Disney Hollywood Studios

Disappointing Disney Hollywood Studios

Orlando Vacation ~ Day three

After yesterday’s incredible experience with Avatar at the Imax 3D theater what a disappointment Disney Hollywood Studios was. We chose Disney Hollywood Studios as the first of our major parks because we had not been there before.

Geoff had been to the Magic Kingdom with his daughter, Julie, shortly after the park opened and it was a wonderful experience they will both always remember. We had visited the Magic Kingdom and Epcot in 1988, just after we got married and it was equally memorable. Unfortunately the Disney Hollywood Studio will be memorable in a whole different way.

Disney Hollywood Studios

This park is tired and at least 20 years out of date. The Great Movie Ride is a prime example. You start by snaking a line through a movie theater showing clips from old “classic” movies, then the doors open and you climb into one of several open wheeled vehicles. Your conductor begins his patter and the vehicles start to move through the course. You’re in a warehouse and moving slowly past bad sets representing old movies. A few sound effect, smoke and some department store mannikins pop up and down, then it’s over. Sorry Disney, but this is lame beyond belief.

The two highlights of the Disney Hollywood Studios are the live stunt shows, “Lights, Motors, Action” and “Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular”.

Disney Lights – Motors – Action

“Lights, Motors, Action” is a demonstration of how movie vehicle stunts are produced. The timing and precision of the stunt drivers is just incredible, as is the fact that they do this 3-4 times each day.

The Indiana Jones show is less thrilling but still worth seeing. It is basically a live recreation of the scene from The Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indie fights the big Nazi in front of the circling plane that is about to blow up due to the fuel leaking onto the ground.

Many of the Disney rides are the hydraulic type where you sit in front of a small movie screen and get shaken in sync with the images. Our first encounter with this type was at the Luxor Casino in Las Vegas over 15 years ago and it was much better than anything we saw today. You’ll find similar rides in any local amusement park or tourist attraction such as the CN Tower in Toronto. The Star Tours Ride is one of these hydraulic types that is based on Star Wars and is supposed to represent a droid pilots first trip to Tatooine. It is over in less than a minute and is totally uninspired.

It’s much more fun watching young audience members outside the ride building fighting Darth Vader with plastic light sabers as they are indoctrinated in the ways of The Force.

The closes thing to a thrill ride is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror which is an elevator that free falls for supposedly thirteen stories. The only roller coaster is the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster which is an indoor ride in total darkness. I guess we have just done too many thrill rides to be impressed. Frankly nothing beats the old fashioned wooden coasters that are outdoors and last for more than a minute.

The Muppet Vision 3D Movie has a couple of chuckles but 3D movies are now available as full length features at your local movie theaters so they do not have the same wow effect they used to. Also the Muppet Show ended in 1981 which is currently almost 30 years ago – like we said the Disney Hollywood Studios theme park is a little dated.

There is a certain amount of pleasure just wandering around in the different Disney theme parks but even the world create in this theme is not that interesting.

To sum up, we were massively disappointed by our visit to Disney Hollywood Studios in Orlando. If you are a couple with one or two kids and don’t get discounted tickets you could easily drop $300-$400 for the day. Don’t do it. You and your kids will not be impressed.

Let’s hope our choice of other parks will be better.

CanAm Spyder

Serendipity and the Spyder

Orlando vacation ~ Day four

We had planned to spend a couple of days at the Universal Studios Theme Park during this trip to Orlando but the disappointment of yesterday’s visit to Disney Hollywood Studios has made us re-evaluate our itinerary.

It’s possible that we have seen and done so much that we are more difficult to impress than the average Disney visitor. The kids certainly seem to enjoy themselves and I’m sure we would have enjoy it more had we had the grandkids in tow.

However, we have decided not to spend more money on theme parks until they have caught up with current technology. Movies like Avatar have now set the bar so high that theme parks will have to be completely redesigned if they hope to wow their visitors.

