So, the Disney part of our road trip is over. We spent 7 nights and 7 days, exploring the massive world of Disney. For those who aren’t aware, Disney World in Orlando, Florida is the largest of the Disney theme parks. It consists of 4 (enormous!!) parks: The Magic Kingdom, Epcot Centre, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. Apart from the 4 main parks, there’s Blizzard Beach (huge water park)… Typhoon Lagoon (another huge water park)… Downtown Disney (huge, huge shopping and entertainment area with giant lego store, Cirque du Soleil, erupting Volcano at the Rainforest Cafe, massive Planet Hollywood, big stage with endless live bands, Disney Quest (3 storey, indoor multi-media and gaming)… okay… let me just say that if I had to list all the stuff that one can see and do in Disney World – this post would be very, very long!
We stayed in the cheapest Disney resort (based inside of Disney World) that we could find: Disney’s All-Star-Movies-Resort. It was huge! We stayed there for 7 nights – and didn’t come close to exploring the resort itself (pools, play areas, arcades, cinemas, shops, etc…). It’s that big.
Our room was comfortable… with 2 double beds and Mickey wallpaper. We were hardly there, so we didn’t need any extra frills.
Okay… so here’s the stuff I loved about Disney:
- The Disney Imagineers have created a masterpiece. They have created a dream, magical world… the production design is ridiculously good. I cannot over-emphasise how in awe I have been of the creative mastery in that place. The buildings… the signage… the costumes… the lights… the different “worlds”… the rides… as a creative creature myself, I was gulping down the creative excellence.
- Everything is clean… but not only clean (as in free of dirt)… the upkeep is mind-blowing. Considering the millions of people who traipse through the parks, the fact that you never see anything broken… chipped… scratched or faded is awe-inspiring. Everything is (almost disconcertingly) “perfect”.
- The parades, the marching bands, fireworks displays, musical fountains, synchronised lighting, performers, acrobats… an endless stream of fascinating things to see and do. From artists who illustrate the pavement with chalk… to the Jedi-Training-Institute that pits kids against Darth Vader… to the character greetings… the treasure hunts… the acappella quartets… the shows… the non-stop stream of quality entertainment just blows my mind.
- And, of course, watching the kids. As parents – some of the best fun has simply been enjoying Disney through the eyes of my kids. They LOVED every moment (of course). They’ve been awe-struck… filled with wonder… they have walked and walked and walked (more than they have ever walked in their lives)… without complaint. Just watching them take it all in has been a magical experience for me.
The not-so-good stuff about Disney…
- Disney is a machine. A massive, efficient, money-making machine… and sometimes, you feel like you’re on the production line in a giant sausage factory. I don’t know how it could be any other way, though. How else would one manage such enormous crowds of people? Our Disney resort is one such sausage machine. Huge, cavernous food-halls selling (hideously over-priced) cafeteria-style food… slapped on to our plate… before we’re slotted through the turnstiles and past the cashiers… to the massive, noisy dining hall with a bazillion excited, screaming children and impatient, snappy parents (which is why – we tried, for the most part, to eat outside of Disney World while we were there).
- The crowds. Thankfully, we spent our first 4 days in relative peace. The parks were full-ish… but not stuffed to capacity – and we had short (or no) waits for most of the rides. We didn’t need to line up for food… or line up to use the loo. But then… on Friday… we noticed a sudden influx in the crowds. For the first time, we needed to queue to use the loo – and our hotel was noticeably fuller. I don’t like crowds at the best of times – so probably one of the things I dislike the most about Disney… are the millions of people who want to be there too!
- The consumerism. Disney is designed to extract every last dollar from your pocket. No free drink re-fills at Disney… you pay for EVERYthing! And everything is far more expensive (than outside Disney World). To give you an idea: We paid $12 for 2 (small) cups of very average-tasting gelato at the “Italy” pavilion in Epcot Centre (that’s R121! Be still, my beating heart!)… but last night, when we got to Titusville, we stopped at a local ice-cream place and got 4 (enormous) portions of the most delicious ice-cream I’ve ever tasted… and it cost $11. Disney is all about extracting money – and they do a very good job of it! Every ride ends with a walk through a fantastically decorated, themed store… and, without fail… the kids nag and plead for toys (not just our kids – most of the kids were nagging for toys after every single ride!). Our kids ended up leaving Disney with 2 toys each (excluding Morgan’s birthday present – which was a Minnie Mouse outfit).
Stupid Rules. I guess when one needs to “contain” millions of guests… one feels the need to concoct endless rules and then employ lots of people to enforce said rules. I’m generally not a fan of being told what to do. I feel condescended to when an order-barking teenager tells me what to do… and especially when it’s something petty and stupid, i.e.:
“Stand behind the yellow line, Ma’am”
“I am behind the yellow line”
(pointing at my left foot which is partly over the line): “I need you to stand behind the yellow line, Ma’am”.
Or “Ma’am, you need to get off the rocks!” (I was standing on a stone wall which was no higher than my knee, in order to view a parade). I didn’t hear him the first time he said it… so he bellowed it: “Ma’am! Get OFF the rocks!”…
Jeez! Stupid rules hack me off no end.
I’m so glad we got to take the kids to Disney World. They enjoyed it… we enjoyed it. The rides were fabulous… the costumes, sets, decor and production design were awe-inspiring. We had some stellar experiences. My favourites were:
- The Festival of the Lion King at Animal Kingdom (a brilliant display of colour, music, lights, performers and acrobats)…
- The parade at Animal Kingdom with it’s beautiful floats, performers on stilts and giant, moving animals…
- The Christmas Lights at Hollywood Studios (they had lined a couple of streets with millions of tiny lights. All of the lights were programmed to flash, change colour and create shapes and patterns in time to the music. It was utterly breath-taking! There was also an enormous Christmas tree and lots of “snow” being rained down upon us from the rooftops above. All of us LOVED the experience!)
- “Illuminations” at Epcot and “Fantasia” at Hollywood Studios: both INCREDIBLE displays of lights, musical fountains, live performance, lasers, floats and – of course – fireworks! – my kids have NEVER seen fireworks like that before….)
- And… of course… most of the rides (the kids LOVED the rides… no surprises there!).
We knew Disney was going to be expensive. We had prepared ourselves for that. But, as Nick said – it felt like a good investment of his hard-earned cash. We invested in some incredible memories and experiences with our kids. It was definitely money well spent. We don’t feel as though we wasted money (except, perhaps… on the over-priced food!).
This was my fourth visit to Disney World – and the first time I have brought my kids along. I’m glad Morgan and Joah have now experienced and seen all-that-is-Disney. I’m not sure if I’ll return, though. Maybe the kids will want to return some day. But, I think for the most part… Nick and I are done with Disney.
Time for new things…
PS: If you want to see lots of photos of Disney (and our US road trip thus far)… just click here.