Posts Tagged ‘walt disney world’
by Seth Kubersky
on January 23, 2013
In the annals of Walt Disney’s cinematic legacy, there are a handful of infamous films that have been banished from public sight for various social and legal reasons. Song of the South, which has been unavailable to American audiences for a generation due to perceived racial insensitivity, is perhaps the best known. The Sweatbox, a fascinatingly unflattering warts-and-all documentary about the troubled creation of The Emperor’s New Groove, is a more modern example that Mickey buried out of embarrassment.
To that ignoble club, the latest member you can likely add is Escape From Tomorrow, the darling of this week’s Sundance Film Festival. Writer/director Randy Moore‘s debut independent feature is a David Lynch-inspired black & white surreal horror flick featuring Roy Abramsohn as a father trapped in a nightmarish theme park vacation.
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by Ryan Kilpatrick
on July 23, 2012
Ice cream at the Plaza fits this growing boy's appetite
Before I even start typing this post, I bet there are many of you out there who know exactly what I’m talking about. My son just turned 10 years old this past December, and all of a sudden, Disney considers him an adult. It poses a lot of difficulties for us, considering that he still behaves like at 10 year old. I’d love it if he could go out and find work to help pay for these new found adult bills; but sadly, that’s frowned upon. So, what are these challenges and how do we deal with them?
Dining – This is where it hits us the worst. Under the 3-9 year old plan, my son could join us for meals at Crystal Palace or ‘Ohana for a child’s price, between $13.99-$17.99 depending on the meal or time of year. Sure, that’s unreasonable by normal standards, but for a fine buffet meal at Walt Disney World, it’s not terrible. As I’ve written before, when you’re on the Disney Dining Plan and only paying that amount for the Table Service meal and getting a “free” Counter Service meal, it’s a great bargain.
Now, however, taking my son to buffets is expensive, and it’s hard for him to get enough to eat off the kids’ menus at other Table Service restaurants. That takes our dining costs up significantly, if you figure in one Table Service and two Counter Service meals per day. It comes out to an average increase in price of $30 per day. That adds up over the course of a vacation.
The way we’ve so far managed to get around it is twofold: finding less expensive restaurants and sharing portions. Places like Trail’s End charge lower prices than other buffets but still allow the growing boy to eat whatever he’d like. Our favorite new Table Service meal is the Plaza Restaurant on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, where we can get him a sandwich, drink, and side item for under $15. Also, with three of us now eating off the adult menu, the portions are usually large enough where my wife and I can order full size meals, then share with him. If we order a lesser priced appetizer to share, there’s more than enough food to go around.
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by Ryan Kilpatrick
on July 16, 2012
Yes, it’s true, there have been times where it feels like I’ve spent more time in Disney’s Pop Century Resort than in my own home. As a father with two children, it’s difficult to take trips to Walt Disney World and splurge on hotels, because most of our time is spent in the parks, and hotels are used for sleeping. With two younger kids who are still willing to share a bed most of the time, the value of a Disney Value Resort is too much to pass up. So, on most of our trips, I find myself choosing which building at Pop Century to stay at, rather than which resort I’ll be picking.
But why Pop Century, you might ask? Aren’t the All-Star Resorts also Value Resorts? It’s true, they are. But as far as amenities and ease of access to the parks goes, Pop Century has them beat. Small touches, like the food court, shelves above the sinks, little indentions in the sink to put your soap – they all add up to make Pop a shade better than the All-Stars. For just $5-10 more per night, I’m able to enjoy myself at Pop Century and really immerse myself in the vacation. It fits like an old shoe now. Here’s what I really enjoy about Pop:
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by Erin Foster
on February 29, 2012
When your neighbor/sister/boss/dog-walker tells you that a particular Disney resort is the “best,” take that information with a grain of salt. What’s best for you might be entirely different from what’s best for them, based on your unique vacation needs. In this Number Crunching series, I’ve been taking a look at ways to quantify the resort decision process, taking some of the guesswork out of which resort is best based on various criteria. In previous weeks, I’ve looked at resort choice based on number of beds and on transportation. Today I’m discussing square footage, the amount of space you get for your dollar at the Disney resorts.
