Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Disney World's Universal Decade

As far as theme park fans are concerned, the decade of the 2010s began in June, when The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Islands of Adventure. As far as national media coverage was concerned,  this was the largest theme park story in about ten years - the only thing that came close was the opening, and resounding flop, of Disney's California Adventure. And for possibly the first time ever, Universal was getting the sort of press, the sort of reports of opening day insanity, and the critical platitudes that, in any other situation, would have gone to Disney.

Everyone saw the shots from opening day, with the line snaking out of Islands of Adventure and nearly to the park next door. As an idea - as an image - here was something that was to set much of the stage for the next decade of theme park design.

But even more importantly than the hype and the opening day line was the fact that here Universal had finally delivered on the promise of something Disneyesque, which is to say: something that was lavish and also something that people wanted badly. The keystone ride, Forbidden Journey, remains a charming conjuring trick built on old-school illusion and misdirection that has not dimmed in impressiveness despite ten years of tech challengers. But the true reason the place worked is it delivered those experiences people really wanted.

This is something Disney had really lost sight of in the 90s and 00s: delivering the kind of experience people want in a way they are prepared to pay for. Animal Kingdom, especially in its original form, was too lecture-y to emotionally connect, Epcot had been stripped of much of its warmth, and DCA included smarmy sex jokes and gorillas in Cadillacs. Universal let you drink a Butterbeer, buy a wand, and enter Hogwarts. Adult fans of Harry Potter who grew up on the book series bought themselves a wizard robe, stood in front of Hogwarts, and cried. It was powerful wish fulfillment, and it was coming to them from Universal. And all of this was happening at exactly the wrong time for Disney, who had spent much of the last decade pursuing their most coveted demographic of... six year old girls.

In June 2010, Walt Disney World was a confused mess of projects. The largest project was New Fantasyland, tearing out what remained of the 20,000 Leagues lagoon site in favor of a paltry single ride and six heavily themed meet and greets skewing towards children. Your child can color princess pages in Aurora's house from Sleeping Beauty! It had been five years since the last major addition - Expedition Everest - and Toy Story Mania, though enduringly popular, was not the sort of headliner that sells vacations. It would be another two years before the Little Mermaid omnimover at Magic Kingdom would open for business, and there was little else on the horizon. Pleasure Island had been abruptly shuttered in 2007, and while various replacements had been announced, very little actual work was taking place. Across the country, California Adventure's overhaul had been announced and was still ongoing, and although the World of Color fountain show had been enthusiastically received, much of the best parts of that park were still in the future.

Gentlemen, I give you the future!

Indeed, the overwhelming sense as a Florida based Disney fan was that the true show was happening elsewhere. Hong Kong Disneyland's Mystic Manor attraction was shaping up to be a tribute to old-school Disney attraction values, and Walt Disney Studios Paris was receiving a trackless Ratatouille ride. California Adventure, so long scorned by the internet and the kind of theme park visitor who never likes to travel west across the Mississippi, was receiving ambitious and prestigious upgrades. It felt as though Walt Disney World's doldrums would never end.

Its also worth remembering that 2010 was the year WDWs attendance finally began to fall, and this happened nearly in harmony with Universal's ascendancy. Universal Orlando, which had spent much of the decade since the opening of Islands of Adventure in comfortable slumber as a favorite of locals and niche enthusiasts, suddenly began to do the kind of business its parks were designed to do. Tourists who never previously would have considered heading crosstown began to descend to see their Disneyesque Harry Potter area -- and they actually liked what they saw. Shops had to put up makeshift queues to control Potter-crazed fans of all ages. Abandoned corners of Islands of Adventure such as the Captain America Diner suddenly sprung to life. What Disney had feared in 1989 and 1999 had at last come to pass - Universal was peeling off vacation days from visitors. All Disney had to counter The Boy Who Lived was a pack of princesses. Resentful fans built castles in the sky, fantasizing about Disney's imaginary Potter Swatter.

Something had to be done, fast. The Fantasyland area was reworked, with half of the Princess meet-and-greets pulled and replaced with a family coaster. That was fine in the short term, but Disney still had nothing with the in-built fan base and cross generational appeal of Harry Potter.

With Marvel tied up with Universal and Lucasfilm's acquisition still in the future, Disney announced they had acquired the theme park rights to James Cameron's Avatar. It was the confused shrug heard round the world. But in retrospect, it was something more. It was the start of a new phase in Walt Disney World history.

The IP Invasion

Michael Eisner was the boy who ran away from the polo club to become a television executive. A product of a wealthy New York City family and the Hollywood culture of the 1970s, Eisner loved big, flashy, prestigious ideas -- Disneyland outside Paris, WOW! Under Eisner, Disney could build modernist architecture palaces, teach you American history, and market Tim Allen as Santa Claus. What Eisner was bad at was where road meets rubber; burned on EuroDisney and Disney's America, in the second decade of his term he became gun shy on spending. This leads to many bizarre missed opportunities from 1994 to 2005; Eisner could never bring himself to build a proper Lion King ride anywhere in any of the four Disney resorts in the world, despite that feature being the crowning fiscal achievement of his tenure. So Eisner liked big ideas with no money behind them; a celebration of man's progress to welcome the 21st century at Epcot, WOW! But what that actually was, was fabric on poles and a pin stand.

In comparison, Bob Iger is, on the big ideas front, a dullard. Bob likes to give people more of what they've already said they wanted - he did not miss the opportunity to get a Frozen ride open wherever he could as quickly as possible, whereas one feels that Eisner would have been more comfortable having Elsa blast snow at you on the Backlot Tour at MGM or something. Having spent  his entire term as CEO trying to mop up the mess left by the underspending at DCA, Hong Kong Disneyland, and Walt Disney Studios Paris, where Iger excels is making sure these projects are properly funded to return lavish results. The difference in quality between fit and finish on Hollywood Boulevard at the entrance to Disney-MGM Studios and Buena Vista Street at California Adventure is massive. This combination of safe ideas applied to the parks with good budgets has characterized this decade of theme park development, and the model is explicitly drawn from Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Fans call the IP Invasion.

The warning signs were there early on. In 2009, Avatar shot to the top of the box office charts - a big, dumb, lavish James Cameron space epic. And while the show has retained a cadre of fans and is probably on track to become a nostalgic favorite of a certain age group of 2010s youngsters, the reputation of the film has declined precipitously in the decade since its release. Square in the flush of this decline, but well ahead of its very well hyped sequels, Disney announced and built a full on lavishly scaled themed area for the film in Animal Kingdom.

