Theme Park Insider

A Californian's Florida Adventure - Part 2

Edited: October 27, 2017, 5:01 PM · To those just joining, click here to start at Part 1.

To many theme park enthusiasts, Walt Disney World is the destination everyone must visit at least once. With four theme parks, two waterparks, and numerous other entertainment options, it is not difficult to spend a week or more here. I have looked forward to a visit to this resort for over 10 years, and up until a few years ago the plan was to do it the way most experience Disney...stay on site for 5-6 nights and don't leave property during that time. However, like most destination theme parks, Walt Disney World is expensive, and for that reason the ideal Disney experience just wasn't within reach for me.

My original itinerary for this trip included only three days at Walt Disney World, using park hopping to get to all four parks in that time. However, I felt that would be a bit rushed for a first visit, so I decided to cut out another park to allow for four at the world (for anyone curious, Wild Adventures, a mid-size park on the Florida/Georgia border that would have been a long day trip, is what got cut). As luck would have it, my trip happened to coincide with the period when WDW offered the four park Magic Ticket, allowing for one day at each of the theme parks at a lower price than the three day hopper. The only downside was that these tickets expired on September 30th, forcing Disney into the first half of the trip rather than spread throughout as originally intended.

So, where did I spend my first day at Walt Disney World?

Part 2: Disney's Pixar/Lucasfilm Construction Adventure...and more

As Disney's Hollywood Studios is almost universally considered the weakest of the four Walt Disney Word parks, I was a bit hesitant to make it my first experience at the resort. Despite my best efforts, however, there was no itinerary where it made sense to do it later. Plus, Evan didn't arrive until the morning before visiting, so I figured a half-day park might be a good option after an overnight flight.

For this day, we were joined by Andrew and his girlfriend Brittney, so after picking Evan up at the airport I returned to the house to get them, and then we headed off to the park. We arrived a few minutes after opening and headed into the park.

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Back in 2012, I had the opportunity to visit Disneyland Paris during a family trip to Europe. While most of my time was spent inside Disneyland Park, I did spend the first couple hours of the day in Walt Disney Studios Park, and my initial expectation was that Disney's Hollywood Studios would feel similar. However, that turned out to be far from accurate.

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My first impressions of DHS were that it actually felt more like DCA...well, the Hollywood Land of DCA. After passing through an entrance nearly identical to the one at Disneyland's second gate, I proceeded down Hollywood Boulevard. Other than the lack of the Red Car Trolley, it felt very much like California's Hollywood Land.

However, that impression ended at the end of the street. Despite a nice entrance area, much of the rest of DHS had a fairly generic movie studio feel, more like the Upper Lot of Universal Studios Hollywood than anything at another Disney park. Yes, the park was nicely themed, but there was little that stood out as memorable about that aspect.

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We started our day with Toy Story Midway Mania, a ride I always enjoy in California. While Florida's features an indoor queue line and an extra ride track, the ride experience is pretty much identical. What's not identical is the operations...in California, I've rarely seen a wait over an hour for the ride even with the implementation of Fastpass. In Florida, we waited over 90 minutes (despite the sign at the entrance reading 40), and while there may have been other issues at play (such as a capacity reduction due to mechanical issues), it was still frustrating to spend the morning in line for something I can do at home. Due to the delay, we barely had enough time to use our Fastpasses for Star Tours (also virtually identical to the ride in California), then had to power walk to our lunch destination.

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Every single guide I read prior to the trip stated that counter service restaurants in Walt Disney World were generally poor quality, so I made a point of ensuring we did a full service meal most days. Unfortunately, making reservations two weeks out means slim pickings even in the off-season, so not everything was available. Fortunately, the 50s Prime Time Cafe had plenty of availability, and with recommendations from several family members I opted for it. This turned out to be a great choice, and the meal was among the most fun on the trip. The idea of this restaurant is that Disney's magic has transported you back to the 1950s and you're having a family meal in mother's kitchen. Of course, mother has some strict rules, and if you don't follow them you'll be whipped into shape. I'm pretty sure everyone in the group got caught with their elbows on the table at least once, and Evan got called out for playing with his "toy" at the table. To top it all off, there was a birthday at the table next to us, so we all got to sign a birthday card for the kid. The whole experience was a lot of fun, and the food was quite good as well. While this isn't somewhere that I'd recommend for an individual or couple visiting the parks, if you're there with a group of family or friends it is well worth it, and the price is fairly reasonable by Disney standards.

