This weekend I had a chance to see the new playground installed for the Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot. Themed to the upcoming Wizard of Oz movie, it was a more intricate and multilayered experience than I expected, based on what previous playgrounds at Flower and Garden have looked like.

The flapping banners are supposed to be tied down, but it was windy that day.

To set expectations properly, the first thing I have to mention is that it really is aimed at children rather than adults. That’s no surprise if all you knew about was the playground equipment, but there is a second area off to the side with tents that offer interactive (physical) games. If you can remember the types of games that were on display near the same area for the Brave movie, then you’ll roughly know what to expect in here at the Baum circus. There’s a ring toss, beanbag toss, and fun mirrors. If I might interject a slight objection here, it would be that both mirrors are the type that make you short and fat. Why not one that makes you too-tall and too-skinny? Is this not going to send the same signal that the first, unappreciated version of Habit Heroes did? And here I thought they wanted to SELL turkey legs.

It’s labeled a pie toss, but there is no pie.

The playground equipment itself is brand-new. This is not true most of the time. From year to year; Disney usually reuses the same hardware, so that the next year, is literally a replay of the previous year for my kids. But not this time. It’s true that the playground offers the same TYPE of experiences, but they clearly spent the studio’s marketing money to bring in new stuff. Even better, it is highly themed. The word Oz is visible throughout the structure, which also boasts designs of poppies and a stylized emerald city.

See the Emerald City at the top?

Even on this weekend before Flower and Garden begins, the playground was positively crawling with children. It occurs to me, not for the first time, that a truly modern playground would be heavily used by children in one of the Disney theme parks. Kids certainly get a lot of mileage out of the play areas in Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, so much so that an even larger facility would still draw enough of a crowd. Epcot and the Magic Kingdom lack such playground spaces, at least a regular basis.

There are other details around in this playground that appeal to my inner geek. I absolutely love that they didn’t just phone in their efforts. This time, the Imagineers delivered a thought out and thoughtful product, the kind that takes more than a few seconds to even see all of the details or let them sink in. I’m talking partly about the shade structures, which are new this year and will be a definite relief for the adults watching the kids play. That alone would be a nice thing, but if you find the patterns of one tent to be familiar, you should walk around the other side to see why. It turns out this tent is actually the deflated balloon we know from Wizard of Oz, and the basket is a physical prop off to the side.

SUCH a neat detail.

If you don’t see it right away, stick around until your eyes light upon the colored artificial grass. You’ll realize after a moment this is meant to be the yellow brick road. And then you’ll see that it dead-ends in a corridor door of yellow pansies, keeping the brick road going and beckoning you forward. The path alternates between pansies and stickers of golden bricks on actual pavement from there, and it leads past some cardboard cutouts for posing with pictures, up to the finale of this area in the rose garden, a great circular archway made up of the word Oz.

And Now for Something Completely Different (A Segue)

The Segway tours have been discontinued at Epcot. This is a true shame as far as I’m concerned, because the devices were a PERFECT fit for this theme park; they were futuristic, and they were about transportation, the two fundamental requirements for Walt Disney’s city of the future. In fact, if someone wanted to live up to that vision, today’s executives could have been, and should still be thinking about a much wider scale use of Segways in the Park. Why not have a full-scale attraction based around driving these devices? Legoland offers a driving school (of kid cars) with one potential model for successful operation. Thus, it can be done on a large enough scale.

They did try something like this at first, but it was hidden away inside Innoventions and had neither the space nor the staffing to fully meet demand. I’m convinced that if they use a larger chunk of real estate and staffed it properly, they would get a lot of takers, especially if it were free.

The now canceled tours were not free. In fact, they cost over $100 per person. Was greed a part of the cancellation? It’s a fair assumption that they canceled the free Segway exhibits to funnel people toward paying for the longer upcharge one. So maybe it was greed that caused the demise if the tours weren’t full anymore?

Unrelated: True Love Week included the Cinderella Coach for photos.

Was it liability which made Disney rethink the tours? That certainly seems possible, given the way the cancellation has worked so far. This does not seem to have been a planned obsolescence. They stopped selling new tours, true, but they are also calling up folks with reservations to cancel already scheduled ones as well. Did someone get hurt? But if there was an accident, why are the lawyers letting them continue with the Segway tours at Fort Wilderness?

I don’t buy the argument that Segways are somehow yesterday’s news. They are hardly ubiquitous, and while the hype for them certainly did not live up to the promise 10+ years ago, the devices remain advanced and futuristic in their technology.

In short, I wonder with a somewhat heavy heart if the true answer has something to do with Disney’s recent “customer-last” mentality. Lately it seems like the company is willing to make decisions based on what’s convenient for them, rather than delivering what the customer actually wants.

Unrelated: Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom booster packs ($13) are now plentiful
as the game has turned on the Medium and Hard difficulty levels.

Unofficial 2012 WDW ‘Earbook

As announced recently, I’ve just published the 2012 edition of my ongoing Unofficial WDW ‘Earbook series. It chronicles what was added or removed during the calendar year, including all significant changes to rides, shows, restaurants, and shops. If it happened last year, I was there to snap dozens of photos of it, and we bring you the best photos of each bunch. It’s like a yearbook that will be great to look back at for a long time.

This year’s ‘Earbook is 62 pages long, with hundreds of full-color photos, all for only $9.99 from Amazon.

Check out the book at Amazon (or, if you would like to maximize the author’s royalty, you can buy it from CreateSpace, which is a subsidiary of Amazon). For those of you in Europe, here are a few relevant links: color edition color edition color edition

More information and updates

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History. Readers are invited to connect with him online and face to face at the following locations: