A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there was a motion simulator attraction titled “Star Tours,” born from the imagination of George Lucas and his iconic “Star Wars” franchise. For over two decades, the entertainment experience remained unchanged at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, leaving fans to wonder if the semi-dated attraction would ever see a significant overhaul. After all, being an unabashed tinkerer, why would Lucas leave one of the more vividly imagined forays into his ATM-like empire unmolested? Would “Star Tours” remain the same forever? I mean, honestly, how many times can a person do the trench run before a case of the sleeps sets in?
Years ago, I did some P.A. work on a game show set inside the vast home of Midwestern capitalism, Mall of America. I spent roughly four weeks dinking around the set doing menial work while filling my pockets with craft service Twizzlers, but during this magical time I was allowed access to the world of game show production, observing how they’re cast, assembled, and, well, faked. Not “Quiz Show” faked, but enhanced through retakes and intense coaching to make cash and prizes feel like CASH AND PRIZES! The disillusionment was substantial.
Star Wars Celebration is the big show for anyone with a major hankerin’ for sparkly Lucasian action, assuming control of a vast space and filling it with all matters of Jedi and Sith-related material. It’s an astounding presentation of hot-blooded fandom, bringing together a swirl of admirers from all over the planet (perhaps a few alien nations as well) to discuss the infinite “Star Wars” universe, hobnob with aging media stars, and buy gobs of merchandise from excitable, finger-rubbing merchants. Because it wouldn’t truly be a “Star Wars” experience without an opportunity to give George Lucas your every last cent.
For anyone visiting Walt Disney World with little girls in tow, face time with the Disney Princesses is an absolute priority. In fact, the royal ladies are often treated a bit like The Beatles, commanding a large amount of attention whenever they hit the parks, attracting scores of parents and anxious kids seeking an autograph, a picture, and a little insider conversation. Primarily tips on how to keep a tiara clean.
When The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was officially announced in 2007, it sent shockwaves of giddiness through theme park enthusiast circles, J.K. Rowling admirers, and fantasy movie fans. Here was a remarkable opportunity to live the Harry Potter life, not just sit passively while pages turned or images swung across the big screen. The barriers were finally being kicked down, as Universal Orlando proclaimed to the world they were going to build their very own Hogwarts right in the middle of Central Florida.
I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘Ohana should be accepted as a way of life, not just another restaurant situated on the Walt Disney World property. It’s home to an appealing Polynesian atmosphere, an animated dining area, and an obscene parade of luscious food that could give an Andre the Giant-sized appetite pause. ‘Ohana isn’t for the meek or the miserable, it’s a sweeping playground for drooling carnivores who’ve pulled the safety restrictions off their meat intake valve, or perhaps a place for those who enjoy the kitsch of Hawaii without the burden of a plane ride.
Last weekend brought about the return of the Great American Pie Festival, an annual event that rolls on down to Celebration, Florida for a few days, leaving the lucky ‘burb in a diabetic coma. It’s a time of community. It’s a time of joy. It’s a time of rapidly expanding waistlines.
In February, I was coerced into celebrating a dark, impossibly depressing event that I’ve come to anticipate with all the hand-trembling, teeth-grinding joyfulness of tax day: my birthday. Barf. To help digest such a bleak occasion, I made a choice to visit one of my favorite Walt Disney World restaurants, The Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater, located at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s not an establishment known for its killer culinary lavishness, but solely for its spirited ambiance, and on a day like that day, I needed all the simulated enchantment I could seize. To me, the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater is a home away from home.
Craving a gooey shot of pure shameless geekery, I motored over to Orlando’s MegaCon last weekend to drink in the spandex sights and fill my ears with the din of plastic lightsabers. This was my second visit to the area’s most popular sci-fi/comic convention, which was granted a spacious hall to fill for 2010, filling the room with all types of dealers, artists, and celebrities. Excitement was in the air, along with an eye-crossing brew of musty body funk.
The Kona Café is one of those super-secret handshake restaurants inside Walt Disney World. While obviously open to the general public, the eatery’s reputation is perhaps most widely circulated through Disney superfans, a blindly passionate group that always speaks highly of the establishment, practically breaking down in tears when the name of a certain menu item is uttered. That’s right, I’m talkin’ Tonga Toast.
Have you’ve ever visited a restaurant and thought, “Gee, this place could use more unreasonable intimidation?” Well, do I have a place for you. Located within Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the 50’s Prime Time Café is a throwback eating escapade to the family dinners of old, where mom, dad, and the kids would stifle their rampant sexism and racism and gather around the television to revel in the latest Tinseltown entertainment, scarfing down the most fundamental of dinner dishes with eyes glued to the tube. Disney provides the rose-colored glasses, and all the guest has to bring is a generous wad of cash and the ability to enjoy a good-natured teasing while digesting.
I visited Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights for the very first time last year (recap here), and while entertained and awed, the sheer force of bodies and bratty behavior made me carefully consider returning for 2009. It’s one thing to have a haunted house attraction that welcomes giddy hordes of eager horror enthusiasts, it’s another to encourage said fanbase to booze up to a point of sickness, treating the Universal layout like an elaborate frat party. Granted, it doesn’t always reach a point of distaste at HHN, but I’ve made a few visits to the event this year, and again, while exceptionally themed and executed, the experience can be awfully trying at times. This year registers as extraordinarily irritating.