Friday, September 28, 2007

Best End of Week Getaway, pt. 2

Behold! Approx. 4600 words on my trip to the Magic Kingdom.
And you wondered what was taking me so long…
(I've hidden 6 typos within this report to encourage you to read it all.)

Having spent many of my most formative childhood years in California, I have it in my blood and brain that the world’s finest amusement park is Disneyland and have been reared to regard a trip to Disneyland as a ritualistic and serious thing that needs to be attacked with preparation and planning. Living in California no single person I knew had ever been to Disney World and what little I knew of the Epcot Center was learnt from an issue of World magazine and regarded a purple dragon named “Figment.” But once I moved to Chicago I was stunned to find that everyone around me had taken major trips to Disney World and no one, not a single person, had been to Disneyland which I was already beginning to admire for being slimmer and doable in a day. And during all my days as a Midwesterner, a mountainwesterner, and easterner I continued to only go to Disneyland (except for when I was a far-easterner went to DisneySea) UNTIL just a few weeks ago when Michelle, an East Coast Girl with east coast vacation habits, suggested we visit Disney World. Hungry for knowledge and fun, I accepted the adventure. As time and funds were on the more limited side, we could not pull off a full assault on the entire Walt Disney World Resort but had to concentrate our efforts on only a few targets—Blizzard Beach on Friday and the Magic Kingdom on Saturday. (For a while we were considering an alternate park on Saturday or a second park on Sunday, but Magic Kingdom was a must and I found out that the Rock n Roller Coaster was closed, which made a trip to Disney MGM out of the question [although it was hard to pass up a chance to conquer another Tower of Terror]) I offer here, to you, an extremely thorough account of the differences and similarities between Disneyland (“The Happiest Place on Earth”) and Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom (“The Most Magical Kingdom on Earth”) as a Disneylander tries to embrace East Coast Ways and asks himself “Would I rather be Magical, or Happy?”

One thing I’ve learned from my family is that if you’re going to go to a Disney park there is only one way to do this: Get up early and be there when it opens. If you aren’t at Disneyland when it opens, then why did you go? Amazingly to me, Michelle had never been at Disney World right when it opened, and maybe my insistence that we be up and ready well before the departure of the 7:50 Hotel Bus to the Magic Kingdom was a little unfamiliar to her, but she accepted it.

Something I had always wondered about was the geography of Disney World. I had imagined that the parks all grew out of the same nexus (much like Disneyland and California Adventure share a driveway or how the Tokyo Disney parks are right next to each other) but no, they do not share a nexus, they just live in the same citystate hidden inside Florida…essentially Disney World is the American Vatican, except probably much bigger. While standing in line for the Slush Gusher at Blizzard Beach I could see the MGM Studios and Animal Kingdom fairly clearly and some hotels a little further off but it took me much squinting to discern Cinderella’s Castle and Space Mountain far far off in the distance. That’s when I realized how serious that place was. And also, it looked a lot like Yavin to me. ANYWAY, so, yes, Disney World=Huge, and I learned quickly to expect long bus rides through it to get to the parks of my interest. Long, terrible bus rides that filled me with ticket-getting and line-fearing anxiety as my watch clicked closer to 9 (or, more accurately, 8:15, which to me is awful close to 9.)

When we got to what I thought were the gates to the Magic Kingdom and bought our tickets I was confronted with the biggest surprise and hugest difference between the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland for me…that once you buy your ticket, you don’t just walk into the Magic Kingdom. No, you take the Monorail there! This was amazing to me and quite exciting as, during my days as a young Disneyland attender, the Monorail was considered an attraction in itself, an exciting attraction that required lots of whining and bothering of parents to get to ride on.

After disembarking from the Monorail we were finally really at the gates of the Magic Kingdom with time to spare before it opened. The crowd wasn’t so big, and they kept us in the area in front of the train station before the park opened (as opposed to Disneyland, where you’re allowed into Main Street USA). At a few minutes before 9 the train rolled in and Mickey and a lucky family proclaimed the mildly-Halloween-themed park open for the day. The build up to the opening of a Disney park is always a stirring and thrilling for me that I get way too worked up about, or, as I said in my DisneySea post:

Like, honestly. It was one of the highlights of the trip, all the characters running around and waving at us and us waving back at them with the music playing. I get goose bumps just thinking about it. It's kind of like, honestly, what kind of person doesn't get excited, really, really excited, to go to a Disney park? To be there right when it opens? Crud. I feel like I might start crying remembering it.

That about sums it up.

