Designed to Thrill: Walt Disney World Photo Report

Written by Spacepainter. Posted in Animal Kingdom, Disney Hollywood Studios, Disney Parks, Epcot, Features, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World

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WDW photo report

Published on May 12, 2013 at 12:17 am with 20 Comments

Hey, all.  I recently took a much overdue trip to Walt Disney World, it had been far too long since my last visit. I’d like to share some of my personal experiences at the parks as well as some images. Since this was a pleasure trip, and not a news mission, I’ve included some of my HDR and processed photos. I love the parks and enjoy experimenting with photography.

MAGIC KINGDOM

While Disney did its best to build up anticipation for New Fantasyland, overall it seems to be an underwhelming experience for many guests. Fantasyland was greatly expanded but, to date, has only been outfitted with one new ride. A park can build as many themed bathrooms, restaurants, shops and photo ops they want but at the end of the day the average guest wants rides. People tend to forget that theme parks are not ride-dependent; take away all the rides at Magic Kingdom and you still have an incredible theme park. It is the themeing, atmosphere and subtle details that make a theme park. To me, these details are abundant in Fantasyland and are the primary reason why New Fantasyland should be considered a success…even now, before the Mine Train opens.

Ariel doesn’t just look incredible during the day, at night it really comes alive. The attention to detail on the exterior of the ride as well as the queue are apparent to even the casual observer. I know this ride has caught a lot of flack from WDW fanatics but we can all agree that this is a beautiful structure.

The Prince Charming Regal Carrousel sits in the middle of an uncomfortably open area of Fantasyland. Although I think this hurts the overall aesthetic of the land, it really showcases the carousel nicely, especially at night.

 

Again, the attention to detail in the New Fantasyland are stupendous. The Tangled restrooms look as if they are pulled right out of the film. The stylized painting techniques used by Imagineers on this restroom facade are nearly identical to the techniques used by Rapunzel.

 

I highly recommend discovering scenic areas of the park during the day and again at night. Designers use light very effectively and many times they tend to highlight elements that you may have missed during the day.

Good luck eating here unless you book 180 days in advance or want to settle for quick service. For most of the day Be Our Guest is swarming with guests. However, at night I find it to be a wonderfully peaceful place to contemplate your thoughts.

 

Again, it is attention to detail that is apparent to theme park buffs like us. The average guest, however, never gives incredible scenery like this a second thought.

 

At Disneyland I’m used to 20 minute lines for Dumbo. At Walt Disney World…forget about it!

 

I always make it a point to be at rope drop for at least one day out of a vacation. NOTHING compares to being in an empty theme park. If you are one of those sentimental types that feel a sense of ownership when in your favorite park, you know exactly what I mean.

I happen to really enjoy the original color scheme of Cinderella Castle. Although I like a pink castle just as much as the next guy, I hope that Disneyland will eventually see fit to return Sleeping Beauty Castle to her original colors.

 

Far too many people pass “Partners” without giving it a second thought. I make a point the say hi to Walt whenever I visit.

 

I typically get really grouchy about guests being in my photos but there are times when it is essential. Guests give parks a sense of life, everything is kinetic, in motion, exciting. So, the next time you start to gripe about heavy crowds just imagine how dead the park would look if no one was there.

 

As I was taking this image, it was nearly 1:30 in the morning, I was the only guest remaining in this side of the hub. I was approached by two cast members, sweepers, who were so interested in what I was doing that I talked with them for nearly 5 minutes while my photos were exposing. They were majorly stoked that I was taking these images for Micechat, FYI.

 

I love Pooh to death but nothing will ever compare to Rolly Crump’s Mr. Toad. Happy to see that he’s received a proper burial on the grounds of the Haunted Mansion.

 

I’m currently Thunder Mountain-less over in California. I took full advantage of Big Thunder while I was here.

 

In every theme park there are areas that are neglected, unnoticed, never on anyone’s list of favorites; Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland could certainly count as one of those places. However, I adore MK Adventureland! The Polynesian influence in this part of the park is not relegated to the Tiki Room attraction as it is in Disneyland, here it encompass a large area of the land. Although there are a number of architectural influences (Middle Eastern, Polynesian, Caribbean, Indian, and even European) they flow seamlessly throughout Adventureland.

Upon seeing this photograph, would you have known it was taken in a theme park if you had never been to the Magic Kingdom? The key to designing a successful attraction is placing guests in an immersive environment. When you weave your way through the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House, you are transported to a place outside of the Magic Kingdom. If you allow yourself to truly experience the attraction, your mind will go wherever the Imagineers want it to.

