WDW – twenty years later

Almost twenty years ago, I realize now, since I’ve been to Walt Disney World in Florida…. An entirely self-contained world.

This is long since I’ve got the whole trip in one entry. Click the extended entry for photos and a full trip report.

Almost twenty years ago, I realize now, since I’ve been to Walt Disney World in Florida. late ’86.

It’s like a fucking country now. An entirely self-contained world.

To a California kid, it’s simply amazing. I’m used to Disneyland, which until recently was one small park absolutely engulfed in motels and suburbia. Even now, now that The Mouse has bought up a lot of the surrounding property and expanded with another park (California Adventure) and a lot more, it’s a fairly small space, a few city blocks, and still, surrounded my non-Disney commercial properties.

Contrast this with WDW; about 47 square miles, I don’t know how many lakes, 8500 acres of wilderness premenantly preserved, four theme parks, two water parks, a huge mall and nightclub district (how many hotels?). I can only imagine how much power all this uses, how much waste it produces. And with all that, the feeling is of isolation. The real world is far away, the parks are far from each other, the resorts and hotels, mostly, cannot be seen one from the next.

When I was last there, it was much, much less elaborate. Two parks (Magic Kingdom and Epcot). Three, maybe four hotels. Nothing else. They’ve been busy.

We (Olivia, (11), Ruby (6), Barb, Me, and the In-Laws) were there for three and a half days; nowhere near enough. The parks (MGM, Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Animal Kingdom) each need at least a day, and Epcot could use two. We barely scratched most of the parks.


Wednesday

We arrived late at Disney’s Polynesian: Last Roll - 271

The funny thing is that I recall this being terribly authentic. I saw it as looking just like a real polynesian villiage. However, now that I’ve actually been to real polynesian villiages, it’s rather quaint and kitchy. Utterly chamring, of course, in that calculated Disney way, but not exactly like I remembered it. But it’s got a view to die for, across the lagoon to the Magic Kindom; you can see the towers of the castle lit at night, and you can watch the fireworks. It is, most likely, the place I’d stay again, though I’d have to do a little research on that.

After a quick dinner, we scrambled onto the monorail: Last Roll - 260 and went to the Magic Kingdom, which was open til midnight that evening.

The thing that strikes me about this park is that everything is in the wrong place. Much of it is like the Anaheim park, but with that enough alike to be confusing feeling. Everything just off from where it should be, or in the right place but looking wrong.

The other thing, and this is how I remembered it from ’86, is that the rides both parks share are very similar, but one version is much better. Take for example It’s a Small World (though god, don’t ever get stuck there when it breaks down, it is enough to make you hurt someone: Teaching a Lesson). In Anaheim, the whole front is outdoors, with no shade. The facade is very tall, but very weathered and faded, as are the boats. The inside is also looking rather aged (or was last year); and of course, the boats run in a trough since it was designed to be moved.

In WDW, the whole front is inside; shaded, air conditioned. This makes the ride facade much smaller, but it’s bright and fresh; the boats are colorful. inside, the boats don’t run in a trough, they just have guide rails; there’s no concrete floor, it’s water wall-wall. And everything inside is fresh and bright and looks new.

The Haunted Mansion is almost the same ride inside, though the outside is completely different; but the interesting thing to be is that, where Anaheim has true elevators, WDW had fake elevators (The ceiling goes up). This is because in Anaheim, the ride is mostly under ground, and they needed to get riders under the train track to get ’em outside the park to where the ride actually is. In WDW, the water table makes building rides below ground harder, and the park’s bigger, so they don’t need to get you down and out for the actual rides.

The big difference inside this ride, experience-wise, is that the walk from the ‘elevators’ is very short in WDW; in Anaheim, you have to get out to the ride so they made that walk a creepy part of the experience, lining the walls with portraits and 3d-concave busts. It sets up the ride much more effectivly.

The one that’s most different, though, is Pirates.

