Walt Disney World
23 - 26 June 2017
"I can never stand still. I must explore and experiment."
Disney World? Seriously?
Disney's everywhere, now more than ever. And Disney's impacting my life now more than ever. Disney owns the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), Marvel and Star Wars. But much more importantly, Indiana Jones is now a member of the Disney family.
When I went to Disneyland last year, it was for the first time since I was 12 years old. I quickly became fascinated with Disney the man and all that he built. Biographies and Disney-related business books piled into my Kindle and Audbile apps. And I was clued into some major differences between Disneyland and Disney World.
I was planning a trip to Disney World for Labor Day weekend 2016 when the cold, hard economics of doing it my way (by way of the Disney way) led me to realize I could just as easily do 3 weeks in southeast Asia instead of 5 days in Disney World. So Disney World was (temporarily) scrapped in favor of a trip to Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar.
I chose wisely.
The U2 tour ushered in a fresh opportunity to visit Disney World and I seized it.
Much like the trip to Cuba, this was not a simple vacation of all play and no work. This was serious business. That "Disney way / my way" reference entailed staying at a Disney resort, not a nearby hotel. It entailed a Limited Edition Magic Band. The free shuttle service to the airport. The works.
The visit took in all those fabled Disney World tenets:
- The latest technology and innovations
- Park apps
- Magic Bands
- Interactive experiences
- Immersive ride technologies
- Merchandising and quality control
- Efficient and effective crowd control
- Comfortable resorts
- Yummy food
- Dedicated cast members
- Courteous customer service
- Brand, brand, brand
Walt Disney was a true visionary. He was the Steve Jobs of his day. He was the Elon Musk of his day. He didn't pander to what audiences wanted, he more often than actually challenged audiences — and he succeeded wildly in the process. He didn't stand for the status quo, instead he stretched what was possibly across the state of all the arts.
Over all, Disney World earns high marks.
There was one ridiculous incident with a cast member at Epcot involving my innocent attempt to take a photo of Spaceship Earth (I wanted to take a photo of the famed Epcot ball from the "dark side of the ball"). I thought the guy was going to call Interpol on me the way he wouldn't let it go. (Ewww.... That's one way to slide in a Disney movie reference.)
And there was an unfortunate episode involving my Magic Band's spending limit being set to zero, the result of some sort of resort reservation system glitch that didn't properly recognize the continuation of my stay from one reservation to the next (a level of complexity generated by trips like this). Yeah. It was awkward and pretty embarrassing have one's Magic Band declined. I was even told to contact my credit card company. Thankfully, a cast member in one of those Main Street gift shops spared me a visit to the mob scene that is Customer Service and got it sorted it out with one phone call.
Aside from those issues, it was quite an experience. I returned home with bagfuls of something that couldn't be bought in those ubiquitous Disney gift shops: Inspiration.
What follows is merely the tip of the iceberg... or Matterhorn... or Space Mountain.
The first major culture shock of the trip was going from U2's Joshua Tree show in Tampa to Havana. From a setting that celebrated the liberties and freedoms and ideals of America to a land that is for many off the radar altogether.
The second major culture shock was going from Havana to Walt Disney World. From scenes of poverty and a sense that time's stood still since 1959 to a dizzying collection of fantastical elements that fully embraces commercialism and materialism.
Don't get me wrong. My visit to Disney World was a hoot. I had no idea how massive the place was; during last year's Disneyland visit, I enjoyed being able to walk across the street and hop between Disneyland and California Adventure. It's not that easy in Disney World. Shuttle busses are the best way to shuffle from one park to the next.
And I was a bit of a celebrity with my ultra-coool Star Wars 40th Anniversary Limited Edition Magic Band. Apparently I was the only kid there with the super-exclusive band. (I picked it up through the Parks app months before the trip.)
That magic band was also a key factor in my wanting to check out Disney World. Disneyland, as yet, doesn't use the technology. At Disney World, the band can unlock your Disney resort room; pay for food and merchandise; enter the parks and also enter the Fast Pass lanes. It also serves as a device for other interactions throughout the park, such as a treasure hunt around the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. In that case, five different treasure maps are available, with each one requiring the "pirate" to go from one spot to the next, unlocking clues as to the next step via the magic band interacting with specific markers.
It's all setting the stage for the upcoming Star Wars World (opening in 2019), which I anticipate being something along the lines of the new Pandora rides (in Animal Kingdom) — but on steroids, taking the notion of interactivity to a whole new, unprecedendted level.
Disney's amusement parks are dubbed the "happiest place on Earth," and in theory Disney World achieves the goal. I certainly enjoyed my time at the parks and checking out all the latest experiences from a technical and customer service viewpoint. But it's sadly ironic to witness all sorts of meltdowns — both by wee ones and adults. Family dynamics break down in grand fashion on the stage that is Disney World. Kudos, then, to the family at the Pecos Bill Tall Tale in and Cafe who defused a tense situation with a group hug. Well played.
As for the food, I devoured their taco burger (a hamburger topped with taco meat and pico de gallo) so much, I had it twice.
Check out more about Pandora in Animal Kingdom:
And don't leave Disney Springs before paying a visit to Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar: