Friday, March 26, 2010

The Perfect Storm at Hollywood Studios

I concede defeat.

I've given glowing reviews in the past week of three parks we visited last week as we invaded Disney World, along with thousands and thousands of other Spring Break-hyped barbarians: Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom.

But...the fourth park - I saved for last, because frankly? It pretty much kicked our butts.

Hollywood Studios.

We attempted - not once, but twice, no less - to conquer this theme park - and in both cases, we didn't exactly fail...but we didn't exactly succeed. And a perfect storm was brewing that only led to this disaster, and I'm kicking myself for not seeing this storm brewing.

To begin with, Hollywood Studios really only has three rides in the entire park: Tower of Tower, Rock 'n Roller Coaster, and the new Toy Story Mania. All the rest of the attractions are shows or exhibits....So, cram thousands and thousands of visitors inside the gates - and three rides doesn't exactly give those visitors good opportunities to disperse. Oh no. The visitors all have to concentrate on just 3 rides - causing HUGE lines and congestion.

The second factor leading to this perfect storm is the show called "Fantasmic!" Fantasmic is the long-running night time show at Hollywood Studios - and is a very popular draw for guests. In the "old" days - before cutbacks - Fantasmic would be shown every single night at Studios...but now, it's only shown 2 or 3 times a week. So...this forces guests who want to see the night time show to cram themselves into this park only on those 2 or 3 days that the show is being shown...causing huge lines and congestion elsewhere in the park while waiting for the night time show to begin. I hope this is making sense here....

And the last factor leading to this perfect storm? Spring Break. The crowds last week at Disney were heavier than expected - catching even the Disney executives off-guard. Once again, this caused huge lines and congestion in the park.

Now...on top of these factors, we made two mistakes in our planning and execution. The first was a planning error on my part - but I guess I could claim it wasn't entirely my fault.

When originally planning our days of when we'd visit this park, Tuesday, March 16th was not listed as a "Fantasmic" day. Disney was not planning on showing "Fantasmic" at the park that night - so, I planned for us to go that day, hoping the crowds would be thinner. We planned to go back to the Studios on Thursday, March 18th in the late afternoon to catch Fantasmic. Well - so much for the best-laid plans...because of the huge Spring Break crowds that week, Disney threw in a Fantasmic show on Tuesday. Well - the crowds came. On Tuesday. When they weren't supposed to be there.

The second mistake we made was in the execution. In order to have a successful experience at the Studios, you MUST be there at rope drop. Seriously. No other park is this so imperative, but here - it is necessary. And we would sleep in...not getting to the park until 9:45 a.m. or so. Big mistake. By then, the Fastpasses were virtually gone for the day, and the lines were already at 90 minutes each for the 3 rides, and eventually getting up to 2 hours. Yikes.

Both times when we visited the Studios, we'd arrive around 9:45 a.m...and we would leave by 10:30 a.m. and go visit another park. The crowds were simply too overwhelming. Then, around 2:30 pm on Tuesday and Thursday, we'd return to the Studios and ride some rides and see some of the shows. We did manage to ride the 3 rides - and Rock 'n Roller Coaster, we rode several times, utilizing Fastpasses and Single Rider Line. But - Tower of Terror? Only once. Toy Store Mania? Only once. Oh well.

And a confession on my part...because we were so busy fighting through the barbarians, I really neglected to take pictures at this park. I have very, very few photos. Sorry about that. When you're fighting for your life and sanity and your 8" of space, you can't be worrying about taking photos of the atmosphere. Imagine a can of sardines. Yeah. It was like that.

We like the Lights, Motors, Action!™ Extreme Stunt Show's a do-not-miss show, and every one of the 5,000 seats was taken with 30 minutes before show-time! Luckily, we snagged seats - up in the nosebleed section - but hey, at least we got in! If you are there on a crowded day - and you want to see this, my suggestion is "Go early!"

The Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular is another great show - we've seen this in the past, but could never fit it into this year's will give us something to look forward to on our next visit, I guess.

The newest attraction - and hence, the big draw for crowds - is Toy Story Mania.

One morning, when we arrived at 9:45 am, I immediately ran back to get Fastpasses for this - and the soonest time I got was 2:45 pm. (This was on Tuesday, March 16th). A normal standby wait line was 2 hours on the days we were there. And I'm not waiting 2 hours for anything - not even for a date with Brad Pitt. When we returned that afternoon to ride it, the ride was closed. Our assumption was it was broken down - but we heard later it had been closed because a guest had "jumped" out during the ride, and so security will shut down the ride to insure the guest didn't damage anything. By the time we went back around 5:30 pm that night to ride it, the Fastpass line was 45 minutes. Geesh. So much for riding it fast.