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After lunch, we still had some time before our Fastpasses for DHS's headliners, so we took in a couple of the park's shows. According to Andrew, the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular was the park's best show, so we headed there first.

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This show recreates famous scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark, showing off the stunt work as well as a behind-the-scenes look at production. The show is entertaining, but it is a bit slow for a stunt show due to the set-up required between scenes, and while some of the production aspects are interesting, they're all things I've seen elsewhere.

Following the show (and a viewing of Voyage to the Little Mermaid), it was time for the main event. Despite its size and current state, DHS was a park I was looking forward to for two reasons: Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Both of these were among my most anticipated rides of the entire trip, and were so important that I would have rescheduled if either was down for maintenance. Fortunately, both were running as normal on the day of our visit.

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First up, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. The day I visited Walt Disney Studios, their version of this ride was down for the day, so I did not get to ride it. Being a coaster enthusiast in addition to a general theme park enthusiast, that was a huge disappointment. Finally, five years later, I got to experience this ride. And, to be completely honest, while the ride was still a good one, I was a bit let down by it. The ride begins with a pretty good launch and a couple quick inversions, but after that it is just a series of helixes past cardboard cutouts. For a multi-inversion launch coaster, the ride is surprisingly tame (at least in my opinion...the average Disney guest may feel differently), with an intensity level closer to the Matterhorn Bobsleds than Paris's Space Mountain (note, however, that I still would not consider this a family coaster). The ride is also a bit rough...not enough to significantly affect the ride, but enough that after two rides I didn't have much desire for a third. On the plus side, I do really like the theme and really like the soundtrack, I just wish the ride was a bit more thrilling and had some modern effects.

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Due to my mild disappointment, I became a little skeptical of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Was this really going to be all it was hyped up to be? Can it be that much better than the one I rode so many times in California? Is it going to make me want to return to DHS in the future? The answer to all of those questions ended up being a big YES!

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From the outside, this version of the Tower looks completely different from those found in California or Paris. Here, the hotel looks more like an actual hotel that had something happen to it, and less like a building that hasn't been fully built. The queue is much longer, winding through the gardens outside before entering the tower, then everything inside feels more like a creepy hotel and less like the stylized slightly-cheesy appearance I was familiar with. But the main component is the ride itself, and that absolutely delivers. Not only does this version feature several scenes not found in the others, the random drop profiles also upped the thrill factor quite a bit more than I expected. The mechanics of the ride are brilliant as well...I knew the car would leave the shaft and drive through the building, but it was still awesome to actually experience it, and it would catch someone expecting a more typical drop ride completely off guard. Yes, this attraction is a bit dated (as is the IP behind it), but it still holds its own among the best rides modern technology can create.

Thanks to a 20 minute wait, I was able to do multiple rides on Tower, but I'm generally not one for excessive re-rides. Therefore, we did a couple rides on Tower, grabbed a second ride on Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, and then headed out. Other than the Beauty and the Beast show and the nighttime spectaculars (which were never in the plans), I feel like I did pretty much everything of note at this park in the 6 or so hours I was there. It's definitely on the small side, and the park will greatly benefit from the addition of Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge in the coming years.

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So, how does DHS stack up? Well, in its current state, the park definitely feels a bit empty and somewhat incomplete. That said, I enjoyed visiting the park, and the few rides they do have are among the better ones at Walt Disney World. It definitely has the other three parks beat for thrill rides, and Tower of Terror alone makes this park a must-visit for anyone with hopper tickets. Plus, even in its current state I enjoyed the park significantly more than Walt Disney Studios Paris. The park really is a fun place to spend about two-thirds of a day, it just needs more to do in order to justify the very high ticket cost.

