Saturday, April 20, 2013

4/13/13 MGM, er, Hollywood Studios Day

Friday night, after stupidly staying in our jeans from Colorado, we never made that mistake again during the trip. I never shower at night, since the dry air up here turns it into crazy haystacks by morning. But there was no way I was crawling into bed without one Friday.

It was upon waking Saturday morning, and well into the morning, too, that I remembered why night showers were not a problem. My hair was still damp.

Disney's MGM, which isn't called that anymore and hasn't been for years since MGM let the license go, will always be MGM to me. I attempt to call it Hollywood Studios, or just "Studios" for short, but slip right back into MGM before I know it. 

So, MGM for blog purposes it will be.

The park opens an hour early Saturday morning for guests staying "on property" (in a Disney hotel) but after the day Friday had been, there was no appeal in getting six hours sleep and getting back out before dawn. My kids will tell you, this is not how our family vacations went when they were little. I was commando mom. We were getting to park openings and riding all those rides without waiting, and we were going back to the hotel every afternoon for a nap so we could stay up until 1:00 in the morning for late park hours (also when there are significantly shorter waits) and there was no discussion about it.

Ah, how time mellows a girl.

Instead of setting the alarm for 6:00, getting out of the room by 6:30, being on the first bus running to the park (an hour before the hour early opening) and standing at the turnstiles first, we... slept in. Not only was it sleeping in, it was without any alarm at all. Crazy stuff, I tell ya.

The first room discovery is that the AC has a motion sensor attached to it. I suppose this is to keep guests from cranking down the AC to 65° (the lowest it will go) and leaving it like that while they're at the parks all day. But the sensor does not reach down to the beds. So if you're asleep, it thinks no one is in the room, and it turns off. I had turned the fan on to stay on, and even it cut out. Each time I would stand up, though, I heard the tiny "click" and it popped back on. Not helpful. I imagined buying myself a balloon to stick in front of the thing that would keep bobbing and keep the fan running all night, but never did it. That thing was bound and determined to get to 73° and stay there.

So getting up Saturday morning in a warm (to me) room with damp hair, meant coffee was priority number one (while the room cooled down as I was pacing around). Discovery #2: and this is a huge one: there is no dairy creamer available at any Disney owned property. I don't know what Coffeemate did to get this deal, but that's what you're stuck with in the room and in every cart, counter service, and restaurant they run.  You want a pile of chemicals to dump in your coffee, Disney's got you covered. Otherwise, you're on your own.

But not entirely. I found the coffee spot in the lobby (not Disney run) that had by-God Half and Half, requiring refrigeration (so it's good). The nice lady poured me an entire coffee cup full of the stuff and put a top on it to keep in my room fridge for the whole week, for free. Score.

We missed the MGM bus at the stop by about 1 minute, which meant we had to sit and wait for another 20 minutes. I made a crack about Saturday the 13th.

Moving on from minor silly first-world vacation complaints, we made it to MGM by 10:30 that morning. Now, normally, if you're not utilizing the early park hour, I'd tell you to go to another park entirely, since these "extra magic" hours, as they're billed, tend to herd larger than normal crowds into that park for the day, and if you aren't taking advantage of that first hour, you're going to the most crowded park for nothing. But here we are, through the looking glass, going anyway.

We hoofed it over to Toy Story to see if there were any fastpasses left. This is still a ridiculously popular ride, some five years after it debuted in 2008. Pretty much anyone with kids (and lots of people without them) who arrive at early opening hours is lining up to hit this ride first. The line will build to an hour wait before the park opens to the rest of the world. The craziest part is that people get there super early, not to ride it, but just to stand in the fastpass line, which grows longer than the standby line within minutes of opening. So fastpasses can disappear for the entire day within a few hours. If you aren't familiar with the FP system, it allows you to insert your ticket and receive a second pass with an hour window time stamped. Anytime without that hour, you can arrive at the ride line, present your pass, and be put in the "skip the real line" queue that minimizes or completely cuts out any wait time. 

Tori hint for first-timers: Get to early magic hours a half hour or more before the turnstiles open (for an 8:00 am opening, no later than 7:30). They will let you through the stiles and onto the main street soon after, where you will wait at the rope until park opening. Cast members will walk you down the street, attempting to keep people from stampeding for a bit and then get out of the way. Do not run, no matter how many other crazies are doing it. Disney walk yourself straight to Toy Story and do not get in the FP line, get on the ride and play. The wait, if you were near the front of the rope, won't be more than 10 minutes.  Then, once you're off, check the FP line length and, if it's not terrible, hop in and grab a FP for later. If it's still trailing back to the Little Mermaid, hit Sunset to ride Aerosmith's Rock'n Roller Coaster and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror before going back and grabbing a FP.

