A Thrill-Seekers Critique of the Orlando Parks (WDW, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Sea World)
I quote "Bob", "Due to the more critical nature of this trip report than most, I have chosen to remain anonymous and not list the exact dates of my trip or the hotel I stayed at. I don't want to be flamed because I don't think WDW is the happiest or greatest place on earth."
Since I have a standing policy of not posting anonymous trip reports in my Disney Trip Report Archive, I chose to add "Bob's" report here, because it really does capture another aspect of the Orlando parks (not just WDW)...the opinion of the true thrill-seekers (you know, those people that jump off bridges with bungie-cords strapped to their ankles). I think this will prove to be a valuable addition to the guide.
Everything in this document is the opinion and perception of the author of this trip report. Due to the more critical nature of this trip report than most, I have chosen to remain anonymous and not list the exact dates of my trip or the hotel I stayed at. I don't want to be flamed because I don't think WDW is the happiest or greatest place on earth.
My Comments and Opinions-
Following is my trip report from May 2000. I'm writing this both to fulfill a pledge I made to some nice people who helped me and as notes to remind me years later what I did and thought of various things in Orlando.
First off I'll say that I used Bob Sehlinger's Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2000 as my main source of information, plus I read several of the popular WDW related web pages in detail, and I got good advice from email and some help from the RADP newsgroup.
Next, as a background on me, I'm single, in my thirties, and I like thrill rides. I already knew that WDW is not for thrills, so I went in with fairly low thrill expectations. However, Bob Sehlinger's comments and high rankings of several attractions made a few of them sound like they would be my kind of thrill rides, such as Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Rock 'n Rollercoaster. After each of these rides I came away disappointed. To be brief and to the point, in my opinion Bob Sehlinger severely overrated most attractions and as the trip wore on instead of using his book as a planning guide I found myself reading it so I could chuckle at his "WDW is so wonderful" viewpoint.
As far as thrills were concerned I thought Rock 'n Rollercoaster was a joke compared to Six Flags Magic Mountain's Viper or Batman rollercoasters, and as far as G-force was concerned Tower of Terror was a joke compared to Knotts Berry Farm's Tower of Screams. Visually the WDW attractions are always vastly superior, but on G-forces WDW misses the mark, I think.
I found the following generalization pretty representative of my feelings about all the WDW parks: WDW's theming and creative design are superior to any other theme parks, but when it comes to content (thrills and the ability to sustain my interest) I found myself saying that the simpler theme parks in California beat WDW overall. Six Flags doesn't care much how the attraction looks, but they care about content. Colossus is a mild rollercoaster now, but at its premier it was quite exciting. Six Flags didn't spend tons of money and time making it look neat. They built it on top of a parking lot and left the car stall markings there (at least for a while) which looked quite ugly, but the rollercoaster is good. If WDW were to build Colossus they would've planted elaborate gardens everywhere and made it look fancy, but the ride probably wouldn't be half as fun. Of course Colossus is an outdated and mediocre rollercoaster nowadays.
If you are a thrill seeker, Orlando is not the place for you, but for children it's probably the best place around. I can see why they like it. Also, if you are an ornamental horticultarist or into gardening, WDW has some of the most amazing and creative landscaping I've seen. As I moved between attractions I tried to appreciate the surrounding beauty, but I didn't spend very long gawking at the landscapes. I just said "neato" to myself and moved on. The Flower & Garden show at Epcot, which consisted of various flower exhibits strewn through the park, added to the landscape beauty. Never have I seen so many types of colorful roses and somehow every plant there seemed to be growing perfectly. Nowhere was there a dead branch or scrawny plant. I daresay the WDW gardners and landscapers may be the most talented bunch at WDW.
I guess I picked a good time of year to go because the parks were not very crowded, so I was told. Other than a handful of things at the Magic Kingdom, I was able to see EVERYTHING at all 4 WDW parks, both Universal parks, and Seaworld in 7 days with time to spare. In fact, I bought a 5 day Park Hopper pass because so many people told me that 4 days was not enough to see all 4 WDW parks, even in the off season. I was told Epcot alone would take at least 2 days. Also, the person at the Disney Store where I bought the pass told me I could change my pass later on for more or less days. Wrong! You can only upgrade, not downgrade. I was silly to believe that salesperson. Disney refund money? Hah! That'll be the day.
Well, thanks to that misinformation I have 1 day left on my Park Hopper pass and the chance of me using it any time in the next decade is almost nil. Hopefully I'll find a relative who can use it someday. From all the talk I read before I went, I expected the WDW CMs to check IDs and associate fingerprints with each pass. In reality, except for annual passes, you can give your passes to anyone you want. The fact that both a hand stamp and pass are required for re-entry is the only thing that prevents more than 1 person from using the same pass on the same day.
Following are my opinions and comments about every attraction listed on each park's map which I visited. Note: A few of these descriptions contain spoilers, so if you have never been on a particular ride and want to keep everything a surprise, to be safe you should have someone else read the descriptions first to make sure there are no spoilers on the ones you care about.
My abbreviations: AA = Audio Animatronics. AK = Animal Kingdom. BS = Bob Sehlinger. CM = Cast Member (a Disney employee). DL = Disneyland. MGM = Disney-MGM Studios. MK = Magic Kingdom.
Missed: Astro Orbiter (they closed it down due to lightning as I got out of the elevator) Skipped rides: Dumbo, Fantasyland Carousel, Mad Hatter's Tea Cups, Mike Fink Keelboats, Tom Sawyer's Island, Toontown rides. Skipped shows: Diamond Horseshoe Saloon Revue, Magical Moments parade, Main Street Electrical parade, Disney Mania, Every Day's a Holiday, Sword in the Stone, Storytime with Belle. (I regret skipping these shows, but as this was my first day I got too wrapped up in the rides to pay attention to the show schedule.)
