The Vacation Kingdom of the World: Five Things That Wouldn't Be Missed

by Tom Richards, contributing writer
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In a recent NPR interview about their new book League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, ESPN writers Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru explained their motivation for writing this exposé about the excesses and abuses in the National Football League.

They have been roundly criticized for attempting to "ruin the game of football," that august American entertainment juggernaut. They countered this criticism by explaining that they actually love the game of football. In fact, it was this love and respect for the game that motivated their writing. They hoped to be the instruments of change to improve what they perceive as the broken elements of a game they love. Just as Henry David Thoreau argued that the goal of civil protest was to instigate a change, not overthrow or abolish governmental institutions, these two authors point out problems within a system that they truly respect and enjoy.

It is in this spirit of hope for improvement that I approached the writing of this week's column. I love Walt Disney World, and therefore, care about its past, its present, and its future.

So here are things I would like to see removed from the Walt Disney World Resort map as soon as possible.

Innoventions

As a great admirer of the original spirit and design of Walt Disney's EPCOT Center, there are many improvements I would like to see in Future World. Existing pavilions such as the Universe of Energy and Journey into Imagination definitely need some attention, and even the aesthetics of some Future World areas could be improved. The area that needs the most attention, in my opinion, is Innoventions.

When EPCOT Center opened, the two large buildings behind Spaceship Earth were called Communicore East and Communicore West. When much of this space was converted into Innoventions in 1994, the idea—generated by Michael Eisner's visit to a Las Vegas electronics show—was to give guests a hands-on experience with cutting edge technology. The problem with this idea, of course, is that technology changes constantly. The concept of Innoventions was based on trade shows, such as the one in Las Vegas. These are temporary experiences, however, geared towards specific audiences with specific purposes. Innoventions is a theme park attraction, quite a different thing. When the Innoventions concept was transported to the old "Carousel of Progress" theater at Disneyland, it was also unsuccessful because of its unappealing appearance and its short shelf-life.

Let's hope that the creative geniuses at Imagineering are given the green light to really innovate by creating some new, appealing, and meaningful experiences for this vast space located in the heart of Future World.

Hester and Chester's Dino-Rama

Disney's Animal Kingdom is a beautiful place. It is home to some of the most visually appealing spaces ever created for a theme park. When this park opened, it was praised for its beauty and its innovative attractions, but criticized for its lack of a sufficient number of attractions. Under pressure to shed this amazing park of its "half-day" moniker and in an effort to promote the "not-a-zoo" concept, Disney management ordered up some quick fixes for Animal Kingdom as part of the the 100 Years of Magic promotion in 2001.

Hester and Chester's Dino-Rama was born

The concept of a super-tacky area based on roadside attractions along American highways certainly does not seem to fit the rather grandiose ideals established by the park's creators. From the blacktop surfaces to the gaudy colors and cheap-looking, off-the-racks rides to the carnival games, this land certainly did nothing to honor the legacy of Walt Disney as it was advertised.

The TriceraTop Spin, a glorified Dumbo ride, lacks the charm and whimsy of its Magic Kingdom counterpart. Dumbo succeeds because of guest affection for the lovable pachyderm; it also helps that the surrounding area is pretty to look down on as Dumbo takes his flight. TriceraTop Spin also lacks the lovely scenery and the innovative rocking motion that the Magic Carpets of Aladdin provide in Adventureland.

Primeval Whirl is a painful "wild mouse" roller coaster that smacks of cheap county fairs and local carnivals. My family and I love roller coasters, but avoid this one like the plague. Not only is it unattractive and noisy, it's really no fun. It simply jolts and jostles riders until their bodies ache and their heads whirl.

The less said the better regarding the Fossil Fun Games. One of Walt Disney's main goals in creating Disneyland was to repudiate the dismal reputation of most "amusement parks"—with their barkers and charlatans—held for years. Yet here, in honor of what would have been Walt's 100th birthday, is a land re-creating the very ideas that Walt abhorred.

The Richard Petty Driving Experience

Was Disney management not content with courting family vacationers with theme parks and family-friendly resorts; convention travel with banquet halls; destination traveling, such as weddings; sports fans and amateur-league events at the Wide World of Sports; or Disney fanatics during conventions and special events? Not by a long shot.

Even NASCAR fans must be brought into the resort. How? Through the construction in 1995 of the Walt Disney World Speedway in the middle of the Magic Kingdom parking lot near the Polynesian Resort. Built with a very limited budget as a venue for the Indy Racing League, the track is now used only for the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

In some ways, it's a good thing that races are no longer held here. Race cars are, in the words of Grandpa in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, "nasty, noisy, smelly things." Imagine splurging on a stay at the Polynesian Resort only to be subjected to the monotonous drone of engines. Parking problems also proved to be one of the unexpected results of the Walt Disney World Speedway and led to the end of racing here.

