Tackling Disney's Wide World of Sports
By Pete Saroufim
ALL EARS® Feature Writer
This article appeared in the October 7, 2003, Issue #211 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
The forecast said rain, and lots of it. The storm clouds were starting to form. You could feel precipitation building in the air. So what better day to visit the primarily outdoor Disney park known as Wide World of Sports? To be honest, I don't think we could've had better timing, but having good timing doesn't necessarily result in a good experience.
What we certainly did have was a very diverse trio. First there was me: 16 years old and an avid sports fan. When I say avid, I mean I'm that guy who can watch the same ESPN SportsCenter three times in a row and still hang on every word Stuart Scott has to say. Then there was my cousin John. At 14, John is a great athlete, but does not quite share my enthusiasm for professional sports. If John had a penny for every SportsCenter he's seen... well, let's just say he wouldn't have very many pennies. The last of our sparse group was my mother. Neither a sports fan nor an athlete, my mom represents the standpoint of most readers: a parent who is accompanying his or her child to this enormous, 200-acre athletic complex.
We woke up bright and early (that's around 9 a.m. for us) and we walked from the Beach Club Villas to the Disney-MGM Studios. From there we took the only bus transportation that leads to Disney's Wide World of Sports. I was pretty excited -- I was on my way to one of the few places in Disney I had never ventured to, all the while expecting to see the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice. Of course, all good things come to an end, and this good thing came to its end before it even started. What was looking like a bright and beautiful day became one of heavy winds and torrential downpours in the blink of an eye. But yes, things got even worse. Even with no one to pick up at the bus stop, our driver insisted on stopping there, a good 300 yards from any possible cover from rain. We hurried off the bus and watched as it pulled away from us and passed just inches from the entrance.
My cousin sprinted toward the souvenir shop. My mother tried her best to dodge raindrops as they pelted her head. And I decided to take my time and enjoy the "pleasant" weather. While this seemed like a nice idea at the time, I was certainly not thinking about any repercussions.
The souvenir shop proved to be your typical sports store. There were jerseys, hats, and TVs playing nonstop ESPN. We bored quickly and decided to eat at the nearby All Star Cafe. If the rain didn't die down a little, then we'd make our long journey home a little prematurely.
And here is where my past came to haunt me. As one enters the All Star Cafe one may notice the plethora of sports memorabilia and the inventive decorations (http://allears.net/btp/wwos4.jpg), but someone who is completely drenched will notice that it is probably about 40 degrees in the restaurant -- at least it felt that way to me. We were quickly seated in a nearly empty, yet very spacious, dining area. We had a very exuberant server, a woman in her early 20s who immediately informed us that the Buccaneers practice had been canceled. She could have just said that Santa wasn't coming this year. I was depressed for a good nine seconds, at which point we received our menus and I forgot all about my woes.
All Star Cafe could best be described as a family sports bar. For those who have been to Planet Hollywood, simply picture that restaurant with a sports theme and switch Arnold for Shaq. The walls are decorated with TVs and assorted sports attire -- plenty of eye candy even for your average sports fan. We decided to get an order of Chicken Quesadillas to start. John ordered chicken fingers, my mother a Buffalo-Style Chicken Sandwich, and for myself a Philly Beef Cheese Steak for $9.99. Of course, for the sake of research, I had to try a little bit of everyone's food, and there's no way I could write a review without getting dessert. I ordered the Chocolate Indulgence, chocolate cake topped with hot fudge and chocolate ice cream. Based on my expectations (and the way the day was already heading), the food was actually above par, but we're certainly not talking about Les Chefs de France here. The food was moderately priced (and if my memory serves me right it was a good deal less than the ESPN Club) and also came in fairly large portions. Overall, I definitely had a good experience at the All Star Cafe it is an ideal eatery for such a location.
As we exited I noticed two things. First, the rain had settled down to a light drizzle. Secondly, thanks to the rain, the park was practically empty. Upon entering, I realized that this place was far larger than I had imagined. It also did not seem to be so easy to navigate -- most of the buildings looked very similar. (http://allears.net/btp/wwos1.jpg) But, now that we were in, it was time to explore the 6-year-old complex.
There is one thing that no one can really argue about at the Wide World of Sports -- the facilities are gorgeous. Our first stop was the 7,500-seat ballpark where the Double-A Orlando Rays play, and where the Atlanta Braves hold spring training. This park, quality-wise, is easily major league material. It was also fun to be able to sit with 7,497 empty seats around us. (http://allears.net/btp/wwos2.jpg)
If you think the ballpark sounds impressive, then you would certainly appreciate the Milk House. Got Sports? The Milk House is home to six NBA-sized basketball courts (more than 30,000 square feet!). Here AAU basketball, inline hockey, volleyball, martial arts, wrestling, and other sports all take place. If you have the time and energy, make sure you take a stroll around the entire complex. There are Little League fields, softball complexes, 12 tennis courts, 6 beach volleyball courts, and a 400-meter track. Most of these we didn't thoroughly explore, but we did sit in one of the tennis courts. Again, this venue felt like a slightly smaller replica of the ones the big boys use. Sports fan or not, anybody can appreciate how truly beautiful the Wide World of Sports' facilities are.
