The past few weeks have been a whirlwind, and there are no signs of slowing down. I am very fortunate to have the ability to visit Orlando’s theme parks at least once during most weekends, even with a hectic schedule. This past weekend brought new adventures in a part of Florida I hardly ever venture to.
It also brought commitments, including my commitment to spend time in the theme parks. The conundrum: which park to visit. The further conundrum: visit the parks I want to visit just for fun, or head to where needed research could be completed. The latter won out and we ventured to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. And just to add to the craziness of an already jam packed weekend we decided to throw in an trip to Disney Springs too! Won’t you join the madness?
Spring Break has arrived
The thing about Spring Break is, it’s not just a week anymore. It is spread out over a couple weeks before the Easter holidays. It has certainly arrived and Orlando is showing all the signs. Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and all of Orlando’s theme parks are showing elevated wait times, and definitely matching up to what is indicated in the Touring Plans Crowd Calendars.
Before we braved the busy Walt Disney World area, we headed to Sebring, Florida for the 65th Annual Mobile One 12 Hours of Sebring Endurance Race. I’ve never experienced anything like it. This race takes place on the historical Sebring International Raceway. The course has various turns, straightaways, and even bumpy conditions that make it a favorite among drivers. Plus, the race is composed of multiple categories of cars, think of them as races within a race. But the key to this race is that it lasts twelve hours! It is incredible.
After taking in a full day of Sebring International Raceway festivities… an exhausting day for spectators, can’t even begin to imagine the exhaustion the drivers must feel, we woke up early the next day to head to the St. Petersburg / Clearwater area. Many Orlando visitors know about the beauty of Clearwater Beach, but you may not know about the surrounding beach communities that have their own charm. We drove two hours from Sebring to Maderia Beach to visit some family friends and enjoy lunch on the sparkling turquoise water. Crossing the iconic Skyway Bridge put a huge smile on my face. After our quick visit we hit the road back to Orlando.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
If you’re a regular TouringPlans reader you may recall that last week Julia visited Disney’s Hollywood Studios during her Best Week Ever. I remember the days when Disney’s Animal Kingdom seemed like the odd park out. Love for this park was in short supply. Now, it’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios turn to go into puberty and hopefully emerge as a stunning, all grown up heavy hitter.
Arriving to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in its present state is almost like visiting a correctional facility. The barbed wire fence at the parking entrance off of World Drive shocked me. I never imagined I’d ever see barbed wire along a fence leading into an Orlando theme park’s main parking gateway. I somewhat understand the rationale, but this does not feel like the Most Magical Place on Earth.
Once past the barbed wire, and safely parked, we opted to walk to the park entrance rather than wait for the parking tram. Nowadays the parking tram has so many safety spiels and procedures before even leaving the loading area that it often takes 10 -15 minutes to get from your car to the park entrance. Being Spring Break season, the turnstiles were quite busy when we arrived around 4:00 PM; the Annual Passholder entrance had no wait at all! This is a great benefit for AP holders. After our busy morning of traveling from Sebring to Maderia Beach, and then to Orlando, we needed some caffeine and popped into Starbucks Trolley Car Cafe.
It’s been a few years with Starbucks inside Walt Disney World’s theme parks. This change upset many fans initially, fears that Disney’s superb theming was giving way to pure profitability. I’ve never cared much for Starbucks, but it has come in handy on long days when I need a pick-me-up to keep me going in the parks. I do think Disney’s Hollywood Studios have one of the best themed Starbucks locations. As we waited to order I noticed that a White Chocolate Raspberry Beauty and the Beast cupcake has joined the special cupcake line-up inside the pastry case. Although enchanting and tempting, I resisted.
Scoping out Great Movie Ride and doing some recon was our focus while visiting Disney’s version of Tinsel Town. Great Movie Ride may not be the most thrilling or technologically impressive ride, but it is the main reason Disney-MGM Studios, now Disney’s Hollywood Studios, came into existence. This attraction has a lot of history, and for me personally it is a reminder of small triumphs. Once upon a time I was too scared, even as an adult, to ride Great Movie Ride because of the loud sounds, and few dark scenes. As a kid it scared me and it took me a long time to get past those childhood fears. I really enjoy the relatively new Turner Classic Movies sponsorship of the attraction and I feel it helped give some new life to this attraction. Of course, anytime I visit I have to check out the many foot and hand prints outside the ride entrance.
We had an hour or so gap before our next FastPass+ window opened up, scheduled for Star Tours: The Adventure Continues. We strolled near Sunset Blvd and I noticed a “pop-up” bar opposite of Brown Derby Lounge. At first I liked the idea of this additional space; there’s so much seating, and in the shade. Then I realized how cluttered it looked and how it takes away from the view of the facade and classic car it sits in front of.
