Disney World Hits and Misses From The Mind of SAMLAND
by, 10-12-2011 at 07:17 PM
Like thousands of other Disney theme park fans, I made the pilgrimage to the Magic Kingdom to witness the Walt Disney World resort’s 40th Anniversary. Kevin Yee, Werner Weiss, and the Orlando Parkhopper have done an excellent job reporting on the events of that weekend. Samland is going to take a left turn so get ready for a column filled with my random thoughts about my experiences and observations of the “East Coast Disneyland.” As Hunter S. Thompson famously said, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”
THE MAGIC KINGDOM
BIG THUNDER MOUNTAIN RAILROAD (BTMRR)
I just love BTMRR. There are a lot of runaway mine car roller coasters in theme parks everywhere, but none are quite as cool as the American bi-coastal twins. They are like twin sons of different mothers. Let’s compare shall we? Disneyland (DL) is set in Bryce Canyon, Utah. Imagineer Tony Baxter remarked that the real hoodoos in the National Park looks like they belong in DL. The Magic Kingdom (MK) is also set in Utah, this time Monument Valley. The mountain structures take advantage of the space available and are more majestic as a result. Plus, it skirts the Rivers of America. The MK version is about 5 seconds longer than Disneyland due to the inclusion of the flooded town scene, but the DL version has the goat trick (keep your eye on the goat in the helix after the 2nd lift hill for some extra thrill). The train travels clockwise in DL while it is counter-clockwise in WDW. After that…remarkably the same. All of the major show elements are in the same order; you drop into a tunnel and come upon bats, then you pass boiling pots of mud while on the chain lift. After passing the waterfall, you plunge down the first drop, pass some possums, dive into a cave, up the second lift hill past a goat, and then turn down toward another cave that exits in the helix. The next element is the head-chopper and then you enter the cursed mine. Finally, you take a few more turns, pass under some bones, and reenter the station.
One thing I did notice, and this is too bad, was the Magic Kingdom version was missing most of its railroad ties. Part of the magic with this attraction is that the tracks look like they belong on top of the mountain instead of the attraction looking like a roller coaster with a mountain built around it. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad looks less fake then Expedition Everest which truly tries to express two architectural elements – the track and the mountain.
Three new elements were added to the Haunted Mansion since my last visit; the interactive queue, the enhanced graveyard, and the new hitchhiking ghosts sequence. I am here to report I enjoyed all three. As many know, touching is encouraged and can produce some beautiful music. Although the musical instrument reliefs were fun, it was the Ravenscroft organ that caught my attention. Sorry people. I know I was hogging the time but if you get it going just right you can imagine being the organist in the ballroom scene…
Okay back. Moving books and a scroll that talks to you and asks you to talk back. The interactive is especially fun when you are there early and can play. While I was there, some of the effects were not working and that is one downside to the reliance in technology at a facility that has many users.
The enhanced tributes to the many artists who worked on the Haunted Mansion is a special treat and worthy of an in depth look.
Finally, there is the digital hitchhiking ghosts sequence. The familiar aberrations known as Gus, Ezra, and Phineas are there to greet us. Once you turn the corner and see your reflection in the mirror, everything changes. Instead of the familiar figure sitting right next to you, he gleefully decapitates you or commits other mayhem. I love it. This is one time when the technology works to the advantage of the story. It provides a more random experience and retains the playfulness of the final room. This could come west.
WDW 40TH ANNIVERSAY CELEBRATION
As I stated earlier, I won’t go into great depth about the ceremonies. Like thousands of others, I packed myself into the forecourt and took advantage of being alone. From one gap to another I found myself right at the base of the Mickey planter. It was there that a 8 foot gap of just nobody seemed to exist. Popped myself up on the wall and captured this look at the crowd. Once inside I hooked up with Kevin Yee and MiceAge/MiceChat readers from around the country and marched down Main Street to set up in the hub.
The short story was I was pleasantly surprised overall. It was more then I expected from them and not an over the top corporate wide synergy pitch. It was a tribute to the Magic Kingdom. I like the pin and the tribute map with the reproduction of the opening day map. Nice touch. By the evening, they were passing them out to people exiting the park. Disney writers and bloggers were out in force. Lou Mongello of wdwradiotoday with his body guards (not really). He and his crew were present at everything and produced a 40-hour live podcast. An amazing feat. Len Testa of touringplans.com at the Tequila tasting naturally.
Let’s take quick trip around the Magic Kingdom. Always start the morning with a ride on top of the Astro Orbiter. It is where it belongs. Way up high. Graduate Dumbo. The revised version of Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room is far superior to the one that got fried. But somehow the lack of the fountain and the rather trivial edits take it down one notch. As for the pre-show, was this funny back in the day? Because, it really sucks. Those are minutes I will never get back. The Hall of Presidents is a national treasure and should be required by all Americans to see at least once a visit. Main Street USA is nearly always void of vehicles and I feel that really hurts the immersive quality of the land. The lack of stuff going up and down the street is the difference between being a living center and a shopping mall. I miss the Country Bear Jamboree at Disneyland. With Disneyland’s current obsession with holiday overlays, what a great missed opportunity, eh? I got to ride in the pilothouse of the Liberty Belle. When I asked the Cast Member he looked at me funny and said that virtually nobody ever asks. But up we went. Best view of the park. Rode Snow White’s Scary Adventure a couple of times and will be sad to see it go. With all of the plussing that has happened at Disneyland as an example, the attraction could sparkle and delight once more - sadly it will soon become a princess meet and greet (no fooling). Finally, there is the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover. According to the sign at the loading dock, it is simply known as the PeopleMover. Thank you. My favorite attraction at the Magic Kingdom.
