Walt Disney was a man of dreams. Through a kind of sorcery, he built an empire from a mouse. Walt has become a symbol for imagination and innovation. Disney’s ventures began with Mickey Mouse staring in Steamboat Willie, and grew until there was a theme park.
For those few readers who do not know, Walt Disney World is one of various theme parks around the world adapted from the imagination of Walt Disney. The first of these parks was Disneyland, in Anaheim, California, established in 1955. Walt Disney World was the second park, established in 1971, five years after Disney’s death. There are four other parks, in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Paris. Walt Disney World is the largest, consisting of four main sections.
In January of this year, I was blessed with the opportunity to visit Walt Disney World. The last time I had visited was November of 2006, nearly a decade ago, making this a momentous and nostalgic trip for me. The Magic Kingdom, which we’ll be looking at in today’s post, was the first section of Walt Disney World opened to the public.
(A brief note: I refrained from taking pictures on the rides, for fear it would take me out of the moment. If you are interested in seeing what the inside of the ride looks like, videos of most of them can be found on YouTube, on channels such as iThemePark.)
Here is the most recently updated map of the Magic Kingdom. The park is divided into several parts: Mainstreet U.S.A., Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Adventureland, Liberty Square, and Frontierland.
Without further ado, let’s begin!
The park’s main entrance opens up into Mainstreet USA, a whimsical tour of a replica of 1910’s America. Mainstreet is impressively immersive, leading to a sensation (at least somewhat) that you have traveled back in time. It’s a folksy and fun area, and I’m sorry I didn’t get better pictures of it.
The buildings are made to look like real buildings, with multiple floors. There’s forced perspective here; the tops of the buildings are smaller so they look farther away. Most of the buildings have some type of shop or attraction on the inside, but nothing beyond the first floor, as far as I know.
Upon leaving Mainstreet, we made our way to Tomorrowland.
Tomorrowland was inspired by Walt Disney’s view of the future. It was made to be a hub of innovation and science fiction. It strives to be a look into the future. This section of the park and its vision inspired the 2015 Brad Bird movie Tomorrowland.
Space Mountain is my favorite ride between all four parks. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most popular (causing for long lines). We waited the forty five minutes to get to the ride itself, but as always, it proved to be worth it. Space Mountain is a fast-moving, indoor roller coaster that simulates what it’s like to be in space. There isn’t much of a drop, but the darkness inside the ride makes it feel like you’re going faster than you’re actually are. It’s one of the most exciting rides in Disney World. If you’re in the parks and enjoy thrill rides, Space Mountain is a must.
Then, a brief stroll through Fantasyland; Fantasyland is a place for the wondrous stories and characters that Disney has made famous. Here we see Dumbo, Cinderella, Snow White, and Peter Pan side by side. It is part of what makes the Magic Kingdom so Magical.
We took a ride on a fairly new Little Mermaid-themed ride. With amazing animatronics, we were shown recreations of various scenes from the 1989 classic. Beautifully crafted fish perform “Under the Sea,” Ariel and Prince Eric are shown on their romantic boat ride, and Ursula is shown plotting to the sound of “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” All the designs on the ride were illuminated under a blacklight, giving them a fantastical and wonderful color; this gave them a vibrant appearance, almost neon.
Also fairly new to Fantasyland was the Snow White-inspired Seven Dwarfs Mine Train rollercoaster. Exciting stuff. We didn’t get to ride it, as the line was too long.
It’s a small world has been a staple of the Magic Kingdom as long as there has been a Magic Kingdom. It is a slow-moving water ride that shows a guided tour of the world, showing puppet-esque children of global cultures. They all sing what is now a famous song, “It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears / It’s a world of hopes, a world of fear / There’s so much that we share / And it’s time we’re aware / It’s a small world after all.” After going through all the various countries of the world, the ride moves into one room which shines in bright blue and white colors. In this room, all the world’s children are singing one chorus. My dad is pleased to tell me that this ride hasn’t changed a bit since the 1970’s, when he went with his family.
When I went in 2006, I was an angsty preteen and, more or less, thought nothing of It’s A Small World. By my logic, it was a thing for kids, and at the age of 12, I was no kid. But I’ve come to realize its vast importance, or at least, the importance of its goal. Like John Lennon’s “Imagine,” It’s A Small World looks to create a global community, and to make a world in which we remember the ways in which we are similar, not the ways in which we are different.
In Liberty Square, we visited the Hall of Presidents. In that hall, there is an animatronic recreation of each of the 44 Presidents of United States, from Washington to Obama. Before each of the presidents are announced, Abraham Lincoln discusses what it is to be American, and a Morgan Freeman voiceover walks us through American History. It’s neat stuff. There are a lot of dark parts in American history, and the Hall of Presidents easily could have overlooked those. Between the Revolution, the founding of world’s longest lasting democracy, and frontier exploration, it could be easy not to mention slavery or the dislocation and slaughter of the Native Americans. But they don’t; they acknowledge these things as great failures on the part of the United States. As they say, those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
As a child, Adventureland always seemed like the most amazing place on earth. Then, (and perhaps even now,) Adventure has always been one of the most exciting words in the English language. Here, we see an uncharted tropical world full of jungles and pirates.
