A visit to the Disney-MGM Studios
The whole family heads to Orlando in 2005


From the Backpack ~ Strange and Unexpected

Normally when I post something from the archives, it involves bringing back an essay or article or such that had appeared on the In My Backpack web site and was removed during one of the updates or computer issues over the years.


This entry is a bit different though… in addition to appearing on the site, it was part of the Travel Trilogy project… or, more specifically, Strange and Unexpected: Backpack on the Road – Volume One: Florida.

And that means a couple of versions exist… somewhat specific, almost definitive versions if you will… the work that was on the site, and the chapter that was edited and potentially revised from that piece and used for the book.

This material was originally posted on April 2, 2007. It was later published in April 2013. Some minor proofreading edits and adjustments may have been made while bringing the material back to the site in this posting.

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About the park…

The third park built at Disney World… and yet it has to be approaching its twentieth birthday. (I looked it up… all information points to a 1989 opening. So 16-plus at this point.) This place is home to some of the most diverse attractions you will find at Disney. Thrill rides (Tower of Terror, Rock N Roller Coaster)… innovative shows (MuppetVision 3-D)… stuff for kids (Little Mermaid)… stuff for adults… and one of the best shows any theme park in the world puts on (Fantasmic). Now, to a degree, in some fashion all of the parks here have that diversity. Heck… it’s Disney! But Disney-MGM is something unique. Something that is hard to put into words, but easy to see in person…

Maybe… as I also believe about the Animal Kingdom… it’s because one full day here will pretty much satisfy all your needs. Will it do so perfectly? No. We missed the Indiana Jones Stunt Show on this trip (I had seen it before, so when the schedule didn’t work that was fine). We missed the Lights, Camera, Action! show. (The show brought over from Europe that I really, really wanted to see, but it wasn’t being performed often and we weren’t coming back to this park for that one thing).

Maybe it’s because the attractions aren’t as numerous as at the Magic Kingdom. That park can be almost overwhelming in what it contains, while still being surprisingly subtle as you move around. Here, the difference between the Tower of Terror and MuppetVision 3-D is readily apparent.

Maybe it’s because the park isn’t as clearly defined and easy to navigate as Epcot. (Come on… despite the interesting paths in Future World, what could be easier to navigate than a big circle?)

Maybe it’s because the shows… from Indiana Jones to Little Mermaid… run on schedules where if you don’t notice it from the moment you walk into the park, the day will quickly slip away with you having to cut one or two things from your plans. (Just like we did on this visit.)

These are all things to keep in mind. There is a lot to do, but not as much as there is in the Magic Kingdom or Epcot. The park can be difficult to navigate despite the basic entryway you know so well (gates leading to a main street into the park, which is sort a movie credits opening that I’ve heard attributed to Disney, but don’t have time to cover here). And Little Mermaid may be continuous shows, but it is shows performed in a theater and not a constantly moving line.

Rides that I know Tigg and I went on, because I was there…

Star Tours – It isn’t the Star Wars ride everyone seems to build it up as. In fact, in Orlando the settings outside the ride are probably as much fun for a Star Wars fan as the actual ride. But it is fun. You are on a shuttle… a group tour shuttle… that gets lost. A thrill ride… a jerky, bumpy thrill ride… follows. It’s ok, I wouldn’t miss it, but it isn’t in my top five attractions of the park.

Tower of Terror – It’s an exciting free-fall type of ride based on a Twilight Zone story. One of the best rides Disney offers.

Great Movie Ride – I like this ride for a number of reasons. It’s a nice, easy ride… not fast and white knuckle. It’s also fun, the line moves quickly and you can sort of catch your breath while enjoying a nostalgia-filled, quality production. The movies they depict are pretty good choices. And moving around on the tram will make you smile as you think of the actors and actresses and movies represented. If I’m not mistaken, Disney did such a great job designing Grauman’s Chinese theater for the entrance here that when the actual theater was being renovated in Los Angeles, workers were sent to Orlando to see what the place should look like. This is one to appreciate for the details.

Rock N Roller Coaster – Another great ride. A roller coaster that Disney added a story to… including Aerosmith in the effort.

MuppetVision 3-D – Well, you knew I would bring the kids to see Kermit… right? Two visits to this one for me… on the same day. Tigg, Kei and Kris sat out the second visit. I love this show. It may not top anyone’s list of musts at Disney, but for me it may just be one of the most creatively designed shows at Disney World. It maintains all of the flavor of the Muppets while focusing on new characters (something Star Tours doesn’t truly accomplish). It has the elements and details to make you smile… Statler and Waldorf, Sweetums, and an entrance with boxes of Miss Piggy’s wardrobe.

Rides others supposedly went on according to my notes, and I want to preserve them here, but I wasn’t on them during this trip…

Magic of Disney Animation – The first of a series of adventures with the grandparents and grandkids. While the older kids hit the thrill rides, the grandparents were going over to see Bear in the Big Blue House perform at Playhouse Disney. But the show schedule or seating or such was off, so they had to walk around. Hence, seeing Playhouse Disney and Little Mermaid led to also seeing Disney animation and the Walt show.

Playhouse Disney – Was showing Bear in the Big Blue House. Got rave reviews from Naya and Tamsin.

Walt: One Man’s Dream – My Mom liked it, but the group said it was really a time killer while they were in this section waiting to get to the Little Mermaid.

Little Mermaid – I’ve seen this before, but only twice out of five visits. I missed it this time. The reason I don't get to see it that often is always the same... because the line, for whatever reason, always seems amazingly impossible for this ride. It’s a strange combination of things all coming together that probably creates to true difficulty in seeing it… including scheduled show times with limited theater space. It’s also a good attraction for the kids. Whatever. If you haven’t gone to it, try to. It’s good. Again, the girls loved it.

Beauty & the Beast – Another live-action stage show based on the movie’s story. I saw it years ago and don’t feel any need to see it again. The kids enjoyed it though, and the grandparents really seemed to enjoy two things… the response of the grandchildren and the ability to sit down for a show.

Places we ate at, or food we enjoyed…

Gertie’s – The dinosaur in the lake… serving ice cream. Not a must do… but years ago Jay and I took a Disney Animation class that was held in this park and included a short walking tour. During part of that stroll, they gave us a history of animation and Gertie was covered. The story is great, so stopping here now is a special, make me smile, little moment.

Prime Time Café – Mixed emotions on this one. In 1999 Terry and I stopped here with Ellen and Richard. We had a great time. Lots of memories from that visit, including a picture of us with our waiter and a story involving six glasses of Coca-Cola. The concept of the restaurant is that you’ve come home, mom is in the kitchen cooking, and everyone is a cousin… we’re all related. A nostalgic nod is being made to Father Knows Best, Dick Van Dyke, and so on. The family meal days. But here we go with our story from this visit…

We didn’t know what day we would be going to MGM, so there were no thoughts given to making advance reservations. In fact, it was as we were riding to the park that morning that the conversation came up about splitting into smaller groups and meeting for lunch. Terry mentioned the Prime Time, 1999 was recalled, and basically we just decided it sounded good. Twelve people though. Big group. On our arrival at the park in the morning I immediately went in to the guest services area to try and make reservations for lunch or dinner. I knew it was going to be tough, likely wouldn’t happen, but figured it was worth a shot.

In an amazing unDisney-like display, the representative taking care of me didn’t smile and actually reacted kind of grumpy when I told her what I was looking for. Basically, her mannerisms and tone of voice indicated that I was an idiot for not making such reservations sooner and for even thinking there might be a chance at seating twelve people at some point that day. (All of which I knew, and had told her I understood when I explained the story, but whatever.)

Amazingly, once she opened up the reservation system, there was a 3:15pm opening that would work for a party of our size.

No… she didn’t apologize or anything. She just mumbled… not kidding, she did… “you got lucky.” She finished by telling me to be about ten to fifteen minutes early to check in.

