10 spots to get splashed in the Disney Theme Parks

Visitors to the Walt Disney World theme parks generally know going into the game that they’re likely to encounter some heat. The index can range from toasty warm in the milder months to darn near sweltering in the summer. Much appreciated are the myriad ways to cool off around property. If it’s not yet time to head back to the hotel swimming pool, we’ve got 10 spots in mind in and around the theme parks where you can catch a break from the temps and savor a splash or two.


Casey Jr Splash ‘n Soak Station

First stop on our Splash Tour is this colorful, spurting collection of circus cars in Fantasyland. Themed after the animated film Dumbo, Casey Jr Splash ‘n Soak Station will be a magnet to your parched tykes on a hot day at the Magic Kingdom. We prefer to “splash” instead of “soak” at Casey’s — use your own discretion.

Splash Mountain

Beat the heat with Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, Br’er Bear and the rest of the briar patch residents on this insta-cooling flume ride. Best to ride when the mercury’s rising and you’re in need of a little relief. If a 5-story splashdown is not your cup of tea, try cooling off in the mist on the bridge at the foot of the slide. (more…)

Last chance for Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show

So thank goodness we came jogging up mere minutes before the 1:30pm show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios! The next chance to watch it would have been three hours later; after that, who knows? Rumors have persisted that this behind-the-scenes-style stunt show will be replaced in the near future for a park expansion. Should that pan out, I’m glad we got at least one chance to watch the gravity-defying car chase scenes and – most thrilling of all to the kids – the man who survived skidding through a wall of flames. (You can’t help but marvel when the set director lists off all the protective gear that stunt man must wear!)

The idea behind the show is that you’re observing the filming of a spy thriller. The “director” walks you through the techniques of pulling off stunts, mostly chase scenes but also some pyrotechnics and a high fall thrown in for impact. Production crew members go about their business of setting up for each stunt and assist in explaining the safety measures taken and revealing the secrets behind each trick. Each stunt is filmed and played back on a giant screen visible anywhere in the 5,000-seat stadium.

In years past I purposely skipped this show, feeling my young children would be frightened by the high-decibel motors and explosions. This trip, knowing it might be our last chance to catch it, we watched from way atop the bleachers where everyone felt comfortable and was quite entertained. (It helped that speed-demon Lightning McQueen appeared for a couple laps around the set!)

[Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios closed April 2, 2016.]

Location: Catch Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show (while you still can) in the Streets of America section of Disney’s Hollywood Studios Theme Park, Walt Disney World Resort.

Touring Tip: The shows take place at 1:20 & 4:30pm daily. They last about 38 minutes, but you are permitted to enter the stadium any time during the show.

Last chance for the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights

MH osborne lightsTwenty years after the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights first blinked on at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (then Disney-MGM Studios), they will flicker their final farewell when the 2015 holiday season comes to a close. Due to the upcoming construction of Star Wars and Toy Story-themed lands at the park, the light extravaganza has received its eviction notice from the Streets of America (whose days are numbered as well).

We took the following pictures on a Christmas trip in 2014, not knowing it would be our last chance to watch the lights dazzle and dance in sync to a medley of holiday music. It is truly an amazing sight to behold and they will be greatly missed by our family.

PicMonkey Collage osborne lights - CopySome cool facts about the Osborne Lights:

  • They got their start as an Arkansas father’s Christmas gift to his daughter. When the display swelled to the point that he was in trouble with the law, the Walt Disney Company relocated the lights to Disney-MGM. The lights were static until 2006 when switches were added to allow them to “dance”.
  • There are currently 5 million lights in the display – and, for those who love a hunt, over 40 Hidden Mickeys among them! There are also several tributes to the Osborne family sprinkled throughout the show.
  • snow machines create a magical snowfall nightly on the Streets of America.

Expect massive crowds in Disney’s Hollywood Studios as longtime fans pay their last respects to the Dancing Lights.

Location: The Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights displays nightly early November through the first week of January, kicked off by a lighting ceremony each evening around 5:50pm. Approximately every 10 minutes, the lights are choreographed to dance to a score of holiday tunes. They are officially open evenings until the park closes. Find them in the Streets of America section of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World Resort.


Disney Classic: Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!

The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! attraction is feeling especially classic to me as I post this. I owe that to this photo (above) from a trip in 1992, and for two reasons: 1) the 25-year-old picture is the most recent one I have of the live-action show based on the Indiana Jones film franchise. And 2) the show hasn’t changed much since the pic was snapped. Following the same storyline as the show did when it opened in 1989, Indy re-creates scenes from the popular Raiders of the Lost Ark while schooling the audience in the ways that movie stunts are performed. Some of the seemingly-death defying stunts include: evading booby traps in a Peruvian temple to retrieve the golden idol, fighting a band of miscreant acrobats in Cairo, and narrowly escaping the explosion of a Nazi aircraft.

