Florida - September 2011

Day 3 - Disney Hollywood Studios

Wednesday 21st September

We’re slowly kicking the jet-lag and last night was better but still saw several of us up and about in the middle of the night at various times. This time, however, the restless sojourns were of shorter duration and less frequent. Eventually, I’m sure we’ll manage a good, solid night’s sleep right through the night - probably by the time we’re ready to go home, at which point I’m fairly sure the entire cycle will start again in earnest. As it was, it was already 10:00a.m. before Sandy and me stirred into consciousness. The kids were still fast asleep. This is pretty unusual for all of us but I guess jet-lag and busy theme park schedules will do that to you.

We had originally planned on a full day at Universal Islands of Adventure but since we’re pretty much loosing half the day, that idea was out of the window. Instead, we decided that we’d still do that theme park but that we’d do half a day instead. Since we plan on visiting it twice anyway, that seemed like a good enough compromise.

As I was too tired to write up yesterday’s blog entry last night, I did so this morning instead and this burned another hour or so. It wasn’t until mid-day before we finally organised ourselves into the car and onto the road. As I was packing the stuff into the car, I walked back into the house only to pass a strange man walking out of it. He gave me a quick glance and just walked past. I surmised that this was the property maintenance guy that I spoke with on the phone last night who had come to fix a couple of things and to replace an old TV in our master bedroom with a new flat-screen TV. Sandy later confirmed this to be the case. Being pre-occupied with organising everything for our morning departure, I just hadn’t realised he had shown up already. Once on the road, our initial destination this morning would, again, be the Waffle House for *cough* breakfast, which, once again, was truly delicious and a fabulous start to the day.

It was around 12:30 by the time we were on the road with full tummies and heading towards Universal Islands of Adventure when we were struck by the thought that we might consider Disney Hollywood Studios instead for today. That park was going to be open for longer and was a smaller park to visit. Given that we’d lost half the day already, this seemed like a good choice and so, en-route already, we changed plans and set off in that direction instead. This decision fell very soon after getting on the road and at the point were we didn’t yet need to change directions or do an about turn so we never lost any time as a result.

After being relieved of another $14 for the privilege of parking the car (well, money is a burden after all) we boarded one of the special trams that they lay on for those arriving by car and were soon at the main entrance and ticket gates. The bag search and ticket inspection formalities were deftly dealt with and we were soon inside the park and in search of our first attraction of the day. As was the case with the Magic Kingdom, photographers abound, and we made good use of them throughout the day.

As with all the theme parks here in Orlando, we’ve visited them all numerous times previously and so we know the layout and attractions pretty well already. Some attractions, like the trusty backlot tour are no longer here (either because they are being renovated or because they’ve been replaced) but newer attractions have sprouted in recent years. The Star Tours attraction was our first port of call and this is one of those that has been re-done. It’s still basically a simulation ride but it has been upgraded and the ride itself is much better than it was. We spent a good deal of time wandering around the shop (most attractions terminate into a handy ‘shopping experience’) looking for toys for the kids and for a friend. We picked up a Light Saber for Joey and he played dutifully with it for a good half an hour before we noticed that it was supposed to light up and make sounds but didn’t because the battery compartment door and its containing batteries were missing. We took it back a short while thereafter and they made no fuss about replacing it with a new one.

Next up was the Muppets 3D show. This is a perennial favourite with us and the kids absolutely loved it. It was really sweet to see both Joey and Jennifer grabbing for various 3D objects made to look as if they were right in front of you by the 3D effect. Unfortunately for the guy sitting immediately in front of us, Joey decided that these objects were best bested using a light saber, which he just happened to be wielding. This guy was much bigger than me so we made sure to lose ourselves in the crowd as we left.

Jennifer decided that she needed her face painted at one of the various stalls dotted around the park and so we did this and then took the kids over to the Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground to let them run around a bit. This is the very playground in which we ‘lost’ Joey three years ago. We were looking around for him when a man wandered over to us with Joey hand in hand. Amongst others, this is one reason why we now have wristbands on each child’s wrist on which is written their name and our names along with our mobile phone numbers. In Joey’s case, there’s also a note about Joey’s Autism. The idea is that should we lose either child, we at least stand the chance of whomever finding them noticing the wristband and calling us. We’ve also instructed the kids that if they find themselves lost, to look for a cast member (someone with a name badge - we’ve had various cast members help us with pointing this out to the kids) and telling them to call Mum or Dad using the number on their wristbands. We have loads of these already to go and we put a new one on their wrist each morning. Hopefully, they will never be needed but it does give us a slight sense of assurance that this mechanism is in place should it ever be needed. We also have an elasticated ‘leesh’ with a loop that goes around the kids’ wrist whenever we’re walking in large crowds. They know to keep holding this until we tell them it’s OK to let go and this is also a nice way of knowing that they are still ‘attached’ to us when we need to know. Anyway, it took all of a couple of minutes for us to ‘lose’ Joey in the playground - again! Upon entry, we had instructed Joey that if he were to lose us, to go and stand by the entrance, where there was a cast member standing. Sure enough, after a couple of minutes of looking, this is where we found him sitting. It seems he does listen to instructions after all. We spent the next half an hour or so letting the kids run around in the cushioned playground, where we put the camcorder to use for the first time since arriving. Ideally, we’d use the camcorder a lot more than we do but it’s always a battle between deciding to use the camera or the camcorder and both of us are camera people and so the camcorder sees the light of day much less frequently than it probably should. In point of fact, it never got used for the remainder of the day either.