So, for today, it’s off to the Apple Store at Florida Mall on South Orange Blossom Trail to see if we can get Geoff’s Time Capsule fixed. A thunderstorm sent a lightning charge into our local phone system, through our DSL modem and into the Time Capsule. I’m guessing it got fried and we should be thankful we didn’t lose the iMac as well.

As expected the Apple tech told us our only option is replacement as the warranty has expired. We are now the proud owners of a sleek, hi-tech, very expensive doorstop. Good job we picked up the new 1.5 terabyte drive at Costco on Wednesday.

More Timeshare Bribes

The weather report for tomorrow is cold and thundershowers so we took the opportunity to sign up for a tour of the Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort at the Magic Kingdom. We had to pay the clerk in the little booth a $20 deposit to make sure we show up but that is usual and we will get it back at the resort. Since we didn’t want anymore discounted attraction tickets, we opted for a $100 American Express Card as the bribe. Not much of a bribe for our time but we will get more information for our book.

Another of the little booths at the Florida Mall was demonstrating a tiny, hi-tech, TENS unit called the Mini Massager. If you have ever paid a visit to a chiropractor you may have been hooked up to a TENS machine. It uses a tiny electrical current to stimulate individual muscles. It can also be used to relieve headaches. Since Vicky gets migraines and Geoff has various aches and pains of arthritis, we stopped to get more info.

OK, the justification went something like this. If it works as advertised it’s well worth the money. We may never see it again as it is not a regular store item. We just made $100 by signing up for the timeshare pitch. This tiny unit that looks like an iPod Nano is $160 but felt like it did some good. We’ll keep you posted.

The Serendipity Part

CanAm Spyder

When we went to Costco on Wednesday, we drove past a motorcycle dealership that had some trikes out on display. We didn’t have an opportunity to stop then but the Florida Mall is just North of the Costco, so we had to go the same way to get there. We have decided that a trike will be our best option for our travels around Europe because of the stability it offers. Most of the trikes we have seen so far are third party conversions of Honda Goldwings and what we really want is something factory built.

The bikes on display at Central Florida PowerSports in Kissimmee are called the Spyder from BRP. Never heard of them, right? Actually, we discovered that BRP is part of can-am which is a division of Bombardier. These are the folks that invented the Ski-Doo and also build the Sea-Doo, Johnson, Evinrude, etc. They even build subway trains so they certainly have the engineering chops to build a motorcycle.

The Spyder comes in two models the RS sports model and the RT touring model.

Pablo Hofle and Brian Fitzpatrick of Central Florida PowerSports spent a lot of time with us demonstrating all the advanced features of this amazing machine. It looks like we have found exactly what we are looking for for our European adventure.

We also met one of the factory reps who is in Florida for Daytona Bike Week. Spyder has a booth at the Daytona Show and it will only be a few miles out of our way on the drive home so we may just check it out.

Wyndham Resort and DisneyQuest

The weather report was right. We awoke to thunder and rain so we were glad our fist stop was the Wyndham Timeshare at the Magic Kingdom.

When we arrived at the resort we filled out the usual survey and after a brief wait we met Betty who escorted us to the sales room for a continental breakfast.

We’re writing a book about how to get the most out of your timeshare unit – now it’s called Vacation Ownership, so are always looking for more info. This turned out to be a very productive meeting and we learned a couple of things we didn’t know. The Wyndham Company is a very aggressive player in the vacation ownership market and actually owns RCI which, along with Interval International, runs the whole timeshare exchange system.

We also learned how you can run a vacation business by not only renting out your own timeshare unit but also booking people into get-away specials.

We also got a much better understanding of the Points system and how each resort group converts from one system to another. The best analogy would be the regular world monetary system of dollars, euros, pounds, etc. Each of the major resort groups has their own internal points system that you can use to exchange units within that group. So, you have Wyndham Points, Shell Points, Disney Points, Marriot Points, etc. but there is no real direct correlation between them. Outside of each proprietary group point system are RCI Global Points that are used for exchanges between the different groups. RCI Global Points are also used by smaller resort groups that are not big enough to have their own internal system.

