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A LOOK BACK AT DISNEY-MGM

    

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 10, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: some 28 years ago, I was commissioned to write about the Disney-MGM Studios theme park in Disney World as one of several stories gleaned from a Florida junket for a couple of Disney movies. This one ran on the July 2, 1989, Travel section cover of the Deseret News, under the headline: ‘Mickey’s Mecca for Movie Mavens.’ And it’s so long that I’ve cut it in two; the second part will be in this space next week. (FYI: In 2008, MGM dropped out of the arrangement and the park was renamed Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which is still in use today.)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Movie buffs are an odd lot. More often they’d rather go to a movie about a theme park than go to a theme park itself. Even on a day filled with sunshine.

So the folks at Disney have come up with a way to get film freaks out of the dark hole of the theater and into the dark hole of the park ride by coming up with a movie theme park: The Disney-MGM Studios park in Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla.

Even dyed-in-the-wool movie maniacs will be happy to skip a matinee or two to see all the movie-related rides, tours, shows, exhibits and restaurants available here. And, cleverly, the Disney folks have included some actual short movies interspersed among the fare — made-exclusively-for-this-park films starring everyone from Bette Midler to Robin Williams to Mel Gibson to R2D2 and C3PO. So even those who can’t bear more than a few hours without a flick fix will feel sated.

For the uninitiated, Disney World is a 28,000-acre resort complex that has, until this spring, had two major theme parks — Epcot Center and The Magic Kingdom, the latter being a sort of Disneyland-South — as well as hotels, restaurants, boat rides and even a 10-plex movie theater outside the parks. (It all rests in Lake Buena Vista, an incorporated Disney city in Florida near Orlando.)

    

Bette Midler, Mickey Mouse, Michael Eisner, Disney-MGM (July 1989)

But with the May 1 opening of Disney-MGM Studios, and the more recent opening of Typhoon Lagoon, a new water-recreation park, Disney World is well on its way to becoming a vacation spot where you could spend several cloistered weeks and still not take it all in.

That may at first glance seem a bit overwhelming, but it’s really a fascinating series of adventures that are at once quite joyful and exhausting. A bus driver explained as we left Epcot Center that we may think EPCOT stands for “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow,” but it really means “Every Person Comes Out Tired.”

It’s a very nice tired, however.

My wife Joyce and I — along with some 7,000 other news media representatives and their guests — were hosted by Disney for a five-day, six-night stay over the end of April and beginning of May as the Disney-MGM Studios park had its gala — and when they say gala, they mean gala! — opening.

It was our first trip to Disney World, and at times it seemed more like Disney Universe.

We were lodged at the Contemporary Hotel, which is equipped with tracks that go right through the lobby for an overhead monorail that travels to other hotels, as well as Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. And there were frequent buses and trams to carry us to other destinations.

During our stay, special star-shaped press badges opened the Magic Kingdom and Epcot parks to us. We spent part of the first day at Epcot and a couple of hours on the last day at the Magic Kingdom. I wanted to see “Captain EO,” the 3-D Michael Jackson film, and Joyce wanted a ride on the Space Mountain rollercoaster.

    

Kermit the Frog, Jim Henson at Disney-MGM Studios (July 1989)

That should tell you which of us is the movie freak in our family.

We also had a preview glimpse of Pleasure Island, a nightclub and restaurant complex, and Typhoon Lagoon, with its rides and exhibits built around an artificially created beach, complete with sand, salt-water ocean, waves and surfers. It’s the world’s largest water thrill park covering some 56 acres, with a 2 ½ acre wave pool at the base of a 95-foot mountain, a snorkeling pool with tropical fish and nine water slides.

But the bulk of our time was spent at the Disney-MGM Studios theme park, where we sampled the rides and tours before they were opened to the public, and before long lines became the fashion.

It was a novel experience, of course, but we tasted the long lines by visiting the other parks and during the two days we stayed after Disney-MGM Studios opened.

The first thing you see upon entering the Disney-MGM park is Hollywood Blvd., complete with oddball Hollywood “types,” actors who portray a cabbie asking passersby if they’ve seen his lost cab; the matronly proprietor of “Mom’s” diner, who admonished a patron to eat everything on his plate; a Keystone Kop who tells the walking traffic to hurry along; etc.

And there are other rides and tours, which will be described in this space next week.