Pandora: the World of Avatar is nearly as impressive for its conceptual acrobatics as it is for its scale. Set many decades after the events of the film (series?), the alien planet Pandora has become a site of eco-tourism and the land represents a sort of national forest on Pandora, which works so well to slip Avatar into the larger environmental concerns of Animal Kingdom that you almost don't notice the strain. Grounded by an alright if interesting boat ride and a sort of deluxe version of Soarin', besides its unbelievable scale by far the most interesting thing in the area is a series of meandering paths through the center of the area that allow you to wander in, through and around the weird alien plants and animals. It's like a tiny Tom Sawyer Island out in the open of the land, and as a convincing sort of primordial alien swamp it provides the necessary depth behind the "wow" of the floating mountains that I'm not convinced either attraction delivers.

Pandora is also the only theme park area in history where you can cause a huge plant to "pollinate" all over a crowd of pedestrians by rubbing it, so that counts for something. Plant sex! In my Animal Kingdom!

If in 2014 Avatar could be ridiculed as a ludicrous misstep, Disney then went another step and announced Maelstrom at Epcot would close in less than six months to be converted into Frozen After After. Maelstrom had become, for a certain generation of Epcot fan, nearly the last tangible connection with the heyday of the park, and the news was not taken lightly. The replacement ride, while arguably more lavish and containing some very impressive audio animatronics (which is something you definitely can't say about Maelstrom), comes off more as an overbearing song highlight reel than a true attraction. Maelstrom was too cheap, too confused, and too weird for its own good, which gave it an endearing, memorable charm which made it many friends.

If you directly compare Frozen Ever After to something like Peter Pan's Flight, it's not a bad ride. But to this writer, there's a hollow feeling that not every opportunity was actually embraced. The long ascent up the lift hill, mysteriously dark in Maelstrom, has become a flat projection extravaganza which manages to be far less impressive than Maelstrom's flat painted viking ghost and laser-eye. An area which once contained some of Maelstrom's most interesting and weird scenery has become an endless corridor of projections of Elsa singing Let it Go, which feels suspiciously like riding through the editing timeline of a music video. But the true heartbreaker for this author is that the main gag of Maelstrom, where the boats threaten to plunge through a hole in the side of the building backwards, has been sealed up. That's like removing the ride from inside the Matterhorn but keeping the mountain. But really, the problem is that no matter how you try to define the question, Arendelle in Frozen is not Norway. The attraction and the meaning of the area that supports it are at ludicrous cross-purposes. After a year of rumors that seemed far too bizarre to be true, in 2017 Disney announced they were going to convert the Tower of Terror at California Adventure into a Guardians of the Galaxy attraction, and fears that this slapdash method of IP placement would continue seemed to be confirmed.

The real elephant in the room here, of course, is Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. This new area contains brilliant theming, one solid ride and one absolutely remarkable ride, clever experiences, and an IP that many have a strong emotional attachment to. In Florida, where it replaced a weird fake New York that Eisner built to make a Bette Midler movie, it's a home run, and will be even more of one when its adjoining immersive Star Wars hotel will be open. Nine years later, this is finally something as good or better than Universal's Potter areas.

But it absolutely is the wrong fit at Disneyland. Yes, its removal caused the dramatic reconstruction of a neglected corner of the park, and it bolsters and complements Disneyland's strong roster of attractions brilliantly. It improves crowd flow, and the theming to visually cut it off from the rest of Disneyland is cleverly done. But it does not belong at Disneyland, no matter how you try to slice it. One could opine that that ship sailed back in 1987 when Star Tours opened at Disneyland, but it's hard to escape the feeling that this is new territory for Disney.

I will say it if Disney has forgotten it: this is a bad look for a company whose core product is nostalgia. I will say it again: Disney's core product is nostalgia, and once you take that away, the thing that gives Disney its edge over, say, Time-Warner will dissipate. In fact, this may already be happening.

This isn't going to end anytime soon. Epcot, that fan favorite down in Florida, is currently undergoing a huge renovation that will introduce Pixar, Marvel, and Disney animated characters across the whole of the park. Given that Epcot has been a disjointed mess since the 90s, perhaps this will be a shot in the arm, but it's hard to escape the message: that Epcot you knew is over. Just a few weeks ago, Disney announced that the new restaurant next to The American Adventure is going to be hosted by Sam the Eagle from the Muppets, which makes almost no sense at all.

The IP Invasion surges on.

The Adult Retreat

Not everything that happened in the 2010s was a full on dunk in brand synergy. Finally completing their promise to rebuild the troubled Downtown Disney area into something operationally manageable and modern, Disney went full on weird with Disney Springs. Designed at a honeypot to trap locals and Instragram influencers, there's not much Disney at Disney Springs, and it's kind of amazing.

Themed after Florida, a place Disney otherwise goes to amazing lengths to ensure you never see, Disney Springs is a bees nest of semi-haute restaurants, high end shops, weird bossa nova music, and theming intentionally reminiscent of Rollins College in Winter Park. With its restaurants with hanging Edison bulbs, reclaimed wood, exposed brick and menus awash in buzzwords like "crafted" and "local", Disney Springs drops a bell jar over the early 2010s in a way that perhaps no Disney product since EPCOT Center has perfectly encapsulated its era. There may be no Disney characters, sure, but there is a beautiful artificial spring, hand painted murals, a totally bonkers invented "history", garlands with tiny chandeliers at Christmas, a speakeasy buried under a pizza restaurant, and a place where you can wander on a dock and check out a millionaire's collection of rare boats. It's totally bizarre, and I suggest everyone enjoy it for what it is now before Disney paints Mickey Mouse and Elsa over every available surface in the next decade.

There certainly has been increasing alarms being rung in some corners of the Disney fan sphere as renovated rooms in resorts at diverse as the All Stars and Wilderness Lodge return from refurbishment with minimal details and clean, modernist furniture. While this may seem at first glance to be a removal of theming, hotel rooms by their very nature are intended to change and update every few years, as Disney has done every decade since the 70s. And while a case could be made that the new rooms are both less themed and more like the bland "airspace" world ushered in by AirB&B, one fact that should be considered is that room occupancy has continued to decline at Walt Disney World - which explains so many rooms being removed from inventory to be sold as DVC units, and possibly pressure Disney to more fully reflect what a modern traveler would expect to find in the "outside world" in 2020.

And if the removal of theme had stopped there, behind closed doors, it may not have been worthy of comment. But in the 2010s, the Polynesian Resort, that amazing time capsule of 70s Disney kitsch, suffered a fate worse than update.

Going beyond the necessary room updates and removal of room inventory for DVC, Polynesian Resort was perhaps the first Disney hotel to be fundamentally downgraded as a result of its remodel. Meandering pathways through tropical gardens were widened into freeways to accommodate a new revision of the RCID building code which required firetrucks to have clear access into the interior of the resort. Even worse, Fred Joerger's beautiful interior atrium and waterfall was removed and paved, replaced with a tiny statue of Maui surmounting an insultingly tiny trickle of water. It drove a stake thru the heart of the life of the place. Whereas the Polynesian Lobby just ten years ago was bursting with activity, today its a space nobody wants to linger. There were bright spots, such as the addition of the wonderful Trader Sam's Grog Grotto, but this really was a case where Disney paved paradise. And again, it's that nostalgia thing: once you remove that, you can't go back. I'd be curious to know if the Polynesian has retained it status as the most sought after rooms on property.