Alien Encounter - I must be missing something. It not only wasn't scary, I thought the effects were rather poorly done. Simply turning off the lights and showing me a flash of the container with a hole in it and then a rather fake looking AA alien didn't help. Also, the illusion of the alien supposedly walking behind my seat didn't work because my brain remembered that there was so little room between rows that an alien couldn't fit there. The video of the guy getting killed so they could spray people with water was nothing special too. It wasn't until the audio track induced a bunch of screams that a few people started screaming. I find it sad when the ride has to prod the audience to scream. If it were really scary people would scream on their own without a scream audio track. This attraction was a major disappointment. The real question is - how can anyone be scared by this waste of time?
Big Thunder Mountain - good. It seemed a little shorter in duration (and not quite as good) as DL's. This is the only ride where I met 2 nasty CMs. I asked if I could have a front seat. The CM kept me waiting there for quite a while letting others past until another CM came by and asked why I was standing there. I said I had asked to sit at the front. The first CM said "no, he didn't ASK. He TOLD me he was going to sit in the front." The second CM then practically screamed "get to the back of the train NOW!" Normally I would've complained about being treated that way, except I already knew that Disney doesn't care or do anything about complaints.
Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin - I guess this is the predecessor to Universal's Men in Black. The interactive nature makes this ride more interesting than most, although it's really nothing more than a dark ride with a spin control, a light gun, and a bunch of moving targets.
Carousel of Progress - I really enjoyed the first 3 decades of the show which were Walt's original creation and I thought very well done. Then the 2 modern segments came in to clash with the previous 3 and remind me how inferior modern Disney creativity is compared to Walt's own creativity. I would've much preferred Walt's original show untouched. Like I've said many times, in my opinion Walter Elias Disney himself had more creativity in his little finger than every employee combined at the modern Walt Disney Company.
Country Bear Jamboree - a much better show than DL's. This is very similar to the old show with the "Blood on the Saddle" song I remember at DL before they changed it (messed it up in my opinion).
Enchanted Tiki Room - Iago is annoying, but as far as interest level is concerned I find it about the same as the current Tiki Room at DL. I never liked the content (writing) of any of the Tiki Room shows, but I think the AA are great.
Fantasy in the Sky Fireworks - a nice display of fireworks worth seeing.
Hall of the Presidents - it would've been better than DL's except for the Bill Clinton political diatribe. When he started talking I found myself wishing I had a remote control to turn him off.
Haunted Mansion - excellent. I think the MK one may be slightly better than DL.
It's a Small World - this seems to be a smaller (and less enjoyable to me) version than DL's.
Jungle Cruise - good. It seems to be longer and have a greater variety of AA than DL.
Legend of the Lion King - OK if you like to see parts of a movie re- enacted with puppets. It didn't do much for me.
Liberty Belle Riverboat - a good view of hard to reach parts around the river but very slow.
Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh - OK. I don't know what was wrong with Mr. Toad's Wild Ride that they changed it to this. I found Mr. Toad at DL more fun, but there's nothing wrong with Winnie the Pooh. Definitely a kid's ride.
Peter Pan's Flight - OK for a dark ride. Seems to be just like DL's.
Pirates of the Carribean - I love the one at DL (mainly for its atmosphere, creativity and design), but the MK one is vastly inferior. It seems like they started to copy parts of the DL ride and then ran out of space and suddenly decided to end it. The end was so sudden and unfitting, I thought the ride was broken and they were letting us off in the middle, but no. that was the real end of the ride. Long ago the ride at DL had a lot of splashes in the water when the ships are firing their cannons. Now both rides at DL and WDW have very few splashes.
Snow White's Scary Adventures - seemed just like DL's. Not particularly interesting.
Space Mountain - very good. I liked it a little more than DL's. Whether valid or not, it seemed the track on the right when you enter is a little more fun than the left. (As I got off the ride I'll mention I witnessed a child go into hysterics from some sort of delayed stress reaction from this ride. The mother said to her daughter "that wasn't so bad, was it?" and "are you OK?". The daughter looked fine and kept saying "yeah, I'm OK" as she got out of the car. She then walked a few feet, went hysterical, started screaming and crying, and yelling "I want to go home!")
Splash Mountain - a pretty good flume ride with good design and atmosphere.
Swiss Family Treehouse - ho-hum. I climbed it because it was there.
Timekeeper - a 360 degree film with AA and Robin Williams' humor. I'll remain neutral on this one because it had an even mix of humor, boredom, creativity, and stupidity.
Tomorrowland Indy Speedway - BS was right on this. To adults it may be the most boring ride ever. Wait 25 minutes to drive a hard to steer car whose top speed is 5 MPH. The funny thing is you have to wear a seat belt as if you could get hurt at 5 MPH and then they tell you not to bump the car in front of you. Talk about no fun. Give me bumper cars over this any day!
Tomorrowland Transit Authority - like the old Peoplemover at DL but faster. The most interesting part is some of the views inside Space Mountain.
WDW railroad - not as good as DL because it doesn't have the tunnel with the dinosaurs and Grand Canyon, plus only 3 stops instead of 4.
Sadly I became too tired and sick to return to the MK on Saturday to see the Main Street Electrical Parade or any of the other shows. Of all 7 theme parks I visited in Orlando, MK is by far the most entertaining and interesting of the bunch. It's the only park where I couldn't quite see everything in 1 day.
Skipped: The Making of Me
The biggest surprise was that I finished Epcot in less than 1 day. I skipped only 1 attraction listed on the map - The Making of Me. I walked down every path, peeked into every store and restaurant, and even went through some incredibly silly exhibits such as Sweden's 4 seasons in the Millenium Village.
American Adventure - one of the better AA shows and while still extremely light (superficial) on the educational side, probably the most educational show at WDW (which isn't saying much). BS raved about this show as a "must-see". I went to a lot of effort to see this show because the day I went to Epcot some Millenium Dreamers crowd (whoever they are) closed it down all day. I then made a special trip from AK to Epcot to see this show which in total consumed nearly 3 hours of my time. (It takes a long time to move between parks, especially when you have a slow bus driver stopping other places first.) BS bragged how Benjamin Franklin climbs up a set of stairs at one point. not quite. As the light comes on you see him just finishing the last stair. In other words, there are no spectacular AA feats. This show is certainly worth seeing, but hardly a "must-see" in my opinion.
Body Wars - an OK motion simulator. Very similar to Star Tours.
Circle of Life - I give this a positive rating if for no other reason than it's original material rather than recycled footage. The point of the show is worthwhile and predictable, and there's a small bit of education here for kids. Anyone with half a brain already knows that "everyone makes a difference to the environment". The problem is that it only takes a few people who don't care to nullify all the people who do care.
Cranium Command - an OK AA presentation. I liked it because of the various actors and bits of humor.
El Rio del Tiempo - accurately described as a poor-man's attempt at It's a Small World. It's so short if you skip this you're not missing anything.
Food Rocks - it's hard to describe this show. The AA are mediocre and the characters look very cheaply made and plain (of course I agree most food and kitchen wares are rather plain looking). The show is like a miniature Bear Country Jamboree except the food and kitchen wares sing to parodies of various popular rock and roll songs.
Honey I Shrunk the Audience - a 3-D show worth seeing. I was amazed that none of the CMs running this show at Epcot could answer this simple question: is this show exactly the same as DL's? You'd think they'd be trained to answer that. Instead they all said "I don't know. I've never been to DL before." The answer is. yes it's exactly the same.
Illuminations - the best thing at Epcot, I think. After reading all the scary stories about the park being packed and it taking an hour to get out, I asked several CMs for advice. They told me not to go any closer than the Fantasia 2000 topiary if I wanted to get out in less than 10 minutes so I could catch my bus. So I sat on the fence on the lake side of the topiary for almost an hour until the show started. During that hour there was almost no change in the crowd levels nearby as people were gathering along the lake. I realized I'd have no crowd trouble at all. Then at the last moment a bunch of inconsiderate parents stopped 10 feet in front of me, hoisted their whining children up on their shoulders and created a nearly impenetrable 9' wall blocking my view. In spite of this, the only thing I had trouble seeing was the globe in the center of the lake thanks to those parents. The fireworks were great and the music worked well. When it was over I was out in the parking lot in 5 minutes. If I had known the crowds would be so low I would've gotten a lakefront seat. I assume these scary crowd stories come from busier times of the year. Live and learn.
Impressions de France - a very good 180 degree film. As someone who doesn't care much for France (mainly because I know how they hate Americans), I was surprised I liked this so much. The music was good French classical music and there was almost no narration. It is basically a series of beautiful scenes from France. It could possibly be called a live action France-tasia.
Innoventions - probably more boring than DL's, but at least you're not forced to listen to a presentation before you can walk around. I went through both Innoventions buildings in some detail because I had finished everything else and was killing time until Illuminations. I'd recommend saving this until last. I went through the Home Theater exhibit and came away thinking "how superficial"! The presenter kept saying "for the best sound you need surround sound". Here we go again with Disney employees afraid to educate people. I can imagine someone seeing this show going in to buy a sound system saying "I want a surround system" and then the salesman saying "What type? Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS, or Dolby Prologic?". It wouldn't hurt to explain the differences or does Disney think everyone is too technophobic?
Journey Into Your Imagination - it's a good concept, but there really isn't that much to see on this ride. There were far too few optical illusions and tricks, and you never get to do any imagining on your own because Eric Idle does it all for you.
Land of Many Faces (China) - I can't believe this ranks an attraction listing. It's a couple of walls of museum-like exhibits that would only interest China-buffs.
Living with the Land - I expected this slow boat ride to be a total loss, and it would've been except the journey through the experimental greenhouse was really interesting. It was so cool I almost took one of those $6 hour-long walking tours through the greenhouse except I just missed the last tour and I felt $6 was a little steep anyway.
Living Seas - the large aquariums are interesting to look at, but not a whole lot was happening in most of them. Before I went I was told this is a very large exhibit, and I wandered everywhere hoping to find a bunch more tanks without success. Either there is a secret area I missed or there really isn't that much to see here other than a handful of fish, a few very small sharks, and a couple manatees.
Maelstrom - a boring boat ride, but still the best boat ride at Epcot (which is not saying much). It scared me for a moment when I thought I was going to go over a waterfall backwards.
Millenium Village - more boring than Innoventions which is tough to do. This is an area for the other countries who didn't get a big area outside to show off their stuff. There really wasn't much to see. Sweden has a silly 4 seasons exhibit where you get to walk through hot and cold rooms overhead (wow!). Israel's Jerusalem adventure is the most interesting thing inside. It's a simple motion simulator and a very superficial history of Jerusalem. The film quality leaves a lot to be desired. The monitor outside suffers serious phosphor burn-in and the motion simulator is definitely the weakest I've been on. You feel like the motion was an afterthought to dress up an unexciting film. Well, at least they tried. I suppose some motion is better than none.
O Canada - one of the better 360 degree films because the scenery is beautiful. I'll mention that the paths to reach this show are tedious and hard to find.
Spaceship Earth - basically a Peoplemover through various minimal AA exhibits. I expected this to be more interesting than it was. Some of the light effects at the end were cool.
Tapestry of the Nations - I'm sorry to say I think this is the worst parade I've ever seen. The music is blah and repetitive. I forget it now but I think it may have consisted of a dozen or so notes and then it repeats. What a lack of creativity! You have 2 drummers on a rotating clock/drum following by a few people with stick figures, followed by more of the same drummers, followed by a few people with different colored stick figures, etc. I was amazed I managed to make it through the whole thing which fortunately was short. A couple of the paraders had to be helped by CMs as their stick figures fell apart on the route.
Test Track - not as exciting as people made it sound. As usual the ride decor was cool, but the ride itself was pretty boring other than when you go up to 65 MPH for a very brief time. I did this first so there was no line.
Universe of Energy - The fact I don't like Ellen DeGeneres at all and I don't think she knows how to be funny made it difficult for me to watch this. I found it more interesting to watch the seats break apart and travel around than the contents of the show itself. This ride had some potential as a dinosaur ride, but the AA were very unimpressive. As usual, there was very little educational content as Disney goes to great lengths to avoid explaining anything. The closest you get to education is the mention of various types of energy sources. I was surprised Alex Trebek and Jamie Lee Curtis wasted their time with this, but I guess money talks. The reason this show is so long is that the seats move very slowly. There was a little girl nearby who was freaking out when the seats started to move saying "I want to get off. I don't want to be on a ride." I guess I must've been a strange kid because when I was her age all I wanted to do was go on wild rides and rollercoasters. I disliked anything that was stationary. I consider myself far more tolerant of slow or stationary attractions nowadays.
