My Disney Top 5 - Things I Surprisingly Haven't Done at Walt Disney Worldby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5. As always, I hope you are all safe and well.
As we sail into August here in New York, Tropical Storm Isaias is barreling down on me as I write this, more than half of my town is without power, schools are preparing to reopen in whatever strange new way they can, my sons are getting ready to go away to college for the first time, there's been a rash of shark sightings at our ocean beaches here on Long Island and…I don't even think I have to comment on the craziness that seems to be happening everywhere else in this country. Weird times indeed. Right about now, I could use a good Walt Disney World fix to right my mood. We would probably have been there right about now. We typically go during July or August - and no, we're not crazy, it just usually works out to be the best time for us despite the Orlando swelter. We've especially been fans of late August when prices drop and the southern regions of the country head back to school resulting in some better prices and less crowds. That obviously didn't happen for the summer of 2020, but it was supposed to.
I can't really complain. We're all healthy and haven't experienced any real loss as compared to many other families out there. Still, our family vacation time is precious to us. We're doing our best here at home, but we were truly looking forward to heading to Walt Disney World this summer before our twin boys went off to college. Despite being there for an awesome long weekend in the fall of 2019, which included our first time to the amazing Galaxy's Edge, not to mention Mickey's Halloween party and the final night of Illuminations, I am definitely finding myself especially missing Disney this summer. I suppose with the last few months of insanity, I could use a little magic right now.
In the past few articles I've been talking about the things we'd do if we were able to go tomorrow, the restaurants we'd want to go eat in if we could right now, places we'd want to go if we could snap our fingers and just be there, and the things on my Walt Disney World bucket list that someday, if all things go well and I have some money to burn, I want to make sure I experience. That got me to thinking about the crazy fact that after all this time and all of our trips to Disney, there are still some pretty basic things that I just never seem to get the chance to experience. These aren't bucket list splurges like staying in a Polynesian bungalow on the Seven Seas Lagoon. These are things that everybody seems to do at some point in their Walt Disney World fandom, but we just haven't made it to yet. There's no particular reasons either. It's not like I've been avoiding things at Disney. I've had it in my mind to do everything there is to do in my favorite place but that's sometimes incredibly difficult. But it's all part of the charm of the place, so let's see what I'm missing with my Top 5 things I surprisingly haven't done at Walt Disney World. I crafted this list with the things I haven't done, and I'm not dying to do at the bottom, and the things I really want to do at the top.
5 - The Hall of Presidents
That's right. Opening day attraction. A Walt Disney World classic. A Disney classic. Not once have I set foot into the Hall of Presidents. How can that be? There are a few reasons. There's a line from an old favorite Dom Deluise movie called Fatso. His younger brother is trying to convince him to lose weight and he says to him, "The problem is you love bread, I don't love bread. I like bread." I can say the same thing about American history. I like American history. Of course I do. I'm interested in where we've been and where we're going with the great American experiment. Problem is, I just don't love American history enough to spend a half hour of my Magic Kingdom day listening to a history lesson about our presidents. Never mind the fact that - and this is not a political piece - there are several men in that ending roll call that I'm not particularly all that fond of. So why go in? Even though I never have the desire to make it into the hall, I did come close just once.
July 26th, 2018. My 50th birthday. There were 27 of us down in Walt Disney World for about 8-9 days of magic to celebrate my half century mark. My daughter's best friend Syd was along with us. Syd's like a fourth child to me. He had never been to Disney before and Syd? Syd LOVES bread and by bread I mean politics and American history. On our drives from New York to Vermont to go skiing, Syd would come along and plead to stop at museums and home sites of obscure political figures along the way. I, of course, denied his pleas. I did promise him that I would break my streak and go with him into the Hall of Presidents on my actual 50th birthday, a day which we intended to spend entirely in the Magic Kingdom as per my request. We saved it for later in the day and as we headed over to Liberty Square, lo and behold, it was closed. Not sure why, but it was an omen of sorts. It just wasn't meant to happen that day. It didn't happen on the rest of the trip either and quite honestly, I'm perfectly content with it not happening. Until they open something new, this is the only attraction in the Magic Kingdom that I haven't been to.
