Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Magic Kingdom - Part 1

The Magic Kingdom - Part 1

(Caveat before I begin these posts - I'm not really going to try even a cursory history or overview of each park. If you have never visited or need a refresher, there are many resources out on the web. I'll refer to historical facts or details when necessary but these posts presume a better-than-average knowledge of Walt Disney World and I plan to jump right in.)

Parking, TTC and Entrance

The process of just getting to and into the Magic Kingdom continues to be more complicated than any other park on property, and will likely never change. Construction on areas between the parking lot and the TTC continues forcing a good bit of walking (although this may have cleared up since I was just there). To me, trams should drop you off right in front of the main ticketing area (Animal Kingdom is pretty good at this, as is Dollywood in East Tennessee). You shouldn't begin a day at a park like the Magic Kingdom with a 3-mile hike. But again, this may have changed or be about to change.

There are many, many options once you actually get to the TTC, which can be confusing. You can take a launch to a resort, a monorail to a resort, a monorail to Epcot, a monorail to the Magic Kingdom entrance, or a ferry boat to the Magic Kingdom entrance. Some of these are not marked especially well, especially with the multitude of ticket booths blocking sightlines until you are past them.

(Caveat - are you a "buy my ticket at the front gate" person? If so, why??? I always see lines at the ticket windows and wonder how many of them are paying list price for 1 day at the park for $125/person instead of purchasing online ahead of time and avoiding the hassle.)

Once you have picked your method of transportation, depending on the crowds, it's not difficult to actually get to the Magic Kingdom entrance. It can just be time-consuming. The ferry boat ride can take up to 10-15 minutes once you finally board, and the monorail is about 5 minutes from the TTC to the entrance. I love the monorail and we almost take it, just for convenience.

Since this configuration has existed since the park opened in 1971, and due to the existence of the Seven Seas Lagoon, this arrangement will doubtfully ever go away. It's just going to always be a fact of life that getting in the front gates of the Magic Kingdom is a multi-step process. It's always possible one day they put in "back gate" or entrance via hotel similar to the upcoming Star Wars hotel at DHS, but that would be many years in the future.

Once you reach the park entrance, it's an easy (though sometimes long) trip through bag check and through the "turnstiles" (yes, it's an outdated term in these days of MagicBands, but the term sticks). Whenever possible, consider not bringing a bag if you don't absolutely need it - it makes the entrance process that much easier.

Once you're in, you're in. Pick a direction under the train tracks and it's on to...

Town Square and Main Street, USA

In all the times I've visited, I've never had any issues with traffic, layout, or anything related to Town Square or Main Street, USA. Lots of shopping, lots of early food options are available. Two big character Meet-n-Greets are at the very front - Mickey Mouse and Tinkerbell that usually have long waits. We've never done them, I don't know anything about them, really. I know Meet-n-Greets are usually big people-eaters. I've never quite seen the large appeal, but that's just our family. We're ready to move on to bigger and better things.

For a hot second, Disney had planned and announced to build a new performance venue behind some of the buildings on Main Street. It would have housed some kind of show similar to Aladdin at the Carthay Theatre in California Adventure, except likely featuring Mickey and his pals. During a post-D23 round of budget cuts, this theatre idea was quickly cut. It may resurface at a later date, but I wouldn't hold my breath. The idea of another huge people-eater on Main Street would have been very different and interesting, but I can't imagine the crowd problems it would create when a show was over and people were released back onto the street. We may never know.

Thank goodness the Citizens of Main Street, the Dapper Dans, the Casey's Corner piano player, the Omnibus, the horse-drawn carriage and all the little tasty morsels of period authenticity remain after all these years - for now. As Disney continues to cut back on its live entertainment offerings in the parks, any or all of these offering's days may be numbered. There are no rumors that I've heard, but I can't imagine someone somewhere hasn't thought about it. The online backlash would be massive, so count on them being there for the next while at least.

While there are no real attractions, per se, the closest thing is the main Walt Disney World Railroad station. There are two more in other areas of the park (Frontierland and Fantasyland) but it has been closed for a good while during Tron Coaster construction. The train is always a fun, relaxing way to enjoy a nice view of the entire park. There are some scenes you don't see anywhere else, plus you actually get an overhead view of the showboat scene inside Splash Mountain. It's a bit of a pleasant surprise if you've never been on it before. It eats some time to ride around the entire perimeter of the park but worth the time. As Magic Kingdom continues to expand, the train route may continue to be disrupted, so don't count on it being an always-open option in the future.

One of the most memorable moments ever at the Magic Kingdom was this last trip - my family of four sitting on a park bench next to the Christmas Tree that decorates the middle of Town Square, on a mid-afternoon in December, munching on ice cream, watching all of the world go by. There's something amazingly charming and relaxing about taking the time to enjoy this area of any Magic Kingdom-type park in the world. Always make a plan to stop and smell the cobblestones...

The Hub and Cinderella's Castle

Not much to say about these areas, as they were refurbed in the last few years to add a lot more green space and fireworks-watching areas, plus the castle walls themselves were expanded somewhat in either direction mainly to frame New Fantasyland and to provide new projection mapping sources.

The Partners statue remains the same as it always has been, although it may seem to be a little more difficult to get to on any given day. It seems foot traffic may have "centered" a bit with this new design, rather than pushed directly to the right or left upon exiting Main Street. You can still get there, it's just a bit more congested right in the center on a typical day.

I'll admit I haven't visited the interior of the castle lately and have never been to the Cinderella's Royal Table character meal. None of this is likely to change in the near future. The Royal Table continues to be an extremely popular, if pricey, character meal option.

There are two other restaurants around the perimeter of The Hub, connected to Main Street: The Plaza and the Crystal Palace. They're always busy, but with different vibes and price points.

Let's go left, like my family always does...


Adventureland has five main attractions:
  1. Swiss Family Treehouse
  2. Jungle Cruise
  3. Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room
  4. The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
  5. Pirates of the Caribbean
I love the number of options in this land, which is my favorite land in the park. Two all-ages movement rides, one walk-through exhibit, one show and one kids' ride. Nothing terribly thrilling - that comes a little later.

Swiss Family Treehouse - its counterpart in California got changed over to a Tarzan overlay several years ago, but this version just continues to chug along. It has a decent-sized footprint, but I'm not sure the location would support something any better than what it is. I enjoy the occasional journey into Disney past, and appreciate holding on to a live-action title that is more than 10 years old. Other than some of the animated films, it's the oldest IP in all of Walt Disney World. It does get rumored to be on the chopping block every few years, but that's usually because no one can believe it's survived this long. It usually supports a fairly steady stream of the curious, and it does have some fantastic fireworks views from the top branches if you can time it correctly.

Jungle Cruise - This is a greatly loved ride, maybe the 3rd or fourth most loved in the whole park, although it also is discussed to be removed and replaced on occasion. Mainly on account of its massive footprint, but with the new movie coming out next year starring The Rock and Emily Blunt, even if it tanks this ride will be here for many years to come. Every Christmas it gets a "Jingle Cruise" overlay which is also quite popular. The jokes and the skippers continue to stay fresh (if inherently stale) and there are rarely any major technical issues. 

Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room - After the fire that apparently took out Iago a few years ago, the "Under New Management" version was reverted back to the original. Personally, I'm in the minority that preferred the one with Zazu and Iago animatronics riffing off the old birds and the little bit of danger from Polynesia, who's "gonna squeeze ya!" But the classic version is here, and it's the one Walt approved for Disneyland, so I'm not going to argue much. I think the music is really dated and do wish they would update a little to have some difference from the Disneyland version but after the backlash from "Under New Management" this will likely stay as it is for some time to come. I also miss the "agent" birds from the preshow queue (voiced by Don Rickles and Phil Hartman, both now deceased), now there really isn't much at all to entertain people while they wait.

Flying Carpets of Aladdin - A standard spinner which admittedly I've never ridden. Careful of the camels - they spit (literally)! The theming is nice and it's always good to have a kid's ride in a land. It's out in the middle of the walkway so there's nothing you could really replace it with except - another spinner.

Pirates of the Caribbean - This ride has changed more than almost any other in the park over the years, due to two main reasons: political correctness sensibilities and the Johnny Depp movie franchise. Every other year, almost, you hear of another overhaul of some kind. Women now chase the pirates. The female auction has been toned down, the fabled redhead is now a pirate, and they're all selling....chickens. Swimming mermaids have come and gone (which I completely missed in that 2009-2015 gap). Barbossa and Jack Sparrow are part of the ride, and Davy Jones was here for another hot second before he too went away. This is maybe the most popular ride in the park so it will still be standing even when the rest of Magic Kingdom as fallen to dust. It eats a ton of people and moves them through quickly so there's rarely a major line. There are two separate queues - one moves you through a dungeon area where you see the famous skeleton chess game, the other moves you through an armory. I'm not sure what warrants which side they open at any particular time, or when they open both. Interestingly, the Shanghai version of Pirates is based solely on the movie series and not this classic attraction, and has some amazing projection effects. It's doubtful any of those components would ever be force-fit into this version, nor would they likely build a clone here in the states so if you want to see that one you'll have to visit China. One great thing that is done at Halloween the last couple of years is to add live actors into the queue and into the actual ride. A "prisoner" talked to guests and handed out treats to kids, and several "pirates" waved and chatted with guests as they rode through the town. I would love to see this continue all the time, but especially as a bonus as Halloween.

I don't want to leave without mentioning some food options. Mainly two things: 

The Skipper's Canteen - a relatively new, sit-down restaurant that is supposedly run by skippers from the Jungle Cruise. It's menu is...eclectic and while the decor and atmosphere are very engaging, word of the menu items not having a lot of kid appeal (and picky eaters like myself) have kept this location from really gaining a foothold in the entire park "pantheon" of dining options. I don't think it's in danger of closing, but continued under-performance - even after several menu revamps - and a less-than-stellar box office of the movie might spell danger for this interesting venue.

