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One thing I’ve learned since my wife, Cheryl, and I moved to the Orlando area several years ago is that going to Disney World never gets old for me. Being a local, I go almost every weekend, and often a few times throughout the week as well. I love nothing more than to spend time at the World with family members, mishpocha, and friends. And, as many know, I love to meet up with people in the park and spend time with them. For me, it’s not necessarily about being there to ride rides or watch shows (though I do love to do both), but rather it’s about removing myself from everything that is outside the Walt Disney World borders. Time to relax and de-stress.
But there are times when I find myself wanting a little more out of the experience. You’re probably thinking, “don’t you get enough?” Truth is that, for me, there’s really never enough. As soon as I get back in my car to head home I’m already thinking about what I’ll do the next time I’m back, and when that will be. Then I start to think about how can I make the next visit that much better. And I often wonder how to be a part of the magic that WDW offers (no, this is not about working for Disney).
I’m not talking about riding rides, or watching shows. I’m talking about becoming a part of them. Fortunately for us, the grand and miraculous Imagineers have planned for this by providing us many opportunities things to do inside the parks that allow for us to participate in the magic. Most of these require some amount of luck and or good timing to do. And I’ve managed to be in a lot of them over the years.
In my opinion the absolute best park for this is, without a doubt, Disney’s Hollywood Studios. There are just so many options for you to become a part of the magic within this theme park that it deserves special recognition. A large part of this is based around the park’s concept of being a thriving Hollywood studio where you, the visitors, are the star – because truly anyone can be when you’re there.
It goes without saying that if you’re seeking to be a real star, then your first stop at the Studios should be The American Idol Experience. To be a part of this show, you have to submit yourself to a 2 part audition process. If you are accepted by the judges, you get to perform in front of a live studio audience. And if the audience votes for you, you’ll get to appear again in the final show of the day. The prize for that final show? A “Dream Ticket” which allows for you to go to the front of the line for auditions for the American Idol television program. This is how 2010 finalist Aaron Kelly got on the show.
Another favorite, and one I’ve personally participated in several times is the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. This show gives you a behind the scenes look at how stunts similar to those done in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark were done. At the beginning of each show, members of the audience are picked to participate in the show as extras. It’s a lot of fun as you get to be right there on the stage. The only recommendation I have for doing this is for you to be louder than the other 2000 people in the audience (as a former college Key Club President, I’m very good at this). You need to do whatever it takes, within Disney standards, to get the person picking the extras to notice you – an identifiable t-shirt often helps.
That’s not the only stunt show in the Studios either, there’s also the Lights! Motors! Action! Extreme Stunt Show. While there’s not a lot of opportunity for participation in this show, one lucky child will get picked from the audience. Generally he or she will be sitting down close to the front of the audience. They will get taken down to the show area and provided with a remote control for one of the stunt cars. There is a trick to it that I won’t spoil, but I get a kick out of the kids reaction every single time I see the show.
You can also head on over to the Studio Backlot Tour, which, while a pale shell of what it was back when the park first opened, does have a participation opportunity. The first part of the tour offers a chance for a group of four audience members to be the main characters in a very short studio-like production called Harbor Attack. To get picked for this you need to be one of the first groups of four or more in the line waiting for the tour. Talking with a castmember may help. I recently participated in this, and my only comment is to warn that you can get very wet participating in this attraction. Please feel free to call me Captain Todd.
If you like to draw, I suggest checking out the The Magic of Disney Animation. This is actually a mini-tour of how animation evolves for a movie. Specifically, they use the character of Mushu from the movie Mulan, and explain how the animators started with classic pictures from Chinese dragon lore and worked them into the character we know today. Afterward you will exit into an area with character meet and greets – it’s here that you’ll find the Animation Academy. In the Academy you will get an opportunity to learn from an animator how to draw an audience chosen Disney character.
Do your kids love Star Wars? If so, then this is a must do. As soon as possible head over to the stage area, and get your children signed up for the show. Participation is on a first come, first serve basis – and space is limited. In this show your young padawans will get to learn how to safely wield a faux-lightsaber and use their connection to the Force to battle the likes of Darth Vader and Darth Maul. Stormtrooper jokes may vary.
Ever since High School Musical came on the scene, the Studios has offered a music oriented singing and dancing show on Hollywood Boulevard. Recently this show was re-branded as Disney Channel Rocks turning it into a show that is about all of the musicals that appear on the Disney Channel rather than just High School Musical. Anyone who wants to go out and dance with the performers will be offered a chance to do so in the middle of the show.
The most important interactive element of Hollywood Studios are the Citizens of Hollywood. Throughout the day there will be several opportunities along Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard to interact with these characters and their various skits. Each character has their own over-acted shtick and they are a lot of fun to watch. If I could suggest any single interactive element of the Studios as a must see, it would be these characters. Recently I was pulled into one of their skits as covered by my good friend Shane – it was my wedding ring that got me pulled in as the skit requires a married man.
Sadly, with the removal of the Block Party Bash at the Studios, an interactive element was lost along with it. This parade was all about audience participation – shouting, dancing, clapping, singing, and interaction with characters and performers were central to its design. It’s a real shame too, because it’s replacement, the Pixar Pals Countdown To Fun!, is nowhere near as much fun or interesting because it lacks audience appeal.
What about you? Have you ever participated in any of these? Would you like to? Are you going to try to? What other interactive elements of the Studios do you like? Other Disney theme parks? Fun cannot survive without your participation.