Our day developed in a way that placed some of us in the area around 2:45pm, so we showed up at Prime Time and went in to check and see if we might be able to sit a few minutes early. You know… a “we’re here” kind of arrival, hoping to sit around 3:15pm, but if by chance our table was ready early we’d take it.

Umm… problem.

My wonderful and always-giving-perfect-attention-to-detail representative from the morning had booked our meal for 3:15pm on Monday, November 14, 2005. That created a bit of a difficulty since it was Monday, November 7th. We were told that they would fit us in, but it might be a few minutes.

Just a few extra minutes.

Any time now.

At this point, the kids saw and heard a parade off in the distance. You know… the parade they wanted to see in every park, but we didn’t tell them existed because we figured we would be sitting at a table out of sight on this day. The very same parade we dare not leave the restaurant to go see since we didn’t want to lose our place waiting for a table.

After all… you know… just a few extra minutes.

After 4pm, Tigg and I began to get a bit antsy (yeah… antsy… that’s putting it mildly for the wait). Go figure… no one in our group was yet sharing in our fondness for the Prime Time Café. In fact, I don’t think any of them believed our stories from 1999. So we started asking questions and collecting names… the person supposedly inputting seating assignments… the manager… stuff like that. In case you’re wondering, “a few minutes” at Disney in a case like this is one hour and seven minutes past the reservation time you were given by the agent you inconvenienced in the morning by asking her to do what she was being paid for. (But I’m not bitter.)

I’d like a good memory though. I still love the place, and would go back without hesitating. So here’s some of the story that explains why we wanted to stop here.

The Coca-Cola story.

Back in 1999 when we ate here, our waiter was tremendous. He was laughing and kidding around and we just had a great time. Well, I kept finishing my soda. It had been a hot day. One glass after another. So, eventually, he came over with a tray that had six glasses on it and placed them all in front of me. Hysterical. Before we left, we held a camera up to him and, after explaining to him that we wanted him in the picture... after all, he was family... we finished a tremendous lunch with a group picture.

That is what Disney should be about. (And by far, most often it is.)

Today though… this visit? Not so much.

You really need to know…

Fantasmic – Yes… it’s a great show. It’s a combination of fireworks, live-action, scenes from Disney films displayed on a screen created out of water, and general fun. Be early! Can’t stress this enough. If you want a seat you have to get there early.

Some unexpected fun we had…

Hmm… I’ll say the Muppets. Tamsin is a huge fan of frogs. So Kermit was a big hit… and there is a great drawing of Kermit near the ride.

Stay away from…

It isn’t really a stay away from concept, but it is a warning. Check those reservations! Get specific times! Look at dates!

If we had been told there wasn’t any space at the Prime Time Café, we would have eaten at another spot… probably for less money… and had a great meal, a good experience, and never given a second thought to not getting a reservation. We knew we were asking for a miracle when the day began. Heck, if they had told us it would have been an hour, and not continuously “just a few more minutes”… we would have at least known what was happening. Even if we had moved on to another place and been disappointed by the reservation error, we would have gotten over it. But no… we stayed. And it was frustrating.

In all honesty, there are times when I wonder which memory will be stronger in the future. It’s possible I’ll look elsewhere when I return to this park. I doubt it... I’d like to think that while I may eat in another place in Disney-MGM, this restaurant will be there and I will return. And, most likely, BOTH memories will become part of our Disney stories.

To put a ribbon on it…

Disney-MGM is a funny park. I’m normally one of those people trying to explain how to only eat one meal in a park. You know... cut down on expenses. But because it really isn’t worth spreading out over multiple days, and involves a must-see show at night along with creative scheduling to get to several shows during the day, in this case it becomes something that requires a bit of planning.

Hopper passes? Sure… fair enough… but we had a group that traveled together. We never went four people to Animal Kingdom, three to Magic Kingdom, the rest by the pool. I don’t know if coming from another park just to see Fantasmic… or using one of those spare days to come in the late afternoon or evening… or some other idea would have been just as simple or convenient as staying to see Fantasmic. And if you attack it that way, this turns into a full-day park that extends into the evening in order to see that show.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com