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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!