Over the next week, my friend Darin will be doing a ‘takeover’ of Wandering in Disney. The both of us and our wives recently went to Walt Disney World and he’ll be here offering his thoughts over the next week. Darin and I do a podcast called The RoseBuds that you can check out here. I’ll be around with a post or two but it’s mostly going to be Darin. Leave any questions or thoughts in the comments and I will still get to them. Welcome, Darin!
Hello Wanderers, (I assume that is what we are supposed to call you) and welcome to my week takeover. My name is Darin Skaggs and I’m friends with two Wandering in Disney writers, Andrew and Melissa Long. I recently went on a trip with them and my wife Mackenzie to Walt Disney World. To probably your shock and my pleasure this was my first time visiting Disney World. Somehow this is only my third visit to a Disney park, the first being a one day Disneyland visit with my family back around 2006 and another Disneyland trip with the Long’s in 2014 that lasted five days. So since I am a Disney park baby and I recently found out what the term Disneybounding means, I will proclaim this week Bounding in Disney. I understand that this is vaguely correct, I am just too pleased with myself so we are all going to have to deal with it. So to start off the week, this post will be all about a first timers visit to the park.
I’ll start with the anticipation for going to the park. I didn’t quite know what to expect when getting there. It was explained to me how the parks were laid out, but I am more of a visual learner, so I did not fully know until we got there. All I really knew before going was the castle was bigger in Magic Kingdom, there was a giant sphere in Epcot and a huge tree within Animal Kingdom. There was also the Tower of Terror for Hollywood Studios, but I didn’t really know about that (which is appropriate for Hollywood Studios in its current state, but we’ll get to that.) Upon getting there I loved that there was one giant, iconic landmark that you can associate with each park. We stayed at the Pop Century hotel for most of the trip and it was nice, pretty normal hotel, but the outside had fun designs having a theme for certain decades from the 1950’s to the 1990’s. It was fun to see that, along with the Art of Animation across the way. I know it is a strange statement but I could just go look at hotels and rate them on how they look on the outside. We later stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge which looks really nice and bonus, we got to watch animals like Zebras and Giraffes while sitting on our porch. Here I am praising the hotels we stayed at and barely talking about the parks.
We started our trip with Magic Kingdom, and of course why wouldn’t you. Pardon the pun, but there is something truly magical walking to the center of Main Street to get the first view of Cinderella’s Castle. You really do just stand their stunned for a moment at how gorgeous it is and that it is indeed much larger than Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disneyland. The layout of the park is really similar to that of Disneyland, so much so that I was never really lost. Obviously, there are a few beats that are different, but I always knew where I was in this park. That is not really a knock on the park, it is still incredible. It was just a strange feeling being somewhere I was never before and knowing exactly where I was. So much so that when I found myself near The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, a ride not featured at the California park, I felt completely lost with a fear of never finding my way back again. This is the park with the most rides, it seems like the other parks do not have enough rides in them, maybe because this one is so packed. On this first day we rode all the classics including Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc. We also hit attractions new to me like Mickey’s PhilharMagic and Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor which were both quite fun. One night the park closed at 2 AM, so we all went on all the smaller rides which was actually some of the most fun I had on the trip. Have you ever gone on The Barnstormer, a roller coaster for young kids, four times in a row without having to get off? Well I have and it was awesome.
Last time I went to Disneyland I did not care much for doing the shows or parades. For some reason and thankfully so I embraced them this time around. I saw the fireworks (I hate fireworks normally) and liked them quite a bit. The shows performed in front the castle were delightful, Mickey’s Friendship Faire was super cheesy (in the best way) and the Hocus Pocus musical show that was performed during the Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween was great, focusing on a ton of Disney villain’s. Hollywood Studios had an incredible Star Wars firework show that, for a moment, made me forget I hate fireworks. Epcot had a really great show as well. The parades were fun, me and my wife got really into waving at characters even if they were just normally dressed Cast Members. The Boo To You parade (Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party) had a really catchy bad guy song that got stuck in my head despite not knowing how it went, but that is not important right now. Let us move on to the other parks.