 

Details like this reinforce the notion that if the Magic Kingdom was devoid of rides, it would still be a theme park. Themeing: cool!

 

These accoutrements are tucked away in a corner, you may not necessarily notice them as you stroll through Adventureland but I’m sure you’d miss them if they were gone!

 

Who knows if the Main St. Electrical Parade will ever make its way back to Disneyland…I definitely enjoyed seeing this old friend.

 

There are times when attraction designers need to trick guests into believing a theme. I believe Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom is one of these instances. How is this “tomorrow”? What about Tomorrowland is the future? Nothing is set in stone about where technology and entertainment will take us in the next 100 years but it is fun to theorize. The future-fantasy aesthetic of Tomorrowland gave Imagineers leeway to develop attractions like Astro Blasters and Laugh Floor. When compared to the Disneyland Tomorrowland of the 1950′s, it was very future-factual which led many elements of the land to become outdated.

There is a recurring theme of moving upward in Tomorrowland – The building facades are structured in a way that creates a sense of height throughout the land, they eye is constantly being drawn upward. Tomorrowland is a wonderful glimpse into how a spacefaring culture perceives the distant future – it my not be accurate but we won’t know that until we get there, will we?

 

Keeping all of the lights lit on Main St. seems simple enough, right? It’s not. Those little popcorn lights look fantastic but they burn out constantly. A lesser park would likely replace burnouts periodically but Disney’s lamplighting staff replaces burnouts every night. It seems like a no-brainer but I can’t tell you how many parks I’ve been to where the maintenance staff neglects to replace burnouts and even worse, park management doesn’t enforce the upkeep of lighting fixtures. Disney has not always been on top of keeping Main St. lit (at Magic Kingdom or Disneyland) but in recent years they have taken steps to preserve the integrity, beauty and nostalgia of the iconic Main Streets.

There are those will argue that Main St. at the Magic Kingdom is out of scale, far too grand for a hometown feel. I would tend to agree. However, one can’t discount the regal beauty of MK Main St., especially at night! If you have never stayed in the park past closing, I highly recommend it. Main St. takes on a life of its own, almost developing its own personality. The street is warm with the glow of shop windows and popcorn lights, the street starts to talk to you; recounting stories of the millions of people who’ve walked the path from Main St. Station to Cinderella Castle. It feels like you are spending the night with a ghost who’s seen so much change, who can tell us so much about this place we adore. Again, if you get the chance to walk down Main St. by yourself at night…it’s quite the experience.

The cast members at Magic Kingdom are very courteous to photographers who are attempting to capture shots of the empty park. They are super chill as long as you focus on your camera and aren’t causing trouble.

 

ANIMAL KINGDOM

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a shining example of perfect themeing. I understand that many folks have mixed feelings about the park but I stand my ground, AK is an incredible theme park that needs A LOT of attention.

There are few themed attractions in the world that portray the sense of realism that Animal Kingdom does. Believability lies in the details and Animal Kingdom is one of the most detailed parks in existence. The imaginative genius of Joe Rohde has given us passage to remote parts of the world, places that would otherwise be inaccessible to the average theme park guest. It is easy to believe that you are strolling through the streets of some African outpost or hiking through the Himalayas because the details are there. The seamless transition through Tibetan, Indian and African themes lets guests flow easily from one land to another without having to focus on their changing surroundings. The themes are convincing because there are details which immerse you in a fabricated reality and lead you to believe that you are not really in a theme park. Sure, the Imagineers could have constructed some false facades to look like an African village but it is the bicycle propped against the building, the mess of electrical wires overhead and the Oliver Mtukudzi playing in the BGM that leads you to believe that it is a living, breathing African community. You can’t get that in any other Dsiney park.

The truth is in the details. For all we know this could be an actual ancient temple that has be overrun by monkeys. Whose to say it isn’t? The only think keeping us from believing that is the fact that we are in a theme park. The job of an attraction designer is to pull you away from that mentality, make you feel like you are not in a theme park. A difficult thing to accomplish when the park is teaming with other guests.

 

Sure, there are many parks which incorporate animals by bringing them to you. Animal Kingdom brings you to the animals. With attractions like the Kilimanjaro Safari we are placed in the middle of some of the best man-made habitats ever created. I see this attraction as the realization of Walt’s original dreams for the Jungle Cruise; he wanted a ride experience where guests could come face-to-face with live animals. Obviously I never met the man but I believe that he would adore the Kilimanjaro Safari.

