Since I had to go to Tampa for a court hearing which started at 9 am on Monday, I flew down early this morning so I could go to Walt Disney World. It was either that or hang around DC until late in the day so I could put up my Christmas tree. The lure of Disney World won out.
You see, I grew up watching the Mickey Mouse Club and Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color on TV. Every Sunday night I'd cap off a busy weekend of roaming over the hills of Staten Island by watching Davey Crockett battle the Mexicans at the Alamo, or the Swamp Fox outfox the British in the Carolinas or Zorro restore justice in California against the Spaniards. There were never shades of gray in any of those episodes about life on the frontier. (Right: Mouseketeer Cubby.)
So it was a natural to go to Disney's Hollywood Studios, its MGM theme park in Florida. Following a lesuirely drive from Tampa to Orlando after I landed, early in the afternoon I entered the magical place "where action takes center stage." I had been to WDW before, running in its Inaugural Goofy Challenge in 2006, and visiting Frontierland and Animal Kingdom in 2007 when I had an active case in Orlando.
It was pricey, to be sure, twelve dollars for parking and seventy-nine dollars (including tax) to walk in the door. But as I was strolling down Hollywood Boulevard towards the giant Wizard hat, featured in a smaller version being worn by Mickey in Fantasia, I fell under the spell. There really is no place on earth quite like Disney theme parks.
I visited a couple of sound stages or show rooms where some of Disney's expertise in animation is expounded upon or Walt Disney's creative genius is celebrated. I spent a lot of time wandering around the streets of this little town and poking through its stores. But the real action for me was in the rides.
Disney doesn't assault your senses or whip your body to achieve maximum effect in its thrill rides like, say, Universal's Theme Parks do. The rides are more subtle than that, with Disney enhancing the effect by providing plenty of visuals that invoke your powers of both imagination and nostalgia along the way. Take for example its roller coaster ride, the Rock 'N Roller Coaster. It's themed upon Aerosmith, of whom I know nothing about, but I recognized its caricature of a pampered rock group taking a stretch limo ride across town. We were loaded into open cars in a facsimile stretch limo and taken away in its signature move, an acceleration from complete stop to sixty miles an hour in less than three seconds producing over four G's of force. There follows a gut-churning whirlwind of plunges and twists, some being of the upside-down variety. What I appreciated about it was that it was mostly in the dark, with certain visuals opening up occasionally such as a trip towards a certain crash in a blind alley. Having my body whipped around in high speed twisting turns in the darkness, without the disturbing reference point of watching scenery flash by me in blurry real-time, made the ride less unpalatable to this old body.
My favorite ride was the Tower of Terror, a series of sheer drops while stuck in an "elevator" in an old haunted mansion in a Twilight Zone episode. It's the elevator to nowhere, the shaft to hell. After we were strapped into out seats in a darkened, confined room, we were hoisted us up high and shown eerie spectral images along the way that seemed to come straight out of Rod Serling's TV show. Then doors opened briefly, allowing us a quick glimpse of the entire park below, before the doors shut and the elevator car suddenly dropped in apparent free fall for a couple of hundred feet. The uncontrolled descent was stabilized smoothly at the end, and we were all right, but it was fun. Quaint even, like we were actually in a hokey TV show shot decades ago in black and white.
Equally fun were the Star Wars-themed Star Tours flight simulator and the Great Movie Ride, a journey through several "real life" ongoing famous Hollywood scenes like the Earp brothers-Clanton gang shoot-out in Tombstone or the creature in the ceiling part in Alien. By then it was evening and time to drive back to Orlando to prepare for the morrow in the real world.