SAMLAND: Notes from Walt Disney World

Written by Sam Gennawey. Posted in Samland, Walt Disney World

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Published on December 13, 2012 at 4:02 am with 19 Comments

Like many dedicated Disneylanders, every now and again I must visit that other Mecca of theme parks… Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. So bear with me as I travel through six theme parks in eight days and toss out a whole slew of personal opinions. I will also talk about a couple of new books along the way. To paraphrase Al Lutz, grab those cold blueberry Pop Tarts and a Diet Coke . . . let’s begin.

We’ll start at the Magic Kingdom. While on my trip, Disney was holding a big media event for the “New” Fantasyland and Test Track 2.0. Since I am not quite hip enough to be invited to these things (as I’m not a mommy blogger) I spent the day with the “classic” Werner Weiss of Yesterland and Jim Korkis, author of the must have The Vault of Walt and a new book Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South. 

The New Fantasyland was being promoted as the largest expansion in that Park’s history. For a moment, let’s ignore the addition of Space Mountain, the PeopleMover, the Star Jets, and moving the Carousel of Progress building in 1975 and believe the press release.

My first impression is the area is beautiful, highly detailed with lots of layered elements, and it reflects a real commitment to getting the environmental design right. It is certainly better than an empty submarine lagoon. However, the giant construction site for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is very intrusive and if your plan is to be wowed, then I would wait until that attraction opens.

Under The Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid is a copy of the DCA version with the exception of a few tiny enhancements, a highly immersive queue, and lines. I pity those in the Stand-By once you have both the Fastpass people and the Next Gen people. Bring an iPad so you can watch the movie while waiting.

I did not experience Ariel’s Grotto or Enchanted Tales with Belle. Don’t have kids and I’m not a meet and greet kind of guy. My preference would be to sit back throughout the parks and watch the characters who populate the movie set we are visiting act in a more spontaneous manner. I can say the theming provides a wonderful backdrop much the way Radiator Springs does at DCA. This seems to be a trend with the current Imagineering management. This is a good thing.

Gaston’s Tavern has many clever touches and it seem they are trying to make the pork shanks the new turkey legs. I did eat lunch at Be Our Guest. If you want dinner you better book it 189 days in advance. They open for lunch at 10:30a with a seating capacity of 500. Yes, you have to line up before 10:00a for lunch. I sat in the east wing with the music box and the required Hidden Mickey on one of the Beast’s paw/hand. The food was pretty good but that better not be the reason you are going here or you will be disappointed. I hope somebody in the know can tell me if the intention is to leave the Rapunzel tower visible in Liberty Square.

Even with only two rides with a cumulative ride of time of something under three minutes, an adorable kid bather, and a well designed store roomy enough for the masses, I really like the look of the Storybook Circus section. Especially the train station and the way the ground covering is used to tie everything together is beyond anything else Disney has done before. I do find it funny that the circus concept keeps popping up at Disney parks. Walt originally proposed a Circus Land for Disneyland before it was built, Imagineer Bruce Bushman drew up plans for Dumbos Circus for Fantasyland just before that park opened, and Walt’s first great failure at that park was the Mickey Mouse Club Circus.

One thing about the press coming out was I finally got to see the full array of Main Street vehicles. It is my feeling that vehicles add life and vitality to the urban corridor and the Magic Kingdom has always felt more “mall” like than Disneyland. And I do have request. Will it kill you to put a couple of benches out? Maybe they could sell sponsorships like they used to for the bricks out front or the tombstones at Epcot. The lack of places to sit is a real downfall to what should be a place to relax and decompress.

Speaking of Main Street, Mr. Weiss and I took the Steam Train tour and I hope he does a write up as he was snapping away with hundreds of photos. My take is if you are a fan of trains (like I am) then it is worth doing at least once. If not a fan of trains, I could suggest better ways to spend your money [like buying my book Walt and The Promise of Progress City - I've got to work it you know, Christmas is coming up].

Another addition new to me was the mermaids in the Pirates of the Caribbean. It is a subtle effect and can easily be missed. It appears to be projections of mermaids swimming through bubbly water alongside the boats. The siren song can be heard and there is a very creepy mermaid skeleton tied up in a boat. Nice effect but I am not sure I understand why there are “flesh and blood” mermaids in the caverns section. The ride could use some TLC but that is a constant theme through Walt Disney World.

I must vent for a moment. Parents, do you really think the Swiss Family Treehouse is the most appropriate place to teach your two or three year old how to walk up and down stairs? Okay, I feel better now. Take them over to Mickey’s Philharmonic where they can reach out to Donald, Ariel, and the jewels. For some reason, I am always craving apple pie when I am done with that show.

