A WD Online Tour Of Walt Disney World, Part 1: The Magic Kingdom
posted by Mike on 9/11/03
Yeah, yeah, I know. Ever since I came back, I've been griping about the Walt Disney Travel Company. So why, you may ask, am I writing an article on that which I hate most? Well... WD has a wide audience. We have readers from all over the globe. And many of you have probably never been to the Walt Disney World Resort. And most of you who haven't probably have to no plans to either. I can relate.
But for those of you who WOULD like to come see it, to bask in its cheesy Americana glory, I have written a series of articles. Fear not, these are not cleverly disguised advertisements for all things Disney. If something sucks, I'll tell you it sucks. If something's cool, I'll still tell you it sucks, just because I hate them in the deepest part of my tortured soul...
Well, alright, that was a lie. But even when I tell you something is cool, I'm still hating them on the inside. So here we go, WD's True Hollywood Story: The Walt Disney World Resort.
We'll start with the Magic Kingdom. But first, a little historical background. The planning for Disney World began in the middle sixties. Walt wanted something grander than Disneyland. He was a big thinker, always trying to figure out ways of making things better. He'd been talking for years about a city of the future he wanted to build, a place where people and businesses from all over the world would come together to share knowledge and promote the future of business and technology. He called this concept the "Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow," Or E.P.C.O.T. for short. It would be a living, breathing city of the future, a clean city where guests actually lived and worked. Transportation would be completely handled by monorail or "people mover." In short, it was a truly remarkable concept, and would be unlike any other city on earth.
But for that, he'd need land. A LOT of land. He didn't want to make the same mistake he did in California. When one goes to Disneyland, you quickly notice that the entire complex is literally surrounded by cheap, run down motels and cheesy tourist shops. Walt didn't want E.P.C.O.T. surrounded by such urban sprawl. He knew that businesses would crop up, yes, but he wanted them kept at a decent distance. So under a fake business name, Disney bought up 47 square miles of swampland just outside of Orlando, Florida. Because of his self-imposed anonymity, he got the land for dirt cheap. Many foreheads were slapped when it was finally announced that it was Disney who'd been buying up the property.
One question that quickly arose was where Walt was going to get the capital to built a fully functioning city. His answer was simple. Start by building what you know, and build E.P.C.O.T. with the profits. So it was decided that a larger, grander version of Disneyland would be built first as a moneymaker to finance the E.P.C.O.T. project. It would be called "The Magic Kingdom," the first park of a resort they would call "Disneyworld."
The Magic Kingdom, along with two deluxe hotels (The Contemporary Resort and the Polynesian Resort) linked by a newly revamped monorail system and a state-of-the-art camping facility (Fort Wilderness Campground) opened in October of 1971. Walt was gone by then, overcome by lung cancer. The park was dedicated by his brother and lifelong partner, Roy Disney SR. In honor of his brother, he named the resort "Walt Disney World." But much like his younger sibling, he died before E.P.C.O.T. became a reality, and by then, it had become something far different from what Walt had envisioned.
But more on that later. We'll start with the Magic Kingdom, the first completed park. The Magic Kingdom is basically Disneyland, but on a much larger scale. The entire Disneyland park could fit inside the Magic Kingdom's parking lot. Today, there are over twenty resorts owned and operated by Disney that surround the Magic Kingdom and the other three parks. These resorts are split into four tiers: Deluxe, Home Away Form Home, Moderate, and Value. If you don't care about the resorts and want to move on down to the parks themselves, skip down to where I mention the "nitty gritty."
The Value resorts are your no-frills hotels. Called the All-Star Resorts, these range in price from 77-114 bucks a night depending on the time of year. The rooms are smaller than those of your average Hampton Inn. There are large swimming pools,(no slides though) and a full-service food court in the lobby. No "sitdown" restaurants. All transportation to the parks from the All-Star Resorts is handled by "Climate-Controlled Motor Coaches," which is Disneyese for tour buses. The All-Star resorts are split into several buildings each, but have only one bus stop, located at the front. So if you happen to get a "standard" room in the back of the resort, you'll walk 15-20 minutes before getting anywhere near a bus.
There are three different All-Star Resorts, their only difference being their theme. All-Star Movies, All-Star Sports, and All-Star Music. Each one is decorated with tacky giant statues in line with their theme. All-Star Sports has 20 foot tall football helmets. All-Star Movies has statues of Buzz Lightyear and the 101 Dalmations. All-Star Music has giant drumsets and the like. And the new value resort, Disney's Pop Century resort (which opens in mid-December) "celebrates" the last fifty years of American pop culture. So you have wings that have giant Rubix Cubes, cell phones, and other tacky nonsense. And if that wasn't cheesy enough, each "decade" has popular catch phrases of the day plastered all over the buildings, phrases like "Cowabunga!" Or "Groovy!" Or "Phaaat!" Yes, it is just as lame as it sounds, a real fuckin' eyesore.
