June 2-3: A Visit to Fred's House in Van Alstyne
May 15-16, 1993: A Weekend in Bartlett, Texas
Return to the Index for 1993


May 20-23, 1993
A Trip to Disney's Typhoon Lagoon
and Universal Studios in Florida

 

Greg had been planning for some time to be speaking at a user's group for Bachman Systems, the company he is working for in Boston. The meeting will be held at the DisneyWorld Resort in Florida. Linda Lea Larson and her husband, Jerry, were also going to be there, so Greg prevailed on me to come down and join them for the weekend.


I had some free time and a bunch of airline miles, so I decided to accept Greg's invitation to join him in Orlando. So, three days after Fred and I returned from Bartlett and picking up my new kittens, and with Fred promising to stop in on Friday after work to check on them, I flew to Fort Lauderdale.

I reached there in the afternoon, and immediately set out for Orlando. I could have taken Florida's Turnpike, but I decided to save the $8 and take I-95 up to Florida 528- the Beeline Expressway that runs from Daytona Beach to Orlando. (Many years ago, I invested in one of the conglomerates that were popular- Gulf+Western. That company did a great deal to open up the entire south Orlando area, and was involved in the land transactions that led to many of the mega-theme parks that have grown up there. That same company first laid out the route for the Beeline Expressway, which has in the decades since become the major thorofare from the Florida East Coast directly to Orlando.

Greg was staying at a Marriott near DisneyWorld, and I got there late in the evening- just in time to have a bit of supper with Greg and then retire for the night.

The next day, Greg moved to a resort condominium timeshare that he got with one of his frequent stayer certificates for having stayed at Marriotts so often. The condo was very spacious with two bedrooms, two baths, a living area and kitchen. I had come prepared with my Diet Pepsi, and everything. Linda Lea and her husband joined us just before lunch, and the four of us went over to Typhoon Lagoon, which is Disney's answer to a water park.

 

At Walt Disney's Typhoon Lagoon

On the whole, Typhoon Lagoon was very well done- quite beautiful, in fact. We all brought our bathing suits, of course, paid our entry fee, and staked out a place by the wave pool. Then I went off to investigate the water slides.


Disney's Typhoon Lagoon, which opened four years ago, is located at the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, and is one of two operating water parks at the resort. It is the second water park to open at the resort after Disney's River Country.

The park is home to one of the world's largest outdoor wave pools. The theme of the park is the "Disney legend" of a typhoon that wreaked havoc upon a formerly pristine tropical paradise. Ships, fishing gear and surfboards are strewn about where the storm flung them. The centerpiece of the park is "Miss Tilly," a shrimp boat impaled upon a mountain named "Mount Mayday" that erupts a 50-foot geyser of water every half hour, right before the bells of the watch sound on the boat.

Last year, Typhoon Lagoon admitted more than a million visitors- one of the two or three most popular in the world. Typhoon Lagoon operates year-round with an annual maintenance closure during either the fall or winter. Of the major parks at Disney World, Typhoon Lagoon is the only one that lies within the city limits of Lake Buena Vista.

As one often must do in theme parks, I wanted to go to the most popular ride as quickly as possible- and that attraction is Humunga Kowabunga. The ride consists of two "speed slide" flumes that send riders downward five stories in just seconds before leveling out into a long deceleration area north of the wave pool. Average mass riders typicall reach speeds just shy of 40MPH on the way down.


From the Top

From the Bottom

At right are two pictures I took of Humunga Kowabunga- one from the top, as a rider was dropping away, and another from the bottom. This is probably the most exciting ride in Typhoon Lagoon, and we did all of them at some time or other during the day. All you do is slide down the ramp and then level out at the bottom. It was fun, and I did it a number of times.

My camera, which has been successfully repaired, is not waterproof, so I did not take it on a ride down the slide (although it would have been interesting to have had a waterproof movie camera). Late in the day, I made the trek up to the drop station to get the left-hand picture, and then, without actually riding, I went back down to the bottom to get the right-hand picture.

In that right-had picture you can see Mount Mayday in the background, and "Miss Tilly" impaled on the top of it.

Disney has landscaped the water park wonderfully, but that is to be expected. I took this picture of some of the fake rocks and real foliage to show Fred some of that landscaping. Actually, it is more of a park than anything else, being the type of place that a family might come to spend the day and picnic as if they were at the beach. There is lots of sand and relatively little concrete- just the opposite of Wet 'n Wild.


