Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Parks at Walt Disney World

A map of Walt Disney World

As stated previously, the last time I went to Disneyworld was in 1979. I was 12 years old. (I also visited Disneyland, which does not compare to the Florida park in quality or quantity of attractions, in 1980.)

First, a few quick tips: If you’re traveling to WDW and staying for more than one day, your best option is to stay at a Disney resort (more on that in a later post). The main reason for this is that you get extended hours at the parks, and there is free and reliable (if crowded) transportation to the various parks via bus and monorail.

A note about the rides at the parks: Most popular attractions offer the Fastpass option, which lets you come back at a pre-selected time and avoid a long queue. If encounter a long line at a ride, don’t hesitate to take advantage of this option - it saved us hours of wait time.

I don’t remember much about that 1979 visit to the Magic Kingdom - it took place during a particularly difficult time in my life. Of the park, I only remember Space Mountain and the monorail with any clarity. I returned to Space Mountain during this trip, and it hasn’t changed much. Not a particularly challenging roller coaster when compared with the coasters at Cedar Point, it’s the lighting effects which sell it. Still, as a middle-aged person with a bad back, Space Mountain was about the limit for me this time around.

During our trips to Magic Kingdom, we walked through the entire park, visiting most attractions including The Haunted Mansion (not at all scary), and It’s a Small World (which became a bit nightmarish after we briefly became stuck). Experiencing Magic Kingdom from an adult perspective was interesting. Some of the attractions, like Country Bear Jamboree with its primitive animatronics, seemed dated. (A worker there informed me that it will be shut down this year.) The Hall of Presidents, recently refurbished, suspends one’s disbelief. A bit of that was necessary during the “historical” film which precedes the unveiling of the Presidents – the sanitization of Andrew Jackson’s role in the genocide of American Indians was especially galling. Still, the experience of seeing a faux Abraham Lincoln rise out of his chair and deliver the Gettysburg Address was more than impressive from a technological standpoint; it was haunting and emotionally moving. Lincoln, along with Washington and Barack Obama, were the only three Presidents who spoke at this attraction. All three figures had full articulation and Obama’s hand gestures were mostly realistic. All of the figures had some level of articulation, at least to the extent of nodding their heads when their names were heard in the Presidential “roll-call”. During our trips to Magic Kingdom, we walked through the entire park, visiting most attractions including The Haunted Mansion (not at all scary), and It’s a Small World (which became a bit nightmarish after we briefly became stuck).

With a friend in Frontierland.

1979 was an era before Epcot, before Hollywood Studios, before Downtown Disney. Most of those places were already in the design stage by then. (Indeed, Epcot was designed in the 1960s while Walt Disney was still alive, and was envisioned by him as an actual city, not an amusement park.)

If a visitor had time to visit only one park at WDW, I would recommend Epcot, particularly if the visitor is an adult. Although there are several kid friendly attractions, including Mission: Space and Soarin’ (one of the best attractions in the entire WDW complex), the World Showcase is clearly aimed at adults. Indeed, each represented “country” has several stores selling themed wares, so this area is aimed at adults’ wallets. The Showcase pavilions include Mexico, Norway, China, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom, and America (which is somewhat redundant with a similar area at the Magic Kingdom. Surprisingly, there is no pavilion for India, although a pavilion for the world’s second-most populous country would be warranted – especially given India’s plethora of cultural riches. Everyone who visits Epcot should experience the nighttime IllumiNations show – more than entertainment, it’s a summation of Walt Disney’s vision.

Hollywood Studios is a faux recreation of a studio backlot, circa 1940. There are some stage attractions like Beauty and the Beast (a condensed stage version of the animated musical) and Indiana Jones (a best hits stunt demonstration), along with some rides such as Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Star Tours. But the shopping-to-attraction ratio is higher here than at any other park, so some sections here might not be appealing to kids. There is a nighttime show with music, water lighting effects and fireworks called Fantasmic. This was a crowd pleaser for adults and kids alike, at least until the wind shifted during the fireworks finale and we ended up with ashes in our eyes.

Beauty and the Beast

Animal Kingdom is the newest of the Disney parks, and the least focused. The problem with AK is that it can’t decide whether it wants to be an amusement park or a zoo, so neither aspect satisfies. There are a few animals visible, as with some primates in one area, a show dealing with birds (the highlight of our trip to this park), and a trolley ride past some jungle animals. There are also some rides, such as Expedition Everest, and shows such as Festival of the Lion King (featuring some impressive acrobatics). But I never experienced the awe I’ve felt when visiting the Cleveland Zoo.

Animal Kingdom Lodge in the background

Downtown Disney is not a theme park, although it’s part of the Disney complex. You don’t need a ticket to go there, because you’re essentially going to a hyped-up shopping center. (Think Legacy Village, but larger, and almost entirely devoted to Disney.) A 24 screen AMC movie theater there shows first run films with ticket prices at $11 per person. At one time, Downtown Disney was envisioned as an adult-oriented place, but has been tweaked to make it more kid-friendly. Still, there are a number of bars there and I observed some public intoxication that didn’t seem Disneyesque. I would not bring my kid here.

1 comment:

izza said...

Disney is really fantastic. It's been a dream since childhood to see the characters in person but by the time we went to Disney I enjoyed the Resorts more. It's a good thing that Stroller could now be rented there.