|The Ballards - USA Disneyworld Florida|
We took the girls to Disneyworld
Florida over Easter 2004.
This was a “once in a generation” visit: Nessie and I had no intention of going back until Lucy and Alice have families of their own, and by the end of the 10 days we were all thoroughly Disney’d out……
Walt Disney opened Disneyland in California in 1955 and whilst that is a huge and spectacularly successful theme park in its own right, because he didn’t own the neighbouring land he found other commercial operators cashing in on his success by building attractions and hotels.
Determined not to repeat his mistake on the East Coast, he secretly bought up a huge parcel of land outside the moribund Orlando, previously home of orange farms, rundown swampland and alligators, and with the additions of air-conditioning and DDT taming the climate and the mosquitoes, he started to build the world’s biggest theme park. Sadly he didn’t live to see it open, dying in 1966.
Since 1971 his Florida dream has expanded to include 5 parks (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, MGM Studios and World of Sports) plus several “extras” including 2 water parks: Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon.
It is fashionable in the UK to knock Disney as too plastic, too All-American, too sanitised and too cynical an exploitation of childrens’ dreams, and until I went I shared this view. But now I’ve seen it and I’m not so sure.
The whole thing is a leviathan, ‘tis true. Yes it can
be very plastic, and yes, especially Epcot is a tribute to the versatility
of reinforced concrete and plastic moulds, but the place is spotlessly
clean, the “cast”, as the employees are known, are universally pleasant
and helpful without being wooden.
Yes, it’s expensive, relative to many attractions, but the dollar is weak against the pound, which dilutes the effect, and the extra money is there to provide a universal and seamlessly high-class product.
The Magic Kingdom is my least favourite, because it is all about young children’s cartoon characters, and being older I’m cynical about this.
The characters are a blend of the ancient (Mickey Mouse was “born” in 1928) and modern (Finding Nemo, Aladdin), and constantly added to by Disney’s new releases, although now that Pixar is no longer part of Disney, quite what will happen to Pixar characters such as Monsters Inc is anyone’s guess….).
The parades (what is it with Americans and parades….?) are noisy and extremely well done but the rides are short, uninspiring and the queues for these are way out of all proportion to their value.
Having said that, it’s an adult’s view, and the girls saw them entirely differently as I would have at that age (had my parents been able to afford to fly me out there in 1970).
Epcot is a peculiar beast: it started out as an experimental
community to “live the future” but by the time it was completed the future
had caught up with it and it became, and remains, somewhat directionless.
I can think of a few new more futuristic examples – implanted
phones, implanted video cameras, downloadable memories, implanted clocks
(I mean internally referenceable clocks, not just digital readouts under
the skin), telepathy amplifiers (let’s face it, we’re all telepathic,
it’s just too weak to be quantifiable at the moment), DNA morphing for
adaptability to extreme environments such as heat or cold, and so on.
Other attractions include little things like a proper
moon statue showing where all the landings had been (and so depressing
to see that last date of December 1972, Eugene Cerman).
The Exxon “World of Energy” exhibition was full of dinosaurs and how oil and gas were laid down during prehistoric times and how new sources of energy are now available (because we’ve nearly used all the fossil fuels up), but that’s not really very futuristic and needs updating with info on solar and wind power, hydrogen fuelled transport and so on.
Innoventions is a confused mix of Green “save the forest” mumbo jumbo and cod explanations of current technologies: nothing very futuristic there.
Some of these exhibits were very obviously corporate-sponsored but for example the Lutron home cinema stuff was an advert for light-dimmers. Huh?
I would have liked to have seen more cutting-edge stuff, and frankly Disney could do it very well, but you get the feeling they’ve rather given up on Epcot.
The World Showcase is a huge mistake: pseudo-versions of the different countries, genuine English pub and all, cor blimey luv a duck..... Come back, Dick Van Dyke, e's a Diamond Geezer.....
Between The Magic Kingdom and Epcot runs the Disney monorail,
a legacy of Epcot’s futuristic er..... past, which has never been extended
due to the operational complexities and price of monorail track switches
(the fact is roads and buses are cheaper to build and maintain).
Animal Kingdom comes closes to being truly impressive,
because it is genuinely educational, very interesting, uses real animals
that you can get extremely close to, and has a less confused Green message
about pollution, humanity’s effect upon the natural world and what real
wildlife is about.
The pseudo-steam train runs for all of 150 yards in an
endless loop, which seems a little pointless as it is the only way to
get you the 75 yards from the main part of the park to the other side.
The park is divided up in to Continents, and they are done very well. A great deal of attention to detail (and money) has gone in to doing the backgrounds, but they are blowing its integrity by building a "Himalaya roller-coaster" at one end of the park. Oh, dear....
The entire Disneyworld infrastructure is built with ruthless
American efficiency. There are 4 separate motorways leading in, car parks
you could land 747s on, and efficient people-moving machines.
We spent two days at Typhoon Lagoon, which was great
fun if a little crowded. I felt the waterslides were tame and oversubscribed,
but then I was a great fan of the (sadly now closed) Richmond waterslides
which had, amongst other attractions, a 20ft vertical drop in the middle
of a closed tube in the dark. Hard core stuff I suspect the American insurers
I also went to see the Warbirds at Kissimmee Airport,
and was struck once again by how comfortable Americans are with aviation,
although I don't know why I should be surprised, as they did invent flying.
They had an extremely rare (and very beaten-up) F9F8
Panther (see the film “The
Bridges at Toko Ri”), an A-6, a MIG-21, a very old Piasecki helicopter
they said they weren’t going to rebuild (fools) and an A-1 Skyraider in
mint condition that they were flying, machine-guns and all, called “Naked
We visited Celebration,
the Disney-designed community near Kissimmee. It is supposed to be the
ideal community, with just the right mix of suburban family values and
community spirit, but from what we saw it looked pretty much like any
other American commuter suburbia: perhaps a little tidier than some, but
We also went to Seaworld, which is a much more realistic experience than anything Disney can do.
Seaworld is owned by Anheuser Busch (infamous makers
of weak, gassy, too-cold lager), and for some unknown and historically
their advertising logo is that of Clydesdale horses.
It's the little things that remain in the consciousness
after the visit: the “tree” woman who appeared, as if from nowhere on
a path, entwined around the real trees, the comedy turns from the cast.
I came away with the feeling “well, so what?”
Eventually, even cynical Brits get caught up in the hoop-la, and I have to admit to rather enjoying the trip, maybe because this time round I went with the girls and their faces were a picture: they spent the whole holiday sporting huge smiles and proclaimed at the end that it was the best holiday they had ever been on.
So that was nice.