A more successful case study may be found south, at the Gran Destino Tower, questionably tacked onto Coronado Springs. Coronado Springs, a bizarre 90s fever dream of Latin America, now hosts a tower that looks very much like any Hilton in the world, even more questionably inspired by Salvador Dali and the Spanish, ie European Espana, artistic heritage.

If this sounds totally incoherent it is, but taken strictly as Disney's first full on attempt to create a Disney version of a modern, high end resort, it actually succeeds. The lobby bar serves the kind of drinks you'd expect to find at a destination bar in New York. The interior finish is lavish without being overbearing in its execution. The rooftop restaurant, Toledo, serves an amazing spread of food with views of Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios. If the Grand Floridian felt lavish but stuffy, Gran Destino feels lavish and chic. It doesn't exactly feel like you're at Disney, and I think that is the point. This is for the sort of traveler who stays at the Kimpton wherever they go, and with it and the slightly more family friendly brand new Riviera Resort, the question of what Disney is going to do with their dowdy old Contemporary Resort seems ever more pressing.

In a way it feels like this past decade was the era when Disney finally embraced their adult fan base, and whether that's due to Harry Potter wands or not, that may be the biggest story here. It certainly isn't children driving up the grosses of Marvel movies, or buying $200 lightsabers. And while the mainstream media may still be able to generate clicks with articles about "childless millennials" at Disney, a quick review of the internet shows that the majority of content generated about Disney is from that age group - this blog is written by one.

And while it may be difficult to reconcile a Disney that will tear down Epcot AND sell you an adorable Figment pillow, Disney is not what it was a short time ago. Disney is a multi-media, multicultural juggernaut, and any money they think they can get from you, they will take. Disney made 80% of the top box office attractions in 2019, a number that would have been staggering in 2008. They rode their tide of childless millennials to glory, sweeping aside all in their wake.

Hollywood Studios seen from the top of Gran Destino / Disney Food Blog

Interactive Everything

The first time I saw an iPhone was late June, 2007. I was working at the Hall of Presidents, and a guest who had waited in line to buy one on the first day was showing it off in the lobby. At the time, the idea that that little chunk of metal would change the world was laughable. Remember that devices such as the Nokia N-Guage had been coming and going since the Millennium making similar claims, but the iPhone was the one that stuck.

In retrospect, Disney's response to the whole thing was just as strange. To be clear, people had always brought small distraction devices to Disney to help kill the time spent in line, and in 2007 seeing a kid with a Nintendo DS in line for Space Mountain was exceedingly common. The world of social media and Angry Birds were still yet a few years away, and Disney's knee jerk response was that this new world of technology was going to need to be met head-on with... competition.

In 2009, the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure debuted, based around the retrospectively quaint notion of lending guests a flip-phone running proprietary software to cause various effects to activate around World Showcase. That same year, the new queue of Space Mountain debuted with a wall of video screens playing Wii-esque mini games involving docking ships and sorting luggage. These were merely an appetizer for the deluge of interactivity to come.Disney was prepared to wage a full-on war for your attention, and the places guests consistently were asking for more things to do was while waiting in line.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Dumbo received playground-esque play areas appropriate to the kiddie set they were courting, although Dumbo ended up using a pager system concept which turned out to be more trouble than it was worth. Test Track was rebuilt with the concept of interactive queue integration baked into the concept of the ride, although the refresh has remained controversial with nostalgic fans. The most controversial addition was the lavish Haunted Mansion queue, decried by traditionalists but largely enjoyed by the public. Peter Pan's Flight received a new but largely passive queue experience, and a "build-a-doll" feature planned for Small World ended up being only half implemented. Probably the best of these various queue refreshes, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, seems to stop the line more than Operations would like.

All of this was intended to be built on the back of Disney's massive, extraordinarily costly MyMagic+ initiative. An attempt to tie together a number of internal software upgrades, MM+ was ambitious and was intended to roll out to every Disney resort around the globe, unifying all of them under one system and application. To say it didn't work out that way is an understatement.

To be clear, Disney needed to massively upgrade their tech infrastructure to begin with. Each line of business within the resort used a different tech solution often hacked together using existing technology, none of which interfaced with each other properly, requiring lines of business as diverse as a hotel front desk to manually input data to be sent into, say, the reservation bank at the Crystal Palace. Let's not forget that Disney is the same company that's been pulling boxcars around with magnets as a "transport system of the future" since the early 70s. The idea was to streamline key items as diverse as park admission, purchasing, hotel room entry, reservations, photographs, and more into one easy user-end software interface.

Chris Barry
Which today sounds like a no-brainer, but remember that in 2011 and 2012 the idea that absolutely everyone would own a smart phone, tablet, or Apple Watch - probably more than one - was still in the future. As a result, starting in 2009 Disney began to test and implement a vast array of tech built around RFID, a technology they had been using in the parks since the early 2000s. Only the true dinosaurs like me will recall the 100 Years of Magic "Magical Moment" pins, ungainly chunks of plastic which would light up whenever you were experiencing a "magical moment", such as the end of the fireworks. These were essentially reacting to a gigantic blast of infrared RFID information installed in various attractions, huge beams of which can be seen in night vision home videos from 2001 until 2007. This infrastructure would then be re-introduced in the form of Pal Mickey, a talking, vibrating plush with an RFID receptor installed in his nose. Pal Mickey, a forward-thinking attempt to help guide guests around the parks, had a number of interesting ideas that were never fully implemented, such as Mickey directing you to attractions with short waits. The difference was the Magical Moments pins cost $10, and Pal Mickey was an $8 rental on a $50 deposit. In the early 2000s.

So Walt Disney World bought in full hog on RFID. Park admission, room keys, and purchases were streamlined into a clunky but functional user interface all tied to a rubbery bracelet sent to you in flashy packaging. Obviously modeled on the "Livestrong" bracelet fad, MagicBands continue to be sold at Disney, but their actual utility is less than a fraction of what was imagined. Early MagicBands included batteries to enable to use of long-range RFID, and Disney was, until the actual complexities of running such a torpid system became apparent, busily installing RFID receivers all across the roofs of Magic Kingdom. That's right, Disney, the ultimate nanny state, wanted to use these bracelets to keep tabs on nearly everything about what their guests were up to, from purchasing patterns to bathroom use. A glorious future was envisioned where Mickey Mouse himself could upsell you on an ice cream cone outside of a bathroom because Disney knew you had gone exactly 2.5 hours since your last snack.