Even though the full impact of the Walt Disney World Speedway is no longer a problem, it seems that the time has come to renovate this area—perhaps as part of the expansion of Disney's Polynesian Village Resort. After all, there's nothing very magical about an unattractive chunk of blacktop.

The Walt Disney World Swan and the Walt Disney World Dolphin

In her book Building a Dream: The Art of Disney Architecture, author Beth Dunlop quotes Michael Eisner in regards to these two hotels designed by architect Michael Graves. According to Ms. Dunlop, the former CEO of the Walt Disney Company lost much sleep over plans to construct two new hotels near the Disney Village Marketplace (now Downtown Disney). Mr. Eisner couldn't sleep, apparently, because the designs for these two proposed hotels were bland and ordinary. It was his suggestion to change the location of these new buildings and to hire a leading contemporary architect. And thus, the Swan and the Dolphin were added to the Walt Disney World skyline.

I am sorry to report that many Walt Disney World fans have been losing sleep ever since.

These serpentine monstrosities dwarf the nearby Yacht and Beach Clubs, two charming Robert Sterns-designed resorts that Michael Graves once disparaged as "the servants' quarters" of the Epcot resorts. The Swan and Dolphin also mix incongruously with the neighboring Boardwalk area, shattering the carefully constructed theme established by these Disney designed areas.

The size and scale of these resorts is massive, more appropriate for Las Vegas than Walt Disney World. They lack warmth. They lack theme. They lack the timelessness inherent in Walt Disney Resorts. Of course, the Walt Disney World Swan and the Walt Disney World Dolphin are technically not Disney resorts, as they are run by other companies.

Worst of all, these monstrous buildings violate one of the most important of the time-honored rules of Imagineering design: they violate sightlines. This may not seem important to some readers, but there was a long tradition that sightlines be respected at Walt Disney World. For example, the Town Square Theater uses no forced perspective like many of the other Main Street buildings. Why? Because it needs to block Disney's Contemporary Resort from Main Street, lest the carefully constructed illusion be shattered.

Likewise, the skyline of World Showcase was once considered immutable. The Yacht and Beach Clubs, as well as the Boardwalk Resort, cannot be seem from Epcot; sadly, the same cannot be said for the Swan and the Dolphin. The large, bulky, lifeless facades rise above France and the United Kingdom like oversized serpentine monsters. Even during Illuminations: Reflections of Earth when the hotel lights are dimmed, the specter of the Swan and Dolphin loom ominously in the background.

One can only hope that the lease on these properties could be terminated sooner, rather than later, and that the Walt Disney Company could create a more appropriate, less incongruous look for this area.

The Mickey Sorcerer Hat

The internet has been abuzz with rumors about the possible changes to Disney's Hollywood Studios. Will management simply order up a limited amount of new attractions, or will this park receive the much-needed extreme makeover it deserves, much like the one given to Disney's California Adventure? Whatever the future holds for this park, let's hope that it includes the removal of the Mickey Sorcerer Hat at the end of Hollywood Blvd.

Every structure, every planting, every color at Disney theme parks is chosen with careful deliberation by the talented artists at Imagineering. In his book Designing Disney, John Hench writes that "Imagineers carefully select images essential to each story [they] want to tell in a Disney park." The oversized Mickey Hat (often referred to as the "Big A—Hat" by cast members) at the end of Hollywood Blvd. destroys the theme and the ambiance of the park's entrance. Disney guests "engage in a special world of story" when they enter the parks; they feel immersed "within the special world that [Imagineering] created."

The illusion of Hollywood Blvd, with the serenity of the Chinese Theater Courtyard, was very compelling. On nights when Sorcery in the Sky was performed, this are of the park was at its most atmospheric. The courtyard once proved a sophisticated, understated hub for the entire park. Now, however, it is no longer possible to suspend disbelief; this "single out-of-place element shatter[s] an artfully constructed story environment." By obscuring the Chinese Theater with this oversized knick-knack, the "rules of the land" have been violated and "the background narrative, geography, and historical time period appropriate" to the Studios have been ignored.

I have high hopes for removations, additions, and a return to consistent theming in this wonderful park that has so much untapped potential. Let's hope that whatever the future holds for this park, it includes the removal—or relocation—of the eyesore at the end of Hollywood Blvd.

Final Thoughts

I'm certain that many fans of Walt Disney World will disagree with some of my recommendations, and that readers may have suggestions of their own for improving the Walt Disney World experience. No matter what, I will continued to keep my fingers crossed that someday, somehow, Disney will remove my top-five-need-to-go structures from the Vacation Kingdom of the World.

Comments

  1. By RobotMonkey

    Can we replace Mission:Space with an updated Horizons? Also, instead of the upcoming "Avatar Land" (which in my opinion, does not fit in with Disney) create the Beastly Kingdom area that was supposed to be created? And lastly, replace Stitch's Great Escape with...anything?

