The Vacation Kingdom of the World: Five Things That Wouldn't Be Missedby Tom Richards, contributing writer
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.
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.
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.