The Vacation Kingdom of the World: Quiet, Please!

by Tom Richards, contributing writer
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"We learn from fairy tales that there are many different kinds of powers in this world. One child is given a light saber, another a wizard's education. [Some of us] are offered keys to secret gardens full of riches. [Others] tumble like Alice down her rabbit hole. [We don't] choose to go to Wonderland—but [we make] of it an adventure that is fresh and fantastic and very much [our] own."

– Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking)

Just as there are many ways of enjoying a rich life, there are many ways of enjoying a vacation. By definition, a vacation is time away from the ordinary. Sadly, this notion seems threatened in a technology-driven society that has reached its "long tenacious fingers" into nearly every aspect of our daily lives. There's much more "noise" in our world today, and sometimes this level of distraction prevents us from being truly present in the moment.

Vacation time was once viewed as an escape from the hassles and duties of daily life, a chance to get away from it all. Sadly, the noise of the outside world seems to creep into even these brief times of respite.

Fortunately, we have some control over the amount of "noise" we allow to interfere with our vacations. We can choose to keep the "real world" at bay by turning off technological devices and refraining from watching the news or reading the daily paper. There seems to be, however, a growing trend at the Vacation Kingdom of the World towards an ever-increasing level of literal noise that is quite impossible to block out.

Readers of MousePlanet will, no doubt, share my love of Walt Disney World to some degree. Through the years, however, I have meet many "Disney doubters," people who have never been to a Disney park and try to avoid the place at all costs. They see themselves as giving in to their kids' demands at a yet-to-be-determined time in the nebulous future, but they fight that urge. Why? They imagine Disney as a family-style Las Vegas, a cacophonous place that overstimulates kids, unfairly manipulates emotions, tires guests with constant motion, and generally represents all that is bad about American consumer culture.

I have typically defended Disney World as a place that offers something for everyone; a place that, despite its commercialism and constant self-promotion, really is "magical"—and classic. It's not Las Vegas, I argue; it's not one overstimulating experience after the other. Walt Disney World was designed by men and women of great sophistication and taste; their designs were informed by the template created by one of the most innovative men of all time, Walt Disney himself. The place has class. The place is timeless.

I'm not so sure anymore.

At times, I've begun to question the integrity of the Walt Disney World experience. More often than not, those questions stem from a longing for a less noisy Walt Disney World. I've composed the following lists of unnecessarily noisy experiences that could be quieted, quite simply and quite inexpensively. Removing them, or at the very least, toning them down a few notches, would enhance my enjoyment of my favorite vacation destination.

"Please keep moving"

Sometimes, especially during very busy events like parades and fireworks, cast members are asked to control traffic flow. This can be an uncomfortable role, something akin to being a school cafeteria monitor. People on vacation tend to feel entitled to do as they please, stand wherever they want, and walk where they choose. After all, they paid a significant amount of money for their Disney vacation. Nonetheless, certain rules and procedures need to be followed for safety reasons. More often than not, cast members handle this unpleasant responsibility with grace and good humor. Lately, however, I've noticed a trend: barking orders at guests in hostile manner. Nothing breaks the spell of awe-inspiring fireworks or a glorious Disney parade like that end of the night crush punctuated by the irritated rants of an impatient cast member.

Silence is golden

No one values the importance of words more than I, yet there are times when brevity is indeed, the soul of wit. After all, silence can be golden. Like words, music plays a vital role in embellishing the emotionality of any true "Disney" moment. My collection of theme park music is among my most prized possessions.

Still, there are times when less is more. Disney vacations are very stimulating; that's part of their charm. But down time between those experiences—some quiet time to visit, reflect, or simply be—can be a very good thing. Sadly, these quiet moments are much more difficult to find.

Quiet time by the pool? Good luck with that. There's a never-ending parade of games and activities to keep the kids entertained. Apparently, out-of-this-world pools aren't entertaining enough for today's children. Add to that the ubiquitous thumping of pop music, and you can kiss quiet time by the pool goodbye. It reminds me of the horrors of the nearby Nickelodeon Suites. Ugh.

How about a calm bus ride to or from your Disney Resort? Sorry. Recorded narration and themed music loop continuously. The first time or two, it's mildly entertaining. After that, it's annoying.

Waiting for Fantasmic to begin? Think you might have a little down time to visit with the family or just sit in relative quiet? Not anymore. Music by "Disney Channel stars" blares out of every speaker; cast members encourage sections of the auditorium to participate in competitive cheers, not unlike those at high school pep rallies. It cheapens the entire experience; the quiet anticipation was part of the fun. It also made the Fantasmic performance even more exciting.

One of the worst trends, however, is the "talking during the fireworks" present in most of the recent Magic Kingdom displays. The narration and dialogue are distracting; they pull the audience out of the emotional experience created by the artful blend of music and visual spectacle. The apparent need for a storyline, even during the visceral experience of a pyrotechnic display, trumps the willingness to design a prolonged experience without words.