Between staged disasters, the assistant set director explains how the stunts are performed. The audience also learns the details of how the stunts are prepared and meet the various experts responsible for making them work correctly. The entire show runs about 35 minutes.

If you’ve got a flair for the dramatic and would like a chance to be onstage with the stunt actors, respond enthusiastically when the casting director calls out for volunteer extras. This may be your big break!

Location: Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! is located in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World Resort.

Touring tip: If traveling with young ones, know that the show itself is not particularly scary, but be prepared for plenty of very loud noises and, if sitting near the front of the show, heat from the pyrotechnics. The theater holds 2,000 people so there is ample room to sit at a distance and still enjoy the show.

Enjoy: “Back to the” 50’s Prime Time Cafe

If you’ve got a hankering for home cooking and a return to kinder, gentler times, consider a meal at the 50’s Prime Time Café at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Just be prepared for a truly immersive experience – and above all, make sure to mind your p’s and q’s. Why’s that? Well, we lunched at the retro spot a couple years back and I found out the hard way that our server (“Cousin-Somebody-or-Other”) wasn’t going to let me off the hook for leaving vegetables on my plate!

MH 50's prime time cafeSo we rolled with the antics of the servers because we didn’t mind them harping at us to get our elbows off the table. Two tables over, a woman good-naturedly rose to perform “I’m a Little Teapot” as punishment for something (she probably hadn’t called or written her server, “Auntie Somebody-or-Other” in a while). Our own family temporarily expanded when a “smart-mouthed” kid from a neighboring table was banished to ours. The boisterous fun might not be everyone’s cup of tea – say, if you’re looking for a quiet lunch break in the middle of a bustling theme park – but we enjoyed playing along. Also unique is the nifty fifties-style living room you wait to be seated in, complete with old black-and-white sitcoms on the TVs.

MH 50's prime time cafeAs we all made our best effort to join the ranks of the “Clean Plate Club”, we were allowed to choose a dessert from the ViewMaster menu. (If you’re curious about what’s cooking in “Mom’s Kitchen”, it is chiefly comfort food at its best. We tried both the pot roast and Grandma’s chicken pot pie and have heard great things about the juicy fried chicken and the meatloaf.) For dessert? We ordered the much-buzzed about PBJ malt and one of “Dad’s Brownie Sundae”s. No need for the servers to remind us to finish every last bite.

Location: 50’s Prime Time Cafe serves lunch and dinner in the Echo Lake area of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World Resort.

Uncover the Magic of Disney Animation

Disney’s Mulan is near the top of our family’s list of all-time favorite animated films so we were delighted that the first half of the Magic of Disney Animation attraction is co-hosted by Mushu! The jocular dragon is assisted by a human Disney animator to discuss how the animated characters in our favorite films are chosen and designed. This all goes down on a set intended to look like an animator’s workspace, complete with mock-up sketches, figurines, and other items of inspiration.

The second half of the attraction is a collection of interactive activities – “painting” on a touchscreen, for instance, and creating a personalized soundtrack on the “Sound Stage”. There is also a chance to meet popular characters with very little waiting in line (depending on the season visiting, of course). We were able to meet Sorcerer Mickey and Winnie the Pooh after only a few minutes. It would be a good idea to check on Disney’s official website for the characters currently appearing.

MH magic of disney animation

Finally, take the chance to participate in an animation lesson from Disney pros! The drawings make a unique – and free! – souvenir of the park. The instructor will draw one character per class every half hour.

And for a bit of history: When Disney’s Hollywood Studios (then Disney-MGM Studios) was a living, working animation studio, a walking tour was given where guests could witness real animators at their craft. I clearly remember, as a child, filing past artists hard at work on the beloved Aladdin. The studios no longer are host to these animators, but the spirit lives on in this attraction.

Location: The Magic of Disney Animation is located in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World Resort.

Star Wars™ Weekends return to Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Star Wars™ Weekends are back at Disney’s Hollywood Studios May 16 – June 15, 2014! The event, which takes place Friday – Sunday, is jam-packed full of special entertainment, characters and dining experiences celebrating the popular Star Wars films and the television series Star Wars™: The Clone Wars.

New Dining Experiences

Two brand-new character dining options are being added to the event this year. Fuel up for a day at Hollywood Studios with the Star Wars Dine-In Galactic Breakfast” at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theatre ($47.99 for adults and $29.99 for children). Mingle with Star Wars personalities while movie moments from the trilogy play out on the big screen. For dinner, join Mickey and Friends (dressed in their Star Wars best) for “Jedi Mickey’s Star Wars Dine at Hollywood & Vine” ($47.99 for adults and $29.99 for children). The interactive meal is sure to be out-of-this-world with music and a delicious dinner buffet. Included with both the breakfast and dinner is a digital photograph memento. These new limited-time dining experiences will be available daily May 4 – June 15, 2014.