A single, park-touring commando might not care how much space is in his hotel room. He’ll be conquering the mountains from sun-up to sundown. All he needs is a bed and a bathroom, which he’ll barely see in the light of day. However, many other guests will choose maximizing the amount of space they’ll have in their hotel room as their key value or decision factor.
Guests who want to maximize space might include:
- overseas guests making Walt Disney World their “home” for an extended stay
- parents of small children who will be spending long hours in the room while junior is napping
- larger-sized guests who take up physically more space
- guests with substantial amounts of luggage
- guests who will be using a crib in the room
- guests who have equipment such as wheelchairs, high chairs, strollers, car seats, or other bulky items
If you’re a 300 pound linebacker with a basketball star wife and two toddlers with a crib and two strollers, technically you can book yourselves into a room at the Pop Century. But when you’re that linebacker, camped out during a nap time of a 10-day stay, you’re going to feel A LOT more cramped in your value resort room than would a gymnast-sized single mom with a petite eight-year-old at the parks for just a weekend.
What's unique about the studios here? They've got the highest price per square foot of a regular room on Disney property.
Let’s call our fictional linebacker family the Wilsons. They hate feeling cramped, thus their highest priority in choosing a resort is maximizing their room’s square footage. Our mission is to help them get the most amount of space for their money. And yes, in some circumstances it might make financial sense for a family such as the Wilsons to get two connecting rooms instead of one. For the sake of simplification, we’re going not to consider this option (connecting rooms are not guaranteed). If you find yourself in a similar situation, this is an avenue you may want to pursue on your own. Similarly, there are obviously off-site accommodation options that guests such as the Wilsons might consider; having the Disney numbers in hand will give them a starting point and a basis for comparison.
I created a spreadsheet that includes each of the Disney resorts with their most typical room configurations. I added the average square footage available for each room type, as published in the 2012 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. (You can also find a wonderful visual representation of comparative room size in the TouringPlans post “What Your Get for Your Money – Resorts“.) Suites and club-level rooms are not included because a) these rooms tend to be more expensive, and the Wilsons are budget conscious and b) accurate square footage information is not readily available for all of the many hundreds of unique room types on property. Sorry folks, I had to simplify a bit to keep my brain from exploding.
I added data for maximum room occupancy. This does not include the additional child under the age of three allowed in most rooms. Obviously, if you have fewer people in your party than the room maximum, then you’ll each have a bit more living space.
Then I added room price. The price given is the 2012 rack rate published on the Walt Disney World website for weekdays during value season. Yes, it’s more expensive at other times of the year. Yes, smart shoppers can often find discounts. Regardless of these factors, the relative room ranking should remain consistent.
For those wishing to play along at home, here’s a downloadable version of the basic spreadsheet so that you can create your own data sorts. Fun, eh?
Walt Disney World Resort Room Square Footage Spreadsheet
Sort Rooms By Available Square Footage
Our first look is a ranking of rooms available at WDW, strictly by size. With an initial glance, there aren’t many surprises here. Rooms range from a serviceable 260 square feet at the value resorts to a gargantuan 2,491 square feet at a BoardWalk Grand Villa. Here are the rooms shown by size:
Room sort by size, page one. Click to enlarge.
Room sort by size, page two. Click to enlarge.
PDF version of Sort By Square Footage
Generally, the progression of size moves predictably from value to moderate to deluxe. What this sort allows you to do easily is see the size ranking of the deluxe resorts. There’s considerable variation between the Animal Kingdom and Wilderness Lodges, at 344 square feet, and the substantially larger 440 square feet at the Grand Floridian. That nearly 100 sq. ft. difference is the size of typical home office or child’s bedroom. You can park an ECV and a double stroller and a crib in that space and still have more usable living area than you would at the AKL.