Aloha Isle and Sunshine Tree Terrace - Dole Whips and related desserts. Heaven in a cup, and the greatest snack in a 500-mile radius. That's all I have to say about that.

Adventureland, in my opinion, is the most complete and well-rounded area of the Magic Kingdom. The other lands have their own positives and negatives, but this area seems to have it all.

Future Suggestions: I know nothing about land and what's possible to build things on, but the area to the immediate west of the pathway connecting Adventureland and Frontierland has been rumored to be the possible future site of an Adventure-themed hotel. There seems to be a lot of space for it (once again the train track route would need to be adjusted). I think it would be a welcome addition to the Magic Kingdom set of hotels, although I'm sure it would be Deluxe like the others.

I think there is the perfect mix of attractions for an old-school Adventureland. Because the time periods and settings of all the attractions are so far apart it's difficult to try and shoehorn in some kind of connecting theme, although I would love-love-LOVE to see a much bigger presence of the "Disney Society for Explorers and Adventurers" throughout Adventureland and beyond (Google it if you want to know more). It's such a clever idea that riffs off the old Adventurer's Club and has expanded to include fictional explorers that touch on many attractions throughout all the Disney parks around the world. A true thrill ride like the Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye ride at Disneyland would be fun to include, but it's not really needed and there's plenty to keep one entertained and occupied in this land.

Next time: Frontierland and Liberty Square

Walt Disney World - State of the World 2020

Walt Disney World - State of the World 2020

In this series of posts, I will examine each of the four major theme parks in the Walt Disney World family, and give you my assessment of:

1) Where they have been
2) Where they are
3) Where they are going

Keep in mind these are my thoughts, reflections, analyses, wishes and prognostications only. Everyone else's likes and dislikes about Walt Disney World are different than everybody else's. This is mainly a way to organize my own thoughts, look back on my own experience in the parks and with Walt and the Disney company, and offer some little bit of insight and opinion on what I feel works and what doesn't. And to invite _respectful_ and positive conversation.

My background

I have visited at least one park in Walt Disney World on a total of twelve separate occasions/trips:
  1. 1988 - Fall
  2. 1990 - Mid-summer #1
  3. 1990 - Mid-summer #2
  4. 2000 - Fall
  5. 2004 - Fall
  6. 2007 - Fall
  7. 2009 - Spring
  8. 2015 - Late Summer
  9. 2015 - Christmas
  10. 2018 - Fall
  11. 2019 - Halloween
  12. 2019 - Christmas
In 2019 we become Annual Passholders, and plan to visit at least once more before our Pass runs out in late September 2020.

I also visited Disneyland Paris in Christmas 2010 and Disneyland/California Adventure in Summer 2017.

While this may seem like a relatively small number of times to visit the parks to offer this type of analysis, I have adopted WDW as somewhat of a hobby and followed news and discussion of the resort very closely for almost the last 10 years or so. I feel like I have enough insight into the history and workings of the parks to offer what I hope is an interesting and engaging analysis.

My philosophy

I'm not a pixie duster, nor am I someone who only exists to criticize. I love Disney, I love theme parks and I love theatrical-type entertainment. I love immersive experiences, and I love the occasional adrenaline rush. I love movies, I love TV and I love storytelling of all kinds. I expect excellence and hope for the best out of everyone and everything, but I am not so naive as to believe all my Disney dreams will be fulfilled and also not so cynical as to believe it's all only about the money. The Walt Disney Company is filled with dreamers and executives, Imagineers and bean counters, cast members who love their jobs and cast members who are only there to grab a paycheck. It takes all kinds to run the world and it takes all kinds to run a resort. The one commonality I do firmly believe in is that everyone is trying to do (pretty much) the best they can within the parameters they feel are important and expected of them. So I give everyone a lot of benefit of doubt when it comes to certain things like planning, building, implentation, running, operating, hosting, decorating, cleaning, serving and paying. We're all trying to make our way in the world, support ourselves, support our families and maybe make a little magic for someone. When everyone's interests coincide - bonus! It happens more often than not at a Disney park. But it doesn't always happen the way we want it to, and we (as fans on the outside) don't know 10% of the reality in some cases. So while it's nice and convenient to be able to sit from my easy position and either praise or criticize, it's with as much acknowledement as possible of the work that thousands of people are doing every day, in their own way, for a large multi-national corporate conglomerate. Walt's spirit may live in the parks, but he's been gone for 53 years and we all have our own interpretations of how he did things and what he would have wanted. So I will endeavour to by fair, honest and helpful in all that I say.

These individual park posts may run a bit long, and I may break them into multiple posts per park - I don't know, I haven't written them yet :) But please bear with me as you read, and please feel free to offer comments, suggestions or criticisms as we go. Just keep it civil and helpful.

I'm also not certain how long it will take me to write all four park analyses, so they will likely be published at an undefined schedule over the next couple of days. 

I'll edit this page and link to individual park posts as we move along, for later convenience.

1) Magic Kingdom (Part 1)

As Peter Pan said, here we go!!