My Disney Top 5 - Things I Hope Never Disappear From Walt Disney Worldby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5. I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and, as always, I hope you are all well and safe.
As we enter 10 months of pandemic life, there are so many things that I miss. My last concert was just about 10 months ago. In hindsight the 50th anniversary of the Allman Brothers Band at a packed Madison Square Garden last March as the world was shutting down probably wasn't such a smart idea. But I seem to have gotten through that unscathed. On a similar front, it's been about 14 months since my last Grateful Dead live concert, something I've been doing multiple times a year since the '80s. From a simpler perspective and something that I'm sure many of you out there can identify with, I haven't sat inside a restaurant since last March and I can't even clearly remember the last time I was in a movie theater. And, of course, the last time I set foot on Walt Disney World property was October of 2019. That's all small potatoes when you consider the fact that I haven't hugged my mother or shaken my dad's hand in almost a year either. So, yeah, there's a whole lot that I miss.
When it came time to write my first Top 5 of 2021, that sentiment of missing things coupled with the recent announcement that Disney will be discontinuing one of my favorite aspects of a Walt Disney World vacation, Disney's Magical Express, got me thinking. What are some things that I would seriously miss if they disappeared from Walt Disney World? i will absolutely miss Magical Express. It's how my Walt Disney World trips have started for years now. Go ahead. Take my luggage for me, right to my room. Drive me to your resort in an air conditioned bus with my favorite mouse emblazoned all over it while I watch a video that gets me all psyched up to arrive. And do it all for free! What could I possibly miss about that?
Several years back, I wrote about the Top 5 things that were already gone that I missed. Things like Spectromagic, the Magic Kingdom rose garden and Snow White's Scary Adventures were all on that list 5 years ago and since then others would probably join them. That said I've always been a big proponent here on MousePlanet that, as per Walt's Disneyland decree, the park will never be finished and will always be undergoing changes. That credo is something that is quintessential to the Disney experience. Things come and things go and you just have to accept the changes.
Sometimes I have no problem missing things. I'll never forget turning the corner in then Disney's MGM Studios and running into a group of Power Rangers blaring loud obnoxious music and greeting guests. They instantly succeeded in totally bursting my blissful Disney bubble. They couldn't be gone quick enough and I'm actually thrilled that they have never returned. The same goes for Lights, Motors, Action. Never saw it. Never had any desire. Beyond ecstatic that its departure cleared a path for Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. And I'm sure someone out there might challenge me on this, but if they plowed over the Tomorrowland Speedway to open up more space for Tron I wouldn't shed a tear. However, as I get myself prepared to bid Disney's Magical Express farewell, I thought I'd take a look at the things that would be hardest for me to tolerate losing; things that have been with me since I first walked into the place and I hope never go away. So, what are they? Let's take a look at my Top 5 things I hope never disappear from Walt Disney World.
5 - Fireworks
Here's a true statement. I'm a fireworks junkie. There's just nothing like a great fireworks show. Obviously, I've seen them at Disney, but fireworks have crept into my life in all sorts of places. You haven't seen a fireworks display until you've been to one on New Year's Eve at a ski resort. My daughter was born on December 31st. I can remember fondly being up in Vermont on her 18th birthday. It had to be hovering around the 10 degree mark that night, but we bundled up thoroughly and watched he fireworks up on the mountain. I've seen them at Dead shows, at Springsteen concerts, and of course here in New York we get all sorts of great shows on the 4th of July. But, of course, nothing beats a Disney fireworks show.
Take your pick. Wishes. Star Wars. Illuminations. Happily Ever After. Whenever Disney pushes the fireworks buttons they go all out and turn it into something you've never seen before and are so glad you're experiencing at that moment. Who could imagine Disney without fireworks? Well…let's see. How about everyone since the parks reopened after the pandemic shutdown? Currently there is a Walt Disney World without fireworks but these are special, trying circumstances. I can't imagine that we've seen the end of Disney fireworks. Someday this madness will all end and we can all stand there gazing at Cinderella Castle in awe of the amazing fireworks bursting over our heads and all will be right with the world.