It’s all pretty confusing and we’re sure that is deliberate to prevent the consumer from making comparisons. We will go into much more detail in our book.

It was still raining when we left the resort so we headed off to Downtown Disney and Disney Quest.

Unlike the other theme areas, parking for Downtown Disney is free. This is because Downtown Disney is just a huge outdoor mall rather than a Theme park. It was still raining a little so we went to DisneyQuest first. Our “Touch of Magic” pass includes admission to two major them parks and one minor, so we used it for DisneyQuest. DisneyQuest is a five-story building full of video games and electronic rides.

We spend several hours here and had a good time. The line ups for the major rides were not too bad and some of the experiences were, for us at least, unique.

We particularly enjoyed the Pirates of the Caribbean Battle for Buccaneer Gold and the Cyber Space Mountain. The Buccaneer Gold ride is a virtual reality experience where you fire cannons from the deck of your ship. The all-encompassing screens seem to track your actions pretty well.

If you’re a roller coaster fan, you’ll love Cyber Space Mountain. You start by building your own coaster using a computer terminal to assemble section of track. Then you get to ride what you built.

Your custom coaster design is fed to the virtual reality screens of a gimbaled hydraulic two person ride chamber. Every twist, turn and tumble you designed is matched by the car. If you lose your lunch you only have yourself to blame.

By this time the rain had stopped so we decided to check out the rest of Downtown Disney. Nothing remarkable – lots of restaurants and overpriced souvenirs. We briefly contemplated getting tickets to Cirque de Soleil but at over $100 each decided we had better things to do with the money.

So, we ended what turned out to be a pretty good day with a glass of wine in the Jacuzzi.

Gorilla

Disney Animal Kingdom

Beautiful sunny day. Light jacket cool, but a cloudless sky – so we don’t expect any rain.

We have been to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot on previous Disney visits, so for our last day we chose Animal Kingdom and kept our fingers crossed that it would not be as disappointing as Hollywood Studios.

If you plan to visit, don’t forget to budget an additional $14 a day for parking on top of whatever you pay for admission.

Gorilla

The animals in Animal Kingdom are all in the Safari area of the “Africa” section. This is the furthest point from the entrances and is where we headed first. We had been told by staff at the resort that the animals were most active in the morning and it was best to get there early.

I guess a lot of people had been given the same advice because there was quite a few ahead of us. They moved everyone through fairly quickly and the wait was not too bad.

We are not fans of zoos or circuses where animals are in cages but here they roam free and seem to have lots of room. We understand that elephants in the wild will roam hundreds of miles which they obviously cannot do here but they also don’t have to worry about being shot by poachers.

Giraffe Family

The animals here have absolute right-of-way and if one decides to stop in the middle of the road, the whole ride stops until it decides to move. This is what happened to us and we were able to enjoy a giraffe family at breakfast. A little later we were charged by a rhinoceros but, unfortunately, I did not get a picture of that.

Rhino

The Africa section also includes a train ride to the conservation station where the animal receive veterinary care. The kids will enjoy the petting zoo here. We were also lucky to get up close to some gorillas on the walking trail.

Asia is the next section and it also includes a walking trail past tiger, bats and Komodo dragons.

We passed on the Kali River Rafting ride as they guaranteed you would get wet and it still wasn’t very warm.

We did, however, waste about 90 minutes in a line for the Expedition Everest Coaster. Waiting more than 10 minutes would have been a waste of time.

Worth mentioning is the “It’s Tough to be a Bug” 3D movie underneath the Tree of Life on Discovery Island. 3D movies are commonplace now but this is cute and has some co-ordinated animatronic characters and other effects.