One absolutely essential stop in Adventureland is The Jungle Cruise; it’s a hilarious, pun-filled journey through the jungle rivers of Africa, Asia, and South America.
It takes a special kind of charisma to be a Jungle Cruise Tour Guide. They add a color commentary for this journey, making a hilarious romp out of what just would be an amiable affair under other circumstances. There’s a general script that the guides stick to, but the tour is mostly ad-lib. The tour guides will say things like “The Nile river in the world goes on for niles and niles and niles” or “That python has a crush on you” or “The wingspan of those butterflies ranges from twelve inches to a whopping one foot!” and similar assorted jokes.
Pirates of the Caribbean – what to say about this lovely little gem? For the unfamiliar, it’s a water ride that rolls through a journey along the water of the pirate-infested English colonies in the Caribbean sea. It’s a fun little adventure. Some of you who’ve never been to a Disney park likely know this ride from the movie series it was adapted into in 2003.
Similar to It’s A Small World, the ride remains fairly similar to what it was upon opening; I expect some of the pirate animatronics have likely been saying the same things for decades. But, the ride has not remained untouched; it starts with a fog machine, onto which the movie character Davy Jones is projected via light (this is actually quite impressive to see). Throughout the ride, we see Jack Sparrow animatronics, looking like an exact likeness of Johnny Depp. This character has been blended seamlessly in with the parts of the ride that have been there since it was built.
Pirates of the Caribbean has become so much more than it originally was. When I think about it, Pirates of the Caribbean, isn’t just a ride, or a movie, but a genre, synonymous with swashbuckling adventure. (Which I suppose makes sense of the fact that it’s in Adventureland.) I’ve come to think of films such as The Lone Ranger (2013), Prince of Persia, or Sherlock Holmes (2009) as a part of the Pirates of the Caribbean genre. Even when I see movies like The Mask of Zorro, which came out in 1999, and featured a character that has existed much longer than the ride, I still think of it as the Pirates of the Caribbean genre.
Pirates is one of the few Disney attractions to be adapted into a film. It is certainly the only one to be adapted into a good film; The Haunted Mansion and Tomorrowland both fell short critically and financially. (In the 1990’s, there was a direct-to-TV adaptation of the ride Tower of Terror [which is ironic since Tower of Terror is derived from The Twilight Zone] starring a young Kirsten Dunst, which met a fair amount of acclaim, but is not well-known today.)
I was surprised to learn that there is, in theory, a film adaptation of The Jungle Cruise in the works. It was said that the film would star Tom Hanks and Tim Allen (AH! Woody and Buzz!). It was also said that this film would come out in 2007, so that seems none too likely at this point. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the film is being re-worked with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. (I like that idea, because Johnson can play a comedic tough guy.) My primary hope is that the keep the tone of the film similar to what is found on the ride. Sure, you don’t need to incorporate every single pun that they use, but it should feel like the viewers are riding the Jungle Cruise. (Ha! While writing this post, just on a hunch, I looked into the possibility of a film adaptation of It’s a Small World, and turns out it was announced in 2014. This could be good or awful.) One concern I have about a Jungle Cruise movie is how they would feel the need to weave the main character into the ride. Just as Jack Sparrow appears intermittently in the Pirates ride, they might feel the need to put Johnson’s character all throughout the ride. Which they shouldn’t, the ride is perfect as it is.
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, (coloquially known as the Buzz Lightyear Ride) if the wait is not outrageous, is a must-visit (although I feel like most of the things I’ve talked about today are must-visits). It takes you through the galaxy on a quest to stop Evil Emperor Zurg. It’s quite possibly the most immersive ride, as it gives you a small lazer pointer and has you hit as many targets as you can, trying to rack up the highest score.
It was a lovely day in the Magic Kingdom. At that point, I could not wait for the next two days. We got the most we could out of our day. It is, of course, necessary to acknowledge all the things I didn’t get a chance to see. The (approximately) eight hours we had in the parks were not enough for all the fun to be had. In the heart of Fantasyland, there’s the Dumbo ride, which was a childhood favorite; it soars above the park and takes you on for a delightful spin. Just a few paces away from Dumbo is “Mad Tea Party,” an Alice In Wonderland-themed spinning Tea-cup ride (many people find that fun, I find it nauseating). There’s also a Peter Pan-themed ride which remains one of Fantasyland’s best. Frontierland plays host to Big Thunder Mountain, a Mine Cart roller-coaster, and Splash Mountain, the world’s most famous log flume. (Now that I think about it, I’m not sure we stepped foot in Frontierland…) There’s also the Haunted Mansion, a “journey through the dark with happy haunts.” Some of these, we simply weren’t interested in visiting, but most of them had excruciatingly long wait times.
Check back in a week for the second installment, in which I visit Epcot!