Bottom line, these "value" resorts aren't really much of a value at all. The rooms aren't any bigger than the average room at the Holiday Inn. If you want a fridge in the room you have to pay an extra 10 bucks a night. There's no microwaves in the rooms. And unless you pay 10 MORE bucks a night to get a "preferred" room that's closer to the main building where the bus stop is, you're going to have sore feet before ever making it to the bus, much less a theme park. The only advantage as opposed to staying off-property is that all guests at WDW resorts have free use of WDW transportation. That, and anyone who stays in a WDW resort gets into a different theme park one hour early every day of the week.
Next up you have the moderate resorts. These have unique theming, have food courts and a sit-down restaurant with full room service, large swimming pools with water slides (in addition to each building having its own "quiet" pool) and each building has its own bus terminal, so there's much less walking involved. The room rates are split into three different categories: standard view, which is a view of the parking lot (known in Disneyese as "A Multicolor panorama of the automobiles of North America), water view, which is either a view of the lake or the pool, and non-designated view King rooms, which can have either
water or parking lot views, but have king size beds in them instead of double beds.The king rooms and water view rooms run 15 dollars more per night than the standard room. Now me, I don't tend to stay in my room except to sleep, so I couldn't care less what the view is.
There are four moderate resorts. They are The Caribbean Beach Resort, which has a sort of Jamaican Island village theme, Coronado Springs, which has a Mexican beashside villa motif, Port Orleans French Quarter, which is designed to mimmick the wrought-iron splendor of New Orleans, and Port Orleans Riverside, which has a southern Louisiana mansion feel. Standard rooms range from 144 a night to 169 a night depending
on the season. Again, it's nice to be able to use the Disney Transportation, but if you don't mind using your own car, there's not much point to paying that much when you can stay at the Hampton for half that.
Then you have the "Home Away From Home" resorts, which feature rooms built with large families in mind. These also fall into the "deluxe" category, and are essentially Disney's version of time share resorts. They all have multiple bedrooms available, with separate living rooms, full kitchens, washer/drier, and so on... You'll be spending a minimum of 229 a night to stay at one of these, but if you have a family of 8 or more, in can be cheaper than booking two rooms somewhere else and eating out every night as opposed to cooking your own stuff.
Finally, there's the deluxe resorts. Whereas the Value and Moderate resorts have outdoor breezeway room access (like your typical Econolodge) all the deluxe resorts have indoor corridor access. The rooms have queen size beds instead of doubles. They have multiple restaurants, and many have "Character" dining, where teenagers dressed as Mickey Mouse and the like come and harrass you while you're trying to eat your scrambled eggs.
Each deluxe resort has its own unique theme, and all of them have a wide variety of entertainment, recreation, dining, and transportation options. But only three of them, considered the top tier resorts, are linked to ECPCOT and the Magic Kingdom by Monorail. They are the original three deluxe resorts: The Contemporary, The Polynesian, and the top-of-the-line, Disney's Grand Floridian Resort And Spa. During various seasons, these monsters will set you back between 250-450 dollars a night for their cheapest room, and potentially over 2000 bucks a night for a suite. They pamper the hell out of you at any one of the deluxe resorts, and many offer some truly unique experiences (Animal Kingdom Lodge, for example, is surrounded by a man-made savannah where over 30 species of African animals roam and graze. Of course, you have to pay about 100.00 more per night
to have a "savannah view" room as opposed to the aforementioned parking lot view.) But again, if seeing the parks is what you're primarily concerned with, if you give not a shit for bike rental, tennis, and speedboat rental, then there's no real reason to pay that much.
Now, ONE advantage I forgot to mention about staying with Disney is that only Disney resort guests can buy what they call the Ultimate Park Hopper, which is basically a length-of-stay pass that gets you into all the theme parks, all the water parks, the Disney Quest Interactive Theme Park, The Pleasure Island night club district, and DIsney's Wide World of Sports complex. If you stay outside, you have to buy a park hopper that gets you into the theme parks, then pay additional one day admissions to everything else.
Which brings me to packages. Disney loves for you to book packages. The standard package is called the "Dream Maker" package, which includes your room stay, Ultimate Park Hoppers for everyone, a couple of pin and lanyard sets for the kids (pin collecting is a Pokemon-sized obsession for Disney guests,) and a complimentary choice feature where you can choose from one of four options: 25 bucks off dinner at Planet Hollywood, your picture added to a permanent display in front of EPCOT, a free round of mini-golf, or a "Story Magic," where some dipshit dressed like Gipetto or some other character tells an old Disney-fied fable, then characters from the movie come out and sign autographs.
