02 December 2007

It’s nice to dine with fruits and vegetables

Today I want to talk about nutrition and healthy lifestyles in Walt Disney World. With all the discussions about ECVs in the parks, the legal wrangling over Segway's position in the parks, and with rumors and reports that rides are being refurbished to account for the drastic difference in weight between guests today and guest of forty years ago, why is it that there is not a solid message of tomorrow’s health visible anywhere in Walt Disney World, specifically inside of Epcot? Yes, there are more healthy options available to guests today than ever before, but it has to be a guests choice or, in the case of smallish guests, their parent’s choice to select these options. I would never propose that Disney should only allow healthy options and do away with hamburgers and fries, this is, after all, a vacation. But, let’s be honest with ourselves, we could all use a nudge in the direction of a more healthy lifestyle.

Turn back the clock to October 1, 1982, make your way through the bustling crowds of EPCOT Center’s opening day crowds, past Spaceship Earth, through Communicore West, up the gentle incline, past the wonderful flowing mosaic, into The Land, around to the far side of the top level, and down the stairs to the atrium, after this minor work out you could turn a corner and find a seat in the Kitchen Kabaret show to rest. While you caught your breath you would be tempted by such tasty treats as Hamm n’ Eggz, the Cereal Sisters, and the Colander Combo. While the message of eating foods that are good for you can be delicious and healthy was a worthwhile aspiration, somewhere between concept and the finale, complete with a singing broccoli wearing sunglasses, the desired effect was lost in translation.Fast forward to 1994 and a new set of melodic meals have appeared in the same site once occupied by Kitchen Kabaret, this time under the moniker of Food Rocks! The host of the show, Fud Wrapper, and his troupe, including the talents of Pita Gabriel, Chubby Cheddar, and the Refrigerator Police, croon a more cohesive message of good nutrition and healthy eating. All the while they are continual heckled by The Excess, who only want to screech the praises of junk food, and eventually become unplugged when their snacking ways deplete their energy. Despite a more focused effort to get their message across, The Land’s healthy lifestyle shows gave their final bows on January 3, 2004 to make way for an attraction which in no way showcases healthy dining, Soarin’.

Now, let’s take a moment before I start getting comments about how I hate Soarin’. I love Soarin’, which only lost the Over California piece of its name not its film when it came to encompass the entire plain of The Land. Not only is it the successor to the omnimax scene from Horizons, but it also stands head and shoulders above the rest as an quality innovative guest experience, something we have seen less and less of in the past few years. Soarin’ is only more endeared to me by the fact that the ride mechanics were modeled after an erector set mock-up created by Imagineer Mark Sumner. I was the child who would rather have had Legos, erector sets, or Robotix models to build as a child than G.I. Joes and Hot Wheels. Getting back on point, I do have a soft spot for Soarin’, I just do not see how it fits properly into the vast big picture that is The Land, and think perhaps it would have been better suited to another area of the parks. Where Soarin’ belongs is a discussion for another day.

Moving away from our Soarin’ snack, and back towards the main course, nutrition and healthy living, let’s jump across Future World to the Wonders of Life pavilion. Opened in 1989, during Food Rocks! heyday, not only this pavilion showcase what composes a human body, and how a good portion of the bodies systems functioned, it also gave further insight into healthy living. Attractions like Coaches Corner, Goofy About Health, and Lifestyle Revue all provided insight that exercise and balanced eating habits could lead to a happier standard of living. There were even Wonder Cycles that allowed guests to bicycle their way through the Rose Bowl Parade and Disneyland. After MetLife discontinued its sponsorship, various Wonders of Life attractions began to fall into decay. The pavilion closed on December 31, 2005 after operating seasonally for almost two years. Though one time headliners Cranium Commander and Body Wars still occasionally run during the capacity crowd times (usually only the week between Christmas and New Year’s), the rest of the attractions began to fade until they are now only a memory, thus eliminating any and all messages on nutrition throughout the parks.

Nutrition’s place of Walt Disney World is a tricky angle to find. Obviously, the Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Disney-MGM Studios/Disney’s Hollywood Studios are exempt from facing the problems caused by a lack of exercise and proper nutrition. The overall themes of these parks, stories, environment, and entertainment, just do not gel with anything related to the consumption of food. Although if someone smarter than I inside of the Disney Company could find a way to incorporate these ideas into an attraction at one of these parks, I would be first in line to do a happy dance. Epcot, however, has always been about the world of tomorrow, discoveries, and learning from the past to make the future a better place to live. If we are learning from yesterday and today, then we understand that our diets have caused health problems that millions of people are living with. And, if we understand that, then making the future a better place to live has to include at least a glimpse into how we choose to eat and exercise so that we are all there to enjoy tomorrow.

Links about Small World Refurbishment:
New York Times
The Consumerist

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