Of particular note in the straight size sort, you’ll see that both the Fort Wilderness Cabins and the value resort family suites have more room than the Grand Floridian, by a factor of almost 20%. If maximizing space is your primary value criterion, then it makes sense to look more closely at those options.
Sort Room By Price Per Square Foot
It’s great to know which rooms are the largest, but that won’t matter much if you can’t afford the room. As a next step, we’ll look at rooms ranked by price per square foot.
Rooms sorted by price per square foot, page one. Click to enlarge.
Rooms sorted by price per square foot, page two. Click to enlarge.
PDF version of Resorts Sorted By Price Per Square Foot
When looking at resorts ranked by price per square foot, the utility of the All Star Music Family Suites becomes immediately clear. The price per square foot is in line with the other value resorts. For just pennies per square foot more, you get an additional bathroom and a kitchenette. Score! The price per square foot is also much lower at the family suites than at the somewhat similar Fort Wilderness cabins.
Of additional note is the stellar price per foot ranking of the one and two bedroom villas at Old Key West. These rooms beat out the price per square foot at the new Art of Animation resort, as well as all the other DVC villas. If you’re looking for space and villa amenities, Old Key West gives you plenty of bang for the buck.
Generally, the highest price per square foot will be found in the DVC villa studio rooms, with the Bay Lake Tower studios coming in dead last at $1.22 per square foot. If you just want space and a microwave, try the family suites. If you want deluxe amenities, a standard room at a deluxe resort is a considerably more cost effective use of space. If you’re paying cash rather than using DVC points, think long and hard before booking a villa studio.
Sort Rooms By Available Square Footage Per Person
Another way to look at rooms is by square feet available to each person. Again, if you have fewer people in the room, you’ll have more space. This look considers space available at maximum room occupancy.
PDF version of WDW Resorts Sorted By Square Feet Per Person
Square footage per person sort, page one. Click to enlarge.
Square footage per person, page two. Click to enlarge.
The big finding here is that you’ll get the least square footage per person not at a value resort, but in the five-person trundle bed rooms at Port Orleans Riverside. Packing five people into a moderate will feel slightly more crowded than having four at a value. Similarly, having five people in a deluxe room at the Yacht or Beach Club will feel equivalent to having four in a moderate at Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, or Port Orleans French Quarter.
For six-person rooms, the family suites have a wee bit more space than the Fort Wilderness Cabins, and as noted above, the suites have a better price per square foot.
Something Else to Consider
I have not mentioned outdoor space as a factor in room size. In practice, having some dedicated outdoor space can make your indoor space much more habitable. Nearly all of the deluxe resorts have patios or balconies to which the adults might retire while the children are falling asleep. The Fort Wilderness Cabins and the Saratoga Springs Treehouses, while large on their own, become positively palatial when you consider the associated outdoor picnic and lounge areas. Even rooms at the moderate and value resorts can feel larger if you request a ground floor room and bring a chair outside your door for a little evening reading and people watching.
However, as nice as it is to have the great outdoors at your feet, I caution you against placing too much emphasis on this. Having a balcony might be wonderful. It might also be perpetually wet, or buggy, or below 50 degrees, or well over 100 degrees, depending on when you visit. Check historic weather trends before factoring outdoor space into your personal equation.
Making Your Decision
Given their analysis, our hypothetical Wilson family decided to book a family suite at the All Star Music Resort. As a family of four, they could stay at a regular value resort room, but given their large spacial needs, they decided that they’d be much more comfortable with a suite. The Wilsons decided that the low cost per square foot and the high square footage per person (because they’re do not fill the room to its maximum occupancy) made the family suites a good value for their vacation.
