In my sheltered and jaded NYC world, Walt Disney World seems to be the vacation spot that people love to hate. The excessive commercialism, over the top consumerism, long lines in the parks, exorbitant costs of a park visit, and sheer monopolizing of culture, makes it easy for many to say “no way” to a visit to the House of Mouse. Although Florida has never been my favorite vacation destination, I cannot change the fact that I come from a family with a longstanding Disney dedication. My parents (whom my children call Grandma and Grandpa Mickey, by the way) are some of the biggest Disney fans out there. As children, we would spend a few days in Magic Kingdom every August. I remember when Epcot opened up in 1982. It was a big deal for our family. Do we continue to only go to the Magic Kingdom and ride the Pirates of Caribbean and It’s a Small World, or do we branch out to Epcot and explore the World Showcase. I would venture to say the World Showcase in Epcot might have been my first exposure to the travel bug that I would spend the rest of my life chasing after.
Today, longtime members of the Disney Vacation Club, my parents diligently save up their vacation club points and treat the whole family once every two years to a Disney extravaganza. That list includes myself, my husband, my two kids, my brother and his family and my nephew. Our last Disney Experience, two years ago, was at the Aulani resort in Hawaii. Aulani is probably the least “Disney” of all the Disney resorts out there. The experience was amazing and we would all happily return to that without a second thought. This years experience, started on the 3-day Disney Dream cruise to the Bahamas (see Three Days Aboard the Disney Dream) and ended with a condo for 10 at Saratoga Springs Resort and 4 days on the grounds of Disney exploring the parks.
A few comments about the controversial Disney experience:
To all the haters, I feel you. Your complaints are all true. There are long lines in the parks, and it is expensive. Disney is trying to sell you something at every turn. I believe the parks are strategically organized so that there is no possible way you could see the Magic Kingdom in one day, let alone make it to all the other parks. Therefore, you are forced to buy multiple day passes, because after all, you are already there, right? The monopoly of culture is overwhelming. Everywhere you turn there is a gift shop selling Disney products or a Disney related snack/drink. Every single thing you do requires waiting in line for a minimum of 30 minutes – including grabbing a bite to eat. The entire experience is set up so that after spending a small fortune to get into the parks, you continue opening your wallet along the way. A 3-day park hopper pass (meaning you can go from the parade in the Magic Kingdom to Germany in Epcot for dinner) for one person will set you back a mere $450!
While all of the above is true and confirms the complaints of the haters, I’m here to tell you, the Disney experience is truly a one of a kind magical experience. Once you are on the grounds of Disney, it is almost impossible to not just give in and drink the Kool Aid. The geniuses that design the parks really know how to manage crowds and create a fun filled atmosphere at every turn. They are experts at perfecting the customer experience. The sheer size of the operation is the thing that always blows me away. All Disney “cast members” or employees, must abide by strict rules when they are “on stage”(inside the park). For example, saying “I don’t know” by a cast member is strictly prohibited. If a cast member doesn’t know the answer to a question, they must find someone who does. Also, photos taken backstage are strictly prohibited. People have been fired for posting a backstage photo that might reveal how the intricacies of the operation. There are tunnels underground all of the parks so cast members can get from one area to another without looking out of place in their costumes. You will never see someone in a Tomorrowland costume in Frontierland.
The attention to detail is sublime. They pull out all the stops to make it a seamless experience. Every nook and cranny is considered part of the experience of your visit. Waiting in line? They keep you entertained by building sets consistent with the theme of the ride you are waiting to enjoy.
The park is by far, the cleanest amusement park I have ever been in. With the massive amounts of guests milling about, it would be easy for litter to become a noticeable issue. In Disney, it seems spills get picked up almost before they even happen. Gum is not even sold in the parks to prevent sticky situations. Cleanliness was clearly one of Walt’s top priorities and the tradition has been upheld today.
The magic is not just limited to the parks either. The activities available to enjoy outside of the parks is simply mind boggling, and there is no way you could do everything during your visit. After a full day at the parks, you come back to your hotel to be greeted by a handful of cast members saying “Welcome Home” as if you just made their day by returning. The lobby of your hotel is playing Disney movies on an endless loop. Most hotels have arcades, theaters, and game rooms. The pools have terrific water slides, structured games for kids, and athletic classes for adults. The TV in your hotel room even has 6-8 Disney related channels highlighting the countless activities you could enjoy either at the parks or at your hotel.
Just about everything you experience as a guest from the minute you cross the grounds of Walt Disney World until the minute you leave is scripted by hundreds of thousands of cast members. And it’s all geared around you having a magical day. No matter how you feel about the Disney hoopla, my advice is to just relax, enjoy, give in to the experience, and have that magical day. Your kids certainly will!!