From there you have packages that include a little dining, with maybe a set of Cirque Du Soleil tickets in addition to the Dream Maker features. then you have the Gold Plan and Platinum plan, which include breakfast, lunch, and dinner every night, unlimited recreation, unlimited tours (like touring the utilidor underneath Magic Kingdom, swimming with the dolphins at the Living Seas in EPCOT, and so on,) and concierge level itenerary planning.
These packages can cost THOUSANDS of dollars. If you have a large family, yes, they can potentially save you money. But if your main focus is the theme parks, well, you'll end up paying for a bunch of shit you'll never use. you can't say "Yeah, I want the dining, but leave off the Cirque, the recreation, and the tours."
You either take it all or take nothing at all. So bottom line, unless you plan on staying 8 days or more, the higher end packages
are a rip-off. Buyer beware!
Now, enough boring shit. On to the nitty gritty!
Welcome to thy house of pain...
The Magic Kingdom, as mentioned earlier, is Disneyland on a grander scale. The entire Disneyland park could fit in Magic Kigndom's parking lot, with room to spare. Sitting on the shore of the man made Seven Seas Lagoon, the first section you'll walk in to is Main Street, a shopping area originally built to hearken back to the small towns of the early twentieth century American midwest. I say originally because many of the unique stores that were a part of Main Street when I was a kid are now gone. They used to have a penny arcade, complete with old school arcade games as well as the latest and greatest. They had a magic shop, a candy store, a jewelry shop, and other unique wares.
All of that has been replaced. The Emporium, the "general" store which has always been geared towards souveniers and clothing, has now been extended all the way to the edge of Main Street. It's now one huge Disney Store, selling everything from toys to golf clubs. this more or less killed the appeal of Main Street for me, as the stuff they sell there now is the same shit I can see at any Disney Store in any mall in America. Big deal. Oh, there's still a crystal shop, and an ice cream parlor. But that's about it.
Oh b-b-b-but wait, it get's worse!
Past Main Street, you enter the central hub of the Magic Kingdom, a circular courtyard that rests at the foot of Cinderella Castle. In the center of this courtyard is a bronze statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse walking hand-in-hand. From this point you can travel to the six different themed "lands": To your left, Adventureland. At eleven o'clock, Liberty Square and Frontierland. Through the gates of the castle, Fantasyland and Mickey's Toontown Fair. And to the right, Tomorrowland. We'll start with Adventureland and work our way around.
Adventureland is one of my favorite areas in the park, but definitely has some "attractions" you'll want to avoid. The least updated area of the park, some of Adventureland's features are in desparate need of replacement. This land celebrates Walt's love of exotic locales and old tales of swashbuckling and derring do. the motif ranges from the cty of Agrabah (Aladdin) to the
Amazon River (Jungle Cruise.) So here's the skinny on what to do and what to avoid:
1) Swiss Family Robinson Tree House
This "attraction" should be renamed a "repellant." Based on the famous treehouse from the hit DIsney movie, the manmade tree and the house that resides on it is just an excuse to waste an hour and tucker yourself out. It takes about 60-90 minutes to walk all the way to the top of this tree, just to see what is essentially a replica of a movie set from a film that most of its visitors have never heard of. It has the same water system, and all thenother "Professorfied" comforts of the movie set, all working. But unless you're a huge fan of the film, there's nothing of interest here. The attraction is so unpopular that the Disneyland version was recently retooled into the "Tarzan" treehouse, though I think all they did was change the name so kids who'd seen Tarzan would drag their parents to it and justify its existance. If I was running things, I'd uproot it and put in a big steel "flying"
coaster and call it Tarzan's VineSwinger, or something to that effect. Anything's better than a fucking tree. I can climb trees at home. Don't wanna pay 55.95 a day to do it.
2) Aladdin's Magic Carpets
This is the only attraction to be added to Adventureland in the last 20+ years. And it sucks. It's just a retooled version of the Dumbo ride over in Fantasyland. You get in this "carpet" that's attached by a crane arm to a central hub, and it slowly spins you in circles, moving up and down, while large camel statues spit water at you.
That's about it. Kids 4 and under will like it.
3) The Enchanted Tiki Birds - Under New Management
This is an animatronic show that's been a part of Adventureland since the park opened. Walt originally got the idea for this attraction while vacationing overseas, where he purchased a small, electronic bird that chirped and fluttered its wings. When
he got back to California, he handedit to one of his imagineers and said "Take this apart and figure out how it works."
A few years ago the show was spiced up by adding the chaacters Iago The Parrot from Aladdin (and yes, he's still voiced by Gilbert Godfried) and Zaazu from The Lion King (still voiced by Rowan Atkinson.) In the new storyline, they're the new managers of the
theater, and are bickering about how to improve the show. The theater itself is circular and has a tropical theme. Hanging fromt he ceiling on numerous pedestals are dozens of tropical birds. All of them move and sing, as do all the flowers, and the wooden
Tiki Gods that line the walls of the theater. Show lasts about 8 minutes, and rarely has a line, so it's a good way to get out of the sun for a bit. There are some lound thunder crashes and lightning effects during the show, so some msall children may be startled by it. Overall, not a bad way to kill a few minutes.
