2023: Florida, Man

Orlando, Part 2

March 6-12

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We took the weekend off for some much-needed rest. My knees are not getting any younger and six-hour stretches on my feet aren't helping.

The next endurance test was Disney Hollywood Studios. It was going to be a long day because of some sub-optimal scheduling I'd done. We started with an early lunch at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. The whole place is a simulated drive-in theater where the tables are "cars" all facing the same direction, fake car-speakers hang nearby, and a big screen at the front shows trailers from the worst 50's sci-fi movies ever made. Robot Monster, Plan 9 from Outer Space, all the biggies. It gave me flashbacks of my teenage years, going to the drive-in every weekend.

A gaggle of Storm Troopers.

After lunch, we headed to the big new thing here called Galaxy's Edge, a Star Wars-themed section that is long on atmosphere but short on entertainment value. Rise of the Resistance is the big-ticket item here, and it's certainly different from anything I've seen before. After a short "ride" on a transport vehicle, riders are "taken prisoner" by the Empire for interrogation, then liberated by the resistance. The sets are incredibly elaborate and the last part takes place on trackless vehicles that can follow different paths, making the experience different each time. I can see why devotees would come back to this one again and again.

Naturally Disney has found a way to monetize this devotion; Rise of the Resistance is one of the popular rides where you can purchase an "Individual Lightning Lane". So for an extra $20, you get to skip the long line. But only once per day, and only for this one attraction. I guess they figure devotion has its limits.

Less elaborate than RotR but more fun was the 4-D Star Tours ride on a transport simulator, with realistic heart-in-mouth jumps into and out of light-speed.


We left outer space behind for more recognizable Hollywood. MuppetVision 3-D was a fun short film featuring the Muppets. We actually went twice, to get some extra sit-down time between other attractions. It was cute and corny and smile-inducing.

The Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular...wasn't. Too much talking, explaining, and phoning in the fights and stunts. I learned it's been around since 1989, and it looks very tired and sad, especially when compared to the Bourne Stuntacular at Universal. In fact, I was starting to realize I'd underappreciated Universal while we were there. It now looked pretty damn good in comparison.

We had tried to ride Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway twice, but both times it was out of commission. ( This apparently happens frequently with some of the rides, particularly the trackless ones where the cars are controlled wirelessly.) We finally got in on our third try and we'd ridden the "train" through the first two "rooms" when...(sad trombone) womp, womp. Our car stopped dead, the screens went blank, and the lights came on. Broken again.

Now began one of the more interesting experiences we had. A cast member, dressed naturally like an engineer, came up behind us and announced they'd be escorting us out. They instructed us not to take pictures or video, which Mike of course ignored, so he got some snaps of the bare concrete interior with all the pixie dust removed.


The 'tornado'. Lots of projector windows! Fake tracks. Empty queues.
No cigar. Conga!

Our car was the first one they emptied; then it was systematically on to other areas to empty other cars. We ended up at the head of a very long single-file line snaking back into the building. I resisted the urge to throw my hands in the air and yell, "Conga!" Ta-ta-ta-ta-tah, UNHH!

The cast member leading us out explained that at any one time, they have forty -- forty! -- ride vehicles on the floor. Each vehicle has eight people, so that's a LOT of people to empty out. No wonder it stays closed so much!

It seems like poor design that there is no simpler way to restart the ride. In any case, we had a fascinating look behind the scenes, more interesting than the actual ride. We never went back for a fourth try.

We watched an abbreviated stage version of Beauty and the Beast, about a half hour long; it was just OK. What I remember most was the weirdness of hearing the recorded voices of so many dead people -- Jerry Orbach as Lumiere, David Ogden Stiers as Cogsworth, and Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts.

We were killing time before the evening show Fantasmic, so we stood in line for the Tower of Terror. I didn't remember, but Mike said we had been on it before. It's a very short thrill ride, but if you like the feeling of an elevator dropping out from under you, this one's for you. I loved it.

Fantasmic stage. Full house.

We arrived early -- too early -- for Fantasmic. We had purchased a dining package which allowed us into a center section for the show; at first it looked as though I'd wasted my money because the very large amphitheater was nearly empty. But then we watched as wave after wave of people poured into the rows, directed by the many staff members.

The show was elaborate, but unsatisfying; it combined projection of film onto watersprays with enormous puppets and live actors, presenting a series of effects-heavy vignettes from Disney movies. I left with the impression that I'd just seen a 30-minute commercial for Disney films. It worked, I guess; I'm ready to see all the films again, mostly because I think they'd hold up better than the parks experiences.


Komodo dragon. Giant fruit bat. White-cheeked gibbons.

One last park to visit, Disney's Animal Kingdom. From the minute we entered, we liked this park the best. At first you wander through lush greenery that's just short of a rainforest. Along the way there are habitats where you may or may not see an animal. We got only a glimpse of the giant anteater but I did catch Mr. K. Dragon in mid-flick.


African gray parrot.  Grey crowned crane.

We saw a wonderful bird show with many amazing free-flying animals. There was a flock of macaws that flew randomly back and forth overhead for 30 minutes before the show, with no handlers in sight. I have no idea how they trained some of the more exotic birds, like the grey crowned crane. The two "handlers" were pretty good comedians too.


The literal centerpiece of Animal Kingdom is the Tree of Life from the Avatar movie. But that's just the beginning: there's a whole area called Pandora where they've done an amazing job of creating the floating islands from the movie.


 
 

I had to miss the big-ticket ride in Pandora, Avatar Flight of Passage. It simulates riding on the back of a banshee, the giant dragon-like creatures in the movie, and based on my Harry Potter experience I knew what would happen.



We had one final appointment at Disney's Fort Wilderness: the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, an old-timey music-hall show. To call this show corny would be an insult to corn, but it had its moments and the kids loved it. Half the performers were very good, the others were trying too hard, but none appeared to be phoning it in so I appreciated the effort and energy even when the jokes fell flat.