Page 2 - Hanging Out with Homer Simpson in Florida

Hanging Out with Homer Simpson in Florida — Page 2
Story and photos by Tim Leffel

Duff taps

Sure it's all fake, but gloriously so. When you follow Harry as he zooms through the quidditch court on a broom and leads you away from a dragon's breath, for a few minutes you can forget the real world and immerse yourself in a legend. You can then put yourself into a Jurassic World movie set and float away from the velociraptors and then give yourself up to Spiderman as he saves you from the villains using his spider sense and webbing.

The amusement park industry is nothing new: rides in New York's Coney Island and Denmark's Tivoli Gardens were drawing big crowds at the end of the 1800s. Those who deride the mass commercialism of the corporations behind today's big complexes aren't complaining about anything new either. Most early amusement parks that featured entertainment and rides resulted from the collaboration of beer companies and trolley companies. The former wanted to cut out the middleman and sell more beer direct. The latter wanted to get more fares on the weekends, when fewer people were paying to leave home.

While we may exclaim, "Outrageous!" when we look at modern day prices for major theme parks, the first participants in the early 1900s shelled out a lot too. When Luna Park opened on Coney Island in 1903, it charged unlimited rides admission of $1.95 or attendees could pay 25 cents per ride for the best thrills. In today's dollars that's around $52 for the pass or $7 per ride. Considering the vast improvements in technology and thrills, we're probably not being ripped off as much as we think. Here's the big difference though: the developer of Luna Park invested $700,000, the equivalent of more than $18 million now. He earned back his investment in just six weeks.

Our Life in TV Land

We ended up spending an entire weekend bouncing back and forth between the two sides: Universal Studios Florida and the Islands of Adventure side. In that time we rode nearly every ride and went for an encore trip on the best ones.

We stayed on site for dinner the first night, eating at a restaurant on the Universal City Walk. It's an area that would make the logo-averse main character from William Gibson's book Pattern Recognition recoil with nausea. It's a parade of places with ® next to their name, from to Bubba Gump Shrimp to Margaritaville. I played the Dad card and steered everyone to the restaurant with the best beer selection, the NBC Sports Grill and Brew.

The gargantuan portions of food were tasty all around and my flight of Florida beers was excellent. As I probably should have guessed from the name, however, what they really want you to focus on in a place like this is the TVs. And there are a lot of TVs. In a park where we've been over-stimulated all day, is a bank of big-screen televisions in every direction really a good idea? I can't help but think that a restaurant like this might be tied into two worsening trends in today's American theme parks. All day we saw people in motorized scooters because their joints are shot from carrying around so much extra weight and some people were turned away from rides because they couldn't squish their oversized bodies under the safety restraining device. Wouldn't some time away from the TV be a good thing for this crowd?

Universal Studios fat people seats

But hey, maybe I'm not one to talk, at least not here. I'm with my family in a place that worships on-screen entertainment and the parts I'm most excited about are based on a TV show. The reality is we've become a "You are what you watch" society more than anything. Half the draw of an amusement park is not the thrills themselves, but the stories behind the thrills. It's Cars or E.T. or Star Wars or Buzz Lightyear. A ride is seldom just a ride anymore at the major theme parks—there's too much money to be made from licensing and merchandising.

Duff boys

Most of that didn't matter though as I nursed my Duff beer—which was actually much better than it should have been due to a Florida craft beer alliance—and watched Simpsons clips on the TV above the bar. For a while I was in my fake world and smiling, enjoying the irony and the inside jokes. My family was happy wrapping up their visit with some last-minute souvenir shopping. I was happy spending time with characters that made me laugh.

It's easy to deride these corporate amusement parks as overpriced, over-stimulating, and the kinds of places "real travelers" should never set foot inside. They're often seen as the haters as financial vacuum cleaners visited by suckers who deserve to be fleeced of their money. But maybe, just maybe they're so popular for a reason. In these places it's okay to be reminded of your happy past and you have full license to act like a kid again.

Or to drink a beer like Homer would at Moe's.

If You Go:
Universal Orlando Resort has a variety of packages and connected hotels to choose from. The Simpsons are on the Universal Studios Florida side of this two-park area. If you need some room to spread out and a kitchen, consider a condo from All-Star Vacation Homes or keep the family cool at Orlando Suites Waterpark Resort. On Sundays, tune into Fox at 8 pm Eastern time for a new episode of The Simpsons.

Tim Leffel

Editor Tim Leffel splits his time between Guanajuato, Mexico and Tampa, Florida. When in the latter he gets roped into visiting amusement parks but does love to ride roller coasters. He is the author of five travel books, including the second edition of Travel Writing 2.0, and has run the Cheapest Destinations Blog since 2003. He received some park passes from Universal Studios to put together this story. As always, all opinions are his own.

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Related Features:
Sun-bathing With Ghosts in Cassadaga, Florida by James Michael Dorsey
The Other Side of the Yucatan by Tim Leffel
Celebrating 50 Years, Singapore Dreams of an Even Brighter Future by Michael Shapiro
Zipping Into Trouble in Thailand and Laos by Michael Buckley

See other USA travel stories from the archives

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