Disney Hollywood, Orlando Florida

Along the main street of Disney Hollywood

Disney Hollywood is my favorite among all Disney parks in Florida. After some research, i found out that the park opened in May 1, 1989 as Disney-MGM Studios. Apparently, Disney partnered with the very famous MGM studios at that time to build on the park's movie theme. After much dispute with the MGM owner, the 20-year contract was not renewed in 2005. This was when Disney decided to rename the park Disney Hollywood. This is quite interesting for me to know since it was still called Disney MGM the last time we visited in 1999.  I got a little bit confused when i looked at the website before our trip and did not find MGM anymore. You may read the whole story here.
my cousin Nelly and me on our 2nd visit

Anyway, whether you call it Disney MGM or Hollywood, it didn't really matter. The park is still wonderful and the theme is the same.

Disney Hollywood was a lot smaller compared to the other Disney parks but i enjoyed it the most. We even went back for another day to finish all the shows and rides that we missed on our first visit.

As you enter the park, you are greeted with really nice-looking shops and restaurants that look like an old movie set. The end of the street has Mickey's wizard hat instead of the traditional cinderella or tinkerbell's castle as seen in the other Disney parks.

There are also impromptu movie actors that go around doing comedy stunts that involve audience participation all throughout the day.  
Our first stop was Disney Junior where they had all the Disney Junior characters. They also had a Playhouse Disney show together with Handy Manny, Little Einstien, and Jack and the Neverland Pirates. Troy and Dawn loved it.

informal seating
Handy Manny
Little Einstein
Jake and the Neverland Pirates
Mickey's Clubhouse
There were other shows that were even more spectacular such as the Voyage of the Little Mermaid.  The green laser lights which made us feel that we were under the see made the show even more fascinating.  There were also bubbles at one point of the show so you will literally get a little wet.
laser lights
If you're not a fan of The Little Mermaid, then you may also try and catch Beauty and the Beast. Unfortunately, i was not able to see this show since we were busy lining up for the Tower of Terror.

My parents brought Troy and Dawn to watch this show and said it was pretty good too. Their only complain was that it was a little hot since the show was being done in an outdoor theater. If you wish to catch this show, i suggest scheduling it towards the evening when the sun is already about to set. Based on the pictures and videos, it does look very elaborate. I'll be sure to catch this next time - maybe when Dawn is a little bigger.

Now for our little Troy, it couldn't get better than seeing Lightning Mcqueen and Mater LIVE! He was so giddy with excitement when he saw a photo opportunity with them. After that, we got the chance to watch Mqueen do a high-speed car chase scene during the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Car Show.

I was able to take a quick video but the quality was not so good. So here's a video i found taken by Orlando Attractions Magazine.
The car show was really good. On top of the stunts by Mcqueen, they will also show you how they do high-speed car chases in the movies.

If you like this sort of action, you also should not miss the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular show. You will learn a thing or two about doing action stunts.

One of the show that is very popular all throughout the park is the American Idol Experience. The set up is a mini version of the actual show and the mechanics are pretty much the same. You can actually audition and go through the elimination process all in one day. There will be multiple shows throughout the day where the audience can cast their votes and the candidates get eliminated one by one. There is a finale at 7pm where the sole winner gets to audition in the actual Americann Idol in Orlando, Florida. It was a great experience even for us, watchers/voters. You will get a good feel of how it probably is watching the actual American Idol show.
The judges
American idol finalists
Now let’s move on to the rides. Aside from the roller coaster and the Tower of Terror, most of them are pretty much kid-friendly. The blockbuster ride when we were there was the Toy Story Mania. It is very similar to the Buzz Lightyear ride in other Disneyland/Magic Kingdom parks.  The only difference is that instead of shooting at mechanical objects, you get to shoot at multiple 3D moving screens.  You will earn points during the ride so it’s fun go as a group and see who gets the highest score.
Tower of Terror (photo from http://themeparks.about.com/)
If you’re fond of big drops and going in haunted houses, then you must not miss the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. 

Ride background: In 1939, during a gloomy Halloween night, 5 unlucky souls were riding down the Hotel's maintenance service elevator when a violent storm struck the building… and they were never seen again.

You will be riding a huge elevator that seats about 20 passengers.  You will then tour the haunted hotel and witness holographic images of the hotel ghosts. Upon reaching the 13th floor, the elevator door will open and you will drop 13 stories down. You will then be pulled you back up and drop you a second time. I think there was a third or maybe a fourth drop but I wasn't keeping count anymore.  

Personally, the drop was not the scary part for me (honest!) – it was the anticipation of the drop and the haunted tour of the hotel.  The ride is also available in other Disneyland parks but not all Tower of Terror rides have the Twilight Zone theme. So don’t miss this when you’re in Florida. It’s still an exciting ride even if you’ve gone through it before.