New “Feel the Force Premium Package”

Take in the popular Legends of the Force: Star Wars™ Celebrity Motorcade and the Symphony in the Stars fireworks from an exclusive reserved viewing area. Light snacks and beverages will be served during the Motorcade (11am daily during the event). The fireworks will be accompanied by a special Star Wars-themed dessert party. Also included is a souvenir Disney PhotoPass® card with a series of complimentary Star Wars™ photos. This special-ticketed event occurs daily during the event May 16-June 15, 2014, and is priced at $54 for adults and $32 for children (tax and gratuity included).

Returning Star Wars Favorites

Special themed entertainment will be back for 2014 including:

  • Official opening of Disney’s Hollywood Studios with Stormtroopers at the Gate
  • Padawan Mind Challenge (interactive trivia game designed for ages 4 – 11)
  • Jedi Training Academy (ages 12 & under, also available year-round)
  • Meet-and-greet opportunities with Star Wars characters (and some Disney characters in their Star Wars finest)!
  • Autograph sessions and celebrity guests (Mark Hamill, June 6 – 8 only!)
  • Behind-the-scenes presentations at the Premiere Theater

Classic Upgrade: Star Tours – The Adventures Continue

MH star tours 2.0 disneylandAt the risk of being branded blasphemous, I’ll admit I was slow to notice all the differences between the original Star Tours attraction and its 2011 revamp. Yes, I get that the entire film itself is brand new. I’m fully aware that eleven randomized scenes have been installed. I applaud the addition of the randomized scenes because they amount to a possible 54 different journeys through classic Star Wars communities and interactions with beloved Star Wars characters.

My main excuse for such ignorance is that I hadn’t ridden the original attraction in nearly a decade before riding the upgrade. The traits I remembered from the original were still present in the new film: our Starspeeders lurching to and fro, explosions rattling us in our chairs and C-3PO hysterically bumbling about.

MH star tours 2.0Our daughter, Emily, just took her first Star Tours flight this past fall (at right).

Location: Find Star Tours – The Adventures Continue in the Echo Lake area of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World Resort, and in the Tomorrowland section of Disneyland Park, Disneyland Resort.

Touring Tip: For more Star Wars fun, check out Star Wars™ Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios May 16 – June 15, 2014.

Train with the Jedi Academy

Personally, I’m not a big Star Wars buff. But, I figured, how fun would it be to watch my kids train as young Padawans? If stage fright didn’t rear its head, I knew my son, Andy, would love to don the robe and swing the saber. I could just picture his little Jedi instincts kicking in as Darth Vader attempts to coax the kids over to the Dark Side. It was this vision that kept us in a 40-minute line to sign up for the Jedi Training Academy at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Our patience paid off with the last slot at one of the last performances of the day. It’s not easy to get a spot – only 16 kids per show were being accepted to fill out 15 separate shows the day we toured. By 10am (one hour after park opening), all slots had been filled. It was a blast to return later that evening to watch Andy and his class learn the combat moves with their Jedi Master – moves that (spoiler!) came in handy when Darth showed up with his offer to complete their training on the Dark Side! Each prospective Padawan got his or her own opportunity to face Vader before he admitted temporary defeat – “Until we meet again.”

MH jedi training academyTraining Academy wrapped with a graduation ceremony, complete with certificates and photo ops. Our newly-minted Padawan immediately picked out a Mickey saber to commemorate the experience and spent the remainder of the trip getting in touch with his Jedi side.

Location: There are Jedi Training Academy opportunities at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World Resort, and Disneyland Park, Disneyland Resort.

Touring tips: If your child (ages 4-12) is interested in Jedi Training Academy at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, make it a priority to arrive at the ABC Sound Studio immediately after the park opens. The children must be present to sign up and you must be able to commit about an hour to the performance, including arriving half an hour prior to the show. At Disneyland Park, the kids are randomly selected from the audience to participate. Your best bet to get chosen is to attract as much (positive) attention as possible!

Discover the Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow

To my husband, this was like divine intervention. Loyal to the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction since childhood, he was prophetizing on a recent trip to the Magic Kingdom of the need for more Pirates in the Parks. You can imagine his reaction when I told him that a walk-through attraction called “The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow” had just been added to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. (“It’s about time!” was the approximate response.)

So how does this new experience stack up? Well, it’s absolutely no substitute for the original attraction, but there are lots of cool, high-tech special effects employed to make the show worth a look. The projection of Captain Jack Sparrow onto the real deck of what resembles the ghostly Black Pearl, for instance, is amazingly realistic. Captain Jack staggers about, does battle with the Flying Dutchman, and pronounces the audience members of his crew after a series of tests designed to prove our mettle as pirates.

The tests are administered by, in Captain Jack’s words, a “strange, inexplicably talking skull in the sky”. Per the skull’s commands, we fended off an army of skeletons, the monstrous Kraken, and a swarm of lethal mermaids.

Definitely check this out for the special effects – Johnny Depp at the very least – and appreciate the blend of nods toward both the classic attraction and the modern franchise.

Located: Mickey Avenue in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World Resort.

Fall 2014 update: The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow closed November 6, 2014.