DISNEY’S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS
The thought that was constantly in the back of my mind as I toured the Studios was Disney California Adventure’s reinvention of its entry plaza to become Buena Vista Street. If the experience is similar to Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard streets at Disney Hollywood Studios, then we are in for a treat. In fact, the removal of such a miserable visual contradiction as the Hat in front of the Chinese Theater will only strengthen the central plaza and create a better sense of place. I also noticed just how small the Pan-Pacific Auditorium entrance is in comparison to its west coast clone.
Very special hidden courtyard
I enjoyed the refreshed Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream exhibit. I spent a long time in front of the Epcot exhibit. The new back wall exhibit is a powerful reminder that Disney is far more then just theme parks. The real treat however was hidden away in a different part of the Studios. A source that I shall keep secret escorted toward a spot that is actually very public yet overlooked. Back where you enter the shell of what was a pretty cool Animation exhibit is this little outdoor courtyard. Embed in concrete blocks are the hand prints, signatures, and pencil impression of the fabled Nine Old Men of animators that were around at the opening of the Studios. They include Marc Davis, Ken Anderson, Ward Kimball, Ollie Johnson, Frank Thomas as well as K. O’Connor.
More impressions. Werner Weiss schooling me in the art of trashcan decoration as a means to define different districts in a theme park with few identifiable gateways. Pulling the Indy rope and nothing. Walking on to Star Tours. Again and again. While people spend hours at Disneyland, a ten-minute wait is an eternity in Florida. As of this trip, I have officially experienced each Star Tours sequence at least twice (got to get a life…). Loved the 50’s Prime Time Café and enjoyed sitting at the bar, having a comfort food lunch, and not getting yelled at. Although the digital projection for Muppet*Vision 3D is brilliant, the penguins were stuck in the up position as well as a frozen Waldorf and Statler at the top of the show was a big disappointment. After watching Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show and experiencing the Studios Backlot Tour it seems the only question they must be asking is “Is Radiator Springs Racers too similar to Test Track?” with somebody in the back of the room shouting, “Look at how many Dumbo clones we have!”
Love Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Reminds me of the trip home after my flight into LAX. Finally, I got dragged to see Fantasmic. Don’t get me wrong, nothing against the show. Seen it quite a few times at Disneyland. However, shows are the time that veterans use to get through many an attraction. Some say that the Florida version was a poor imitation of the one in Anaheim. They would be right. But the crowd loved it, I got a nice gentle spritzing from the water screens, and I can finally check the box on my Disney geek card. Is it me or does that seem like the perfect arena for World of Color? Once again, these are my fantasies and do not reflect the opinion of anybody else.
During the time of my visit, Epcot was gearing up for the Food and Wine Fest. Once again, others would be a better resource about the food, the wine, the spirits, and all that other stuff. I am not the kind of person who digs the standing in a long line to buy food that I have to eat on top of a trash can because all the tables and other spots have been taken. Maybe it was years of living above Grant Park in Chicago and dealing the Taste of Chicago event. But you've got to love the reproduction of some of the food pavilions as scale models which have been inserted into the G-Scale railroad at Germany.
There was one morning where I had a meeting at 9:30 am at the Bellevue Lounge at Disney’s Boardwalk and I decided I would just use the park as my path. So I got up early for rope drop (which seemed to be gone that day) and walked from one side of the park to the other. A quick stop for a Mission Space Fastpass (watch Gary Sinise’s forehead) and then I was on my way. Slowly. Alone. On a brilliant day that could have been transplanted from Southern California (read lower humidity). I was in heaven. Epcot is a very special park. It could be much, much more. But it does reach one of its original goals – to create a more adult experience without compromising the safety and reassurance that you would find in the family park.
One favorite moment was joining Len Testa and Laurel Stewart at the intimate La Cava del Tequila de san Angel Inn for a tasting. I enjoy collecting wines and never really thought about tequila. An excellent presentation about the production of the product and a lesson on how to taste was all we needed. We sampled Milagro Select Barrel Blanco, Centenario Reposado, and Chinaco Anejo. I did make this weird connection that most tequila is produce in Jalisco and that is the song that underlies the Three Caballeros boat ride is actually Jalisco. I admit this observation came after much tasting.
Epcot Impressions. Raise your hand if you miss Jeremy Irons (or Cronkite or the other guy)? Best burger on property – the Rose and Crown. And when our server recommended a beer, we knew this guy knew what he was talking about. Don’t ride Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros with Werner Weiss. The American Adventure still touches me and it is my favorite attraction at Walt Disney World.
DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM
I think this may be the case with many people, but when you are visiting Walt Disney World, there is one theme park that gets its half-day visit and you never seem to find time to return to it. For me, that has become Disney’s Animal Kingdom. As you recall, recently I went into great depth about this park.
Animal Kingdom Impressions: While most folks run toward the Kilimanjaro Safaris or Expedition Everest my first stop is the Maharajah Jungle Trek. No crowds, frisky tigers just being fed. What could be better then that, eh? This trail may be the most beautiful corridor with all four of the WDW parks. Placing predators across the path from prey is sheer brilliance.
I won’t talk about Expedition Everest and the frozen Yeti because it will spoil this trip report. One more thing. Dinoland USA is really, really ugly.
Don’t care about how complex the back story is. Or the amazing little details at the restaurant. Or the tongue in cheek humor. Sorry fans of Primeval Whirl and TriceraTop Spin. This land suffers from the same problems as opening day DCA.
And that's my 40th anniversary trip to Walt Disney World.
My Book Has Arrived In The Amazon Store!
Starting today, Walt and the Promise of Progress City is now available from Amazon. There is even a Kindle version for all you living the future life. Thank you to all of the early adopters who purchased the book this past week. To you I say Bravo!