Magic Kingdom: Exceptional, Acceptable, and Regrettable

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

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Published on June 27, 2013 at 3:00 am with 32 Comments

Last time, I took at look at my recent trip to Epcot. This week, the focus is on the Magic Kingdom. As we now know, the Magic Kingdom is Disney World’s premier park, with a higher admission price than the three other parks at WDW. Does that mean the other parks are lesser? Not sure that is what the Company intended, but that is the result of their new pricing policy.

I enjoy the Magic Kingdom. It is kind of like Disneyland, but not. I am sure East Coast readers feel the same way when they compare their home park to Disneyland. It is familiar, but definitely different.

EXCEPTIONAL: MAGIC KINGDOM MAIN STREET OMNIBUS

One of the big differences between Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom is the traffic along Main Street. Rarely do I see motor vehicles at the Magic Kingdom. Even the horse-drawn trollies only run for a brief period in the morning or used as a moving stage for performers. So, much to my surprise, I spotted the Walt Disney World Omnibus on my last visit. Like all the excited kids, I ran toward the back to find my way up to the second level.

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The Omnibus was designed by Imagineer and Disney Legend Bob Gurr. For Disneyland, Walt asked Gurr to see if he could design a bus based on a red model bus from Dinkie Toys of England that he owned. Gurr was very excited about the project, because his father and uncle both worked for the Los Angeles Transit Lines omnibuses at one point. Gurr went to Travel Town in Griffith Park to begin his research.

The challenge was to get full-size adults into a double decker bus that had to fit the miniaturized scale of Main Street. Gurr started with a chassis from International Harvester that would typically be used for beer trucks. This allowed for a low inside center aisle. The truck weighed 8,500 pounds and was powered by a six-cylinder “in line” motor with a three-speed transmission. The two-level bus was beautifully detailed, with leather and oak, painted by the Crown Coach Company. He used the same decorative tooling that was applied to the horse trolley cars.

I hope management is starting to run these vehicles more often. They serve the useful purpose of providing transportation and they add life to the street. Good show.

REGRETTABLE: CAROUSEL OF PROGRESS

The oldest attraction at WDW is the Carousel of Progress. Maybe more than any other attraction, this was Walt’s project from beginning to end, and it represents everything the man was about. He liked to tell stories. He was optimistic about the future and how American technology could solve any problems. The show can inform as well as educate. It really is Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, his pride and joy.

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At what point does Disney become embarrassed? The attraction is in awful shape. Lighting is bad, the scrims are dirty, and the Audio-Animatronics are not in the best of condition. The final scene, a look into the near future, is completely outdated. Because the Park shows so little respect for the attraction, the audience seems to do the same. Throughout the show, people are pulling out their cell phones, not just to check for messages, but even having conversations. People are constantly trying to leave, usually as the turntable is moving. The last couple of times I visited the attraction, people decided to leave the moving building early and triggered the door’s emergency stop.

The show’s 50th anniversary is coming up in 2014. Wouldn’t it be nice if Disney could show a little bit of tender love for this very special attraction?

REGRETTABLE: MAIN STREET STATION

It is bad enough they removed the Penny Arcade. The few machines remaining were moved into the Main Street station, where they still stand, broken. I am going to continue this rant to include the stage in front of Cinderella Castle. Just one time I would like to visit and see Herb Ryman’s original vision of ramps that act as welcoming arms and the castle set properly on its podium.

EXCEPTIONAL: THE PIRATE ADVENTURE GAME

I’ve got to hand it to the folks at Disney: Instead of building new, expensive, high-capacity immersive rides to give their guests something to do and to get out of aisles, now they have come up with games using the already existing (therefore, paid for) environments. There have been a number of games introduced at the Magic Kingdom. I am not fond of the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game. I understand the draw to collect cards, but standing in front of a television as my other reward just wasn’t enough motivation. Kim Possible/Agent P at Epcot is a lot of fun but the chirping little cell phone becomes annoying after awhile. Plus, if you are fan of Breaking Bad, those type of cellphones have a whole new meaning. However, I am fond of the new Pirate Adventure Game.

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You start by enlisting at a the HQ right at the western edge of Adventureland. Scan your ticket and the computer will assign you one of five quests: Guardians Curse, The Kings Ransom, Blackbeard, Heads You Lose, or Haven Defense. Which quest you start with depends on the computer rationing out the experience. You first challenge is to look at the map and find the icon somewhere in Adventureland that matches your instructions from the computer.

To find the icons, you must grab one of the beautifully illustrated maps. I love these maps. They are printed on thick paper with the edges serrated and ragged just like an old time pirate map. The artwork is outstanding and each map highlights different parts of Adventureland, listing only a few of the many game stations. The maps are a terrific prize, so grab them while you can before the inevitable squeeze on the cost to reduce the quality!

Walk out into Adventureland, look at your map, grab your bearings, and find that icon. There is a drawing of the area where the icon is located.This may be confusing at first, but you get the hang of it very quickly. Once you have found the icon, tap your ticket and something marvelous and magical will happen. But be watchful. Your next clue will appear somewhere and if you get distracted you may miss out. The maps show more destinations than you will visit on that particular journey, so be careful. Follow the clue to the next station, tap your card, and wait again. Follow the instructions and you are good to go. Pretty simple. Once you have found three or four stations, you will be directed back to HQ for another challenge.

