Sunday, July 13, 2014

Top Ten Great Things About Disney World

In retaliation to my extremely negative (but amazingly cathardic) Top Ten Bad Behaviors at Disney World post, my amazing friend Kate over at The Suddenly Kate Show, suggested I do a "good" top ten list. Since I couldn't think of a single "good" thing another guest has ever done, I figured I'd better not go there. And, although I pretty much always have good experiences with CM's, they haven't been extraordinarily spectacular because I try really hard to keep any interaction I have to the bare necessities (the simple bear necessities). See? It's started already!

So instead, let's go with what's positive-a-lutely wonderful about Walt Disney World itself and I'll try to keep this one shorter (even if only a bit).

#10 - ME!
Yeah, of course an Asper would find a way to insert herself in a top 10 list about a completely different subject...please be patient, there is a method to my madness. I don't think by now (if you're a regular around here), you are surprised that my "real world" persona is sullen, extremely introverted, and the poster child for wallflower-dom. There are a couple of places I may slack off a bit on these traits; work or maybe a very close family member's house, but, unless I'm home (alone) I'm not truly comfortable in my surroundings and it ebbs from every pore and fiber of my being. I strive very hard not to be noticed and it's skill I've mastered (and am quite proud of). Next to work, Disney World is the closest exception to this rule. I still have those major wallflower moments at either location, but they are more like passing episodes as opposed to full-on mood makeovers. Work I can explain because I have been there, in one form or another, practically since birth (my Mother worked there when I was little and it was my first job at 16, although I left for a time and have been back almost 20 years now).

I can't begin to describe the magic that MUST be at Disney World to cause me to feel "acceptably comfortable" enough to let my freak flag fly. I can't even go to my local Wal-Mart by myself or without several days of gearing myself up for it, but I've been to Disney World three times alone (and will probably more in the future). And, not only that, but an event that rarely happens in the best of my public moments is almost constant at Disney, I'm actually happy! I smile, I laugh, I sing (although in extreme moderation and mostly slightly to myself). I rarely do that in the privacy of my own home! It's a change that is so drastic, even my travelling companions (or at least my sister...Kate's turn hasn't arrived) notice the change in me, aka it's a side effect rarely viewed by humans (no matter how close), only my puppies.

Granted, I might be more OCD and more hyper-aware of things than ever in Disney, but even that is an overtly different ballgame (although as annoying as ever to my sister, I'm sure she would concur). I still can't dress up for the Halloween party or even wear Mickey ears in the parks, but you can bet I might wear them on the drive home! If that's not a testament to the power of the House of Mouse, then nothing is! I would say they pipe Xanax into the water system, but I don't drink Florida water (with VERY good smells a very distinct swamp/outhouse odor). It's obviously not airborne either because the demon children still exist in large populations. Hence...MAGIC (although I do tend to pop more Xanax in Disney than in the "real world")!

#9 - Cast Members
I mentioned the old doorman at Wilderness Lodge in my WL Review HERE, and he's at the very top of my amazing CM list. I'd also have to include the CM who saved me from the absolutely horrible CM who was berating me for not getting my hand stamped for re-entry to the Magic Kingdom, long before the days of Park Hoppers. But like I said, I'm really not big on interaction, so I haven't had a ton of great CM experiences (unless I'm in need of being saved from something, which seems to happen more than you would think). But I have seen literally hundreds of them with other guests, so I know they exist.

I could never work for Disney (and not only because they pay crap and I hate people), but because I don't have the disposition for it...the first time a guest started treating me like dirt would be the end of my Disney career. Considering that Disney World is the single largest employer in the US, the fact that you really only encounter an average of one bad seed a day in WDW is definitely saying something! How they manage to find that many extraordinary people in the world who are, not only willing to go above and beyond every single day while getting treated like crap by guests, but willing to do it for barely above minimum wage (Disney is not known to pay their employees well), is a testament to the legacy that Walt left. There are even training courses and books on how to run your business the "Disney Way" because they are so good at customer service. Most CM's, be they active or former, still have a rose-colored glasses view of the Disney company (even if not of humanity in general).

#8 - Quality of service
To say that Disney spoils you for the rest of the world is an understatement. It's part of the reason why I suffer from post-Disney depression. Not once have I ever come home after a long day at work to find my bed made complete with towel animals and as Disney-themed as my house is, it's definitely not Disney Resort themed. I can never turn on my television at home and watch ten different channels on Disney Park Planning. Not once have I ever gone to a store at home, dropped tons of cash on absolute junk, and not only felt good about it, but never regretted one moment of it or even spent hours just staring at it. I can't eat at fabulously-themed restaurant three times a day at home. And it's a rare occurrence to go into a public bathroom at home and have the toilet flush for you (and this one could be the worse because I often almost forget to flush for months afterwards because I keep expecting it to do it for me).

