I really had a great time. With all of the stress over a pretty high profile lawsuit that I've been involved in ... it was nice to get away and relax. I hadn't been on vacation in a very long time - at least somewhere that wasn't completely business related. (Although I hope to take some of my expenses off of my taxes because of my review here - more on that at the end.)
Our first full day in Orlando (a Sunday) we went to Universal Studios. Over and over I heard several recommendations to go to Islands Of Adventure - a roller coaster theme park at Universal Studios. Truthfully, I'm not that big of a fan of rollercoasters. I mean I will ride them and I enjoy them ... but I don't get excited about going on a roller coaster. I enjoy educational rides or live theatrical productions. It was interesting to see in our free morning paper (I think it was the Orlando Sentinel) that the attendance to Islands Of Adventure was WAY down over the past few weeks and the attendance to DisneyWorld was up significantly.
I had fun at Universal Studios. The Revenge Of The Mummy Ride is the single most terrifying ride/rollercoaster I've ever been on. It's certainly worth the long wait. I was really looking forward to getting to ride Back To The Future - only to find out it had been closed permanently for replacement the day before our arrival. I originally rode this the week Universal Studios opened and again in 1996 and in 1999. It was one of my favorite motion simulator rides and a lot of fun - adding a unique extra story to one of my favorite movies - The Back To The Future Trilogy. It's interesting to see that Universal abandoned one of their most appealing franchises.
I enjoyed the Terminator 3D experience - but I noted that it's interesting that Universal would choose to keep an attraction based on a trilogy of rated R films and abandon a ride based on a trilogy of PG films that is also appealing to just about every age group and generation.
One of the silliest (and most boring) rides I've ever been on is the ride based on Men In Black - Universal should be ashamed of this - it may appeal to kids a little - I just think Men In Black has a lot more potential for a ride experience than this particular venue gives. I had fun on every ride and at every presentation at Universal ... this ride just cheapened everything though.
Universal also has a VERY lame locker storage for all of their more intense rides. Men In Black was one such ride. You had to leave anything that is not an item of clothing in a locker controlled by a fingerprint. This system didn't work on the two rides these lockers were at and we had to get an attendant both times to assist in unlocking our lockers. This was frustrating and wasted a good 30 minutes of our time. Plus ... I noticed that if you had to store your items in the locker longer than 2 hours you were charged $1.25 per 30 minutes beyond 2 hours. This made me nervous while in line for The Revenge Of The Mummy Ride as the ride shut down 3 times. There was no announcement about whether we would have to pay for the lockers or not. Fortunately we finished with 4 minutes to spare on the ride. With Men In Black - this locker system only added insult to injury after getting off. For this reason - I recommend NOT taking anything other than a lap belt or hip pouch to Universal.
I'm also perplexed as to why when the new King Kong came out in 2005 that they would remove THAT awesome ride too. (The Revenge Of The Mummy Ride took the place of King Kong)
Not much of Universal is memorable to me from my trip. In a small way ... I almost feel I didn't get my money's worth. I enjoy making fun of the rides as an adult though and actually understanding how many of the rides work.
One of the best moments at Universal was seeing a Lucille Ball lookalike .... she was very entertaining and spot on. I hope some way some day - Universal will find this review and give her a raise.
On to all things Disney. Let me start off by saying you should try to stay in one park an entire day. I wouldn't recommend doing the park hopping ticket. If you don't see everything - you have a reason to come back. If you have an abbreviated trip .... choose one or two of the four parks and come back for the others another time.
If you are going to be going to a park and departing during that same day - I suggest you make The Animal Kingdom your last park to visit on your last day because most activities end at around 7PM. If your last day involves a final night's stay - I highly recommend making Disney MGM Studios your final park to visit because of the Fantasmic show. This show is a perfect ending to your trip. It involves just about every character from every Disney film in visuals, stage and theater, music, fireworks, water, fire, props, boats, dancing - Disney even says it's the most expensive show that runs 300+ days a year EVER! You'll see why. Plus, this show is a great comparison to other nightly shows at The Magic Kingdom such as The Electrical Light Parade and Million Dreams Fireworks and Epcot's nightly fireworks display over the lake.