The View From the Top of Humunga Kowabunga

From the slopes of Mount Mayday, here is a good view of Typhoon Lagoon and the Marriott in the distance. That body of water is the actual lagoon, where there is a sandy beach and a wave machine.


The Wave Pool and Mount Mayday

This picture was taken from a vantage point east of where we were at the beach. We did just about all the rides, I think, among which were a couple of lazy inner tube rides and a couple of inner-tube flumes.

Being May, it was getting pretty warm here in Central Florida, but it was certainly not oppressive. It was, however, a great day to be at a water park.


At right are Jerry, Linda Lea and Greg, as we are getting our shoes and things back on preparing to leave the park at closing. Linda Lea worked for McDonnell-Douglas and EDS, and then left to work for Ernst and Young for a while, then joined Bachman with Greg. She lives in Omaha with Jerry, who is also her former husband.


I had Jerry take a picture of Greg, Linda Lea and myself at Typhoon Lagoon, and you can see that picture at left.

Along about three in the afternoon we all thought we'd had enough of Typhoon Lagoon (and possibly too much sun), so we got ready to join quite a few other people who had the same idea and were leaving the park.

During the day, both Greg and Linda Lea are talking about leaving Bachman, as it appears that the company's product and consultancy offerings have become less in demand than previously, and this was a topic of conversation pretty much the rest of the day.

We enjoyed the park very much, including the submarine ride that that we took through a lagoon stocked with tropical fish, or the underwater viewing area where you can see sharks and other large fish. There is something for everybody and the entire park is quite beautiful. I would recommend it to just about anyone.

That afternoon, we played some miniature golf with two more people from Bachman, and then went to dinner with them at Fuddrucker's.

 

A Day in Lake Buena Vista

The next day, both Greg and Linda Lea were occupied all morning with the Bachman folks, but they were done after their User Group luncheon. Linda Lea wanted to do some shopping, so we went to some of the outlet stores in the area. I found two kitty dishes that matched the Pfalzgraff dinnerware that Grant left me, so I bought them.

Late in the afternoon, six of us went to a Malibu raceway and rode the race cars and played in the arcade, and then Greg and I went to the airport to pick up Charlie Flatt, a good friend of Greg's who was coming up from Key West to spend a few days with Greg.

We all went to dinner at a Thai restaurant in Orlando, and then that night Charlie and I went out to Parliament House- one of the largest gay complexes in the country- up in Orlando. That was a good deal of fun. Charlie met some people he knew, and hung out with them most of the evening and I played a lot of pool (doing very well) while I was people-watching.

 

A Day at Universal Studios Theme Park

Universal Studios Florida opened on June 7, 1990; the park's theme is the entertainment industry, in particular movies and television. Universal Studios Florida inspires its guests to "ride the movies", and it features numerous attractions and live shows. The park is one component of the larger Universal Orlando Resort. The park is among the ten "most-visited" theme parks in the United States (and among the top twenty in the world).


I would like to have marked on an aerial view of Universal Studios all the spots we visited today, but, sadly, commercial evolution being what it is, most of those spots have since been changed. Rides have closed and have been replaced, and entire streets have been bulldozed and replaced. On the aerial view at left (in the scrollable window) I will mark those places that are still there.

From its inception in 1982, Universal Studios Florida was designed as a theme park and a working studio. It was also the first time that Universal Studios had constructed an amusement park "from the ground up." The proposed project was put on hold until 1986, when Steven Spielberg, a co-founder for the park, and other executives at Universal planned the creation of a Back to the Future simulator ride in addition to the already planned King Kong based ride. Spielberg had also thought that the park could easily be competitive with the nearby Walt Disney World.

A major component of the original park in Hollywood is its studio tour, which featured several special-effects exhibits and encounters built into the tour, such as an attack by the great white shark from the film Jaws. For its Florida park, Universal Studios took the concepts of the Hollywood tour scenes and developed them into larger, stand-alone attractions. For example, guests who entered the "Jaws" attraction boarded a boat touring the fictitious Amity Harbor, where they encountered the shark. There was also a "Studio Tour" of the production facilities.