The entry in WDW looks great; they put a lot of effort into the walk-up/queue area, and it shows. This is very, very good, almost as cool as the walk-up for Indiana Jones in Anaheim. But after this, it drops off. Sorry, Floridians, your imagineers let you down on this ride. It’s nowhere near as good as ours. Ours starts with a long, slow sweep around the Blue Bayou restaurant, with atmospheric banjo playing from a geezer on a porch, under a twilit sky. It then enters a tunnel where we get the talking skull with the Sit closer together, and keep your ruddy hands inboard spiel. Our skull is above the boat, however, much more obvious and menacing, and has a different, scarier voice. We then get two drop waterfalls, one very large, the next smaller. Then we get several chambers with skeletons and piles of treasure, lovely paintings of pirate wenches, etc. This goes on a long time. Finally, we get to the ship and the town.

After that, we get a scene with pirates shooting at a keg as you sail under burning rafters, and finally the long, slow, rattling climb back to daylight and the real world.

Here is a good link to some pictures and details.

The WDW version, after the not-as-good skeleton head, goes into a very short drop, one or two caves, and then direct to the ship and town. About a quarter or a third as long as the lead-in on ours; maybe less. Much less spooky, much less atmosphere, much less build-up. The end is shorter, no climb, no powder-keg.

All in all, Pirates in WDW is weak, pale version of the original. In Anaheim, it’s by far my favorite ride in the park; here, I don’t think that’s true.

We did a number of other rides; Buzz Lighyear, a combo of Roger Rabbit’s Cartoon Spin and a shooting gallery (A very good ride which we did several times): Buzz Kandr Small, a silly effects-o-rama (including smell!) called Stich’s Great Escape (A huge hit with Ruby, who identifies heavily with Stich), Space Mountain, which is interesting in that it still had the old cars here in Orlando, where D-Land has new style side-by-side cars, Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain (Which, here, has yet to kill anyone, so is not as interesting), and possibly a couple more which I forget.

For a very late night, my kids did very well, though by the time we got to the hotel, bathed them, fed them and got them in bed, it was 2am. So much for the plan to get out early next morning.


Thursday

We got a late start, waking up slow and then eating a leisurly breakfast. The Polynesian’s famous Tonga Toast is not, alas, as good as it used to be, though I’m not sure what they changed. We decided to hit Epcot, which was a mistake. The schedule said that only part of it, the World Showcase, would be closing early. But when we got there, it turned out the whole park would close at 3pm, so we had only about three hours; we managed to get several of the futureworld side attractions in, but after waiting in line for Test Track, it closed (thunderstorms coming in) just as we got up to the ride.

We got caught in an amazing downpour on our way to the busses; this isn’t the weather I’m used to. Hot and pissing rain confuses me. We grabbed a bus to MGM, which is a park that does not make much sense to me.

The rest of WDW I understand; the rides have a theme, a Walt feel. They’re not, for the most part, thrill rides, they’re more about the experience, education or illusion. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part that’s how things are.

Now, a movie studio theme park in Los Angeles makes sense. I mean, the orginals were actually back lots. Here, though they strive to make it a working studio, the whole effect is very false. So it has a fake-hollywood feel. The rides then all seem weirdly contrived.

That’s me though. I think too much. Barb and Olivia absolutely loved Aerosmith’s Rockin’ Rollercoaster: Rockin Coaster Bando Small

I took Ruby with me on The Great Movie Ride and some other back-lot tour concept with special effects demos; I’ve forgotten what it’s called. I also got mauled by Stich: Me N Stitch, who seemed to take a real liking to my kilt and tried to peek under it.

Somwhere along the line we lost Gramma and Grampa, who wound up back at the hotel; we decided to call it a day when it started to go dark and rainy, and returned to our hotel for some pool and dinner, which means (for me) drinks: Last Roll - 273. That drink is called a Back Scratcher, for, um, obvious reasons.