Disney's Hollywood Studios Scorecard:

Since I won't necessarily have room to review every ride in these trip reports (especially at parks with a full slate of attractions), I'll include a scorecard following each major park. For a benchmark on my numerical scores, think of it like this:

-A 10/10 is something I consider to be the best ride of the type I've ever experienced. I am very stingy with this rating...only about a dozen attractions out of the hundreds I've ridden warrant it, and only two out of 400+ roller coasters (El Toro at SFGAdv and Superman at SFNE).
-A 9/10 is what I consider a travel-worthy ride. These are rides that are absolute must-rides at the park, and it is worth visiting the park for this one attraction if you have not experienced it before. Indiana Jones Adventure and Splash Mountain are rides that fall into this category (or, on the coaster front, something like Tatsu, or Xcelerator)
-An 8/10 is a very good ride. These are rides that are must-rides if you're at the park, but aren't worth a special visit on their own. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is a prime example of this category.
-A 7/10 is a good ride, but not one of the best. These are rides that I enjoy, but ones that I probably wouldn't wait more than 15-20 minutes for after experiencing them. It's a Small World belongs in this category for me.
-A 6/10 is a ride that is just okay. These are the ones that are worth doing if there isn't much of a wait, but are completely skippable on busier days or if time is limited. Something like Pony Express at KBF or Gold Rusher at SFMM is a good model for this one.
-A 5/10 is worth one ride, but is something I probably wouldn't ride again unless I was visiting with someone else who wanted to ride. Anything below this score is something I would classify as a bad ride.

Now, here is the scorecard for Disney's Hollywood Studios:

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular - 7/10
Rock 'N' Roller Coaster - 8/10
Star Tours: The Adventures Continue - 8/10
Toy Story Midway Mania - 8/10
Twilight Zone Tower of Terror - 9.5/10
Voyage of the Little Mermaid - 6.5/10
Overall Park Score - 7.5/10

After our day at Disney's Hollywood Studios, we headed back to Andrew's house to rest for a bit. However, the day was still young, and I don't like to waste time while on vacations. So, after a dinner at with Andrew and Brittney at Gator's Dockside (a Florida chain comparable to Chili's), Evan and I headed off to another amusement park.

Fun Spot America

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Note: Daytime pictures are from Orlando location (mostly from when I stopped by earlier) and evening/nighttime pictures are from Kissimmee location.

Fun Spot America is the name given to a pair of small amusement parks in Florida. One is located in Kissimmee, not far from Walt Disney World, while the other is located in Orlando, just around the corner from Universal Orlando.

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Exception: This is my lone nighttime photo from Orlando.

Both parks started out as family entertainment centers, but over the past 5-10 years they have evolved into full-blown amusement parks. The two locations are fairly similar...both feature large arcades, multiple go-kart tracks, standard flat rides, dedicated kiddie areas, three roller coasters, and a gigantic pendulum known as a Skycoaster. Prices are identical at both parks as well, with two options for guests: Pay per Ride (rides are $3-9 each), or Pay One Price (about $40, with a $10 upcharge to visit both parks on the same day). Since nobody goes to Florida to ride a Paratrooper or a Screamin' Swing, I'll stick to covering the main draws of the Fun Spots: Karts and Coasters.

Go-Karts

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The Fun Spot parks feature a grand total of six go-kart tracks between them: two in Kissimmee and four in Orlando. The four tracks in Orlando are:

-Conquest, a multi-level track with a couple helixes, a four story hill, and a figure eight finish. This track offered the best balance of the four courses, with a mix of elements and enough level sections that racing was possible.
-Commander, a gigantic multi-level road course. Of the four courses, this was the most fun to drive as it was full of twists and turns as it weaved in and out of the other tracks. Unfortunately, this did make it a bit difficult to race as it was extremely difficult to learn the course. However, for just driving the karts around this track was excellent.
-Quad Helix, a quadruple helix track. While it is visually impressive, this was probably my least favorite as it simply spiraled around and around during the ride. That said, this one felt like it had slightly faster karts than Conquest and Commander, so it was still enjoyable.
-Thrasher, a ground-level road course built for racing. For those who want to win, this is the track to drive. The karts are noticeably faster on this track, and it is full of tight corners and long straight-aways as it zigzags below the other three tracks.

Kissimmee, on the other hand, only featured two tracks. However, Kissimmee's tracks are more extreme:

-Chaos, a standard multi-level track. This track was much like Commander, and though it was a bit smaller it had tighter corners and faster karts, resulting in a more exciting ride.
-Vortex, the world's most extreme go-kart track (according to Fun Spot). This one begins with a four story helix, which is a bit dizzying if driven at full speed. At the top, the track crests sharply, causing karts to bounce as they go over and down a hill so steep the karts accelerate under braking. At the bottom is a giant banked turn, which is the only thing keeping riders from crashing into a fence at about 30 mph. Yes, this track is insane, and while it is terrible for racing it is ridiculously fun to drive.

