Tuesday, September 4, 2012

How to escape a hurricane: A Disney Tale

[Editor’s note] I’m happy to report that Miami is still here after Isaac. Despite some pretty dire forecasts, we didn’t suffer any damage. Somehow though, all of our patio furniture ended up at the bottom of the pool anyway. This I suspect had less to do with the hurricane than it did with my nutty parents. But I digress.

While the weather wizards were putting the fear of God in everyone, my boyfriend and I decided to skip town. Armed with a free park pass, we packed our bags and headed for the wonderful, wide open spaces of Walt Disney World.

The first thing on our agenda was to visit Downtown Disney—specifically, D Street. Considered by many to be the premier store for all things Vinylmation, I was expecting it to be a sprawling multi-floor store, replete with old and new collections to pick and choose from. Maybe some gilded Vinylmations? As avid collectors, both Javi and I were prepared for an expensive visit but one that would justify the stock-piling of 3” Mickey Mouse figures.

What I got was something entirely different.

As soon as we spotted the joint we realized that it wasn’t going to live up to the hype. In reality, D Street is a cramped little place wedged between a Harley Davidson store and a Wet-Seal. It’s a 1-floor store with wall to wall, floor to ceiling Star Wars collections. (Not that I’m morally opposed to Star Wars. I happen to own 3 figures already—one of which I purchased that day). My point here is that there was no variety. They didn’t carry anything old-- or anything interesting for that matter. Robots, Cars, and nerds do not make for cute Vinylmations. Unfortunately, they did have tons of Roger Rabbits which Javi was none too pleased about. He purchased one for me online, at a higher price, thinking they were sold out. I managed to scratch a few things off my wish list (see left picture), but my boyfriend was not so lucky. As any Vinylmation collector can tell you, this is not a cheap hobby. Is it really so much to ask that the premier Vinylmation store carry things worthy of the title?

While D Street was a resounding disappointment, the rest of the trip was not.

The next day started off bright and early with a bus ride from the All-Star Music resort to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. (P.S. Disney transportation is très efficient. Take a lesson Miami). We decided on going to Hollywood Studios because I hadn’t visited since I was a kid and apparently they’ve added a few new things since the mid-90s. Though it’s the seldom-visited and often overlooked park, I can tell you that it had plenty of cool things to offer.

For one thing, Hollywood Studios is the home of the irreverently funny and perpetually relevant Muppets!

Knowing how much I love them, you can imagine the full-body spasms I went through. Walking around the area devoted entirely to the Muppets felt the way Walter must’ve felt walking into Kermit’s house in the last movie. To put it bluntly, it was fucking fantastic! There was a street sign with Fozzie Bear on it instructing you to “Walka Walka this way”. There was a 10’ water fountain with a spinning Miss Piggy dressed as Lady Liberty (see right picture). There were 2 enormous statues of Kermit in a tux guarding the entrance of the Muppet store. There was a Muppet store! And the Muppets 3D! I basically looked around like an awe-struck man child (not my finest moment) while Javi took pictures of everything. It was a team effort.

Although the Muppets were and continue to be awesome, they are not exactly new. The new stuff I encountered at Hollywood Studios was much more pulse-pounding. Case in point: Aerosmith’s Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. Nothing in all my years of coaster-riding really prepared me for this one. With the force of a supersonic F-14, this ride accelerates from 0 to 60 MPH in 2.8 seconds! I was zipping through trippy Southern California landmarks faster than I could really process anything but fear. This was decidedly not the “It’s a Small World” experience but one I thoroughly enjoyed.

No discussion of pulse-pounding rides would be complete without mentioning the new and improved Star Tours. I can’t really remember the original format or premise, but I can tell you that the new one is not for the faint of heart. This stunningly-virtual venture into space seriously makes wonder how C-3P0 survived 6 films. At one point you don’t know what’s more dangerous: the mission or Mr. I Hate Space Travel at the helm. But it all adds to the thrill of the mission. I walked out with whiplash and deeply sympathetic of Han Solo's plight.

The day ended with a bang—a figurative one.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios puts on a show twice a night called Fantasmic. It’s a 22-minute spectacular that features fireworks, fire, boats, live Disney characters, and projections of Disney films onto large screens made of mist. It’s a dizzying array of magic and music. Because the show is great, it’s popular and many park goers (us included) pack the arena early to get good seats. To keep the early-comers entertained while they wait for the show, Disney unleashes three super peppy people to work the crowd up. They play games, sing songs, and go around interacting with several members of the audience. Well as luck would have it, we got to be interacted with!

Thanks to my Mickey Mouse tee shirt, Heather (the girl peppy person) came up to me and asked if I’d help her on a Disney trivia game. My mind said, “All systems are a-go!” We were then escorted to the center of an arena packed with 10,000 people (!) to face another 2 audience members in trivia competition. The kid on the other team was dressed as Perry the Platypus and that’s when I knew we had this in the bag. We alternated answering (easy) Disney questions while the crowd cheered us on. Well, they were easy for us. The platypus team had to phone-the-audience for one of their questions. In the end, we tied because no one loses at Disney. Our prize, they announced, was a 7-day Disney cruise! HOWEVER—that was not in their budget so we were each handed a box of popcorn. Cruel cruise joke aside, Javi and I flew high in the bright Disney spotlight and that’s a memory I’ll treasure forever.

Thus ended our Vinylmation-laced, Muppet-filled, Aerosmith and terror-ridden fantastic Fantasmic extravaganza.

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