4) The Jungle Cruise
When originally conceived, this show was to have real animal as its stars. But Walt felt that would make the entartainment value unreliable. He wanted everyone to see the same show, so it was decided to make all the animals animatronic figures. This is still
one of the most popular rides in the park, and has easily the longest line in Adventureland. You join several other guests on a river boat, captained by a Castmember who talks through the entire 12+ minute ride, cracking one liners and cheesy jokes. You'll see lions, elephants, hippos, and even a few headhunters on the prowl. This ride is actually more fun at night, as the Castmembers who run the attraction in the evening tend to
go more off-script... and the funnier the ship captain, the better the ride.
Some said that Johnny Depp's best years were definitely behind him...
5) Pirates Of The Caribbean
While the line is not aslong as The Jungle Cruise, this is easily the most popular ride in Adventureland. The Disney World version of this ride was originally going to be an Old West equivalent of the Pirate ride at Disneyland, but in the end it was decided that
it would be faster and cheaper to just make a carbon copy of the original. And it has been there ever since. Pirates is what is known as a "Dark" ride, where your ride vehicle takes you past several preconceived scenes, lit for dramatic purposes, to tell a story like a living movie.
Sometimes it's just fuckin' impossible to get anyone to throw you a damn bone...
This ride uses boats, and takes you through a small Caribbean town under seige by pirates. If you've seen the Johnny Depp film, you'll spot several familiar scenes, such as the prisoners trying to bribe a dog for the cell key, or the old fat woman chasing a pirate
with her boom... then there's the theme song. This song is the second most addicting song in the park (I'll get to number one later.) No matter how cheesy you may feel, you can't help but leave the ride hummingthat insipid tune. Corny, yes. Dated
technology, definitely. But overall, one of my favorites. It's silly, fun, and for young ones, has a few mild scares thrown into the mix. Well worth the averagefive minute wait. When you leave the ride, the exit leads into a pretty cool pirate-themed gift shop area, where you can buy everything from eye patches to bandanas to custom-made silver rings.
So that completes Adventureland... We pass by the Mexican restaurant and suddenly find ourselves in the heart of the Old West... we have arrived in Frontierland.
The main strip of Frontierland looks just like a small town ripped right out of an old 50's Western B-flick. Back in the park's early days, it was common to see staged gunfights go on here, with the town sheriff shooting bank robbers off the roof tops and such. With violence in entertainment being a hot topic these days, such shows no longer occur. But the old west feel is still prevalent throughout this land, especially with the attractions.
Splash Mountain gives new meaning to the phrase "dropping a log"...
1) Splash Mountain
This is the first ride you'll see when entering Frontierland from Adventureland. Based on the Disney film Song Of The South (which the company has pulled permanently from circulation in the states due to some finding it racist.) the boat ride follows the story of Brer Rabbit on his adventure to see new places, and avoid Brer Fox and Brer Bear. All of the animatronics are very well done, and the climactic drop at the end of the ride is not to be missed. In fact, this particular ride has garnered quite a bit of attention in the news in recent years because of college girls' propensity for flashing the souvenier camera during the drop, earning the ride the nickname "Flash Mountain." Those of you who frequent Google can find various websites that showcase these photos. All in all a great ride with several drops, and a good sense of humor. but it has one of the longest lines in the park, so make sure to use Fastpass on this one (i'll get into Fastpass later.)
I never thought I'd ever be afraid to ride this coaster...
2) Thunder Mountain Railroad
Thunder Mountain is right next door to Splash Mountain. It's a roller coaster that simulates a runaway mine train zooming through the mine shafts of a flooded mining town. The ride only goes 26 miles per hour, and has no loops, inversions, or steep drops. Fairly tame, really. But even tame rides can be deadly.
Just a few days ago, one man was killed and ten others injured on the Disneyland version of this attraction when the locomotive came loose from the rest of the train and derailed through an underground portion of the track. They're still investigating what happened, but I'm hardly surprised. I've been saying for years that, as tame as Thunder Mountain is, it still needs better safety restraints than a simple lap bar. In the least in needs an extra seat belt, or perhaps even shoulder restraints... The WDW version of Thunder Mountain was closed for rehab during the accident in California. I suspect it will be fully inspected and evaulated for increased safety features before being re-opened.
In the meantime, the poor schmo who died last week in the supposed happiest place on earth will soon be immortalized on
Disney Urban Legend pages across the web. They'll probably say he was jumping from car to car and knocked the locomotive's
coupling loose, or some other such nonsense... or perhaps the train's wheels locked when they ran over Walt's frozen head...