Friday

Animal Kingdom — I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It sounded like a Disney version of the San Deiego Wild Animal Park, which is one way it is. But then — diosaurs and dragons? Wait. It sounds kind of like they shifted gears in the middle of the plan, though I don’t know if that’s true or not.

But whatever it is, they did a good job. This park looks great, with a many-countries feel that’s much more real and much less travel-log than Epcot. Africa actually looks like a third world country, in a good way, though I must say, without the smells, good and bad. There’s no air of exotic spices, no strange foods you might want to think twice before eating. But there’s also no smells of dung and human waste.

The wild animal part of the park — which has a name with Safari in it — is very, very well done, though rendered slightly hokey by having a story line about poachers and an elephant-napping. But it’s a good ride in addition to being a very positive zoo experience. There’s also an asian jungle walk-though, highlighted by a cage full of incredibly cute flying fox bats.

We skipped the river-rafting ride, there’s one much like it in Anaheim, but the highlight of the rides to took was called Dinosaur. Based vaguely on the movie of the same name, it uses the same cars as Indiana Jones. While not on the epic scale of Indy, it’s very well done, including some very threatening Dinos that leap out at you effectively enough that it got Olivia to try to crawl on top of me to get away: Dino All Small We rode this one several times. Also of note is a truly nutty old-fashioned carnival style roller coaster with a ‘twist’; the Primeval Whirl which puts a spinning car on a rollercoaster track. This one will make you hurl if you’re so inclined.

The kids also got some truly amazing face painting done: Last Roll - 298 1 , and barb got herself some sssssssssexy ears: Last Roll - 277

I have to say, I like this park much more than I expected to.

Downtown Disney that night, which is a riot. I need to go back and hang in Pleasure Island when I can take more grownup time. It’s like a weird, disney version of a party town, with walk-up bars and music and nightclubs. I wanted to see special Disney hookers, who’d all look like Jessica Rabbit or a dirty Mary Poppins.

Our plan was Rainforest Cafe, but luckily, the wait there was impossible, so we wound up at Bongos Cuban Cafe, for some pretty good Cuban food and more importantly, Mojitos! Last Roll - 322


Saturday

Up until today, the weather was what you’d call great for park-going, if not great for pool lounging. Overcast, breezy, a little rain but not much. Today, we finally got the sun, which means things turned much hotter. We spent less time in Epcot today than we would have otherwise. That, and we’d reached the point where our feet were giving out.

Still, I loved the viking-themed ride, The Maelstrom, in the Norway pavilion. If we can’t be Pirates, let us be Vikings! Last Roll - 347

This picture pretty much says it. Yeah, there’s having a good time. Last Roll - 351

After Epcot, we wound up back at the Magic Kingdom to hook up with Cousin Kenny (No, not that Kenny, this Kenny: Kenny, who works for The Mouse in some sort of creative capacity (I could tell you exactly what he does, but then I’d have to kill you). Kenny is Barb’s cousin; he’s LDS but I won’t hold that against him because he told me and my kids an off-color story about a ride (And I’m trying to find a trivia site that has this story — Doxy, help me out here).

It’s always fun to tour the parks with insiders or the trivia intelligentsia; they know the places to go, the places to eat, and have a million stories.

We did Pirates and the Mansion again, because the in-laws had missed out the first time around (and ok, I admit it, we just wanted to go); then we hit Fantasyland and did a quite good 3D movie called Mickey’s Philharmagic. One of those deals where they have special effects in the theater, wind, spritzes of water, etc. Cutest thing I’ve ever seen, watching Ruby grab at everything that popped off the screen.

We also did (shudder) It’a a Small World. Because, you know, girls want to go, you go. It’s one of my rules. Like when girls need chocolate, you get them chocolate. No Questions Asked.

We finished our last day with ice cream and fireworks, and then, footsore, tired, and a little sad, all headed back to the hotel, one last monorail journey.