    These were just the first things that popped into my head.

  2. By Gunnels Family

    GET RID OF THE HAT!!! It destroys the whimsy and magic of Hollywood Studios!! Avatar?? Really?? What about the Beastly Kingdom? Wouldn't it be great to see Heffalumps and Woozles while the big kids enjoy a dueling dragons roller coaster? This could give good 'ol Harry a run for his money!! Keep with the WDW magic, it works! Chester and Hester, agreed! Tacky through and through! Poor CM's and those hiddeous outfits. I feel like some big wig's wife had an "excellet" idea and came up with that disaster.

    However, a recurrent theme seems to be a part of this article, Michael Eisner. Interesting....However, it does seem like disney is begining to rebound, ie Fantysland Expansion, Pixar, and so on. So, there is hope!

  3. By spectromen

    I'd agree with all of these; the least troublesome being the two hotels. Yes, they're weird and becoming sadly out of date quickly, but that can be fixed with renovations. I highly doubt we'll ever see a complete teardown just because of sightline issues.

  4. By Drince88

    I don't mind Mission:Space, at all (I rather enjoy it, actually, even if it isn't Horizons).
    Stitch, I agree, needs to go. As far as I'm concerned right now, it's an empty space, though, so unless they're going to replace it with something good, it can stay for those that enjoy it (whoever those 3 people may be).
    And I thought Triceratops Spin tilted like the Carpets? It's been a while since I've been on it, though (actually, I 'won' an AK FastPass card during the Years of a Million Dreams on that attraction, and I think that was the last time I rode it!) Do I think Chester & Hester's fits thematically with Animal Kingdom? No. But it could be Stitch's Great Escape.

    Was the Countdown to Extinction/Dinosaur Attraction part of the original park when it opened, or was that added with Chester & Hester area?

  5. By DisneyGator

    Yes, you're right. Disney fans will disagree with you. While I wouldn't miss Richard Petty's car, nor would I miss the Swan & Dolphin, and Innoventions could easily be turned into a permanent ComicCon, the other two I'm parting ways with you.

    Chester & Hester's: I realize it doesn't "fit" the rest of AK. That said, I just brought my first two kids from age 18 months each, to 6yo and 8yo every other year to WDW. And now I have a 2yo who loved it at 18 months, and she'll love it when we return. Chester and Hester's provides that special spinning ride that every munchkin needs at a theme park. Add that to Digging in DinoLand, and you've got a spot you can spend hours at with the little ones. Plus, I really like the gift shop there - reminds me of my many trips back to Texas on the Interstate. And my kids love to see "Gertie", the giant yellow dino. And I like it, too. Just remember that adults aren't the only people who frequent WDW. In fact, Disney built the parks around families, children included.

    And my big beef: I am the Sacred Defender of the Sorcerer's Hat! And you shall not blaspheme it's name or image! OK, I'm a little over the top, but that's in direct response to the hate and vitriol aimed at the Hat. I remember when I first saw it in 2002 - I loved it! It so fit the park, for me. With Fantasmic! the nightly show, it just made sense. It gave me a great sense of Mickey Mouse, which is nothing short of Disney Incarnate. I don't even feel like I'm at WDW yet until I see the Hat when the bus pulls into the parking lot. I get excited when I see it. It's my favorite family photo spot on Hollywood Blvd. I know that the Mann gave the park a Hollywood feel, but being a CA resident, I'll say this: if you want a real Hollywood feel, you'll need to add a few bums laying on the curb with wine bottles in brown bags. I love the Hat. Don't move it. Don't change it. That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it.

  6. By vampireanneke

    I actually like Innoventions. At Disneyland it's been slowly improving over time. The introduction of Iron Man and Thor, gives a place for Marvel Property to be showcased without conflicting so much with the rest of the Disney feel. I suspect Disney World may get some of those exhibits as well. I would say get rid of ImageWorks area/store (which is now far more 'store' then play area).

  7. By oregontraveler

    Quote Originally Posted by Drince88 View Post
    Was the Countdown to Extinction/Dinosaur Attraction part of the original park when it opened, or was that added with Chester & Hester area?

    'Countdown' opened as such with the park's opening. The name was changed to Dinosaur in 2000, when the film came out.
    Its my understanding that they wanted to have the ride and film open at the same time. But there were problems keeping the film on schedule, so it was named Countdown.

  8. By brassplayer

    I was fully prepared to hate Dino-Rama on my last trip to WDW in 2007, but it turns out that both my wife and I thought it was a lot of fun. Granted, the two of us are fans of kitsch, Route 66, and Roadside Attractions. So Hester and Chester were right up our alley.

    Tacky? Yes. But we would hate to see it go away.

