Impressions from Walt Disney World – Part 1

Ligia and I, together with my parents, made a two-day trip to Disney World in Orlando, FL this past weekend. The trip was wonderful, and we really enjoyed ourselves. Along the way, I learned a few valuable things, which I thought would be good to share.

An airline that lets you board the plane even though there are only a few minutes left till the scheduled departure time is a company that deserves my money. I’m talking about US Airways. Sure, their seats may not be leather, and their planes may not be shiny new, but when it comes down to it, they let you board the plane, not turn you away like Spirit Airlines, a full half hour before the scheduled departure time. I’ve been using US Airways, on and off, since my college days, and that’s over a decade. I don’t remember any bad experiences, only nice flights, sometimes bumpy, particularly on their express connecting flights to Burlington, VT, but nice, and often not crowded, which is a great way to fly.

Four parks in two days is a LOT to see, but it’s enough to let you know whether you want to come back for more. I’d seen WDW before, but Ligia and my parents hadn’t. We purchased two-day Disney Hopper tickets, which let you go to any of the four theme parks as often as you wish while you have the tickets. We certainly hopped, from Disney/MGM Studios to Magic Kingdom, then Epcot, then Disney/MGM (again), then Animal Kingdom and Epcot (again). It was tiring for everyone, and at the end of the day, we were exhausted, but it was worth it.

If you stay away from the most popular rides, you avoid stress, discover beautiful places and actually get to enjoy yourself. By this I mean the various popular roller-coasters or other such attractions where kids and teens alike crowd. Tower of Terror at MGM, Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom and Everest at Animal Kingdom are some of the places we avoided. As a result, we didn’t see the crowds, enjoyed some peace and quiet, and got to see some unexplored corners of the theme parks, which were much more enjoyable than crying brats and long lines.

I visited Disney World twice in the past, some 4-5 years ago, and on both visits, I made the mistake of planning my time around the popular rides. I was stressed because of the crowds, didn’t really get to enjoy the rides that much, and actually felt let down. Let’s face it, Disney roller coasters aren’t Six Flags or Busch Gardens roller coasters, nor should they be. If you go there expecting some terrifying ride, you’re going to be disappointed. Even the Six Flags and Busch Gardens coasters get pretty boring after you ride them seven or eight times. It really all depends on what your mindset is. You’ve got to ask yourself: am I there to find radical excitement, with its inevitable high and let down, or to see some beautiful things and walk around in a surreal, more-beautiful-than-life environment? As Walt Disney once said, I needed to “use my imagination”.

Now that I’m a little more grown-up, I see Disney World as a platform, a wonderful foundation upon which I can build dreams. I can go there and escape reality. I can feel like a kid even though I’m definitely not one any more. I can imagine those many picturesque spots populated by lovable characters from the Disney cartoons and get immersed in the tales I loved so much as a kid (and still do). That’s the beauty of it all. As Walt Disney put it, he built a place where kids and adults alike could go and enjoy themselves.

I think there are some shows/rides that people shouldn’t miss. There’s a wonderful exhibit on Walt Disney’s life at the Disney/MGM Theme Park, and it includes a short movie as well. I highly recommend seeing this, as it provides incredible insight into the life of the man that made Disney. The Art Deco architecture at this park is beautiful. Take the Backlot Tour and see Walt’s personal plane, as well as memorabilia from various movies. Even though I avoided the big rides, I did go to the Lights, Motors, Action! show, and I recommend you see it as well. It’s a wonderful behind-the-scenes look at automobile and motorcycle stunt work in today’s movies, and it sure is exciting to see the stunts in person, not on the movie screen.

At Magic Kingdom, go on the ride called “It’s a small world”. The song will stick in your head, and you may or may not like that, but the nice, clear decor and attention to detail in the puppet costumes are a sight to behold. Plus, it’s cool inside and not crowded, so it’s just the ticket for a hot, sunny day. Also get on the Mad Hatter Tea Party teacup ride. It’s fun and there aren’t usually long lines. Don’t forget to walk around the castle. Even though you can’t go inside (which I would have liked to do), you can still admire the architecture and its surroundings. It’s rumored Walt Disney had an apartment built inside the castle for his family. Maybe someday that’ll be open to the public, who knows. You shouldn’t miss the Swiss Family Robinson tree, and you should also take the boat ride on the lake (no, I’m not talking about the ferry ride from the transportation center to the park, which is nice in itself.) And definitely take the train ride around the park, you’ll regret it if you don’t. The Carousel of Progress show is also a must-see.

At Animal Kingdom, don’t miss the “It’s tough to be a bug!” show, which is always great fun. This was the third time I saw it, and it was still very enjoyable. Take the safari tour there as well, and don’t miss walking around and spotting the animals and birds. Animal Kingdom is a great place to take great photos of wonderful, wild animals up close, so bring a good camera with you. At many zoos, it’s hard to take photos because the enclosures are tiny. The photos end up looking bad, because anyone can tell those animals aren’t in the wild. But at Animal Kingdom, each animal’s enclosure is made to look so natural that you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference in a photo.

When I first visited Epcot, I thought it was the lamest of all four parks because it had no dangerous rides. I don’t know what I was thinking… Now I know it’s the coolest of them all. There’s so much to see! There are exhibits from many countries of the world, and everywhere I looked, I found beauty. There was beautiful architecture, beautiful landscaping, and beautiful decoration. I was surprised to find the buildings were real stone when I knocked on them. Many of the buildings at attraction parks are pretty much just cardboard and stucco. Not so at Epcot!

Three of the parks have their own fireworks show, but the Magic Kingdom and Epcot shows are the most accessible. The wonderful thing about them is that serious thought and planning went into each show, and they are all infused with their own character. I can think of no other word to describe them but SPECTACULAR. What amazes me is that they happen daily! Given the cost of fireworks, that’s a lot of money! Think about it: Disney World uses the equivalent of a typical 4th of July fireworks show every night at two of its parks (Magic Kingdom and Epcot). I would have liked to go to the Fantasmic! show at Disney/MGM but didn’t get the chance.

When I think about the Disney World experience, two words come to mind: abundance and quality. There’s an abundance of things to see at all of the parks, and it’s all quality-made. Walt Disney wanted to make sure people got their money’s worth, and I think they do. One of the tram operators wished us well as we got off to enter Magic Kingdom, and something he said stuck in my mind: “All 58,000 Disney employees wish you a wonderful time here at Disney World.” I don’t remember the exact phrase, but the number definitely caught my attention. Whether that’s just Disney World employees or employees of the Disney Corporation, I don’t know, but regardless, there were a LOT of employees at Disney World, and a lot of machinery, and a lot of lights, and a lot of everything else that requires maintenance and people to operate. Add to that the infrastructure, which was built from scratch: roads, lines, pipes, landscaping, buildings, etc., and the expenses really add up. I shudder to think what the daily operating expenses of Disney World are. In light of this, the $75 ticket price to see one of the parks is not a bad deal, and the Park Hopper ticket is a great value indeed.

Ligia and I look forward to our next WDW visit.