Impressions from Walt Disney World – Part 4

This post is part of a series on Walt Disney World. Click on each link to access Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Disney MGM Studios

There’s a ride called the Backlot Tour at Disney MGM Studios. At first sight, it seems like nothing fancy: just a tour bus that takes you around various places. But if you assume that and never go on it, you miss out on a whole lot of fun.

The Backlot Tour is actually made up of three segments: a pre-ride special effects show (with audience participation), the actual tour in the buses, and a very nice post-tour walk through the on-site AFI (American Film Institute) Museum, which is packed full of actual movie props and costumes.

The special effects show involves mock action sequences from Pearl Harbor, and the audience is shown how stunts like the ones in the movie were created. You also get a sense of the scale of those special effects, and of the incredible effort and planning that went into creating each action scene, even if it lasted only a few seconds.

The backlot tour gives the visitors behind-the-scenes glimpses at the work that goes on at the studio, which is supposedly in use for various movies from time to time. As the tour guide speaks, the bus snakes its way among various cars and objects used in past and recent movies.

Recognize these?


Give it a whirl

Half off Herbie

Flight of the Navigator

Shoot ‘em up

Jacqueline Deep Search


There are rare gems, like Walt Disney’s personal plane. He used it to fly over the Florida Everglades when he surveyed the land he would later purchase for Disney World. Toward the end of the tour, you’ll be taken through the costume department. There’s a tunnel built right through the building where the staff works on costumes, and large windows line it. You’ll be able to look right in and see them at work on the various costumes worn by WDW cast members.

Walt Disney’s personal plane

You’ll get an unexpected shock as you experience a fire and water stunt at a specially-designed canyon. Tens of thousands of gallons of water will rush past you. It’s quite a sight to see!

Better run

Showers expected

But what I thought was really interesting was the AFI Museum, available at the end of the tour. There was no time limit, and we could look at the various movie props and costumes as long as we wanted. It was a treat!

White Witch’s battle gear

Captain Barbossa’s costume

That pointed hat from the Wizard of Oz

White Witch’s battle chariot

Darth Vader’s costume

Cruela DeVil’s costume

Douglas Light Company slide projector

Pathescope 28mm projector

Wittnauer Cine-Twin camera/projector with case

Sir Sean Connery


Impressions from Walt Disney World – Part 3

This post is a continuation of my series on Walt Disney World.

Lights, Motors, Action! is one of the shows at Disney MGM Studios. It runs only a few times a day, and it involves tightly coreographed action and stunt sequences with cars and motorcycles. The setup is that they’re filming scenes for an upcoming action movie. The truth is, they’re just trying to involve the audience a little more. I have mixed feelings about making everything seem like the movies, but I can certainly agree with this: the show and the stunts are great!

The set is built to resemble a small, Southern French town.


There’s an introduction, where the audience is told what to expect, then the stunts begin, with little breaks to allow the crew to set up the various scenes.

Hero and villain

Divide and conquer



Catch my drift


On fire


I understand the stunt drivers go through a set of tires in three days, and since the show began, they’ve worn down the pavement on the set by several inches, and it will need to be repaved. There’s also a surprise: you’ll get to see Herbie during the show!



Impressions from Walt Disney World – Part 2

Our recent trip to WDW was also an attempt to document the place and our experiences through serious photography, and it was a worthwhile learning experience. Some questions that I asked myself as I set out to do this were:

  • Am I prepared, equipment-wise?
  • How do I manage to capture worthwhile photos given that I only have two days and there’s so much to photograph?

I thought I was prepared in terms of equipment. I had an anti-glare hood, an external flash, a tripod, an extra camera battery and the charger, extra memory cards and a lens-cleaning kit, not to mention a great camera case. The second question was a bit harder to answer, but things worked out okay because I relied on the following guidelines. I listed them below in no particular order, as they occurred to me:

