Photo Essay: Disney World




I have been to a Disney theme park with my brother four times now - twice on each side of the US - spanning our lifetime from 8 to 30 years old. With childish wonder and inspiration we eagerly dedicated two days to Disney World during this most recent excursion and, well, to be honest, were fairly disappointed with what we found once we got there. 

Compared to Universal Studios, everything had a run-down, tired feeling to it that was something of a shock. I doubt Disneyland has the same problem, but I'm not sure. Has anyone been recently who could tell me of its condition?

You have to wait in line to take pictures with the Disney characters now (you've gotta be kidding me) and they are only in certain spots at certain times rather than walking around their section of the park. The support staff seemed overworked and unfriendly except for one guy who took our tickets at the gate for Magic Kingdom - he was full of spirit and smiles and laughter and was just an overall amazing way to start the day.

The food was mediocre at best, hardly worth the money and the restaurants have an over-crowded cafeteria feel to them. I'll just say it now - bring snacks. You'll probably eat better. However, we finally did what we've wanted to do since our first time at Disneyland in third grade... we bought and ate churros and they were everything we thought they would be (and nothing different than Costco. Ha!)

Now that I've thoroughly disenchanted you, I will say the photo opportunities and nostalgia of the trip was worth it. We split the parks into two days. Day one was Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. Day two was Epcot and Animal Kingdom. Take a peek at what we saw while we were there and what we did appreciate about the experience. 

Magic Kingdom



I've never been this close to Cinderella's Castle and with the smaller crowds it made it possible to walk right up to and inside it. Most hours throughout the day you can actually walk through the castle, but when we were there they were having a big musical dance number in the front with all the characters (which was pretty awesome.) And by walk through I don't mean go on a tour of the castle, I mean literally walking from one side to the other through a tunnel that runs through the building. There is a cool mural in the tunnel once you are there.


We arrived at the park just as it was opening. I highly recommend getting to the park as early as you can. Great parking (we were able to just walk to the gates instead of take a tram) and small crowds. If you end up staying at a Disney Resort you likely will get early entry perks - use them!


Are you ready for this? We waited in line for less than five minutes to get on this ride. If you've been to a Disney park during peak season then you will know how big of a deal that is. It was great!




Did you know there are apps you can get for your smart phone that tell you the estimated wait times for rides at Disney and Universal parks? They are free and absolutely worth it. We were able to watch the crowd patterns and hit up some key rides with less wait times because we planned ahead. 

Big Thunder Mountain was a high priority for us because it was our favorite Disney ride when we were kids. But the line stacks up quick so we made a beeline for it with "...yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me..." still stuck in our heads.





This makes me SO happy. In California they turned the Swiss Family Robinson house into Tarzan's house sometime around 2004. Florida is keeping it genuine and left it remain inspired by the classic novel of this innovative family. 



Another high priority. I could probably have spent the whole day here just relaxing and playing. There are dark, short caves and tunnels and the fort with look-outs and pretend rifles to play with. Nothing has changed - it's great - and it did appear to be well maintained. 





We didn't get to ride the Ferry boat which is a bummer, but perhaps someday we'll sneak on.


The Haunted Mansion was a fun ride too, not thrilling, but filled with silliness and it certainly freaks the little kiddies out. I think the walk into/wait was a big bonus since there was a lot to keep you occupied such as cooky headstones, musical murals, and spooky audio tracks.


I want this for my headstone if ever I have one.



After checking off the main rides on our list we decided to explore a little and meander through the next park. It rained a little, but not enough to dampen the day - if anything it cleared the crowds a way a little which was great for us!

Hollywood Studios


Notice how there is only one photo here? That's because there was only really one thing worth taking a picture of. We didn't stay in the park long, just long enough to go on the Tower of Terror ride which I had been afraid of ever since they advertised it on TV when we were kids. It succeeded in raising my heart beat a few times and was fun enough to consider waiting in line for again, but in the end we decided to head back to the hotel and go swimming.

 Epcot


This place was cool, no doubt. We didn't have to wait hardly at all for any of the few rides which was great. I highly recommend riding the Spaceship Earth ride for no other reason than a jolly good laugh about it's desperate need to be updated. It ends its history of modern technology in Bill Gates' garage where the first PC was being built. 