Wonders of China - one of the better 360 degree films because of the pretty scenery.
Missed shows: Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular (unfortunately this was closed) Skipped shows: Bear in the Big Blue House
Backlot Tour - compared to Universal Studios Hollywood's backlot tram ride this is a joke, but at least they tried, right? Basically there is nothing particularly interesting to see and in typical Orlando fashion they try to get you wet (they squirt the tram with a garden sprinkler). In my opinion Catastrophe Canyon is about the same level as Jaws at Universal Studios, which is mostly ho-hum.
Backstage Pass - very little to see here. a few AA animals, combining an image with the Home Improvement show, and a couple soundstages where nothing interesting was happening. There was a bunch of 101 Dalmatians (live action) junk around, as if I cared.
Beauty and the Beast - basically some live-action excerpts from the movie. Not as well done as Hunchback of Notre Dame, but much better than Voyage of the Little Mermaid.
Doug Live - even though I had nothing left to do in the day (except Fantasmic) this show was so stupid and boring that I left before it was over. When it comes to story writing, content, and appeal to adults who don't watch this Doug cartoon, I rank this show a big 0. Definitely the worst show of my entire trip. Even IOA's Dr. Seuss and Universal's Barney shows were better (and I could care less about Dr. Seuss and Barney).
Fantasmic - this is the show that everyone raved and hyped about as the absolute must-see of the trip. Well, it was an impressive show, but I'd hardly says it's the "end-all be-all of the universe" as most people made it sound. Too much of the show (in my opinion) was spent projecting images onto water fountains. Watching images projecting on water is interesting for about a minute and then it gets old. The rest of the show with pyrotechnics and lights was good, yet still didn't live up to the images I had conjured in my mind. Too bad the dragon didn't tower over the entire mountain. I don't mean to say the show is bad in any way, but simply that it wasn't anywhere as spectacular as people built it up to be.
Great Movie Ride - OK, nothing special. The AA seemed rather weak here. Maybe kids might think that the gangster was taking over the ride for real, but for me it was a bit boring.
Honey I Shrunk the Kids Playground - of all the kids playgrounds I walked through, this one looked the most minimal and boring.
Hunchback of Notre Dame - a live action version of various scenes from the movie. Of all the shows I saw, I'd say the actors at this show were the most talented, so I thought this was worth seeing. The actors appeared to be doing their own singing instead of lip-syncing.
Magic of Disney Animation tour - the contents of the tour are quite useless as far as educational information is concerned. However, I enjoyed watching the animators at work through the glass. It amazes me the tour never bothers to tell you something as simple and important as the fact that the artist's rough sketch is traced over before it is scanned. The films provide no information at all - just a bunch of animation clips I'm already too familiar with.
Mulan Parade - I really liked this parade at DL, so I was very disappointed at this pathetic and far shorter version of it. There were a few cool floats, but where were all the great acrobats? Are they unable to find the same talent in Orlando that they can in Anaheim?
Muppetvision 3-D - a typical 3-D movie with some AA. I enjoyed it more than the other 3-D shows because I like the Muppets' sense of humor and the 2 critics. I also think that of all the 3-D shows this one harasses the audience the least, which is good. All the other 3-D shows spray you with something, but I can't remember if you get sprayed a little in this one too.
Rock `n Rollercoaster - the initial acceleration and first loop is GREAT, but that's the highlight of it all. The remainder of this very brief ride is much like a Space Mountain where you can see parts of the highway illuminated. I rode it twice and found it rather boring each time. Way overrated.
Sounds Dangerous - you get to listen to a bunch of directional sound effects mostly in the dark as Drew Carey tries to solve a crime. This show is basically silly and a good way to waste 15 minutes if you have nothing better to do.
Star Tours - an OK motion simulator. Exactly the same as DL's ride once inside the "ship".
Twilight Zone Tower of Terror - nothing special other than the theming and design of the hotel. I found the visual effects when the elevator is stopping at various floors more interesting than the over-hyped "freefall" drops. Someone told me it was a 13-floor drop. As I recall, it was about 5 short drops followed by rises which might total 13 floors, but not all at once. Regardless, the drops are too brief to scare me or cause me any noticeable excitement. I rode it twice and consider it way overrated. I give it good marks for its theming and design, but for thrills it gets a big ho-hum.
Voyage of the Little Mermaid - another live action summary of a movie, and of course I prefer the movie. The most impressive part of this show is contemplating the amount of work that went into building the giant Ursula "puppet". Basically too much of the movie was glossed over to present anything meaningful to people who hadn't seen it (if such people exist). The show should be called "a few live-action scenes from the Little Mermaid movie".
Missed shows: Tarzan Rocks (closed thanks to Rosie O'Donnell)
Boneyard - of the various kids play zones at the various parks, this looked like one of the more interesting ones. As an adult without kids I spent about 2 minutes walking through it.
Conservation Station - the most boring thing at AK. The train ride is OK, but there is so little to see at the Conservation Station (unless you happen to arrive during an animal surgery) I looked at everything and was out of there in 15 minutes. What exciting animals do you get to pet at the petting zoo? Goats! Wow! Seriously, why bother if you can't pet something more interesting than goats?
Dinosaur - to promote their new film, Disney changed the name from Countdown to Extinction. I enjoyed this ride because of the bumpy jeep- like ride which is very similar to Indiana Jones at DL. Unfortunately the ride content and AA aren't anywhere as good as Indiana Jones, but it was still somewhat fun.
Dinosaur Jubilee - a very small exhibit of dinosaur bones and fossils, but what's there is interesting.
Festival of the Lion King - basically a circus and acrobat show which is fairly entertaining because of its "high energy" as the park brochure accurately describes. I couldn't help notice one of the monkey acrobats took his character so seriously he habitually kept sticking his tongue out and making faces every few seconds. (I started to wonder if his over- acting monkey habits showed up in his outside life.) There is a boring part of the show with 2 people on wires. whoopee! The fire dancer also messed up, but it's worth seeing. Of all the shows I visited this was the most crowded. The "Camp Minnie-Mickey" area does not seem to handle crowds well.
