Musings and Observations - 2015by Steve Russo, staff writer
Having just returned from our longest ever trip to Walt Disney World, I thought I’d share some impressions before they fade into the void my memory has become. This trip was unique for us in two respects:
- We drove from New York to Florida, rather than fly, for the first time;
- We had 15 nights in Orlando, with 14 spent on Disney property.
Here are some thoughts, perceptions, insights and (because no column of mine would be complete without it) complaints.
Length of Stay
While most of our Walt Disney World trips fall into the six- to seven-night range, this one was significantly longer. Was 15 days at Walt Disney World too much? Uh… heck, no! There were still things we didn’t do and items that were “on my list” that didn’t get accomplished. However, I will say that our touring style was much more relaxed. Having the luxury of such a long stay, we’d find ourselves making frequent, but shorter, visits to a park; sometimes heading to a park just for an attraction or two, a parade, or fireworks. However, and this is important, we were never bored.
Park Peeves, those little things that frost my cake, became a franchise topic for me. I authored the first Peeves column in 2008, and followed that with an annual article, until it sort of ran out of steam in 2013. I include it here for two specific references from my columns in 2008 and 2009, respectively:
- The Center Talkers — We’ve all seen this group of four to 12 people who decide to circle and have a conclave in the center of a walkway, aisle or anywhere else it forces others to detour around them.
- The Scusemes — You’re in line at (insert attraction name here) when, from behind, you hear the repetitive chant, “Scuseme. Scuseme.” It’s often followed by, “Just joining my party.” I’ve often said I have some tolerance for a single person, or parent/child, that required a restroom break (although I would prefer if the entire party waited). What I have no tolerance for is when one or two people enter a queue while the other two, three, four or more are getting FastPasses or on another attraction.
During this trip, we saw more Center Talkers than ever before. They seemed to be everywhere and, more often than not, they were stopped with an open park map and the discussion was one of the “Where do we go next?” variety.
The Scusemes, on the other hand, were nowhere to be found. Has Disney somehow discovered a way to eliminate this behavior? I think a more likely explanation is that with extensive use of the Fastpass+ system, we spent almost no time in the lengthy “E-ticket” queues (e.g. – Soarin’, Toy Story Midway Mania, Test Track, etc.) where this behavior is prominent.
I’m also adding a new item to my list of Park Peeves: The Selfie Stick. I’d never seen one before this trip but they were everywhere at Disney World and, I’m told, everywhere else, as well. They seem innocent enough—a simple tool that one would attach a smart phone to for the purpose of taking self-portraits or “selfies.” The problem is they’re being waved around like light sabers in crowds and it’s only a matter of time before someone gets stabbed or slapped with one… or worse. Additionally, they’re being held aloft during shows, parades and fireworks, presumably for video recording. While one or two isn’t too bad, a dozen or more is a real nuisance.
In my opinion, I think Disney’s Next Generation Initiative, now termed “My Magic+” is unquestionably a hit. We used the Fastpass+ system extensively (as in every day) and it’s the best. I know there are those that quibble and nitpick the things it can’t yet do, but it allows you to stroll into a park each and every day with three Fastpass tickets in your virtual pocket. To me, that’s a win.
My Disney Experience
I’m less in love with the smart phone app, My Disney Experience, but that’s only because it seems to lack consistency. When it’s working, it’s great at showing my reservations (hotel, dining and Fastpass reservations) and providing wait times for the attractions around me or in other parks. My issues include a couple of times when it’s Wait Times were off-the-wall inaccurate and several times where the app simply stopped working or “hung” – forcing me to end it and restart.
First, let me say that Disney needs to do a better job of recognizing when you have existing and usable Magic Bands and stop issuing additional ones. We now have a collection of 10. That said, I love being able to leave my hotel room without having to bring along my Key to the World card, Annual Pass and credit cards. The single Magic Band does it all.
Disney's Polynesian Village Resort
The resort’s lobby has undergone a complete makeover. I know that many people don’t like it – mostly the folks that are long-time “Poly” fans. I do. I think it’s more open, airy and cleaner looking while still conveying the Pacific Island feel.
I know many lament the loss of the waterfall and reduced flora. I have no inside information here, but have heard that Florida law requiring increased UV protection in skylights might have led to reducing the foliage. I also once spoke with a bartender at the Tambu Lounge who told me about the extensive cleaning they did each night during closing. It was necessary to wipe down each bottle due to the high moisture levels caused by the lobby’s waterfall. Again, these could be myth.
