25 July 2011

The straight and narrow path

The internet has been an amazing vehicle for the exchange of information. Of course, with all of those reports, statistics and opinions being passed back and forth, there is bound to be a little bit of misinformation out there. In order to try to right some wrongs and firm up some other thoughts, this month the Gazette Roundtable takes aim at the myths and truths of Walt Disney World.

Roundtable Topic: Name one Walt Disney World myth that you adhere to and one Walt Disney World myth that you scoff at. Why do you hold these beliefs?
Roundtable Contributors: Fiona Doyle (DF’82), AJ Wolfe (The Disney Food Blog), Suzannah DiMarzio (ZannaLand), D.J. Jones (The World of Deej), Eric Hoffman (Netmongrel), and yours truly.

Fiona – When it comes to Walt Disney World, there is one myth that I do agree with: Peter Pan’s Flight in Magic Kingdom is a must-see! It pains me to say it, but it one of those attractions where I walk past and sigh as I see the long, long line, hoping that there is a Fast Pass still available so I can at least have some Ice Cream before my flight. When we plan our trips to the World, we always say “We can see how long the line is, if we get on Peter Pan”, but the truth of the matter is, we always try to get on this attraction and every time the whole family loves it! I might think, oh, I’m not really bothered about it, but once you sit in that Pirate Ship and fly over London, you realise that you are really in a world of Fantasy.

With regards to myths that I, well, scoff at, I had to think about this one long and hard. Very rarely do I not like, or enjoy, or avoid doing things at Walt Disney World, but le Cellier at Canada is now one of those ‘myths’ that I don’t believe. The myth that it is one of the best dining opportunities on property (in the price range) has been destroyed for me on past trips to the restaurant. I used to love it, and make sure to take my family there, but in recent years it hasn’t had the same appeal or kick that it used to have. Perhaps I have simply outgrown it – or just don’t want to book months in advance to be squashed into the restaurant. Either way, I would still say that it is a place everyone should try – but the myth that it is one of the best on property, is just that.

AJ – I am a firm believer in the myth that Park Hopper Passes are required. I think they're a must. If there's one thing we don't like in my household it's being “tied down” or “constricted” or “scheduled” or “in a corner.” Nope – we don't like rules around here, so if we didn't have Park Hopper Passes, I think we'd enjoy our Disney World trips about 175% less than we currently do. Having the opportunity to head to rope drop at one park, have lunch in a second park, and enjoy evening Extra Magic Hours in a third park is critical to us. Plus, having Park Hopper Passes is a great boon when trying to avoid crowds. Head to the Extra Magic Hour park in the morning for that blissful hour of emptiness, then high-tail it out of there and head to the park that had Extra Magic Hours yesterday – there's nobody there!

I scoff at the myth that Animal Kingdom is a half-day park. To me, Animal Kingdom is one of the richest Disney parks ever created. There's so much detail there that I could get lost wandering around Asia alone for days! Granted, if you have a gaggle of kids and are just trying to hit the big attractions as quickly as possible, you can probably do that in a few hours. But if you have the time, spend a day or two exploring the Tree of Life Trails, speaking with the cast members on the Maharaja Jungle Trek (they know those animals better than anyone else, and boy do they have stories!), reading the themed signs posted around the park, checking out the intense detail in Dino-Land, etc, etc, etc. It's definitely worth giving yourself some time to check this place out. Oh, and then go to the Dawa Bar for an African Margarita.

Suzannah – One Walt Disney World myth at which I scoff is the largely held belief that Disney's Animal Kingdom is a boring park that you shouldn't waste your time going to. Now I'm sure many readers might disagree, but I know the general consensus and common thought is that Animal Kingdom is the most-avoided of our four parks. I understand that many guests are visiting from far away and that a trip to Walt Disney World may be a trip of a lifetime. Because of that, many guests want the most 'bang for the buck' as far as ridesridesrides go. I get that worrying about FastPasses and E-ticket rides tends to take precedence over leisurely walking through any of the four parks to see Imagineering details which you wouldn't otherwise notice in the rush to maximize your vacation and keep everyone in your party happy. That said, I couldn't agree less with Animal Kingdom's reputation.