Michelle and I speed-walked up Main Street USA with a plan of heading for the Frontierland portion of the park first. While Cinderella’s Castle in the distance was more fantastic than California’s, I couldn’t believe how identical the surroundings were to Disneyland…well, maybe a little more humid, but if you had blindfolded me and dropped me off there, I might not have known I wasn’t in Orange County.

I feel Michelle found the excitement of being there for the opening quite exciting.

Without consulting a map or really knowing what I was doing I let my Disney-instinct guide us to Splash Mountain, our first attraction for the day. When we got there it was weird…no one was around, and I wondered if it was open yet. I could see a few workers milling around inside but…no sign that we were welcome. I stopped my wonderings when Michelle yelled at me to “look out!” (or perhaps it was a “come on!” that she yelled) and I turned to see a mass of park-goers descending upon us and the ride much like the Egyptians chasing down Moses and the Israelites before we ran into the queue for the line. Whilst running through the line (themed just like the California Splash Mountain, by the way) I noticed something amazing: No one was in front of us. Michelle and I were the absolute first to arrive there. And while the way things get lined up for the logs led to a group of loud Brazilian men getting into a log ahead of ours, I couldn’t help but think “Wow, we were first!”

A major difference between DL Splash Mountain and MK Splash Mountain: you sit side by side in the logs, not in a row. And another difference: during the ride there is not a vignette where the mother rabbit warns her bunnies (tucked in bed) to stay away from the Laughing Place.

Also, Man, it was hot and humid at the start of the day…so sweaty!!

These are the loud Brazilians that rode ahead of our log.

Do you know what happened when we got off the ride? Do you know? Let me tell you, it was great. When we got off the ride (and at this moment my brain could only think one thing: “Must get to Thunder Mountain, Must get to Thunder Mountain, Must get to Thunder Mountain”) a Splash Mountain worker pulled Michelle and I to the side and congratulated us on being Splash Mountain’s first riders of the day (or, more accurately, the first to arrive at Splash Mountain, because, you know, those Brazilians that got ahead of us rode it first.) AND presented us with a certificate in honor of the occasion AND took us to the Splash Mountain souvenir shop to give us a free copy of, you know, those photos they take of you as you’re going down the drop at the end? But the whole time I’m thinking, “Yes, yes. Very nice of you to honor us but really the line for Thunder Mountain can only be getting longer so maybe if you could just knock this off and let us go?” BUT then she (Erica, her name was Erica. The nice girl was named Erica) escorted us to Thunder Mountain and took us in through the Exit where a nice Thunder Mountain worker treated us like VIPs and seated us in the very back of the train which, apparently, is where the Wildest Ride in the Wilderness gets its most Wildest.

Key Thunder Mountain Differences: Did not notice a goat chewing dynamite, sulpher-pool theme towards the end of the ride, more and larger dinosaur bones, ride seemed longer yet less thrilling than Disneyland. Also, location. Located north of Splash Mountain, as if it were the Country Bear Jamboree (RIP).

Key Similarities: The falling rocks inside the cave part. The old prospector voice at boarding (“…’cuz this here is the wildest ride in the wilderness!”)

Now, when Erica was walking us to Thunder Mountain she told us something very important and interesting. The Haunted Mansion just opened two days earlier after being closed for three months, so it was the most important ride to see for many people at the park that day. When we got there the line seemed significant, but really wasn’t so bad (it was a straight line into the ride with almost no snaking around at all).

There wasn’t FastPass for the ride, but there was a special line for Season Pass holders…you know, people who were only stopping in to check out the changes to the ride and then would be heading home to mow the lawn or whatever.

Something special about the line for the Haunted Mansion is that there was this group of girls in matching tank tops (“Hooray! It’s Camila’s 7th Birthday) with some moms and an official Disney tour guide. What we had here, you see, was a Super Sweet Seventh Birthday in effect where somebody’s little princess and a handful of her closest friends were taking a super-deluxe trip to Disney World to celebrate and you got the feeling no expenses were being spared. I sincerely hope that those girls flew in from somewhere, were staying in the resort’s finest hotel, that Camila’s Dad was paying for all those girls and the Moms, that they rolled up to the park in a limo that morning, that they had lunch with Cinderella that day, and that I somehow find out what Camila did for her 16th birthday. I’m serious about all this. With so much (SO MUCH) chubby America going on all around me (at that point I was catching on to the key Disney World demographics and I’ll get into that more soon) it was pleasing to see some over-privileged action, too.

Also, all my under my breath jabs at this group helped us make friends with the nice people next to us in line.

Ahh, silly headstones. That’s the Haunted Mansion way.