After leaving the playground, fortunately with both kids in tow, we picked up some popcorn and found ourselves standing in a prime viewing spot for the daily parade that just happened to be starting. It was a fortuitous turn of events and we enjoyed the parade, which was not too long to stand through during the barely tolerable heat of the afternoon.

Determining whether a given attraction is one that Joey will like, enjoy or tolerate is an acquired skill and we’re still only getting better at it ourselves. We’re finding that, probably more than an explanation of what it is, the name of the attraction will sway him one way or another and so he decided that the new Toy Story attraction was one that he would accept. As it turned out, this is a pretty neat attraction that Joey actually really enjoyed. This in an indoor 3D ride, that was apparently out in place only ix months after our previous visit, in which you sit in ‘cars’ that move on a track from section to section throughout the building. In each section, there is a screen on which an animated 3D shooting gallery is shown at which you have to aim a special gun and release darts, rings, balls, etc. at targets to score points. You do this by either pulling on a ball attached to a piece of rope or by striking a button. You get 30 seconds or so at each screen before moving onto the next and it tallies up your score at the end of the ride. We enjoyed this so much that we even went back later in the day to do it again. Our Guest Assistance pass helped hugely here, in that we didn’t have to wait the hour that nearly everyone else did in order to get to ride.

I found out after the fact that when Sandy took Jennifer to the restroom at one point, Jennifer spent about 5 minutes standing in front of a full-length mirror ‘posing’ for herself and admiring her face-painting and general appearance. I'm starting to suspect that much of Jennifer’s future wealth, such that it will be, might be spent on her personal appearance. I can honestly claim that she doesn’t get that from either Sandy or me.

Another perennial favourite for me in particular here at Disney Hollywood Studios are the huge turkey legs that they sell. This was to be my afternoon snack and I enjoyed it every bit as much as I remember enjoying them on previous visits. Soon thereafter, Sandy took the kids to find a spot in one of the big amphitheatres for the Beauty and the Beast show. This she did half an hour before the performance started, so as to get a decent spot, and so I burned up a little bit of time at the Hollywood Tower of Terror, which is essentially a free-fall ride - and a pretty good one at that, even if I’ve done it dozens of times previously.

After our repeat visit to the Toy Story attraction, we did another new attraction called the Voyage of the Little Mermaid. This is part stage show, part animation and part ... well it’s actually difficult to describe but it involves various lasers and other special effects. We all really enjoyed it.

There were a number of opportunities for us to have photos taken with various Disney characters throughout the park, but in the stifling heat of the afternoon, some of the line lengths rendered this little more than an opportunity to generally increase everyone’s stress levels - particularly mine. As such, we let several of these opportunities pass us by but when we learned that Mickey was still available for photos at an inside setting, this was too much of an opportunity for Sandy to miss and so we made haste over to that building and caught Mickey just in time before he was due to finish up for the day. I’m not sure if it was because it was Mickey, a special case as far as Disney characters is concerned, or the various bribes we offered but Joey was particularly cooperative on this occasion and we got some really nice photos of the entire family as a result - bonus! As this was in the same building as the ‘Art of Animation’ attraction, we knocked that one off whilst we were there too.

The last attraction of the day was the big one - Fantasmic. This is set in an enormous outdoor amphitheatre and tells the story of how Mickey’s imagination triumphs over that of all the various evil Disney villains. In addition to boats with actors in Disney costumes parading around a moat in front of a stage with a mountain on it, huge water fans shoot up from the lake onto which animated imagery is projected. I’m not sure what makes the most impression, the technical effects or the brilliant Disney story telling but either way, it’s a fantastic show and a great way to end the day at the park. Although we deliberately arrived at the show early, there was standing room only (the amphitheatre itself holds a staggering 6,000 people!) but our special guest assistance pass assured us a good spot at the very back of the seated section and made for a great place from which to view the show. We felt that sitting near the exist would be good just in case we needed to leave early if it became too overwhelming for Joey. We were situated right near the exit and our plan was to leave just a couple of minutes before the end of the show so as to avoid the rush out of the amphitheatre. Sadly, this backfired on us, as we made it all the way back into the main park before realising we’d missed the stroller parking section. Me and the kids had to sit around whilst Sandy fought the onslaught of literally thousands of existing bodies moving in a collective, singular mass in the opposite direction. Despite this little error on our part, Disney’s excellent organisation skills meant that our trip back to the car, via the special trams, was just as painless and efficient as it was for us at the beginning of our day at the park.

Back at the car, we put the kids into their pyjamas so as to make light work of the bedtime routine by the time we made it back to the house at around 21:30. Perhaps because of the excitement of the day or perhaps because of the remaining jet-lag, the kids were still very much awake all the way through till around 11:00-11:30. Sandy and I sat through the day’s takings on the cameras and I’ve just finished writing this blog. It’s now nearly 01:00a.m. and we’re likely to sleep in again tomorrow morning. It won’t be an issue, as we’ve designated tomorrow to be one of our rest/water-park days, so we’ll take things easy tomorrow.

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