Festival of the Lion King
I think I’ve seen this show 20-30 times and I’m still entertained by each performance.
Frozen Is Everywhere
I found a large Frozen display in the Maryland Welcome Center of all places. It’s everywhere at Walt Disney World – even in Norway’s Stave Church. Mind you, I’m not saying this is a bad thing—just pointing it out. The real negative in it are the way too many comments asking Disney to “Let it Go.” If I never hear that feeble attempt at humor again, it will be too soon.
For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration
I enjoyed the film and I like the music, but I wasn’t expecting much from this show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. What I was expecting was a few hundred pre-pubescent girls shouting the lyrics to “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” I did get that but… I was pleasantly surprised by the humorous retelling of the story by a couple of Arendelle’s Royal Historians. The music was good but what sold me was the humor. If you haven’t already seen it, I recommend you give this show a shot on your next visit.
It absolutely amazes me how quickly Christmas decorations are installed and removed at the resorts and parks. In many cases, they’re literally gone overnight.
Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights
We were lucky enough to catch the final showing of the Osborne Lights for this season and, as always, they were spectacular.
Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop
I am so glad Ghirardelli hasn’t chosen to build anywhere near where I live. I thank you, my waistline thanks you, my cholesterol levels thank you…
Our daughter and her family were with us for part of this trip and, due to an unfortunate accident resulting in a broken foot, our son-in-law made use of an electric scooter. I don’t think there is anywhere on the planet more equipped to deal with folks confined to a scooter or wheelchair than Walt Disney World. It wasn’t all pain-free but the designers and cast members made it as easy as possible.
We’ve all likely posed for a photo or two in the parks with one of the many PhotoPass photographers. I’m wondering what technology is at work when I receive a link to my photos and find pictures and video of me and my party on several attractions (i.e. – Expedition Everest, The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror). I’m reasonably certain they’re scanning Magic Bands somewhere near the ride loading point, but I’m going to have to look closer to find it.
Like the Festival of the Lion King, it just doesn’t get old for me.
I’m not a parade guy – really. However, we did take in the Festival of Fantasy Parade at the Magic Kingdom – just to see the dragon. The steampunk, Maleficent-inspired dragon is huge and spits fire and did not disappoint. Did I mention it’s huge?
I once wrote a column about the character breakfast at Chef Mickey’s at Disney's Contemporary Resort. In it, I stated that I didn’t think the breakfast was worth the price ($25.99) but I’d likely do it again, mainly due to the interaction offered with the Fab Five (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Pluto).
Well, here we are, almost four years later and we did it again. The cost this time was $37.99 for each adult and $19.99 per child. $38 for breakfast??? I’m sorry but at those prices, this breakfast borders on gouging and I, sadly, can’t endorse Chef Mickey’s any longer.
The Sorcerer Mickey Hat
In the early days of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the eye-catching icon (or “weenie”) at the end of Hollywood Boulevard was the beautiful replica of TCL's Chinese Theater (once Grauman’s Chinese Theater). In preparation for the 100 Years of Magic celebration, Disney constructed the Sorcerer Mickey Hat directly in front of the theater, completely altering the view cherished by many as they first entered the park. More than a few Disney fans quickly termed it the BAH, or Big Ass Hat. Many have disliked it and wanted it torn down almost since it was first constructed and now they’re getting their wish.
Deconstruction of the hat began in early January and, when you read this, it should be gone entirely. This will certainly make many happy just as it will sadden a few others. Personally, I fall into the third camp: I actually like the hat but would have preferred it located somewhere else where it wouldn’t have disturbed such an awesome view.
My understanding is that Disney will relocate the BAH, but has not yet revealed where.
Island Boy Photobook: Walt Disney World
I have more Disney-related books than I need—from Walt Disney biographies to Imagineering books and I-don’t-know-how-many guidebooks. I have, however, recently come into possession of the Island Boy Photobook: Walt Disney World. Its author is MousePlanet trip report writer Arnold van Beverhoudt and, in my opinion, is worth a look. The 270-page book features hundreds of photos of Walt Disney World parks and resorts from the 1970s to the present. I sometimes found myself wishing I could enlarge a photo or two but it does provide a great pictorial of my favorite place, and inspired more than a few “I remember that” comments from me. You can find it here.
That’s it for now – just a few items from the top of my head after a very memorable trip. I’d love to hear your feedback and, as always, thanks for reading.