Last week was our “summer vacation” to celebrate a milestone in my other half’s family—it turned out to be our first plane trip since before the pandemic and my first ever visit to Universal Studios and Walt Disney World in Florida. Theme parks aren’t generally our style of vacation—we much prefer exploring new cities at our own pace than standing in long lines and being price gouged for everything (for reference: a regular bottle of water is $5 at Universal Studios and $3.50 at Disney). Not to mention that it’s peak season, and we don’t for a moment believe that everyone who wasn’t wearing a mask was vaccinated.
At age 20, I enjoyed roller coasters. I had it figured out—as long as you leaned your head back against the headrest, everything was fine. At age 25, the next time I went on one, I had forgotten and did the exact opposite, pushing my head forward in the direction of movement—what a mistake! I hated roller coasters.
Now, at the ripe old age of… 18+ (that’s all Disney required me to disclose), I gave it another chance, and even did it right on the new, exciting VelociCoaster at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, but all I could think while on it was (verbatim): “I’ve had quite enough!” Why do people pay ridiculous sums of money to stand in sometimes hours-long queues to voluntarily get thrown around by machines?! Clearly, I’m not an adrenaline junkie… The Cat in the Hat ride in Seuss Landing was more my speed, with its psychedelic colors and clever rhymes—I rode it twice! The second time, my other half went on The Incredible Hulk Coaster and said it was slow and somewhat a letdown after the VelociCoaster. Don’t let that deter you, though.
At the risk of oversharing, my own smells confirmed my feelings. The “scent of fear” isn’t something to be coveted.
Moving on, of course I sought out perfume and multisensory experiences that included scent. The Walgreen pharmacy had a nice display:
—as did the Max Factor Building:
As for rides, many of the “virtual” rides with special effects were quite impressive, especially the Harry Potter ones (Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey). Shrek 4-D was supposed to have donkey or swampy smells, but they didn’t appear for us when we rode it. The Simpsons Ride treated us to some “baby smells” at one point, with baby powder and diaper scents—the whole experience was pretty nasty (possibly by design) and stomach churning. I don’t recommend it. The Dinosaur ride, in which riders are given a mission to travel back in time and rescue an iguanodon before a meteor strike, was loud and smelled like caramel and a bit of burning rubber every time we were shot through a time portal. Fun enough for the family!
Pirates of the Caribbean at Magic Kingdom may have been the first Disney ride on which we perceived smells. Spices, (bell) pepper, smoke… the life-size animatronics, including ones that looked like Johnny Depp, were quite convincing.
I had hoped to sniff some animals on the Kilimanjaro Safaris at Animal Kingdom, but we were too far away from them. The very bumpy truck ride was most certainly worthwhile, though, to see the animals and learn some fun facts about them. Did you know that giraffes spend about 20 hours a day eating, while lions spend about the same amount of time sleeping?! Someone sitting in front of us was wearing a grapefruit-enhanced, rounded vetiver perfume…
On the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, we got to see a 2-week-old baby gorilla! No meerkats, though, as they come out only very early in the mornings.
Avatar Flight of Passage was a very well-designed ride simulating a flight on the back of a banshee in Pandora. We queued for 2 hours at the behest of family members who already did and can’t say we regret it, despite the lack of smells.
On our last day at Disney World, we went to Epcot, which is the part I had been looking forward to the most. Soarin’ Around the World was spectacular, being suspended in a chair “soarin'” virtually through gorgeous landscapes accompanied by hallmark scents: fresh-cut grass, rose (for the Taj Mahal), and marine smells (some Calone…)
Some time after that, we went on Journey into Imagination with Figment without really knowing what it was. I got excited when it promised a Sensory Lab for each of the senses: touch, taste, sight, smell, and sound. Unfortunately, the ride was quite tacky and the smell lab seemed to be defective, although I saw 3 pipes labelled “grass,” “rose,” and one I couldn’t make out, but assumed was ocean waves. Surely it’s more efficient to share aromachemicals across attractions!?