Oh! A really, really cool ride that was absolutely worth the wait was Mission Space - Lt. Dan is your captain and he guides you through the ride. Not recommended for queasy riders. It was definitely cool and gave you a gut sinking feeling.

Soarin' was fun, but don't treat it like a ride. If anything I found it relaxing and calming which isn't a bad thing with all the chaos of kids running here and there and parents chasing after them. Also, it's a great way to get the pressure off your feet after walking around so much!

 Animal Kingdom


This was our favorite Disney park by far. Everything felt new and interesting. I wish we would have spent more time here. Definitely plan to come here first and spend as much time as you can, taking your time as you go. The safaris are amazing and there is a great mini-theme park inside called DinoLand that has rides for young kids and feels almost like a carnival.


The Tree of Life is absolutely beautiful and you can get up close and personal with it (but can't climb.) You see it right when you walk in the main gates and it marks the center of the park. There are over 300 carved animal portraits within the trunk of the tree.








This whole gorilla family was really entertaining to watch. There were adults, adolescents, and babies living their gorilla life. They interacted with the people through the glass and one adolescent spent his afternoon spinning up and down the hill in their enclosure which was highly entertaining.


Live music here and there throughout the park made for a really neat experience. A little taste of the world never hurt anyone.


This was the only safari we were able to go on since we regrettably came to this park late. The wait stated 10 minutes when we arrived, but ended up being closer to an hour.


They gave us a card to see how long the wait was. Yeah, it was much longer than originally stated. The reason? A tour group filled with around 100 15 year old girls from Argentina who all had express passes. That's the thing about coming to Disney World in the winter - tour groups are everywhere! And they can get very annoying. Personally, I think express passes are stupid. But I swear I'm not bitter about it.

Pro-Tip: Most tour groups have a distinctive way for the tour leader to keep track of everyone such as bright pink backpacks. Whatever direction the mob of backpacks are going - you go in the opposite direction. We were able to avoid the tour groups this way when we were at Universal.

Once on the tour truck, the safari was amazing and our guide was hilarious (scripted, I'm sure). Did you know that the Animal Kingdom isn't a zoo, but rather a sanctuary that houses some of the worlds most endangered animals? Disney has even contributed to increasing the White Rhino population through their rhinoceros breeding program!


Black Rhino


I took the photo of the Zebra with my iPhone 5s (as with all the other photos in this photo essay series) and I didn't use my zoom. That is how close you get to the animals while on the safari.



We left with half of the park still unseen, but we did discover something of a hidden gem. In Disneyland there is the Matterhorn, but in the Magic Kingdom there is not. We thought they just didn't have it until we made it to Animal Kingdom and found it under the name "Expedition Everest." There was hardly any line at all when we found it and I think we rode it probably four or five times in a row in different seating. The lines were so short that we actually were able to choose which part of the coaster we wanted to sit in: front, middle, or back. Front was definitely the best! I highly recommend this ride, though the seats are a little worn down! It was a blast!


Recap:

Spend more time at the Animal Kingdom than anywhere else. While there is only really one ride with any gumption in it, the animals are fascinating and it is a nice shake up from theme parks to walking tours.

Epcot was cool for all the food choices and different cultures, but after you "walk around the world" you kind of get over it pretty quickly. One notable ride: Mission Space.

Hollywood Studios is on its way out - I doubt it will be there for much longer. There simply isn't anything to do, really, other than the Tower of Terror which was pretty cool.

Magic Kingdom really should be visited before any big ride parks like Universal or Six Flags. The rides were all really boring (of course they were, they're for children!) and anti-climactic. Fun for nostalgia and I would have loved to have eaten with Beauty and the Beast, but you need to reserve a table WELL in advance for that (like 6+ months.)

Overall, it was fun, but as adults, we really could have spent a single day there and then gone elsewhere to get our proper thrills on the big rides. Remember, this is a review for adults by adults. Kids will have an absolute ball, so make sure you taken them to at least Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom - just bring snacks!