A Short Ode to my Favorite Park

Actually, ode is probably the wrong word since you won’t find poetry here. But I did feel the need to mark the 30th birthday of my all-time favorite Disney park.

You see, I was an odd kid (I can see your mock shocked expressions from here) and while most kids liked the glamor of the Magic Kingdom or the thrill rides of what was then MGM Studios, I couldn’t get enough of Epcot. Something about hearing that futuristic music as I entered the gates and seeing that giant geodesic sphere of Spaceship Earth enchanted me as no castle could.

In Epcot, I could see what the future would look like if I rode Horizons, a ride that has sadly left us but that I still have a crystal clear memory of, even how Dad used to let me choose how the ride would end. I also have very clear memories of the original Journey into Imagination and Dreamfinder’s marvelous presence alongside his Figment. I remember the Land before it was “that building where Soarin’ is” and the Living Seas before Nemo invaded and you got to ride in a hydrolator to Sea Base Alpha. While I love Epcot just as much today and all the new attractions, I still have a pang for the Epcot of my childhood which seems more whimsical than the Epcot of today and also more hopeful, like we were still excited for the future would bring, rather than worried about it. In a sense, the Epcot you visit today is much more concrete and based in reality than the one you would have seen on opening day.

World Showcase though seems very familiar still. Not much has changed over the years; the landscaping grew in, they updated the boring boat ride in Mexico to include Donald Duck and Martin Short narrates the Canada film. The trolls are still threatening to send us over the waterfall in Norway, the department store in Japan is still one of the neatest places to shop on property and France still has the best bakery. I was one of those kids that had to do a passport through World Showcase every trip and the thrill of seeing my name in different languages never got old. I appreciate World Showcase more now though. As a kid, Future World was my favorite but now I love exploring the countries. I think being able to explore each country’s drinks is also a plus!

So Epcot, Happy 30th – that Mimosa Royale in Morocco yesterday was for you!

(Sadly most of the photos from when I was a kid at Epcot are still actual printed photos and not digital files. Someday I need to digitize those…)

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Visiting the Park that Walt Built

Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland

One of my favorite questions to ponder when I visit my home away from home, Walt Disney World, is what would Walt think of his Florida Project today? What would he think of how they “translated” EPCOT, of Hollywood Studios, of Animal Kingdom? It’s a fun exercise but we’ll never know the answer like we do when it comes to its Southern California counterpart.

One of the pilgrimages every good Disney geek needs to make is to the park that Walt built, Disneyland. It’s the one park we have that is stamped by Walt in every way, the one that started it all. I’ve been begging to go for years – insisting the photos from the one time I had been there at 18 months old were doctored. I was apparently miserable on that trip; I wouldn’t let a character near me for a picture and the one of Mom and me and Donald, I am crying my little heart out. Luckily, I grew out of that quickly in time for my first trip to Walt Disney World a year later. So, going back to Disneyland has been a dream and finally, about a month after visiting my home parks in Florida, I got to go back to Disneyland.

It was work that gave me the excuse to go. I was presenting at ALA Annual which was being held in the Anaheim Convention Center, literally across the street from Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. I wasn’t staying on property but I could see California Screamin’ from my hotel room window, which leads to my first impression of the resort, how small it was and how on top of everything it was. In Walt Disney World (WDW), once you’re on property, you’re in an area controlled by the Imagineers. You see what they want you to see, nothing more. They could do that in Florida because of the lessons learned in Disneyland. It also blew my mind to see the two parks directly across from each other – five minutes and you could walk from one and into the other. I sort of missed the anticipation of having to climb onto a bus to switch parks, the special moment as you have to walk up to the entrance for the next one you want to explore. Downtown Disney is also right there, next to the two park entrances and it’s more like Universal CityWalk than its Orlando counterpart. I liked its atmosphere though; made walking through it to get to the parks fun rather than overwhelming.

Disneyland was the park I was most excited to see. Sure, California Adventure was an entirely new park to me but again, it wasn’t the park that Walt built, it wasn’t the one I’d really come to see. With Disneyland, I would have a chance to see a park that we know exactly what Walt thought about it. I’d get to see the Firehouse with the light on, alerting everyone that Walt was “home,” the original Tiki Room, the original Haunted Mansion. I could pay my respects to Mr. Toad one more time and ride the Matterhorn after exploring Toontown. I could also, finally, get a good look at Sleeping Beauty Castle.

My first look of the castle though was rather rushed. Thanks to a disorganized shuttle company, we needed to run to make our Blue Bayou lunch reservation. My first reaction to the Castle was literally “oh look – the Castle! Excuse me, where is the Blue Bayou restaurant?” It wasn’t until after I was stuffed with a Monte Cristo that I got my first really good look. I’d always been told it was small and of course I’d seen pictures but I’d never really understood how small it was until I was standing in front of it. My picture from one end of Main Street, you can barely tell there IS a castle there. But all of Main Street USA compensates, it is all built on a smaller scale – like its been slightly miniaturized from what I am used to seeing. The Castle itself was just…cute. Like the sort of castle you dream of as a kid, quaint approachable – all good fairy tales come to life. Cinderella Castle can look imposing; Sleeping Beauty Castle looks like a place to explore. Fitting it is the one with the walk through attraction in it.

All of Disneyland is like that – smaller scale than I was used to but approachable, welcoming, quaint – full of nooks and crannies to discover and explore. I fell in love with New Orleans Square, lots of courtyards and stores tucked into corners and it empties out at the Rivers of America where the Haunted Mansion and Big Thunder Mountain sit on opposite sides than where I expect them to be. I actually spent a lot of my time in Disneyland going in the wrong direction. Its familiarity was disconcerting. I’d think “I know where that is” only to realize it’s not even in the same land as in the Magic Kingdom. Not only were things in different places, they weren’t even in the right park! There is an Innoventions in Disneyland, a Star Tours too, both sitting in Tomorrowland and confusing me but it was fun to see how they fit into the Magic Kingdom park rather than in Epcot or Hollywood Studios. I think my favorite Disneyland ride had to be Indiana Jones Adventure. I had so much fun both times I rode it, laughing and enjoying its effects. It’s the same ride vehicle as Dinosaur but I thought used to much better advantage in this attraction. I also loved the fireworks at Disneyland and was sad they don’t have the soundtrack for them available for purchase (Surprised too, Disney doesn’t usually miss a chance to sell you something) but seeing Tinkerbelle and Dumbo zoom around Sleeping Beauty Castle was so neat and the fireworks are huge! I realize its because they have to set them off much closer than they do in the parks in Florida but it was wild to see!

Carthay Circle Theater and Fountain in DCA

I did of course go over to California Adventure too – I had to see its new attractions though going a few weeks after the opening of Cars Land meant about a billion other people are there with you. I adored the Buena Vista Street area; it reminds me of how Hollywood Studios used to be before they built that awful hat in front of the replica of the Chinese Theater. It even has Streetmosphere people wandering around and a snappy newsboy show that is clearly playing on the current popularity of Newsies but I not going to complain – I do love me some singing, dancing boys. Cars Land is impressive; what I could see of it through the crowds anyway. It literally feels like you walked into the movie and the details are all there from the different “houses” of the characters to the statue of the founder, Stanley, sitting at the end of the street. I only got to ride its main attraction, Radiator Springs Racers as its single rider line was a fairly reasonable wait (about 45 minutes when we joined it, 60 minutes when we got off the attraction – considering the main line was never below three hours and fast passes were always gone while I was there, it’s the only way I was getting on it). Racers is so much fun! Its story is great, the theming out of this world and the end “race” with another car full of guests is a blast. My only complaint is how short it was. If I’d waited three hours for it, I think I might have been a bit steamed. The other two rides didn’t have single rider lanes and I wasn’t going to wait an hour for them when I had so much to see and do. I kept telling myself it was another reason to go back! I also got to ride the Little Mermaid ride which is coming to WDW in the new Fantasyland expansion. It was so colorful and fun and hey, any excuse to sing along in a ride, I’ll take it! As I didn’t visit California Adventure back before a lot of its face lift was completed, I can’t compare but this definitely seemed like an all-day park to me, especially since you’ll be waiting for the three rides in Cars Land for most of it! Also, World of Color? A. MAZ. ING. And has fast passes – brilliant! I didn’t have to stake out a good spot hours before the show, I could ride rides up until about 30 minutes before then proceed to my designated spot for the show, front and center (but back enough so I didn’t get wet at all). Seriously, Disney needs to get on that for its night shows in FL, it made life so much easier and let me enjoy the park a lot longer than I could have otherwise.

Overall, I enjoyed my visit out to the park that Walt built and its next door neighbor. I didn’t get to see everything and lines meant I missed out on certain things (like Space Mountain and the Matterhorn as they was either down or the wait too outrageous every time I was near them) but like I said, just another reason to go back!

You’re Going Again?

I both love and loathe that question. I was trying to catch up on my Disney podcasts at work today. There is nothing better to listen to when you’re just checking, copying and pasting metadata for digital library records. So, during Lou Mongello‘s interview of Jeff Kurtti (I told you I was way behind), Mongello brought up the question that starts this blog. As someone who is counting the hours (literally) to her first Disney trip in two years, an impossibility long time for me to go between trips, I’ve recently been getting this question again.

My sister and I at Chef Mickey’s, Sept. 2009

I often preempt the question to be honest. Before they can even ask why I’m going again, I launch into all the new attractions and things I need to see, do and eat while I’m there – actual new things and then other things that I am going to do for the first time. Yes, I’ve been 12 times and still haven’t done everything yet. This trip coming up has lots of firsts since I’m going on my first Disney cruise ever this time around, finally getting to the Afternoon Tea at the Grand Floridian, and seeing Hallowishes from the Polynesian beach. But it’s not just the new things one goes back for. I truly feel like I am going home when I go to Walt Disney World. This is the place I grew up; the place I am completely myself – the happy-go-lucky, adventurous 8 year old I guard jealously most of the time gets free reign when I am in the kingdom of Disney in Florida.

Will people stop asking me this question? No, not any time soon. For some people, they don’t get it and that’s OK. Every one has their favorite vacation spot for one reason or another, Walt Disney World is mine and I get to see it again in 81 days, 3 hours and 4 minutes!