21 May 2012

A future built with care

Is the intimacy of Walt Disney World evaporating?

When the project was originally laid out, consisting of a land parcel equal to island of Manhattan twice over, it was under the auspice that the land would give Walt Disney and his cohorts all the space they needed to create their wildest dreams. Chief among these were an East Coast theme park, innovative production facilities (furnishings, technology, etc.), and a continually evolving city. After the passing of Walt in 1966, no one within the Disney community quite knew how to bring his ambitious visions to life. In the end, a pair of resorts, a campground, and a west coast kingdom was constructed as a foundation for the Vacation Kingdom in one small corner of the vast Florida wilderness.

For the first decade and a half, over a third of Walt Disney’s World life, the sprawl of resort was confined to a shopping and dining district, water park, animal sanctuary a golf resort and a second theme park. While EPCOT Center was a fair distance away from the resorts, it was attached to the hub of activity, including the aforementioned animal sanctuary and water park, taking place among the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake. The selection of shops, destined to be known as Downtown Disney, however, was a bit further out.

This centralization of activity, including the main parking and transport facility, the Transportation and Ticket Center, gave the Vacation Kingdom a greater sense of community amongst its guests and visitors. Even if you weren’t staying at the Contemporary, you knew about the Fiesta Fun Center or Top of the World, the same could be said for dining, entertainment and recreation all throughout Walt Disney World. A guest had the ability to meet and converse with any other guest about the happenings on an educated level, if only because of the nature of how small a bubble they were living and vacationing in.

As the years have continued on, however, resorts have continued to pop up all throughout the area, more shopping and dining, additional golf courses, miniature golf courses, two additional parks and a pair of water parks. Like any small town or city, the plight of urban sprawl has taken over Walt Disney World until the spirit of those early years is hardly recognizable to those who grew up and loved that incarnation of it.

This shift may not stand up to the ideals of those early days, and in all honesty, it also is not a move towards the continually progressive hamlet that Walt Disney wanted to create. Of course, as time and development would have continued, no one can be positive of what Walt would have done and how he would have continued to mold the swampland turned playground. Whether we like it or not, those who made the decisions did so with the best of intentions and, in some way, shape, or form, with the notion of ‘what would Walt do?’

Obviously all of this history and random thoughts don’t answer the question we started with, “Is the intimacy of Walt Disney World evaporating?”

Of course the answer is yes. That small story and small spaces approach wasn’t lost solely for expansion for expansion’s sake. Competition from other theme attractions and entertainment enterprises are factors, as are a booming population and the ability to vacation being within the grasps of more individuals. Parks would have to be added solely to handle the capacity crowds, and those guests would also need a place to rest their weary heads.  In short, growth was inevitable.

We’ve reached a point where the vast number of experiences found at Walt Disney World, from parks to resort activities, from tours to stores, where the average guest will never find enough time to see and do everything Walt Disney World has to offer, not even with repeated trips. There is, however, something for every guest to enjoy and make memories doing. Guests who love lounging by the pool, guests who enjoy the games of DisneyQuest, guests who shop until they drop, guests who look for the tastiest dishes in World Showcase, no matter the niche, Walt Disney World has found a way to cater to it.

Have we lost the intimate nature of the earliest Vacation Kingdom? Absolutely. What we’ve gained is a bevy of personal experiences and, with technology to connect with others around the world, the ability to find and reach out to our own intimate communities. Oh, and there are still those small scale stories scattered throughout Walt Disney World if you’re willing to invest the time in looking for them.


Go said...

I feel ya. I'm also reminded that as soon as I see those purple signs (miles out) that WDW is a full blown resort that is unmatched by anything on the planet. It has an airstrip, monorail (that actually transports you from hotels to parks), golf courses, camp grounds, water parks, fire dept, water/sewer dept etc...
On top of that they created two municipalities: Bay Lake & Lake Buena Vista. WDW is massive!
Once you are inside Disneyland you are imerrsed in the magic but once you drive onto WDW property you are part of a magical WORLD.
It is true that today you have to seek out your favorite intimate spot in WDW but there are so many spots to choose from!

Unknown said...

Let's be careful what we wish for. Vacationers in those days were primarily caucasian and middle to upper class. Walt built his empire to grow, to be entertaining, to be a place for the masses...so it's only natural the 42 square miles would soon also grow to encompass a tremendous variety of experiences. It's the size of Manhattan Island; I don't go to NYC once and say, "Been there, done all that." And besides, the internet and many fine Disney-related websites (Like this one!) have allowed us to create those intimate communities off-site...and again during meet and greets onsite. The best of all possible worlds, I would say.

Ryan P. Wilson said...

Go - It may just be in my nature to want to explore, but with all the nooks just waiting to be discovered in Walt Disney World, I can't help but love the opportunities to find new places to get lost!

Unknown - I think you may have misunderstood my intent. I wasn't trying to bash the current state of Walt Disney World in comparison to a previous version of itself, I was highlighting how the more things change the more they stay the same. While the nature of the intimacy has changed, it is still just as present as it was in those early years. Kind of like a long-term relationship if you think about it.