We went to Animal Kingdom the second day and unfortunately did not go back any other day. Even though we had seven days in the park, it is hard to do everything you want to do. And that is how they get you to come back, and I am perfectly alright with that. Animal Kingdom is beautiful. The Tree of Life which sits in the center of the park and features dozens of animals carved into the bark is really a sight to behold. I spent a good few minutes just starting at it trying to figure out how many animals I could spot on it. That is one of best parts of Disney parks, the attention to detail. It would be mad, but I could see myself spending a trip to a Disney park just looking around and noticing all the details, no rides, no food, just observation. If I did do that I would have missed out on some pretty great rides. Kilimanjaro Safaris is an absolute delight. You are driven around by a guide to view some wild animals like lions, rhinos, crocodiles and many others. This seems like one of the best jobs that a Cast Member could have. You get to drive around guests who are constantly in amazement of what they are seeing and spout off fun animal facts along the way. The Kali River Rapids are a great rapids ride and there are some trails that you can walk to see additional wild life. Expedition Everest was the biggest surprise for me. Luckily I went into these parks with little knowledge of what was going to happen. This is a brilliant roller coaster with a story to it. I’ll just leave it at that just in case you don’t know anything about it. It was great going into it blind. The most underrated attraction at Disney World, and possibly anywhere, is here as well. It Is Tough To Be a Bug! is the strangest idea to ever come out of the minds of Imagineers. It is basically Flick from A Bug’s Life putting on a show with his fellow bugs teaching us the difficulty of being a bug. Things go terribly wrong and it all ends with screaming kids (maybe even adults) and most likely a few walk outs. The best part is that there is hardly any set up for a horrific time, it is cutesy and filled with puns for plays that bugs would perform. Speaking of kids, located in Animal Kingdom is Dinoland. The most dated and unneeded part of all in Disney World. The rest of Animal Kingdom is like I said beautiful, designed to look like an authentic African or Asian town then while walking through it, BOOM, you are hit with a kids theme park that (intentionally) looks like a crappy fair that has just come to town. It is the most jarring transition in all the parks, it is such a strange place. There is also a Lion King show here that was so amazing I nearly cried, but let’s move on to Epcot.
Epcot was the oddest place for me during the trip. When all was said and done the four of us on the trip ranked the parks first which we thought was best, then our favorite. For some reason, and still, I put Epcot for the best park. My friends were understandably confused at this notion. I totally understand why. Spaceship Earth is nostalgic at best, there are very little rides and only few are great. I mean Frozen Ever After is hidden in the back of Norway. Soarin’ is really great to me and I am certainly a sucker for aquariums. I’ve always outlasted my friends in being in an aquarium, interest wise. The Nemo ride kind of stunk and The Land area wasn’t all that great. So why do I love this park? I’ll be honest the Food and Wine Festival was going on at this time which certainly helped. I was eating cheese soup, then sushi and then a lamb meatball all in the span of fifteen minutes, which is paradise for a guy who is always hungry, especially because it was all so delicious. Those all closed after a certain point and I ventured off on my own and just walked the World Showcase looking at all the great designs for each country. It was relaxing. The whole set up was great for me and the transition from the world to the “future” is kind of fun as well. All in all World Showcase was definitely one of my favorite parts about all of Disney World despite the lack of rides and that the Mexico section is way too narrow and gets way too crowded.
I guess that just leaves Hollywood Studios. Now the other three parks I walked into and was overwhelmed with excitement and joy. Poor, poor Hollywood Studios. I bet at one point it was a really great park and probably soon will compete with the other ones. Right now they are doing a ton of construction with the park to make room for more Star Wars stuff and I believe other rides. All that really shows, so many parts to the park are closed off. I got a good sense of the other three parks, I knew where I was going and where I have been. That includes the one day spent in Animal Kingdom. I had no idea where anything is or where I was in Hollywood Studios. I found some restaurants I heard of a while back and I don’t know how we got there or really how to get back to the exit. Even your fearless leader was lost for a bit (editors note – I can neither confirm or deny). The most ironic part of all this is the very few attractions that are featured here are some of the best. We saw the Fantasmic! show, which is arguably the best at Disney World. There is obviously the Tower of Terror which is a great ride and also has one of the best queues. Star Tours is always a classic ride along with Toy Story Mania! The Great Movie Ride is odd, doesn’t really make sense why it exists, but it was right up my alley. Like It’s Tough to Be a Bug!, Hollywood Studios has one of the strangest ideas to come out of thin air with Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith. The ride does indeed star Aerosmith, as you hear one of their songs while you ride a pretty intense coaster that goes upside down, while it is dark and all you really see is road signs. It is really odd, but a blast. I didn’t love being here, but had a lot of fun on the rides and with the Star Wars firework show I mentioned forever ago.
Obviously, I had a grand ol’ time at Disney World. We went to Blizzard Beach, the winter themed water park which was a lot of fun. I really conclude two things there, the big slides hurt a bit and the lazy river is my favorite thing of all time. We didn’t make it Disney Springs except for lunch at the Boathouse, the other water park or the two miniature golf courses, but I guess all that will be for next time. I was having such a good time I was already planning my next trip around day three of the seven day venture. I wish I’d gone more when I was younger, but there is no doubt I will make it priority to get to a Disney park more often.