4 - Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue
This Fort Wilderness dinner show has been entertaining Walt Disney World guests since 1974. Think about that date for a moment. That's 46 years ago. There are only a handful of things you can do down there that have been continuously operating since the 1970's. It's one of the longest running dinner shows in the country and has played over 35,000 performances to over 10 million people. So, how is it that I haven't made it over there to check this out after all these years? Once again, as I said above, I don't really have a solid answer. Maybe it's the notion of buckets — literally metal buckets — full of fried chicken and beans for dinner? That doesn't sound all that bad actually but it's not on our typical menu for sure, even on vacation. Hoop Dee Doo also takes some effort. It's not terribly convenient to get to from the other Disney resorts. Although I do enjoy the boat ride over to Bay Lake from the Magic Kingdom. Then there's the price. It's a little pricey at $60-$70 a head for adults. I realize it's bottomless buckets of food, but that's at least $300 for the 5 of us.
Perhaps it's the whole dinner show thing? Despite staying at the Polynesian twice, I still haven't seen the luau either. Maybe it's just not my kind of thing. Despite it having a sort of legendary Disney status, i just haven't had the desire to spend the cash, make the trip and be away from all of the other stuff that we love so much. I'm not knocking it — I can't since I've never seen it — but I suspect I'd just assume spend another night walking around World Showcase, something I can never get enough of. Maybe someday I'll be the Walt Disney World completist and make my way over to Pioneer Hall, but for the time being, I'm alright with this one being off my list.
3 - Blizzard Beach
I've been skiing since I was four years old. i don't remember learning. As far as I know, I've always skied. It's a huge part of my life, always has been and always will be. I've spent my entire life on a island surrounded by water. I've swam, sailed, water skied, windsurfed, surfed, kayaked, tubed, fished and did any and everything associated with being on, in, or under the water my whole life. And, rather obviously, I love Disney and Walt Disney World. Let's take it one step further, we typically have traveled to Walt Disney World in August and we all know what that means weather and temperature-wise. So…why is it that when the company and vacation destination I love most builds a park combining snow, water sports and a guaranteed way to escape the Orlando summer swelter…I stay away? It makes no sense. We've been to Typhoon Lagoon to see the awesome wave pool. We had a great afternoon there. But that was it. We've never gone back and we've never been to Blizzard Beach and we do actually like going to water parks.
Here's the thing, though. When I go to Walt Disney World, I need…Peter Pan's Flight. I need The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain. I can't wait to be in World Showcase or in Pandora or most recently Galaxy's Edge. These are things I can't do anywhere else and they are things that scream Disney to me. One of the consistently top ranked water parks in the country, Splish Splash, is about an hour from my house. An extra half hour in the other direction will bring us to Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in New Jersey which is a pretty great water park as well. No, they're not Disney water parks which take the medium and inject it with a combination of creative steroids and undefinable Disney magic. But I have to tell you, I'd just rather spend my day in one of the four parks or relaxing at my Disney resort. I can do great water parks at home. I can't fly over London on a pirate ship, or climb Everest, or pilot the Millennium Falcon at home, so I'll skip the water parks for now. That said, I put this dead center on the list because there's a part of me that wants to see what the Imagineers did with Blizzard Beach in person, so maybe some day, when I'm there for a nice long 10 day vacation, I'll kill a morning over in Blizzard Beach.
2 - The France and China Films
I absolutely adore Epcot and, more than Epcot itself, I adore World Showcase. We tend to stay at the Yacht Club for several reasons, one of which is being able to walk right into World Showcase and stay there as long as possible knowing that home is only a short walk away. I don't really favor any one of the eleven nations more than the other. I'm quite fond of both the France and China pavilions. I'm a big fan of the crepes and Grand Marnier slush from the kiosks in France out by World Showcase Lagoon as well as breakfast from Les Halles Boulangerie on a quiet morning.
This gargoyle is in the central waiting area of Impressions de France; the 20 minute film in Epcot's France pavilion which continues to elude me. It was constructed from a casting made from one of the actual gargoyles at Notre Dame in Paris. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
I love walking around the reflecting ponds in China and gazing up in wonder at the incredible Temple of Heaven. I just haven't gotten around to seeing the films in each pavilion.