I'll do my review of Disney by way of The Good ... The Bad ... The Ugly ...
DisneyWorld in Orlando has aged - and it's noticeable .. but unlike Universal Studios and your typical older rollercoaster theme park - Disney plants flowers, and keeps the parks nearly spotless clean. Eventhough you see people walking everywhere - you feel like you can eat directly off of all the walkways and not get a single speck of dirt in your food.
The Animal Kingdom is the new theme park standard to beat in my opinion.
The "Tree of Life" in the center of The Animal Kingdom is single most beautiful thing I have ever seen. It's so beautiful it almost makes you cry - that is not an exaggeration. The size of the tree is amazing ... the detail breathtaking ... and the venue of the Bug's Life Theater in it's roots is a very entertaining and somewhat educational 3D movie.
In DinoLand USA (inside Animal Kingdom) - the ride there reminds me of one of my favorite movies - A Sound Of Thunder. If the critics had not ruined this movie and making it go to a direct to video release I think it would be a great tie in to this ride as it has similar elements. It's interesting to see that Disney more or less tried to tie this in to Dinosaur! - a flopped CGI Disney movie from 2000.
Expedition Everest located in The Animal Kingdom is the new roller coaster to beat in my opinion. It doesn't exploit extreme drops or turning you upside down ... it's just a very fun thrill ride - that could compete with any roller coaster I've ever been on .... but adds Disney theatrics (an abominable snowman) to the ride.
The Lion King Celebration Show is an actual part of the broadway production - enhanced a bit with some live interaction from the audience. This show has incredible production value and is a must see. It also gives you a little bit of time to relax.
As for Epcot - the international pavilion has always been a fantastic source of entertainment. Hourly, there are performers at each country's "section" - we managed to catch some "war drum performances" at the Japanese Pavilion that were amazing. Disney also uses the venues at The International Pavilion in Epcot to showcase characters such as Jasmine, Belle, Cinderella, Ariel, and others signing autographs and available for pictures.
In the Deland Pavilion at Epcot make sure you take the "Behind The Seeds Tour" - this is a great look at the agriculture of Disney World and is a great history of agriculture in the United States.
I've been to Disney MGM Studios twice now (including this trip) and still not managed to see The Car Stunt Show. It looks amazing. I got to see a small piece of it while on The Behind The Scenes Tour. The Behind The Scenes Tour is a good ride - make sure not to miss it. Similarly - The Great Movie Ride is well ... great - I particularly liked this ride for the nostalgia of Casablanca, The Wizard Of Oz, John Wayne, and Aliens.
The Twilight Zone Tower Of Terror at Disney MGM Studios is really good - but it does require a good stomach. I like the detail put into this ride and the fact that it's significantly different each time you ride it because of randomizing different elements to ride - this makes this a unique ride to experience.
And of course - I have to mention Fantasmic at Disney MGM Studios again. I think you will find this production so good that you would pay the Disney ticket price just to see it.
As for the Magic Kingdom - The Hall Of Presidents has always been a favorite of mine - I enjoyed President Bush's speech about freedom. It is very very cool to see each US President nod when their name is called.
The updated Pirates Of The Caribbean is entertaining.
I also like The Carrousel Of Progress. This was Walt Disney's FIRST ride. He used it to exhibit to investors for DisneyLand and DisneyWorld - showing them that robots could perform without pay and wouldn't have to rehearse or be replaced like humans. It's an interesting concept of a rotating theater. I was happy to hear that it had been brought back by popular demand - as it was scheduled to be replaced.
The bright spot of the Magic Kingdom (that is new) is Mickey's PhilharMagic - a 3D experience based on Fantasia. I really really liked this.
DisneyWorld in Orlando has aged - and it's noticeable ... there are obvious overstrokes with paint brushes. To me ... even as a child - I loved how everything looked new at Disney World. I appreciate all the detail and effort Disney puts into it's theme parks, but some areas just look rushed to keep maintained.