If you still have the energy, then you should cap your visit with one final show - Fantasmic! Here is a brief description of the show taken from the official Disney website.

A spectacular, 25-minute nightime fireworks and water show performed select nights starring Mickey Mouse and a bevy of delightful Disney Characters and features classic Disney music and songs, laser lights and amazing hydrotechnic effects.  Fantasmic! takes you into the colorful imagination of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer's Apprentice in this nighttime musical special effects extravaganza! Join Mickey as he invokes the characters and spirit of such favorite Disney classics as Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Aladdin, Pinocchio, The Lion King, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Dumbo, Tarzan, and more. But when the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs gathers such classic villains as Ursula, Cruella de Vil, Scar, Frollo, Jafar and a larger-than-life Maleficent to turn Mickey's dreams into a nightmare, leave it to Mickey and the power of imagination to save the day.

I have seen the show several years ago when it was still Disney MGM Studios. I really cannot remember it much anymore and am also not sure how different it is now.  We were not able to watch during our last visit. As mentioned earlier, the deciding factor here is really if 'you still have the energy' - and with two kids in tow, we really didn't. My cousin said it's a wonderful show and was saying we shouldn't have skipped it. We'll be sure to watch it next time.

We had a wonderful time with the family at the Disney Hollywood theme park. This is one Disney park that you should not miss when you find yourselves in Orlando. You may visit the official website here for more details.


Disney Animal Kingdom, Orlando Florida

Troy and me getting ready to enter the park
Last month, our family visited Disney's Animal Kingdom for the first time. I was expecting a big zoo (like Sea World but for land animals) but it turns out i was wrong. Animal Kingdom had a good balance of amusement rides, indoor and outdoor shows, and animal encounters.

Here are some fast facts that i got from the official Disney Animal Kingdom website:

Home to more than 1,700 animals from 250 species and sprawling across 500 acres of lush landscape, Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park is the largest animal-themed park in the world!

The park hours varies depending on the day and the season. It is best to visit the online calendar before going to ensure you maximize your day in Disney.

One of the best shows that we have seen in the park was Finding Nemo - the musical. The show runs for 30 minutes and the storyline is basically the same as the famous cartoon, Finding Nemo.
can you see how small the people are? now imagine how grand the stage looks!
The show has excellent effects and is comparable to a Broadway musical show. It is best to check for show schedules on your map as you as you enter the park so that you can plan your day accordingly. Try to be at the venue prior to show time so that you can get good front-row seats. It will be worth your time.

The Festival of the Lion King is another very good musical show. This one is more interactive and involves a lot of singing and dancing. This show is also available in some of the Disneyland parks in the world (i've been to the one in Hong Kong and aside from the language difference, the show is practically the same). It is still a good show especially if you or your kids enjoy watching the Lion King movie. I mean, who doesn't enjoy Hakuna Matata and all the fun Lion King songs?! There is also a bit of a 'wow factor' for the kids since the animal mascots in this show can look very real for small children. Troy kept on saying 'Mommy, it's Simba!'

The highlight of our visit to the Animal Kingdom is the Kilimanjaro Safaris Expedition where you get to ride an open-sided Safari vehicle to tour the wildlife reserve. You will go around the entire 100-acre savanna in the Africa area of the park and see various exotic animals such as Giraffes, Elephants, Rhinos, and many more in their naturalistic habitats.  Instead of the usual steel railings, natural barriers are used to allow guests to experience very close encounters with the animals. It  was an exciting journey for the entire family.  A great alternative if you are not yet brave enough to bring your small kids to South Africa.
wild animals grazing the grass in a naturalistic habitat
check out the horns of that bull (my mind was saying 'i wonder how safe we are in this open-sided jeep')
Giraffes roaming free

This giraffe stood beside our vehicle. I think can literally touch him if i dared.

Elephant going for a drink
Flamingos and other birds

See those Rhinos hiding under the shade of the trees?
The king of the jungle fast asleep
It was a wonderful educational experience for the whole family. The kids recited all the animals that we spotted while the adults hurriedly took pictures as we see them.

Most kids will go through a stage when they are very fascinated with animals - this is the perfect time to bring your kids to the Animal park.

Oh, by the way, one tip when exploring Disney's Animal Kingdom - bring sunshades! Whether you put sunblock, wear hats, bring umbrellas, or do all 3...this is a must especially for little children. I did all 3 yet my kids still got really tanned after our trip. It's hot in the Savannah!


Disney World, Orlando Florida

The first and original Disneyland in LA was built in 1955.  Almost two decades later, a bigger Disney park was built in 1971 on the other side of the United States and this was called Disney World.