Beyond the domed ceiling inside the Hall of Prayer is the waiting area for the movie, Reflections of China. I've been inside the dome many times, but not the theater for the film. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
I'm going to sort of cop out and blame my kids for this. When you go to Walt Disney World with three kids in tow, stopping to see the films in Epcot never seemed to present itself as a viable option. I could never get them to sit and watch the Norway film after going on Maelstrom and the only time I saw O' Canada was when my wife and I were there on our grown-ups only trip. I suppose that was the time to hit the other films but, we just never got around to it. We did other grown up things like dining upstairs at what was then Bistro de Paris in France or shopping for hidden treasures at the House of Good Fortune in China. Unlike the previous three experiences on my list, I actually want to go see these films one day so, hopefully, on our next trip I'll tick them off the list.
1 - 'Ohana
I've been chasing a reservation at 'Ohana since we started going together as a family 17 years ago. There are other Disney classics that I still haven't eaten in. Le Cellier in Epcot comes to mind, as does The Brown Derby at Hollywood Studios. But 'Ohana and being in Walt Disney World just seems like a natural fit. I mean the restaurant's name means family for crying out loud. 'Ohana has been open at the Polynesian since 1995 and has been one of the most popular restaurants in all of Walt Disney World. I want to try 'Ohana. I've tried many, many times to go there. We've stayed at the Polynesian twice and couldn't score a reservation either time for breakfast or dinner. We've actually had reservations twice on other trips and both times had to cancel them.
One time, during the Year of a Million Dreams, we were on our way out of the Judge's Tent in Toontown after meeting Mickey Mouse himself and we were surprised with Dream Fastpasses for all five members of the family. This immediately changed our early dinner plans for 'Ohana. We called ahead and cancelled and spent the rest of the day and evening using FastPasses for every single attraction in the park. Keep in mind that, at the time, the kids were too young for Big Thunder, Splash and Space Mountain so my wife and I got to split 5 passes for each of them! Worth missing dinner at 'Ohana? Absolutely. The other time I have no idea why we cancelled. Our plans changed and I remember not believing I was actually going to cancel yet another 'Ohana reservation — one of the only two I could ever score mind you! I want the pineapple bread and the wings and the skewers of freshly grilled meats and the view of the fireworks off in the distance and the ukulele player and the coconut races. At this point, it's a quest and someday I will get there and it better be worth the wait.
As you can see, these are just a few classic Walt Disney World experiences that I just can't seem to either put under my belt or I don't really care enough to put under my belt. Don't get me wrong. I think someday I'll make it over to Fort Wilderness and check out Hoop Dee Doo and I'm hoping to go back with Syd and suffer through the Hall of Presidents - with you and you only Syd! I'm sure I'll make it to Blizzard Beach and into the World Showcase films. One of these days the Disney tiki gods will shine on me and I'll make it back to the Poly for a dinner upstairs at 'Ohana. All things considered, I've done a ton of things throughout Walt Disney World and I consider myself lucky that these few things are some of the only experiences still on my list to hit.
The wonderful thing is there are new things to look forward to as well. I've been to Galaxy's Edge but haven't made it onto Rise of the Resistance yet. I can't wait for Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway. Ratatouille and Tron are coming soon and maybe someday I'll actually have a steak and some cheddar cheese soup at Le Cellier. All things considered, when I look back at this list, it's not too bad. It's not like I've never been on Test Track or Big Thunder Mountain or anything like that. Am I missing anything by not experiencing these 5 things? I'm not so sure. I seem to have been having a pretty amazing time at Disney all these years even though I haven't been in the Hall of Presidents or been called upon for audience Participation at the Hoop Dee Doo Revue. Consider it this way. My favorite attraction is Peter Pan's Flight. It's 2 minutes long. That means I could ride Peter Pan 12 times in the same amount of time it takes me to sit through the Hall of Presidents presentation once. At least from this writer's point of view, that's not even a discussion. Peter and Tink will win every time.
That's all for this time. As always I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below, let me know your thoughts on this list and share the things that you still haven't gotten to do at Walt Disney World. Stay safe and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.