Roller Coasters

Both Fun Spot parks feature three roller coasters. For the kids, each park has a little Miler junior coaster, but I opted out of riding either. At both parks, the rest of the lineup consists of a family coaster and a wood coaster, but all are of radically different designs.

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Orlando's family coaster is called Freedom Flyer, and is a Vekoma suspended family coaster.

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Winding above the park, the ride felt very much like a suspended version of Knott's Jaguar, though much smoother and with a little more intensity. This ride also featured optional VR, with a much better implementation than Six Flags: There's a completely separate line, and 6 seats on each train (out of 20) are set aside for VR riders. Overall, this is a fun junior coaster that is great for riders of all ages.

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Meanwhile, the family coaster in Kissimmee is Rockstar Coaster, a Zamperla spinning mouse. While this ride is more of a true family coaster rather than an oversized junior coaster, it is unfortunately a stock model that exists at a number of parks across the country. On the plus side, this particular installation spun pretty well, and due to the park being deserted there was no line whatsoever. Again, a fun ride, though nothing to write home about.

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What about the woodies? Orlando got their woodie first in 2013, opting for a GCI creation dubbed White Lightning.

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The ride stands 70 ft. tall, and features a 2,000 ft. out-and-back course along the side of the park.

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While not a top wood coaster by any means, the ride is a lot of fun, with several moments of floater airtime and a few of the twisting elements GCI is known for. Plus, despite the extreme Florida weather, the ride has held up well and still runs great. It's not the most thrilling ride out there, but for a small family-oriented park it is an outstanding fit.

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Up until this year, the Kissimmee park didn't have a woodie. However, with the success of White Lightning, last year the park announced a $6 million investment on Florida's largest wood coaster. With 2,200 ft. of track, an 80 ft. first drop, a dozen airtime hills, and a corkscrew above the station, Mine Blower is a serious wooden coaster that should make this park a must visit for any coaster enthusiast traveling to Florida.

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The ride is just as intense as it sounds, with plenty of ejector airtime and an aggressive pace throughout. Sadly, this ride doesn't ride nearly as well as its sibling, and for a ride that just opened in June the current state of the coaster is troubling.

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Still, there are far rougher rides out there, and even with the ride it provides Mine Blower is able to score an 8.5/10 on my scale (for comparison, White Lighting gets an 8/10 and both family coasters get 5.5/10).

The World's Tallest Skycoaster

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Anyone who has visited a Cedar Fair or Six Flags park is probably familiar with a Skycoaster, even if they've never ridden one. The ride is simply a giant arch, and riders are attached to the end of a cable as they swing back and forth. It is, more or less, a human pendulum. Often, these rides are about 150 ft tall, and they usually cost $30-40 per rider (some parks are a little cheaper). Both Fun Spot America locations feature one of these rides, but they are much larger...250 ft. in Orlando, and 300 ft. in Kissimmee, the tallest in the world. Prior to this trip, I had never done a Skycoaster, so I figured why not try the world's tallest? Plus, Fun Spot only charges $25 for those who purchase a ride wristband.

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Unlike most amusement park rides, a Skycoaster is a very individual experience. One to three riders don harnesses similar to what one would wear for hang gliding, then they're hooked up to the giant pendulum. Once the winch begins hoisting you to the top, it's just you on your own dangling hundreds of feet above the ground. Unlike many parks that operate Skycoasters, at Fun Spot you're three times the height of anything nearby, so even though it looks tall it feels TALL!!! At the top of the ride, you get a moment to look around, then the announcement comes over the speaker: "You're at the top of the world's tallest Skycoaster, 300 ft. high. Get ready! Hold on! Three...Two...One...Fly!" For this ride, I chose to be the one to pull the ripcord, so at that point I reached back and gave it a tug. And...click...

Let me just insert a side note here...I have ridden many drop towers, including the 400 ft Drop of Doom rides at SFMM and SFGAdv. I'm used to attractions involving long moments of free fall, or large drops on roller coasters. The Skycoaster made all of those attractions seem like kiddie rides. When you pull the cord, you are in true free fall, plunging straight down toward the ground. It is the most terrifying attraction I have ever experienced! The drop lasts only a few seconds, but it feels much longer. Finally, the cable goes taut and the ride becomes a mega-sized version of a pirate ship. From here on out, the ride is fairly gentle as you swing back and forth over the pond. But the anticipation while climbing the tower followed by the complete free fall...that is what makes the Skycoaster the most extreme thrill ride out there.