I enjoyed checking out all of the courts and fields, but after a half-hour or so I found myself with nothing to do. This is where the Sports Experience supposedly comes in handy. The Sports Experience is the interactive portion of Wide World of Sports, where visitors get to try their hand at the pro's game. We had asked some Wide World of Sports Cast Members for advice on where we should go for our first visit, and they all pointed us in this direction. I arrived with high hopes, but the first thing I noticed is that I could probably walk from one end to the other in about nine seconds. It was looking as if this "experience" might not turn out to be such a good one.
Every child under 18 must have a waiver signed by a parent or guardian before entering, but after that it's free wandering for everyone. The Experience was broken up into a few separate, small sections. First there were two basketball hoops on a court that was roughly the size of my backyard court. Then there was a mini soccer field with tiny goals to shoot at. This could be good to practice accuracy, but chances are you're going to be spending more time chasing balls than kicking them. Next was the section I was most excited about, where you can see how fast you can throw a baseball. Since I always thought I could've been a decent pitcher, this is something I've wanted to try for years. The problem was we could only get a reading for about one in every 11 throws. It seemed the throw had to be almost perfectly aligned with the reader for it to work -- very annoying.
After the pitching fiasco we moved all the way across the Experience (20 yards?) to the field goal kicking section. Your job here is pretty simple -- kick the football over the cardboard people in front of you representing the opposing defense, and make it go through the two yellow poles. This was fun for a while, but when my kick bounced off the defense and ricocheted back at my unsuspecting mother's head, we decided to move on before anyone got severely hurt. Next to the field goal was a cool little area where you could try out a real football drill. This seemed to be the only inventive part of the Experience, so we tried to make the most of it. You press a button and a timer starts, then you run through a short obstacle course, and as you cross the finish line, the timer stops and you receive your time. After a couple of run-throughs, where John could have lapped me twice (I thought I'd take it easy on him), we realized we'd pretty much done it all in about 15 or 20 minutes. There were a couple of ping pong tables and a kids' playground that probably would've collapsed under my weight, but other than that, we had done everything there was to do with most of the day still ahead of us.
As far as the Experience is concerned, it can certainly entertain a 6-year-old. The problem was, it couldn't entertain a 16-year-old sports fan, it definitely couldn't entertain a 14-year-old who doesn't love sports, and it also could not entertain a mother who was only looking for her teenage accomplices to have a good time. On our way out we learned that, because of the rain, only 90 people had passed through that day. On average, probably 400-500 would have come in by that point. In other words, unless your 6-year-old likes to wait in long lines for a short amount of playing time, this still may not be the place for you.
I like to compare my experience at Wide World of Sports to my experience with the Magic Kingdom's Turkey Legs. Both are unnecessarily large. Both only have one truly good part. And both are Disney experiences that you do once but never do again. The bottom line is that if you are not going to the Wide World of Sports for an event like the Buccaneers practice, a Braves Spring Training game, or your son's or daughter's AAU basketball game, then simply do not go at all. If there is something in particular you want to see, then by all means make the commute and enjoy yourself. But if you want to go to just check out the Sports Experience or to show your kid the nice-looking basketball courts... well let's just say you're better off with the Turkey Leg.
= = = = = = = = = = = =
= = = = = = = = = = = =
Location: Disney's Wide World of Sports is located near the intersection of Route 192 and I-4. Disney resort guests can take Disney transportation to the Disney-MGM Studios, then take the bus to the Wide World of Sports. Driving would probably be faster -- parking is free.
General Admission includes touring the sports complex, the Sports Experience and attending most sports events. See our main Wide World of Sports page HERE for current pricing.
Tickets for all premium sporting events (Atlanta Braves games, for example) are available through Ticketmaster outlets or by visiting the box office at the entrance to the Wide World of Sports.
Updated information and schedules are available from the Wide World of Sports Information Line at 407-828-FANS (3267) or by visiting www.disneyworldsports.com
= = = = = = = = = = = =
= = = = = = = = = = = =
Disney's Wide World of Sports: http://www.allears.net/btp/dwws.htm
Wide World of Sports Calendar of Events: http://allears.net/btp/wwos.htm
Other articles by Pete: http://allears.net/btp/pete.htm
Drop Pete a note at: TheLebageek@aol.com
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.