The Jungle Cruise is one of the few attractions that features a live spiel and the quality of the skipper can make or break the experience. My hat is off to Rikki who just rocked the house with perfect timing. I could not bring myself to visit the Tiki Room, as I know how it has been diminished from the Disneyland example. Over in Frontierland, let’s cut to the chase.Yes, the Mama Don’t Whoop Little Little Buford number is still part of the Country Bear Jamboree. The world is still good. The Short-Attention-Span theater version of the attraction is good and a must for the youngsters and us nostalgic old fools. For those familiar with the original show, your head will fill in all the banter between the bears but for those who rarely go inside, I am sure you will find it a delight and quickly paced. The animation is great, the bears look refreshed, and anytime a classic gets a new lease on life is a good thing. Remember, they could have added Merida’s mother as a guest bear.

I got a chance to ride Big Thunder Mountain a few times after it’s lengthy refurbishment and it was brilliant. Did you know that the show elements are the same on both coasts and in the same order? Of course you did. I must admit the Florida version is now the superior to Disneyland’s.

If I could get a Christmas gift from Imagineering I would ask that they install the stretching room sound effects and the new hitch hiking ghosts in the Haunted Mansion in Anaheim. The interactive queue seems to confuse people as much as it does entertain them. Plus, there is a whole new civility to be established. Do you pass the person playing or wait?

The current version of the Hall of Presidents is holding up really well. Now that the President has been reelected maybe it is time to utilize the technology employed at Mr. Lincoln in Anaheim?

Over in Pixar Fantasyland…oops. I am sorry. I meant Tomorrowland, outside of the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, Space Mountain (now with Doppler Effect sound), and the Astro Oribiter high above the theme building where it belongs, it may be time to rethink this area. Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress is an embarrassment, Monsters, Inc. Laugh Factory (MILF?) has become a bad version of comedian Don Rickles where the jokes are at the expense of the guests, and Stitch’s Great Mistake (thanks Len Testa) is just an evil trick to keep children awake all night.

Before I go to the next park, I want to provide a public service. Until now, I thought that the Disneyland Challenge was the lamest book that Disney has sold. Let the Memories Begin! makes that one seem like a Pulitzer Prize winner. For a book that is supposed to show a contemporary snapshot of WDW they sure used a lot of old photos. Big Al is in his camping gear and the castle picture has the 20th anniversary sign out front. The photo of the old Dumbo ride gives you a good view of the submarines. The wide shot of Epcot features the stage at the American Pavilion at Epcot before they covered it. Sounds Dangerous takes a half page. Love the photo of Animal Kingdom before they built Everest. I paid for the park exclusive book. Not recommended.

Over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios things are going from bad to worse. Once upon a time, the wienie was a beautiful reproduction of the iconic Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. Then, it was blocked by a giant Post-modern Mickey Mouse Sorcerer’s hat. On this trip, that eyesore was blocked by a massive temporary stage for the Disney Rocks show. Very sad. With DCA’s Buena Vista Street setting a new standard for entry statements I hope they learn.

The Great Movie Ride. Just shoot it and put it out of its misery. What should be the theme attraction for the entire park is creeping down to Carousel of Progress quality. New to the park is The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow show which uses the latest technologies in projection to achieve “an immersive, theatrical adventure in the world of Pirates of the Caribbean.” I am not sure what the hourly capacity is for this show but I fear it is not high. Get there really early or be prepared to wait. It is a pretty impressive show, basically highlighting women who want to kill or eat Captain Jack Sparrow. However, it feels like the pre-show to something more. It is my understanding that this is a test for the Shanghai Disney park and I am sure somebody will correct me if I am wrong.

Time for a rant. I like the fact that Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream exists. It is not the Walt Disney Family Museum but it is an important exhibit. However, you would like to think that the people who put this together knew their Disney history. I am a history geek and found quite a number of mistakes and misstatements of fact that irritate me.

Two examples are Walt’s desk from Marceline and the Peter Pan’s Flight model being listed as the Disneyland show (when it is quite clearly the one from the Magic Kingdom). Either the folks at Disney don’t care or they think the fans don’t care but it has been this way for years. They should be embarrassed and fix these oversights. Come on D23, you are run by the Disney Archives, surely you’ve got someone on staff who can fact check and fix this stuff. Well on that note, you can see why I don’t get invited to Disney media events – I’m too fair to get on the list. So what do you think about my journey so far? More soon!