4 - Disney Transportation
This one ties into the sudden realization that starting in 2022, I'll need to find another way to get myself to and from MCO that's a whole lot less magical. I read so many complaints online about the Disney transportation system and I have to say, I disagree with all of them. I am constantly impressed by the just how many people Disney Transportation shuttles around their massive property on any given day and I hope they are always at the helm. Something else I've long preached here on MousePlanet is my belief in never having a car when I'm at Disney. Not gonna do it. No way. I've heard all the arguments. I see other people's point of view. Go right ahead. Drive all you want. Once I enter the bubble, I don't want to do anything like I do at home. I don't want to drive. I don't want to go to the gas station. I don't want to leave property and go to a Walgreens or a Chipotle or an outlet center. Disney is going to pick me up and take me where I want to go on their property by bus, by boat, or monorail. And despite a few hiccups here and there, they do so in an orderly fashion and with a smile. If they ever decided to stop doing so, it would be a major problem for this Disney fan.
I don't think it's possible for them to do away with the transportation system, because it's such an integral part of the resort's infrastructure and completely necessary for the amount of guests that they play host to. But I'm also always conscious of the fact that they don't make an extra dime by offering free transport around the resort and it has to cost them a fortune to run the whole system. Still, it may sound funny to some, but some of my best memories at Disney have been crossing Seven Seas Lagoon at night on one of the boats to the Polynesian, talking to other guests on the Disney buses, or gliding around Epcot with my kids looking out the monorail windows and I hope I can always do that. It's like added downtime as you're either blissfully exhausted on your way back to the resort or bursting with anticipation on your way to the parks…all with someone else doing the driving. Sign me up!
3 - Animatronics
Many of you may be saying, "There will always be animatronics in the Disney parks. It's part of their history." I hope you're right. I would count the addition of animatronics into his attractions as one of Walt Disney's most endearing and significant accomplishments. People were astonished at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair when they first laid eyes on the animatronic Abe Lincoln. Guests were pretty convinced that he was an actor. Since that time Disney has been advancing their animatronic figures to a point where I'm fairly convinced they might just build an actual human from robotic parts in the Imagineering labs.
The Na'vi Shaman of Songs is by far the best animatronics creature produced by Disney. If it wasn't for the fact that creatures like this don't actually exist on Earth, you could believe that this person is real. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Lifelike animatronics are something that set Disney apart from its competition. However, anyone that has been on any newer generation Disney attraction would surely point out that the use of projection screen technology has been greatly increased over the years. Me personally? I don't feel that a screen can replace the use of a fully fleshed out three dimensional figure. No offense to the competition. I've had some good times over at Universal, but after a few days I do get tired of looking at screens. To prove my point, just take a look at Jack Sparrow in the final scene of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and imagine him replaced completely with a seamless digital screen? No doubt Disney can integrate screen technology into their attraction environments quite effectively. But nothing beats what they're able to do when they put their minds to it and build out an amazingly lifelike animatronic figure. I want to see Jack rocking in that chair and twirling jewels around in his hands and not an actor on a screen. I hope they never lose sight of the fact that it's one of their calling cards that truly separates them from everyone else. The most recent iterations of animatronics have been pretty spectacular, especially the Beauty and the Beast characters from Tokyo Disneyland, so I'm hopeful that we will have a long future with them.
2 - The Monorail
I realize this plays directly into my #4 choice of Disney Transportation but I felt like this needed it's own entry. I can ride buses anywhere at home and we are surrounded by water where I live so boats have been a part of my life since I was born. But monorails? That's a little more unique at this point to Disney. There is a monorail of sorts here on Long Island. It's more of a light rail system which takes you to JFK airport, but to be perfectly honest I never use it. It's not terribly convenient from where I'm situated. When we head to JFK, we either drive or take a taxi. So, riding the Disney monorail is a completely unique Walt Disney World thing for me.