Disney World is usually immaculately clean (unless some guest has just done a "dump and run", but if you stick around just a few minutes, it will get cleaned up). In the parks everything is freshly painted, there are no light bulbs burned out, no store shelves empty or junked up, friendly, courteous people are always there to great/help you if you need them, but they don't harass you if you don't (Sears could learn a thing or two about that).

But all that being said, you do get what you pay for in Disney, and the more you pay, the nicer they can be. I have been fortunate that my poor-self has been able to stay at deluxes more often than not thanks to the generosity of my family. I feel enough like a second class citizen in the real world, I'm terrified of feeling that way in Disney as well, so I just can't bring myself to stay in a value (although I have...for one night only and it wasn't as bad as I always imagined, but I wouldn't want to do it again for longer than a night). And I know it's all in my head, the CM's at the values are just as amazing as those as the deluxes (they have to be because they deal with more children). But perception is everything with me and I just hate trekking the extra hike to reach the value bus stops (the deluxes tend to be the first bus stops at every park or DTD). And I certainly can't stand the visual vulgarity that is a value. Don't get me started on the number of demons running around a value either!

#7 - Hidden gems
Disney goes to great pains to force you to look for things or to add those hidden gems that just plus everything so much. It's been a Disney tradition as long as Disney-time itself! The animators have always gone wherever the movie they are working on is set (be it the jungle, Scotland, Norway, etc) and drawn, taken pictures, studied the landscape in detail, mingled with the locals, and gathered as much information as they could. It's why Disney movies feel so authentic. The parks are no exception...if they are doing a ride set in Nepal, then off to Nepal they go, hi ho, hi ho. The bring back trinkets or take pictures and recreate them exactly to add to the attraction to make it feel authentic. The ride queue lines are often better than the actual ride because they are filled with these little touches. It's why they always tell you not just notice what is in front of you but look up, look down, look behind you, look every which way...there is always something to see! Look up at your local store and what do you see? Nada, nothing, zip, zilch. Now look up in any Disney store on property and what do you see? Here's an example:
same goes with restaurants:

And you should always look down, especially in the Magic Kingdom! Every single land has a different concrete pattern to match the theme or other little touches such as Maximus's foot prints around the Tangled-themed bathroom:
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You never know when the white-panted custodial CM's are gonna paint a picture with water on the ground either (and better catch it quick, it's disappears quite quickly in the Florida humidity!):
or around the resorts - the walkways around Wilderness Lodge being some of the's covered with "animal" tracks of all kinds:
chalk art around the backside of The Beach Club:

Don't forget to listen as well...depending on where you are and the theming of the area (no matter which park, resort, store, restaurant you are in), the background music changes to match the theming. It's why I love listening to Mouseworld Radio so much (and am at this very moment)! I get as much of a kick out of the BGM (background music) as the on-ride soundtracks!

The pinnacle of these Hidden Disney gems being Hidden Mickeys. There have been books written about them, legends in the Disney-verse itself about where they are or where they came from and even if they exist at all (which I can guarantee you they do).
They are in carpets all over the resorts:
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as well as bedding:
in fishtanks:
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in foliage:
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in the floor or ground:
on the walls and ceilings:
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in fireworks:
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on countertops, props, displays, even trashcans:
in food presentations:
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notice the butter:
(this was NOT done on purpose, but check out the grease spot):
Even in shadows!

then you also have Hidden Pascals (we've only ever found the one, but there are several):
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or my favorite, Hidden Donalds:
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(and the marble flooring at the Grand Floridian has dozens of other Disney characters embedded in them as well). I could literally post hundreds more of these and I never stop finding new ones to take pictures of every single trip.

Problem is, once you get pulled in by the Hidden Mickey bug, you will find yourself doing it in real life as well. I can find a Hidden Mickey just about anywhere at any time.
Okra at a buffet in Biloxi:
or my kitchen counter a few months ago (again, not on purpose):
Even my oldest, Zachary has one on his back:
Granted, I don't take pictures of all the ones I find in real life, that would be weird (yeah, right, like I'm not already weird)! I don't think my dentist would have approved of me taking a picture of the one I found on her countertop (although she was quite impressed I saw it right away, especially since they had been looking at it for years and never noticed it).

#6 - Resorts
Anyone who has ever stayed in a hotel/motel knows what they are like, bland, similar, and just basically a place to sleep. Disney resorts (called so because they are SO much more than a hotel/motel) are quite a different beast! You can stay in the Pacific Northwest at Wilderness Lodge, a Hawaiian Island in the Polynesian, the New Orleans French Quarter at Port Orleans French Quarter, a Mexican oasis at Coronado Springs, the African Savannah at Animal Kingdom Lodge, a New England Seaside village at either the Yacht or Beach Club, and the list goes on and on! Whatever strikes your fancy, guaranteed Disney can accomodate. The resorts can be as much of an attraction as the parks, all of them have their "backstories" and even some of them have their own resort tours. It's definitely NOT just a place to sleep!