The holidays are here. Are you looking for the perfect gift for that Disney fan in your life? If you enjoy reading SAMLAND, you’ll love my book. Walt and the Promise of Progress City is a detailed look into how Walt Disney envisioned the future of communities. Along the way, we explore many facets of a fascinating man. Plus, buying the book helps ensure that I’ll be able to continue bringing you more Samland. It’s a win/win situation.

Follow Samland on Facebook and Twitter.

About Sam Gennawey

Sam Gennawey is an urban planner who has collaborated with communities throughout California over the course of more than 100 projects to create a great, big, beautiful tomorrow. Sam is a member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Regional Planning History Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving municipal, county, and private sector planning documents from throughout Los Angeles County. Sam is the author of Walt and the Promise of Progress City which you can find on Amazon.

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  • brianpinsky

    Hold on, Disney Parks Blog today anounced DL Big Thunder Mountain is going under the knife post-holidays (January 7-Fall, 2013) and we will be getting (of course) Next Gen, New Trains, replacment tracks, and new show props and lighting. I wounder if our Big Thunder will be better than MK’s? I think that Our Haunted Mansion outside cue does not have room for an interactive section and the part of the cue would not be used majority of the time due to how fast they can get people into the attraction. I would think that after the holidays the Haunted Mansion Fastpass section will be under consturction for Next Gen because the Fastpass is only used for the Holidays. I will like to see Next Gen go flat because its not needed at Disneyland. At Florida, last time I was there (Over 7 years ago) only a few attraction would draw me to use a service like Next Gen and when I was there we did not even use Florida’s Fastpass System. TDO is just going to spend alot of money over a service that is not needed. The usaly say “How do we scale this back”, they should be saying this for Next Gen.

    • jcruise86

      Brian, are you related to the poet, Robert Pinsky?

      • brianpinsky

        no, but father is named robert…I gong to have to think about that

  • jcruise86

    Thanks, Sam. The only line I didn’t like was, “Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress is an embarrassment,” because you didn’t add something like, “This classic attraction deserves a loving restoration and (in the final room) an attractive & creative update. In fact, the last room should get a makeover from Imagineers & sponsors every 3-7 years.

    I’d also liked the hat moved (perhaps to the parking lot or park entrance) so it doesn’t block the Chinese Theater.

    And I want the Great Movie Ride Testtracked, not Skywayed.

  • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

    Great article Sam. You are so correct that for all the neat new things, the overall feeling is that WDW is stale and not well maintained. They desperately need a Matt Ouimet style renovation of all four parks. But to do that, they’ll have to sweep out the folks who created this mess.

    • triggernel

      Ahh, but we’ve stolen Ouimet to fix up our own bland parks!

      “Cedar Fair Fanboy”

  • Algernon

    Fast pass just makes the people who wait in line wait longer. It should be abolished. And Next Gen will be the equivilent of a whirlwind vacation tour where everything is planned and on a schedule. Disney needs to get back to it’s roots, including having rides that the whole family can enjoy. The Country Bears family attraction was closed for Winnie the Pooh, a ride for four years olds. The Submarines were changed into a kiddie ride, as well. The Mine Train became a roller coaster for teenagers; the same with the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. The Rocket to the Moon and Mars were changed into Star Wars, where Grandma and the baby must wait for the kids to come back. Buzz Lightyear is for kids. Roger Rabbit is for kids. Ah, nothing like polarization. As Disney resorts slowly turn into billion dollar Coney Islands, one can only hope that there will be a new kid in town, who will bring back family entertainment on a large scale. Where will it happen? Las Vegas may be slowly waking up. Two big ferris Wheels are being planned, as well as three water parks, including one at the Circus Circus. Hopefully Las Vegas will realize that it made the most money during the family friendly years of the 1990′s, and go all out for theming and family entertainment again.

    • napamaninsocal

      All the rides you named are enjoyed by me and my family so I dont understand how you think they are not family rides? Buzz the so called “kiddie” ride is one of my favorite rides and I’m 31. So maybe you just don’t like Disneyland anymore.

    • Klutch

      No, Las Vegas did not make the most money during the failed, family era. They chased off their high rollers by having a bunch of kids around. They attracted low income parents who would dump their kids at the kid care centers to go place minimum bets in the casinos, then wouldn’t come to pick up their kids when the kid care centers closed.

      Las Vegas and family entertainment is simply not a good mix. And the casinos learned this in a very expensive lesson during the 1990s. The new ferris wheels are designed to attract gamblers, not kids. Yeah, you can find things for kids to do on The Strip. But,I don’t think bringing kids to an environment filled with gambling, strip clubs, all-night, upscale bars and “porn slappers” is a good idea.

