It was difficult to decide the veritable tie that Disney's Animal Kingdom and the Magic Kingdom held in this contest. What was being weighed was the fact that even though the Magic Kingdom falls much behind Disneyland USA and Disneyland Paris in our list of Magic Kingdom-style parks, we still went to it four times in the course of our honeymoon to Walt Disney World while only going to Animal Kingdom once (we opted to cut corners by not getting the parkhopper, committing ourselves to only one park per day). Was that because it was better than Animal Kingdom or because it happened to be the only Magic Kingdom park available? Generally our loyalty lies most strongly with whatever park has Fantasylands, Haunted Mansions and Enchanted Tiki Rooms, so the Magic Kingdom comes in at number four.
As I said, it wasn't our favourite Magic Kingdom-style park. Conspicuous in their absence were attractions like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio's Daring Journey, Snow White's Scary Adventures, and the Storybookland Canal Boats, which somehow made Fantasyland feel more sparse than its counterparts elsewhere, despite having the same number of attractions. In comparison to other Magic Kingdoms, the duplicated attractions generally fared worse: Space Mountain was physically painful to ride, Peter Pan's Flight wasn't the best version, the Enchanted Tiki Room was edited down in weird places (and I couldn't eat my citrus swirl inside), and so on. Nonetheless, any Magic Kingdom is better than none, and Walt Disney World's had its own unique charms. I've listed those below...
#1: Haunted Mansion
It's not the biggest, best, most modern, most thrilling, or most perfect attraction, but it is a sentimental favourite. The Haunted Mansion is a fun fusion of the classical haunted house with Addams Family kookiness, excellently conceived and executed. It is also a great example of how misbegotten modern Imagineering's obsession with "story" is. There is no defined narrative in the Haunted Mansion. There is no story of how one or another things happen to a protagonist and how that protagonist wins in the end and lives happily ever after. There is only the experience of being taken on a tour of a decrepit manor populated by ghosts. It does have an internal logic, but that logic is cinematic and experiential rather than narrative. As you move deeper into the house, new scenes unfold before you. You become a part of the experience, as your "sympathetic vibrations" release the spirits who only want to have a bit of fun by scaring you. And there is no "happily ever after," only an invitation to hurry back and not forget your death certificate. The Haunted Mansion is classic Disney, and the version at the Magic Kingdom is the best executed version of it. The lessons learned from Disneyland's original were employed in WDW's, making a much more convincing atmosphere of a real haunted mansion from start to finish.
#2: Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom
This engaging collectible and interactive card game hits all the right notes in capitalizing on Disney's oeuvre of animated characters. A stop at the Main St. Fire Hall enlists you in Merlin's army of sorcerers trying to protect the Magic Kingdom from a hostile takeover by Hades and his band of villains. By racing from interactive portal to interactive portal in Main St., Fantasyland, Adventureland, and Frontierland/Liberty Square, you flash "spell cards" based on different Disney heroes to defeat the villains in animated vignettes. It's a very fun, free, inspired take on a scavenger hunt. It was so much fun, in fact, that we spent the better part of our final day finishing the game off, and still enjoy playing the home version. Now if they would only bring it to other Disney parks...
#3: Country Bear Jamboree
Florida heat necessitates having lots of good opportunities to sit down, inside, in the dark, enjoying a good show while cooling off and recovering. Magic Kingdom has that in spades, with each land having at least one good show. There's the Enchanted Tiki Room in Adventureland, Carousel of Progress in Tomorrowland, and Mickey's PhilharMagic and Enchanted Tales with Belle in Fantasyland. My favourite of them all is the charming, playful, musical Country Bear Jamboree. I'm a sucker for Marc Davis' designs anyways, and the show itself is quite entertaining. We owe the Country Bears for saving our hides from broiling many times.
#4: Belle's Village
Most certainly Ashley's favourite, and one of mine as well, Belle's Village perfectly captures the core idea of a Disney park, which is to step into the world of the films. In Enchanted Tales with Belle we get to see Belle's home (which did have a minor continuity error, depending on whether one infers that Belle and Maurice moved to that town rather than her growing up there), and then step through an amazing magic mirror to Beast's castle to meet Belle herself. They're not employed in an E-ticket thrill ride, but the effects of the mirror, Madame Wardrobe and Lumiere are astonishing and wonder-filled nonetheless. That is only the first taste of the Beast's castle, as we are invited back to dine at Be Our Guest. The atmosphere of the grand ballroom, the west wing and the corridor of armour are lovingly captured, and the food is actually decent as well. Finally it is over to the village, Gaston's Tavern, and the hilarious Gaston himself. Belle's Village truly gives you the feeling of being there.
#5: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
In keeping with the idea of being there in this magical Enchanted Forest where Disney's fairy tale characters live, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is a excellent addition. Once more it brings us into the world of the movie, setting us in the Dwarfs' mine and "Over the seven jewelled hills, beyond the seventh fall, in the cottage of the Seven Dwarfs" and letting us explore them more fully. Those Dwarf animatronics are incredible as well. So fluid and animated, it's like they really are alive. It's an extraordinarily well-done attraction. And not really being a thrill ride kind of guy, this "kiddie coaster" is just my speed!
Honourable Mention: Tomorrowland
Neither our favourite land nor possessing any of our favourite attractions, Tomorrowland was still notable for being the kind of functioning place that Tomorrowland is supposed to be. Space Mountain was an awful, physically painful experience. Stitch's Great Escape wasn't as bad as people make it out to be. We didn't even do the Monster's Inc. attraction. Nevertheless, it was a real treat to step into a space that was active, moving, and lively that hewed close to its raison d'etre instead of just packing in Marvel and Star Wars. I enjoyed cruising on the Peoplemover, and finally seeing the Carousel of Progress. Cosmic Ray's was a lot of fun too, as burger joints in a Disney park go. Hopefully Disney will someday opt to reinvigorate Disneyland USA's version along these lines, instead of reducing it to Universal-style melange of random IP acquisitions.