The Animal Kingdom has a big issue and obviously Disney recognizes it - food selection. Just about the only thing to eat at The Animal Kingdom is McDonald's French Fries - called Petrofries and naked hot dogs with no chili. Two large restaurants were under construction while I was there that would open in late June of 2007. The only bright side to food in The Animal Kingdom is that there is high availability of frozen bananas. These are AWESOME. They are good for you and they will help prevent any cramps you may get from walking all day.
Epcot is just all over disappointing now. It's out of date, out of touch, and lost it's focus. Epcot wasn't about Disney characters. Epcot was about the future and about how knowledge of the past will help us in the future. The Universe Of Energy is outdated and doesn't reflect advancements in energy technology from the past decade. It's become a comedy show put on by Ellen Degeneris and Bill Nye: The Science Guy - someone whom none of the kids around me even had heard of.
Spaceship Earth was one of my favorite rides as a child and teenager. The mickey mouse hand looks out of place and stupid hanging on the side of the sphere and takes away from the architectural beauty that it is. The audio was off sync and barely audible and the cars clunked loudly as we ascended though the sphere. The ending is outdated. It was cool in the 80's, almost current in the 90's, and is now so last century. We are living in the future that the ride says isn't too far away. It's not even fun to watch in a retro kind of way. An interesting side note. A "child of the future" is using a PowerBook 145b from 1993 to talk to his friends via instant message - something that I don't think could be done.
A newer ride called Mission Space at Epcot was nauseating. It was interesting to see the warnings that were with the ride. You had to sign a waiver, carry a card with warnings in your hand the entire wait in line, and were warned 4 times before entering ride that it was an "intense". It's also interesting to note that the ride is based on a flopped movie from 2000 with Gary Sinise (who is part of the presentation of the ride) called Mission To Mars. This equals BAD MOVIE / BAD RIDE! (Note that this ride is the only ride I've ever seen with barf bags on it.)
Disney MGM Studios used to have a great THX sound studio experience ... now it's some kind of lame show with Drew Carey. The headphones used to be professional quality headphones ... now they are so junky they may not even match the quality of Dollar Tree headphones.
The Star Wars ride at Disney MGM Studios is cool on the outside, cool on the inside, but the ride is NOT worth the wait. The ride looks like a video. I would expect a much better movie simulator ride out of George Lucas - who runs the greatest visual effects studio of all time. I also don't get why they use a robot inside the ride that isn't in any of the movies. Take pictures of this ride - but skip it if you don't have the time.
I love the MuppetVision theater - however ... at one point in "the show" there are bubbles being blown everywhere. The majority of the bubbles are 3D effects. I noticed a bubble blower in the ceiling putting out real bubbles. My home bubble blower blows more bubbles than it was blowing out. Luckily I've been to this before and got to sit in a better part of the theater that time. I was on the edge during this performance and was little disppointed because I couldn't see all of the live action or the majority of the 3D effects. Make sure to let people funnel past you or go to row of seats that has enough people walking down it that you will be approximately in the middle. By the third 3D theater had this down to a science - although I got shafted by a group that stopped in the middle during MuppetVision.
In the Magic Kingdom ... all of the rides in Fantasyland are outdated, they are silly to today's standards.
In Tomorrowland - Disney has gone way off focus - it's no longer a vision of the future - it's some wierd mix of Monsters Inc/Lilo & Stitch and Space Mountain. I was very disappointed in how TomorrowLand has turned into "What-The-Heck-Is-This Place-Land". I honestly had to keep looking at the map to see where we were.
DisneyWorld in Orlando has aged - and it's noticeable ... Epcot is outdated and out of focus. The rides are a mish mash of Disney movies and the "not so distant future" as seen from the early 80's. In one venue, Ellen Degeneris is holding up a Motorola cellphone that is as big as her head!
I honestly have nothing "ugly" to say about The Animal Kingdom. As I said, I'm impressed. I do think they could integrate The Jungle Book and Bambi more into the themes there. Everything is really focused around The Lion King.