Toy Story often has standby wait times of two or more hours. I have never stood in any line for any ride for more than an hour, and the hour waits I can count on one hand. It's one of the most fun rides Disney has created, but I still wouldn't wait more than hour to play. You wear 3D glasses and compete against your seat mate in midway type games. It's curiously addictive. In fact, since it's in 3D and you cant' film and play at the same time, I never even considered trying. Too competitive, I guess. Someone else did, though. You can skip to about 5:45 to get past the waiting line queue and see how the game works: 

At 10:15, the FP window time was 3:30 to 4:30 in the afternoon, so we grabbed them and started wandering the rest of the park. 

I'd like to tell you exactly what we did that morning, but, you see, I don't remember. Because I take pictures constantly, I use them to reconstruct a narrative. And, if you haven't noticed, there aren't any pictures here. It's not that I didn't take any. 

Remember that brand new camera?

I shoot in RAW, which means the image that gets recorded is very, very large, without any compression at all. It gives me much more freedom to manipulate exposure and lighting issues than a JPG. But in the 7 years I've been shooting with my trusty Canon, they've updated RAW file capabilities. And Photoshop CS4 (now two versions old) has to be updated to be able to open these. 

Using Windows 64 bit instructions, I've tried unsuccessfully three times to get my Photoshop to open the Saturday morning pictures. Now I'm down to waiting until next week to ask my IT guys to help me. Because the files are so large, you must remove them from your camera at download or run out of room. I downloaded Saturday morning's pictures and they deleted from the camera before I realized I wouldn't be able to see or open them.

From what I remember (and will be able to see later this week, hopefully) we wandered over to Star Tours next. They've upgraded this to include 54 different variations of the ride, so that you rarely see the same thing twice. It's a 3D motion simulator, so I have to ask for the back row to keep from getting supremely nauseous.  One person in the cabin is chosen by the cast member seating you to be the rebel spy, whose picture is flashed on the screen when the group is being given instructions on how vital the spy's safety is to the rebellion. I don't guess it hurt that I was wearing my Star Wars shirt and carrying a big fluffy unicorn who was sitting on my lap, but yours truly got the nod. Our version took us first to Tattoine and into the pod races, through hyperspace to the Death Star where we are ambushed by Boba Fett. Good news: we made it out.

After that, we hit up Muppet Vision 3D, which is just dripping with childhood nostalgia, and through the shop where I bought my one and only t-shirt of the trip (another first) of Beaker and Professor Honeydew. 

At that point, it's around 11:15 and we decide to grab a bite of lunch since we skipped breakfast and head back to the hotel to get out of this blasted heat. 

Tori Tip: If you're going for counter service at MGM, try the Backlot Express. It has a couple of nice salads and an awesome veggie sandwich instead of the typical heavy park fare.

After lunch on our way back to the bus, we get Bob's birthday hat and leave it to be embroidered with pick-up any time after 1:30. Once we get back to the room, I offload the pictures and discover their unopenable state, waste precious nap time trying to update the plug-in, and give up with an hour left to nap and grumble. (And shower and change -- pack clothes at double the days you're staying because you're going to sweat through the morning wear and not want to put it back on.)

I set the camera up to shoot RAW+L jpg (which will cut in half the number of pictures I can shoot at a time but allow me to actually see and share them) and we get back to MGM by 3:30 and pick up Bob's birthday ears.

Before using our FP on Toy Story, we go up Sunset and grab FPs for Rock'n Roller Coaster. 

 Tori Tip: You can only hold one FP at a time, but as soon as the time window opens, you can get another. Since TS and RR typically are the longest waits, try to plan accordingly.

With RnR FPs obtained, back to TS

The theming of the queue is from the perspective of a toy, so they're all huge and mostly overhead.

And, as I said, I don't take any photographs or video because I can't play if I try.

My score, right :)

From there, it's back over to Sunset and standby line (10 minutes) for The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. I kind of love the April blooms here enough to stand the heat.

I also have an attraction to ambient lighting, so I end up with scads of lamp pictures. The Tower is especially good at feeding my habit. Here are a few favorites.

The top of the library always has props to spot from the original series. We were in the Nick of Time room this round.

In the basement

Sam hates this ride more than any other. She already has a phobia of elevators, so the idea of being in a haunted one that drops you,  multiple times, mostly in complete darkness, is not her idea of a fun time. For the rest of us though, it rocks.

The library room sets up the back story, told by Rod Serling, on an old black and white TV. The year is 1939, in the golden era of Hollywood, and lightning strikes the hotel, turning its occupants into ghosts. As you board the elevator, you are brought up through the darkened shaft where the doors open. If you aren't familiar with the ride, you are expecting to drop. In fact, and only in the WDW version, you exit the elevator shaft and ride through a hallway, filled with the ghosts and more Twilight Zone images and starfields that move. Rod is still talking, until his last word, which if you're paying attention, you can hear the car move into the front shaft where you will not only be dropped, but pulled down faster than the speed of gravity, lifting everyone off their seats. If you hold a penny in your hand, you can catch it floating in the ride photo they will shoot. The doors will open on a 170 foot height view of the park, partially obscured by the hotel sign (and where the ride camera is mounted). There are four sequences programmed, so that you will not know the sequence or intervals of the drop. We happened upon a good one, with lots of very long "falls." The motors, housed at the top of the tower, are enormous, 12 by 35 feet in size, weighing 132,000 pounds, and accelerating 10 tons 15 times faster than a regular elevator (although this makes no difference to Sam). 
Our car was the farthest to the left (looking out) so you can catch the Hotel part of the sign directly in front. I'm just holding the camera up and hoping for a shot here.

