Walt Disney World – Then & Now

Walt Disney World Trip – Then And Now

Everyone knows the amount of planning that is needed to visit the World, especially from a British point of view. From organising your Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) to obtaining entry into the United States…nevermind the booking of your Advance Dining Reservations (ADR’s) and Fastpass’s via your Magic Band at Disney! It’s no wonder people look at you open mouthed when you speak about your ‘relaxing holiday’.

The first time I visited Florida (or the US for that matter), life was a lot simpler. My first trip in July 1992 I travelled with two of my friends, leaving from Glasgow on my first real trip abroad. To book the holiday we used a one-stop shop travel agent. At the time it was great as we only had to pay the deposit when we booked and pay the final amount 6 weeks before we flew, giving us plenty of planning time.

To start, we organized a 5-day pass for WDW. This was before advanced technology so there was none of these ‘plastic cards’ or ‘Magic Bands’…just hard cardboard tickets that had to be guarded with your life, because if you lost these there was no going back. There were also no park hoppers, so once you got to your park of choice you were there all day.
The only good thing about this was that there was only three parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot & Disney / MGM Studios. You also got the opportunity to either spend the day at Discovery Island, which was a nature reserve on Bay Lake, or spend the night dancing at Pleasure Island (where every night was New Years Eve). This was complemented with Disney’s two water parks: River Country (now being found to have brain eating amoeba in the water), or the safer option Typhoon Lagoon, as long as you were able to ride the tidal wave.

Having booked a holiday for 14 days, we obviously had days to play with and these we filled by trips to Seaworld, Universal Studios (only one park at that time), Busch Gardens, Silver Springs and Kennedy Space Centre.

As there was no such thing as a fastpass in 1992, if you wanted to go on a ride or see an attraction you had to queue up, (imagine having to do that now) and this could mean standing in a line for well over an hour to get on a 4 minute ride. One of the worst (definitely not the longest) experience of this was waiting to get on Mr Toad’s Wild Ride at the Magic Kingdom- Due to crowd levels and the ride breaking down – this is 45 minutes of my life that I am NEVER getting back! This is a ride that is held highly in the heart of many a Disney fan – I just wonder how many have actually ridden it…because it is one of the worst rides that I have ever been on. Although, the most I have waited in line for a ride was Kong-Frontation at Universal Studios Florida. It was two hours in the blistering heat of July in a building with no windows, very claustrophobic, and was themed to a tight tram-station in New York. (Great Ride – Not Great Line Experience).

Visiting in July meant that from rope-drop to fireworks you were possibly in the parks for well over 14 hours. As there were fewer attractions back then, this meant that you were able to start at one side of the park and complete every single ride! Yes, it was tiring, but you felt a sense of achievement as you crossed off each ride. If you were to visit the World today, you would be lucky to get 13 to 14 attractions completed.

Since my first visit in ’92, the World has changed so much: new Parks opening and closing, removal of attractions and the installation of brand new lands coming from the minds of Disney Imagineers. However, I have to ask, “Has this been to the benefit or detriment of Walt Disney World?”

Everyone loves the original longstanding attractions and rides, but the difference between ‘Keep Moving Forward’ and keeping the legacy rides has had guests debating for years. For example, should a ride like “Carousel of Progress”, which is in a prime piece of real estate at Magic Kingdom, be closed due to the decreasing amount of traffic it gets? Or, is it so much of an iconic attraction that is should remain as an original feature? Since Walt himself had such an involvement with it, would it be inconceivable to close?

The most up to date re-boot has been at the Norway pavilion in EPCOT, where the ever popular Maelstrom water ride has been overhauled to shoe horn in a piece of Arendelle into the park. This is even more shocking due to the fact that other countries like Brazil, Australia or Puerto Rico have been trying to get in for years. This ride has been completely re-themed inside the pavilion to all things Frozen, including Elsa, Anna, Sven and even Olaf. But the structure of the ride system is completely the same, as are the gondolas that you ride.
On opening, the lines for “Frozen Ever After” had a waiting time of up to 300 minutes.  That’s 5 HOURS (and I was moaning about my waiting 45 minutes)!! There would be absolutely no way that I would wait for that long for a ride (except if they bring the new TRON ride from Shanghai to WDW).

Although Disney is playing to the masses by updating their existing equipment to a reflect the current popular animated Disney film, while elongating the life span of the ride without changing the transportation mechanism – only time will tell if it is effective. With Universal Studios Orlando consecutively running with the popular franchise of Harry Potter, which although has drawn crowds in to the Parks, Disney should be wary of putting all their eggs in one basket with Frozen, regardless of how popular this has become.

With the building of Cars Land in Disneyland and Pixar Place in Disneyland Paris, Disney have always driven forward with popular franchises that they have built off the back of blockbuster films. With the emergence of Star Wars Land being built at Walt Disney World, this may be the one that takes the mantle back from Universal and the Harry Potter phenomenon.  Many tourists go when visiting the Orlando area – but as we all know ‘They are tourists- What do they know’?

To be continued:

Twitter: @sjmdisney

Facebook: Steven James Maxwell

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