February 26, 2016

Our WDW Christmas Adventure Part III: The Magic Kingdom

Here’s an oxymoron that will make me look ‘moronic’: The Magic Kingdom is my least favorite park in WDW, but the one I found myself in for a good chunk of time! Now before you click out of here, let me explain. It takes me 5 ½ hours to fly from Hawaii to Los Angeles, while it’s a day’s worth of travel (including 2 stopovers) to Orlando. Now, MK is roughly 25% bigger than its Anaheim counterpart, but it certainly doesn’t offer 25% more in terms of sheer entertainment and fun. In fact, MK often feels like Disneyland’s poor stepsister with its truncated versions of Pirates and Small World. The railroad doesn’t have the classic Primeval/Grand Canyon dioramas, and there is no Matterhorn or Indiana Jones ride in sight. Other than the additions to Fantasyland, I can experience pretty much the same thing in LA, which being closer, is therefore more accessible. So when we plan our rare trips to WDW, the other parks have a higher priority rating.

Gaston's fountain takes on an even more evil appearance
with the glow of light against the night.

So how did we end up in MK so much? There is of course the aforementioned new Fantasyland. Be Our Guest Restaurant, Gaston’s Tavern, and the Seven Dwarves Mine Train are definitely worth a look.

Beautiful but perhaps uninspired eats.

I found the food at Be Our Guest disappointing. My wife had the Braised Pork while I opted for the Carved Turkey Sandwich, both tasting rather bland and uninspired. I’m not sure if we would have fared better at dinner, but reservations were nigh impossible to obtain. But in terms of sheer creative artistry, Be Our Guest ranks near the top of Disney accomplishments. If you’re headed to MK, you owe it to yourself to at least check out this place, but keep expectations minimal when it comes to the chow.

Roughly the size of a barge.

The pork shank is out at Gaston’s, but the other star attraction, LeFou’s Brew, is still served by truckloads to thirsty customers in want of a cool drink. Stay away from the souvenir mug which doubles the price (unless you’re into cup collecting). As mentioned in my Universal write-up, I give the edge to Disney’s drink over the similar Harry Potter Butter Beer due to less sweetness. Both have an ice cold, frosty texture that reminds me of a Slurpee (Icee for you older folks) at its brain freezing best.

The latest attraction to headline Fantasyland is the Seven Dwarves Mine Train ride. It’s curious hybrid of dark ride/moderate roller coaster tries appealing to the widest demographics possible. This “jack of all trades” approach ends up handicapping mine train. The dark scenes are relatively short and the thrill aspect…well, let’s just say it won’t keep Universal suits up late at night. Mine Train maybe indicative of where the future of Disney rides are headed. The traditional, slow moving attractions (ala The Little Mermaid) seem to be falling out of favor with today’s generation more accustomed to fast paced and intense thrills.

The cutest of reindeers.

Another big thing that kept pulling us back to MK was Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (we bought tickets to two separate nights). The jury is still out on whether it’s worth the admission price ($70.00 each for us), but it really depends on what you value as entertainment. If a Christmas parade with snow, “free treats”, and holiday performances ranks high on the list, then this hard ticket event is right up your alley. The parade is well produced, and viewing it on Main Street with the falling snow is a photographer’s dream. I would have preferred stronger musical numbers, but that’s just me nitpicking (you can catch the parade for free during the last couple of weeks before Christmas, but I’m sure the crowds are horrendous). The cookies and hot chocolate were surprisingly tasty and pick up stations were ample throughout the park. I caught VoicePlay – an A capellal group singing holiday melodies in Tomorrowland. While clearly geared toward a younger crowd, I enjoyed their harmonizing and vocal talent. One night was clearly not enough for us to cover everything, but I did spend two and a half hours securing a spot to shoot the parade, so this really applies to camera crazy people…LOL!

But perhaps the most compelling reason for me to spend so much time here is that Magic Kingdom is arguably the most photogenic of all four parks. Animal Kingdom gives MK a serious run for its money, but Main Street lit up at night, especially during Christmas, takes no prisoners. Let’s not even talk about Fantasyland with its embarrassing riches of two castles, King Arthur’s Carousel, and the European village styling of the entire area.

Monster of a good time!

Taking out the photography angle and easier access to Disneyland, MK would easily move up on my parks list. I just wish management would be a bit bolder in creative choices that gave MK its own unique identity. I understand Walt and Roy’s need to put in a Disneyland facsimile during WDW’s early years, but with the establishment of the other parks, it would be great to see MK delve into uncharted territory. Keep main staples like Cinderella’s Castle, Main Street, and key ride attractions, but how about Marc Davis’ Western River Expedition or maybe a totally new, original creation not dependent on licenses (I’m looking at you Avatar and Star Wars).

So there you have it, my take on the Magic Kingdom that’s both divisive and loving. But hey, don’t all things we’re passionate about exhibit this dual nature?

 I’ll be back with Part IV featuring Disney’s Hollywood Studios!
(Photographs copyright Len Yokoyama.)

Thanks, Len, for a great series. I know there's more to come.

On Monday, it's time for a detailed look at the powerhouse that is Beauty and the Beast. We'll look at the film and what it has meant for the theme parks (now and in the future!), stage, and even more of what's planned for this tale as old as time.


Chris said...

Interesting - is it that Hall of Presidents, Liberty Square, Country Bear Jamboree, PeopleMover, Carousel of Progress, Laugh Floor, and Stitch don't register as unique attractions/lands because they just fall off people's radars in general?

I agree that Magic Kingdom doesn't feel nearly as full of theme parky goodness as Disneyland, but after having grown up on the East Coast and visited Disneyland for the first time recently, I've learned to appreciate what Magic Kingdom DOES bring to the table - the hidden details, history, and back areas of Liberty Square and Caribbean Plaza, the much better laid out Tomorrowland, the sunken temple on the Jungle Cruise, the grand vistas of Frontierland/Big Thunder, the star tunnels of Space Mountain, and the thrill of the approach on the monorail.

Do I wish Magic Kingdom had an Indy, Matterhorn, and New Orleans Square? You bet. But the Magic Kingdom is definitely not a pale imitation of its predecessor - it has a lot of awesome on its own to offer.

Mark Taft said...

Good perspective Chris. I agree that the Magic Kingdom has a unique feel (as each ones do!), and there's much to love about it. Some people still think Anaheim has the best kingdom, and others see Paris or Hong Kong or soon Shanghai to be the best. It's easy to get used to your home park and not go anywhere else. I get Len's point, though. Some things in Florida do seem less impressive. But some are lesser in California too! :)

Thanks for reading!