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DisneyWorld: The Good, The Bad, and The Mickey

So Sonja and I spent last week at DisneyWorld. We have some great pictures, some fantastic memories, and hurt feet.

What We Did Exactly Right

In getting the 5 day Park Hopper Pass we chose right. We spent a day at each of the four parks, and then spent our final park day going back to what we’d missed or just wanted to do again. The only park we didn’t complete in a single day was Epcot, but we ended up going back to Magic Kingdom and MGM Studios as well because they had some cool rides.

Our padded schedule worked out perfectly. We arrived mid-Saturday and spent that day at the hotel and at Downtown Disney for dinner. This allowed us to be “at DisneyWorld” without having to jump right in. We also left mid-Saturday and gave ourselves lots of time to adjust back to Pacific before we had to go to work.

The Hat at Disney's MGM Studios

What we Could Have Done Better

In staying at a Disney Resort we were mostly right; I would definitely stay on property but at a nicer resort. We stayed at the All-Star Movies Resort because it was cheap, but it was basically a Motel 6 with Disney characters on the walls and hideous Disney spreadsheets. The Disney hotel is worth it: in addition to the free buses to every park, your room key doubles as a credit card anywhere on property and they can deliver stuff to your room (although we found that service a bit slower than we would like; it took one package two days to arrive). When we go again we’re thinking of staying at one of the Epcot resorts, which are around a nice lake and very centrally-located, which would cut down on the bus-rides.

We should have planned for more downtime. Our schedule had us there for eight days and seven nights, Saturday to Saturday. With five days at the parks and two Saturdays for travel, that gave us one day of sleeping in and lounging about. We used that one day to go see Episode 3′s matinee opening day showing, so that was nice, but our feet would have been happier and we would have been more rested if we had planned for a 1-to-1 ratio of in-park to out-of-park days. We could have gone swimming in the hotel pool, or gone miniature golfing at the courses they offer, or even visited Cape Canaveral or Universal Studios or Sea World.

What Was Inexplicable Different

One of the big reasons we went was to see what was different about the east coast parks from their west coast brethren, and so I’ll share with you what we found.

The biggest difference is the size. Not only are the parks very far apart from each other (with vast reaches of swamp in between), but the parks themselves are larger. The roads are wider, the space between rides bigger, and the castle in Magic Kingdom is taller (though not as tall as Disneyland: Paris).

Speaking of the castle, it is freestanding, and isn’t connected to Fantasyland via walls like everywhere else. That struck me as odd.

Islands are a big theme. The hub at Magic Kingdom (the north part of main street, where the Walt and Mickey statue is) is an island. The Tree of Life in Animal Kingdom is an island. Tom Sawyer’s Island is actually two islands. It’s all a way to incorporate the wetlands that these parks were built on top of.

The Haunted Mansion is a big brick building that’s not very intimidating at all. Inside the Haunted Mansion is the exact same ride, with one extra joke.

The Haunted Mansion

They take your fingerprints at the front gate. But not if you buy the parkhopper passes we had.

Tower of Terror only has two elevator shafts. And instead of the spooky mirror they have a blacklight room filled with objects from the Twilight Zone opening. The elevator car moves forward through this room and into the actual up-and-down shaft, which is completely different than California Adventure’s ride, which is a straight up-down shaft which is quicker and less cheesy. Also, at the bottom of the elevator shaft are screens where they project stuff, like the shattering window from the Twilight Zone opening, or the electric guests in the movie.

The parks are more active. For the 50th Anniversary each park got a new attraction. A lot of the rides were recent additions or had had major updates in the recent past. Compare with Disneyland, which has seemed to lose rides lately (Space Mountain, where art thou?)

Space Mountain

Space Mountain has two tracks, just like our Matterhorn: one is better than the other, but the whole ride is faster, darker, and generally cooler. Or maybe I’ve just forgotten ours. One thing I do remember in our Space Mountain was a line with Slater and Fed Ex robots in it. Their line is in a dark tunnel with crazy 3D images outside fake windows. Then their line goes into an open-topped area where you can see the glowing trains zip around the ride. And finally their line ends by depositing you onto the ride, which is open, a significant improvement over Disneyland’s.

They have no Matterhorn. But they are building Expedition: Everest at Animal Kingdom. This kind of thing is very common; they take rides you’re familiar with from Disneyland and put them in some park other than the Magic Kingdom. Star Wars isn’t in Tomorrowland: it’s in MGM Studios. Soarin’ Over California is in Epcot, and they just call it Soarin’ (ostensibly so that they can change the images if they want).

Expedition: Everest

They have the Rock and Roller Coaster, which was pretty awesome. The Aerosmith angle is rather pointless, but the coaster itself is very nice, if a little dull at the very end. I don’t think it beats California Screamin’, though.

They have really awful places to eat.

They have characters everywhere, ready to sign and stamp your little autograph books. People line up to see Mickey and Rafiki and Timon and Aladdin. We would routinely be wandering through a park, spot an absurdly long line, and discover that it led to some character. It confused us.

Instead of keeping the parks open late, they close everything down at 9 (10 on the weekends) and offer “Extra Magic Hours.” If you’re staying in a Disney hotel, you show your key to get a wristband at whatever park is doing Extra Magic Hours (it rotates between parks; some days is no park), and then you can stay an extra three hours riding rides and having fun. At first, I thought that this was a great idea. And then I figured out that it’s just stupid. They’re keeping the park open later one night a week, thus guaranteeing that everyone who’s staying at Disney resorts will be in that park. And not just during the extra magic hours, either: you’ve only got so many hours in a day, and it takes time to move between parks, so you end up planning your park schedule based on which park has Extra Magic Hours. So everyone travels as a pack, and you’re always going to be in longer lines. Plus, if you didn’t stay in a Disney resort, you’re out of luck; no Extra Magic Hours for you.

Florida is hot enough to melt grown men.

Conclusions

Sonja and I both agreed that we would go again without hesitation. The trip even cost less than we initially anticipated. And with the above caveats, I think the second trip would be nicer than the first. But I would definitely want to go with more people; I think the person who would most enjoy it would be my dad: he would get a hoot out of all the movie stuff at MGM Studios, he’d love Animal Kingdom, and we would never be able to get him away from Epcot.

If you can afford it, it’s highly recommended.

Sonja and I on the PeopleMover (aka Tomorrowland Transit Authority)