I have never had a poor experience on the Safari; I go when it’s early and cool, the animals are active and I see all kinds of stuff! The ability to create a realistic environment for these animals while integrating a non-invasive method of separating species is unique to Animal Kingdom. I feel like many guests come to this park for Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids and Dinosaur and then leave. Why!? The park is home to some of the rarest animals in the world, some extinct in the wild and all they want to do is go on rides? Silly people.

Obviously AK is in need of some improvements; the parade is over ten years old, the Tree of Life is literally falling apart and everything in DinoLand U.S.A. is covered in a 3” thick layer of dust and sun bleached paint. I was never a big fan of DinoLand; it is a black eye on the otherwise amazing park. I understand the themeing. I understand that the pavement is meant to look like an old parking lot, I understand that the carnival games are purposely tacky. Still don’t like it. Dinosaur is another attraction that is still in dire need of maintenance. Many voices have been raised over the need to restore existing attractions in this park; I hope that eventually Mr. Kalgoridis will see fit to allocate the appropriate resources to do so.

I was definitely one of those folks that made sure to stand in line to get my 15th Anniversary swag.

 

The magic of Animal Kingdom is its originality; nearly every attraction and every land in this park was conceived without the influence of a preexisting subject matter. The infamous Avatar Land would dramatically change the entire dynamic of the park; rather than plusing the park by adding a land based off of another exotic area of our planet, Disney is deciding to license someone else’s product. Why not develop a land and attractions set in the rainforests of South America? Why no transport guests to the Australian outback? Instead, there is this push to develop attractions themed to preexisting properties as a “safe bet.” This mode of thinking is what put a giant sorcerer hat in front of the Chinese Theater and what is pushing Cars Land into Hollywood Studios. What do you think, would you rather see Disney develop original ideas for its theme parks or bring in outside source material?

The plight of the Tree of Life is well documented and well-complained-about. No need to get in to that, although I can’t understand how such a exquisite, iconic and unbelievable piece of art could be ignored the way that it has.

 

EPCOT

I think it’s safe to say that Epcot has always been my favorite of the four WDW parks. There are areas of the park that maintain the same design aesthetic that existed in 1982; parts of Future World look just as they did when the park opened. The concept of individually designed pavilions is another aspect of the park that is unique amongst theme parks; it gives Epcot a very terrestrial and communal feel.

I don’t know why, but I’ve always liked this attraction. Maybe its because there are dinosaurs. Maybe its because the entire theater moves around in a giant show building and I think its cool. However, its probably because Bill Nye the Science Guy is in it. A lot of folks want to see Ellen’s Energy Adventure revamped, I say go for it!…As long as you keep Bill Nye.

 

I typically disdain change, particularly in Disney parks, but I like the changes that have been made to The Living Seas. The building facade has been reimagined to incorporate the characters from Finding Nemo,the design is even a bit of a throwback to the original mosaic that once graced the building. It’s now colorful, friendly and it coincides with the new theme of the pavilion.

The Seas with Nemo and Friends is one of my favorite new attractions at the park. Again, the repurposing of The Living Seas, or any other attraction, is not without controversy. Nemo is a quality attraction that manages to integrate existing elements, like the aquariums. Still, it has been maligned by Epcot purists since its opening. Go figure.

 

I love how the Land Pavilion feels; it is open, kinetic, colorful and noisy. On the other hand, it kind of feels like the food court at a shopping mall.

 

I feel spoiled whenever I walk into the World Showcase. All of a sudden I’m only a short walk away from really legit authentic food, goods and citizens from a handful of the worlds greatest cultures. Have you ever sat down and had a legitimate conversation with any of the World Showcase cast members? Not only do the majority of them love their job, a lot of them have great stories and incite into what life is like in their home country.

The Mexico pavilion is probably my favorite, the food is fantastic, the interior of the pavilion is stunning and the cast members are super friendly. On top of all of that, the Grand Fiesta Tour is my absolute favorite ride in all of Epcot. Why? Who knows, I got a thing for boat rides. Something that a lot of guests pass right by is the table that is set aside for the Oaxacan wood carvers, an art form that is rarely practiced, even in Mexico. The intricate designs that come out of these solid pieces of wood are astounding and the detailed and colorful paintings done on each character really give the sculpture life. The artists are more than willing to talk to guests about techniques, where they learned their craft and why they are so passionate about their work. Well worth a stop into the Mexico pavilion!