So Disney peeps, if you were in their situation, would you make the same choice? How important is the space factor in your resort decision making? Are you secretly wondering how much it would cost to feed the children of a linebacker and a basketball star? Let us know in the comments below.
by Erin Foster
on July 19, 2011
My husband and I are obviously Walt Disney World aficionados. We wanted to share our love of the parks with our children as early as possible. But with three children born in three years (we had twins), we knew that getting our clan some Disney time while they were young would be a challenge. Taking one baby or toddler on vacation is a snap; taking two is a tag team project; but when you’re outnumbered by the diaper-bound, you’re going to need some help. For many families, extra hands may come in the form of grandma joining you for the trip. And while we have traveled with extended family several times, on two separate occasions our solution was to bring our babysitter with us to Walt Disney World.
Even the airport is a challenge with multiple small children. Extra hands are a big help.
Here are some things that bringing a sitter allowed us to do:
- Have each child with one adult on two-person rides such as Buzz Lightyear
- Have each child fully supervised in the pool and in the parks.
- Have each child get personal attention.
- Lighten the amount of weight each adult had to carry (strollers onto buses, diaper bag supplies, etc.)
- Allowed parents some quality adult time in the evenings.
- Allowed better meal-time experiences at buffets and multi-line quick service situations.
- Allowed us to customize park time for the individual needs of each child.
For example, when our oldest daughter wanted to go on the Haunted Mansion, one twin needed a nap, and the other twin was afraid of the Mansion and needed more Small World, everyone got what worked best for them. And when my husband and I wanted to go out for a signature dining experience, we didn’t have to worry about hiring an unknown sitter from an Orlando agency.
There were also several benefits of bringing a hired sitter over enlisting a family member to help out. Chief among these was the fact that we got to call the shots and dictate the timing of our day. Since we were footing the bill, we got to set the timetable and agenda in a way that we could not have if we needed to accommodate a family member doing us a favor. Of course, the chief negative of bringing a sitter with us was that adding an adult to our trip increased our vacation costs. This was balanced out a bit by the fact that since our twins were under the age two, we did not need to pay for any of these items for them.
Even Cinderella would have a hard time supervising three preschoolers at a character meal.
During our first sitter trip, we with brought with us JM, who had worked with us for a few years on an almost daily basis. She was beloved by the children (as well as by us) and knew our habits and preferences well. When we first proposed the trip to JM we all sat down and had an honest chat about money and expectations. Here are some of the questions we discussed:
- Was her hourly/weekly rate of pay appropriate during travel?
- Did she need her own room or was she comfortable bunking with one or more of the children?
- How much time off did she need?
- Did she have any specific concerns about visiting Walt Disney World? (fears about rides, etc.)
JM was thrilled at the proposition. She had never been to Walt Disney World before and was eager to go with us. While each family’s situation will be different, by mutual agreement we arrived at the following:
- We would pay for her airfare, a week-long Park Hopper ticket, and meals while she was dining with the family.
- We would pay her regular weekly salary plus 20% more since she would be working some additional hours. She would work from wake-up time until just after dinner on most days.
- We would get a two-bedroom villa (we are DVC members). JM would share a room with our oldest daughter, while my husband and I shared a room with the twins (who were in the Pack n’ Play cribs at the time).
- During the seven-day trip, JM would have one full day and one afternoon off. She would work two evenings while my husband and I had “date night.” This allowed JM to experience some of the more adventuresome rides.
- JM would be responsible for paying for her own meals on her day off.
- JM would be responsible for paying for any additional non-park entertainment. For example, at the time there was an admission fee for the Pleasure Island clubs.
Overall, this worked like a dream. The kids got lots of attention and none of the adults felt overwhelmed. We were comfortable enough with JM that it felt like we were traveling with a member of the family, but without the stress of family dynamics. And when the inevitable hiccup occurred, a lost bag, for example, we all were able to roll with the punches.
An unexpected bonus of having an extra adult with us was that she was able to take many wonderful family photos for us.
