Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Animal Kingdom: The Best Themed Park of the Walt Disney World Resort

Walt Disney's Animal Kingdom is, in a way, the outcast of the four parks that make up the Walt Disney World Resort. It has the shortest hours, the least amount of attractions and is the newest of the four, thus giving it the most to prove. Being young, it's without that "legacy" the others can brag about.

But what it lacks in attractions, hours, and age, it makes up for in theming. The other three parks are okay when it comes to theming: Epcot with its World Showcase, Hollywood Studios with its Sunset Boulevard and the Magic Kingdom with just about ever land within its boundaries. But nothing can really compare to what imagineer Joe Rohde did with Walt Disney Worlds largest park, square-acreage-wise.

Being the newest park has its advantages, which is clearly seen in the detail of almost every square foot in the park. Walking up to the entrance gate, if you look down, you will notice the pattern of a tree. Walking through the gates and onto Discovery Island, you'll notice the hidden animal exhibits that hint to new guests at what they are about to experience. Then, once on Discovery Island, you'll notice the gigantic Tree of Life, which with its sheer size is impressive from a distance, but with its intricately detailed roots, is even more impressive from close up.

Go through the queues of Expedition Everest and Kali River Rapids in Asia, and you'll be wowed with the amazing features that surround you and set up the story you'll fully experience once on board the attraction.

Expedition Everest takes you through what feels like a classic Nepalise courtyard, then takes you through what  a small, home made-feeling museum dedicated to the Yeti you're about to encounter. With its sculptures, displays, artifacts and interactive features such as the bells that can be heard ringing throughout the queue, the whole experience perfectly frames the main feature of the roller coaster and almost outshines the brief ride you're about to experience.

Almost the same thing can be said about Kali River Rapids. The queue is amazing, with its different areas setting up the whole story behind the ride. With it's fallen, Asian themed statues at the forefront of the queue, accompanied by the sound of chainsaws roaring in the distance, the clash of history and destruction theme is set up. Then you walk through its gorgeously themed queue, with a big statue of an cat greeting you, looking to be thousands of years old. There are the Bollywood posters, the old plates, the colorful chandeliers, the cobra fountain and the carpeted ceilings.

The amazing theming of the Tree of Life
Walk around Asia and you'll see the roads, marked with bicycle tracks, the boats packed, ready to sail down the river to trade. The Quick Service food stations meant to look like authentic huts or mobile vendor and are splendid.

Head over to Africa and all the shops and restaurants are housed in what looks to be an authentic African village. And unlike Frontierland and Adventureland in the Magic Kingdom, that's all you can see. There's nothing to distract from the story the imagnineers created for you.

And of course there's the Tree of Life. With it's hundreds of animals cleverly carved into the roots and trunk of the enormous tree, it epitomizes amazing theming.

With all this, one of the aforementioned faults of Disney's Animal Kingdom is really one of its strengths: its young age. It was built in a more modern age, with more resources available, and thus it feels like a newer, better, more shiny thing.

Next time, when you're walking around Dinoland, Africa, Asia or Discovery island, take a couple of minutes to observe the excellent theming of Walt Disney's World's youngest parks, and appreciate the most well themed, and possibly most "Disney" of the parks at Disney World.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Mickey and His Magical New Space

"Where's that place with Mickey and Minnie's houses where you can meet them and stuff?"

That's a question I frequently get, still, even though the Magic Kingdom's Toontown shut down mid-February. It's always a great opportunity to make some type of economy-related joke about Mickey losing his house, though a huge void has been left ever since: an official place to meet Mickey. It gave Mr. Mouse a great opportunity to dust off some outfits in his wardrobe, such as his colonial garb for his meet and greets in the Hall of President's lobby, and his farm-attire when he was near Splash Mountain. 

When you experience an event as monumental as meeting "The Mouse that Started It All,"having it happen behind Space Mountain, or under Splash  just lacks that extra special feeling. The location has a lot to do with it, it's kind of like realty, except less boring. 