The China pavilion never ceases to amaze me, the amount of detailed painting and carving in each of the structures is mind blowing.

 

I experienced a little rain while in Epcot but it made for some lovely pictures.

 

Morocco is a real treat for guests, the pavilion just keeps going and going. All of the cast members here are always super excited about sharing cultural traditions, there is a great atmosphere here.  Additionally, the architecture of Morocco stands out amongst all of the other pavilions. At first glance, the structures seem very basic but once you look close all of the details begin to stand out. One thing in particular, the lighting fixtures and building accessories are incredibly detailed. Even something as simple as the use of colored glass in the lighting fixtures completely changes the dynamic of the pavilion. The continual theme of education is carried well into this pavilion, I found myself staring at traditional antique garments that were centuries old. Under these conditions it is SO easy to forget that you are in a theme park.

The tea gardens behind the UK pavilion are not just gorgeous, they are a fantastic place relax and watch the world go by. Scenic areas such as these aren’t essential to the operation of the park, nor do they generate revenue; their only purpose is to carry the theme. Areas such as this are exactly why I love Epcot so much.

 

My one recommendation for France: GO TO THE BAKERY. It just opened and it is legit. Also, if you are with a lady friend and she tries to pay for the meal, dudes at the register give you weird looks. “But you are the man, you need to pay.”
Duly noted.

 

I made a point of visiting may favorite park, Epcot, during the annual International Flower and Garden Festival. The topiaries are absolutely incredible and add an additional level of character to the park. I overheard a number of guests wishing they were up year-round. While that would be nice, it would kill the themeing and purpose of Epcot itself.

The crocodile was easily my favorite. I can only imagine how hard it must be to keep a character on model when sculpting them out of plants. The croc looks perfect!

The electric umbrella is one of the coolest things in the park that I always forget is there.

 

HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS

Hollywood Studios is lacking many things; on the other hand, it is exceptional in many ways. The romantic notion of reliving the golden age of Hollywood is the perfect basis for a theme park. Unfortunately, HS has turned into a dumping ground for ideas that couldn’t find homes in other parks. Attractions like Disney Junior, Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow and Star Tours really have nothing to do with movie making. Duh, Star Wars and Pirates are movies but there is no behind-the-scenes element to them. They would be better suited for another park.

How is this not enough? The magic of 1930s Hollywood is substance enough to carry an entire park.

 

The idea of themeing an area based off of an animated film is, today, the norm. Themeing an area of a park after the building owned by the company that made the movie that the attraction is based off of is just lazy genius. After all, this is Hollywood Studios where the magic of the movies comes alive! The PIXAR mini-land is perfect.

 

Light pollution: usually a photographers worst enemy, but today it makes for rosy pink skies.

 

I feel that the park shouldn’t remain in its current state. It needs to either be slowly reintroduced to guests through new attractions that follow the original theme of the park or the park needs to be rethemed. There is a lot of talk about what may be coming to Hollywood Studios; I like Cars Land as much as the next guy but it’s not right for the park. Designing an entirely new and unique Star Wars land for the park would be a much less lazy option.

Even though I talk a lot about how much the park can improve, I really believe that Hollywood Studios is a quality theme park that has temporarily lost its way. As soon as the sorcerer hats and American Idol Experiences of the park get the boot, Hollywood Studios should experience a Renaissance. Until then, it will be a half-day park where people go just to watch Fantasmic!

Its always fun to stop by the Grand Floridian and pretend to be rich.

 

As always, it is such a pleasure to write for MiceChat. I hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of Designed to Thrill! Please feel free to pass on your praise, comments…criticisms. Give me your worst!…or best!

Spacepainter

About Spacepainter

Space Painter is a professional painter, photographer and theme park lover who frequents parks all over the country.

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20 Comments

Comments for Designed to Thrill: Walt Disney World Photo Report are now closed.

  1. Amazing pictures, the one thing I noticed above everything else, was the fact that there is no-one else in the photos. How did you manage to find the parks SO empty?

    • Lee, a lot of times it is just a matter of patience. Sometimes it could take 20 minutes just for the opportunity to take a shot. I find that the best way to get shots of an empty park is to simply be the last one to leave!