Our car's ride photo at the end. I'm sure the people behind Bob just loved him.

In the gift shop (which you have to pass though to exit, natch) Bob spots yet another hideous tie-dyed shirt I wrinkle my nose at. Yeah, it's his birthday, but I have to draw the line somewhere. (More on this silliness later.)

 We checked in for dinner at a place we hadn't tried before, the 50s PrimeTime cafe.

Since we were early, we pulled up a stool at the Tune in Lounge bar and I got Dad's Electric Lemonade, complete with glowing blue light.


The front of the restaurant is dripping in 50s kitchen kitsch.

And we got lucky and scored a TV table.

I got the blue plate special, which is the seasonal chef's special. The Mahi Mahi isn't quite the rib-sticking fare on the rest of the  menu (pot roast, meatloaf, fried chicken) but it was amazing. I forget what the vegetable was that appears to be potatoes, but was much sweeter and infused with coconut milk, but it was the best meal I had all week.

Bob went with the Chicken Pot Pie

At dessert, the waiter brought a small fire on top of the brownie sundae. There's about a dozen candles going in that blaze.

After dinner, we still had a bit of time to kill before the FP window opened up for RnR, so we decided to hit the Great Movie Ride and, for the first time, ask to sit up front. In 8 trips, we've taken the luck of the draw and ended up in the back of the vehicle every single time. The queue area is a replica of the Grauman Chinese Theater

Since we asked for the front as we were were waved through, we acually got a chance to see the interior alone, as they'd already filled the front and let us stand to the side while that car was filled and headed out and before the doors were opened again for the next crowd. Our driver was already waiting and he was about the hundredth person that day to shout "It's so FLUFFY!" to me.

The ride is pretty dated, but that's part of its charm. You will end up hijacked either in the Gangster set

Or the Cowboy one. We get Gangster more often than Cowboy. During a shoot out, the driver is run from the car and an outlaw (of either variety) makes his/her getaway by driving our vehicle. When you get the Gangster, you still have to get through the Cowboy scene, inevitably prompting the line by the New York gangster, "What is this? Joysey?" Our gangster was a dame and we said it right along with her.

The next set is the Indiana Jones one, where the robber can't help but get out of the car to try and steal the jewel, despite warnings by the unseen narrator that it's cursed.

When she ignores the warning of the hooded man, the smokes rises, the door flips, and only a skeleton is left behind. The hooded man reveals himself as our driver, who hops back in the vehicle and resumes the tour. 


The main reason we wanted to sit up front is the Alien set. It pops out of the wall and the ceiling but is always gone by the the time the back of the car gets past its hiding points. We finally managed to get attacked by the Alien, but it's far too dark in the set to manage any pictures.  There's also a Mummy set and a Tarzan set before you get to the Wizard of Oz, where the best animatronic of the ride is housed in the Wicked Witch.

(not this witch)

this one

At dusk

And finally we were clear to hop on Rock'n Roller Coaster. This is dead even with Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom as best coaster in the parks. 

It's completely enclosed and in the dark, with only neon signs visible. You are launched from 0 to 60 MPG in 2.8 seconds and hit 4.5gs by the first inversion, pulling more than an astronaut on a shuttle launch. 

The pre-show features the band finishing up recording and needing to be across LA in a matter of minutes. Tyler complains to their manager that they can't leave all their fans behind, so we're ordered a "super stretch" to take us all with them and meet them backstage. The Cast Member running our booth was clearly bored and having fun. Over the mike he kept interjecting fun stuff. "Oh, give us all backstage passes!" right before the line. And after "Oh! Ya'll are so lucky! That only happened every 3 minutes and 28 seconds around here!"

Out of the booth, you enter another queue at Lock n' Roll Parking Systems to get on your super stretch coaster limo. There are five different limos, all with different license plates, and each one plays a different song(s) during the ride. This time we rode in 2FAST4U which plays Sweet Emotion.

They aren't kidding. You don't want to be looking anywhere but forward with your back as far back against the rest as you can get it before you get shot out of this thing. We always ask to ride in the front car, which has the added benefit of seeing the two rollovers and the corkscrew ahead on the dimly lit track as well as being super smooth. I tend to get a killer headache if I ride anywhere but right up front. But I love the front seat.

And, of course, as you exit, plenty of merchandise is waiting.

We decided to skip Fantasmic and head back to the hotel for the night, knowing the we'd be going all day Sunday for Bob's birthday.

Once again, Bob found a hideous tie-dyed shirt he loved. While I was standing there rolling my eyes, another guy walked up and said how much he liked the shirt. 

Guess what souvenir Bob got for his birthday.


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