Disney's dream of the 2010s
Again, the ambition and absolute folly of building a tech infrastructure like this in 2011 based on close-range RFID emitters is retrospectively staggering. In the end, MyMagic+ would never leave Walt Disney World. A torpid, costly affair supposedly tipping the budget scales above two billion, a combination of the protracted Avatar project and MyMagic+ shot parks executive Tom Staggs down in flames. The other Disney resorts looked upon Orlando's efforts with indignation. Many of the elements that really did improve the guest experience, like the removal of turnstiles in favor of touch points, were absolutely impractical at places like Disneyland. Slowly, Disneyland and then other parks rolled out their phone apps, each built in a separate silo from each other.

The two projects that were truly going to demonstrate the power of the system - Pandora at Animal Kingdom and Shanghai Disneyland - came and went without significant MyMagic+ presence. Although Walt Disney World has maintained the MyMagic+ name and wristband element, nearly nothing of that decade-ago tech remains operational. There never was a full integration of all of Orlando's Disney systems, for the same reason that there never has been one - any job where you deal with the public is bound to be a messy one, and Disney has simply never managed to take the guesswork out of it. In the end, trying to build a tech infrastructure based on something like Bluetooth in 2016 instead of 2011 probably would have been a bigger success... but there's another problem, and it's a problem that Disney used to be the masters of.

It's that no matter how carefully you design a user-end interface to solve all of the problems of your line of business, people are still people and getting them to use it the way you want is a fool's errand. People are still gonna people. Disney used to be masters at understanding people and invisibly guiding them towards designed, profitable experiences. Someday, stand on the monorail platform at Magic Kingdom and just watch the people. Watch the monorails gliding in and out, the doors popping open, the people constantly flowing in and out, each one and individual from cultures around the world but each being helpfully guided by design through an area. Watch how gracefully they navigate each other and a space and moreover watch how it happens again and again and again. Compare that to the mess of humans milling around waiting for a Fastpass to become valid.

Rise of the Resistance, Disney's best attraction since Indiana Jones Adventure, opened this last month. There was no interactive queue. Scratch that: there's no queue. The ride works on a pure reservation system, with groups being called to wait in a short line to board. We're back where we started, with what Imagineering knew back in the 50s and 60s: the park itself is the interactive queue, and anything that complicates the space between that and getting on a ride should be as minimal as possible.

But really nothing tells the story of MyMagic+ better than a tiny spot in the interactive queue for the Haunted Mansion. The third crypt has a peek-in scene where a book of verses is writing itself. There's a disembodied voice to prompt you to complete the rhyme. It's a circa-2011 version of voice recognition, an early form of Alexa or Siri. It's all wrapped up in a clever package, but if you stand there and watch the way people interact with this thing, not one guest in 25 understands what they're being asked to do. There's even a recorded narration constantly asking you for input: "Muses! Speak up!".

Nobody does. After a year, WDI went back and added telephone receivers to provide a visual aid to help this gag sell. Guests broke off the receivers and still they do not speak up. What they will do is walk past the crypt, see the book writing itself, and exclaim "Harry Potter!".

Harry Potter.

Clearing the Cobwebs

Much of the best stuff that happened at Walt Disney World this decade was all about old-school park design values. The decade was kicked off with The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management being destroyed in a kind of literal act-of-God freak fire, paving the way for the return of a tighter version of the original show. A few months later, The Orange Bird returned to Adventureland, setting off a merchandise trend that has yet to subside. It was a strange time to be a classic Disney fan.

With the noteworthy exception of Space Mountain, nearly all of the Magic Kingdom classic attractions are in great shape. A 2015 Pirates of the Caribbean refresh finally made that attraction into the showpiece it deserves to be, with many of the figures looking better than they have since the 80s. Stalwart attractions like Jungle Cruise and Riverboat have kept up with their maintenance, while Haunted Mansion continues to be wildly popular and receive suspect additions - most recently, an on-ride photo.

Disney finally put Stitch's Great Escape out of its misery, gutting the show's animation and is now using the lobby as a meet and greet. Magic Kingdom seems to be in no hurry to replace the attraction, perhaps understandable because that space has never managed to house a significant attendance draw. Instead, a copy of Shanghai's TRON ride is sprouting up next to Space Mountain and WDI is on a rampage around Tomorrowland, trying to bring back an updated version of its original Space Age look.

Removing the Future That Never Was / Derek Sterling
Less positively, in 2013 Country Bear Jamboree was retooled into a version that cut nearly a third of its run time, doing very little to retain much of its original wit while gaining very little in terms of pace. The figures themselves were lavishly redressed, and hopefully the full 15 minute show can be restored in the future. Meanwhile, Pirates of the Caribbean continued to receive suspect updates to the Auction scene, a rare situation where my feminism and desire for park preservation were at loggerheads. The resulting scene isn't any worse than the other 2006 tampering, and far better than the atrocious 90s fixes to remove implied rape in the Chase scene, but its now kind of shocking to consider that the ONLY scene remaining in the Florida ride where you can hear X Atencio's original iconic script is in the Jail scene. Given all of this, it would be nice if WDI saw fit to  remove Barbossa from the Bombardment scene and reinstate Paul Frees' original Blackbeard captain. Barbossa hasn't even made sense as the captain of the "evil" pirate crew looking for Jack Sparrow since the first film, anyway.

While efforts to move crowds around this most crowded of Florida parks continue, the most significant this decade were the leveling of the Skyway station and the the rebuilding of the Hub. The Skyway project turned into one of the nicest bonuses to come with the New Fantasyland project, a leafy corner devoted to Tangled with some nice details. The Hub project was badly needed and while not all of Operations' lofty plans to issue Fastpasses to preferred viewing corrals have quite worked out, on the busiest days the extra space has made a huge difference. It's not the Magic Kingdom hub I grew up with, but it's flashy and not bad at all.

Overall the removal of Toontown, the re utilization of the former 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Skyway attractions, and the rebuilding the of the Hub, Main Street bypass, Adventureland Veranda and finally at long last the entrance plaza have finally cleared away most of the badly utilized spaces around the park, though those shops in Adventureland and Caribbean Plaza remain poorly capitalized upon. With TRON rising out of the ground quickly. Magic Kingdom is finally receiving her first genuine capacity addition since 1993 (!). The park is just about in the position you want a legacy park to be in.

BlogMickey / @MickeyExtreme, August 2016
Meanwhile, across the resort, Walt Disney World's most ill-conceived addition has a new lease on life. The entire rear of Hollywood Studios, a "backlot" which saw less than one year of active production and then stood untouched for nearly 30 years, is finally gone, and with it Catastrophe Canyon, the Backlot Tour, a temporary movie set playground that set an unfortunate precedent, and more are finally gone. And while the Toy Story area that was built nearby is less than ideal, the Star Wars area that superseded much of that old backlot is an absolute winner, especially compared to its previous life as a fake city street with no real purpose.