Animal Kingdom closes before the other parks so they can take care of the animals. So be sure to plan your day accordingly.

So, yes, Animal Kingdom is much better value than Hollywood Studios but the prices are still too high for what you get. With the world economy in the dumper postponing a trip to Disney World should be a pretty easy decision.

That’s it for Orlando. Tomorrow we make a quick side trip to Bike Week at Daytona Beach, then home to Eleuthera.

Daytona Bike Week

Daytona Beach is only about 50 miles NE of Orlando and is currently home to Bike Week. It was not part of our original vacation plan to visit but after stumbling upon the Spyder at Central Florida PowerSports we couldn’t pass up the chance to test drive one. Since neither of us has a motorcycle license the only way we could ride one is on the track.

We were up bright and early, packed and cleaned up the suite. Hard to believe we created so much garbage in just a week. We were charged a standard cleaning fee anyway so we could have just left it – Oh, well!

The sun was shining, the drive was easy and in no time we were following dozens of motorcycles to the Daytona Speedway. As you might expect the grounds are huge and packed with exhibitors. We hadn’t given any thought to finding the Spyder exhibit once we arrived but once again fate was smiling on us as we were directed into the parking lot right next to – you guessed it – the Spyder exhibit.

The staff were signing people up for test drives but we would only be able to drive around the test track they had set up. We got to drive both the sport model and the touring model, which is the one we are interested in.

Vicky had never driven a motorcycle before but had no difficulty learning the simple controls.

Several Spyder dealers and customizers had supplied bikes fitted out with available 3rd party add-ons and paint jobs.

We spent a little time wandering around the exhibits but we had to leave much earlier than we wanted if we were to make the last train from Fort Lauderdale to Miami. It turns out that it was a good thing we didn’t try to push the time too much. We arrived in Fort Lauderdale and put out car back in storage with lots of time to spare. In fact, if the cab had arrived in a reasonable time, we could have caught an earlier train back to Miami airport. As it was, we had to make several desperate calls to the cab company and then just made it for the last train.

CanAm Spyder

Turned out to be a pretty long day but we’re glad we had the chance to ride the Spyder. We have been invited to tour the factory when we get back to Canada. We hope to do that some time in July.

If you’re interested in one of these machines, be sure to check out our post then as I’m sure we will have some great video of them being made.

Fly Naked!

Flying days always start out okay. Up and packed in lots of time, the free hotel breakfast is uninspired but adequate, the shuttle gets you to the airport then you get to airport check in. The process just gets longer and longer. We had already bought and paid for our tickets, we had used the machines to check in and scan our passports but we still had to shuffle our way along the line snake to pick up a boarding pass. Of course the experienced traveler knows this is just the beginning – next comes the baggage check line.

Fly Naked!

If we really want to send the terrorists a message that we can’t be intimidated we should start flying naked. Think about it – no need for x-ray machines or endless discussion on the merits of the new full body scanners. Just let it all hang out with nothing to hide. You’d know your fellow passengers could be trusted because only us morally decadent infidels would stoop to such behavior.

The lineups would disappear and the skies would once again be safe.

But There’s Still the Weather

For whatever reason, it seems airlines will avoid telling you the truth about delays. The announcer just says flight so-and-so will be 2 hours late and passengers for flight this-and-that have been transferred to flight whatever leaving tomorrow.

We just sit and sit. I daydream about sitting next to Angelina Jolie on a Naked Air flight.

It’s now long past the time we should have arrived home and we still haven’t left Miami.

Turns out there was a major storm front that passed through the area and everything was grounded. Anyway, eventually we are on our way and to make up for the delay, American Airlines has a free open bar. Too bad it is such a short flight but since we have been stuck in an airport and haven’t eaten all day, that is probably just as well.

Funny thing about coming home, the familiarity of the surroundings starts to erode the memories of your trip. In a day or two it is almost like you never left home.

Guess we’ll just have to take another trip very soon.