On with the show

Walt Disney World has a much-deserved reputation for moving large crowds of people in an expedient manner; Disney also has a reputation for providing live entertainment. Unfortunately, there are times when these two goals are at odds.

The stage shows in front of the Sorcerer Hat at Disney's Hollywood Studios and that odious new stage show at Tomorrowland's ugly new stage are two examples of performances that clog traffic. Do the shows merit the space they occupy and the ensuing congestion? My answer is—for the most part—no. There are occasional special events that enhance the guest experience, but most of the "shows" presented in these venues are so loud and so disruptive that they actually damage the atmosphere of their respective locations.

Speaking of damaging the artfully constructed atmosphere of a land, poor Main Street U.S.A. sadly takes a beating several times a day. The "Move It! Shake It! Celebrate It! Street Party" must be the most mindnumbing, irritating, in-your-face production ever to emerge from the much-too-powerful "entertainment" department at Walt Disney World.

Does this experience have its merits? Of course. The high energy, the Disney characters, and the attempt to engage the audience are all laudable. These successes, however, are completely undercut by the volume of the music, the repetitive nature of the music loop, and the phoniness of the dancers and performers. When this production plows down Main Street, most all other activity must, by necessity, stop. Guests struggle to walk down the street and sidewalks, merchants and guests cannot hear themselves think over the unrelenting din, and waiters and diners hang onto their plates. Every time this street party passes by, it feels as if I were thrust into an illuminated glow toy, spun around until completely disoriented, and then vomited onto the curb.

The same can be said for the "Celebrate the Magic" projection show performed several times nightly on Cinderella Castle. I object to this addition to the Magic Kingdom entertainment docket for several reasons. The first relates to the volume of the music and narration; it is simply too loud. There's also a cloying sentimentality about the whole affair that is just too much. Walt Disney famously defended his tendency for corniness by saying that he liked corn, and the creative output of his studio reflects a tasteful inclusion of heartfelt emotion. Unfortunately, the "Celebrate the Magic" crosses that very fine line between sentimentality and mawkishness.

Secondly, the nightly performances of the Main Street Electrical Parade and Wishes! cause enough congestion on Main Street, so much, in fact, that the serene beauty of Main Street is practically lost on the average visitor. Still, these iconic experiences are an essential part of the Magic Kingdom experience; "Celebrate the Magic" is not. Thirdly, one of the oft-cited rationales for the demolition of the trees, flowers, and seating areas in the Central Plaza hub has long been the need for clearer sightlines to the castle for live performances and fireworks. Is the loss of one of the Magic Kingdom's most beautiful, most iconic places worth it? Absolutely not.

Closing Thoughts

While it may seem that I am advocating for a botanic garden-like approach to theme park planning, I am not. There is definitely a time for noisy, exciting experiences. Attractions like Space Mountain, Mission: Space, The Tower of Terror, and the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster all provide thrilling, noisy experiences that do not detract from the overall feeling of their respective parks. "Illuminations" Reflections of Earth" contains narration, loud noise, and booming music and the overall effect is genuinely moving and charming.

Just as there are myriad lenses through which we experience a meaningful life, there ought to be a wide range of experiences—both heart-pounding and quiet—to experience at the Vacation Kingdom of the World.

Comments

  1. By carolinakid

    Brilliant essay, Tom, and I couldn't agree more. It's funny I realized most of the "events" you mentioned I avoid like the plague and exactly for the reasons you listed. I used to enjoy most of the live entertainment at the Disney Parks; now I usually head in the opposite direction as quickly as possible. I thought it was just because I was getting older....for the reasons you so eloquently stated it's far from just that...

  2. By Spelurker

    Great article; I couldn't agree more. Especially the "On with the show" section of the article.

  3. By Cory Gross

    One of the things I loved most about Disneyland Paris was how many experiences were nice, genteel, "day in the park" moments. It actually made for a pleasant outing. One of the things I'm most concerned about with Disneyland USA is how they keep taking those things OUT of an already crowded park, like with the Court of Angels. We need those quiet places to sit down and just take a second to exhale.

  4. By sasmmb

    Wow, that was a pretty "Get off my lawn" type of article. If you want some quiet time, head back to your room. Most (all?) resorts have something actually called a "quiet pool" so you can avoid the cacaphony by the feature pool. There are still plenty of areas in all theme parks to get some quiet time. The Rose Garden in Magic Kingdom, along with Tommorowland Terrace most of the time. Several walkways with benches in Epcot. The boring "why don't they do something more with this area" New York street backlot at Hollywood Studios.

    As you said Disney is a place for everyone, and like it or not, many "utes" of today are growing up with constant distractions around them and would feel out of their element without it.

  5. By DwarfPlanet

    Hmmm, and here I thought you were going to talk about the intrusion of the cell phone/smart phone world after reading your statement:

    "Sadly, this notion seems threatened in a technology-driven society that has reached its "long tenacious fingers" into nearly every aspect of our daily lives."