Watch Evan and I fly the World's Tallest Skycoaster!

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Overall, the Fun Spot America parks were a lot of fun, and are well worth a 2-3 hour visit if you want to extend your day after the bigger parks close (or you want something to do on arrival or departure day). The parks are open until midnight every night, so it's always possible to squeeze it in for evening entertainment. The Orlando location is nicer and has a lot more family rides, but for those looking for extreme thrills, the Kissimmee park is well worth a visit (plus it is directly adjacent to Old Town).

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Evan and I didn't get back to the house until about 11 P.M., so it wound up being the first of several late evenings on the trip. However, the next day wasn't scheduled to be an intense one...we were just going on a walk around the world.

Click here to see the full photo album for this section.

Replies (13)

Edited: October 28, 2017, 11:25 AM · AJ - I wish you would have seen the Studios in their prime, Disney-MGM Studios 1994-95. Back in 1994-95, Sunset Blvd just opened with The Tower of Terror as its centerpiece, the Backstage Studio Tour was still signficant, The Great Movie Ride was great, but most importantly, the Studios were ALIVE WITH ENERGY. Streetmosphere character actors set the "anything can happen" tone of the park, then as an actual working studio. Everyday a Hollywood actor was featured as the celebrity of the day and The New Mickey Mouse Club was in production on the sound stages. Back then, going to The Studios was an experience in and of itself.
EPCOT Center was the same in the 80s and early 90s. It was a theme park that was whole. EPCOT was centered on its character of hope and discovery. It was truly inspirational.
Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom are two parks that I can confidently say are better now then when they originally opened. The additions to the two parks have been very good and their character has remained intact. Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom have evolved very well with age, unfortunately The Studios and EPCOT have not. It's great to see the investment going back into these once great theme parks, but unfortunately they may never be as great as they once were.
Thank you for the trip reports AJ! I look forward to them each and every week.
October 28, 2017, 7:15 AM · As usual, very good article! I am greatly enjoying your thoughts on the Disney World parks as a Disneyland fan. Here are a couple of points I noticed while reading:

1. Your impressions of DHS were correct. It started out as a bit of a "copy" of Universal Studios so it doesn't surprise me you felt that way. The only thing I would say is that I am not a fan of DCA and I am seeing DHS becoming more and more a DCA like park.

2 It is interesting that the time was so wrong on Toy Story Mania. Of all the years I have been to Disney World, the most the time has been off was 10 minutes. Was there a breakdown?

3. I am surprised that you didn't like Indy or Rock n Roller Coaster more. As somebody who has been on both Rock n Roller Coasters, the DHS is better (at least in storyline).

October 28, 2017, 8:20 PM · Keith is right on how great the Studios were, really do miss the classic Animation building far more than what we have today.

And the Tower of Terror has always been far better in Florida than Hollywood, was amazed how the DHS version was lacking.

Frankly, 1991-95 was a joy for WDW fan like me, lived in Florida at the time so got to be there for changes but the classic feel still. True, I liked some bits of late '90s (Test Track, Rock n Roller Coaster) but much prefer how it once was.

October 28, 2017, 9:14 PM · Keith, I really wish I had made it to Florida at some point when Disney-MGM Studios was still a thing. Based on reports of friends who visited 15+ years ago, it sounds like that park was really strong in the mid/late 90s, but then gradually has lost element after element until its identity more or less disappeared. I am really glad Disney is putting money into the park and reshaping it into something new, but I doubt it can ever be what it once was. I feel the same way about DCA...if they had committed to the California theme and done it properly, I think it could have been a great park. I still like the place as it is now, but something feels off about it, and I doubt it will ever fully realize its potential.

I'll save my thoughts on the other parks for the respective reports, but I will say this: I'm glad I visited the WDW parks in the order I did, because it meant each park was better than the last.

Anthony, I agree with you about DHS and DCA. Both have some outstanding attractions, but both feel like places where you go ride the headliners and then hang out elsewhere. There's a reason I rarely spend more than 4-5 hours at DCA on any given Disneyland visit...the areas individually are great, but as a whole the park doesn't work. It is a mix of unrelated areas, and as a result it doesn't feel like a unified park. Sadly, DHS is becoming that way, though the problem doesn't seem to be as bad there (yet).