Less easy to applaud is the decision to scrap that park's final opening day attraction, the problematic but lavish Great Movie Ride, in favor of a screen-based Mickey Mouse attraction. But it's a brave new park out there now, and certainly of the slate of four parks, the Studios had the most to gain and least to lose by wiping its slate clean. Let's hope in the next few years this freshening up continues and we say goodbye to poorly utilized areas such as Animation Courtyard, the Beauty and the Beast tent show, and the Indy Stunt Show. Disney went from barely a major player to the 500 pound gorilla on top of the Hollywood box office in just ten short years, and their movie theme park really ought to reflect this.


In these quarters we're less sure of the fortunes of Epcot. Currently in the midst of a protracted multi-phase reboot a'la California Adventure, it's still so early in the going that it's hard to say if Disney is going to end up with a conceptually unified park, something that Epcot hasn't really been since the turn of the Millennium. Certainly, it's been hard to say goodbye to stalwarts such as Illuminations, Impressions de France, and Universe of Energy, but on the same token the Disney that built EPCOT Center is no longer with us and that park is never coming back. And while the probability of the newest incarnation pleasing EPCOT Center purists is probably below zero, there is a chance to build a park that feels more like a futuristic showplace and less like a community college from the 80s.

I personally gave up on ever seeing my preferred version of Epcot again ten years ago, so this quarter is cautiously optimistic. If nothing else, the new films at The Land and Canada, bowing this month, are actually far closer to the education and inspiration message of the Epcot of old than their 1996 and 2007 replacements were.

For this observer, the best trend of the past decade has been the sudden awakening by somebody somewhere in the organization that the Orlando property's infrastructure is embarrassingly outdated and that Disney has the capital necessary to fix it. Downtown Disney was once the property's biggest logistical nightmare, with traffic that frequently gridlocked the roads around it. With the reconstruction into Disney Springs came new overpasses, parking garages, elevators, escalators, and even pedestrian access bridges across the intersections. This all works wonderfully today and parking spaces can be located from the road in under ten minutes from both directions, which compared to the Downtown Disney of 2005 is sort of a miracle.

The success of that project kicked off a rash of upgrades across the resort, and new traffic patterns, off ramps, security processes and more have been a constant for the past four years. But none has been more visible than the Skyliner, a Doppelmayr lift system connecting Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and several hotels. Despite opening month hiccups the system works amazingly well and has already caused Disney to reduce their reliance on buses within the network. The system transported a million people in less than a month. As a passenger with me in one of the buckets exclaimed a few weeks ago, "the Skyliner is legit".

Hopefully, the Skyliner system will be expanded with a new hub at Coronado Springs and spurs connecting Coronado to the Beach Club, then on to Blizzard Beach, Animal Kingdom, and Animal Kingdom Lodge. From there, a north spur could easily cut through wetlands north of Coronado Springs and bring guests to the Transportation and Ticket Center. This would effectively put most of the resort on mass transit. Even more pressingly, hopefully Disney will soon invest in a new automated monorail fleet and replace the aging, literally falling apart monorails they are still running.

In short, its hard to avoid feeling that Walt Disney World is finally getting to the point it should have been at ten years ago. Genuine expansion and hard looks at existing problems are finally rolling forward,  hopefully setting up the resort for its next ten years of improvements.

Tom Bricker
You Can't Go Home Again

But, you know, its not all clear skies ahead. While the past few years have been a whirlwind of new additions, Disney spent all of the 00s and half of the teens obliviously treading water while raising prices constantly. Day tickets crossed the $100 threshold years ago. Left and right, upcharges and add-ons have spread like crabgrass. Parking a car at thr hotel overnight? That'll cost you. Planning on using your tickets later? That'll cost you. Want to refill your Coke? That'll cost you, too.

With hotel occupancy down overall, its hard not to feel that Disney has finally crossed that event horizon from popular destination to once in a lifetime spree. The trouble is, the tighter they squeeze, the more money's gonna run thru their fingers. Disney travelers have long relied on outside grocery stores and stroller rental companies to take the sting off the tail of Disney prices, and with recent moves to curtail these competitors one wonders at which point vacationers are going to stop buying those high profit resort drinks or simply decide to go elsewhere next year.

Myself, I'm wondering what Disney is going to do when the market declines again. Tourism has always been a boom and bust industry, and attendance has dropped precipitously at the start of the 1980s, the 1990s, and the 2000s. We're very much waiting for the other shoe to drop, and when that happens Disney has always had a robust local market to appeal to in the past. Given the discounts I've seen being marketed locally and the sudden lifting of summer blackouts last year when Toy Story Land was not enough the entice visitors to Orlando, I'm starting to wonder if that market is still going to be there for them when they need it. I can't speak for everyone, but when it came time to renew my pass several years ago, I decided a Nintendo Switch was more appealing. And I have Disney posters on my wall. Disney's core product is nostalgia, and you can't have nostalgia when you've torn out a lot of what makes people nostalgic.

The bulldozers finally came for River Country / Cameron F
It's also been frankly bizarre to see Universal, the company who kicked all of this off by snatching the golden chalice and waking the sleeping dragon, stumble as badly as they have in Orlando. Following their second, marvelously realized Harry Potter area, they've mostly been content to open nice hotels and underwhelming replacements. Universal Orlando's "third park", Volcano Bay, is a nicely themed water park that still falls short of the theming Disney lavished on their two water parks a quarter century ago. And despite acquiring the property of my personal childhood dreams - Nintendo - progress on getting the thing open in Orlando has been stalled by a series of false starts. It's now wrapped up in a frankly bizarre venture to open a park nowhere near their other two in a move which seems doomed to boondogglery. The cross town rivals briefly looked competitive, but each year that passes the gap seems to widen and widen.

They say you can't go home again, and that's true for the Walt Disney World of the 20s.

After losing much of the history and charm at the Polynesian earlier in the decade, in 2019 the final, untouched pocket of old school WDW fell. The bulldozers arrived at Fort Wilderness to clear away River Country for a new hotel. Like the Gran Destino it will probably be very nice and probably pretty incoherent - its ostensibly about nature, and Pocahontas or something but it looks like a mid-century Radisson.

@bioreconstruct
And with that, the Walt Disney World I fell in love with as a child was finally gone. That same Walt Disney World that was still almost kinda hanging on when I worked there, the one I began writing this blog about, has finally sailed its last phantom sidewheeler steamboat across Bay Lake and vanished.

It almost, nearly, made it to 50.

If you're reading these words there's a good chance that it was your version too. But the thing is,  there is out there right now somebody who never rode the Backlot Tour or Alien Encounter or Horizons who will love it, and perhaps they'll be the next ones to pick up this thing we were part of and carry it forward.

It's not our Walt Disney World anymore... but it might just be somebody's.

27 comments:

steve2wdw said...