After our great success, we decided to again bring a sitter with us to WDW a year later. By this time, JM had started a college degree program and was unable to travel during the dates we needed. We ended up bringing a relatively new sitter, LS with us, using most of the same parameters. Unfortunately, while still fun, this trip ended up being a bit less successful, mostly because LS was less familiar with our parenting style and was less able to improvise during unplanned problems. For example, she was unwilling to switch her night off when one of the children developed a fever, and she was unwilling to help entertain the children during a severely delayed flight because she was technically off the clock. Were we to do this again, I would have added a discussion about flexibility to our pre-trip planning.
Again, we have successfully visited WDW with blood relatives several times, but bringing a paid sitter did end up being a viable alternative when we were in need of travel assistance.
Have you ever brought a sitter with you to Walt Disney World? Would you ever want to? Let us know some of you experiences or concerns in the comments.
by Evan Levy
on April 25, 2011
So you’re taking a family trip to Disney World. You’ve been planning A) since your daughter was born B) for the last nine years, three months, and eight days C) since your oldest child could utter the phrase “When am I meeting Mickey Mouse?”
In any event, it’s a done deal, and you’re going. After you tell the kids, there will be a lot of shrieks and gasps of joy and amazement.
Oh, yes–your kids will be happy too.
But wait! To make the most of the trip, make the most of the planning (and believe me, there will be planning). Take our advice and involve your kids in the process. The trip is partly/mostly/sort of for them, right? Kids love to be involved and to feel like their opinion matters–which it does. And if you play your cards right, it can even take some of the planning, fun as it is, off you. Remember: The point of involving kids is to get their input and make them feel a part of things; and to keep them busy and thus minimize the number of times they will ask how long it will be until they’re on the Dumbo ride.
First, though, the adults in the party need to make a few decisions—budgeting being chief among them. Are you staying at a value, moderate, or deluxe resort? How long are you going for? Hammer out the non-negotiable details first. Ready? Let’s begin.
Choosing your hotel
If you’re going to have kids help pick the hotel, that’s fine, but make sure ahead of time that you have several options in case your first one–or two—choices are booked. You need to do some of the legwork, looking at variables such as distance from the parks, whether you’re renting a car, and so forth.
Rule Number One: DO NOT GIVE KIDS TOO MANY CHOICES. Keep repeating that phrase to yourself. In the way of too many choices lies madness, and many migraines. This applies both to hotels as well as to everything else at Disney World and, quite frankly, in life. Offer two or three hotel choices, laying out the relevant features of each hotel. (Example: “I know these both look great. This hotel has a pool shaped like a piano and the other one has a pool shaped like a bowling pin.”)
One you’ve chosen and booked your hotel, it’s time to start thinking about meals, so on to…
Unless you are a completely spontaneous type of family for whom food is not a priority, you’re probably going to want to book some meals. Dining reservations fill up quickly, and you can book 180 days ahead of time, so get ready. Figure out if you’re going to be on a dining plan (a good option that lets you take the worry out of paying for meals each time, and offers lots of flexibility), then get some feedback from kids. Have them flip through books and give you some ideas.
Bad idea: For your girl who’s obsessed with princesses: “Do you want to eat at Cinderella’s Castle?” (A hard ticket, if you haven’t heard.)
Better idea: “Would you like to have a character meal and meet some Disney characters? We have lots of choices, so tell me some of them and we’ll see what we can do.”
Have everyone familiarize themselves with some of the options, from fast food to sit-down meals. No, you can’t predict you’ll be standing in front of the Columbia Harbor House seafood restaurant at noon and it will be empty, but if you have a seafood allergic child, you and he might want to know of some other options. Appoint kids to find good hamburger places, ice-cream stops, and so forth.
