It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these things. I wonder if I still know how. That, of course, assumes that I knew how in the first place. And not that our trip reports were a collection of random anecdotes, rants, and thoughts–and very little reporting on our actual trip–which were all basically scrolled over as most “readers” skipped from photo to photo of the actual trip. I’ve mentioned this a few times on Facebook and Twitter, and perhaps even here on the blog, but trip reports were put on indefinite hold due to increases in traffic and strains the trip reports were causing on the server. I think I’ve found a workable solution to this problem, but since I know next to nothing about backend website stuff, there’s a good chance that I’ve solved nothing.
The solution (assuming it works) is making the website more light-weight, and focusing solely on the best photos from our trip, which means fewer photos, but also higher quality ones. (Sorry.) If you were able to load this page on the first try, call me ‘Zuck. If it took multiple tries and the images are displaying as red Xs, keep calling me Tom.
We’ve skipped a few trips between our last trip report and this one on our most recent trip from December 2012, and the biggest reason for this is because the December 2012 trip was a short 3 day trip, so a “test” trip report for it shouldn’t be too difficult. Ideally, I’d like to write trip reports for all of the trips we’ve skipped (especially Disneyland Paris), but I don’t know if that will happen. For now, here’s our December 2012 Walt Disney World trip report.
Obviously the trip started out at the airport, and each visit to the airport includes a trip to McDonald’s. It goes without saying that I had a feast of royal proportions there. This would be the first of many incredible feasts of the day. The rest of the airport experience was relatively mundane. Luckily, our flight was a nice, direct shot on AirTran, so we were to Orlando within a few hours.
Once there, our first stop was at the Disney’s Magical Express desk to make reservations for the service. This trip was sort of last minute, so we hadn’t even made our DME reservations until we got to that desk. Until last year, I didn’t even know this was possible. I always thought you had to call in advance. It was great to learn that you don’t, as we never check bags on our way to Florida anymore, so there’s no advantage (i.e. luggage tags) to calling in advance.
Our ride to BoardWalk Inn, our resort at Walt Disney World, was surprisingly short. Normally, like clockwork it seems, we are the second to last stop when using Disney’s Magical Express. It doesn’t matter where we stay, that’s the second to last stop. Better than the last, I suppose. This time, we were the second stop! We celebrated with a glorious feast of peppermint cupcakes at BoardWalk Bakery. I’ve mentioned in the past that this is the best cupcake at Walt Disney World, and it definitely lived up to that reputation.
We also met Lenise of Kingdom Camera Rentals there, who brought me some toys for me to test on the trip. I’ve already written a thorough review of Kingdom Camera Rentals, but the tl;dr of that review was that Kingdom Camera Rentals offers great service at affordable prices (but I recommend staying away from renting “cheap” lenses like the 50mm f/1.8, as the economics of doing so simply don’t make sense).
After acquiring the camera gear and our glorious feast, we were off to the Magic Kingdom for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. It’s our favorite seasonal event at Walt Disney World, so we were pretty excited. Even though there have been no significant changes to the party (besides price increases) in years.
Although our preferred method of getting to the Magic Kingdom from Boardwalk is by walking through Epcot and taking the monorail, that meant we’d have to go to renew our Annual Passes along the way, and we didn’t really want to mess with that. Instead, we took a bus, which was surprisingly efficient.
We arrived at the Magic Kingdom about an hour and a half before the party started, and immediately made our way back to New Fantasyland. It was Sarah’s first time being back in the land and my first time seeing the completed land (besides the Mine Train), and we were both impressed with its surface beauty. It was definitely a fun land to wander, despite being packed with people. We had important business at Gaston’s Tavern, so we didn’t spend too much time wandering.
There, we ordered a Pork Shank, LeFou’s Brew, and Cinnamon Roll. The Pork Shank looked like a glorious tribute to carnivores. LeFou’s Brew also looked good, despite our opting not to get the stylish princess chalice. Too bad they didn’t get the Chappelle’s Show route and call it a pimp cup. If night clubs end up coming to Disney Springs, I really hope they capitalize on the colossal demand and sell these cups with booze and a sticker of Lil John on them.