I've often waxed poetic about my love of the park but let me share again some of my top reasons. First, Animal Kingdom is a park of discovery. Remember the old "Natazu" commercials? It seems convincing people that there is more to see here than just animals has been an issue from the start. With the addition of Expedition Everest, thrill-seekers of course make a bee-line in that direction to secure a FastPass or ride with minimal wait. However, there are so many more details to Animal Kingdom that make it a place to stop and smell the roses so to speak.

From your first trek up toward the Tree of Life, you are surrounded by discoveries at every turn. Animals living in what appear to be natural habitats. Even the first popcorn and drink cart you encounter is an attraction in itself (to me) filled with brightly painted animal carvings. These wooden carvings, amazing paintings and art continue all around the shops and restaurants circling the Tree of Life (and the tree itself!). Even I had never realized the amount of detail in the extended seating area for Flame Tree Barbecue until searching for D23's Great Scavenger Hunt a few months back.

Speaking of the Scavenger Hunt, another place I'd never noticed the amount of detail in is Asia. Sure, you walk by and see that it looks realistic enough, but after searching for certain clues about fictional hotel signs and tour operators, even business local Anandapur business licenses, I have come to appreciate that the amount of authenticity is astounding. I believe one could, and I hope to someday, spend hours just wandering around and drinking in each detail in this park, without even stepping foot on one attraction. So for these reasons, combined with the unique and delicious food options and the immersive attractions, Animal Kingdom never gets a bad rap in my book.

Daniel – With the exception of my wife, my cat and dog, and Entenmann's chocolate donuts, there is nothing I love more in life than great hotels. So it seems only fitting that both of my Walt Disney World myths relate to the resorts found on property.

One myth that has taken hold over the years is that "Once you go 'Deluxe' you can never go back." Having stayed at every resort on Disney property, I can attest that for me this myth is absolutely true. Hi, I'm Deej...and I'm a resort snob... Thankfully, our DVC membership means that I don't have to pay the inflated rates to stay at these resorts, but on the few occasions that we've stayed in a Moderate or Value since, I've pitched a fit like a little kid who was just denied a Mickey Bar. To many, hotels are simply a place to lay one’s head, and if that were true for me, I'd go Value all the way. Unfortunately, however, hotels have captivated me since I was a kid, and instead of being an Astronaut or Fireman, I told people I wanted to run a hotel. I was lucky to do so for a few years, but got out as soon as the job started to make me hate my love...hotels. The side effect of this, however, is that it turned me into a full-fledged Disney resort snob...

Oddly enough, while I claim to be a resort snob, I scoff at the myth of Disney’s best resorts actually being “Deluxe.” Sure, when comparing the Polynesian, to Riverside, to Pop Century, there are clear differences that put each resort in its respective category. But step into any 4-5 star hotel off Disney property, and it becomes clear that Disney’s best resorts are “Deluxe” in name only. In true luxury hotels, there is no central call center for “Guest Services,” check-in takes 2-3 minutes, and the rooms offer more than a flat-screen TV. For an example, one needs to look no further than the Waldorf-Astoria at Bonnet Creek (on Disney property though not technically) compared to The Grand Floridian. In this hotel lover’s opinion, the Waldorf-Astoria delivers on what a true luxury hotel should be, and does so at less than half the price of The Grand Floridian.

A Disney “Deluxe” snob, who doesn’t think the resorts are deluxe. How’s that for a contradiction?

Eric – One myth we routinely debunk with our no holds barred Disney parks touring style is "to truly enjoy your day at a Disney park with small children, you must take a mid-day break to go back to your resort and rest" myth. To quote George Darling, "absolute poppycock!" Most who espouse this myth are of course only concerned for the wellbeing of the little children of the world and those who must put up with them. "How else can a child recover from the over-stimulation of a day spent in the parks?" they reason. All day (and night) touring of Disney parks is exhausting. However, my wife and I have no intention of letting a tired, exhausted, or actual napping kid get in the way of our fun. No siree! From as young as 6 months old, all three of our kids have spent every single available open hour of park time touring the parks on each and every day of our trip. We have strollers, and they can nap in them. We would simply do a baby swap and not miss a beat. And let's not forget the slow, dark rides where a little one can easily grab a cat nap and wake up confused but ready for more fun. We've discovered that this sort of break-in period tends to produce leaner, stronger, better park touring kids in the long run. Well worth it and we have had not a single embarrassing melt down on a trip yet.