Flights of Wonder - a mediocre show whose only value is being able to see several types of birds. The writing is rather lame, the few tricks the birds perform are nothing special, and a couple of the birds didn't do what they were supposed to.
Fossil Preparation Lab - you get to watch a couple workers scraping dirt off fossils through a window. Good for about 10 seconds before you get bored.
It's Tough To Be a Bug - a typical entertaining 3-D show, except this one sprays you more than any other show I've seen. I didn't care to breathe that thick layer of mist simulating pest spray. I think this show was overly audience-interactive (or "harrassive" as I call it). I was practically expecting them to light the audience on fire next. You get the best view of the Tree of Life while walking toward this show. A word of warning - I entered this show about 5 minutes before the show was scheduled to start thinking that was plenty of time to make it. I didn't know that this is a very long and windy path where people stop to gawk at the tree and take pictures. It took almost 10 minutes to reach the theatre and I had to wait for the next show.
Kali River Rapids - a decent and typical river rapids ride, except there are 2 or 3 spots where you really get wet. A poncho helps a lot, but not 100%.
Kilimanjaro Safaris - a nice drive where you can see several animals (although the lions are almost always asleep). What no one told me is that all the cool stuff is on the LEFT side of the vehicle and I sat on the right side. I would've ended up on the left side except the CM let a few people cut in front of me.
Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends - this low-budget show features 1 actress playing Pocahantas, 2 AA, and a few animals running across the stage. I felt neutral about this kid's show - it was neither good nor bad. I watched it because it was there and I was there at the right time.
I didn't comment on the specific paths. I'll just say that the various trails or paths with animal exhibits are well worth exploring. In fact, I think the paths were the most interesting parts of AK. I certainly didn't go to AK for rides because I knew there were only 3 of them.
My overall opinion of AK - Disney needs to add a lot more stuff and a lot more animals to justify the admission price. To me AK feels like only half a theme park. Unless you are an ultra slowpoke or go on a very crowded day, 8 AM to 6 PM is more than enough time to see everything here and then some. The San Diego Zoo has a lot more animals to see.
Skipped: preshow of Earthquake (it was closed in the morning), end of Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies.
The order I did things: - Saturday - Back to the Future (5 min), Men in Black (no wait), Jaws (no wait), Earthquake (no wait), Twister (no wait), Kongfrontation (5 min), Terminator 2 3-D (5 min), Nickelodeon Studios (no wait), Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera (10 min). - Monday 9:00am to 11:00am - Back to the Future, Men in Black, E.T., Terminator 2 3-D.
Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies - this presentation did its best to avoid any education (in the WDW tradition) and just presented a bunch of film clips, then you get to see a miniature of the Bates hotel, and then some demonstration I decided to skip to make it to the Gory Makeup show on time. Basically this show is a total loss unless you enjoy seeing clips from Hitchcock films. I prefer to watch the films themselves at home.
Animal Actors Stage - if it hadn't been for the orangutang, this show would've been a total loss. Several times the animals didn't do what they were supposed to. Also, I thought they treated the volunteer kid who was afraid of the fake alligator in the pool rather unkindly. Much like Seaworld's shows, the animals weren't very well trained. except for the orangutang. Near the end of the show, this orangutang saved it by doing impersonations, mocking the trainer, stealing the microphone, and other funny things. It's usually hard to make me laugh, but I laughed a lot during those few precious minutes. Like I said, the rest of the show was a waste. Too bad they can't come up with a longer show featuring just that orangutang.
AT&T At the Movies - a rather worthless exhibit on the history of movies which is mostly just an attempt at AT&T advertising.
Back to the Future - the best motion simulator ride, but it's still just a motion simulator ride and only somewhat exciting. I probably enjoyed the preshow with Doc Brown and Biff more than the ride itself. I rode it twice and looked around to see that there are 8 vehicles at different heights in front of a single 180 degree screen. My first ride on it was ruined by a fat kid who looked like Pugsley Addams who was determined to grind his knee and elbow into me as hard as he could throughout the ride. He was completely oblivious to the fact I existed and he was squashing me.
Beetlejuice's Rock `n Roll Graveyard Revue - I came away feeling this was a complete waste of time. The jokes are crude, the humor is weak, the songs are not particularly good, and the music is played too loud. There is at least 1 very loud pyrotechnic thrown in just to startle people. It occurred to me that this show would probably appeal to Howard Stern fans.
Blues Brothers - this very short show consists of a couple songs from the movie, Soul Man, and something else. The Blues Brothers and Aretha Franklin impersonators are not particularly good singers, so I left before this was over.
Boneyard - there are so few props on display it hardly deserves to be listed. The truth is that neither Disney-MGM nor Universal Studios Florida have any of the really cool props from movie history. Those are mostly either at the studios in Hollywood, given to people who worked on the movie, or sold off to collectors.
Curious George Goes to Town - a small play area for kids to get wet.
Day in the Park with Barney - a sing along show just for kids. The only reason I saw this was out of curiosity. At least it wasn't hideous like Doug Live so I made it through the whole thing.
E.T. - Universal's cheap attempt at Peter Pan's Flight with poor AA. Everyone going on the ride was given a laminated E.T. Adventure card which I have no clue what its purpose is.
Earthquake - OK, I guess. I'm sure it was a lot of work to make those water and fire effects happen. However, the effects were so brief and things broke in such slow motion that it didn't have much impact on me. The preshow was not running and I doubt it was much of a loss.
Fievel's Playground - it looked OK for a kid's playground.
Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera - yet another motion simulator ride. At least it has a few good parts (fun turns) in it.
Gory, Gruesome & Grotesque Makeup Show - as always, audience education is avoided at all costs other than a few morsels of makeup information most people already know. If it weren't for a few off-the-wall pieces of humor this show would've been another total loss. The name is inaccurate as there is really nothing gross at all. The makeup guy rigged up a blood squib on a Chuckie doll and the squib didn't go off, so he just continued on as if it had worked. This same guy kept laughing uncontrollably and the sidekick said to the control booth "will someone help me out?" I don't know if this stupidity was written into the script, the makeup guy was on drugs, or he was so bored he was trying to laugh himself unconscious.
