In November of 1997, I took my first trip to Walt Disney World. I was nine years old. At that age, my memory wasn’t the well oiled machined that it is now (ha!), so, of course I don’t remember too much from my first Disney vacation. I remember being obsessed with Horizons and I remember playing in the sand box at MGM-Studios (I love that I just got to use that name and it be correct). What’s funny is that I don’t actually remember my first ride on Splash Mountain or the first time I had a Mickey Premium Bar. I tend to remember the little things.
What I think Disney does better than anyone else might not be the obvious things that flash in a person’s mind when they hear the name, “Disney.” Sure, fast roller coasters and giant yeti’s are pretty cool but they aren’t what make’s Disney so magical, in my opinion. When you’re in the parks you can actually pick up on details that Imagineers worked diligently for you to notice. I think it’s the small, sometimes virtually unnoticeable things that tell me the Imagineers care about their job and about Disney park guests.
The first detail I ever remember obsessing over as a child are the “christmas lights” in the pavement over in Future World at Epcot. Only now, instead of just thinking it’s a really cool effect, I think about how this unique, albeit unnecessary, detail came to be fruition. First of all, someone had to think of the idea that lights in the ground would be pretty awesome. Then, they had to see if it was possible to mechanically pull this off and have the glowing pavement survive the elements. Someone had to make a mock-up and get the budget for the concept approved. All of that work from the Imagineers just to immerse you in Disney magic that much more. The Imagineers are really smart because, after all, it worked on me. Every single time I’m in Future World at night, I can think back to my first trip to Disney World and remember how amazed I was that the ground was twinkling.
Over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Hollywood Tower Hotel is a classic example of Disney Imagineering at it’s best. I’m not talking about the ride itself, which is also freakishly rad. I’m talking about the lobby. I do believe that the Twilight Zone references in this attraction’s queue has the ability to put almost anyone who know’s anything about The Twilight Zone in awe. Many episodes are referenced in the details included into the theming of the hotel’s lobby. Little things like a pair of glasses or posters all drop hints to the famed television show. The stunning antique couches are actually replicates of those from a department store catalog in the 1930’s. I was lucky enough to take a behind the scenes tour of the lobby (and control room) in which I actually got to sit on one of the dusty couches. Because Disney maintenance works so hard to keep things looking, well, unkempt, the one couch was the only thing I was allowed to touch. Cool, right? Disney Imagineers really took their time to make the entire lobby very period so guests could truly feel that they departed from a theme park to a mysterious hotel in the 1930’s.
On my last visit to Magic Kingdom, I was walking through Tomorrowland in Magic Kingdom with my mom and stopped dead in my tracks to appreciate a few posters along the pathway to the Tomorrowland Terrace. Disney’s graphic designers came up with some really witty and creative posters to help immerse you into the very specifically themed area. After I was done yapping up a storm about some stinkin’ posters, my mom said to me, “I would have never noticed these things before.” It’s sort of fun to appreciate the details that you usually just walk right by.
There are so many things that I don’t truly value about the Disney parks until I travel to an average amusement park and see the difference. I no longer take advantage of each cast member’s unique uniform. Some of the uniforms at Animal Kingdom are pretty cool, especially compared to the generic shorts and polo’s that a lot of theme park workers are required to wear. Take notice of how the cast member’s outfits will change as you travel from land to land in Magic Kingdom or from country to country in Epcot. While you’re traveling around different “lands,” see how the theming of gift shops change. Seriously, it’s the wildest thing to me that Disney puts so much attention into their zillion gift shops. The gift shops in Morocco (obviously in the World Showcase) are filled with wonderful treasures, but more than that, the area is architecturally designed to make you feel like you’re in a real Moroccan bazaar.
As I get older, I realize that it’s the overseen things that turn out to be great magic making memories for me. My appreciation for the parks increases with every single trip. Anytime I notice something that was surely an Imagineer’s special touch, I smile to myself because it makes me feel like I’m, in a small way, connected to the Disney masterminds. I like to believe that it’s a personal way for Disney Imagineer’s to say, “thank you.”
Now that I’ve told you some of the stand out “little things” for me, I’d really like to hear about yours! Post a comment and let me know!