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Photo TR: Theme parks in Florida

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Some of you guys may have met me on one TPR trip or another and may already know some of the stories I want to share with you all. For the rest of you: Hi, I’m Tom, I life in Germany and I thought it would be fun to give you guys an insight of how foreign people experience American theme parks und Floridian theme parks in particular. As you will have noticed, I’m no “native writer”, so please pardon my bad English.


Some of you may have visited some European or even German theme parks in the latest past and found them quite appealing with lots of great and unique attractions. This has not always been the case. When I was a kid, there was no Disneyland Paris or Warner Bros Movie World, no Expedition GeForce or Silver Star. I basically grew up with Phantasialand and fun fairs, where I loved to ride “ghost train” style attractions. Fun fact: a lot of German people have no idea what a “dark ride” is, so they refer to them as “ghost trains” (even the press does). Pirates of the Caribbean? A ghost train. Great Movie Ride? A ghost train with 22 minutes ride time (most people will completely freak out on that one). When I was younger there were only two TV stations (conveniently named “1st” and “2nd”) and there has been a show called “Bilder aus Amerika” (Pictures from America). One episode was about Walt Disney World in Florida. The reporter Dieter Kronzucker told us, that this park was so huge, it had his own radio station so people could find a parking spot. There was also a ride that went under water with submarines. Can you imagine that?


Unfortunately intercontinental flights were super expensive those days, so it took me 31 years to set my foot on American soil for the first time. And although my first visit to the Magic Kingdom was a complete disaster that - “thanks” to a tropical storm - lasted just about 3 hours, I kept coming back for more than 25 times since then. Sometimes with a couple of friends, sometimes with my wife and one time with 40 German theme park enthusiasts. But that’s another story.

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Part I: Universal Orlando


When you visit the US for the first time, there is quite a “learning curve” of things that you would not expect in the first place:


  1. Automatic transmission in cars. Never use two feet!
  2. They use “Sir” differently than in “Sir Alec Guinness”. The guy who sells pizza at the airport calls you “Sir”. That’s cool. I like it.
  3. All bank notes have the same size and look almost the same. And they are very sticky.
  4. “Yes” is not a valid reply to “Forhereortogo?”
  5. People don’t smoke in the queues; they don’t smoke in the parks. What a relief!
  6. The weather in Florida can change quite quickly and dramatically. That’s different to where I live. If it starts to rain, it will most probably go on for days.


The first thing I remember when I think of my visit to Universal Orlando was the huge parking structure. And that was before they made you park your car at the most distant corner of it, if you do not opt for “preferred parking”.


The second thing that comes to my mind is me sitting at the “Beverly Hills Boulangerie” with a humongous chunk of dough and meat that they gave me, when I ordered a “croissant” for breakfast. It’s sunny and pleasant when all of a sudden Doc Brown turns up and asks me what year it is, running away when I tell him it’s 2001. It’s not that we do not have character encounters in Germany, but that’s strictly for the kids. Everything else would be – of course – super awkward.



Over time you get used to character encounters. It still feels a little bit strange though. But let's face it: the shirt is awesome.


Speaking of “awkward”: One of my favorite attractions has been “Twister”. Yes, I know, many of you think, that thing was a cheesy, crappy show, but I really enjoyed it. First of all, because it introduced me to the concept of a “pre show”, something that was absolutely new to me. In German parks you wait in line until you can ride and then you ride. That’s it. But a preshow, that gets you into the mood for the main show to come, with real actors, come on, that’s so cool! I also have a crush on Helen Hunt. Don’t tell my wife.



Let's start with a signature shot. You know that place, don't you?



Globe + boat = instantaneous vacation feelings



For me it's an okay ride. I get a little sick on it and the storyline is ... well is there a story line?



Face it: I grew too fat lately. Can't close the restraint on that one any more. Do not miss it too much.



It's a cliché, but a very, very nice one. And hey, it's a George Lucas Movie, right?



Everybody loves the Simpsons!



And I am no exception. I think the ride and the whole area are a great improvement over "Back to the future"



I am not the biggest fan of shooting dark rides, but for "Men in Black" I am declined to make an exception



In my opinion, the "small" shows like the Blues Brothers make a visit very enjoyable. They are the "icing on the cake".



Although the chance of being subjected to "guest interaction" at this one freaks me out. Big time.



Not my favorite one but a) you can sit down and b) in a shady place.



Did anybody say "Harry Potter"? Alright, time for Diagon Alley photos. Find the hidden detail in this shot. Hint: it's not the dragon.



Fire breathing dragon - check!



Hogwarts Express - check!



Impressive Nightshot of Diagon Alley with nobody in it - check!


I really like Universal Studios, although little of the attractions that were there when I first visited the park are still there. I loved Kongfrontation, but I think the “Mummy” is one of the greatest Indoor-Coasters. I enjoyed Jaws, but the “New Potter” is also very impressive. I do miss Disaster and I hope that E.T. and Terminator will still stay there for a couple of years. And although I do not go crazy for projection based attractions, I appreciate the way the parks re-invents itself over the years again and again.