3) The Country Bear Jamboree
I covered this attraction in my review of the Country Bears movie. Basically one of the oldest shows in the park, the Country Bear Jamboree is a live action animatronic country vaudeville show starring talking redneck bears. While the show itself is (like most of the park) geared towards children, there are certain parts where the adults laugh and the kids ask questions, particularly a song sung by a trio of female bear triplets entitled "All The Guys Who Turn Me On Turn Me Down." The show lasts about ten minutes or so, and is a harmless bit of family fluff. Another good break from the heat, but the wait for it can be exhasperating, especially since the film came out.
Short of a country line dancing show starring Goofy and characters from Toy Story 2, that winds it up for Frontierland, so we'll continue on to Liberty Square...
Liberty Square celebrates the Colonial America of 1776. In the center of the courtyard is a replica of the Liberty Bell, and across
from that is Liberty Square's first attraction.
Sit right down and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fake boat trip...
1)The Liberty Bell Riverboat Cruise
This one's just for big fans of nostalgia. The Liberty Bell is a scaled-down real steam-powered replica of the Riverboats that cruised up and down the Mississippi back in the days of Mark Twain. It departs from Liberty Square on a 12 minute tour around the "Rivers Of America," a man-made river that separates Liberty Square and Frontierland from Tom Sawyer Island, which I'll get to
shortly. While on the cruise, you may see evidence of river pirates, "Injuns," and other fake dangers. If you want, you can camp out in front of the door to the captain's booth, and ask the captain if you can join him. If you do, he'll present you with an "honorary riverboat captain" certificate, and even allow you to steer the boat. Don't worry, there's no risk of some dumb tourist running the boat aground. I'll let you in on a little secret. The boat, while steam-powered, is bolted to a track on the riverbottom. Disney pays these "captains" 8 bucks an hour to stand there and turn the wheel and pretend that it actually accomplishes anything. Oh, and he occasionally toots the boat whistle. Definitely one of the top three dullest attractions in the park. Number two is the Treehouse mentioned earlier, so that brings us to the number one dullest attraction, which also happens to be in Liberty Square.
2)The Hall Of Presidents
Oh my God. Yeah, there's nothing I want to do more on my day at Disney than to sit for twenty minutes waiting for a show to start, only to find a stage lined with animatronic decoys of every President who ever lived. If they were realistic, that would be one thing. Unfortunately, Disney hasn't had that many advances in audio-animatronics since the original Abraham Lincoln was built. They're about as realistic as the singing gorilla robot at Chuck E. Cheese. Every time a new election takes place, Disney makes a big deal of adding the new President to the growing number
of stiff-moving androids on stage.
The latest is George Dubyah, of course. I have to wonder if the designers of his doppleganger are big fans of his, as they dressed him in a suit 3 sizes too big. the sleeves hang past his wrists, the shoulders are far broader than they should be, and the cuffs of his trousers are bunched around his ankles like pom pom socks. He looks re-goddamned-diculous. I can only assume that it's intentional, as the Bill Clinton robot has a nicely fitted suit.
Heh. Funny side-story about Slick Willy. First time I went to Disney after moving to Florida, I stopped in to the Hall Of Presidents to get warm, as it was in the middle of February during a particularly rough cold spell. I sat down, not really paying attention to the show, just breathing into my hands to get some feeling back. Then Bill stood up and began to give his speech. At first I can't believe what I'm seeing, so I get up and walk closer to the stage. Sure enough, some joker had managed to sneak up on stage and shove a cigar in Bill's hand. So there he stood, ranting about the future of America, and waving his Monica Plugger with mucho gusto. Classic.
Here lies dear departed Dave. He chased a bear into a cave...
3) The Haunted Mansion
This is the fourth Disney World attraction to get the movie treatment. The Haunted Mansion starring Eddie Murphy will hit theaters this coming November. And much like the upcoming film, the Haunted Mansion is a shrill blend of comedy and fairly decent scares. As you approach the mansion, you'll hear wolves howling in the distance, and the subtle whine of an organ playing. You walk under a canopy to a set of double doors located in the lower left hand side of the Mansion. To your left, you'll see various tombstones with curious euologies such as:
Here Lies Cousin Hewitt
We All Know you Didn't Do It
Here Lies good old Fred
A Great Big Rock Fell On His Head
...and so on. Eventually, a rather decrepit looking housemaid or Butler will open the doors and let you in, eyeing you hatefully. These are the only castmembers on property that are required to treat the guests rudely.
KEEP MOVING! (*wow... minimum wage never felt so gratifying!*)
You first walk into a dimly lit parlor with a fireplace that appears to have not been used in over a century. Hanging above it is a picture of Master Gracey, the lord of the manor. His image slowly begins to age before you, until finally turning into a painting of a mad living corpse. You hear a faint voice whisper:
"When hinges creak in doorless chambers and strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls, whenever candlelights flicker where the air is deathly still, that is the time when ghosts are present, practicing their terror with ghoulish delight."