Sunday

That’s about it. Nothing but packing and travel. All over but the shouting as they say. The family all made a flight home Sunday, I wound up in an airport hotel drinking Fosters with a bunch of Virgin Air stewardesses, and then I passed out.

A good trip. Too short, but they always are. I’ve promised Olivia a return trip soon, when she’s got her full scuba certification and we can dive at Disney’s Sea at Epcot. We’ll do that, and hit the Keys; maybe this time next year. But soon. There’s a lot I didn’t get to do out there in FLA, and you know, once of these trips I’ll plan things better and get more time to do a few things I’ve had on my list for a while.

12 thoughts on “WDW – twenty years later”

  1. I’m so damned jealous. I’ve never been to either Disney locale. Wahhhhhhhh!!!

    Your kids are adorable, by the way.

  2. I loved doing Disney a couple of years back ,w ith the kids and my in-laws and two dear friends from the Northeast.

    I was pretty much totally unimpressed with Animal Kingdom, though — I mean, yeah, the Safari was interesting and Dinosaur was a great ride (as was the mouse coaster in the dino area — somethign about extinction), but overall I found that the effort to create a sanitized fantasy version of a real place (i.e Africa) contrasted poorly with the sanitized real verdsions of fantasy places in the other parks. The fiberglass bamboo really threw me off, and it was everywhere. It was like an enormous version of one of those “Old World” style restaurants, where they build a brand new shed-like building and then decorate it to look like it’s 150 years old. Annoying.

    I loved MGM — that Aerosmith coaster was fantastic and TELL ME you didn’t miss the Tower of Terror! Best entrance experience in any of the parks, for my money), and a terrific ride as well. The big closing theatrical fireworks show-tyhing was great as well.

    Epcot was awesome — we only got about 1 day there, and we are absolutely spending more time there next time. Plus, there was a lot of alcohol available as well.

    Gregg

  3. Oh, and you didn’t miss a thing in not getting on Test Drive. That thing BLEW. The biggest thrill was going 60MPH in one of the cars, and well, I do that pretty much everyday.

    Gregg

  4. The Maelstrom is my favorite thing in Epcot. That and the English pub.

    We’re hopefully taking the kids in November. Last time we went Cassidy was 5, Liam was 2. Cass had strep the whole time and Liam was too young to remember it, and we need to do it one more time before Cass is too old to be seen with us.

  5. Wow! What a great trip Karl! Thanks for sharing (pics included). I went to WDW about 30 years ago (before Epcot, for sure). It sounds much different. I did get to go to Disneyland in ’86 and that was a blast.

    It’a a Small World is an evil device to brainwash people into something. I’m not sure what though.

    I loved the Simpson’s take on it. Hit it right on the head.

    D

  6. I fear disney. We live an hour’s drive from Disneyland Paris. The kids want to go there and I’m resisting like crazy.To me it just looks like a mega waste of moolah. However reading your blow by blow, I’m revising my opinion of the Florida park. I’d love to see Epcot.
    I fear disney, their inane characters seep in under the door, you find the little bastards hiding under the bed, modeled into the toothbrush holder, printed on the sink tidy, sometimes subtly incorporated into everyday items which you bought without realizing what was going on.

  7. The Mouse is everywhere. You cannot escape The Mouse.

    I don’t know if it’s true, but story has it that when Euro-Disney opened, they had a great deal of trouble hiring. Seems the Parisians took issue with certain items of the dress code, such as restrictions on facial hair and jewelry, and most importantly, they did not take well to the insistance that they wear underwear.

    I do not know the truth of this tale, but I’m sticking to it.

  8. I hate theme parks in general and Disneyland in particular, so this trip sounds about as fun as a week in a Mexican jail. But I’m glad that you had fun.

  9. I don’t really have a preference as to side-by-side or bobsled seats, but the Anaheim Space Mountain is much scarier. There’s just enough light that you can slightly see the beams coming at your head… *shudder*

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