Thursday brought another early start, this time at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. All week, I had been referring to it as ‘MGM’ since it originally opened as Disney-MGM Studios in ’89, and regardless of how often I corrected myself I kept defaulting back to the old moniker. No matter; it was the same place. Really, for the most part, it WAS the same park I remembered.
When we strolled up to the entrance, I looked for a particular flower bed. I had a picture of Dad, my brother, and me in front of the gates from back in the day and I wanted to try to recreate it. Since the area had now become a simple flat walkway, I wasn’t able to position myself perfectly…but I got close! I was delighted to see that the major signage still had that retro Hollywood feeling. As we entered the park proper, I realized that most of what was around me was exactly how it was all those years ago. I knew that the park was due for MAJOR work (over the next three years, they’re adding a Star Wars land and a Toy Story land, in addition to renovating the majority of the existing park) and it became obvious that it had been the least updated over the course of my absence. That didn’t bother me, though. It remained my favorite of the three parks, partially due to the overwhelming sense of nostalgia that greeted me at every turn. I was very pleased to see Gertie the dinosaur was still standing at Echo Lake!
It wasn’t just nostalgia, though. A lot of the accents and design choices in the park mirrored things that I have become passionate about in my adult life. Art Deco architecture, classic service stations, drive-in theaters, mid-20th century life, and classic movies. The park had originally been designed as a “behind the scenes” experience and a love letter to movie-making itself; I could tell that as years progressed, that focus had been lessened. The backlot tour was gone and most of the newer rides had little to do with that behind-the-scenes theme. Still, it didn’t feel jarring. It was a Disney park, and the details mattered. The transitions were well thought out. And the old rides still worked!
Our first stop was my favorite ride at the park, Star Tours. Since my last visit, it has been upgraded to include multiple branching options for your ‘Star Tour’ which takes you on a journey through the Star Wars universe. During our time at the park that day, we rode it three times and had a different experience each go-round! It quickly became Sam’s favorite ride at the park, too. She became downright giddy any time we were in line, eager to experience her next journey in a galaxy far, far away.
As we walked around the park, we wandered into a back-lot style section that resembled a city street. All of the walls were lined with Christmas lights, even though it was only October. When we talked to one of the cast members, we learned this was the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights, in place since 1995, and was entering its final year on the property. Given the fact that this portion of the park was due to be repurposed, that made sense…though I felt a pang of sadness for the loss of the beautiful area and what I’m sure is a stunning display of synchronized Christmas lights each season.
We turned a corner and I was face-to-face with a part of the park I had been sure would be gone: the Honey I Shrunk the Kids play area. Given the age of the movie, I had expected it to be entirely wiped from the park. After I finished my coffee, I gleefully ran in to take a picture with the over-sized ant. It was another landmark from an old photo, which I recreated to the best of my memory. It was another piece of the park experience that reminded me, for all its glorious memories for yours truly, the place is due for a lot of updating. We continued walking through the park, admiring the recreation of Mann’s Chinese Theater and the Hollywood Boulevard area around the Tower of Terror. I hate drop rides, as does Sam — so we avoided actually riding it, but the ambiance was great!
I have to take a minute to talk about the glorious Wi-Fi service throughout the Disney parks and resorts. I had strong signal and fast speeds AT ALL TIMES during my stay on Disney property. It was totally free and super easy to log into. It made it that much easier to update Facebook and share photos as they were happening — which I’m sure was the point. Still, as a traveler and a tech user, I was super grateful for the ease of use that this amenity provided. Something I would not find at Universal Studios — more on that later.
The Great Movie Ride was charming, but also quite aged. I loved seeing the old animatronics that recreated some of Hollywood’s greatest stories…but you can tell everything is nearly 30 years old. Even the cast members seemed to be staving off boredom for their roles in the attraction. For lunch, we ate at the 50s Prime Time Cafe, which is modeled after a 1950s household. The servers all act as Mom, complete with traditional dinnertime rules. I was admonished for having toys at the table (my cell phone) and listened as people around me were scolded for not eating their vegetables and having their elbows on the table. When my (delicious) fried chicken arrived, I made sure to transplant my corn cob to Samantha’s plate. It didn’t do me any good; I still got in trouble for not cleaning my plate as it was. It was a lot of food! Like our other experiences, we had a special honeymoon treat: a white cupcake, which our server split in half and had us feed to each other (all while complaining that she wasn’t invited to the wedding). It was a GREAT meal with a terrific atmosphere (all of the ribbing is in good fun; I normally can’t STAND places that play games with you as a customer) and a place that I hope still exists on my next visit.
After dinner entertainment was courtesy of Indiana Jones, whose Stunt Spectacular was another attraction that has been going since the park opened. Gladly, this one has aged very well. It’s a behind-the-scenes style production using several scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark to show how stunts are performed. It’s a great showcase of what Movie Magic is all about, using one of cinema’s most-loved icons as the vehicle. Samantha loved the show, and even though I’d seen it several times I was just as excited to re-experience the magic for myself. It was also cool to see an entirely new group of actors and performers putting on the same stage show I’d seen as a kid — I wonder if this was ever a specific dream of theirs?
After one final ride at Star Tours, Samantha and I took a moment to build our own droids in the gift shop — something to put on the mantle back home — and then headed back to the Wilderness Lodge. We wanted a few hours of downtime to reset before the night’s big party – Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom. I’d brought a costume and hoped that I would survive in the Florida humidity. I also hoped it would be well-received, considering it was not from a Disney property. But that’s a story…for my next update.