Give everyone a job
Take into account kids’ interests and strengths. Food-loving pre-teens can start perusing the restaurant descriptions and making recommendations; tech-y teens can find appropriate cell-phone apps. Even younger kids can have jobs. That eight-year old with fabulous handwriting? Have her write out lists of supplies that you’ll be packing as you dictate. Your bizarrely neat 11-year old? He can help fold clothing and pack.
Everyone gets a secret mission
Put everyone in your family in charge of doing something nice for a friend or family member who is not going. For instance, Jimmy might be assigned to finding Donald Duck images for Cousin Frank; he can start doing research before you go. Little Amy might oversee things to put in a scrapbook for Grandma Grace–she can start thinking about good ideas and making a list.
Familiarize everyone with the Disney website and relevant books before you go
This won’t spoil the surprise; there will be endless surprises left. It will actually enhance everyone’s excitement and also quell some of their fears. (And yes, exciting though it is, kids–and adults–do have fears about going). It’s kind of like kids seeing a painting in a museum that they have only seen in books–kids are more excited that they recognize it, not less. Find out if there’s anything kids are worried about (Crowds? Getting lost?) and help find answers. Have them see if they can find out answers to specific questions ahead of time—anything from the Extra Magic Hours at the Magic Kingdom to what new stores are in Downtown Disney. The more information and familiarity they have, the more comfortable they will feel. Look at pictures of your hotel on the Disney website; put everyone in charge of researching something specific, whether it’s the hotel gift shop or a particular landmark in a park.
Have them help plan what you’ll be taking
Kids are often great at remembering things you might overlook; it’s always one of my kids who remembers the band-aids.
Give everyone their own small bag or section for a suitcase to pack, and have them choose a few small items that they want to bring, like a stuffed animal. But check it before you go. I let my daughter “add a few things” to the small rolling suitcase I had packed for Disney World one year. I didn’t have time to check it before we left; when we got to Florida I found she had unpacked everything and repacked it with her doll and the doll’s complete wardrobe. Luckily/unluckily it contained mostly bathing suits and flip flops and activity books, which, happily for her, meant a quick trip to the gift shop to replace everything. Oh, and now I check.
Let kids choose a way to document the trip, and start before you leave
My daughter loves having small sketchbook and colored pencils in Disney World; other kids might want a diary or photo album. And everyone should have his or her own camera, disposable or otherwise.
Take kids’ personalities into account and help them choose activities that mesh with that
When my daughter was young, she didn’t like anything loud, dark or scary. That pretty much let out a lot of the big nighttime activities at Disney. Had I been better prepared, I would have found out a little more about some of the nighttime displays, like Illuminations (which is loud and in the dark), before taking her there. After that (short version: she was a few years away from what anyone would call enjoying that display), we started researching together and in some cases, picking alternatives. (Be prepared sometimes to break up your group, which may not only be necessary, but desirable.) For certain children, doing a quiet crafts activity at the hotel may be more appealing than venturing out into the Parks at night. Start looking at options ahead of time.
Let kids help make a calendar with things that need to get done each day
Everyone has to help out with one thing each day, whether it’s going with Dad to buy juice boxes or researching the hotel’s facilities. Included should be some Disney treats to get in the spirit–make Chip and Dale cupcakes; watch a favorite Disney movie.
As a family, set rules ahead of time
Some rules you might want to agree on ahead of time, rather than in the moment. For instance, you might plan a no-cell-phone-use at mealtime rule for your teens when you get down there; or no-carrying-Blankie-on-the-rides policy for the little ones. (Have kids help formulate a rule for everyone so no one feels picked on.)
Give each child a small hip pack to carry around each day. Help kids plan the items that go in these: little sticker books to do while waiting on lines, a small tube of sunscreen, maybe a pay-as-you-go cell phone, and oh, yes–money. Which brings us to…
Souvenirs. Important enough that one word will suffice
Face it: The one-souvenir rule probably won’t fly. Different families have different solutions, but one idea is to give each child a set amount of money and allow younger ones to carry a certain amount each day. They can “borrow” from the larger amount if they like, but when it’s gone, it’s gone. Discuss all this ahead of time. Also, give each child money to secretly buy a souvenir for someone else in your group to give them when you get back—it’s fun for them and will help make the letdown of leaving less acute.