I decided that even though I’ve now ridden Star Tours more than five times, all in the past year, I still wanted a little bit of liquid courage and some food before experiencing lightspeed. We passed the popcorn and snack kiosk near the corner of Sunset and Holly Boulevards and the line made me nervous. Would we be able to find a place for food and drink without a long wait?
One of my favorite spots in Disney’s Hollywood Studios is Tune-In Lounge. It’s not always easy to find a spot at the bar to sit, but it is glorious when you can. I maneuvered my way through the clusters of families waiting for their table at 50’s Prime Time Cafe and eagerly looked for two seats at the bar. Viola! Just two vacant chairs remained and I headed straight for them.
Our bartender quickly took our order, we enjoyed a round of drinks and decided to split A Sampler of Mama’s Favorite Recipes ($23.00). This entree isn’t necessarily enough to fully feed two people, but it is a great way to try the best comfort foods of 50’s Prime Time. They kindly brought out two plates and we went about the work of splitting everything up. I would definitely split this with someone again, as long as we both aren’t incredibly hungry.
Our time to journey to a galaxy far, far away arrived. Within three minutes of entering the queue we were assigned our row on our Starspeeder. Oh no, I’ve got a bad feeling about this… we were assigned row 2, at the very the end of the row. I’ve grown accustomed to being towards the back and in the middle of the row. This was also my first time on Star Tours without the first planet guaranteed to be Jaku from Episode VII: The Force Awakens. We ended up visiting Hoth, something I haven’t done before, and Coruscant, something I have done before. Hoth was indeed a bit rough, but I quickly learned to just laugh and have fun with it.
After returning to Earth, we felt a significant drop in the temperature – something you’d expect at Hoth, not necessarily Orlando. It seems Winter wished to visit Florida one last time. The incredible Star Wars fireworks show tempted me to stick around, but our warmer clothes awaited in the car. We decided to head over to Disney Springs for some shopping and a visit to Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar.
When we arrived at Disney Springs my boyfriend asked to visit the Coca Cola Store. I have no interest in soft drinks. My beverage preference is either water, sparkling water, coffee, or an adult beverage. But I’d never been inside and who am I deny his request? I never knew so much merchandise centered around a soft drink company could exist, but alas. It was fun to poke around, some of the glassware and specialty labeled bottles of Coke are cool, but other than that, there isn’t much there that interests me.
Since Planet Hollywood Observatory is now open we decided to check it out. We did not wish to dine here so we simply told the staff members out front that we were headed to the bar and were thus granted access up the stairs and into the globe shaped restaurant. I’ve regularly visited Planet Hollywood since this location’s original opening in the 1990’s when I was a little star struck girl. Back then it felt like the movie stars of Hollywood dined alongside me.
The new Planet Hollywood Observatory is a much needed modernization of the space. However, it was a bit jolting to walk through the entire space and see that the structure and layout is exactly the same as it was in its previous incarnation. The decor is less cluttered than before and the color palate is much subdued.
We browsed every single display and walked all the way to the top floor. The view looking down from here is pretty spectacular. Plus, we found three corner booths with memorabilia displayed inside them. Overall, the makeover is nice and needed, and the place was packed!
We continued through Town Center and arrived in the Marketplace section. The Lego Store beckoned. But before we heeded the call, we needed some shopping fuel. We stopped at The Daily Poutine and waffled back and forth on which flavor combination to split between us: Regular, Latin, Italian, or French. Then came the curve ball of the seasonal creation. The Daily Poutine occasionally offers a seasonal creation, we’ve seen Breakfast Poutine in the past. This time Irish Stout Cheddar Poutine tempted us; with what little bit of St. Patrick’s Day Spirit we had left in us, we ordered it.
At $9.39 the price is maybe a tad high, considering the topping to fry ration. However, Annual Passholders and Disney Vacation Club Members currently receive 20% off at this location. Suddenly this was a pot of gold. The flavor combination worked well, even with the sweet red cabbage that I usually associate with German food, not Irish flavors. I would certainly enjoy trying other seasonal poutine creations.
Inside the Lego Store we kept a tight fist on our wallets and did some window shopping. Over the years the Lego Store has become as much a destination for adults as it is for kids. There are so many detailed and challenging sets available now, especially for movie fans. In fact, I noticed a few sets for movies that aren’t even out in theaters yet.
We gave in and purchased two Marvel Lego sets – we really are kids at heart, before heading over to Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar. It’s been a few months since my last visit to this themed establishment. When Hangar Bar first opened it attracted me like a golden idol. Now that the initial sheen has worn off I still enjoy it, after all it is one of the few Disney Springs bars to offer a Happy Hour as well as a few seasonal items. Of course, being a weekend evening there was no Happy Hour, and the seasonal items did not really appeal to me.
We toasted out jam packed day with a Scottish Professor and The Mayor’s Reserve. Both cocktails were well crafted and made for a lovely way to end our day. We sipped and gazed at the Indiana Jones theme decorations, bidding farewell to another wonderful weekend in Orlando.