The Cinnamon Roll, on the other hand, looked like it had been sitting around all day. As did the second one we were given after Sarah told the Cast Member the first one was cold and seemed old. Our experience with Cinnamon Rolls at Walt Disney World continues to be poor, and I’m convinced that even if we were to have a good Cinnamon Roll, it wouldn’t live up to the hype. LeFou’s Brew and the Pork Shank both exceeded the hype, fortunately. (You can read more about Gaston’s in our review.)
We decided to stop at Pinocchio Village Haus for another glorious feast when we saw that the upstairs balcony was not only open, but had open seats! We had never eaten up there, and this seemed like just as good of a reason as any for another meal. We ordered the relatively new flatbreads while here, and thought they were an excellent improvement upon the previous menu. (You can read our full Pinocchio Village Haus review here.)
There was still a bit of time before the party started, so we decided to start the night out with a relaxing nighttime ride on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover. Although we don’t keep official stats on this sort of thing, I can say without a doubt that this was the attraction we experienced most in 2012. Not only do we enjoy the ride, but it’s relaxing and never has a line, which is pretty much our perfect combination.
After this, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party had started, so we headed off to enjoy the festivities. First stop was Woody’s Round-up dance party at the Diamond Horseshoe. I wouldn’t necessarily describe the scene there are hoppin’, but there were a lot of kids bustin’ moves on the dance floor to some trendy music. To demonstrate my street cred to these kids, I pulled out my Santa Goofy hat from Disneyland Paris, and started doing some serious dancing. I wasn’t paying attention to the reactions of everyone else in the Diamond Horseshoe, but I can only assume that everyone turned their attention to me and was looking on with great envy. Or, they were wondering, “who is this idiot in the Goofy hat that looks like he is having a seizure on the dance floor?”
From there, we wandered back toward Cinderella Castle, picking up some cookies and hot chocolate along the way, then watching the first Celebrate the Season. After that, it was time to secure our spot for the parade. For the past 4 years, we’ve always watched the parade from the same spot. It’s an excellent spot that used to not require too much waiting to secure since it “appeared” at the last minute. It still is easier to snag than other spots, but it doesn’t “appear” the same way. We got here about 30 minutes before the parade (which was a decent amount of time compared to how long we normally wait), but this was fine since it meant getting to hear 30 minutes of the excellent Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party Loop. As I shared in our Disney music article, this is my favorite Christmas BGM loop.
Much like sitting on the TTA while listening to the BGM and seeing the neon at night, sitting on Main Street while watching the festivities of Christmas and listening to that excellent loop is one of the ultimate laid back Walt Disney World experiences. As I sat there listening to the music and gazing off at the Castle, I was overcome with great joy. That is, until total chaos broke out. What I can only describe as a “stomp off” began occurring all around me. I problem sound like a surly curmudgeon, but this noise that interrupted the excellent ambiance of Main Street during the Christmas Party really got under my skin.
To quote one of my favorite movies, Network, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” (Fair warning, as this is going to be a bit of a rant that rambles all over the place and is largely unrelated to this trip report. If uninterested, resume reading below the next photo.) This is just one of several “cheap tricks” Disney has pulled recently that I find questionable. In this case, the cheap trick isn’t quite as irritating as others. Here, it seems that this “stomp the yard” style entertainment was thoughtlessly added to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party to appeal to a teen demographic that is eluding Disney. A similar stomp group was added to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party this year for seemingly the same purpose.
The other, more irritating, moves to which I alluded involve merchandising. These products were going to receive some attention in this trip report, and that attention might as well occur now. There are two categories of this merchandise: pop culture slogans (characters sharing their relationship statuses on shirts, Mickey saying “sup bro,” etc.) and merchandise emblazoned with Walt Disney and featuring throw-away quotes of his. In the former case, the merchandise is a cheap cash grab that will undoubtedly appeal to a younger audience. Many people probably see no issue with this, as Disney is, after all “a business.” However, this assumes that any business endeavor that will be profitable should be undertaken. I won’t bother listing the countless morally reprehensible business endeavors that most people have too much integrity for.