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Was the hidden detail the girl picking her nose?!?!


Yes. Of course.


All great pics! Going to use some of them on our socials! Great stuff!


Happy to hear that. I'm certainly not Jack Crouse (I love his work) but I keep trying.

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^ As Robb has said, some stunning photos there. I am not a person who has any interest in Florida parks really, but you have actually made me want to go! In a similar way, your pictures have made me visit Phantasialand over Easter. I hope to get some pictures on par with yours from my visit, and even if they are half as good as your I would be happy and get a print. I know this means nothing coming from me, but I am a fan of your pictures, and look forward to more.

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Hi Tom, thanks so much for the pictures. I regularly go to the parks, but it is so cool to get the viewpoint of someone who isn't as familiar with them. Your pictures are of things I generally don't pay as much attention to as I used to and remind me what I really liked about these parks all along.


Thanks again!

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Your pictures are of things I generally don't pay as much attention to as I used to and remind me what I really liked about these parks all along.


I think this happens when you see your "home park" with someone else's eyes.


And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.


Glad you like the photos.

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These are some great pics.


wow.. you have quite the eye!


Thanks for sharing, I love seeing places I've not been, and since Hubby is not a HP fan (and can't do "extreme" rides, he always vetoes pics to Universal.. .i know. . boooo).


Love these tho. . so pretty!

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Excellent report and photos! I look forward to seeing more!


I really liked seeing your perspective on various aspects of American culture. As someone who worked in the food service industry for over ten years, I especially appreciate this:


“Yes” is not a valid reply to “Forhereortogo?”


If I had a dollar for each time I received that response, I'd be retired by now.

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Alright, let’s move on to another park, shall we? Do you remember the time, when every new coaster was exiting and also scary? Back in 2001 – when I visited Universal Orlando for the first time – my “coaster career” basically consisted of the “Gebirgsbahn”, “Space Center” and the “Michael Jackson Thrillride” in Phantasiand. And “Python” in De Efteling. When I saw the green track of the Hulk Coaster for the first time, my only thought was “hell no, there is no way ever I will be riding that thing”. Two years later I was riding that thing.


You never forget your first B&M. When it came to coasters with inversions I was used to be beaten up on rides like the SLC prototype in Walibi World. You can imagine my amazement when experiencing the smoothness of this green swiss made roller coaster for the first time. And the whole park blew me away, with attractions like “Spider Man” that are still so technologically advanced that they represent a league of their own. On rides like Popeye and Dudley-Do-Right I learned what Americans mean, when they say “You will get wet”. And when the Harry Potter Area opened some years later, it redefined “immersion” for me.


But we germans are known for beeing champions of complaining for a reason: Over the years and with quite a number of visits, I realized that where light is, there is also some shadow:


  • While I do not know any other park that will fascinate first-time visitors that much, “Islands of Adventure” wears off pretty fast. While most of the Disney attractions offer some solid “re-rideability” the rides here are grow old rather fast.
  • The park is not very friendly to your stomach. Okay, it’s not a roller-coaster-only Six Flags, but most of the attractions will cause quite some nausea. And there is a lack of “nice” relaxing rides, as long as you do not want to get soaking wet. That’s why I love the new Kong ride.
  • “Islands of Adventure” does not give you the “full day of fun” experience like Epcot or the Magic Kingdom (which can also be a good thing). If I hit the park on a slow day, I try to be there early, ride the Hulk, ride Spider Man (Nausea starts to kick in), ride Kong (love it), ride Jurassic Park (got lucky: not soaked this time!), ride Harry Potter (Nausea getting worse), ride the Dragons (I think I need a break now). By then it’s 11am and basically all the “big” attractions are done.


On the plus side, I totally love “Mythos” and no visit to Islands of Adventure feels complete without a lunch at one of the best theme park restaurants. This is something, most Germans will not expect in a Theme Park: great food. While some places like Europa Park and Phantasialand do offer some great restaurants, most people here will think of “Pommes mit Currywurst” (french fries with sausage) when it comes to eating in a park.


I also cannot relate to all the themed “lands” in the park. While Harry Potter and Jurassic Park really give me a feeling of “riding the movies” (walking through the Jurassic Park gates gives me goosebumps every time) “Dr. Seuss Landing” was my very first contact with the stories of Theodor Seuss Geisel (fun fact: did you know the german word “Geisel” means “hostage”?). And while I certainly knew Spider Man and the Hulk I never heard of those “X-Men” guys. A batch of Marvel Movies did change that though.


I think “Islands of Adventure” makes a great combination with “Universal Studios” and the “Hogwarts Express” makes reaching each other easy. The attractions are not actuallly “stomach friendly”, especially when you have to cope with the jump in temperature and humidity and suffer from that jet lag that makes you super-hungry at 11am and sleepy all day. But the rides make up by being “oh my god I’ve never seen such a thing in my whole life”.



Let's begin with the Hulk, or better "The New Hulk"



Riding through the tunnel - amazing



Sticking to B&M coasters: here are the not-dueling-anymore Dragons



It's really a shame!