The game works for me because it meets one of my primary tests; Quality, Variety, and Surprise. As I stated before, the maps are wonderful and the destinations are well themed and add to the area ambiance. Better still, unless you are playing the game, you might not notice them. Brilliant. Like the Epcot game, It is fun to set off a physical gag. Plus, sometimes the gags were so funny I caught myself laughing out loud. What more can you ask?

ACCEPTABLE: THE UPDATED COUNTRY BEAR JAMBOREE

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I know that there are many purists out there who are not happy with the revised version of the Country Bear Jamboree. I am not one of those. The new version forgoes the jokes and just sticks to the music. A cynic would suggest that trimming the show by just a few minutes is only to increase turnover. They would probably be right. But the reality is the show moves along just fine. This is due to the brilliant work by Imagineers Marc Davis and Al Bertino. They just happened to pick all the right songs and created memorable characters that bring them to life. The crowd was roaring with laughter when hearing classic favorites like Little Buford or when Trixie sings the blues. For those familiar with the show, you will probably fill in the jokes inside your head, but your ears won’t mind. It is nice to sit down and watch Audio-Animatronics entertain you. I fear we will never see anything quite like it ever again. For that reason, I am happy it remains.

REGRETTABLE: TANGLED TOWER

One of the signature elements of Disney design is the lack of visual contradictions. Removing visual conflicts creates a sense of reassurance that immediately puts the guests at ease. With that in mind, what were they thinking with the Tangled Tower? This icon, high above the fanciest bathroom in the Magic Kingdom, is clearly visible in Liberty Square.

ACCEPTABLE: LIBERTY TREE TAVERN

I thought the comfort food to be found in the Liberty Tree Tavern would hit the spot and I was right. I got there just as the restaurant opened, just in time for the family of the day to stumble through the opening announcement and ring the lunch bell. As always when I travel alone, I asked for a table with a view and they took good care of me. I knew what I wanted. The pot roast was calling my name. To demonstrate how quick the service was, my entree came out before they could deliver my drink. From now on, I proclaim the dish to be the Liberty Tree Tavern Minute Man Pot Roast. New to me was the added bonus that I can get a refill of my drink in an adult size “to go” cup. A trip to WDW is always a learning experience.

Well that is enough of my impression of Andy Rooney. Next week I will visit Disney’s other two Florida parks. Love the comments. Keep them coming.

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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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32 Comments

Comments for Magic Kingdom: Exceptional, Acceptable, and Regrettable are now closed.

  1. I would like to see CoP serve a purpose again, and I don’t think the heritage piece is the way to go anymore. I for one would love to see a Home and Family pavilion at Epcot that combines the Carousel with the Vision House. In a way, it would be sort of a return back to the concept of Horizons, but the opportunity for sponsorship would be much higher. I could see a retrofit of Innoventions West working for such a project. With that arrangement, Disney could represent the entire 20th century, there would be no need for the future scene, since the Vision House or House of the Future could serve as a “scene five”.

  2. One of my early memories of the Magic Kingdom was going up into the castle. It is such a shame that it is now blocked. The stage located in front of the castle is demeans the castle and makes it only a backdrop, a prop rather than a real castle.

    The last time I saw COP it was not in very good shape. It really is ignored and poorly maintained by Disney management. It is time to retire the attraction and move on to something better. Sadly, I don’t believe that Disney would really do something better. It would probably become a building as a meet and greet for some characters.

    • It’s not always blocked, granted it sure seems to be most of the time, but it is definitely still possible to walk through Cinderella Castle.

  3. Sadly, I have to agree with some other commentors here that COP is really past its theme park prime, and would do better as a museum piece at the Smithsonian or one of the Disney museums.

    Sure, we can say that with better show maintenance and some updated ending scenery it could work, but honestly, I’ve heard and seen too many stories about guests who just aren’t patient enough, and think they can leave whenever they want to.

    Perhaps put it in Tokyo Disneyland where guests have an appreciation for shows like this and who are respectful and not rude.

    • Take the California Pledge: “If they bring it back to Disneyland and promise to upgrade it and maintain it, I promise not to open a cell phone, talk during scenes, or get up in the middle of it’s cycling and disrupt other guests!!”. This could also be transferred to a Florida Pledge.

  4. Bring COP back to Disneyland

  5. Very sad. I’ve not yet visited WDW after a lifetime of DL. I certainly do not want to fly all the way across the country to a new vacation location and find broken attractions. That animatronics work at all after fifty years is pretty amazing, but unless we Progress from 1920 through 1940 to 2020 (are we living in space yet?) no one really cares how rough great-great-grandma had it at home…

  6. Sam,

    Could not agree with you more ! It is surprising ad the Disney company has a magnificent record of keeping all the attractions looking brand new. COP should get major overhaul for sure. Walt would have wanted it that way. Oh, and that stupid stage blocking Cinderellas Castle for the past 8 years ! Get rid of it please It is so nice to walk through and with all the parades Disney has other shows and fireworks they don’t really need that show which blocks the castle.