Ashley and I were married on a beautifully atmospheric August 29, 2014, in Banff, Alberta, Canada, and shortly thereafter took our honeymoon in Walt Disney World. Disney has marked off a few major points in our relationship - our first trip together was to Disneyland USA and we were engaged in Disneyland Paris - so Walt Disney World seemed an appropriate choice for our honeymoon. Going there also completed my checklist of Disney resorts that are not in Communist dictatorships where my religion is illegal. Now that we're home, we're able to reflect on the similarities and differences, strengths and weaknesses of each of the free world Disney parks.
The easiest comparisons to invite are, of course, the rides. Walt Disney World's are the usual mixed bag... Magic Kingdom had probably my least favourite version of Peter Pan's Flight and most favourite version of the Haunted Mansion. Nothing really competes with the ocean of stars that Disneyand USA's Neverland floats in, but Magic Kingdom's Haunted Mansion is much more convincing as a real house interior rather than set pieces against stark black walls. Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid was the same ride as the pre-blacklit California version, but a much fuller experience with the themed queue. No Pirates of the Caribbean with Jack Sparrow in it compares to the version in Paris without him. I liked the "fifth dimension" in Hollywood Studios' Tower of Terror, but was ultimately indifferent to its differences from California's. I finally got to ride both Soarin' and Toy Story Midway Mania and while they were both decent, found them overrated. Space Mountain was so physically painful that it could constitute a violation of the Geneva Convention. I could go on.
As I said before, some of the things I was looking forward to most were classic attractions that used to be at Disneyland USA, like the Country Bear Jamboree, Carousel of Progress, Peoplemover, Swiss Family Treehouse, Tom Sawyer Island, and Main Street Electrical Parade. The only version of Country Bears I had previously seen was in Japanese, so seeing the English version was a real treat. The Robinsons and I apparently have similar tastes in furnishings, since I recognized a few of their pieces from my own home. The Carousel of Progress was much changed, but still a nice attraction, and I enjoyed the liveliness and motion that the Peoplemover gave to Tomorrowland. I didn't quite get to see the Electrical Parade on Main Street itself, but I still consider being able to see it with only a 15 minute wait a victory for Fastpass+.
That system, incidentally, worked quite well for us as casual theme park goers who never were warriors with Fastpass to begin with. We just made sure to utilize them for attractions that actually did have long projected wait times - like meeting Anna and Elsa, Peter Pan's Flight, and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train - or parades and shows we didn't want to have to sit around and wait for. Compared to having to run around picking up Fastpasses on the fly, prearranging them worked well. Use of the MagicBands for our charge card and room keys was also very convenient relative to having to fish around for pieces of plastic with every transaction, and only gave us slight issues at the beginning. I'm sure that the same is true for the vast majority of guests.
Speaking of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, it was a great coaster for people like myself who aren't huge fans of thrill rides. All of New Fantasyland was remarkably well done. Ashley is the big Beauty and the Beast fan in our household, and it put a beautiful glimmer in her eye to enter Belle's home and Beast's castle. The ambiance at Be Our Guest was fantastic and the food was also very good... not just good for Disney, but genuinely good. One of the things that took us a bit aback with the food, though, was the expense and the portion size. We lit very quickly onto the fact that one meal fed two of us, and began to wonder if that's why it cost twice as much as it should have. The portion sizes at Be Our Guest were regular human size though, which was nice.
Outside Magic Kingdom, we were pleasantly surprised by Epcot's World Showcase. It was so accurate in mood and aesthetic that it lead to some moments of genuine disorientation as we stepped out of giftshops in Canada, France and Japan to wonder where exactly we were. Besides being beautiful and nearly spot-on accurate in some cases, World Showcase made for some interesting observation into international relations. You could tell who the Canadians were watching the Circlevision movie in the Canadian pavilion, by virtue of who was actually laughing at the in-jokes, and there were plenty of French patrons of the cafe in the France pavilion. There was also a latent uneasiness between the castmembers and American guests of the Morocco and Mexico pavilions. I actually felt a little sorry for the Moroccan castmembers who were so ready to share their culture, only to have someone drawl out a question about where they get photos with Aladdin. We enjoyed a lovely dinner in the San Angel Inn Restaurante, and the Gran Fiesta Tour counts as my favourite of Epcot's rides (sorry everyone). Ashley's favourite pavilion was stunning and aromatic Morocco. Future World wasn't overly interesting, and we managed to only wince a little at the gross inaccuracies of Spaceship Earth.
Animal Kingdom was an incredible park, and I think also highlights the real strengths of Walt Disney World as a whole. Our day there began bright and early with the Wild Africa Trek, which was an incredible opportunity to see Animal Kingdom's collections at a slower and more intimate pace (and with a very nice light lunch at the end). We took Fastpasses for Kali River Rapids (where we got drenched), Expedition Everest and Dinosaur (which was really disappointing), but the rides were icing on the natural and cultural experience of the park. We found more than enough there to fill a whole day. What struck me most was the conscientious integration of those natural and cultural experiences. Asia was most impressive, with the Maharajah's Jungle Trek section blending animal exhibits into jungle ruins and the melodies of live sitar and tabla drifting through the air. This recognition of how human culture and nature are intertwined was also reflected in Disney's conservation work, which looked to help the people of these regions provide for themselves while engaging their own initiatives to protect their natural ecosystems.
|Not dying is serious business you guys!|
|They're coming for us!|
Photos by our guides, Jason and Andrea.
