On August 2, 2012 I was given the opportunity to experience “Lights…Camera…Magic!” This is a day tour of many of the most famous icons in Hollywood that is offered by Adventures by Disney. It includes stops at the Hollywood & Highland Center, a driving tour through some of the most famous places in Hollywood, the Original Farmers Market, and finally the Walt Disney Studios. The trip began at 8 in the morning and we arrived home at half past seven in the evening. For a more in depth look at what we did, you can read my overview of the day here.
The day began with the tour group meeting up at 8:00 AM at the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. I brought Johnny 5, my co-host on Geeks Corner, to experience this tour with me. My friend Lisa (who also writes an amazing blog Babes in Disneyland) was along for the ride as well.
The bus ride was surprisingly painless. I will admit, the thought of driving up to Los Angeles during morning traffic really didn’t sound that exciting. However, our guides were the right balance of morning energy (without being obnoxious), information, and also tact. They knew not to talk the entire drive up to our first stop in Hollywood. So what’d they do? They turned on classic Disney shorts. You can never go wrong with this. I was immediately impressed with the thought that was clearly put into even the drive and was glad that they gave information… but not too much. I honestly couldn’t tell you exactly how long the bus ride took because I surprisingly enough was enjoying the ride.
Hollywood & Highland Center
I have been to the Hollywood & Highland Center several times before. I was quite pleased that this time was different and it was not a waste of time in any way. We were given a tour around the center and an excellent photo op with the Hollywood sign in the background. Every other tour group was getting their picture of the Hollywood sign from one spot but our tour guides took us to another. We were the ONLY group there and it was wonderful. Just don’t put your arms on the railings if it is a warm day… they were HOT! This stop also included a brief stop/photo op down on Hollywood Blvd where pictures were taken with our very own star! This was a fun little addition to the day. Our tour focused on the Dolby Theatre and not on Grauman’s Chinese Theater so we were allowed a few minutes to stroll down and see the Chinese Theater if we wanted. Lisa, Johnny, and I made the trek. I’m not entirely sure it was worth it. We got our photo but it was INSANE over there. I think I’d rather have seen it as part of the tour instead of just walking by.
The highlight of this stop though was the tour of the Dolby Theatre. It used to be called the Kodak Theater but now… it’s the Dolby Theatre. This was an awesome tour. No photos are allowed inside, but sometimes that is a nice thing. It allows the opportunity to just absorb everything that is going on as opposed to trying to document it all. I was impressed by how this tour was structured. The guide (an employee of the theatre) walked us through what it would be like if we were there for the Academy Awards. It was great, informative, and it didn’t seem to long for the kids who were accompanying us. I came out of the theatre with a new understanding of what it is like to be there for the Academy Awards along with a new respect for all the details involved. This tour really shared how much movie magic goes into this yearly production. It also gave an awesome look at what goes into the Cirque du Soleil show Iris and definitely made me really want to see that as well!
Driving Through Hollywood
The next portion of our tour was a drive through Hollywood and past many famous and iconic locations. For this part of the tour, our lovely tour guides Hanneke and Natalia passed the microphone off to our bus driver Don. I have a couple thoughts on this part of the tour. The first is that Don is an absolutely amazing bus driver. I was thoroughly impressed at the level of skill he had as he drove this huge coach bus through places I wouldn’t be comfortable driving my Honda Civic! The second was that he was incredibly informed. I have no doubt that he knows the history and detail behind just about every building and corner on our route. The only hard part about this was that it definitely was a history lesson of Hollywood and some of the younger generations may not connect to it quite as well. There were a LOT of classic Hollywood details (names, movies, locations) that I would tend to guess younger people just have never heard of. It would perhaps help to have some more details on more modern actors and the like.
The Farmers Market is where we stopped for lunch. I was really impressed with this place. It kind of reminded me of a Southern California version of a Fish Market in Seattle or San Francisco. There were fresh fruits and veggies sold at some stands and then there were also stands with food from every area of the world imaginable. From Brazil, to Greece, to … whatever! There was a huge variety of food. This is also where my own small group had a star sighting. I’m told that in general this is a good place for that to happen. I ended up at a Mexican restaurant and enjoyed my food thoroughly. Afterwards, I stopped by Starbucks for a pick me up as I was starting to drag a little bit. I definitely could have spent more time here on a day where this was my only destination. However, seeing as we had other places to be throughout the day, the lunch break was perfect. I should also note, we were given $15 vouchers for lunch that were perfect as well. If you haven’t stopped by the Farmers Market before, I definitely suggest it!
The Walt Disney Studios
The final stop for this tour was at the Walt Disney Studios. I know for many people, this would be enough of a selling trip for this tour…providing it is a good tour of the Walt Disney Studios. I’m happy to tell you that it really is a well rounded tour. It included a walk through the Animation Building (always magical), an adventure through “the morgue,” a shopping stop at the Studio Store, and we even got to go in a working sound stage! We also went into the lobby of the Frank G. Wells building and had a reception in Legends Plaza. Now, I had been there several times before so I really didn’t know what to expect from this trip. I really did enjoy myself though. It was a blast walking through “the morgue.” It was also awesome getting to go in the sound stage where Body of Proof is filmed. This last part doesn’t get to happen that often but it was sure cool that it did this time! The reception at the end of the tour was also very nice. It gave us all a chance to sit back, relax, enjoy each other’s company and just chat.
Overall, the tour of the Walt Disney Studios is a very nice introductory tour for the Disney fan (or just a fan of movie magic). It was well thought out and gave a nice glimpse of what life at the studios is like for those who work there. It definitely was the highlight of the day for most on our tour as well.
“Lights…Camera…Magic!” is a unique tour that really was enjoyable. I have lived in Orange County for a couple of years now and I will admit, I really don’t make it up to the Los Angeles/Hollywood all that often. The main reason is I don’t like dealing with the traffic. The second reason is I don’t like figuring out parking. It really comes down to logistics. With this tour, the logistics are covered.
I also found myself putting myself back in time to when I was living in Minnesota. What would I want to see when visiting Los Angeles from Minnesota? How would I do it? Would it be worth it? This is where the true value of the “Lights…Camera…Magic!” tour comes from. This gives a tourist a look at all of the highlights of Hollywood in a day! If visiting from out of town and going to the Disneyland Resort (the true highlight of the area, right?), they can take a day to now see the other icons found in the area. I was trying to think of anything that was lacking from the tour that I would be disappointed that I didn’t see if visiting from out of state and really the only thing that perhaps would be needed is a drive by the beach. However, I just don’t see how that would fit into this tour or timeline.
All this being said, I definitely have to give a hat tip to this tour. It is fun, well paced, and a good experience for all ages. If you want more information on it, check out www.adventuresbydisney.com, call 877/728-7282 or contact your travel agent. When you go, I hope you have as much fun on your adventure as I did!