Considering I've been doing resort reviews, I don't think there is much need to go too far in depth on this subject.

#5 - Perks for resort guests
The first thing I ALWAYS tell someone who is planning a Disney trip is to STAY ON SITE! Sure, I get hit back with the whole, "but it's so much cheaper to stay blaa and it's only five minutes away!". First off, yes, the room itself might be cheaper, but there are so many other ramifications to staying off site.

Staying off-site guarantees that you either drive your own vehicle down there, or if you fly, you have to rent a factor in the cost of the car rental or the cost of gas and maintenance on your personal vehicle. Then you have to factor in the $16 a day parking fee for Disney parking lots. Are you factoring in transportation time and gas to and from that "five minute" drive (it may be five minutes to the main gate, but there is NOTHING within five minutes of the main gate, so tack on another 10 to 50 to that), and are you factoring in that transportation and gas time back to your hotel? Are you factoring in the absolutely HORRIBLE Orlando traffic?

Now, have you thought about how you're going to get around inside the parks? Disney transportation is for resort guests only (although this is mightily abused, I have still seen bus drivers or boat operators ask to see your Key to the World card (or now it would be Magic Bands), and, if you don't have one, you aren't allowed on the transport). You can still ride the monorail from the TTC to Magic Kingdom or Epcot (although you technically aren't supposed to ride the resort monorail unless you have a dining reservation) and you can use the parking lot trams, but that's about it. Buses and boats (except those from the TTC to the Magic Kingdom) are off limits.

Have you factored how you are going to carry around your purchases all day? Sure, anyone can have their purchases delivered to the front of the park, but only before lunch if you want it to make it to the front by end of day. You can also rent lockers, but again, that's another $10 per day charge. Resort guests can just fill out a form and leave their packages at the store. Next day, they arrive at your resort gift shop were you just have to pick them up!

What's going to happen when the kids are having a mid-day meltdown and you need to go back to your hotel/motel for the afternoon? Are you gonna brave the traffic and the transportation time yet again for a 20 minute nap or an hour in the pool and then drudge yourself back to the parks yet again? Resort guests can handle it easily because Disney transportation has constant runs (every 15 minutes, or so they say) to the resorts and back again. Your 20 minute nap might cost you an hour on-site versus 3 hours off-site.

What about Extra Magic Hours? You could get to the parks an hour earlier or stay two hours later at night to make up for the three hours it took you to drive off-site for a mid-day break...oh, wait a're not a resort guest and therefore are not eligible for Extra Magic Hours! Boo for you!

Then there are the Disney vacation packages which include the dining plan (an incredible saver of money, especially when they offer free dining). Off-site guests have to pay out of pocket, or worse, have to eat off-site because the cost of Disney food is too much (although I have already covered in a previous review why technically it's not). Explain to the kiddies why you have to eat at Sizzler instead of having a meal with the Princesses...yeah, it would go over like a lead balloon.

The only way that staying off-site is beneficial is if you have a timeshare (which you can typically always swap for Disney DVC points and still be able to stay on site) or if you stay with relatives for free. Otherwise, you are not only wasting precious time and money in transportation, but you are wasting valuable park time (for which you also paid an arm and a leg for). No one has ever been able to give me figures of all these points totalled together that I couldn't come up with a Disney on-site stay that was cheaper (and many have tried). Most times, I just don't argue with them (and most of them have learned not to argue with me about it either).

#4 - Always something new to see
It never ceases to amaze me how every single year at Disney World is so different! Even last year, when I went in both October and December, those two trips couldn't have been more different if they were years apart. From decorations, to completed rehabs, to rides that might have been closed one year but open the next, to changes in landscaping and scenery (which happens often), nothing is ever the same in Disney World! Sure, you might see the same parade or fireworks every year for several years, but just stand in a different location to watch them and it's like looking at a different show.

Best of all, the merchandise ALWAYS changes and that's good for my little "habit"! I have bought little Donald plush magnets every single trip and each one of them, although from afar seem similar, are completely different...some have plastic eyes, some have different shades of blue for his shirt, some are more fuzzy and some are more plush.
(not a great picture, but here they are):

#3 - Rides and their queues
I have been to many an amusement park in my day, and NOTHING compares to Disney. Most places you just stand in line in the hot sun and wait for a ride which is over in 20 seconds. Disney queue lines are often times more interesting and fun than the rides themselves. You have a Yeti museum to walk through to ride Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom, a cemetery at the Haunted Mansion in Magic Kingdom, a space museum at Mission Space in Epcot, etc. Then, once the ride is over with, you get to walk through more theming (and, for most rides, a themed gift shop, but I never minded the stores). Some rides are a minute or two, others, like Universe of Energy, are 45 minutes long. The short rides tend to have more advanced queues to keep your interest up and to make the ride experience seem longer.