Woah...these Red Dawns are the hizzle fashizzle!...
The wall slides open to your right, revealing a hidden room. You step inside, and notice that you're in a round "portrait room" lined with paintings of numerous different people. The host/hostess screams "PLEASE STEP AWAY FROM THE WALLS AND INTO THE DEAD CENTER OF THE ROOM. The host/hostess then proceeds to walk around the crowd, eyeing each guest as if he/she is planning their demise. Suddenly, a malevolent voice booms over the crowd:
"Welcome, foolish mortals, to the Haunted Mansion. I am your host. Your...ghost host. Hmmmm. Our tour begins here, in this gallery. Here where you see paintings of some of our guests, as they appeared in their corruptible, mortal state. Kindly step all the way in please, and make room for everyone. There's no turning back now..."
You notice that the room appears to be stretching, the ceiling slowly moving higher and higher. The paintings are stretching as well, revealing the cause of death for each former guest. The Ghost Host, whom we now suspect is Master Gracey himself, speaks again:
"Your cadaverous palour betrays an aura of foreboding, almost as though you sense a disquieting metamorphosis. Is this Haunted room actually stretching? Or is it your imagination, hhmm?? And condsider this dismaying observation! This chamber had no windows, and no doors. Which offers you this chilling challenge: to find A WAY OUT! HAHAHAHAHHAHA!!!!!
Of course, there's always my way...."
Lightning strikes. The room goes black. Above you, the ceiling has vanished, revealing the corpse of a man who has hung himself. You hear a woman scream as she falls to her death. Just as you hear the sound of her body striking the ground witha sickening thud, another hidden door opens, and lights come back on. You are lead into the loading area, where your "doom buggy" is waiting to take you deeper into the mansion. The Ghost Host says:
"Oh, I didnt mean to frighten you prematurely, hhhmm. The real chills come later. Now, as they say "look alive", and we'll continue our little tour, and lets all stay together, please."
You step into your doom buggy, and notice that you are moving towards a poorly lit corridor. You can't quite make out what is there. The Ghost Host speaks from behind your head:
"Do not pull down on the safety bar please, I will lower it for you. Heed this warning, the spirits will materialize ONLY if you remain quietly seated at all times. Oh yes, and no flash pictures please. We spirits are frightfully sensitive to bright lights."
Thus begins your tour of the mansion. You'll pass through the library, the Ballroom, the haunted seance room, the attic, and finally, the graveyard, where all 999 ghosts have come out to play. And they want you to join them. As the ghost host says, "There's always room for a thousand. Should you decide to join us, final arrangements can be made at the end of the tour."
When I ordered my mail-order bride, I assumed they'd send me a live one...
The special effects, while dated, are still effective. The Ballroom scene is particularly impressive. Through the use of a glass see-through wall and reflected projection, ghosts seem to appear out of nowhere, dancing and singing across the Ballroom floor. In the graveyard, ghosts soar up into the sky by the thousands, while others, casting a sick bluish light, cavort about the tombstones laughing and gesturing at you. Just as the ride is about to end, the Ghost Host remembers one little detail he forgot to mention: BEWARE OF HITCH HIKING GHOSTS. You pass by a wall of mirrors, and are shocked to see a rotted corpse sitting beside you in your doom buggy. Altogether, a fun, slightly chilling experience. Overall, my favorite ride in the Magic Kingdom.
Alright. That finishes Liberty Square, so we move on to Fantasyland.
Per Capita, Fantasyland has more rides than any other part of the park. Most of them are dark rides or kiddie rides. Fantasyland sits in the shadow of Cinderella's castle, and resembles in some ways the village scene from Beauty and The Beast. All medieval European architecture.
1) Cinderella's carousel
Nothing special here. Just your standard carousel. Look closely for Cinderella's horse. It's the one with the pink ribbon tied around its tail.
2) Dumbo's Flying Elephants
Pretty much the same ride as Aladdin, but you're riding in Dumbo-shaped cars instead of in carpets. Fun for kids, and it has
interesting design work, but nothing special.
3) Ariel's Grotto
This is not really an attraction, just more of a diversion. This is a kid's play area where the Little Mermaid appears throughout the day to meet guests, sign autographs, and pose for pics. No big deal. Of note is that it sits right nest to the abandoned lagoon where the old 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Ride used to be.
