home and got to bed. Our original plan was to go to my brother's house on Saturday and do the Magic Kingdom on Sunday, but torrential rain was predicted for Sunday so we switched the days.


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