Ask the kids what they want to do there
Really. Don’t assume you know everything they’re dreaming of doing. Yes, plans will change, but if you know your kids love hanging out by the pool, then make sure to plan some time for that. You might not want to buy a make-your-own light saber, but it could be the culmination of a life’s dream for your nine-year-old.
And finally…enjoy the planning
Anticipation is half the fun—even if it means packing all those pairs of socks, it’ll be more fun if your kids pitch in, too.
by Sam Gennawey
on November 9, 2009
Not long ago, I was privileged to be a guest on the world famous WDW Today Podcast. I get my WDW news fix three times a week from Matt, Mike, Mike, and Len. The show topic was the design behind the arrival experience at each of the 4 parks. Making a great first impression is one of the hallmarks of the Disney parks. So let’s try and get into the head of the Imagineers and figure out why each entrance is unique but distinctly Disney.
There is an illustrated version of this article at SamLand’s Disney Adventures.
To understand the Magic Kingdom arrival experience is to go back in time and visit the City of Anaheim in 1953.
After many years of thinking and dreaming, Walt finally decided to move ahead with his dream of a family entertainment facility and he called upon his good friend Harrison “Buzz” Price. Mr. Price ran the Stanford Research Institute, which later became ERA AECOM. Walt laid down some constraints such as not being near an ocean and with flat land so he could create his own mountains, valleys, and rivers. Mr. Price did some research and he found 160 acres of orange and walnut groves about an hour south of Los Angeles in the small community of Anaheim. It had a lot going for it. There was a new freeway being built that would connect Los Angeles to San Diego through the sleep agricultural communities of Orange County. He thought there might be a small city with ambitions looking for industry to help out with the tax roles. Mr. Price was a numbers guy and what he crunched told him that this area would be the center of the Southern California population within 25 years. He was off by 4 miles.
So Walt gave the go ahead to purchase as much land as he could afford (which wasn’t much) and the rest of the story is legendary. Disneyland was an instant hit as Walt predicted and the land values throughout the entire surrounding area shot up. Poor Walt. Disneyland was destined to be surrounded by motels, diners, and other assorted uses that did not meet his high standards. If you want to get a sense of what the Disneyland perimeter looked like back then I recommend visiting Anaheim Vacationland.
The arrival experience for most people consisted of driving down Harbor Boulevard, which was lined with motels, dining spots, tourist support services, and gas stations. The jumble of signs tried to compete with the iconic Disneyland gateway marquee. We Southern Californians know what I am talking about. You paid your parking fee, drove under the power lines, were guided to your spot by a friendly cast member, and walked a short distance to a tram. Whisked to the front you paid for your tickets and the experience becomes very similar in design as the Magic Kingdom from this point forward.
Walt always said that the Florida Project gave him “the blessing of size”. He went out and purchased 27,258-acres for $5 million through an amazing process of dummy corporations and secrecy. He instructed his Imagineers to put the theme park at the far north end, as far away from the main highway as the could go. This served two purposes. First, it became the “wienie” that would draw you through the property past his real dream – the City of EPCOT. He really knew how to move people about. He also wanted the arrival experience to be far different from that in Anaheim.
This time you would leave the safety of the new completed Interstate highway and drive north into a vast wilderness. According to the must have book Since the World Began, the Imagineers felt it was “critical that Cinderella Castle be seen from afar”. Remember, at the time of the park’s opening, visitors had a six-mile drive once they left the main highway. They needed reassurance that they were not just driving into a swamp in Central Florida. Another benefit of having a castle that was more than twice as tall as Disneyland’s was it could be seen by all of the resort hotels, the monorail, and the ferries.