Key Mansion Differences: Primarily, Location. The Mansion was sort of tucked away in a corner to the side of the lake more or less sort of kind of where Thunder Mountain would be. I like better how you have to pass in front of it when walking through Disneyland. You could avoid this spooky bit of architecture completely if you wanted to. Next, exterior design: Looks very different from the DL one. Thirdly: It’s hard to say what the Differences and Similarities are because the ride just went through this modernization and a lot of it seemed just like California (except certain things were in different places, duh [particularly interesting: the busts that stare at you and the paintings that changed scenes {like of ship to shipwreck, not the stretching paintings at the beginning} were inside the ride, not along the way before boarding the Doom Buggies]). Something that was definitely new: this MC Escher room with ghostly footprints appearing on the stairs.

After the Mansion we headed to the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland. Magic Kingdom Adventureland, in general, is a lot more Arabian than Disneyland’s. And while it has an Aladdin-themed Magic Carpet ride, there is no Indiana Jones ride. And this is the major, MAJOR difference between the MK and DL: Missing rides. In particular, Disneyland features 3 major attractions that the Magic Kingdom does not: Indiana Jones, the Matterhorn (sort of reborn at WDW’s Animal Kingdom as the new Everest ride that almost (almost almost) made me want to visit that zoo), and Star Tours (which was a draw in its day…and in Florida can be found at MGM). But this is part of the Disney World experience: they spread the attractions out between the parks to make it in your interest to spend 3 or 4 days at its parks and they make sure each park has some ride that you just can’t miss…so while I was getting my major Disney needs met at the Magic Kingdom, there was a nagging at me that I was missing out on other key nostalgia items and if I wanted to get at them, well…I could buy a Park Hopper ticket or stay another day, if it really was that important.) And while the MK had a handful of attractions that were unique to it, the extra peas on my plate didn’t keep me from noticing the missing carrots.

Moving on…

MK Pirates of the Caribbean! Oddly Moroccan! No bayou! It either had more drops or fewer drops than the DL version, but I’m not sure which. It’s tricky to be specific about the differences between this ride and the California version as they’ve both undergone these Jack Sparrow overhauls and I don’t know how different the DL one is now from how I remember. But now the ride has Jack Sparrow in it a few times and the animatronic robots make sure to mention him in every other line of dialogue. Also, where’s the talking skull? We get Davy Jones now? Sigh. So it goes. Still neat, but I miss, you know, it being exactly how it was when I was young.

Aladdin’s Flying Carpets: Aladdin was there. Basically just another Dumbo, and that’s not a bad thing. Fun going up and down. Hooray.

The Enchanted Tiki Room—Under New Management!:

Oh dear. I was excited to visit the old Tiki Room (out of motivation to not miss a single attraction at the park) and listen to that nice old Tiki Room song, but do you know what happens in The Enchanted Tiki Room—Under New Management!? A few lines into the famous old Tiki room song Iago from Aladdin and that one bird from the Lion King show up because it turns out they’ve bought the Tiki Room! Oh no. So a small drama ensues and the birds sing modernized songs. (meaning: they rap, there’s a Miami Sound Machine tribute, uhm…probably more rappin’?) Sigh. Total Bummer. BUT just when I thought Old School Disney was going to be getting stomped all over all day long at the park, something important happened…

Swiss Family Robinson Tree House! Yes! In California the SFR Tree House has been turned into Tarzan’s tree house (Booooo!) but here in Florida the tree house remains in the proper hands. Nice, very nice.

The next important attraction: The Jungle Cruise.

But before going into that, let’s cover a little Disney World anthropology. I won’t pull any punches here: In New York it is often asked, “Where are the fat people?” Answer: Disney World. They’re at Disney World. Honestly, it was a festival of rotundity with ample obesity sprinkled throughout. And along with a general rolly-pollyness, there was a certain look to almost all attenders (and just when I thought I had prepared for myself the perfect Disney disguise). The All-Attender Certain Look: Families, small families, youngish parents. Mom, Dad, two or three kids. Kids: look like kids going to Disneyland, may or may not already be plumping up. Dads (see this picture for illustration): 97% of the males at the park wore their hair shaved or closely shorn with a hat, had sunglasses of the Oakley or almost-Oakley variety, wore their facial hair in a thick and wide goatee, and covered the roundness in either Old Navy polo shirts or sports jerseys (often Disney-inspired). Moms: when paired with a family as I’ve described to this point, all Moms were also a little (or lot) on the round side, wore their blond hair cut shortish but poky (or, if it was still long, the hair was pulled back into an aggravated and short-tempered pony tail). Ruddiness to the face, a few items of gold jewelry. Shirts were generally polo, pants were always (ALWAYS!) khaki shorts, worn a little small, bunching and creasing at the waist and crotch. White sneakers OR Crocs on the feet. (Crocs! Crocs! Crocs everywhere! Someone making millions on special Mickey-themed Crocs, the obvious choice for a day of Disneying.) This is how they all looked, or at least how they all looked to me.