This merchandise is hardly morally reprehensible, but it does lack integrity. These characters were created with care; their likenesses are the result of the sweat and passion of artists who toiled to create something that would resonate with the public. These characters have continued to resonate with the public because others at Disney over the course of decades have safeguarded those characters. People in the company understood this, and it’s one of reasons the ill-advised direct-to-video machine was shut down a few years ago. Slapping a popular character onto or into anything profitable is an easy way to make a quick buck, but doing so compromises the character’s integrity and has long term ramifications, even if it temporarily makes them “relevant to a younger generation.” Simply put, it’s not the right thing to do. Same goes for the stuff featuring Walt Disney’s likeness and quotes. Walt Disney was a real person–the man who built the Walt Disney Company. Yet this merchandise reduces him to caricature of a man or a character with some simple catchphrases. To me, that’s not right. But, as my Facebook feed suggests, there’s nothing more inspirational than a Walt quote, so why not make some money off of the popularity of the quotes, right?!
This is the unfortunate result of a short term profiteering mentality that is endemic in American culture and business. People don’t care about the ramifications of their actions so long as there’s a buck to be made in the immediate future. Those in charge care about short term profits above all else, and often have little interest in the product that is being pushed to make that money. Their legacy in a certain place doesn’t matter to them, and they won’t be embarrassed in twenty years to say things “thrived” under them as a result of tacky merchandise or half-baked products. Heck, they probably won’t even remember why it thrived under them beyond the business theory and “acumen” they demonstrated during their “leadership.”
This is not to say that Disney should have someone like Eisner at the top who was passionate about and micro-managed just about everything. It’s unreasonable to have those high in power have a personal interest in (or even full grasp over the minutiae of) every aspect of their companies. But they should have the courage to delegate responsibility to individuals who are not only savvy business people, but also passionate advocates of the heart of their division. A cold, calculating executive is just as bad for a company’s long term prosperity as a directionless creative is for its fiscal health.
I mentioned above that this mentality has permeated American culture. Perhaps the best illustration would be made by taking a step back from theme parks and looking at how it has affected a different area of the entertainment industry. I recently read an interview with Allison Janney, who played C.J. on “The West Wing.” She commented that it was disheartening and the beginning of the end for “The West Wing” once “The Bachelor” started beating it in ratings. I’ve never seen “The Bachelor,” but I’m comfortable with the statement that, like all reality TV, it’s garbage. Even if “The Bachelor” is a guilty pleasure of yours, I suspect most of you will concede that it doesn’t come close to measuring up to “The West Wing.” Yet reality TV has proliferated because it’s much cheaper to produce than scripted dramas (I suppose most reality TV also falls into the category of “scripted drama,” but you know what I mean) and audiences eat it up. Network taught us of the dangers of this mentality in TV programming way back in the 1970s, but we haven’t heeded its warnings. It’s easier, a safer bet, and more profitable to make reality TV than quality, scripted dramas. Decision-makers in network programming are more concerned with short term profitability and ratings than integrity and their legacies, and thus we end up with the “safe” pick, in the form of another season of “Honey Boo Boo” or “Big Brother.” I’d hazard a guess that twenty years from now, the executive who made the decision to green light those shows won’t be proudly boasting of that move, but the folks at AMC who fought for their ‘little network’ to bet big on “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” and “The Walking Dead” will all still proudly talk about their involvement with those programs. I’d hazard another guess that the long term profitability of each one of those shows (thanks to merchandising, syndication, downloads, etc.) will be far greater than “Honey Boo Boo.”
I wonder, how will those currently running Walt Disney World reflect upon their decisions in a couple of decades? Will they be at D23 round-tables speaking with zeal and passion (like many of the 1970s and 1980s-era executives now do) about the Resort complex they ran, or will they be four jobs down the road, with Disney being but a distant memory to them? I ask because it seems as if a lot of the decisions made in the management of Walt Disney World are being made by consulting spreadsheets and without much of an idea of what the “heart” of the Resort is.
I’m aware that this might sound snobby or taking something as “simple” as Disney too seriously. I’m not suggesting the only forms of entertainment be high art, and I don’t begrudge those who like the above-mentioned merchandise, watch reality TV, or partake in any number of things I don’t like. There are things I reluctantly enjoy that I know aren’t of the highest quality. My issue isn’t so much with the occasional consumption of these things so much as it is with the constant production of them at the expense of better alternatives. (I’m aware that the former does lead to the latter, although I think it’s a bit of a chicken/egg scenario; Walt Disney famously didn’t give consumers what they wanted, but instead produced things so spectacular that he changed peoples ways of thinking about what they wanted. I’d argue that to a certain degree, AMC has done the same thing with scripted dramas.) As for taking Disney too seriously, well, I do regularly write a Disney blog and I do consider theme parks to be an art form, so I don’t think impassioned critique of them is taking them any more seriously than I normally do. I realize some (most) people don’t take them as seriously as I do, and that’s fine. We each have our own level of interest.