  • Never try to capture too much in a single photo
  • Focus on what’s important or representative first
  • Proper composition always pays off
  • Walk, don’t zoom, when you can help it
  • Use mid-range zoom and large aperture for portraits to blur the background
  • Innovative angles sometimes add extra flair
  • A clean lens means clear photos (for a DSLR, you can add a clean sensor to the list)
  • More photos are a good thing
  • Extra batteries are a must-have
  • External flash beats internal flash any time
  • Holding the camera steady equals clear photos
  • A tripod is annoying but much needed in low light situations
  • Don’t use high ISO unless your camera can handle it well
  • Know how and why to adjust shutter speed
  • Know how and why to adjust aperture
  • Know how and why to adjust strobe strength
  • Know your camera’s limitations and know how to work around them
  • Avoid boring photos
  • Frame subjects off-center unless the situation specifically calls for a symmetric composition
  • Know where your camera’s focusing, or adjust the focus manually
  • Too much light is a bad thing
  • Too little light is a bad thing
  • Use burst mode when you’ve got only precious moments to get a good photo
  • Use the viewfinder instead of the LCD screen. Resting the camera against the forehead provides an extra point of support and reduces camera shake. It also saves battery life.
  • Use the flash in daytime to fill in unwanted shadows
  • Get a flash with a pivoting head, so you can vary the strobe angle
  • Read the camera’s manual thoroughly. Read it again. And again. And again.

So what did I learn on this trip? Well, I learned that you can never take too many photos, especially with a digital camera, where you can easily delete what you don’t want. It pays to be well stocked with memory cards. And it really pays to have a camera that can take many shots on a single charge. My camera, currently a Panasonic Lumix FZ20K, goes (or it did anyway — more on that later) through a battery charge at 250 shots, give or take a few. Even though I had a spare battery with me, I still found myself running out of juice. It also pays to have a camera that can take photos at 400, 800 and 1,600 ISO without significant noise. There were so many beautiful shots I missed because my camera could only take shots up to 200 ISO without noise, and it could only go up to 400 ISO, period. When the lights turned on at the parks, everything was more beautiful, but my camera couldn’t capture it because I would have needed to set up my tripod for every shot. That’s a bit hard to do with throngs of people around you.I also learned that my external flash and glare hood were worth purchasing. My external flash helped me immensely with people shots at night, and even with large-scale illumination of buildings and walls. The glare hood was definitely useful during the day, especially when the sun came out from behind the clouds. I counted my blessings when I discovered I could tie my camera bag around my waist instead of carrying it around my shoulders. It was immensely helpful to have easy access to my accessories as I held the camera in my hands.

It cost me nothing to throw my lens-cleaning kit in my bag alongside my camera, and it paid off tremendously during my visit. My camera’s lens got pretty dirty during heavy use. I either touched the lens inadvertently as I fiddled with the lens cap, or the camera got splashed by water drops from fountains and various rides as I took photos. I had someone sneeze right as they passed me and my camera… Regardless of what happened, having the lens cleaning solution right there was a huge help. I just sat down on a bench, squirted a drop or two of the solution onto the lens, and wiped it with the special cloth. In about a minute, I was back in business with squeaky-clean lens, ready to take more great photos. When you take event photos, and you’re only there for 1-2 hours or so, you can always go back home or to the hotel to do some maintenance work on the camera (clean the lens, wipe the body a bit, charge the batteries, etc.) When you’re out in the field the whole day, things are a little bit different (and harder). That’s why it pays to be well-prepared.

A little bit about my camera. I used a Panasonic Lumix FZ20K on this trip. I purchased it back in October, as I decided to move up to a bigger camera from my current compact digital, a Kodak EasyShare Dual Lens v610. I’ve always been a fan of small cameras that I can tuck away in my pocket and carry anywhere, but as I got more serious about photography, I found myself always bumping against the various limitations of my cameras and getting frustrated. Still, I couldn’t justify getting a bigger camera, because of two reasons: price, and more importantly, portability. I didn’t want to lug around a camera case all the time.