4) Peter Pan's Flight
This is a dark ride, and not a particularly good one, though the approach is unique (the ET ride at Universal rips it off it a big way.) Basically, you sit in these small pirate ships that are suspended from a track that runs across the ceiling, so you're looking down at everything, creating the illusion of flight. you follow the script of the Peter Pan film, right out Wendy's window, out over london, and straight on to Neverland to battle Captain Hook. The music and sound effects are ripped right from the soundtrack, as are all the scenes you'll see. The bad part is that everything is coated in blacklight paint, and hasn't been touched up in years, so everything has a faded, wooden look. This one is fun for kids, but it needs a rehab in the worst way. Also one of the longest lines.
5) It's a Small World
Oh my Christ. This is the ride I was talking about earlier when I mentioned annoying theme songs. This is a boat ride that basically takes you to highly stylized depictions of differnt countries, all filled with children singing this song in an endless, eternal loop. Over and over and over for what seems like eons you must sit and listen to this maddening little tune, that eventually sticks itself into the darkest recesses of your brain and never, ever leaves.
When my friend Brandon and I visted Disney in the summer of 1992, I tricked him into riding it by convincing him that it was "the wildest water ride in the park." Thirty seconds into the ride and he was beating me over the head with his ballcap, begging to be
let off. When we finally disembarked, he kept going on about how evil the kids seemed, that they all reminded him of demented singing Chucky dolls. We spent the rest of the day coming up with our own lyrics for the song, little ditties like:
It's a world of laughter, a world of tears
It's a world of hope, and a world of fears
If you don't like our show
Then we'll chop off your toes
And feed them to the seagulls...
An interesting sidenote: According to recent statistics, this ride is the most popular ride in the park during the annual Gay Dayz event. Derive from that what you will...
...Oh that's just WRONG...
6) The Many Adventures Of Winnie the Pooh
Yet another dark ride, this one based on the film of the same name. you ride a giant honey pot through the hundred acre wood, joining Pooh, Tigger and the gang on their various escapades. The ride uses some neat mechanical effects, such as the Tigger scene, where Tigger teaches you how to bounce. Your honey pt begins to bounce up and down as it moves through the wood. Later, during a flood scene, it bobs up and down, side to side, as if floating in water. Also of note is a "dream sequence" that will be a big hit with X takers. It's a psychidelic scene where Pooh's honey is being stolen by "Heffalumps and Woozles." Once you exit the ride, you enter a All Things Pooh gift shop, where the smell of honey is actually piped into the shop through the air vents.
Funny side story. That same summer of 1992, this ride didn't exist. Instead, it was a ride called "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride," based on Disney's adaptation of "The Wind In The Willows." You rode old motor cars through town, running over people and crashing through buildings, culminating in your car running head on into an oncoming train. The ride ended with you arriving in Hell, surrounded by Satan and his imps. I'm not making that up. Hell. Satan. Imps. In a Disney ride. But the funny part was during the wait. All while we were walking up and down the cue line, a pre-recorded message kept saying "When the car stops, pease step out to your right. Step out to your right please." Over and over again. By the time we actually got to our car, we started wondering if anyone had ever failed to heed the warning, despite it being replayed ad nauseum. So of course, when the ride ended, Brandon stepped out to his left, and pretended to be electrocuted by the ride's floor track. The castmembers were not happy, and we almost got thrown out.
7) Snow White's Scary Adventure
Another dark ride. Follows the storyline of the film from Snow White singing to birds at the well to the Prince's kiss awakening from her deathlike sleep. Has some mild scares in it that may freak out small children. Mostly harmless. Not that bad, but not that great either.
8) The Mad Tea Party
Okay. This ride is based on the mad tea party scene from Alice In Wonderland. You sit in these giant teacups that surround a large teapot. The floor that the cups are attached to spins, and your cups spin as well. In the center of the cup is a large wheel that you can turn to increase the speed of the cup's spinning. None of my family will ride this ride with me anymore, as I've become infamous for inducing mass vomiting. If you ride this with anyone
who has some decent arm strength, wait till afterwards to eat, otherwise you'll lose your lunch. And you'll be spinning so fast that your puke will most likely fly right back in your face.
Now, a brief mention of Mickey's Toontown Fair.
This mini-land is all about the kids. There's a small kiddie coaster called Goofy's Barnstormer, a Donald Duck play area, Mickey and Minnie's houses, and a Town Circus tent area where you can meet and greet with characters from Chip and Dale to Cinderella. If you have any little ones, they'll want to stay here all
day. Otherwise, avoid it like the plague.
Past Fantasyland is the last land of the park (damn, it's about time): Tomorrowland. Dubbed "The future that never was," Tomorrowland has a Jules verne future look to it. Artistically speaking, it's my favorite section of the park.
1) The Tomorrowland Transit Authority
This ride has the shortest line in the park. Originally called the People Mover, this is a magnetically powered train that takes you on a brief tour of tomorrowland, it's track running perhaps fiften feet above the ground. It runs at about 10-15 miles per hour, so you get a nice breeze going. And because of its general lack of popularity, the castmembers will let you stay on and ride it as long as you like. Good way to rest your feet and cool off.
