by Scott Hardie on May 28, 2009
My mom's birthday present to me was a mini-vacation in Orlando, since we're too broke to take a real vacation. We weighed the options for a few days, theme parks vs small local attractions, and settled on something we had wanted to do for years, DisneyQuest and some of the Downtown Disney complex around it.
I knew DisneyQuest had a lot of motion-simulator and interactive video games, but I didn't realize that the entire 5-story building is just one giant video arcade. Other than the pinball games and bumper cars, every single thing it offers on every floor involves interacting with a character on a screen somehow, even the friggin' elevator. My eyes were sick of video screens after the four hours we were there. (It's Disney World. Even the elevators have to have a plot.)
How come in the "adventure" section of the arcade, next to the jungle cruise ride, they have all kinds of nature-encounter video games, and they're all violent? "Come face-to-face with nature, and shoot at it!" One arcade game after another allowed you to shoot animals with realistic weapons, although some of the animals looked unrealistic. (Then again, this is Florida; maybe we do have tarantulas the size of Hummers.)
You pay $40 to get into DisneyQuest and every game is set to free play. Kelly described what I was feeling too, the boredom that sets in with video games when they're all free. It's like downloading an emulator on your computer and suddenly you have hundreds of games and you don't want to play any of them for more than a minute or two because they feel worthless. It reminded me of that time in high school when Kelly and I joined a friend for an all-night party at a video arcade where we paid $25 to get locked in with other teenagers for the night and all the games were free. Back then video games held my interest much longer and I had fun playing every one of them in detail, but there were no chairs and by 4am we were really sore and crabby, and still had a few more hours until we could leave.
Complaining aside, I did have a lot of fun playing some of the old classics again (Mr. Do! I forgot about you!). I enjoyed the pinball, and I kicked CPU's ass in video poker. Also, the Fast & Furious video game is a highly accurate portrayal of what it's like to drive 110mph through the winding mountain roads of Beverly Hills and land your car on its wheels and keep driving after a ten-story drop.
For me, the best and worst attractions were right next to each other. We got on a virtual jungle cruise where air-filled mattresses shake around a raft in coordination with a video screen in front of you, and you use an electronic paddle to move around on the screen. I was worried about my overweight interfering with the air mattress, but that wasn't the problem; my lousy sense of balance was the problem. Kelly had a good laugh at my expense as I tumbled around in the back of the raft like it was a trampoline. I can laugh about it now, but at the time I was pissed and afraid of re-spraining my back, and I did let out an embarrassing "fuck!" after one tumble onto my knees, which is not a word I ever thought I'd shout at Disney World. Anyway, the next ride made up for it, a "Pirates of the Caribbean" shooting game where I piloted our vessel and Kelly joined a family in shooting at enemy ships. We got a great score and that game is really fun to pilot; I got into the mood with some pirate speak. Now I wish we'd done it a second time.
We skipped lunch in DisneyQuest because the food was the usual ridiculous Disney prices ($8 for a plain hot dog), so hiked around the Downtown Disney lot looking for food and shops. The whole time inside DisneyQuest, I sweat like a horse and just wished for a cool fresh breeze, but going outside was no relief because it's May in Florida; the heat was miserable. We explored the new "design your own t-shirt store" and found a toy store with some ugly toys that I can't imagine kids wanting, but the Lego store was a blast. So many fun toys to play with in the store and so many more for sale on the walls; I thought about buying a Victorian street set that I noticed. They even had Lego person salt & pepper shakers, which are pretty unusual pieces to add to Kelly's mom's collection. We also explored a giant Disney gift shop, which is like all of the gift shops in Disney World put together (I've read that it's the largest Disney gift shop in the world, a whole square block by itself), and damn if it wasn't giddy fun seeing all of the neat items on display. I've been to Disney World many times and I've seen most of these same items in dozens of shops (did I imagine the old days when each store's items used to be more or less unique?), but it was still fun seeing them all in one place. Disney sells a lot of merchandise because they come up with some pretty neat merchandise, for kids or otherwise.
Our last discovery was a chocolate shop right by the parking lot that sells my favorite candy, mint meltaways. I previously thought I could only buy them at Fannie Mae in Chicago or inside the Magic Kingdom candy shop, but there they are, ready to be walked up to and purchased any time. I wonder how much houses in Orlando go for...?
Three Replies to Downtown Disney
The creator of Funeratic, Scott Hardie, blogs about running this site, losing weight, and other passions including his wife Kelly, his friends, movies, gaming, and Florida. Read more »