June 2, 2008: Hollywood Studios and Epcot

It was well after two when Dominica and I got to sleep last night. This morning I was up around six thirty. It is going to be a long, exhausting day. No breakfast trip for us this morning. We have pastries left from the bakery on Main Street USA from last night that we ate before leaving this morning to speed things along. Today it was me who was up first and Dominica who slept until the last minute.

This morning we are heading to Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park which is the park with the early morning extra magic hour for the Disney resort guests so we can get in a little before the crowds descend on the park. Hollywood Studios is by far the smallest of the four major parks which causes it to be the most crowded. It is almost always “wall to wall people” and it is pretty much nothing but open concrete everywhere making it insanely hot and because of the high, close walls everywhere there is little airflow.

Our first order of business arriving at the park is to get to the new “Pixar Land” and hit Toy Story Mania which opened this weekend. We know that there are going to be crazy lines there as everyone is trying to ride that ride.

When we got to Toy Story Mania the line was about out to the door. I would guess that it was twenty to twenty five minutes long which isn’t bad considering we didn’t do a FastPass nor were we there first thing but more like eight thirty by the time we actually got to the attraction doors.

The waiting line was very well done at Toy Story Mania. Lot’s of thought was put into it and there is a huge, animated Mr. Potato Head that talks to the crows as they pass by. Sometimes Mr. Potato Head is running on automatic and sometimes there is a person controlling him and interacting with the audience. It seems to be a new theme at Disney to have people behind the scenes running things that previously were just recordings. It is a very good idea because it makes the dark recesses of the park seem alive rather than like dusty, forgotten corners and it adds a lot of interest to things that otherwise would be very boring. There was definitely a person running Mr. Potato Head when we were in line but when we went passed him and talked to him he was running on automatic for a few minutes so we didn’t get to interact with him 🙁

The ride itself, we were told, is similar to the popular, new Buzz Lightyear ride in the Magic Kingdom. It is good that they put a new ride in Hollywood Studios because DHS is very short on attractions and those that it has are all either intense thrill rides like a cheap Six Flags or really old and dated like Muppets 3D. It’s only really amazing ride is the Great Movie Ride which is awesome (like Pirates of Caribbean or Spaceship Earth) but feels like an old ride these days and could do with a refurb as well.

Toy Story Mania was really awesome. It is a lot like Buzz Lightyear in that it is two people sitting in a “car” going through the ride each with a “gun” that you use to shoot things to get points. Both are elaborate video games. In Buzz Lightyear you ride through a physical dark ride and use a laser gun to shoot physical targets located throughout the ride. In Toy Story Mania you wear 3D glasses and ride from one screen to another where you use your “gun” to participate in carnival like games on the screens. The combination of the physical ride with the stuff happening in 3D works pretty well and the games that you play are pretty fun.

TSM makes a great addition to Hollywood Studios and shows that Disney is still thinking. The downside is that Disney is running behind the times – they have never been very tech-savvy (their website has been a textbook example of what-not-to-do since the mid 90s) and they are often years or decades behind the “real world”. I think that the isolationism of the parks lends itself to them fooling themselves into thinking that they are more innovative than they really are.

The audio-animatronics were practically timeless when introduced in the 1950s. They won’t be replaced by anything in our homes for a very long time, if ever. Decades more at the very least. Easily another half century. And even then they are art on their own regardless of outside technology. They are used to tell a story in a meaningful way. But things like TSM, unfortunately, are based on technologies rapidly available to everyone at home. TSM is really nothing more than an elaborate Nintendo Wii game. Sure we can’t ride in carts like that at home but that is an incidental part of the ride – nice but if it was gone you would hardly notice. And it is just for two plays, a Wii can do it with four. With new HD displays and more and more people able to do 3D at home the TSM experience is likely to be surpassed by at-home video game systems widely available in just a few years (in many ways it is surpassed already) which makes it fun for the moment but strange that Disney would invest so much in a ride that will very quickly be used as an example of how, for the cost of admission and one night in a Disney resort, you could own this at home and play it anytime you wanted for as long as you wanted.

After TSM we rode the Great Movie Ride which, as always, is awesome. Such a good ride. When we were done it was only ten thirty and we had just over an hour to kill before our lunch reservation at the Brown Derby. We talked about doing any number of rides or attractions but, in the end, there was nothing in Hollywood Studios that was even worth the effort of walking to for us. We would have done TSM again but the line was long and nothing else appealed in the least. So we went to the ABC Commissary because it was air conditioned, bought a drink and a chocolate mousse and sat for an hour until it was time for lunch. It was cool and relaxing and almost no one was in there at that early hour so it worked out pretty well.

Our reservations at the Brown Derby were at eleven forty. We got seated pretty much immediately. Both Dominica and I had been looking forward to trying the noodle bowl with coconut fried tofu after having read the online menu at AllEarsNet. I also got an appetizer of lobster and corn bisque. Dominica couldn’t eat that much so she didn’t get any appetizer.