Jaws - OK, but not particularly exciting. I'm surprised they took us as there were only 3 people on the boat including me. If you don't want to get splashed, avoid sitting near the front or sides of the boat.
Kongfrontation - mediocre. Maybe kids can be scared by this, but it all looks too fake to me.
Lucy: A Tribute - a small room with a few exhibits and pictures from I Love Lucy. It's barely enough to warrant a listing on the map and it only took me about 5 minutes to look at everything.
Men in Black - a bit better than Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger spin except you can't control your car.
Nickelodeon Studios - as much as I don't care about Nickolodeon, the tour guides were humorous enough (for adults) to make this worthwhile. It's also funny to see kids want to get green slime poured on them. These same kids would probably say yes to the question "Would you like to have a 16 ton weight dropped on top of you?"
Stage 54 - a small and boring exhibit of props from "The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas". Big deal.
Terminator 2 3-D - BS calls this the "nation's best theme-park attraction". While I would hope there are many better attractions across the country, this show is excellent because of its content and special effects, and it's one of the few Orlando attractions that lived up to the hype. Of course I knew I'd like it because it was done by James Cameron, one of the few Hollywood directors who still knows how to make a good movie, in my opinion. (In case you're wondering I think Hollywood mostly puts out trash.) The story, 3D effects, live action and screen action blend very well, making sure that Terminator fans like me will enjoy it. Rather than call it the "nation's best theme-park attraction" I would call it a "superb live-action and 3-D integrated attraction".
Twister - of all the "watch things blow up" attractions like Earthquake and Jaws, I liked this one the most. Perhaps I just liked the way the roof rattled and moved? There really wasn't much wind and you could see the strings on the cow, but it was OK.
Wild Wild Wild West Stunt Show - the best show at Universal. The writing and the humor was decent, plus the stuntmen (and women) actually had the guts to do a few real stunts (unlike Knotts Berry Farms' gutless joke of a stunt show). I thought the actor who played the short sidekick was especially good and he made this enjoyable.
Woody Woodpecker's Nuthouse Coaster - a super short rollercoaster for kids. I went on it just so I could laugh at this. For someone like me who thinks Viper at Magic Mountain is too tame, this coaster ranks a 0 on the thrill level, but of course I didn't expect anything different. Kids need their own coaster to work them up to the real coasters. I was surprised they allowed adults to ride this.
Islands of Adventure-
The order I did things: - Saturday 3:00pm to 8:00pm: Poseidon's Fury (25 min), Dueling Dragons (ice) (10 min), Jurassic Park River Adventure (10 min), Cat in the Hat (15 min), Dr. Doom's Fearfall (5 min), Incredible Hulk (20 min). - Monday 7:00am to 9:00am - Amazing Adventures of Spiderman (3 times) (no wait), Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls (no wait), Dueling Dragons (twice on each track) (no wait), One Fish Two Fish. (no wait), Dr. Doom's Fearfall (no wait), Incredible Hulk (5 min) - Monday 11:00am to 1:00pm - Dr. Seuss show, Carous-seussel, boat ride, Eighth Voyage of Sinbad.
Missed: Popeye and Bluto's Bilge Rafts (closed for repair), Pterandon Flyers (IOA won't allow adults without children on it).
For a comment on how useless Universal's general information number is, 2 days before I visited IOA for the first time I called and specifically asked if any attractions would be closed when I would be going there. I was told everything would be open. After I found out the Bilge Rafts were closed, I called again and asked the same question: is everything open at the park? I was told yes. I then told the lady I had just been there and her information was incorrect. She got mad and hung up on me. I called back and asked someone else if there was anyone at IOA who had accurate ride information. I got a direct number for Guest Relations and they knew what was going on. The point: if you want accurate park information you must call Guest Relations directly at each park.
General note: IOA is the most poorly maintained of all the parks I visited. The few employees you find are usually walking so fast you can't catch them, and the ones I did catch gave me lots of wrong information. Several major rides broke down many times during the day. It was a miracle I managed to get on them all between breakdowns. Saturday evening the line to Guest Relations was so long it went out the door. I was told that attendance was 28,000 that day, while typical weekday attendance is 10,000 or less. Never go to IOA on a Saturday (unless you've finished with Universal Studios like I did and have nothing else to do).
Amazing Adventures of Spiderman - the best ride I went on in Orlando! I agree with BS that this may be the most technologically advanced ride around. I'd describe it as a motion simulator car in a Mr. Toad's Wild Ride with 3-D rear projection screens seamlessly built into the sets. It's rare that I get surprised and disoriented, but it happened each of the 3 times I rode it, even when I took my 3-D glasses off. The part where you start moving up above the city and then bounce off the walls and land in Spiderman's net amazes me. I think I know where the switch in directions occurs, but I can't describe it exactly. Clearly the 3-D screens are on all 4 sides of you. Apparently this ride is unreliable and breaks down a lot because of fuses blowing in the cars, so I was told. I tried to ride it Saturday evening but it was broken then. Fortunately it was working Monday morning. While I still don't think this ride alone justifies the admission price to IOA, I can tell you if IOA didn't have this ride I would've really felt shortchanged on my admission.
Camp Jurassic - there are a lot of caves to explore here for kids, but not much else. The exits were so poorly marked that I kept running into dead ends and it took me nearly 10 minutes to find my way out of this trap.
Caro-Seuss-el - you know I was really bored since I went on this. I think carousels are quite boring for adults without kids.
Cat in the Hat - Universal's attempt at a Winnie the Pooh type dark ride which proves that Disney does these types of rides so much better. There is very little to see in the ride and the AA are poor. A true waste of time for adults without kids. If anyone asks why I went on this, the answer is "because it was there". This ride was broken part of Saturday.