Epcot gets the UGLY TROPHY. My biggest disappointment this whole trip was my favorite park from my youth. The hand on the sphere, Pirates Of The Caribbean merchandise for sale everywhere - what do those things have to do with The Earth and The Future - the original focus of Epcot?
The Living Seas has turned into a weird ride where you get into a clamshell and I kid you not - look at Rays, Starfish and BRIM!!!! The Living Seas used to be called Seabase Alpha (once inside) and was suppose to be what it was going to be like in the future when we lived in space AND under water and how we will understand the ocean more than we do today. About the only enjoyable part of this venue any more is the seagulls outside. It used to have a live dive tank where a scuba diver would come down a tube and wave then go in and feed some of the marine life. Now that tube sits empty and if you didn't know - you wonder what it's for!
Body Works was closed - I loved this venue as a child or at least I think I did. I can't remember much from it. I suppose it is too educational of a venue to have open.
Journey Into Imagination used a have a fanciful ride with a kind of Willy Wonka character and a little dragon called Figment. Now it has Figment - but he seems to be the figment of the imagination of Stephen King's Carrie - the ride is a step backwards as far as ride innovation and design - it isn't much more technological than "It's A Small World". I also remember Journey Into Imagination having a great Micheal Jackson 3D musical called Captain Elo. I suppose he isn't politically correct any more. Now the 3D show is a pretty boring "Honey I Shrunk The Kids" show. Interesting to note - the gift shop that you must walk through exiting the theater - is all full of Pirates Of The Caribbean merchandise.
The World Of Motion at Epcot used to have a great ride that was a history of the automobile and transit ... now it's been turned into a lame race track that speaks of nothing educational or about the history or future of transportation
The American Experience at Epcot is my favorite experience in all of DisneyWorld. It's a great history of the United States told by a robotic Ben Franklin and Mark Twain with a dozen or so set changes and appearances by (robotic) famous people throughout American History. The theater for this "show" was only half full. I think it's a real reflection on American culture. Similarly - The Hall Of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom was only half full as well.
While in the line for Mission Space at Epcot I noticed something interesting. The ride was sponsored by HP. All of the plasma monitors telling you more about "your mission" were HP. However, the computer keyboards in the mock up "control rooms" were all Apple PowerBook 1400 keyboards. I know you can't see it well in this picture - it was very dark ... but trust me there was an Apple logo instead of a Windows key - what you would find on an HP computer.
In Disney MGM Studios - on the Backlot Studio Tour ... you get to see all sorts of places where they sew real clothes for Disney cast members and for various movies and TV shows that are taped there. In 4 or so places there were GIANT banners that said "June 9-15 HP Media Event" - under EVERY ONE of these signs - the computer was an Apple PowerMac G5.
Why doesn't Disney do anything with The Chronicles Of Narnia? It was a mega success worldwide. The only thing that related to Narnia was a lame 15 minute walk through a bunch of trees that had two "highlight films" showing on screens. It was the biggest waste of time to wait 30 minutes in a line for nothing! If you're reading this skip this - you don't even get to sit down!
I really wish Disney would take a cue from DisneyLand in California and build an Indiana Jones Ride and center The Jungle Cruise around it. We skipped the Jungle Cruise because there's just no way it could compare to the real animals in The Animal Kingdom on it's Jungle Safari.
In The Magic Kingdom - inside TomorrowLand - is The Lilo & Stitch experience. This is the worst ride in the history of rides. First it's boring, second you are confined in your seat forcefully by a shoulder bar. And lastly - there is a point when the lights are out and the area is completely pitch black dark. Stitch (a Disney character) burps and the room smells aweful - with the shock to your senses of the lights being out - this almost made me throw up and honestly it ruined my whole day at The Magic Kingdom . Again, I still had fun ... but I was just disappointed because this was one of the first things we did. The other interesting thing is that Lilo & Stitch was not a huge success for Disney - anything based on that movie just seems out of place with the blockbusters everything else is based on.
I'll have some final thoughts in one more post that I'll make by the end of the week.