Lastly, we went into Mission: SPACE, a space shuttle simulator, and chose the Mars training, a “more intense” experience than Earth training. After pooh-poohing most of the overcautious disclaimers posted for every ride at Universal Studios, and then finding the rides at Disney tame by comparison, we didn’t think the warnings on this one would be that serious, despite them being repeated at least 3 times. High speeds? Tight spaces? Par for the course, no?
Friends, we were in a centrifuge, being spun at up to 2.5 G throughout several minutes. They had barf bags and I’m sure people have used them. It left me varying degrees of queasy for hours. Thank goodness it did not include smells.
After that, I was quite happy to spend the rest of the day in the World Showcase, in which 11 countries were represented. Yes, I am aware that I paid a high ticket price to explore gift shops selling expensive souvenirs.
Norway was selling Laila, the Essence of Norway by Geir Ness, a strong, clean, white floral for women. Very icy. They also had Geir for Men, which I did not get to smell.
In Italy, I got serious with testing, although they had only famous brands—Prada, Bvlgari, and Acqua di Parma. I explored some of the Bvlgari Le Gemme collection, in which each bottle represents a jewel: Lazulia is quite fruity and changes a lot over time; Azaran is a saffron-leather for men that reminded me of Tom Ford Tuscan Leather; Astrea is the counterpart for women, with the same notes lifted by jasmine—this duo remains mostly linear.
From Acqua di Parma, the one I ended up liking the most was Fico di Amalfi, although I held off on buying because I already have other fig perfumes that I love (Annick Goutal Ninfeo Mio and Olfactory NYC Leo customized with an extra dose of a fig-cedarwood accord).
France offered 2 perfume shops: Plume et Palette was perhaps unsurprisingly very mainstream, featuring Mugler and Dior (J’Adore, Miss Dior, and their flankers); the other was Guerlain.
At Guerlain, I started with the classics: Vol de Nuit, Chamade (which I found very attractive as it reminded me of an ideal of “French perfume”), Jicky (far more lemony than I’d expected)… just as I was about to try L’Heure Bleue, another customer requested it and bought the last bottle. The tester was taken away before I had the chance to grab it, and in the moment I didn’t ask for it, instead diverting my attention to the range of Aqua Allegorias on display. I thought Pamplelune was love at first sniff, but the grapefruit turned sour on me after a while. Granada Salvia, with its pomegranate, sage, and white musk accords, was good company, not least because of a blackcurrant note that recalled Diptyque L’Ombre dans L’Eau. However, I couldn’t help feeling that it smelled like candy, which I didn’t like as much.
Almost right before closing time, we managed to go to the United Kingdom shop, which had some Penhaligon’s fragrances without testers and a range of Yardley soliflores—these were nothing to write home about. In the end, I didn’t buy any perfumes at Disney World… but not to worry, as they are all available elsewhere.
It’s a small world after all!
5 thoughts on “Theme parks sniffing tour (Universal Studios and Disney World)”
That was an amazing post! The last (and only) time I’ve been to any theme park (Universal Studios at LA) was probably 20 years ago, and since the visit left far from a favorable impression, I’ve never even thought of repeating the experience. I can see now that A LOT has changed since then 🙂
So, though I think it’s too late for me to go there, I thoroughly enjoyed your report, not in the last place thanks to the olfactory component of it.
After reading the part about the roller coaster, I tried to figure out why I liked them… It is surprising for me, when I think about it now, because I’m definitely not an adrenaline junky. But I loved any type of such rides… All I can think of is that those are attractive to me because I know that there’s no risk involved.
You look very relaxed on that picture. Vacations suit you 🙂
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Thanks! From what I’ve heard, they’ve come a long way from animatronics to 4D.
I think I would have enjoyed the roller coasters a lot more if I could fully convince myself that there was no risk. Despite the statistics proving that they are extremely safe, the moment I get on one, my mind starts spinning with paranoia about the possibility that something could go wrong, and there’s no turning back…
Epcot was indeed the most relaxed day. Don’t vacations suit all of us? 🙂
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What an amazing post! Also great review of the theme parks. I love that you prove that a sniffing tour can take place anywhere!
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Thank you! I had been feeling long overdue for a sniffing tour, as I’m sure many people have!