The atmosphere at the Brown Derby was very nice and the food was good. It wasn’t “blow you away” food like we had hoped but it was quite good. The bisque wasn’t the style that I prefer but was very good for people who prefer their bisque with more tomato and less cream. The noodle bowls were good and huge. Dominica couldn’t finish hers and it was all that I could do to finish mine. No dessert for us today! We like the Brown Derby and would eat here again when in Hollywood Studios but I don’t think that I would make a trip to the studios just to eat here.

After lunch we were out of the park right away. We grabbed the boat again and went to Epcot. It was probably around one or one thirty at the latest when we went into Epcot for the afternoon.

It was pretty hot all morning and hot going into the afternoon. Yesterday and Saturday were brutally hot and we felt awful being outside. Today wasn’t quite as hot but still up there in the nineties. A lot hotter than we wanted it to be.

To escape the heat we headed first for Spaceship Earth which only had a short line. We rode that again. Dominica had forgotten about her VIP room stuff and we decided not to bother. The VIP rooms really aren’t as interesting as they sound (I have been in the Kodak VIP room) and are only useful if you want to see what they are like or for business functions. We had wanted to see the view of the fountain from there but it wasn’t worth the effort involved for us.

Then we went to The Land where we rode Living with the Land again then took the Behind the Seeds tour. This is my third time doing the Behind the Seeds and Dominica’s second. The timing was perfect that there was a tour leaving at three forty five and by the time we signed up for the tour (it costs extra and is limited availability) it was already pushing three thirty.

Tour Guide on Behind the Seeds Tour

The tour took until five. It was pretty warm in the greenhouses but not as warm as being outside. The Behind the Seeds tour is always fun and informative. Because it is a real, guided tour and not an automated attraction you get a lot more out of it because it is personalized each time. The first time that I took it it was with a SUNY Cortland intern giving the tour. In 2005 the tour that we took was given by the director of the research facility there at Epcot. And this time by one of the senior researchers with like fourteen years of experience in agriculture science. So we have gotten a mix of experiences on the tour between the different people and the ten year span over which I have been taking the tour. Our tour group ended up being only Dominica and I and one other couple from southern Illinois. We had a really good time.

After our tour we spent a little time hanging out in The Land’s Sunshine Seasons food court with a little bite of dessert just so that we could wait for the heat outside to dissipate a little before going back out into the think of it again. From there we could see the sky through the front windows and could see that it had become overcast during the two hours that we had been inside of The Land.

We went outside and it was indeed beginning to rain. What a relief. It had been so hot for so long that even getting wet was a welcome relief. We took a wonderful walk in the rain from The Land up to the Canadian Pavilion at the beginning of the World Showcase. The O Canada movie is newly updated so we went in and watched that. It was still a bit warm outside but improving.

The movie is a really good update to the classic O Canada movie even with Martin Short in it which they could have done without. But he managed to not ruin the film. I was quite upset when I learned that he was in it but he wasn’t all that bad. Not good, definitely not good. But not horrible. The movie itself was quite good, though.

Then on to the United Kingdom Pavilion where we put in our name as the Rose and Crown Pub for dinner. Dominica was sure that we couldn’t get seating but when we asked if there was space available they were like “of course”. The wait was only about ten minutes or so. We found ourselves a nice bench in the UK and just relaxed until it was time to be seated.

Rose and Crown Pub in the UK Pavilion

The weather had cooled off significantly so we took an outside table so that we could enjoy the rain and the wind that had now come in. We both got fish and chips and I got a Boddingtons. Lunch was good. We have eaten at the Rose and Crown before and have and have had the fish and chips before as well. The chef came out to check on things at the end of our meal and we were surprised to find that she was from Bound Brook, New Jersey – very close to my Warren office. South Bound Brook (which is all one town but on different sides of the little river there) is where Dominica and I were seriously looking at buying a condo at one point. That is the condo that Bob Winans saw when he drove down to check it out.

After dinner it was probably six thirty or maybe closer to seven. We walked around the World Showcase taking a relaxing stroll. We walked through Morocco and did some shopping all throughout the showcase. Then in Norway we stopped for dessert at the Norwegian bakery where we always get something to eat. We sat outside at the bakery for a long time relaxing as the weather was pretty nice and there was nothing more that we really wanted to do in the park.

Spaceship Earth Closeup

After we were done eating we walked down to Spaceship Earth and rode one more time before leaving the park to grab a bus back to the hotel. It was eight thirty when we walked out of the gates and Epcot closes at nine. So we managed to do a pretty full day starting just thirty minutes in to the extra magic hour in the morning at Hollywood Studios and going to thirty minutes before close at Epcot. We were pretty exhausted.

It was pretty much straight to bed for us when we got back to the Wilderness Lodge. Tomorrow we get to sleep in. Our plan is to have breakfast delivered to the room and to just relax at the lodge until it is time to go to the airport. We exhausted our need to go into the parks for this trip and we know that we are supposed to be back next year with a lot more time than we had on this trip and will be looking for stuff to do so no need to tax ourselves now. Our flight leaves Orlando around seven thirty tomorrow evening. We will leave the hotel at four in the afternoon.

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