The Vacation Kingdom of the World: Quiet, Please!by Tom Richards, contributing writer
"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.
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.