Dr. Doom's Fearfall - instead of something fun like Magic Mountain's Freefall or Knott's Berry Farm's Supreme Scream where you are slowly lifted to the top of a tower and dropped a long way, this ride shoots you up to the top of the tower really fast and then slowly lets you down in bursts. A fast acceleration upward is far less exciting to me than a fast drop. I went on it twice and I was incredibly bored. It's questionable if this ride was worth the 5 minute wait.
Dr. Seuss Presents: A Something for Everyone - a simple kids show which is boring for adults. I was entertained by a few kids who got scared when the Grinch came out, and one kid freaked out every time a lovebug flew by (which was about every 10 seconds). Since I was so bored I spent most of my time squashing those lovebugs. I found out if you separate 2 lovebugs they just fly off and don't try to get back together. That's what I learned from this show.
Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls - this is a decent flume ride. The drop in the dark followed by a hill followed by another drop surprised me. In fact, although I was wearing a poncho that surprise drop and rise blew my poncho up over my head and the second drop got me all wet. The big drop was fun and didn't get me wet because I learned to hold my poncho down after getting nailed by the previous drop.
Dueling Dragons - I enjoyed this more than the Incredible Hulk. The red (fire) track is definitely more fun than the blue (ice). I rode each track twice in the front and I'd say this ride gets pretty close to Magic Mountain's Batman rollercoaster. Sadly the very last part of the blue track is very unexciting. Also, immediately after I rode on both Saturday and Monday, Dueling Dragons broke down for a long time. You'd be wise to ride this early before it breaks down.
Eighth Voyage of Sinbad - this is the only real show IOA has (the Seuss show hardly counts). The special effects were good enough to make this worthwhile. I was surprised they went so far as to set someone on fire who dives into a pool of water. At least the stuntmen/actors put in some effort here. (Compare that to Knott's Berry Farm's pathetic stunt show where the stuntmen are lazy and a single 2-story fall is the only stunt in the whole show.)
If I Ran the Zoo - a kids' area so minimal it hardly deserves a listing on the map.
Incredible Hulk - as a rollercoaster fan I would say this is very good, but still not up to the level of Viper at Magic Mountain. I rode it twice in a row (once in the front) and didn't feel like riding it again. People onboard were saying "that's awesome". I felt like saying to them "It's not bad, but if you think that's awesome I guess you haven't been to Magic Mountain then."
Jurassic Park Discovery Center - it's hard to believe this ranks a listing as an attraction. There is less to see here than Animal Kingdom's Discovery Center.
Jurassic Park River Adventure - a poor attempt at a water flume ride with some extremely limited AA like Jungle Cruise. Basically this ride is a total loss except for the big drop at the end.
Mystic Fountain - hard to believe this ranks as an attraction. This water fountain randomly says stuff and squirts people. Big wow. Maybe it's not random and there's a guy with a camera controlling it, but I was too bored with it to watch for very long.
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish - a stupid ride only for kids or people who want to get wet. In this short ride there are only 3 times when water is shot at you and although I followed the instructions correctly (and so did a couple others nearby) we each got squirted by water once.
Poseidon's Fury - the best part of this was the entry water tunnel where the water is shot so hard it goes in a circle over your head. The show (if you can call it that) had some OK effects and since I was far in the back I could safely watch people in the front get wet. I waited 25 minutes for this on Saturday and it was just barely worth that wait.
Triceratops Encounter - after winding down a bunch of paths you finally go inside a small building where there is an AA triceratops that breathes and moves a little bit. Perhaps this is the actual triceratops used in the Jurassic Park movie? Kids might like this, but for an adult this is a waste of time.
One of the employees at IOA was so ignorant, I asked him if the Flying Unicorn was open and he said yes and pointed me to the fenced-off area where it was being built!
BS seemed to describe IOA as a thrill ride theme park for adults, but he was quite wrong in my opinion. This is definitely a kids' park and frankly there isn't enough to do to fill the day if you come when it isn't crowded.
Missed: Anheuser Busch beer show (I'm not a beer drinker), Slack Rope Walker (I kept forgetting about it and walking by just as it was ending).
Clyde & Seymour - I have the same feelings on this show as Shamu. basically it's lousy. I don't know if it's in the script, but there were numerous comments by the actors on how bad the lines in the show were and I agreed. The last time I saw a seal show was at Seaworld San Diego about 15 years ago. I remember the seals playing musical instruments, juggling balls on their noses, rolling over, sitting up, playing dead, and making sounds on cue. What were the tricks the seals could do now? I can't even remember any. The seals seemed to follow the actors around, maybe grab a map or chase something briefly, and make a few noises on cue, and of course splash the audience - the most important trick of any animal at any Orlando park. The seals were so talentless they couldn't perform the part where they were supposed to wait for their bowls to be filled before eating. After 3 takes the "actor" gave up. Yeah, great show. A couple people told me this was among the best 3 shows at Seaworld. Gag.
Intensity Games (water sports show) - the most entertaining show at Seaworld. The plot to this show was infinitely superior to Clyde & Seymour, Shamu, and the dolphin show. What plot you say? Exactly! There is no plot and believe me it's superior!
Journey to Atlantis - a decent flume ride. I didn't get wet on the big drop, but the second tiny drop caused a big wave to crash over me in the front. What surprised me is that after we were lifted back up the water disappeared and for a few seconds the log became a rollercoaster on wheels travelling quite fast. I think a combination log flume and rollercoaster ride is a good idea. Too bad the rollercoaster portion didn't last a lot longer.
Key West - petting the dolphins and the stringrays is cool.
Key West Dolphin show - the false killer whales were pretty talentless like the seals and Shamu, but at least the audience participation and the guy running the show made it tolerable. I can't remember what tricks the dolphins did, but they were nothing too exciting.
Manatees - they are kind of boring to watch just eating their lettuce.
Penguin Encounter - somewhat interesting if you like to watch penguins.
Shamu show - the last time I saw a Shamu show was at Seaworld San Diego about 15 years ago. I remember Shamu jumping through hoops (which may have been on fire too), touching poles with his nose, fetching stuff from the water, spinning in circles, and letting people ride him and stick their heads in his mouth. What were the tricks Shamu could do now: jump, splash the audience, wiggle his head, splash the audience, let someone ride on him, and did I say splash the audience? I guess Shamu isn't trained as well now. I was surprised how many people wanted to be splashed by Shamu (I wasn't one of them).