Today, Greg, Charlie and I went to the park, while Linda Lea and Jerry stayed at the hotel and conference center. I had heard a lot about this relatively new park, but had never been there. When we got in the park, which we reached about ten minutes after it opened, we headed right for the newest attraction, figuring that it would be incredibly busy later in the day. Just as you enter the park from the main parking area, there is a fountain with the Universal Logo (the same one that you see at the beginning of movies produced at that studio). I had Greg take a picture of me with the logo. The morning sun was quite bright, and I thought that when we left the park later in the day I might try another one.


The idea of a Back to the Future–based ride was one of the first discussed in a 1986 meeting between Steven Spielberg and Universal executives; it was partially responsible for the re-activation of earlier plans for a Florida theme park. Initial planning for the ride began in 1988, with a roller coaster as the original concept, but designers realized it would be too hard to effectively tell a story due to the fast motion. The realized concept involved a simulator ride; riders would board motion-based vehicles modeled after the DeLorean DMC-12 featured in the films, and watch a film projected onto a large, dome-shaped IMAX screen.

Back to the Future: The Ride was first publicly announced in 1989 as one of the many rides that would be part of the new Universal Studios Florida theme park; it opened in 1991 at a cost of $40 million. When we got to the ride, Greg saw a sign that cautioned people with claustrophobia from riding, and so he demurred. I thought the sign was just for effect, and I was mostly right, but Charlie and I could not convince him to join us. So we did the ride, which was exciting, but not claustrophobic. After coming out, the line was already half an hour long, so we made the right decision.

I have marked on the aerial view the former location of this ride. It was closed in 2007 and replaced with a ride based on The Simpsons television show.


We had noticed going in to the Back to the Future ride that there was a miniature version of the Space Shuttle sitting on top of the building housing the ride. It sat alongside what looked to be like one of the Cape Canaveral launch buildings. This feature was removed from the park when the Back to the Future ride closed.

The idea was that the park would contain many designated photo spots where a photographer could stand on or at a specific location, put his subjects on or at a different spot and then take a picture. In this case, the picture was supposed to turn out as if the subjects were actually at the Cape; the subject's size would be in proportion to the size of the miniatures.

I actually missed the sign detailing just where I was supposed to be standing when I took this picture. And I also did not see the little platform that you are supposed to put your camera on and then use the time-delay to get in the picture with your subjects. These spots were marked on the park map, as it turned out, but I never noticed them.

(All of these "photo opportunities" were eventually removed from the Park.)

We began just walking through the park, concentrating on getting in the lines for the most popular rides as soon as we could.


At right are Charlie and Greg; in the far background you can see the set that duplicates the New York City skyline (no longer in the park as of this writing). It is early in the day and the park is not yet very crowded, so the next ride we went on was King Kong. That ride was pretty good, as you are supposed to be caught suspended on the Roosevelt Island tramway in New York City when King Kong attacks. It was pretty realistic, I must admit.

The park surrounded a large lagoon, and some of the movie sets bordered on the water (and some of the rides used it as well).


At right is one of the many actual sets that are part of Universal Studios. As I mentioned earlier, this particular theme park was conceived as being both a theme park and a working studio, so guests could not only ride rides but take the equivalent of studio tours. Many exterior shots for movies and television are supposedly filmed here. I do recognize this set- it is Cabot's Cove from the TV show Murder, She Wrote.

Although we didn't know it at the time, we'd encounter Murder, She Wrote later on in the day, because one aspect of this theme park that is different from others that don't focus on movies was that you could actually participate (or at least watch others participating) in movie making, and Murder, She Wrote would be one of those opportunities.


Right next door to King Kong was one of these opportunities, and at left are Greg, me and Charlie after we participated in one of them. This one I couldn't resist; it was based on Star Trek. Investigating at the entrance, I found that to do the "screen test" you need at least two people, preferably three or more. Being a fan, I coerced the two of them to doing the video with me.

First, the three of us were put in costumes that were authentic to the TV and movie franchise. There was indeed a whole wardrobe department with uniforms to fit anyone. For Greg, who played Spock, there were even fake Vulcan ears to put on. Next, we were ushered into a "studio" that was, in effect, a large open area in front of a green screen. I am sure you are familiar with the process, in which actors do their acting in front of such a screen so that later on they may be inserted into footage of different locations or different action sequences.

Loading the player...

Following a teleprompter script and actual direction, we "filmed" a number of snippets in which we were told where to look and how to react as we read our lines. This is actually quite difficult, since there really isn't anyone for you to say your lines to or any actual action to which you can react.

