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.

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