Shamu Rocks show - exactly the same as the regular Shamu show except Shamu does his few tricks in a different order to different music. What a waste of time to stay late in the park for this show!
Terrors of the Deep - the size and variety of the sharks in the giant aquarium are impressive.
Wild Arctic - a poor attempt at a Star Tours motion simulator ride. The biggest downside of this was not the content or visuals, but the fact the rear projection screen was very poor and low resolution. I could see the interlaced scan lines and that made the whole thing feel very fake. I think the movement was rougher than Star Tours. I felt this "ride" wasn't worth the 20 minutes I waited for it. The exhibit itself is OK, especially the polar bears.
Overall I thought Seaworld's shows were rather poor, but the exhibits were decent and Journey to Atlantis is good. Too bad Kracken wasn't quite open. Judging by the track it looks like Kracken is a very short ride.
I used both USA Transportation and Superstar Shuttle which were the hotel's free park shuttles, and I didn't like either one. Going to and from the parks there were at least 4 other stops, so the travel time is anywhere from 40 min to 100 min depending on how many people are on board and how slow the driver is. The drivers took some very roundabout routes and bizarre shortcuts, in my opinion, including a useless shortcut through a shopping mall parking lot.
The USA Transportation bus took 100 minutes to reach the Magic Kingdom because he told me he had to keep making stops until he got enough people to justify the trip. Most of the hotel stops were empty early in the morning, so we must've stopped at 8 different hotels before he was satisfied. We barely made it to the MK before it opened. After this I learned to use MEARS if I wanted to get to the parks in a reasonable amount of time. Also, one day I took MEARS to a park and then decided I'd try the USA shuttle back to the hotel, so I called from the park to make a "reservation". The guy on the phone took the info, and when I showed up for the mostly-empty shuttle at the end of the day the driver didn't want to take me because he said I didn't have a reservation. I told him I had called and made one. He said "well, my radio broke so no one told me." Finally he said "well, I'm going there anyway, so I guess I'll take you." It's amazing I should be treated like that because of their mistake. There shouldn't have been a moment's hesitation in him agreeing to take me.
The old Superstar Shuttle driver had no clue where my hotel was, even though it was listed on his route. I told him exactly where it was and he acted like he was still uncertain, but he said "Don't worry. I'll get you there". Then in heavy traffic as we approached the left turn he was still in the right line. I told him across the bus he needed to turn left. He again said "Don't worry. I'll get you there" and he went past the turnoff. I told him he could make the next left turn if he got over quickly. He said "I know how to get there" and he made no attempt to get in the left lane as we approached the intersection. I then got up and demanded he let me off immediately, so I ended up walking a block with a very sore leg, but that's life when you have a driver like this.
All except one of our MEARS drivers were good and professional. I'd avoid the free hotel shuttles like the plague unless you can't afford to pay for more reliable transportation such as MEARS or taxis. MEARS is not great, but it's better than the hotel shuttles.
I-Ride Trolley. If you are going along a small stretch of International Drive, for 75 cents each way this works well depending on the time you go. It took about 30 minutes to get to and from the hotel and Seaworld which are near opposite ends of the stretch. The trolley was 15 minutes late the first time, and worse yet the trolley was jammed with people both times I rode. I was lucky I got a seat. If you use the trolley give yourself a lot of extra time figuring that it may take a while before you get a trolley which isn't full.
Taxis. I only had experience with 3 companies. Yellow Cab never showed up. USA Transportation charged more and the driver was not friendly, but at least he showed up. Both drivers from Diamond Taxi were friendly, on time, and had cheaper fares, so they got big tips. The typical taxi rate seemed to work out to about $4 or $5 per 2 miles.
I found that the better the attraction, the shorter the wait. The longest waits were for Peter Pan's Flight, Winnie the Pooh, Tomorrowland Speedway, and Astro Orbiter. The shortest waits were for the big rides like Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Haunted Mansion.
Overall I think Disneyland in Anaheim is better than the Magic Kingdom in Orlando and I will continue to visit Disneyland every few years.
I find most of the motion simulator rides are about the same and rather boring. Back to the Future was the best of the bunch, but I feel like "you've seen one, you've seen them all". I sure hope this isn't a new trend that instead of traditional track rides we're going to get tons of motion simulators. Of course if they were all as impressive as Spiderman, which I consider a hybrid of several types of rides, I wouldn't mind.
Many attractions are great opportunities to educate people, yet both WDW and Universal seem to take a big pass at every opportunity (perhaps out of fear they have a bunch of Homer Simpsons in the audience who'll leave if they have to learn anything). There are almost no narratives or explanations anywhere on any of the attractions when I would've liked some. The preshow movies did their best to avoid any education other than "no eating, smoking, or flash photography" (the latter of which most people ignored anyway).
Why are 7-Up and Pepsi so unpopular in Orlando? Each WDW park basically sells the following soft drinks: Coca-Cola, Sprite, Minute Maid Lemonaid, and Mountain Dew. I think the MK may have also sold Barq's Root Beer. In my opinion that's a pretty poor selection (especially at $1.79 for a small and $2.19-$2.79 for a large) for someone like me who prefers 7-Up, Pepsi, and root beer. I looked at several outside grocery stores and finally found a place that carries 7-Up and Pepsi. For a while I thought maybe there was a law in Florida forbidding the sale of 7-Up and Pepsi. Actually, Seaworld sells Pepsi, but you may die before you find 7-Up at an Orlando theme park.
My final opinion: Orlando has a lot of stuff to do, but it is not all that it is cracked up to be. Either the people I heard hyping WDW like it contains the greatest theme parks in the world are not hard to impress or I must be weird. I'm still very glad I went on this trip, if for nothing more than to satisfy my curiosity and see if the hype was justified. The hype definitely is not justified. All 7 theme parks I visited are really designed for children, and I found myself bored too often. I have absolutely no desire to visit Orlando again, at least not for a decade or two until they've added enough new stuff to justify another trip or until I have children of my own. I still think California's theme parks, though not as numerous and spread out across the state, are more fun than what I saw in Orlando.