One myth we absolutely adhere to and routinely evangelize: "To truly enjoy your stay at Disney parks you must stay on property at a WDW resort". Yeah, verily, and can I get an amen from the choir on this one?! Despite the fact that the majority of the days of our Disney trips are spent pounding the pavement in the parks, we insist on staying on property. We want to stay immersed in the Disney magic from the very first minute we arrive to the sad, heart wrenching moment we leave. We take full advantage of the extra magic hours, transportation, restaurants, pools, activities, and overall atmosphere and rich theming of the WDW resorts and truly find them to be wonderful destinations in their own right.

Ryan – My first thought when I consider fabricated tales in Walt Disney World, and response I wrote, was debating the dedication of time in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. However, after reading the terrific responses above from the contributors above, I felt that myth had been effectively squashed. So, where else could I spend my time. Then it came to me, time. Extra Magic Hours.

So often I hear from guests staying at resorts that they love and feel that they must utilize Extra Magic Hours, especially in the evenings. Now, I’m an early to rise (late to go to bed) type of guy, so I love morning Extra Magic Hours, but the evening hours have become such a waste of guests times. For starters, Extra Magic Hours in the evenings are often offset by the fact that the park’s regular hours are reduced by at least an hour, meaning the three extra hours isn’t quite three hours. Secondly, it generally makes the selected park which is opened to latest of the day. This, of course, inevitably leads to throngs of resort guests pouring through that destination’s gate.

In all honesty, I can attend so many more attraction, and not feel claustrophobic, on a regular evening at any park than I can when the same park has Extra Magic Hours.

As for a truth I hold dear when visiting Walt Disney World, that would have to be you must have a comfortable pair of shoes. This is something you generally hear from someone who brought a great looking pair of kicks without taking the time to break them in or love how they look in an impractical pair of shoes, and I am no exception. I am not endorsing a sneakers only mentality, but a shoe that is familiar with your foot and is accustomed to doing ample amounts of walking is essential.

There is so much to consider when thinking about a trip to Walt Disney World and how to spend your time while you’re there. Hopefully the attention to the above topics will help you with your next visit. But what about you? What truths do you cling to and what advice do you shrug off?


Mr Toad fan said...

I agree Animal Kingdom is one of the most under rated parks in all of WDW, the details that went into that park makes me want to say....Stop and smell the roses...slow down don't move so fast...well unless you are headed to Everest...

And can I pitch a gripe here, what happened to the original "roasted turkey leg" not that smoked stuff they serve all over the place. The first time my wife and I went back in 91 I had the "roasted" turkey leg at a very small stand at the Magic Kingdom, does anyone remember that?? I still miss that stand and the "roasted" leg of bliss!!

Greg said...

Great insight! Thanks everyone.

V @ No Privacy At All Around This Place! said...

Yay Deej! I am also a resort snob! The Poly is my favorite but he is right that none of them are truly "real world" deluxes (unless you're in the King Kamehameha suite). Still, per Eric's contributions, staying on property provides enough perks that it is worth it, in my opinion. I'll pay extra for a monorail in my hotel thankyouverymuch.

Heather said...

I had a HUGE grin when I read Eric's comment! We stay with our kiddos ALL day morning til night! They are troopers and I don't think they would have it any other way either! Once, when our youngest was 4 months old we had stopped at the baby care center for a quick change. One of the other mother's looked at me and said " A quick change before heading out to the pool for you too?" After learning of our plans, she gave me a raised eyebrow and an "oh" before she turned her back on the "crazy mom" HA! And Ryan I must admit some of my favorite times are had at extra magical hours in the evening...I am very fortunate to not only be blessed with Disney fanatic kiddos, but also PARENTS! So when the kids go back to the resort with the grandparents(FOR the LATE hours 1-3am) My hubby and I have had the fun of riding Splash Mountain back to back, and walking through a quiet park like we did when we were dating...Just last time my 12 year old and I rode Peter Pan's flight over and over and never had to exit our ship!