    • OriginalMousekteer

      Well, at least I partially agree with you on FastPass. FastPass doesn’t belong on ANY Omnimover attraction. Mansion hosts in CA are furious at management for insisting on using it this year–they opened Mansion Holiday without it and it was great. If you stand aside and let people pass you and just observe the cast members on the load belt, you’ll see that most are very efficient at trying to fill every buggie–at least the more experienced ones. That’s what gets them up to 2200 an hour. Little Mermaid at DCA almost never has a wait, and Buzz is totally manageable. The only attraction I wish DID have FP is Toy Story Mania.

      I love all the rides you cited, and I’m a middle-aged man with no kids. I’m a Buzz junkie. I’m in the minority about loving Pooh–I just wish we got the Tokyo version, but I still ride it often. Yes, I do miss CBJ and I was thrilled 4 years ago to find the classic version playing at WDW.

      Right now one of my delights is seeing the Mark Twain lit up at night traversing the Rivers with no Fantasmic (nothing against Fan)–pleasant summer nights around the riverfront with live music all around and the Mark Twain going by is a big childhood memory for me.

  • napamaninsocal

    “I must vent for a moment. Parents, do you really think the Swiss Family Treehouse is the most appropriate place to teach your two or three year old how to walk up and down stairs? Okay, I feel better now”
    Yes. Why can’t a 2 year old enjoy the Treehouse the same way you are? My 2 year old LOVES to walk up and down stairs. Next time take time and be patient :)

    • stitch1085

      I am so happy for your 2 year old, however, parents need to realize that walk through attractions are not designed for children to be taught how to climb stairs. Teacup photo ops are not designed for parents to change poopy diapers and most importantly please do not push the stroller carrying your screaming and crying child away from your table toward mine. I don’t want to hear them carrying on any more then the parent does! Parents of Disneyland please be considerate of those of us without children!!!

  • Timekeeper

    Ditto on the hat, needs to go now. However, I disagree on your statement that the Great Movie Ride and Walt Disney’s Carrousel of Progress ought to leave, what they both really need is extensive makeovers on the inside. Update the last room on CoP and switch out two scenes in GMR with similar equivalent scenes (replace a Busby Burkley with another one, “By The Waterfall ~ Finale” with “The Shadow Waltz”) (I don’t know about Tarzan though, probably a scene from one of the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby “On The Road” Pictures, maybe “Moonlight Becomes You”).

    Timekeeper

    • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

      I think both Carousel of Progress and Great Movie Ride are slated for future development. Expect a major new PIXAR attraction for GMR location (but with the Chinese theater preserved). I don’t know what the current plans are for CoP, but the lack of maintenance indicates they are letting it languish on purpose.

      I’d hate to see them go, but their time has probably already passed.

  • Trumpet

    Great Article Sam

    I agree with what you are saying, the resent additions at DCA have shown us that with a bit of investment, Disney theme parks can go from dreadful to fantastic.

    Also, to quote Rizzo the Rat from Muppet Vision 3D about One Man’s Dream “What do they know, they are just tourists”

    Thanks Again Sam, and I can’t wait for the next installment

    Trumpet

  • SpectroMan

    OMG – the thought of Carousel of Progress NOT being there makes me not want to visit the MK that much in the future. And here I am getting ready to purchase DVC.

    Why the angst of visiting the Tiki Room? Isn’t it just the same shortened version that we have in Anaheim, i.e. full show minus Offenbach and part of Let’s all Sing? Or is it more butchered than that?

    • Klutch

      *SPOILER WARNING*

      Oh yes, it’s much more butchered than that! The show starts out like the traditional Tiki Room show. Then, after a precious few seconds, Iago starts screaching in that oh-so-pleasant Gilbert Gottfried voice. Then other characters start screaming at each other. There’s some flashing lights, a bunch of confusion and a big, hideous witch character springs from the center and yells at everyone.

      I really don’t remember much because it’s just so forgettable. As my mom, who grew up near Disneyland, said after experiencing this thing, “What the hell was that?”.

      • danyoung

        Nope – that version was yanked out over a year ago. The current version is, as far as I know, a mirror of the Disneyland version.

  • danyoung

    Sam, I very much enjoyed your take on WDW, and look forward to future articles. Like always, I agreed with some of your points and disagreed with others. But I had a problem with one statement, regarding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad -

    “Did you know that the show elements are the same on both coasts and in the same order?”

    I don’t think that’s correct. Florida’s version has the whole flooded town of Tumbleweed, something that DL doesn’t.