Thanks for this awesome piece. As a WDW visitor, since 1973, when I was 12, I've been witness to the cycles of change. For many years, until I married and had children of my own, the place seemed to keep getting better and better, year after year. By it's 25th celebration in '96 and the opening of Animal Kingdom in '98, WDW seemed to be at it's pinnacle. Sure, cracks had begun forming at EPCOT, but overall, it still felt like home. All through those first 25 (or so) years, while Disney is and has always been expensive, I never felt like a was being pick pocketed. Then something changed. Yes, prices began to rise, which is to be expected, but now, it seemed you were required to spend "extra" dollars to experience everything- to get the entire experience . Hours started to be shortened to accommodate special events which were not included in your regular admission ticket. Dessert parties, giving access to better fireworks locations, etc, starting popping up, flaunting the fact that if you had more money, you could get better services. While Disney may have always had up-sell opportunities, most of the time, you didn't realize those ops were there. Disney didn't used to seem like a corporation years ago, but now it's just another big money making machine. Us old timers remember that Walt Disney was an actual person, who obviously cared about his guests wants, balanced (with his brother's help) with the needs of the business...today's youth just knows Disney as another business, like Amazon or Uber, not even realizing that Disney was a person(s). I'd love to travel 100 years into the future to see if nostalgia, for anything, exists anymore. I feel lucky to have lived through the last 6 decades....so many incredible memories!

71 said...

Wonderful post, with some great insight. But most of all I enjoyed your turns of phrase, particularly in the Disney Springs section.

Griff said...

I've heard Galaxy's Edge is supposed to be awful, but Star Wars is a victim of today's partisan culture war politics, so who knows.

Also, River County was doomed the moment urban explorer Youtubers really took off.

Evan said...

Wellllllllll, your last paragraph moved me very much. That's exactly how I feel about it. It's over for us. I've packed up my ball and moved on. I'm OK with it. You seem to be OK with it too. But.... Nostalgia is a hell of a drug and I think everyone is going to miss indulging in it.

Wonderfully written, as always.

Unknown said...

First off, I immensely enjoy and appreciate your work on this blog. Like your other posts, this is wonderfully insightful.

I don't quite share your assessment of the new Polynesian lobby. Perhaps it's because I have no nostalgia for it (the Polynesian wasn't a place I ever went as a kid) but I think the new lobby is a lateral move from the old. Then again, nostalgia IS Disney's core product, as you say, so it is reasonable to argue that it is a gratuitous mistake to remove an attractive feature to which many have a sentimental attachment.

Also, perhaps you could consider putting together another "Aesthetic Profile" post? I loved the posts you did on Adventureland and Caribbean Plaza back in late 2009/early 2010.

Pete said...

Wow! An astonishing essay! I'm a few days from my last visit to Orlando - my wife and I served as sherpas for our nephew and his family's first visit to Disney - and you're right: good or bad, this isn't our Disney any more. Galaxy's Edge is astonishing in its achievement but it's lost on my wife and my memories of when we visited before our children were born, when they were growing up, and even when they became adults. That's how it should be, I guess. Time to move aside and let the new visitors take over, while we weep of how it once was on our VHS cassettes.

Blake said...

That was an amazing read and I finally really understand why I don’t get the same nostalgic feelings at Disney as much as I used to! I didn’t go between 2000 and 2009 and things seemed so different than I had remembered when I went back. I would go on and off again until 2017 when I became a passholder. I enjoy all the new experiences and I still love the parks, but I still felt like the overall atmosphere was really different. I just attributed it to getting older This makes so much sense now and I didn’t realize it before. The parts of Disney that are my favorite now are the few remaining nostalgic things I remember from my childhood (the 90’s monorail, the fiber optic lights in the pavement at Epcot, the jumping fountains at Imagination, the Contemporary Resort). Hopefully some of the small nostalgic reminders stay put (outside of the obvious things like the park icons) and some of the few less-updated features are simply “plussed” and not gutted.

mmcpher said...

Thanks so much for this beautifully written essay! My trip to 60, during this passed decade, did not include any detours or stays at WDW, but we had gone 5 or 6 times in the '90's and early '00's. Never once tempted off the grounds, though my kids were Potter fans, since I was such a Disney partisan. For me, part of the appeal was the odd, vaguely disassociate feeling of strolling through other people's nostalgia (then older people's). Never quite a trip through memory lane, instead, some waning connection to what our collective aspirations used to be, for the way we lived, might live tomorrow, and for even the way we remembered and "understood" our histories. So I am not upset to read of the changes and transitions still ongoing in that dreamy timeslip state. I did wince about the fate of those Polynesian falls, though I know that even if I were able to go back to that most-favored place and have it be the same, we would all be older and not the same anyway. WDW, for all its Imagineering brilliance, always relies on the source IP. Part of the wonder of it was to experience the way my identifications, with Wart, Merlin, Nemo, etc. had or were gone or fading to make way for Buzz, Woody, Simba, for their turn in the spotlight. What I hope Disney retains, is the knowledge and appreciation of the value of their IP properties, and how much the visitors match their corporate dollars with emotional investments of their own.

geekzapoppin said...

Your post 100% summed up how I felt returning to WDW last year after having not been able to visit since 2006. I was lucky enough to visit WDW a few times during my youth, the first time being in 1975. I am forever grateful that I got to experience EPCOT Center in 1984, while Horizons was still being built and the park still had that "new car smell". There was such a sense of excitement and positivity about the whole place. My visits became more and more spaced apart as I grew older and real life responsibilities demanded my time and money, but when I did get to return, it was like coming home to something safe, happy, and comfortable. Changes happened, but the overall feeling of the place didn't. The first time I noticed that something was different was in 2006. Future World had lost much of what I loved about it, but some of it was still intact. You could no longer decide where to eat on the same day, but it wasn't impossible to get into where you wanted if you planned a little in advance. The shops on Main Street had become homogenized and the prices you paid had inflated. It was still Disney World, but I could see storm clouds approaching. It took me over a decade to be able to return, mostly because of how expensive it had become. I quickly discovered that spontaneity was no longer possible. Trip planning had to start almost a year in advance. I had to know which park I would be in six months in advance so that I could secure restaurant reservations. I had to plan which attractions I would visit two months in advance. Once we got there, I was bombarded from all sides by sales pitches for DVC and the promise of Magic (for an extra $100). The parks were so crowded that even smaller attractions quickly built up waits of an hour or more. You had to be there at rope drop and rush from attraction to attraction if you even wanted to think about being able to get to experience some of them. So much of what I had loved had been taken out or changed beyond recognition. Most of what was new involved increasing the ways for you to get drunk on overpriced liquor. It was cold and corporate. Seeing the shell of Universe of Energy behind walls touting a Marvel roller coaster broke my heart. It hit me hard that whatever had made me love WDW throughout my life no longer existed. Not only that, but most folks seemed okay with the current state of things and "OK, Boomered" me whenever I suggested that things had truly been better in the past. I was so depressed when I returned from my trip that I completely blocked anything having to do with the Disney Parks from my life for several months in order to clear my head. At this point, I've resigned myself to the fact that I am no longer the audience for Disney and that the WDW I truly loved is gone. I'll always have intensely strong fondness for what WDW meant to me growing up, but I don't think I'll ever go back. Not that I could afford to anyway.

kobuster said...