I got the FZ20 as a stepping stone. I wanted to see if I’d be happier with a bigger camera that wasn’t as limited as my compact, and if I could handle carrying around a case on my trips. Things turned out well. I liked it, and I was happy with the quality of the photos it took as well. I didn’t mind carrying around the camera case, and enjoyed being able to pick from a variety of accessories as needed. I looked forward to using the FZ20 for another 6 months or so, then transitioning to a DSLR. Unfortunately, the FZ20 started malfunctioning during this trip. The zoom stopped working properly, and didn’t respond when I needed to bring it back to wide from tele shots. I’d have to turn the camera off, then back on. It wasn’t fun, and after only a couple of months of use, I was disappointed to see it malfunction. Thankfully, I’d purchased it from Costco, which has an amazing return policy. Other than computers and laptops, you can return merchandise at any time. That’s fantastic! I ended up returning it yesterday, and now I’m back to my Kodak v610, which still works great, but has certain frustrating limitations and no image stabilization. 😦

I’m now saving up for a DSLR. I don’t want to buy an entry-level DSLR, because I know I’m going to be frustrated with its limitations sooner or later. I’d rather get a full-featured model that will cost more but provide me with the features and quality I need. While I was at WDW, I noticed that most of the photographers at Disney (the ones that offered to take portraits) were equipped with Nikon D70s, but those are already more than 2 years old. I’m looking at the Canon EOS 5D and Nikon D200.

I’ll post some of the photos from Walt Disney World this week or next week. There are a lot of them and I need to do some post-processing work to get them ready.


Impressions from Walt Disney World – Part 1

Ligia and I, together with my parents, made a two-day trip to Disney World in Orlando, FL this past weekend. The trip was wonderful, and we really enjoyed ourselves. Along the way, I learned a few valuable things, which I thought would be good to share.

An airline that lets you board the plane even though there are only a few minutes left till the scheduled departure time is a company that deserves my money. I’m talking about US Airways. Sure, their seats may not be leather, and their planes may not be shiny new, but when it comes down to it, they let you board the plane, not turn you away like Spirit Airlines, a full half hour before the scheduled departure time. I’ve been using US Airways, on and off, since my college days, and that’s over a decade. I don’t remember any bad experiences, only nice flights, sometimes bumpy, particularly on their express connecting flights to Burlington, VT, but nice, and often not crowded, which is a great way to fly.

Four parks in two days is a LOT to see, but it’s enough to let you know whether you want to come back for more. I’d seen WDW before, but Ligia and my parents hadn’t. We purchased two-day Disney Hopper tickets, which let you go to any of the four theme parks as often as you wish while you have the tickets. We certainly hopped, from Disney/MGM Studios to Magic Kingdom, then Epcot, then Disney/MGM (again), then Animal Kingdom and Epcot (again). It was tiring for everyone, and at the end of the day, we were exhausted, but it was worth it.

If you stay away from the most popular rides, you avoid stress, discover beautiful places and actually get to enjoy yourself. By this I mean the various popular roller-coasters or other such attractions where kids and teens alike crowd. Tower of Terror at MGM, Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom and Everest at Animal Kingdom are some of the places we avoided. As a result, we didn’t see the crowds, enjoyed some peace and quiet, and got to see some unexplored corners of the theme parks, which were much more enjoyable than crying brats and long lines.

I visited Disney World twice in the past, some 4-5 years ago, and on both visits, I made the mistake of planning my time around the popular rides. I was stressed because of the crowds, didn’t really get to enjoy the rides that much, and actually felt let down. Let’s face it, Disney roller coasters aren’t Six Flags or Busch Gardens roller coasters, nor should they be. If you go there expecting some terrifying ride, you’re going to be disappointed. Even the Six Flags and Busch Gardens coasters get pretty boring after you ride them seven or eight times. It really all depends on what your mindset is. You’ve got to ask yourself: am I there to find radical excitement, with its inevitable high and let down, or to see some beautiful things and walk around in a surreal, more-beautiful-than-life environment? As Walt Disney once said, I needed to “use my imagination”.

Now that I’m a little more grown-up, I see Disney World as a platform, a wonderful foundation upon which I can build dreams. I can go there and escape reality. I can feel like a kid even though I’m definitely not one any more. I can imagine those many picturesque spots populated by lovable characters from the Disney cartoons and get immersed in the tales I loved so much as a kid (and still do). That’s the beauty of it all. As Walt Disney put it, he built a place where kids and adults alike could go and enjoy themselves.

