Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Florida's theme parks through the ipod touch lens.

Disney parks visited: 3

Disney tickets lost: 1
Amount of encounters with Mickey and Minnie: 1 from afar
Amount of photos with Disney characters? 1 (Pinocchio)
Amount of rides I was looking forward to and it was closed? 3 - 1 closed for maintenance, another for renovations and the last one replaced by another ride.
Amount of rides I was looking forward to riding but wait time was too long or my party was complaining? Definitely 8-10.

When I was 9, my parents took me and my older sister to Disneyland in California. I met all the Disney characters, got them to sign autographs and pose with me in photos I waited for anxiously (35mm days). I had a great time. A few years later, my parents took me, my older sister and a new addition to our family (my little sister) to Disneyworld and Universal Studios in Florida. This time I was older and taller, and therefore able to ride more rides. Again, I filled my autograph book with signatures from all the characters, and several films were processed featuring me posing with characters. We took another two consecutive trips, why we went down to Florida so often I don't know, but when you're a pre-teen, it doesn't matter.

My mother goes to Florida almost every year with my aunt, my aunt's granddaughter, and another addition to my family - my littlest sister. This year, my aunt and her two sons were also coming so it was going to be a big [sister] reunion. I tagged along for numerous reasons: it was better than spending two weeks bored and dying of cold in Winnipeg, my cousin recently moved to West Palm Beach and just gave birth to her first child, and I love rides, I'll go on anything (I like to live life dangerously).

Returning to Florida in my twenties makes for a radically different experience: I see these theme parks for what they really are, and not what I used to see them as. I observe everything around me, and decided to snap these observations with my ipod touch, as an experiment of sorts.

Disney's tag line is "Where dreams come true" but in reality it should be "Where your second mortgage will come to haunt you." Both Disney and Universal have hired the best of the best in strategy on how to get you to empty your pockets by the end of the visit. First there's the ticket prices (high season, low season), which can vary almost up to $30 depending on the day you choose to go, the food, and the exit through the gift shop. Now if your kids grew up in the Gulf, you're in for a treat (more on my solution for these bratty children in another post), you not only have to close your eyes when buying all the unnecessary items your bratty children want but you'll also have to get another bag at the airport to store the stuff they'll get bored of the moment they land back home. That's on top of their whining and complaining about long line-ups. Florida theme parks are the perfect example of America's insane love affair with stuff. A love affair that has been passed onto the world, thanks to technology and tourism.
When I compare Disney and Universal Studios, it's obvious that the one place plagued by avarice is Universal Studios. One day, the Islands of Adventure park was overcapacity and some rides had a waiting time of 200 minutes! What's more is everything from snack bars to bathrooms had a line up. If you wanted to buy a fastpass (a ticket that allows you to bypass the regular line), a single ticket sets you back $79.99 (more expensive than a one day ticket to the park), and is valid only at one park. Did I mention you can only ride the attractions once with this pass? Frustrated by the shoulder to shoulder traffic, we left the park, only to find that the area had been closed off and police was brought in to control the crowd who were lined up to get in. My mother goes over and asks if they could offer us a refund since we just entered the overcrowded park and found nothing but line ups and little room to move. They said no. Then she asked if they've offered anyone a refund. They said yes, twice: once when September 11th happened and another when Florida was hit by a hurricane. Disney knows its limits and has a much more efficient waiting time system. I've even personally witnessed an act of kindness: someone's credit card got rejected at the parking and the Disney employee gave them free parking. Disney has a promise to keep, making your dreams come true.
But what happens if you lose your Disney ticket? Well those dreams are crushed and replaced by nightmares, unless you're really into the Disney experience and book a room in one of their resorts then congratulations, something good has come out of your investment, your ticket is protected. And of course there's having a photocopy of your ticket. Otherwise, you're pretty much out of moneyluck. Both Disney and Universal scan your fingerprints in order to "personalize" tickets (that's what they told me). It's merely a mechanism that ensures no one else uses the ticket. Disney, however, only scans it the first time you enter (if you have a multi-day pass). This helped me enter the park with my aunt's ticket when I lost mine. L'avare Universal scans it every time you enter the park, even if you visit every single day.
Guess who?

Aside from that experience, I was disappointed at the way character meetings work nowadays. Back in my day, I could go up to any character randomly walking around the park, take a photo with them and get an autograph. Now, children and parents must wait in long queues for characters to show up at specific times in order to meet them. I barely saw any characters, whereas back in the late 90s, I filled my entire autograph book - at both Universal and Disney. I even met Captain Hook.

Things that need improvement:
aside from the silicon food, something needs to be done about the lighting in some places, i.e. Dr. Doom ride in Islands of Adventure. I ran into the people in front of me while in line.
Fast pass dispenser machines at Disney: Florida gets some unusual cold weather and only 2 out of 6 machines are operational. A long queue awaits. I ask the employee why the other machines are closed and why these active machines are swallowing people's tickets. He responds "it's the cold weather, the machine does not function properly." So with all the money Disney's making off of park goers and all the technology they possess, a machine does not work properly once the weather is below 7 degrees?
When I was young, I never realised how much my parents saved and spent on our Disney and Universal tickets alone. I stared at the children and all the things they cried for and felt so sorry for the parents, most of which cannot say no or just want to prevent a scene from happening. They'll understand one day, if they visit the park once they are older.

Disney's attempt at "nerdy" is hipster.

Mickey rides an Amsterdam cruiser. You can see it at his house in toontown.

No one does "mornings" quite like Minnie.

Seuss Landing - Islands of Adventure (Universal Studios)

He even smells like Strawberries.

Numerous items including Mickey's mailbox take this form around Mickey's house. Kinda narcissistic.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure
The detail is incredible, you can even buy butterbeer (delicious but how you'll feel diabetic), definitely worth the wait. The 4D ride in the castle is good, and the roller coaster is thrilling.

Creative Jamming

People I stalked

Oh c'mon, stop acting as if you wouldn't have taken these either. Panda hats? So cute.

It's kind of blurry but never in my life did I ever think I would only wait 5 minutes for this ride.

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells
Dinosaur Claws Claus

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