I don't think it will ever go away, but I also know it's terribly expensive for them to run and just about cost prohibitive to update and add more track and more destinations. Plus, one of Disney's newest additions pretty much put the nail in the coffin of a monorail expansion. As a lifelong skier I was pretty used to trams and gondolas so I was pretty excited when I saw them building the Disney Skyliner. I rode on opening day and loved it. It's a very cool way to get around property and offers one of a kind views of the resort. I'm very aware of just how much cheaper and more practical adding to the Skyliner would be for Disney as opposed to adding to the monorail system. That said, I can't imagine Disney will ever expand the monorail to Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios or Disney Springs. For lack of a better term, Disney is pretty much stuck with the existing monorail system and that's just fine with me. Riding the monorail from the Magic Kingdom to Epcot is one of my favorite things to do when I'm down there. To me, it's become a quintessential Walt Disney World experience so I hope I'm right and it sticks around for a long, long time.
1 - Peter Pan's Flight
If the bulldozers ever come for this Magic Kingdom original, I think I might chain myself to a flying pirate ship. I've written and expressed my love for this venerable attraction many times over the years. I know it's not the most sophisticated. I realize that as far as Disney attractions go, the animatronics are borderline primitive. But none of that matters to me. Peter Pan is my favorite Disney classic animated film and this ride essentially symbolizes my whole Walt Disney World experience. It's simple and magical and transformative and it makes me feel just the way I'm supposed to feel when I'm at Disney, like the big kid that I am.
As Disney attractions get more and more elaborate and sophisticated, this one has basically stayed the same over the years. Yes, the recently added immersive queue was a wonderful addition but other than that, I've been waving goodbye to Nana as I fly out of the Darling house the same exact way for years now and that's just fine with me. I don't seriously foresee Peter Pan's Flight ever going away but I'm sure people said that about Mr. Toad and Snow White's Scary Adventures also. I didn't go to Walt Disney World as a child, but I feel like if they took Peter Pan away, it would, in a sense, be tearing away a piece of my childhood. Judging by the consistently long wait times for this classic attraction it certainly seems like I'm not the only one who feels this way. Peter Pan's Flight should be a permanent fixture in Fantasyland. It belongs there. It defines the very essence of staying in touch with the child inside of all of us. If Peter never has to grow up, than neither do I and that makes me want it to stay put forever.
Back in my Top 5 Walt Disney World Losses article a few years back, I lamented the loss of Snow White's Scary Adventures, Spectromagic, E-Ride Nights (Boy were those nights awesome!) the Magic Kingdom rose garden, and Mickey and Minnie's houses in Toontown. I can add some major losses to that list like Wishes, Illuminations, my all time favorite Walt Disney World restaurant Artist Point and the Magic Kingdom opening ceremony at the front gates.
But I miss little things as well like Pal Mickey, bars of Mickey soap in the hotels, the Mickey milk chocolate bars and something really simple like those big envelopes that you used to get at check-in. I have a box full of those check-in envelopes, one from each trip, full of park maps, resort maps and the resort newspapers like The Sassagoula Times at Port Orleans, as well as stickers, guidebooks, coasters, unused paper FastPasses, drawings the kids did on their restaurant menus and all sorts of little bits of memories from each trip. the more I have to remember each Walt Disney World trip the better.
Big things come and go and so do the little things at Disney. New things are added all the time and that's part of the whole magic of the place. Walt was onto something when he said the parks will never be finished. It keeps people guessing and dreaming and it also keeps them coming back for more. I think most of my choices on this list are safe bets for Walt Disney World longevity and I can't wait to get back there to make sure I never take them for granted.
That's all for this Top 5. As always, I want to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below, share your thoughts on my list and what would be on yours. Stay safe and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.