Nice article, and I'm especially glad to hear other people saying that Galaxy's Edge doesn't fit in Disneyland. It sure doesn't. I suspect I'd even like it if it were in CA.

Unknown said...

I have many of the same thoughts you do, but I feel like I am much more optimistic. I do not disagree with what you wrote; I loved the old EPCOT and I will go on YouTube to watch people with their 1980s camcorders going through the rides. I loved the old fire works shows and the Electric Light Parade. They started tinkering around with the formula in bad ways starting in the '90s with refurbishments, etc.

I do find it odd that you trash Hollywood/MGM Studios concept, but then defend the Great Movie Ride? LOL ...but that's another topic.

We started going to Disney World, as a family, every year starting around 1982 (?) and I think part of the problem is that my childhood occurred then; you know, when I lacked complete objectivity. I got this "set" pattern of how things are supposed to be and everything that happened was "amazing". This sense of nostalgia is impenetrable. If it wasn't the World of Motion, it wasn't amazing. If it wasn't the rainbow hallway, then there's something we missed. We eventually just moved to Florida, got seasonal passes, and watched the parks evolve, going 5-6 times a year. Around the time when Harry Potter World opened, I moved to Orlando, upgraded to Annual Passes at both Universal and Disney.

I can say this, I loved the old Disney. I am very on-board with you there. Over the past 10 years though, the parks are objectively better then the 20 years previous. Having a family of my own now, I see Disney through their eyes. It helps get over some of the childhood need to "have things the same". I see everything brand new almost. I know now that on my deathbed, I'll think about kilimanjaro safaris the SAME way I do Big Thunder Mountain. I go to the Food and Wine Festival at least 20 times. I think I've evolved with the parks and I'm glad to have done so.

FoxxFur said...

I think this post is turning into the Rorschach test of this blog - some of you think I was far too optimistic, some people think I wasn't. XD

I'll put it this way: each segment of this review could have been its own 10,000 word post (and the MyMagic+ segment was planned to be). Many of my nuanced opinions have been crunched down into tiny bites because those are just the side-topics to getting to the main thrust of the article. Whether you think I was too hard or too light on Disney? That says more about you.

Jakeryan534 said...

We beg you, please please please still write those 10,000 word posts for each section of this.

The last portion of this essay made me so legitimately emotional that I had to step away from my desk at work. Bravo, as usual, on another incredible piece.

World View said...

"Watch how gracefully they navigate each other and a space and moreover watch how it happens again and again and again. Compare that to the mess of humans milling around waiting for a Fastpass to become valid."

This observation is brilliant.

Howard Ashman said...

I'm sorry but I'm going to have to call out some things on this. I've been reading your page for years and loved a lot of your takes. However you talk about Galaxy's Edge as if it's some perfect masterpiece even though it's been plagued with issues and controversies since day 1. Also you ignored 90% of Universal Orlando's additions in the past decade. Forbidden Journey was just the start, what about Transformers? Despicable Me? Springfield? Diagon Alley? Gringotts? Skull Island? Jimmy Fallon? Fast and Furious? and most of all Hagrids?! That's a lot more than just "a few hotels and volcano bay." Universal has been on a extremely impressive expansion path ever since 2007. I get the point of this post was to call out Disney World's exploits but you cherry picked some details here.

butter said...

Question: Will this generation be "nostalgic" to bring their kids back?

FoxxFur said...

Howard;

I agree! Universal has done some good stuff lately! But the fact remains that talking about Universal is not the point of this article, and in the end I have to do what's best for the article. FWIW I think Hagrid's is the best family coaster built anywhere since Big Thunder Mountain. But again, this article isn't about that.

I'm sorry for those of you who are Universal fans who were offended, but I do think they haven't been keeping up with the potential they were showing earlier in the decade. I hope Epic Universe is amazing. Again, what's in the article is not necessarily my nuanced opinions of these things because the final 10% of an 8K word article is not the place to go on a huge digression about Universal.

I have to do what's right for the piece I'm writing while I write it.

Joe said...

Foxxy, would love to see your expanded MM+ some day. So much goal post moving has happened with that project that having it all in one place will be beneficial.

Bertie said...

Great article. I’m a big Disney fan but I’ve not been to WDW for 20 years after my brother died and the thought of returning was too upsetting.

I’ve still followed events and visited other Disneyland resorts in Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong but from what I read I’m glad I’ve not been back to Florida- the level of forward planning, price increases and drops in quality all make a trip to the vacation kingdom of the world less fun and more stressful

When I think of Florida I’ll travel in my memories and remember the Disney World i loved growing up and the magic i can still find in Tokyo and Hong Kong

David H. Kuykendall said...

This is a fantastic reminder of what we had from the beginning in each park, resort, the entire World. I feel, after reading this that I have taken a Master's class in Disney.
Thanks for all the research and hard work that has gone into this document.

David H. Kuykendall, New Boston, MI
Annual Passholder for more than 15 years, but having begun going to the parks in 1976, to Disneyland, and to WDW the following year when there was only the Magic Kingdom.

JWilkey said...

"Passport to Dreams," I loved your post and found myself agreeing with much of what you wrote and how you feel. Talk about Nostalgia, I'm a war baby, WWII that is, and my first girls were Annette Funicello and Luana Patten. I've been going to the parks on either the West or East Coast since the late 70's. My mom and dad purchased a home rather than present my sister and me our promised trip to Disneyland in 1956. A 20 year gap followed. I never got to go until the beginning of my own business career following Naval service from 1969-73.

Perhaps I am now going through a renaissance. My three kids are all out the door. My wife and I purchased just short of a month of DVC at Copper Creek Villas in 2017. We've loved every visit and the value of the purchase keeps rising. We're at the parks more than we ever dreamed possible. From a first hand experience, we can say that we love Copper Creek, The Grand Floridian, Polynesian Village, The Contemporary Lakeside Villas, Old Key West, Saratoga Springs, which we will visit again in March, and we are both looking forward to our stay for a week at Animal Kingdom Lodge this coming November. I'll point out that the stays have not been perfect, but who would not love staying in one of these facilities on a regular basis, especially at our home Villa, Copper Creek, which has one of the best management teams and staffs in the hotel business.

As I stated, I mostly agree with "Passport to Dreams!" Nevertheless, I'm in for the future, as I suspect "Passport" is, because at my age, you realise that you don't witness perfection very often. At most, you get, various degrees of fun, excitement, accomplishment and happiness. Fortunately, the negative somehow meanders away.