As for Toy Story Mania, everyone in our group thought that they probably lost at least one of the ride tracks (or possibly two), and either they didn't announce the delay or we didn't hear it. Most of the wait times were overestimated throughout the trip, and on the two other occasions where we ran into an underestimation, an announcement was made about a capacity reduction. I certainly would not have waited for the ride if I knew it was going to take 90 minutes.

When it comes to Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, I think it is largely due to having ridden over 400 different roller coasters (Mine Blower actually ended up being #400...forgot to mention that), and the ride ranks as a good but not great roller coaster. I may have hyped it up a bit too much, as I was expecting something more like Flight of Fear or Paris's Space Mountain in terms of thrills after hearing it was Walt Disney World's most extreme thrill ride. It also feels a bit dated compared to Disney's other dark coasters, as the effects felt more on par with USH's Mummy than California or Paris's Space Mountain. It's not a bad ride by any means, and I enjoyed the two rides I got on it (I probably would have done one or two more if it was a little smoother), I just don't think it quite reaches the top tier either as a coaster or a Disney attraction. As for Indy, I think Waterworld has unfortunately spoiled me for pretty much any other stunt show.

Mike, the interesting thing about the two Tower rides is that although I clearly preferred Florida's, I do think the hallway scene was done better in California (and I did miss the mirror scene). Regardless of which is better, both versions are/were outstanding, and each presented a unique take on the attraction. I liken it more to Haunted Mansion vs. Phantom Manor rather than the different versions of the Pirates rides.

October 29, 2017, 6:13 AM · A great report! Look forward to the rest of your posts!
October 29, 2017, 7:20 AM · Fun Zone looks like a fun zone. Loved that video of you plummeting to your certain doom. It's been a great, thorough, comprehensive, systematic, Hummelesque trip report so far, but that remains my favorite part of it. Seems such an AJ thing to do! Nice to see the great breadth and width or Orlando offerings explored. Always greatly anticipating more!
Edited: October 31, 2017, 10:06 AM · Keith made an excellent point about the street actors and the "impromptu" film sets that would just pop up, many of those routines carried some very good comedy and many of the actors were in period 1930s/40s costume.

It was alive and those mini shows up and down the strip drew large crowds. You would go back some times to watch what you though was the same show plot to find it was entirely different dialog and new set of gags. Those "dead pan" directors who kept strait faces throughout. There was more of a classic car presence at D/MGM in the past and I started digging through old photos to find some of them.

If you had been on the original back-lot tour, you would have felt even more of a "Universal Studios" type of park.

AJ, a great part 2! Can't wait to see more... Your scouting was accurate as the World's counter food service is a lot weaker than California. It is however, finally gaining ground.

October 30, 2017, 7:30 AM · Excellent read AJ! I admire that you actually are going outside of Disney's confines the same week you are exploring Disney. I once spent a week at Disney and when we returned home, we had a company picnic at Cedar Fair's Kings Dominion 2 days later. Kings Dominion is a great park but after spending time at Disney, it felt like a backyard carnival and was actually depressing.

You found the joy in FunZone while I would have been condemning the place on the fact it's not Disney. I do love other amusement parks but never close in time to a Disney trip. It seems silly to admire that, but I do! Watching you on the Sky Coaster is as close as I will ever get to that contraption so thanks for sharing! Looking forward to part 3....

Edited: October 30, 2017, 5:31 PM · Totally agree on MGM back in the early 90’s. We first went in Oct ‘89 ... 5 months after the park opened. The other thing about those days was you could go to the Disney parks, especially in the offseason and they would actually be quiet !! .... not the seething mass of humanity they are 365 days a year these days. No lines, and you could find the characters anywhere around the parks, wander over to them, get your photos and then go looking for the next one. Oh for those days again .....
Great write up once again AJ .. interesting to read the thoughts of a tourist ... :) Keep ‘em coming.
October 31, 2017, 11:24 PM · Thanks for the compliments, everyone! I'm planning to post these every Friday, so you can look forward to that for pretty much the rest of the year (of course, that does mean an unseasonable Halloween report in December, but we'll deal with that when it comes up).

Douglas, I'm so glad I opted to get that video of the Skycoaster (rather, Evan bought it after I bought his ticket for the ride). Pretty much everyone who's never ridden one of those thinks it's the most insane ride ever...and they're mostly right (there are a couple of more insane rides, but I probably would refuse to do them).