  9. By brassplayer

    Duplicate Post

  10. By Cory Gross

    Yeah, while I've never been there, my understanding is that DinoRama is supposed to be tacky and silly like a roadside carnival. I guess the effect is too good?

  11. By anniedg

    Quote Originally Posted by RobotMonkey View Post
    Can we replace Mission:Space with an updated Horizons? Also, instead of the upcoming "Avatar Land" (which in my opinion, does not fit in with Disney) create the Beastly Kingdom area that was supposed to be created? And lastly, replace Stitch's Great Escape with...anything?

    Great big ditto to this!!! I miss Horizons and I cringe thinking about the "Avatar Land", there are SO many other things they could be doing that would be so much better and actually stand the test of time. Beastly Kingdom would be great. *sigh*

    I'm with all points in the article too, although I don't mind the Swan and Dolphin all that much. The giant sorceror's hat works well in DTD in California as the entrance to the DLH, but it's a miss in WDW. I so agree, it completely ruins the intended view of GMR at the end of Hollywood Blvd.

  12. By danyoung

    When I read the theme of this article, the first thing I thought of was the BAH! I don't so much mind the hat itself as I mind the placement. The Chinese Theater is a beautiful structure (the idea that there was some kind of licensing deal that ran out is just an internet myth), and it's a shame that it now lives in the shadow of such a huge, out of place icon.

    I was also hoping you would include the current Journey Into Your Imagination ride. It's the only ride in the Disney empire that actually makes me angry. It's just a huge nothing of an attraction, especially when compared to the far superior first version of the show. Time to yank it out and put in something new!

    The one point I don't agree with is on the hotels. Everything you said is true about how they impinge on the World Showcase skyline. But for me, that skyline has always been somewhat fantastical (if that's a word!). And the inclusion of a couple more fantastical elements doesn't begin to bother me. I just think they're a cool part of a Disney park skyline.

    A couple of small quibbles - it's Chester & Hester's (not Hester & Chester's). And for whatever dumb reason, Disney is now calling its second SoCal park Disney California Adventure, dropping the apostrophe s. It doesn't make sense, it isn't consistent with the other parks, and it isn't better in any way. It's just dumb.

  13. By Ohthatjeff

    I'm going to post this then head for safety. I like the hat and stage. If anything, I would get rid of the Chinese Theater, remove/relocate some of the ultilidors and move the stage/hat back and create a slight bowl setting. The stage shows now choke the traffic flow in the park and the biggest complaint I hear every time is that people can't see anything from the back of the crowd. If we're going to remove something, how about the Backlot Tour? They can even move the theater set back there.

  14. By tshoster

    The swan and Dolphin need to go. It does not match with the whole Disney concept. They are neither aesthetically pleasing or contemporary in design. I find them extremely drab and boring. They would look better on 192 or International drive. I have never liked them from the beginning and still don't.
    Next is the Sorcerer's hat. I never liked it because it makes no sense where it is located and why it was put in. But, I do have to say that I can now see how the Hat would fit in now. The park has lost its sense of direction and think what happened in the movie. Mickey lost control of the brooms and all chaos broke out, very similar to what has happened to this park. This park is called Hollywood Studios? Why is there no studio work going on anymore? What part of film making is shown. The Back lot tour is a joke now. This park seems more like a floundering has been and either needs to change its name and purpose or get some direction to what it was. I remember that the big thing for this was park was that you would be able to see things in production learn about the movie making business. Possibly see a star or two. I think Mann's is great and should be the center. It represents all that is Hollywood from the building right down to the concrete foot prints.
    Enough on that I could write a book on the issues with that park.
    Now Chester's and Hester's, I understand what they wanted to do but unfortunately they missed the mark completely. First the rides are ok but they are set-up in too open of an area. The roadside stands that they claim to be trying to look like were never setup that way. They were in a wooded area and had weird and whimsical signs and charictures by the road. A major retheming of the area and actually making it look like one of those roadside attractions would improve it immensely. The carnival games need to go though, they have no business to being in a Disney Park. Again another area that has either lost or from the beginning had no sense of direction.
    As for the Richard Petty Driving Experience. I have no opinion on it other than it seems quite expensive seems to be a waste of some prime real estate.
    Innoventions, what can I say another area that has lost its sense of direction. This is called Future World for a reason. Let's get innovative. Yes, I realize that keeping up with technology is difficult, But this would provide a continuous change and would get people to visit more often to see what has changed.
    There are several areas in EPCOT that need updating. Unfortunately, Disney seems to have lost all of the Innovative imagineers and are stuck with non-imagineers or unable to imaigneers now days for. Or the more appropriate name "LAZY" because that seems to be what has happened starting in the mid 90s and has progressively gotten worse. There have been a few exceptions over the years but it has not been consistent. Hopefully the theme park division will get on the ball and correct the situation.

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