My measurement system now works like this. I love the look and feel of all four parks, most all the rides in the Magic Kingdom, Rise of the Resistance, Smuggler's Run, Rock and Roller Coaster, Slinky Dog Dash, Tower of Terror, Flight of Passage, Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, Test Track, etc. I'm looking forward to Mickey and Minnie's Railroad, the next Pandora ride and movie (still think the franchise will rock again), Tron, Ratatouille, Guardians' Coaster, Mary Poppins, etc. The Skyliner is a winner and I still get a thrill on the Monorails as does my Grandchildren. In fact, I think they share my enthusiasm for all, but the most adventurous rides in the parks. We just did Humunga Kowabunga at Typoon Lagoon's "Moonlight Magic" after hours party. In fact, three times in one evening. The kids were impressed.

All I'm saying is, it's tough to create something like Walt Disney World and similar parks. It takes Dreamers, thousands of very creative people and boodles of hard earned cash. If you were a multi-millionaire in the early 50's when money actually meant something, would you have invested in Walt's Dream? It will never be perfect. Keep the criticism flowing, because that's how we all get better at what we do, but, don't forget all the good things. If you're burned out, you're probably very fortunate to have experienced it all. I suggest taking a break for a while. You might be surprised how things turn out for you in another 20 or 30 years.

The absolute most wonderful, wondrous thing is that, if I'd like a change of scenery, I've got Busch Gardens, Legoland, Seaworld and Universal Studios right down the street. The wonders of freedom and creativity never cease to amaze me. Be happy and enjoy!

Cory Gross said...

Thank you for summarizing my disenchantment with the Anything-But-Disney Decade. The saddest part of the whole thing is that Harry Potter DIDN'T boost Universal into competition with Disney.

From a theme park design perspective, it finally elevated to the space Disney was already occupying with DisneySea. Its real brilliance is not theming or rides, but the manner in which it turned shopping into an integral themed experience. But from an attendance perspective? Harry Potter goosed IOA's attendance by 3 million, where it plateaued... Not even enough to threaten Hollywood Studios, the worst-attended WDW park. Daigon Alley, in turn, only goosed up USF to IOA's numbers. Meanwhile, WDW's attendance actually went UP during the same period, and jumped by a whole million when New Fantasyland opened. Universal didn't jump into competition with WDW... It just won the war with Six Flags and Sea World for WDW's unofficial fifth gate.

But in REACTION to Harry Potter, WDW and Disney as a whole panicked. Instead of taking a more conservative approach, they just started snapping up IP. They licenced Avatar, which nobody cares about, instead of bringing over their own best work, like Mysterious Island or Mystic Manor, which would have fit far better in Animal Kingdom. And they kept throwing all this stuff in. And detheming the hotels. And raising the prices.

As a consequence, I still love Disney... But once the nostalgia goes... Well, I haven't been to Disney in 5 years, after going to some Disney park somewhere in the world almost every year from 2005 to 2015. But we did go hike the Grand Canyon and drive Route 66 in Arizona this past summer. This coming summer we're going to Yosemite and Sequoia. I'm trying to talk my wife into going to New Orleans too. We're passing in Disney's ever eroding simulacrum and going for the real thing, which is incidentally less expensive. Disney is losing what made it special and becoming a Universal-style amalgam of IP's I don't care about. So I have to seek yesterday and tomorrow and fantasy elsewhere.

WestCoastNerd said...

Love this site!! My nostalgia levels have been skyrocketing lately, mostly due to the passing of my mother last year and the subsequent looking back at the "good old days" that followed. One of those big memories is a 2-week Disney World vacation we won in 1977. For a 9-year old it was pretty much the best trip imaginable: Contemporary Resort Hotel, Magic Kingdom, beaches etc. What more could a kid ask for? I've often considered going back to relive some of those experiences but I fear I may end up being disappointed as from reading posts like this, I think I've underestimated how much the park has changed. I only last year learned that 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was long gone for instance. I suppose I shoudn't be surprised as it has been a very long time.

I'm wondering then if you or any of your readers might have some advice for me? I've been collecting ephemera dating as closely as possible to March 1977 in order to create a little snapshot of that time/trip. Apart from eBay I'm wondering if anyone has any advice for possbile sources for this sort of thing? For instance, still on my list is a room service menu, a copy of that month's "The World News" and that year's "Disney World Magazine". I realize "you can never go back" but I still think it might be nice to have a few of these pieces to look back on.

FoxxFur said...

WestCoastNerd;

eBay really is the best source. It's probably going to take a while because it sure seems that most of the ephemera market has been very picked over. GAF guides and World News should still be floating around, thankfully the late 70s stuff isn't nearly as coveted at pre-1975 stuff!

WestCoastNerd said...

Thanks! I was hoping there was some goldmine sourece out there that I was unaware of. Oh well.

Luckily, I do have the GAF guide we actually used on the trip. Picked up a nice A-E ticket booklet last week and found the 1977 Resort Guide last year. Fingers crossed my other wishlist items pop up sometime!!

Melissa said...

Thank you for this beautifully and thoughtfully written essay. As always, you've expressed my own thoughts much better than I could have.

The unprecedented level of blatant upselling is something that particularly disturbs me. It's just constantly being pushed in your face more than ever that people with more money are having a better time than you, and that you're a second-class, less valued guest. It really puts a crimp in the atmosphere.

My random thoughts on particulars:

If I was in charge, I would have relocated it's a small world to the area in EPCOT formerly occupied by the Odyssey restaurant. The position at the entrance to World Showcase would be perfect for the theme of international harmony, and with the lake and bridges as a setting you could put up a facade to rival that of the Disneyland original. That would free up space in Fantasyland for a Frozen attraction, which wouldn't have to be clumsilt shoehorned into the Norway pavilion.

Now that the double Dumbo has such a large capacity, there's no point in keeping the Aladdin spinner ride in Adventureland. Removing it would dramatically improve traffic flow in that area of the Magic Kingdom, and unbury all the Caribbean Plaza shops.

I haven't seen it in person yet, but I'm quite impressed with videos of Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway. I was a big fan of The Great Movie Ride, but this looks like a worthy successor to me. I imagine that in person it would feel like stepping into a cartoon; this is a projection ride done right.

commoncurt said...

I just read the whole article, and agree with almost everything you wrote.
So glad I stumbled upon your blog a few years ago.

My first WDW trip was in 1985 when I was 4 years old. We lived in North FL so it was always only a 2hr ride away. I can remember every year in elementary school doing a candy bar sale to win a school trip to Disney World. Now, all these years later I have a daughter in elementary school, but I guess they have raised prices so much now a days that not many schools can do that anymore. I try to take my kid every 1-2 years since she turned 4. I'm so glad I got to experience WDW when it was affordable enough to go more than once a year, and before the inception of the horrible fastpass.