To tie this back into the topic at hand, at a time when the Walt Disney Company has a greater financial health than it ever has in its history, I’d like to see the Company place a similar emphasis on long term creative health and integrity. Thanks to passionate folks within many areas of the Company, there is a great amount of creative health and integrity in some divisions, but it would be great to see that same health in theme parks, especially at Walt Disney World, where it has appeared for the past few years that many decisions are made without real regard for the integrity of the cohesive product, and more about milking the Resort for short term financial gains or to squeeze out more and more profit.
In the specific context of these hard ticket parties, that means improving and updating the parties each year, and adding new entertainment that fits the overall tone and experience of the parties, not just something that will inch the party toward being more appealing to an underperforming target demographic, without regard for how that addition fits the party.
Since you had to put up with that lengthy rant, here is a series of uninterrupted parade photos from both parades:
After this first parade, we went about our business at the party, next watching the new Celebrate the Magic castle projection show. This show was absolutely awesome, and such a substantial improvement upon the Magic, the Memories, and You. It was almost like a scaled back version of Disney Dreams, the nighttime show at Disneyland Paris. It had the same montage-style storyline, it just lacked the special effects of Disney Dreams and I don’t think it was quite as long. I’m a bit surprised that there hasn’t been more praise for this show, as it is easily one of the best additions to Walt Disney World for 2012. We were both very, very impressed with it. Personally, I wouldn’t mind if this show became a bit longer, had some special effects added (water jets, fire, and more fireworks) and replaced Wishes entirely. Fireworks are nice, but a unique show with all sorts of elements seems to be more up Disney’s alley as far as entertainment goes. Unfortunately, the sky was a nasty, orange color during most of the show, so most of my photos of the show are lousy. Oh well, I’m really looking forward to seeing and photographing it next time we visit!
We then watched Holiday Wishes!, A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas, and Celebrate the Season before heading back to our spot for the parade again. We really enjoy each of these things (Holiday Wishes! is my favorite Magic Kingdom fireworks show), but they are all unchanged since last year, so there’s no point in reviewing them anew. After all, I don’t offer in depth reviews of PeterPan’s Flight each time we ride it. Next year, we might have to try a different spot for one running of the parade, but I like this spot so much that I don’t even know if it’s worth bothering.
We were done with everything party-related we wanted to accomplish after the parade, so we decided to wander around a little. We were again drawn to the dance party in Diamond Horseshoe for some reason, and we again stood around and watched people (very few at this point) dance. I did bust a couple of moves this time, and I think Jessie was quite taken with my performance. Sarah is lucky that we got out of there quickly!
From here, we slowly made our way back to New Fantasyland. By the time we got there, it was around 11:30, so we slowly made our way through the Little Mermaid dark ride queue as I took a few photos before boarding the attraction. At this point we still hadn’t experienced Be Our Guest Restaurant, so I’ll save my longer review of New Fantasyland until Day 2 of this report. For now, I’ll just say that we were very impressed by the exterior of Mermaid dark ride and its queue. The ride was the same as in California Adventure, which is to say enjoyable, but nothing special.
As we left the park, heavy fog was just starting to roll in, which was very reminiscent of our time in Disneyland Paris. After dealing with thick fog for several days in Paris, I was really looking forward to having clear nighttime skies in Florida. The fog actually didn’t bother me too much in Florida; it’s not as common there and gave everything a peaceful and serene look that seems fitting for Christmas photos. You know, with that whole “not a creature was stirring” thing going on.
Stay tuned for Day 2…
For full size versions of most of the photos in this trip report, check out the last few pages of our Magic Kingdom Photo Gallery.
What are your thoughts on the “integrity/long term strategy” rant, or anything else in this trip report? We love to hear from readers of these trip reports, so please share your thoughts in the comments!
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