I say this is representative of Walt Disney World as a whole because the real strength of the resort is the whole immersive experience it offers. When I first started telling people about our plans to honeymoon in Walt Disney World over a year ago, I was given the sound advice to take time to do things other than rides, and it bore out. The rides are rides and they're fine, but they aren't the only... or even the best... thing to do there. An article from many months ago calculated that all of the Disneyland resort has 57 rides while all of Walt Disney World resort has 50. Scandalous, except that they carefully exempted "attractions" from their number. Well yes, if you don't include the Enchanted Tiki Room or Country Bear Jamboree or Maharajah Jungle Trek or Impressions of France or One Man's Dream or Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage or Cinderella's Royal Table or Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular or the Main Street Electrical Parade or Festival of the Lion King or Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom or the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue or Pangani Forest Exploration Trail or Spirit of Aloha or Wilderness Explorers or A Pirate's Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas or DisneyQuest or Spirited Beasts or Mickey's Philharmagic or Tom Sawyer Island or Festival of Fantasy or Sci-Fi Dine-In Restaurant or Whispering Canyon Café or the two waterparks or either minigolf course or the campfires or touring the resorts or looking through the shoppes in Epcot or character meets or any of the countless other things to do, then Walt Disney World doesn't have that much. It should go without saying that if you exempt that much, then you're really missing out on what Walt Disney World has to offer. It may even be obvious to point out that if you exempt those things, you're not even really doing Walt Disney World.
|An assortment of awesome things that apparently don't count.|
Animal Kingdom has the reputation of being a half-day park, because it only has something along the lines of four rides. Yet if you take the time to walk the trails, do the activities, see the shows, enjoy the entertainers, observe the animals, play the Wilderness Explorers scavenger hunt, and maybe even shell out for the Wild Africa Trek, you're encroaching on what could be at least a one and half day park or more. This fact highlights the tragedy of Avatar being forced on the park. Instead of investing more in the natural and cultural exhibits that are the real heart of Animal Kingdom, they're opting for a forgotten movie franchise from which they can squeeze a couple rides. Could you imagine how great it would be to have a resurrected Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland with real buffalo, elk, the living desert and vanishing prairie? Perhaps with a Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show imported from Disneyland Paris? I don't expect Imagineers to read my mind, but I would much rather see something like that.
Most of our favourite things at Walt Disney World ended up being those variegated attractions that made for a richer, more layered experience. Ashley loved Enchanted Tales with Belle and Be Our Guest, and when I sit down to think it out, my favourite thing at Magic Kingdom was playing Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. A lot of elements come together to make it an engaging game, by being free to play, collectable, having a charming storyline, and hitting all the right notes in bringing Disney's oeuvre of characters together. Rafiki talking about how Scar has broken the Circle of Life by coming back from the dead sent shivers up our spines, and we got a delighted chuckle out of defeating the mighty Chernabog with a combination attack from Aurora and Prince Philip (go power of love!). A good part of our final day was spent finishing Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom rather than riding roller coasters. On the subject of games, we got a big kick out of playing Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Buccaneer Gold in DisneyQuest and doing a round of minigolf at Fantasia Gardens. Our day at Animal Kingdom was topped off by the wonderful Spirit of Aloha dinner show at the Polynesian Village Resort. It could have put more focus on the traditional dances and cultures of the South Pacific Islands than on the contrived story, but it's hard to beat firespinners, hula girls, and amazing food in a fantastic environment, whatever the case. We can also vouch for the strength of the drinks served at the Polynesian Village Resort. Phew! Then there was the climactic Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, where our Beauty and the Beast costumes were a big hit amongst guests and castmembers alike.
It is a mistake and missing the point entirely to think of Walt Disney World, and perhaps a Disney park in general, in terms of rides. I would submit that it is more accurate to think of it in terms of entertainment value. Rides are great and it's always nice to get more of them, but that doesn't necessarily translate into well-rounded entertainment. That was something we discovered when visiting other theme parks in the area. While they might have had fantastic theming and good solid E-ticket attractions, the lack of varied A, B, C, and D-tickets (not to mention places to sit down) made them very flat experiences. Until they have equivalents of the Enchanted Tiki Room, the Liberty Belle Riverboat, Mickey's Philharmagic, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, Peter Pan's Flight, the Haunted Mansion, and the Jungle Cruise, they're non-competitive. E-tickets are not the solution to everything. Highest entertainment value is reached when there is a wide variety of different experiences and attractions to enjoy in a pleasing environment.
Unfortunately, for as high entertainment value as it had, Walt Disney World had its share of mitigating factors that make us reluctant for a return trip anytime soon. I would never completely rule out going back some day, but I'm still recovering from sticker shock and second-degree sunburn. When you're more favourably comparing the price of a trip to Japan or France to the costs of visiting Walt Disney World, and when you're envious of the freak September snowstorm they had back home, you know that maybe you're not wholly suited to vacationing in Orlando. We're glad to have gone to Walt Disney World, but we left wishing that the stuff we really liked could be found at Disneyland USA... A shorter, more cost-effective, more temperate trip. Howabout it Disneyland? Care to install Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom for us?
If you are thinking of going to Walt Disney World though, we'll recommend a travel agent to you! Our honeymoon wouldn't have been possible without George Taylor, famed cohost of Communicore Weekly and Disney-approved travel agent with Fairy Godmother Travel. We also traveled outside The World to a few other cultural sites in Florida, and you'll see those crop up here at a future date, as we explore some of the real, historic Spanish Main.