Disney World consists of four separate theme parks. Unlike most Disneylands all over the world, when you visit Disney World, you will definitely need more than a day to cover all the parks.

The most popular Disney park is Magic Kingdom. This is very similar to the Disneylands in LA, Hong Kong, Paris, Japan. Most the rides are pretty much the same.  So if you have been to Disneyland and have very limited time in Orlando, I would say that visiting this park does not need to be top priority. Of course, if you still go for the classic Disney themes (Dumbo, Snow White, Cinderella, etc), then you may still want to visit the Magic Kingdom since most classic Disney characters will be there.
my dad with goofy 
Minnie Mouse 
Partying with Chip...or Dale?
Hey Donald!
Next is the Epcot theme park. We skipped this park this year since the last time we visited Epcot back in 1999, I felt that it was a bit too relaxed for me (i.e. more leisure time and less action). Epcot is a very futuristic, science-based park. It houses a lot of innovative ideas that some may find very interesting. If you are not so much into rides and are fond of science, then this is definitely a park you will enjoy.

On the flipside, one park that we did not visit back in 1999 but decided to check out this year was the Disney Animal Kingdom. Since I know Troy will enjoy seeing a lot of animals, we intentionally included this park in our itinerary during this trip. I will share more details about this park in a separate blog.

Finally, there's the Disney Hollywood Studios. This is my personal favorite. The concept of the hollywood park is very much similar to Universal Studios. Over 10 years ago, there was Disney MGM which i believe is the old Disney Hollywood Studios. It may have been renamed and upgraded through the years. Being my favorite Disney park of all, this park will also get it's own blog post :)

Mommy and Dawn with Little Goofy
Papa with Little Mickey and Minnie
If you plan to visit all of the Disney World theme parks and have much time on your hands, i recommend getting the multi-day park hopper pass. You may opt to get anywhere from 2 to 10-day passes. The more days you get, the cheaper each day becomes. You may check out some sites selling discounted Disney tickets before your trip. 



Marriott's Grande Vista Resort, Orlando Florida

I have been hibernating for a while in the blogosphere but i am back with a lot of exciting updates to share.

My family just came back from a 2.5-week trip to the US and Canada so expect the next few posts to be about our adventures during our vacation.

Let me start with our hotel in Florida. My dad booked us in the Marriott's Grande Vista Resort in Orlando. IT.WAS.AWESOME! i love how spacious and luxurious the place is and even with two very active kids, i still found the place very relaxing.

When you enter the resort compound, you are greeted with a picturesque view of the lake with the hotel in the background. It truly spells V.A.C.A.T.I.O.N.

The hotel lobby, as with most resort hotels in Orlando, was housed in a separate building where most of the amenities were. The lobby has modern mediterranean interior and was very spacious yet cozy.
The hotel has a lot of family-friendly amenities.
They had a kiddie play center where Troy and his cousins, Lance and Mia, had a blast.
They even had an ice cream parlor for the kids and small table and chairs that looked like a kiddie restaurant. Isn't that so cute?
 There was also a video arcade for bigger kids and young-at-heart parents.
Of course, there are also the more common internet portals, swimming pool, spa and gym.

One thing that was very helpful for us was the convenience store inside the hotel. It was truly what it was - a store for our convenience. It sold anything from souvenirs to grocery items.  Special thanks to the store for having different diaper sizes in stock. It was a lifesaver when we suddenly realized we were out of diapers for our little girl.
There were other amenities that we were not able to enjoy such as the gaming area where there was a pool table and other outdoor sports activities. It might even be a good idea to go back next time and not plan a full theme park itinerary. I think my dad might enjoy the idea of spending a day playing golf in the resort compound.

Now let's move on to the bedrooms. Our family got a two-bedroom villa. The rooms were very spacious and had complete living amenities such as a dishwasher, washing machine,  dryer, ironing set, and kitchen necessities. 
Dining and living area
Kitchen. The white door at the back is where the washing machine and dryer are.
The two sofa sets (one in the living room and another in one of the rooms) convert into beds. So you essentially get 2 beds and 2 sofa beds in a 2-bedroom villa.
Bedroom that crosses over to the bath area
Signature Marriott pillows
an oversize jacuzzi inside the bedroom
After 7 days in Marriott's Grande Vista Resort, it still wasn't enough. I really enjoyed our stay and would be more than happy to go back the next time we find ourselves in Orlando again. 
The hotel is conveniently located near most of the theme parks (Sea World, Disney, Universal Studios) so driving to and from the parks was not difficult at all. 

For hotel rates, you may go to the hotel's official website or the different travel sites available.

Marriott's Grande Vista Resort is located at 5925 Avenida Vista · Orlando, Florida 32821 USA.


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