Thursday, June 01, 2006

Disney-MGM Studios

Resistance Is Useless! That is probably a not-so-secret Disney slogan. Only a couple of months ago I was making fun of all those tourists flocking to Orlando and spending hundreds of dollars on multi-day park hopper tickets and Mickey T-shirts and picture frames. And then we went to Epcot and really enjoyed it. And then we went to Disney-MGM Studies and really enjoyed it to the point that we mulled around a souvenir store with a $20 Mickey coffee mug in hand (fortunately, the check-out line was long enough for us to come back to our senses). And now we're thinking about going to the biggest, bestest, and most famous of them all - the Magic Kingdom!

But wait, I was going to talk about how we went to MGM Studios. I really liked this park better than Epcot. It was smaller and more manageable. We actually saw everything that we wanted to see, rode every ride that we wanted to go on, AND made it to the early Fantasmic! show with plenty of time to spare. Partially it was because we got smart and started getting Fastpasses whenever possible. And they really work - you get to go straight to the front of a 50-minute long line of sweaty and bored no-Fastpass people.

Another nice thing about MGM park is that it's built to look like a real town. The streets have well-marked car lanes (of course, with no cars) and wide sidewalks. There are plenty of trees for shade, park benches for rest, and souvenir stores for window shopping. In short, MGM has more of a neighborhood feel to it than many real towns.

There are also tons of interesting things to see and learn, mostly about movie-making business. For example, a "Lights, Motors, Action!" shows how such awesome stunts like high-speed car chases and villains falling off the roofs of tall buildings are filmed. This show is as real as it gets which makes it rather unpredictable. When we were there, first it was delayed for about 20 minutes because of a fuel spill and then it went for longer than scheduled because of a small accident on the set. It seems a bit long-drawn especially during the set changes. But those that stay for the entire show will be able to impress their friends explaining the stunts in the next "007" movie.

Another awesome stunt show is "Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular". They recreate a lot of scenes from the "Raiders of the Lost Ark" movie. I personally think that Indiana Jones movies are THE BEST action/adventure movies out there. That's an opinion shared by a lot of people, by the way, seeing how this show is always packed.

It was a "Star Wars"-themed weekend and we saw lots of movie characters, such as Choobakka (that's a very hairy giant beast) and the Jedis (that's the good guys) and Imperial Troopers (that's probably bad guys, but I'm not sure) parading up and down the streets. We also went on a Star Tours ride where we boarded a "Starspeeder" (like a space bus) heading for Tatooine (that's a desert planet). In reality it was a big room with chairs and a large TV screen. The chairs would shake and rattle and the screen would show stars and asteroids and space battles and all that. As I'm not a fan of Star Wars, I wasn't very excited. But it is a very good flight simulator in a sense that it came make you sick pretty quickly, reminiscent of Mission: Space at Epcot.

A couple of mellow rides that we went on were the Backlot Tour and the Great Movie Ride. The backlot tour is long and mostly boring. But a man-made Catastrophe Canyon is very impressive and at the end you get to see a full-size Alien character and the Queen of Narnia. The Great Movie Ride takes place behind the Mickey's Giant Hat. It's very nice, slow, dark, and the animatronics figures are so realistic, that I even confused them with real actors (maybe the real ones are so bad?). But the coolest part of the whole ride was not even seeing John Wayne on his horse, but riding through the Munchkinland and listening to the Munchkin Song.

And speaking of songs, we also got to see the Beauty and the Best - Live on Stage show. I've never seen the original cartoon, but now I definitely will rent it.

The MGM park has 3 thrill rides. One was the Star Tour and it wasn't all that. But the other two we had no complaints about whatsoever. First we went to the Tower of Terror. The ride is absolutely awesome. It's very simple - you're in an old creaky elevator with a bunch of strangers. The lightning strikes, the lights go out, you get completely disoriented first and then the elevator drops several stories down. Then it lounges up to the 13th floor with a beautiful, but increadibly short-lasting bird's eye view of the park. And just as your scream reaches the vacationers down below, your body is already falling down-down-down the dark elevator shaft. Your stomach tries to keep up with the rest of your body, but can't... And that's just the beginning of it.

Apparently it was not enough scary screamy darkness for us because we also got Fastpasses to the Rock'n'Roller Coaster. It's a normal coaster only it's inside a building. So the bad news is there are no huge climbs or drops on this ride. The good news is there are plenty of twists, turns and loops in tight dark spaces and the only light there is comes from flashing neon signs. In darkness, noone can hear you scream... mostly because they are too busy screaming themselves and also because all this is set to "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)".

But we were done with all the sight-seeing and with all the rides just in time for the early (9:00pm) show of Fantasmic!. It's kind of pointless to try to describe any of the Disney fireworks shows. But this one was absolutely mind-boggling mostly because the pyrotechnics was down to the absolute minimum. Instead there was a laser show projected onto 3 huge dancing fountains, a boat parade and a moving story.

And that's why Disney is so great. It's just a lot of good clean fun even for adults. And the behind-the-scene efforts and technology that creates and sustains this giant show it becomes truly amazing and even more enjoyable.