      • Very good point. :-)

  2. Great pictures and interesting comments. Living in UK I don’t get to WDW as often as I’d like so its great to see what’s changed

  3. Incredible photos!

  4. Simply stunning photos and I love hearing the commentary from an actual designer. Looks like you are drawn to the details and it really shows in your photos.

    However, there is one thing you said which I’m curious about: “The electric umbrella is one of the coolest things in the park that I always forget is there.” What is it about the Electric Umbrella that you like? To me it seems very dated and in need of a major retheme. So, I’m curious to hear what it is that you find cool about it. Perhaps I’ll find a new appreciation.

    Thank you for this amazing report!

    • Dusty! Thanks for the praise, man!

      I’m not sure exactly, I’d actually tend to agree with you; it needs a retheme. What I enjoy most about the Electric Umbrella is the outdoor seating area. I’m a sucker for geometric shapes so at dusk, when the sun illuminates the triangular canopies with this beautiful orange glow, its a real neat experience! The interior, however, needs some work. I can’t stand drop ceilings, there has to be a way around that! The primary colors and neon lights are cool but played out and the carpet has got to go!

  5. Nice photos! Though you seemed to rely heavily on the use of filters. Not knocking the photos, they’re really lovely. Just noticed you seemed to use the same filter in nearly every single shot.

  6. Your pictures are fantastic, and I agree with your comments. However, ( you asked for it ) I think you “punched up ” the color and overused some effects to much on some of the photos. I’m not sure what you would call them , but , from slight polarization , to paint brush effects to what ever they are called. The beauty of the parks stand alone and do not need any touch ups .

    • Agreed. Nice photos, but a little too HDR/high-contrast happy. In that picture of the jungle cruise, tons of detail is lost because of a post-editing effort to make it look “cool.”

      Overall, though, I love the effort, and there’s some super cool stuff here.

      • Agreed. Good is HDR is like a ninja… it works best when you don’t notice it’s there. This is unquestionably high use of HDR.

        Good photos, though. Interesting angles and genreally good use of the thirds principal. Too much HDR.

    • Perhaps that is just the nature of photography in the 21st century. I really like the vibrant quality of these photos. Mine always look so grey and washed-out in comparison. Disney is steeped in fantasy, and these photos exemplify that storybook quality. Additionally, I would like to compliment Morgan on his excellent composition skills. Top notch!

  7. What a great report. Each picture took me back to the parks and my own experiences there. I liked the filters that made the colors so vivid because that’s how I like to remember the parks .

    Hollywood studios Is our favorite park even with the areas that need help. Who doesn’t love walking down sunset towards the tower of terror?

    • Actually, I think more people go to HS exclusively for Toy Story Midway Mania than Fantasmic!

  8. Fantastic photo report. I so concur with you about taking the time to talk with the CMs in the World Showcase. Always makes my trip to EPCOT a richer experience!

  9. Something Wicked This Way Comes

  10. What wonderful pictures! I would have to say that each of the parks have some beautiful wonderful places and at least some really nice rides. The problem that really coming to the forefront with Universal’s Potter additions is that the Wow factor is waning at Disney World. They really need to address many of the problems that you mentioned, including really stepping up the quality of the attractions and stop trying to go the cheap way out. WDW really needs several new, exciting E tickets at more than one park to push it forward. (And I am not talking about Avatar attractions!)

  11. i love the pics!! hope u take more and more-esp in the shops!! tks again!!

  12. “The attention to detail on the exterior of the ride as well as the queue are apparent to even the casual observer. I know this ride has caught a lot of flack from WDW fanatics but we can all agree that this is a beautiful structure.”

    True and I think that is just the problem with Disney nowadays, the outside is more exciting than the inside. The little mermaid ride is a disappointment when you see the beautiful exterior.
    The same can be said about almost every ride at AK and Mission Space at Epcot.
    If they would match the inside with the outside Disney would be on top again, but they don’t.

    I think nowadays Disney is only concerned about the pictures guest take to show at home then the experiences from the rides.

  13. Personally, I think the HDR is fantastic! As one who goes every year the WDW, I think my pics get a little repetitious. I would like to maybe give this a try this fall when I go. I also have taken lots of HDR pics and never thought I could take pics after hours. Do you have to arrange this with the powers-that-be ahead of time or do you indeed just stay after closing? Do they eventually ask you to leave (in the Disney way, of course)? And one last question…if you’re staying at a resort, how would you get transportation back to your resort if the buses are done for the night?