Mardi Gras morning dawned and I headed for my final day of adventure at Hollywood Studios. I knew it would be a short day since the park was only open until 7 p.m. today. I’ll admit that I didn’t have high expectations for the day but I planned to make the best of it.
I filtered into the park just after opening and tried to make sense of the hodge-podge of interconnecting streets. I finally came upon the Backlot Tours after wandering aimlessly through the empty Streets of America. It was a short wait until our tour started. I noted that our guide was less enthusiastic than other tours, but it was early and I chalked it up to sleepiness.
Our tour started at a re-creation of an air raid attack on a vessel in a harbor. The wave action, missile impacts and explosions were fantastic. It didn’t take much imagination to picture it as a finished scene on the big screen.
From there we moved onto the actual tour where we boarded a tram that consisted of a mostly dull ride past replicas of this and that until we arrived at a “set” that featured an exploding tanker and a deluge of raging water. The effects were quite spectacular and earned itself a spot as the highlight of the Backlot Tour.
After the Backlot Tour I made my way through the Streets of America until I came upon Star Tours. Not knowing too much about what it had to offer I strolled inside and was soon sitting in a transport ship being piloted by R2-D2. I would’ve had to leave if C-3PO was the pilot. That being said, R2-D2 drives (pilots) like a madman. R2 stole the transport and whisked us away under a barrage of laser fire and out-of-control debris. Before you knew it we were in a pod race on Tatooine and then plunging beneath the waves on Naboo. R2’s new nickname should be HotShot for the way he flies.
I emerged from Star Tours, grabbed a Fast Pass for later and headed over to Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. This was right up my alley being a devoted Indiana Jones fan. The stunt man portraying Indy did a great job and the stunts were equally dynamic. The show opened with the boulder chase and finished with an exploding plane.
When the show was finished I made a mad-dash back to Star Tours to beat the deadline on my Fast Pass. This would set the tone for the rest of the day because it would seem that show times were not conducive for seeing everything. I took another ride with R2 so I could experience one of the 50 alternate scenarios and then grabbed another Fast Pass on the way out that I wouldn’t be able to use later.
I headed over to Beauty and the Beast which turned out to be incompatible with the start time for Lights, Motors, Action! On a whim I went into American Idol and got to experience what goes into putting on the show and how the winning contestant of the day scores a golden ticket to Fast Pass it to the final auditions.
From there I headed to a phenomenal performance at the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show where I got some great photos. After watching these guys execute their stunts I’ll be trying to spot stuff in the movies now.
I left the stunt show with a serious need for food and headed over to the Sci-fi Diner and was seated after about a 25 minute wait. I had to go for the full experience so I ordered a Meteor (complete with flashing ice cube) and a burger & fries. I was there about an hour until the dizziness from not eating for so long passed and then it was off to the Great American Movie Ride.
It took about half an hour to get on the ride and the wait made me appreciate the rides that had Fast Pass. Once underway it was delightfully entertaining. Well, maybe except for the set of Aliens. On the bright side I didn’t have Freddy Kruger leaping out at me. We did get hijacked by a gangster, but our chauffeur finally managed to get one over on him and he rejoined our tour.
The next long wait that I had to endure was 25 minutes at The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow. This is another stand-up attraction that was definitely not worth the wait and I’d recommend skipping it. I had a better time watching a live performance of the Little Mermaid a few minutes later with no waiting.
By now it was rapidly approaching park closing time and I had no intentions of staying to watch Mickey’s “Fantasmic!” I exited the park and headed for Downtown Disney to grab a few last minute gifts. Dark was falling and I lamented the fact that I’d probably missed my chance to ride the Character’s in Flight balloon, but after my third lap around the parking lot searching for a space to park there it was sailing high over the park.
I downsized to just my wallet, leaving all of my gear in the truck and I raced down the boardwalk as fast as someone can race in a crowd of Mardi Gras revelers, jumped into line and paid for my ticket. A couple in front of me noticed my First Time Visitor badge and gave me a coupon for “free popcorn or soda” and we quickly struck up a conversation. Aubrey told me that my timing was perfect as our ride would coincide with the fireworks over the Magic Kingdom that I’d so far managed to miss. Wow!
The balloon finally landed emptying of its previous passengers and the 10 of us climbed on. I was informed that due to the wind picking up that the normal capacity of 12 passengers had been scaled back to 10. I had never ridden in a hot air balloon before so I didn’t know quite what to expect, but I compare it to floating in a kayak in calm water.
We reached altitude and I silently kicked myself for forgetting my camera. A few minutes into our flight the fireworks began and all I can say is that it was the icing on the cake for this trip.
We eventually landed and I thanked the couple before heading off to find those last minute gifts. I stopped at a live jazz performance that was playing Mardi Gras tunes and danced for a bit. A bit farther down the boardwalk another musician was rocking out to “Moves Like Jagger” so I felt obligated to stop (one does not simply walk past good music.)
I stopped into Ghiradelli’s to snag another free chocolate and then picked up my free popcorn from a concession stand nearby before wading through a sea of indecisive shoppers to grab two baby Simba’s and a Tigger. Then I was out the door (after paying) and off to the hotel where I was too tired to pack so I pushed it off til morning.
I checked my pedometer and tallied that I averaged 9.5 miles of walking per day. I took nearly 5,000 photos and had so many magical ‘timed it just right’ moments that I lost count. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to return to Disney World, but this trip couldn’t have turned out more perfect if I’d planned it.