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October 17, 2004

Trip Report: Universal Studios, Disneyland, and DCA

At the beginning of August I visited Universal Studios Hollywood, Disneyland, and DCA. It was my first time to a Disney park since 1990, so a lot had changed. (I was there with Karen and Julianna on July 17, 1990 for the actual day of the 35th birthday and I proudly own a "35 Years of Magic" T-shirt with "July 17" printed on it, only sold on the actual day.)

First, a few notes on Universal Studios. I have been there more recently, so the changes that have occurred since 1990 (like the whole lower lot of attractions) were not a shocker. Although pricey, if you only can be at Universal for one day and can afford it, the Front of the Line Pass is worth the money, as for the first time I saw everything at Universal in one day. Other things we thought Disney could use are the "Cool Zones" from Universal (they have some mist sprays in Toontown, but they could use it elsewhere) and generally more shade over lines. (With California being less humid than Ottawa, even when the temperature is high, it is not too bad in the shade.)

I generally dislike roller coasters, but The Mummy ride wasn't too bad. (Screaming really does help! It keeps your from thinking too much.) The studio tour remains one of the unique aspects of Universal; the video view of the tour guide is a good addition. I was surprised to see a couple of stops on the tour (the snow tunnel and the first special effects stage) rethemed to The Mummy, but it makes sense to update these attractions (I was disappointed to see the "Back to the Future" clock tower gone, and I think it worked better in the story line of someone getting hit by lightning, but it was admittedly a very dated reference).

I saw the Terminator show for the first time; thereafter during the trip, I kept imitating the creepy show host saying, "Super...". The third Terminator movie has retroactively made the plot of the Terminator show inconsistent with the movies, which is a shame, since the show does a good job of continuing the story after T-2. Shrek 4-D was also a great show, with its plentiful jokes providing excellent re-visit value (I saw it twice).

Over to Disney. I went to the park on two days in a row, Friday and Saturday. I did not realize that the 2-day park hopper did not have to be used on consecutive days; otherwise, I would have tried to go on two weekdays. Even though I read later on that attendence had been low that weekend (compared to pre-DCA years), the difference between Friday and Saturday is enormous (I had to wait in line just to get a FastPass on Saturday at Indiana Jones).

I spent the first part of the first day in DCA. I enjoyed MuppetVision, never having seen it in Florida, but can understand why some people on the web have said that the film feels dated. It feels like a light version of Shrek 4-D now, but I'm sure it was state-of-the-art at the time of its initial release in the way it combined movie effects with practical effects within the theatre. The attraction "A Bug's Life" was also fun to watch; it is in the same genre as MuppetVision and Shrek 4-D as a mixture of film and animatronic effects.

California Soarin' is definitely a magnificient ride: it simulates the feeling of you hang-gliding over Californian vistas, with a marvelous finish soaring over Disneyland amidst a fireworks show. I didn't much like the Tower of Terror (I knew that it would raise and drop you multiple times, so that aspect did not surprise me, but still it felt like: "Ahhhhh!" "Whew..." "Ahhhh!" "Whew...." "Ahhhh!"...), but I can see how someone who likes thrill rides of that sort would enjoy it. The Aladdin show was great, of near Broadway quality (it was only missing the extra sets and special effects that would be affordable with a full Broadway production). The genie was very funny, with topical jokes (such as Swartznegger's "girlie man" comment, references to the Atkins diet, which the genie could surely use ;-), and Geico). It was nice that there were in-audience effects at different heights for the benefit of each balcony: The "Prince Ali" parade was level with the first balcony, and the magic carpet ride was level with the second balcony, where I sat.

The motion of the Indiana Jones Adventure reminded me a lot of The Mummy. I had read a number of times that Indiana Jones was less violent (in terms of ride mechanics) than it seemed, so I was surprised how violent it actually was. The queue has very detailed theming to envelope the waiting client into a world of an ancient temple in the jungle. For better or worse, however, FastPass has made the waiting lines very short, and riders now walk quickly by most of it.

On Friday, I saw the fireworks show from DCA, after watching the Electrical Parade, which was as good as I remembered it from 1990. (On Saturday, I used the fireworks time to ride It's a Small World, which I had never ridden before. I caught the beginning of the fireworks show and enjoyed the music.)

After the Electrical Parade and the fireworks show, I went to see Fantasmic!, which for some reason I thought had already stopped running, so it was a surprise to me to learn that the show was still on. There are just no words to describe this incredible experience. It is a wonderful blending of water, fire, projected film, and live-action effects that just has no match in anything else I've seen. Fantasmic! is proof that Disney is still the master in entertainment when it puts its mind to it.

Web sites such as MousePlanet, MiceAge, and JimHillMedia had prepared me to see the effects of minimal upkeep over the last few years. In truth, however, a lot doesn't get noticed when your last visit was 14 years ago, and you're planning your next FastPass and rushing around to get it (now requiring hopping between DCA and Disneyland as well). For me, Disneyland was still a wonderful place to visit.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Disneyland and DCA. The Roger Rabbit ride made me wish that Spielberg and Disney could patch things up and make more films and attractions. The Indiana Jones ride, California Soarin', the Aladdin show, and Fantasmic! emphasized the high quality Disney has brought to theme park shows and attractions (I say this after having spent a very happy day at Universal Studios earlier in the trip; they definitely are giving Disney a run for the money). I was disappointed that there was hardly any 50th anniversary merchandise (I really wanted something to show I was there during the celebrations, like my 35 Years of Magic shirt), but am hopeful that the recent changes in management will help make the 50th year better than ever at Disneyland.

Posted by Isaac at October 17, 2004 12:01 AM