This is a show hosted by the time keeper, an animatronic android from the future voiced by Robin Williams. The show takes you through the past, persent, and future on a giant screen that almost surrounds the entire theater. the downside is thatthere's no seats. You have to just stand there and watch the show. This one is so unpopular that it's only open a few months out of the year. Don't even bother, unless you're a huge Robin Williams fan. And if you are, please kill yourself.
3) The Extra-terrorestrial Alien Encounter
This show was originally supposed to put you face to face with the Xenomorphs from the hit Alien films. But somewhere along the way, Fox backed out, so Disney had to rewrite the script and come up with their own alien. Basically, you sit in a round theater, in the center of which is a clear glass tube. An alien race is supposed to be demonstrating their new "transgalactic transmission"system... basically the transporter from Star Trek. But something goes wrong. Instead of the head of the company beaming in to tell you all about their new invention, they pull in a flesh-eating alien instead, who proceeds t break the glass and escape into the theater. The lights go out. You hear it running around in the room. you feel it breathing on your neck, and so on. Pretty fun the first time, but pointless on repeat visits, as you know exactly what will happen. Supposedly, they're planning a Lilo and Stitch theme for this show. We shall see.
4) Tomorrowland Indy Speedway
Nothing special here. Small cars on a track that you can steer. They go about 5 mph. Fun for kids who don't want to wait till they're 16 to get behind the wheel, but completely NOT worth the hour + wait.
5) Carousel Of Progress
This is another show, where the theater seats revolve around the stage areas. It starts in the 1800's, then spins to another stage that depicts the 20's, then spins again, rpeating the storyline of technological progress all the way up to the not-so-distant future. An old show, and it shows. Only remarkable because a castmember died in the Disneyland version when she was crushed to death between the stage walls.
6) Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin
This is kiddy fluff through and through. Based on the Toy Story character voiced by Tim Allen, this is basically a moving shooting gallery. You ride inside small "space pods" that have joysticks and obnoxiously large rayguns. The joystick turns the pod in circles as it moves down the track, and the raygun fires a laser light at various blacklight painted cardboard targets themed on the Buzz Lightyear Show. But because the only way to tell if you're hitting the targets (you have to hit them in the exact center) is to see your red light striking it, you spend the whole ride squinting at miniscule bullseyes and waving your gun wildly trying to hit something. At the end of the ride, your score is totaled and you are given a rank based on your skills with a blaster. Lame. Men In Black at Universal Studios kicks its ass all over the place...
I may be the oldest ride in the park baby, but I still have the longest line. Whooo!
6) Space Mountain
I've saved the best for last. Space Mountain is a "mad mouse" style coaster, but done on a much larger scale, with Disney style.
The coaster is indoors, in the dark. Lighting effects cast images of asteroids and stars across the ceiling and on the ride's structure itself.
Please keep your hands and arms inside the giant space suppository at all times... wouldn't want you to scrape your hand on an "ASSteroid." Get it? ASS! Teroid! LOL!
It only goes 27 miles per hour, but the small size of the cars, coupled with the sharp turns and unseeable drops makes it feel much faster than it is. But a warning. When they say to keep your arms int eh car, they mean it. I had a chance to ride this sucker with the lights on.
Hey, this ain't so baOH MY HOLY CHRIST!!!
Once you start weaving down into the heart of the track, the support beams are literally just a foot and a half or so above your head. Raise your arms on this baby, and you'll lose 'em.
So that rounds out The Magic Kingdom. One quick closing word. The park has a new ticketing system called Fastpass. Basically, if you come to a ride with a ridiculously long line (a regular occurance at Disney World) you step over to a console that resembles an arcade change machine, and stick your ticket in it.
It spits out a pce of paper that tells you to come back between, say 1 and 2:30. So you go do something else, then when 1 comes along, you go back to said ride, but instead of
getting in the "standby" line,ie the wait forever line, you go through the Fastpass line, which usually has little-to-no wait. Now this system works, but then it doesn't. You can only have one Fastpass at a time, so forget about running through the park grabbing Fastpasses for every ride. Secondly, when the Fastpass line starts to back up, they stop the standby line to let Fastpassers on, s all it really does is make the Standby line take longer, punishing guests for not using Fastpass. But here's the best way to take advantage of it.
Take Splash Mountain and Thunder Mountain, which are right next to each other. Both have a wait time of about 90 minutes. Grab a Fastpass for Splash Mountain, then get in line for Thunder mountain. By the time you've ridden "The Wildest Ride In The Wilderness," your Fastpass for Splash Mountain will be valid, and you'll be able to just walk right in, thus cutting your wait time in half. Plan your day at the park in this way, and you'll see everything in less than 7 hours.
Next up, we'll cover EPCOT. Until then, have a Magical fuckin' day!