The smash-hit attraction takes guests on a raucous 3-D ride through virtual-reality carnival games. Guests wear 3-D glasses and use a spring-action shooter to break plates, play ring toss, burst balloons with darts, hit moving bull's-eyes, among other virtual games. For the attraction to respond to every pull of every guest's shooter while shuttling trams through the Midway course (as well as propelling virtual 3-D objects that pop out of the screen and whir past guests), there are more than 150 computers communicating over multiple networks.

It was fun - it's very similar to Buzz Lightyear at Magic Kingdom - but the difference is, it's in 3D. We liked it - but would we wait 2 hours? No. Would we wait 90 minutes? No. It was not our favorite. Not even thrills and chills. Here's a photo of the area where you disembark:

So - on to Tower of Terror.

Daughter and hubby love this, not so much. I don't like having my stomach end up in my throat. They rode it one night around 9:00 pm - and said it was awesome to see the park lit up at night, from way up high. Uh, no thanks. Here's a bit of trivia - did you know that this building was actually struck by lightening when it was being built? That's kinda' interesting, because the whole storyline of the ride is about an elevator that goes wacky because it's been struck by lightening. I know Disney is a stickler to details - but even that is going a little far!

While they rode this, I sat at a little table in an outside diner in the park. An older gentleman - also solo - came up and asked if he could share my table while eating his dinner...I graciously agreed, and we ended up having the most wonderful conversation. His name was Dan, and he was from Indianapolis. We talked and talked and talked - and come to find out, he has adopted grandchildren from Guatemala! In fact, he himself has visited there several times. Talk about a small world!

And now - our last, but certainly not least attraction - as it truly is my most favorite ride, probably in all of Disney World - the Rock 'n Roller Coaster. Best. ride. ever. Period. We rode this several times, and each time is a unique and wonderful experience. There are three inversions in the ride -- two rollover loops and one corkscrew. As riders enter the first inversion, they are feeling a G-force between 4 and 5, more than astronauts feel. It is quite the thrill - I LOVE it!

I love the sensation of going upside-down...and the initial "take-off" is exhilarating. On Tuesday evening, after Hubby and Daughter got off the Tower of Terror, they came and got me from the diner and we began walking down to the Coaster - to just check out how long the Standby line was. While walking, a man walked up - asked if we had Fastpasses to the Coaster - and we regretfully said, "No...we wish!" He then handed us 3 Fastpasses. To the Coaster. Just like that. WOW! Disney magic!!!! We were very effusive in our thanks and appreciation - what a guy!

As far as dining, we had lunch on Tuesday at the 50's Prime Time Cafe. We've eaten here before, and the food is usually pretty good, and the "theme" is pretty fun. This is the table we sat at - where we got to enjoy the old black-and-white T.V. shows.

Our service was rather slow this day - but we did enjoy the food. I especially loved the S'Mores dessert....scrumptious. Tasted just like if I had been sitting around a campfire. I would have taken a photo, but I was so busy eating, I didn't get a chance. Sorry. :)

On Thursday, we had dinner at Hollywood & Vine.

Our service was very good - and the buffet offered a wide variety of choices, including boiled shrimp. We were surprised with a plate of chocolate-covered strawberries because we had on our "Happy Anniversary" buttons.

(Hey - we learned to wear them all week - we never knew what Disney magic would be coming our way because of them!)

So - we enjoyed what limited time we had here...I just wish it hadn't been so crowded, so we could have done more. We saw a few of the other minor shows - but really didn't get to appreciate the park for what it our future trips, I'll make an extra note to work around "Fantasmic!" and to make sure we get there. Early. Argh.

Because as we all know, the Drama Queen just loves getting up early.





Jake said...

I guess I was lucky the last time and rode the Tower of Terror 3 times in one day. One of my faves!

Aunt Juicebox said...

We rode the tower at night and it really was awesome! We saw the stunt show and it freaked me out. I am moderately scared of heights and we were pretty far up. I'd have to say that was one of my worst experiences there, but more so because of the people who were letting there kids stand on the seats in front of us and then they were throwing their food on the ground. I didn't like this park much, and if I ever go back it will be strictly to ride the tower.

Drama Queen said...

Jake - you couldn't pay me to ride the Tower again. Once was enough, thank you!

AJ - I'm with you on the Stunt show - we were waaaay up high - and we were packed in there like sardines - I really was having a claustrophobic attack....hated the seating, but liked the show.

As you can probably tell, the Studios is my least favorite park, as well. If it weren't for the Rock 'n Roller Coaster, I'd skip this park, too. But not the Tower! That ride totally freaked me out!

The Grounded Drink Lady said...

I am seriously going to hunt you down if we ever make it to Disney with the two boys! You have everything down to a science. I can't stand crowds but with a plan like yours, I'd feel like I was controlling the situation!