The Best of Walt Disney World 2009 - Part 1

by Steve Russo, staff writer

What’s that old saying about being careful about what you ask for? A few columns ago, I asked for your votes in selecting the “Best of Walt Disney World” for 2009. You responded. Boy oh boy, did you respond… and I thank each and every one you. Unfortunately, I wasn’t prepared for the response… or the amount of work I created for myself.

Let me explain. You see, I figure there are about 10 regular readers of my column—maybe 12, tops. And that’s only if I include my wife, three children, son-in law and all three of my friends. If 20% of these readers respond with a vote (a fair percentage, in my opinion), my job is pretty easy. Heck, if all of them responded, my job is still easy.

What actually happened? My column appeared on MousePlanet in the early morning hours of October 9. I typically check it very early that first morning to make sure the editing staff cleaned up my typos, misspellings and grammatical errors and turned my drivel into something that passes as readable. I also check to make sure any Web links or photos I included are working and viewable. I was surprised to find that I already had received two email responses containing votes. Wow! Two of my twelve readers are up early this morning.

When I returned home from work that afternoon, I found I had received 88 replies. Eighty-eight! Over the next two weeks, more kept coming… and coming… and coming. I quickly surmised that my plan of doing the calculations on my fingers, toes and the back of a cocktail napkin would no longer work. Now I needed a spreadsheet (a big one) and I was wishing I had set up some type of Web application to tally these votes for me automatically. There’s another saying about hindsight, isn’t there?

Nevertheless, I forged ahead, sucked it up and did the work. My fingers are sore from typing, my head hurts and I have that throbbing over my left eye that usually comes with a discussion of the Dining Plan… but I finished. I’ll show you the results of your votes as a Top 3 in each category, along with the percentage of the vote each entry received.

Before we get to the winners, let me again thank everyone that responded. I appreciate all of you that took the time to cast your votes because, without you, there wouldn’t be a column—and I mean that literally. So… without further ado, I present YOUR choices for the Best of Walt Disney World 2009 (insert drum roll here).

Value Resort

Theming is everything at Pop Century. MousePlanet archive photo.

  1. Pop Century (71%)
  2. All Star Music (14%)
  3. All Star Sports (8%)

There were no real surprises in this category. Pop Century gets the nod based on being a bit newer, offering a very nice food court and having a definite coolness factor. What’s interesting to note is that all four Value resorts received votes with All Star Movies coming in a close fourth.

Moderate Resort

The serenity of Port Orleans - Riverside. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

  1. Port Orleans - Riverside (41%)
  2. Port Orleans - French Quarter (33%)
  3. Caribbean Beach Resort (16%)

The voters exhibited a strong preference for Riverside over French Quarter. While I prefer the more intimate charm of the French Quarter, I can’t object to this choice. I still have a warm spot for the third place finisher, as the Caribbean Beach Resort was my first on-site stay. Coronado Springs came in with the other 10% of the vote.

Deluxe Resort

Sunset at the Polynesian Resort. Photo by Steve Russo

  1. Polynesian Resort (26%)
  2. Wilderness Lodge (22%)
  3. Animal Kingdom Lodge (17%)

A closer race and this one surprised me. I know the Polynesian has a strong and very loyal fan base but I really didn’t expect the Wilderness Lodge to show so strong. My affection for the Epcot resorts is well documented but the Beach Club came in a distant fourth with 12% of the vote. The rest of the voting, in order, went to the Contemporary, Boardwalk, Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, Yacht Club and Old Key West. I received not a single vote for Saratoga Springs but, you might be able to argue against it being a Deluxe resort.

Best Attraction – Magic Kingdom

  1. Splash Mountain (23%)
  2. Mickey’s Philharmagic (16%)
  3. Haunted Mansion (14%)

The votes here were a lot more diversified than with the resorts (of course, there are many more attractions than resorts). Your votes were split among twelve attractions with Big Thunder Mountain Railroad coming in a close fourth with 12% of the votes. Also getting votes were Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, the Tomorrowland Transportation Authority, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Carousel of Progress, it’s a small world, Peter Pan’s Flight, Dumbo and the Walt Disney World Railroad.

Best Attraction – Epcot

Now boarding... Photo by Steve Russo

  1. Soarin' (53%)
  2. Test Track (13%)
  3. Mission: Space (12%)

At last we agree on something! Soarin’ was the clear winner here, garnering more than half the vote. Mission: Space nosed Spaceship Earth for third place (12% to 10%). Also getting votes were the American Adventure, Ellen's Energy Adventure, Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure, Maelstrom, Mexico (that was the vote although the voters may have meant the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros!), Turtle Talk with Crush, and single votes for Living With the Land and the entire World Showcase.

Best Attraction – Disney’s Hollywood Studios

  1. Toy Story Midway Mania (35%)
  2. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (30%)
  3. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith (16%)

This was a close race but I think many of us could have predicted the top three. In addition, getting votes were the Great Movie Ride, Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show, Muppetvision 3D, the Magic of Disney Animation, the Backlot Tour, Fantasmic!, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream, and the Voyage of the Little Mermaid.

I was a bit surprised at how well the Backlot Tour did and was very pleased to see that Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream made the list. I’m not sure if the lack of love for the American Idol Experience was surprising.

Best Attraction – Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Expedition Everest. Photo by Steve Russo.

  1. Expedition Everest (42%)
  2. Kilimanjaro Safaris (38%)
  3. Dinosaur and Festival of the Lion King (5%)

This was another close race with the thrill ride coming out on top this time. Notice the top two choices here received a whopping 80% of the vote. Also bringing in votes were Maharajah Jungle Trek, Finding Nemo: the Musical, Flights of Wonder, Kali River Rapids, Primeval Whirl, and It’s Tough to be a Bug.

Best Attraction Technology

  1. Toy Story Midway Mania (27%)
  2. Mission: Space (13%)
  3. Soarin' (12%)

Toy Story ran away with this one and, again, it would be hard to argue against it. The votes here were split among 18 different entrants. Most of you chose specific attractions (Turtle Talk with Crush, Haunted Mansion and Hall of Presidents are examples) while others chose general technologies like animatronics and omnimover.

Best 3D Film

The Maestro himself. Photo by Steve Russo.

  1. Mickey’s Philharmagic (63%)
  2. Muppetvision 3D (21%)
  3. It’s Tough to be a Bug (14%)

With only four real choices here (five if you count the Toy Story Mania film), Mickey’s Philharmagic was the landslide winner. Honey, I Shrunk the Audience and Toy Story Midway Mania received a single vote each.

Best Live Show

Festival of the Lion King. Photo by Steve Russo.

  1. Festival of the Lion King (34%)
  2. Finding Nemo: the Musical (24%)
  3. Fantasmic! (10%)

If any of you listen to the MouseStation podcasts, you know this outcome will make Mike Demopoulos a very happy man (and Mark Goldhaber… not so much.) There were 15 other shows receiving votes that ranged from Beauty and the Beast to the now defunct Tarzan Rocks. Tarzan Rocks received a vote but nothing for the American Idol Experience again? I’m just saying.

Best Pre-Show

  1. MuppetVision 3D (36%)
  2. (tie) Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Four for a Dollar (10%)
  3. Ellen’s Energy Adventure (8%)

“Rats, schmats. Besides… what do they know? They’re tourists.” I don’t think the top choice will surprise anyone but… If I’m correct, Four for a Dollar hasn’t performed at Walt Disney World in over a year. If you haven’t heard of them, they’re a very popular a cappella group that sang prior to performances of Beauty and the Beast at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The fact that they came in second speaks volumes to their popularity. These top picks were followed by a laundry list of excellent pre-shows. There were so many receiving votes that I’ll list them individually:

  • Haunted Mansion
  • Festival of the Lion King (hand jive and sounding like a giraffe)
  • Dinosaur
  • Soarin’
  • Great Movie Ride (yes, it’s a fun film)
  • Voices of Liberty (even I had forgotten about this great pre-show to the American Adventure)
  • Toy Story Mania
  • Test Track (“You remembered to turn the robots off, didn’t you?”)
  • Star Tours
  • Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream (a personal favorite)
  • Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris
  • Jungle Cruise
  • Expedition Everest
  • Animal Kingdom rope drop

Best Parade

SpectroMagic. Photo by Steve Russo.

  1. SpectroMagic (64%)
  2. Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade (10%)
  3. Mickey’s Boo To You Halloween Parade (8%)

Spectromagic was the runaway winner here and many of the specialty or seasonal parades, including the Magic Kingdom’s Christmas Parade and the Star Wars Weekend parade, received your backing. One of my all time favorites, the Tapestry of Nations, received several votes even though it’s been out of commission for several years now.

Best Fireworks

Wishes. Photo by Steve Russo.

  1. Wishes (50%)
  2. Illuminations: Reflections of Earth (38%)
  3. Fantasmic! (3%)

I’d have a hard time choosing between the first two but, if you held a gun to my head, I’d pick Illuminations.

OK, folks. That’s a wrap for this first installment of the Best of WaltDisney World – 2009. We dealt only with resorts, theme parks and attractions. Now it’s time to sit back and relax because there are two more installments coming your way. Watch this space in two weeks for the results of your voting in a cluster of restaurant and food categories.

By the way, the responses I’ve received were not only abundant but have come from far and wide. I’ve learned I have readers in the United Kingdom as Keith Schrod chimed in from Birmingham and used a bunch of “colours” and “honours” to convince me that he wasn’t really from Birmingham, Alabama. I also received votes from Kim Thompson from that “biggish triangle shaped island dangling off the eastern edge of Canada” called Newfoundland. I’m impressed that I have anyone reading outside of my immediate family so to learn that I have international readers is awesome. Thank you for letting me know.

So… what did you think? Were the results what you expected? Were you surprised by some? Most? Let me know and stay tuned for Part 2 in my next column.