Leastinteresting, I will say that of the three counter-service meals I had at Walt Disney World, two were decent and only one was disappointing (though still better than a counter-service meal at another park...more on that later). I do hope that upgrading the counter-service offerings resort-wide is in the plans, because it really wouldn't take that much to make it decent throughout (it doesn't need to be fantastic).

Sarah, I think the wide variety of parks in Southern California has likely made it a bit easier for me to park hop without that negative feeling. I can go to Disneyland one day, then go to Six Flags Magic Mountain a couple days later and still enjoy it. The key is to have the right attitude and expectations with each park. Plus, while I'm probably in the minority, I'd rather jump around with different parks each day than visit the same place for several days in a row (hence why my Universal visits were scattered throughout the trip). Plus, Disney doesn't really do extreme thrill rides (the main area that they're lacking in), so when going somewhere else for the sole purpose of those it's a little easier to avoid the Disney hangover effect.

Edited: November 1, 2017, 6:52 AM · AJ - From my recent experience a couple weeks ago, it was pretty clear to me that Disney is pushing hard to improve their counter service offerings. Satu'Li Canteen is a really good CS restaurant (topping Flame Tree BBQ in my mind for best at DAK), and if you're ever able to get into Be Our Guest (CS during lunchtime), it's a strong contender for best CS in all of WDW - we've now dined twice there, and the second time this most recent trip with the mobile ordering makes BOG so much easier to get in and out of, assuming you can get an ADR. I think with the increase in mobile ordering locations, we'll see an improvement in not only service at many of the CS locations, but an improvement in the quality and diversity of the food. They'll still need to have places with burgers, dogs, and chicken fingers, but it's clear that Disney has been pushing hard to increase the diversity of menu selections and trying to eliminate the hassle of eating during busy meal hours.
November 10, 2017, 11:06 AM · Good read, AJ. Well done and very informative. The sky coaster video was fun to watch; I don't think I'd have the nerve to do that, as I haven't been able to get up the nerve to do even a slingshot ride and already feel apprehensive about riding Fury 325 if I follow through with my plan to visit BGT at Christmastime. (Zumanjaro was absolutely fine but the prospect of plunging face down gives me pause for reflection.)
November 10, 2017, 2:55 PM · AJ,

You seem to echo many of the sentiments I have about EPCOT. I think it's sort of stuck in limbo at the moment, though with the recent announcement of Disney's commitment to the park, hopefully it can be brought back to some of its former glory. I'm torn on EPCOT. As a destination park, it's lacking. It has plenty of stuff to do, but it lacks that truly spectacular e-ticket or show that one expects from places like Magic Kingdom or even Animal Kingdom at this point. Test Track is a great ride, but not one I would consider to be a marquee experience when visiting from out of town. Couple this with the fact that EPCOT has seen better days, and it's truly a tragedy that it's gone so long without receiving the necessary upgrades, additions, and general improvement it requires to accomplish its intended theme and goal.

Still, EPCOT holds a special appeal. I think that, were I an Orlando local, EPCOT may very well be my go-to place for a night out. The plethora of options offered in the World Showcase make for some of the most unique and fun locations to just hang out and get a bite to eat. Compared to the rest of the resort, however, it lacks that "WOW" factor that the other parks have in spades. (well, WDS is pretty lackluster, but once SWL and Toy Story land are complete, EPCOT will be the odd duck out). I'm glad to see that Disney is committed to bringing more attractions into the World Showcase--a trend I hope continues. While I love visiting each country, I felt that many pavilions didn't have much outside of architecture, food, and shops. I think having at least one attraction in each pavilion would be a great step in the right direction for EPCOT (Here's to hoping they bring back some Fantasyland Classics-Snow White in Germany, Mr. Toad in England, etc.). The Ratatouille ride will be a welcome addition. While I enjoy the films like O, Canada! and Impressions Du' France, I think adding a few more actual attractions will turn EPCOT into a full-day affair. Not everything needs to be an E-ticket back there. C/D ticket dark rides or even a light motion sim would be welcome. A Studio Ghibli ride in Japan would be such a great addition, but I think that's quite a long shot.

Anyways, I'm enjoying your reports and I'm glad you finally got out to Orlando.

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