I think there are some shows/rides that people shouldn’t miss. There’s a wonderful exhibit on Walt Disney’s life at the Disney/MGM Theme Park, and it includes a short movie as well. I highly recommend seeing this, as it provides incredible insight into the life of the man that made Disney. The Art Deco architecture at this park is beautiful. Take the Backlot Tour and see Walt’s personal plane, as well as memorabilia from various movies. Even though I avoided the big rides, I did go to the Lights, Motors, Action! show, and I recommend you see it as well. It’s a wonderful behind-the-scenes look at automobile and motorcycle stunt work in today’s movies, and it sure is exciting to see the stunts in person, not on the movie screen.

At Magic Kingdom, go on the ride called “It’s a small world”. The song will stick in your head, and you may or may not like that, but the nice, clear decor and attention to detail in the puppet costumes are a sight to behold. Plus, it’s cool inside and not crowded, so it’s just the ticket for a hot, sunny day. Also get on the Mad Hatter Tea Party teacup ride. It’s fun and there aren’t usually long lines. Don’t forget to walk around the castle. Even though you can’t go inside (which I would have liked to do), you can still admire the architecture and its surroundings. It’s rumored Walt Disney had an apartment built inside the castle for his family. Maybe someday that’ll be open to the public, who knows. You shouldn’t miss the Swiss Family Robinson tree, and you should also take the boat ride on the lake (no, I’m not talking about the ferry ride from the transportation center to the park, which is nice in itself.) And definitely take the train ride around the park, you’ll regret it if you don’t. The Carousel of Progress show is also a must-see.

At Animal Kingdom, don’t miss the “It’s tough to be a bug!” show, which is always great fun. This was the third time I saw it, and it was still very enjoyable. Take the safari tour there as well, and don’t miss walking around and spotting the animals and birds. Animal Kingdom is a great place to take great photos of wonderful, wild animals up close, so bring a good camera with you. At many zoos, it’s hard to take photos because the enclosures are tiny. The photos end up looking bad, because anyone can tell those animals aren’t in the wild. But at Animal Kingdom, each animal’s enclosure is made to look so natural that you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference in a photo.

When I first visited Epcot, I thought it was the lamest of all four parks because it had no dangerous rides. I don’t know what I was thinking… Now I know it’s the coolest of them all. There’s so much to see! There are exhibits from many countries of the world, and everywhere I looked, I found beauty. There was beautiful architecture, beautiful landscaping, and beautiful decoration. I was surprised to find the buildings were real stone when I knocked on them. Many of the buildings at attraction parks are pretty much just cardboard and stucco. Not so at Epcot!

Three of the parks have their own fireworks show, but the Magic Kingdom and Epcot shows are the most accessible. The wonderful thing about them is that serious thought and planning went into each show, and they are all infused with their own character. I can think of no other word to describe them but SPECTACULAR. What amazes me is that they happen daily! Given the cost of fireworks, that’s a lot of money! Think about it: Disney World uses the equivalent of a typical 4th of July fireworks show every night at two of its parks (Magic Kingdom and Epcot). I would have liked to go to the Fantasmic! show at Disney/MGM but didn’t get the chance.

When I think about the Disney World experience, two words come to mind: abundance and quality. There’s an abundance of things to see at all of the parks, and it’s all quality-made. Walt Disney wanted to make sure people got their money’s worth, and I think they do. One of the tram operators wished us well as we got off to enter Magic Kingdom, and something he said stuck in my mind: “All 58,000 Disney employees wish you a wonderful time here at Disney World.” I don’t remember the exact phrase, but the number definitely caught my attention. Whether that’s just Disney World employees or employees of the Disney Corporation, I don’t know, but regardless, there were a LOT of employees at Disney World, and a lot of machinery, and a lot of lights, and a lot of everything else that requires maintenance and people to operate. Add to that the infrastructure, which was built from scratch: roads, lines, pipes, landscaping, buildings, etc., and the expenses really add up. I shudder to think what the daily operating expenses of Disney World are. In light of this, the $75 ticket price to see one of the parks is not a bad deal, and the Park Hopper ticket is a great value indeed.

Ligia and I look forward to our next WDW visit.