The Jungle Cruise, itself? A classic. All the important DL vignette’s I remember enjoying over and over again (and the accompanying traditional gags…“I think he got the point in the end.”, “Two of his heads…for one of yours.”, “Well, they got the motor to turn over…”, “Don’t worry, they’re only dangerous when they blow bubbles and wiggle their ears.”, “Ladies and Gentlemen…the back of the waterfall.”) but with one twist that was unique to this Eastern iteration of the ride: a journey into an Oriental jungle temple. Not exactly Indiana Jones, but along those lines.

Now here’s the thing that might be a little amazing: At this point Michelle and I have been on every ride in Adventureland and Frontierland and its only around 11’ish. The first few hours of any Disney adventure are your most important because this is where you burn the brightest. Once you’ve had your lunch, it all starts to drag and trail off…lines start getting longer, fewer pictures are being taken, you’re getting on about 2 attractions an hour (tops) as opposed to the previous, I don’t know, 3 a minute.

That said…it was time for lunch.

Disneyland dining experiences: Always bad. Bad burgers in Fantasyland, Bad burgers in Tomorrowland. Nothing you can do about it. As Michelle and I grew blind, stupid, and angry with hunger we stumbled into a Baseball-themed eatery on the outskirts of Main Street USA that served only hotdogs. And corn dog nuggets. Sigh. Grumble. But I must say, my enjoyable little corn dogs were the least offensive thing I’ve had at a Disney park yet (barring the delicious meat on a stick served by the Jungle Cruise in California. Tiger Tails? Is that what they’re called? Pretty yummy. I’ve had a lot) So, yes, lunch was eaten. Ducks got jealous. Adventures continued.

It was time for the tackling of a major Disney obstacle (and I mean “obstacle” in the most pleasant sense), Fantasyland! Where dreams come true and you wait and wait and wait to relive the abbreviated adventures of some of Disney’s most aged and beloved tales.

Hey big castle, let’s get busy!

Inside Fantasyland, the juggling of Fast Passes became key. While waiting for one ride, we duck into the magnificent Philharmagic! Show (a 3D feature where Donald Duck stumbles through key scenes or musical numbers from some of the most popular Disney cartoons while pursuing a renegade magical conducting baton that properly belongs to Mickey [of course]. Difficult to sell correctly in just a paragraph and without any pictures, but so nice we saw it twice. Highly recommended. Advantage: Magic Kingdom in this case), while waiting for another ride, like say, the Winnie the Pooh darkride (another MK exclusive)…

We ride the Tea Cups! The Tea Cups. Where the suggestion “Let’s spin as much as we can as fast as we can!” careens from “Good Idea” to “Please…Stop…The Cup.” in only ½ a verse of the Unbirthday Song. Observe:

Alternate View:

While some other FastPass is cooking, we visit Snow White’s Scary Adventure. No way! We’re riding Grumpy!

Dopey: Very adverse to the Paparazzi. So Hollywood. He’s changed.

It’s A Small World: A little odd to stand in line indoors for this one, I really think my compulsion to ride every ride at the Magic Kingdom that day took a turn for the demented when I we got in line for this torture chamber because, while I found a few of the inhabitants amusing, it was stopping constantly. Constantly! I’d say that during this visit to the Magic Kingdom rides were being stopped more than I’ve ever experienced on any other Disney visit. And this is not a good thing when you’re stuck in South Pacific Small World with continents to go and you’re realizing, “Wait…this song has one verse that’s only 4 lines long and then a chorus that repeats a thousand times.” Still, it has its charms and since I wasn’t worried about getting onto the Matterhorn or Indiana Jones, I could give it a visit.

After Small World the lines in Fantasyland were getting oppressive and it seemed best to head for more futuristic lands. Oh, wait. There was business to take care of:

Well, Frank couldn’t pull it out when he was 30, either.

