History and Overview: MGM sets the stage by treating visitors to two famous Tinseltown landmarks, Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards. Streets of dreams, visitors get a good feel for the whole park and its reverence for a 100 year history of filmmaking.
Hollywood Boulevard starts at the main gate and runs all the way to Grouman' Chinese Theater. Just as in LA, the glitterati that have passed through MGM's gates have left their foot and hand prints in cement outside the theater so visitors can compare their extremities to those of a star.
As with the man drag, Sunset is a tribute to Hollywood's past. The Florida sun beats on yellow and white stuccoed buildings as the California sun only seemed to do in '30s black and white movies. The only thing Sunset is missing is Norma Desmond's house.
Attractions: Mann's Chinese plays host to The Great Movie Ride, a animatronic wax museum dedicated to Hollywood's greatest movie stars in their most famous roles. James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne stand beside latter day stars such as Clint Eastwood and Sigourney Weaver. "The Wizard of Oz," "Singin in the Rain" and "Mary Poppins" also get the Hall of Presidents treatment. The ride also features trailers and scenes from the movies, as well.
MGM players, dressed as denizens of the '20s and '30s put on small shows throughout the day at the far end of Hollywood Boulevard. Don't be surprised if they should try to involve you in their latest shenanigans.
The Theater of the Stars houses a live stage show, dedicated to "Beauty and the Beast." Belle, Gaston, Lumiere and all the rest of your favorite characters tell an abbreviated version of the popular Disney classic with all the singing, dancing and merriment intact.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror: MGM's signature attraction, The Tower of Terror, presents The Hollywood Hotel, once renowned, but now in disarray. Ghostly things happen during your ride through the old place, and watch out for that first step - it's a 13-story freefall drop while your elevator car looks out over the whole park. Recently redone, The Tower claims to be twice-the-ride it once was. If the ride is even half as intense as its first incarnation, thrill fans will be satisfied.
Just to the right of Tower of Terror is newly-created Hollywood Hills Ampitheater featuring MGM's newest show Fantasmic!. A mixture of laser lights, water-screen animation, live performers and pyrotechnics, the 25-minute show follows Mickey Mouse throughout a night's rest. Disney's most famous resident starts out with a beautiful dream, featuring scenes from classic Disney movies such as "Pinocchio," "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Aladdin" and "Fantasia."
As laser light and film are projected onto three huge water screens, Sorcerer Mickey orchestrates the stars as they dance to music from "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and "The Little Mermaid." Animated water bubbles shine upon the mist, showcasing scenes from Disney's pantheon of classic animated films including "Mulan," Disney's newest film and the first animated feature to have principal production completed at the Studios.
But don't expect the calm to last. As the night progresses, things turn nasty. Classic Disney villains such as the Evil Witch from "Snow White" and Hades from "Hercules" come out to spoil the party. The baddies turn Mickey's peaceful dream into a nightmare, as they try to vanquish him individually and as a team. Will good triumph over evil? Is Michael Eisner worth billions? For an extended review and Quicktime video clips of the show, check out Go2orlando'sFantasmic page.
Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, Starring Aerosmith: Located on the south end of Sunset Boulevard, the two-minute coaster ride takes visitors on a limo ride through the Hollywood Hills, twisting and turning past famous landmarks, such as the Hollywood sign. The coaster's signature moves include two rollover loops, a corkscrew and a high-speed launch that takes guests from 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds (hitting almost 5 Gs).
Guests follow the band to a concert in "stretch limo" coaster car. Each of the five limos has its own signature Aerosmith song, including "Sweet Emotion", "What Kind of Ride Are You On?" (from "What Kind of Love Are You On?") and "Love in a Roller Coaster" (from "Love in an Elevator"). Each car in the limo features five stereo speakers, with the entire attraction putting out more than 32,000 amps of power.
Amenities: Specialty boutiques line both streets. Exquisite jewelry, delectable sweets, Disneyana and other movie collectibles, fine clothes and sports paraphernalia are just some of the items to whet a shoppers appetite.
The new Fantasmic! show has wrought a store dedicated to Disney villains. The Beverly Sunset not only houses figurines, posters and other villain memorabilia, but also a bakery and sweet shop that offers candy apples, fudge and other delights. Across the street from the Villain Store, Legends of Hollywood features every sort of Winnie the Pooh merchandise from stuffed animals to actionwear. Planet Hollywood has its own store, almost bigger than the one that is adjacent to the Orlando restaurant. The store sells items from Planet Hollywoods around the world, not just ours.
Another L.A. landmark, The Brown Derby is MGM's premiere restaurant. Sophisticated lunch and dinner dining features an extensive menu of steaks, poultry, seafood and pastas.
For a lighter snack, Sunset Ranch Turkey Legs serves hot dogs and fries, along with its namesake; while Anaheim Produce offers fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as other drinks. Rosie's All American Cafe is a great place to get the perfect burgers, along with nachos, fries, soups, salads and soda. The covered benches at Rosie's have ceiling fans for an added heat-busting bonus.
Analysis: Hollywood and Sunset offer the best shopping of the park. As with Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, there is a tendency to bypass them to hit the rides. If this is your plan, be sure to stop into one or two on the way out.
The "Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror" is a nightmare of gigantic proportions. The free-fall elevator drop combines three of human beings biggest fears: enclosed spaces, heights and falling. For the thrill seeker, it's nothing short of amazing. Faint hearts need not apply. Lines for Tower snake for yards at all hours of the day. A good time to try it is during the afternoon parade or during the "Beauty and the Beast" show.
Fantasmic! brings the best show of Disneyland to Orlando, with spectacular laser effects and a huge cast of beloved characters, including Sorcerer Mickey from "Fantasia." If you're going to see the show, go early. Seats fill up fast. The Great Movie Ride is okay, especially for viewers who appreciate the old-time style of Disney animatrons. The Beauty and the Beast show is a no-brainer for anyone who has kids. Adults will like the fact that it's probably the best-produced of the animated film shows.
Also, be sure to stop on your way down Hollywood to interact with the "stars" that line the street. They're called "Streetmosphere;" and they're a hoot.
Photos courtesy of the Walt Disney Co. and Orlando Sentinel filesCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times