No longer is Mickey a transient mouse, as his new meet-and-greet spot officially opened in exposition hall on April 1. Many new features are included in Mickey's new space, such as interactive art and the first ever Fastpass option for meeting a character. My frequent observation has shown that the Princesses always have a longer line than Mickey, which I find a little odd as meeting them is not as essential to a trip to Disney World. I guess that justifies, only a little bit, why it was decided to tear out a classic attraction in "Snow White's Scary Adventure" to make room for essentially a room to meet the princesses. 

We're a very cute trio
When I went to go visit Mickey in his new space, the stand-by wait time was posted as only being 10  minutes, so I waited, checking out the interactive art and queue overall being pretty underwhelmed with the whole queue experience. Mostly, with the queue, there was just a ton of red-velvet rope, and a couple pictures here and there. If there was an actual wait, it would have been a pretty boring time. And a closer examination of the interactive art revealed that some of the components of the image were pixelated. Pixelation is one of my biggest pet-peeves, it's almost the epitome of lack of attention to detail.  

Once inside Magician Mickey's dressing room, I also felt like it was lacking something. Maybe it was just too small, but I'll get off the negative train at this station. 

I did greatly enjoy all the innuendo's and references to Disney classic that occupied the space in Magician Mickey's dressing room. From the punny titles of the books laying around, to Madame Leota's crystal ball sitting on the shelf, glowing and making noise, to the notes posted on the bulletin board, a high level of attention to detail was paid on the whole room. A lot of it was what I feel is essential "Disney," a mixture of clever wit and magic. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Boo! The new Haunted Mansion Queue

I've talked about my admiration of the classic Haunted Mansion attraction before, how I love it's mixture of campy fun, great storytelling and Disney magic.

Generally, when I talk about how I love just about anything Disney Parks, I'm talking about the Disneyland version. Well, lucky for me, Liberty Square's Haunted Mansion was built at just about the same time as New Orleans Square's, and the attractions are virtually the same. I may go as far as to say the World's version is slightly better, with it's haunted stair case scene. Now that it has the new hitchhiking ghosts and interactive queue, it's almost definitely the superior of the two manors.

Yesterday, I finally had some time off from my job at the Magic Kingdom, so what did I do? I went back to the Magic Kingdom. They've been getting quite the array of new features, so it made the most sense to go back to the place I spend 40+ hours a week.

First off, I went to visit Magician Mickey. More on that later.

Then, I went over to Liberty Square to visit the Haunted Mansion. Along with half the park.

One of the criticisms of the new interactive queue is that there's hardly anyone ever in the queue for the Mansion, seeing as it has an omnimover system, thus resulting in an extremely high rider capacity. Not the day I went. The stand-by wait time was posted at 50 minutes, which I ignored, because as the future often proves, it was a little exaggerated.

The Captain
Once I got up to the new and exciting features I came to, I was surprised to find that it was an optional part of the line. You could either go through and experience the new features, or go straight into the foyer and then the stretching room. I obviously didn't do the former.

What I found in the interactive queue was great. The touch-and-play instruments, the misty organ, the bookcase and the interactive poetry were great. Also, Madam Leota's living tombstone was very creepy, and thus fantastic.

My only negatives words on the subject would be that it was really more of an area than a queue. It was nice seeing everything in one fell swoop, but it would have been nice to see it while I was actually waiting in line, like "Space Mountain's: and "Soarin's" games. There was a tone of boring, chain-linked queue as a predecessor to the interactive part that could have been livened up.

Then, there was the other part of the Haunted Mansion that I came for, at the exact opposite end of the attraction: the new hitchhiking ghosts. I'll get to the point: they're amazing. I've always pantomimed petting or elbowing the previous, static hitchhiking ghosts, and now they do the same (kind of) thing to me! I went on a tour of the mansion twice, and I was a little annoyed that both times I got the bearded ghost, who both times put his beard on my face. The other ghosts seem to switch the heads of the guests it sits in between, and I don't know what the third one did. But it was cool, whatever it did.

People were raving about both the queue and the new hitchhiking ghosts, both seeming to be a huge hit. I though the imagineers did a great job enhancing a classic without changing it too much and respecting its legacy.

Have you been in the new queue or been in the company of a new hitchhiking ghost? How was your experience?