(Now we’re getting to the point of the day where fewer pictures were being taken and more stamina was required to have fun)

We headed from Fantasyland to Tomorrowland and FastPassed some tickets to Space Mountain. We were tricked into going into the Carousel of Progress, an almost-charmingly out of date animatronic ode to technologic progress in the 20th century that debuted to impatient crowds at some World’s Fair and now tested the patience of crowds seduced by fake bonus Fast Pass tickets and a Buzz Lightyear character hanging out at the front door. With time to go on our Space Mountain passes, we headed for Toon Town.

Toon Town of the Magic Kingdom seemed really different from the (as I remember it) scorching hot, treeless, supercrowded asphaltfest that is the Toon Town of the Magic Kingdom. Mostly about visiting the homes of favorite Disney characters, there was also this little Barnstormer roller coaster that was actually plenty fun. Part of me wishes we had gone on it a second time. Oh well. It sort of seemed faster and funner than Thunder Mountain…I know, that’s crazy…but there’s a part where you crash through the barn and fly past chickens and that’s fun.

Post-Barnstormer I believe we went to a little attraction called “Stitch’s Great Escape” at the entrance to Tomorrowland. This show(?) used to be a scary attraction called “The Extra-Terrorestrial Escape” or something where the audience was spooked into thinking a scary alien was on the loose in the dark theater with them, but now the audience is, uhm, entertained? into thinking that Stitch from Lilo & Stitch is on the loose in the dark theater with them. The Stitch animatronic was rather impressive, but I was jealous of Michelle’s recounting of the old, scary version of the ride.

After Stitch it was time to redeem our Space Mountain FastPasses. The ride had been closed for a while when we got to it because of, you know, technical difficulties, but just as we were asking ourselves What to Do? the ride reopened. Struck by a bolt of brilliance we hopped from the FastPass line to the normal line (as there was no normal line since no one had been waiting to see when it might reopen) and were able to zip right on and ride it as “normal” folks and then run off and hop into the FastPass line and ride it as “FastPass” folks. SO, next to winning the Splash Mountain first-riders prize, our back to back Space Mountain ride was the second biggest highlight of the day. And in honor of this…no pictures!

BUT, I do have my Space Mountain Differences: NO MUSIC! NO MUSIC in the ride! What?! In Disneyland there’s that sort of surf-rock theme accompanying you in this Space Mountain they can only hear you scream (you know what I’m trying to mean). It makes a big difference, but its still a thrilling and dippy ride. Lots of anxiety over the ride’s Mouse Ear loss potential factor.

After Space Mountain we did the Buzz Lightyear ride. It’s a dark ride where you shoot at targets and get a score. I was pretty proud of my score until I read on the internet that you can get over 1,000,000 on it. Now I’m just confused as to how that’s done. I think they’ve got this ride in California now, but it was my first ride ever. Pretty fun, but the trigger was hard on my thumb.

Post Buzz: A little refreshment break. Mmmmm.

Oh wait! At some point we went to the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor! It was like a comedy club show where computer animated characters from Monsters, Inc. interacted with the audience in real time and told jokes for babies. I think it’s fair to say that this one was still in beta.

Then, after my orange float: The Tomorrowland Indy Cars. Uhm. I don’t know what’s so futuristic about the Indianapolis 500, but these cars make the same noise and smell as the DisneyLand ones. We wondered to ourselves why the ride wasn’t Cars themed, all they’d have to do for that was slap some eyeballs on each car, but we supposed that the agreement between Disney and the Indy 500 was of such a financial importance as to require this theme to continue to exist.

At this point it was getting later and time was becoming an issue. Back to Fantasyland we went to conquer our three last rides.

The Carousel.

The Dumbo.

And Peter Pan’s Flight, for which we stood in line about an hour, being the only line that really reminded me of the lines I used to encounter at the Disneyland of my youth. And how is it that Peter Pan ALWAYS draws such crowds? Why does this dark ride attract the throngs in ways that the others do not? I know not. But it is pure and highly enjoyable. Maybe it’s so popular because it’s high quality? That’d be a nice answer.

Leaving Fantasyland we were running out of time and everyone in the park was assembling for the day’s final parade and fireworks show. We made a dash over to Frontierland for another trip down Splash Mountain, and then it was time to address the sad business of exiting the park with as little crowd and parade conflict as possible (you see, we had the pressing matter of not missing our 9:30 bus back to the hotel to attend to, and it seemed very risky to stay until the park officially closed and then try to squeeze onto a Monorail with the rest of the fleeing and chubby masses).

And that, I do believe, is pretty much everything there is to say about the Magic Kingdom that day. It was a good time, my penchant for extreme bouts of nostalgia (and, perhaps, maybe even objective facts) keeps me from loving the Magic Kingdom as much as Disneyland, but it was a great day and I regret none of it. None.