You will get wet.



Visiting hogwarts



Mr. Dumbledore is not in his office today.



The friendly conductor, or as we say "Thank you for Deutsche Bahn"



Welcome to Jurassic Park



Where they will spit at you before trying to eat you



Kong is King and Kong is pissed



The better of the two shows in the park



Light is fading



We close with a nice nightshot of the hulk

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And we are moving on ...


I’ve done quite a couple of trips to Orlando and I always enjoy taking first time visitors with me. As it is really a long trip I try to visit all parks und to "do" as much "stuff" as possible, which can be quite exhausting. In order to prevent people from freaking out (I call it the “Disney Koller”) I try to incorporate some “non-park activities”. And one of my very favorites is Kennedy Space Center.


I have to admit: I totally love this place. I was 11 years old when the first Space Shuttle started from KSC and since then my fascination for space exploration remains unbroken. I believe the whole Space Center Complex is a unique piece of “living history” and I am always surprised how open NASA displays the Space Program and itself here.


One of my favorite attractions is the “Astronaut Encounter”. It’s like Uncle Bob doing a slide show, with the fine difference that Uncle Bob is one of the 344 Americans that left the earth and travelled into space. It even feels like Uncle Bob doing a slide show, with the only difference, that the photos he brings were not taken on the last road trip to Reno but on board a spacecraft. It’s extraordinary.



Here's a picture of my wife Regina, me and Mike Leinbach. Mike has been shuttle launch director for several years. I had the oppertunity to do a special tour with him.


Almost everything in KSC is real. There is a gigantic Saturn V rocket on display and the Apollo 14 crew module “Kitty Hawk”. There is a real Apollo lunar module hanging above the entrance of a restaurant. It’s incredible.


And they have this new amazing display of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. It’s stunning. It always makes me a little sad though, as the time of the Shuttle program is over now. In the past, you could see a Space Shuttle sitting on the launch pad (if you were lucky) or visit the ISS center, where modules for the International Space Station were being prepared. But I am confident, that – after this time of transition is over – we’ll travel into space again. Some private companies seem to be on their way and also NASA keeps dreaming big.



The crawler that transports the Space Shuttle to the launch pad



This is the firing room here all shuttle missions were supervised



The historic Apollo site, where Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died on a "plugs out test"



Apollo cockpit



Inside the insanely huge "Vehicle Assembly Building"



Atlantis inside the VAB



And as the central part of the new exhibit



The Saturn V rocket



Lunar module suspended next to a restaurant



The "Kitty Hawk"

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One thing that is really enjoyable about Orlando is the vast choice of hotels. No matter what your price range is, you’ll find a place to stay easily. Everybody who has tried to get a decent accommodation near places like Monument Valley, Grand Canyon or the L.A. beachfront will surely appreciate this. If you want the “full park experience”, you can book an on-site hotel at Disney or Universal, which is convenient and keep’s you “in the magic” all the time. This can be strenuous though, escpecially if you are on an “all parks”-Trip, that last 8 days or longer. But if you are into a kind of “maximum park experience” staying close to the Magic Kingdom or Universal is awesome. Taking a boat to the parks in the morning gets you in the mood for fun instantly.


Hotels in the U.S. are quite different to those in Germany. First: they are basically completely smoke-free, which is fantastic. In Germany you always have the chance of ending up in a stinky smoker’s room at some hotels. Second: if you stay at a Disney Hotel and do not have a dinner reservation, there is a good chance, that you will stay hungry in the evening. Third: the staff in the hotels is commonly super-helpful, but you should not be in a hurry. For example: When we stayed at the Polynesian our in-room safe said “LOW BAT”, which could mean “I might not open tomorrow when you need to rush to the airport”. 5 minutes after we called front desk, a friendly lady from housekeeping arrived, examined the safe and called tech. 15 minutes later two ladies from tech arrived, examined the safe and concluded, that the battery would have to be replaced. Another 10 minutes later a guy with a replacement battery arrived and fixed the problem. This is what happened to us in Orlando. I promise: in a German hotel nobody would ever show up to fix the safe.


After a long flight, after standing in line for immigration and customs, after fighting with the rental car guy ("No, I don't want the Zombi Apocalypse insurance, yes the Hummer is big enough for me!") nothing beats collapsing into your hotel bed for the first time.


Care for some pictures?



This is the Royal Pacific Hotel at Universal


They have boats running to the park all day


If you stay at the Grand Floridian, you can take a bus, the monorail or a boat to the Magic Kingdom


This is the property as seen from the Polynesian


And that's the Grand Floridian at night


The grand lobby at Christmas


This is a room in the Contemporary Resort


And that's the polynesian


If you do not want to stay on property but very close, maybe the Hilton Bonnet Creek or the Waldorf Astoria are right for you


The view is quite stunning. Can you spot Spaceship Earth, Tower of Terror and Expedition Everest?


And you can watch IllumiNations and Wishes and the Star Wars Fireworks from your private Balcony


This is my very favorite hotel. More on this one soon ...

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