    I find the intrusion of the technology of today more annoying than Disney putting on a show.

  6. By DisneyGator

    Quote Originally Posted by sasmmb View Post
    Wow, that was a pretty "Get off my lawn" type of article. .

    The EXACT same phrase was going through my mind as I read this. This article seems like it was written by the older lady in my church who sits in the back with her hands over her ears and complains about the volume, even though everyone else wants to turn it up.

    Yes, I get that it's nice to have some quiet time. I like to find a quiet place myself - it's called Hawaii. I don't go to WDW to find peace and quiet; I go to to WDW to "go" and go fast and loud.

    Now, I'm with you as far as all the activity around the pool area. I don't really mind it so much as I don't get it. It's a pool...with a slide. Why do kids need something extra to do? But that's where we part ways.

    I love all the shows that are around the MK and DHS. Even the "Joy" show at Epcot with gospel singing is great, IMO. The Move It! Shake It! has been a great source of video footage of my kids as they get out and really shake it. And because it's offered several times a day, we're sure to catch one of them instead of stopping what we're doing to go catch the mini-paraade.

    And did I read correctly? You don't like the Castle Projection show? Well, I figured there was one person out there. And wouldn't you know it, he has his own blog/story board. That must be the most amazing thing. The first time I saw it, which was a few weeks after it began, the crowd was stunned. It was amazing. And the talking isn't really talking other that Walt - it's singing, and it's good stuff.

    I guess I just see WDW and DL as places where it's ok to be loud, right kids!!

  7. By relaaxedwheniamthere

    the sooner the " move it shake it " parade leaves the BETTER !!!! example cindys castle @ xmas waiting to light up & that stupid parade goes by shattering the mood .

  8. By danyoung

    First of all, Tom, it was a great pleasure to read your words. Proper sentence and paragraph construction just don't seem to be all that important these days. Nice to read words that were well thought out. And I was with you right up to the Celebrate part. I really love this show, but a huge part of that is that I've spent a good part of my adult life as a projection engineer, and I so appreciate the work that has gone into this show.

    If I could include one thing on your list of intrusive sounds, it would be the silly safety messages that are permeating more and more Disney attractions. The top of that list would be Spaceship Earth's stupid "your vehicle is rotating for its return back to Earth". Completely unnecessary, and just a horrible interruption to the flow of the show.

  9. By Jimbo996

    I don't agree with this article. It is strange to see that people will spend thousands for a top Disney attraction and want to see less of it. Disney is putting on show for you. That's their job. To think you want quiet time, the vacation becomes something else.

    Quiet time is needed if you had over simulation, but this can be accomplished in a different vacation like a trip to a beach or a National Park. A theme park vacation isn't the place for a peaceful calming vacation.

    So what's the point of complaining about a Disney vacation? You could have written a counterpoint in the same article on the quiet places in the resorts. They aren't that hard to find, but you didn't do that because you would rather be right than wrong.

    there ought to be a wide range of experiences

    That would be Animal Kingdom and Epcot. These places were left off your complaint list.

  10. By mkelm44

    Add me to the disagreeing with your basic premise... Disney hasn't changed it's basic idea- it's the happiest place on earth. It's full of bright colors and music- always has been. You can't expect to go to Disney World and not encounter these things.

    Now there are quiet areas in all of the parks (some more than others) and I'll be the first to admit that it can be overstimulating. That's when I go sit down for a while on Tom Sawyer's island or in the rose garden, find a quiet bench around the world showcase, or just leave the park. I have no problem sitting down somewhere and listening to my own music on my Iphone or read a book on my kindle for Iphone app... sometimes we all need to escape the chaos. But to expect Disney to tone it down isn't their issue- it's yours. It's your responsibility to find the peace and quiet you need, not Disney's to provide it.

  11. By Cory Gross

    It's amazing how many extroverts here seem to think that the world should cater to them, and if you can't keep up then you're not allowed to have nice things. Instead of thinking that "go back to your hotel room" is a suitable response, why not consider that a Disney park should have attractions operating at different activity levels?

  12. By carolinakid

    Well said, Cory!

  13. By clab

    Hello Tom,
    Love the article. I am a bit late in responding here but I totally agree with you. WDW has become so much of an over-the-top sensory overload (all of the time, at times) that it can be offensive to those of us that like a vacation that is relaxing and enjoyable which I have had at WDW; but not recently. I thought it was just me. Many things have become offensive and disrespectful which is becoming more and more common in our society.

    It appears to be the people want to make their 'big trip to WDW' the most that it can be and 'to bad for the others because we are getting our money's worth'. JMO.

    We now travel at off-season times even with the kids; we have seen some awful things during the busy season which is very unsettling and which Disney does not really watch or care about. We do the best we can at reading the situation.

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