After we finished, we watched the editing process as a technician took our recorded snippets and inserted them into the appropriate places in a pre-recorded "story" that was filmed with the real actors in Hollywood. The final step was for the technician to prepare for each of us a VHS tape with our performance. (You didn't have to buy the tape, but almost everyone does. It's an extra $30.)

I won't go into the story itself; why not just use the player at left to watch the result? (I had the tape digitized some years ago, and thus am able to put it here in the photo album.)

I know that none of us will win any acting awards, but one thing the experience gave me was an appreciation for how difficult it can actually be to act in movies and TV shows in which there are a great many special effects. Actually speaking with another actor on a stage or in a set is one thing; and much of movies is like that. But for those special effects sequences, the actors rarely have anything physical to interact with; instead, they have to make us believe that they can see what we eventually see- not such an easy task. I really enjoyed it, but don't make plans to do it yourself.

Universal Studios Florida tried other of these "studio adventures", and while they were popular with fans of the show or movie, as the 1990s drew on, the emphasis at all theme parks shifted to the biggest, baddest rides they could build. Here at Universal Studios, major park renovations in the late 1990s led to the elimination of these studio adventures (and many of the production sets, like the buildings of New York) in favor of new rides.


Charlie and Greg on a Typical Universal Studios Backlot Street

After the video we went to have some lunch and then went on the Earthquake ride. This ride first talks about how the movie was made, and uses some people picked from the audience to illustrate how the actors are pasted into the action done with miniatures. Greg was very pleased that he was one of the people chosen. He is a natural ham actor, and he had a lot of fun with his role.


Me at Universal Studios Florida

After the movie-making explanation, you go on the actual ride. It is another motion-reality ride where you are riding in a BART subway car when an earthquake hits San Francisco. Again, the ride was quite realistic (including the water flooding the tunnel).

One thing theme parks are noted for are all the buying and eating opportunities, so we visited a couple of shops and I had some ice cream (not Baskin-Robbins, sadly).


Murder, She Wrote Mystery Theatre was an interactive show that opened with Universal Studios Florida in 1990. In the show, guests are selected to be executive producers on a new episode of the television show. The 25-minute show focused on the production of a variety of effects including makeup, sound and visual effects before showcasing the editing process. They needed a couple of people from our group, and again Greg got picked. (It must have been his orange hat.)


In the picture at left, he and another guest are doing some lines in the sound studio in the picture.

(Following the cancellation of the Murder, She Wrote TV show, the attraction was closed in 1996 and was replaced by Hercules and Xena: Wizards of the Screen the following year.)

Just down the street from the Murder, She Wrote attraction was the "Mel's Diner" set from Happy Days (at right). It was really interesting to see these actual sets that I had seen on television before. This set was in Hollywood when the real series was being filmed, but the set was moved here in its entirety when the show went off the air.

We had lunch in a restaurant done up to look like a typical studio commissary. The food seemed pretty good, but must have been a bit "off" because Charlie got a bit ill after lunch, and had to sit quietly and relax. He didn't want to go home, but just felt very queasy. While he relaxed, Greg and I took a tram tour of the back lot where a number of familiar props are kept and where actual movies and TV shows are filmed.


One of the Backlot Streets at Universal Studios

The Rodeo Drive Set at Universal Studios

When we returned to Charlie, he was still relaxing, so Greg and I went right nearby to the tribute to Lucille Ball exhibit. After that, since Charlie was still not feeling great, we left.


As I mentioned when we first got to the park this morning, I didn't think the picture I'd had Greg take at the entrance was going to turn out well, so now that the sun wasn't so intense, I had him take another, and I think it turned out much better. That's me, of course, at the entrance to Universal Studios Florida.

I stayed in Orlando one more day, and on that day we went to Wet 'n Wild. I didn't take my camera, because you can't carry one around and expect to go on the rides too. It was Greg's turn to feel a bit poorly, and he didn't want to go on many of the rides, and neither did Charlie, although we went on a few of them together. I spent most of my time going on as many of them as I could, and we had lunch there and then just got some sun in the early afternoon, then left.

Since Greg was leaving the next day anyway, I went back on down to Ft. Lauderdale, spent a few days at the condo and with Ty and Scott, and then returned to Dallas.

You can use the links below to continue to another photo album page.


June 2-3: A Visit to Fred's House in Van Alstyne
May 15-16, 1993: A Weekend in Bartlett, Texas
Return to the Index for 1993