Walt encouraged the idea of a tall iconic design element for Disneyland but the implementation is much better at the Magic Kingdom. In Michael Broggie’s Walt Disney’s Railroad Story Walt is reminded his Imagineers “This is a magical place. The important thing is the castle. Make it tall enough to be seen from all around the park. It’s got to keep people oriented”.
Like a light bulb is to moths, Cinderella Castle is to the Magic Kingdom visitor.
But you just can’t hop on the tram and glide to the front gate like you could at Disneyland. The front gate was over a mile away and guarded by the Seven Seas Lagoon. You had to earn it. You parked, hopped on a tram, bought your ticket and then the adventure would really start. To get to the front gate, the Imagineers provided two uncommon forms of transport to choose from – the sleek futuristic monorail or the traditional old-fashioned ferryboat. Today, you can also take a bus from one of the resorts that goes under a canal. Next time you are visiting the park via the bus as you approach the Contemporary Resort watch for boats passing above you. It is an unusual site.
Once you have made it to the other side of the lagoon you become part of the cinematic experience that I describe in detail here and here. As you can see, by design and at great cost, the transition from the parking lot to the Magic Kingdom front gate is nothing like the Disneyland experience. Like a good movie, as you approach you are experience the same sensation that one gets from a watching the opening sequence of a good movie. The stage is set with a long shot of the train station as marquee and the top spires of Cinderella peeking out above a forest. As you move forward your view of the spires are continually deflected but come back in focus and reward you with the sensations you are getting close. The mid-view shot of the train station blocks the Castle right at the front gate. But this only heightens the joy once you have passed through the tunnels below the trains and get your first full view of the Castle with nothing blocking it. By this time the spires have become old friends but now the rest of the structure can make its emotional impact.
Even before the public arrived, Disney wanted to make sure that people knew that Walt Disney World was something much more than just another Disneyland. They were very keen on selling the entire resort experience. The promotional materials highlighted the attractions that were unique at the Magic Kingdom: Liberty Square, Country Bear Jamboree, The Hall of Presidents, Space Mountain, the Mickey Mouse Revue, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. They were also heavy on the amenities such as boating, golfing, and other resort activities.
Lessons learned and lesson applied. That is the genius of the Magic Kingdom’s arrival experience.
by Kristen Helmstetter
on April 6, 2009
So what is this exciting news? I’m going to Disney World! April 30th I leave New Jersey for a 10 day, jam packed trip to one of my favorite places with some of my favorite people. I’ve never stayed this long so I can hardly wait to start our adventures and hopefully actually have some time to relax for a change. In my next few blogs I’ll discuss our plans for the trip and hopefully provide some advice to help you plan your own WDW excursion.
Well, first of all let me introduce you to the crew on this adventure. First of all there’s me, of course. I tend to travel with fellow Disney geeks and this trip is no exception. Then we have Julie, my fellow Unofficial Guide researcher and dear, dear friend. Julie’s from North Carolina and I’ve been taking all of my WDW trips with her since we met on the 2006 UG research trip. And last, but not least there’s Tom who travels across the pond from the UK to tour with two crazy Americans. Since we’ll be attending some festivities to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Disney’s Hollywood Studios we’ll get to see several of our other Disney dork friends too!
We have tons of activities planned for those 10 days most of which will probably featured in my blog over the next several months. I’m particularly excited that we’re going to hit both of the water parks since I’ve never been to either of them. We’ll be checking out as many night time hot spots we can and, of course, eating in several restaurants including Sanaa which is opening at Animal Kingdom Lodge while we’re there. In the name of research we’ll be drinking around the world at Epcot’s World Showcase split into two days (my post-college 5’1” body can’t handle it all in one shot). These are just a few examples of all of the fun things we have planned!
Next week I’ll give a 20-something perspective to picking a WDW resort and let you know where we’ll be staying this time….