And it's not just the scenery, they add special lighting, sounds, and even emit smells to make the whole experience seem "real". You may be on a basic log flume ride, or a roller coaster, or even a run of the mill carnival ride that just goes in circles, but with the Disney touch, you are watching audioanimatronic Brer Rabbit escaping from Brer Fox and Brer Bear, or riding a super-stretch limo through the nighttime streets of L.A. to get to an Aerosmith concert, or flying with Dumbo and Timothy mouse. You can also ride through the burning ruins of Rome on Spaceship Earth, fly over a California orange grove on Soarin (one of my favorite Disney smells), dunk when a 3-D freshly baked apple pie comes flying at your head at Mickey's Philharmagic, or get the worse smell of your life when Stitch burps chili dog (with onions) in your face on Stitch's Great Escape.

In Animal Kingdom, you are not in a zoo (that used to be their motto...Nahtazu), you are in a wildlife refuge, or on an African safari, or riding rapids through Asia. You aren't just entering a theater to watch a 3-D bug show, you are worming your way around a giant tree hand-carved with thousands of animals (the theater is in the base of the tree). You don't just see dinosaur bones, audioanimatronic dinosaurs attack you! And the list goes on and on.

#2 - Shopping
There is nothing I love so much in the world as spending money on junk at Disney! I will buy just about anything from toys to pens to keychains to plush to notepads to blankets to shirts to figurines (from small to large, from plastic to glass to ceramic)...well, you get the point. And don't get me started on pins! I don't pin trade (because I'm selfish, they are mine once I buy them, and it's too social), but I do buy them enmass be they singles, bigs, or framed.

You can also buy items from the various countries in Epcot that actually come from those countries. You will not find a "Made in China" logo located on the back of a rug in Morocco or a Kimono in Japan (although you might on regular Disney merchandise).

Sure, I do the same at home when I run across Disney stuff in a store, but it just isn't the same. I've got every single DVD Disney has ever done, but I know exactly which ones were bought in Disney World versus the ones that came from Disney Movie Club or Wal-Mart. Disney World merchandise just has a "special" feel like nothing else and my all-time favorite collectibles have come from there. They have items that can be found no where else in the world.

I don't mind not having money the other 358 days out of the year as long as it means I can buy whatever I want for 7 or so days in Disney. It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make. Besides, it's not like I go anywhere during the rest of the year anyway, so it's not like I'm seriously depriving myself. It's a goal to work for...Disney spending money!

My upcoming trip will be my first trip with practically no spending money at all. It will definitely be a true test of my character to not buy every single thing that I see.

#1 - Food
As much as I love Disney shopping, my #1 will always be food. Any flavor you wish for, any theme you can think of, guarantee Disney has it! There are certain foods, from snacks to counter service to table service, that I literally think about and crave all year long. It's what makes them so worthwhile to get and I'm rarely disappointed (although it has happened). I live in the bible belt of the South so, unless you want hamburgers, about as ethnic as you're going to get is Mexican or Chinese or Pizza. That's what makes Epcot's Food & Wine Festival so amazing. I eat foods there I've never, nor will probably ever have again in my entire lifetime, all in one location!

Granted, not every restaurant we have eaten at has been good and some we will never try again (Wolfgang Puke's always comes to mind), but we do have our favorites. There have been things that become so popular they ebb into the "real world", like Ghirardelli's used to be such an amazing treat until they started carrying it at our local Target. It's still my favorite chocolate, but I don't eat it near as much now knowing I can drive a couple of miles and get it (I still think it tastes better when you buy it in Disney World).

Now that I've been losing my weight, I'm really curious to see how it's going to affect my Disney palate. It sort-of affected it last time when I couldn't eat as much as I wanted to (and I almost cried more than once when I couldn't finish my favorite dishes), but I think I can still enjoy it in moderation, I just have to approach it differently.

At least I haven't had to do my rush 30lb Disney weight loss to fit in my Disney vacation clothes (which are now way too big). Dieting has become a way of life for me now. I don't have to dread that whole starvation train/workout frenzy that I used to have to go through. I'm the thinnest I've ever been at Disney (or ever, for that matter). I'm even more curious to see if I have the usual foot problems this year that I always have (probably will since I still sit for most of my day).

But, anyway, there is my positive Disney list! Sorry about the length of this one, but blame it on the pictures...text-wise, it's much shorter than my guest diatribe!


Justine said...

Thanks for the photos of hidden Mickeys and Donalds. I'm sure the man sitting next to me on the train this morning spotted them all before I did. Get out of my personal space you creep!

Linda said...

Oh I so have to quit reading these reviews. I know I will never have the money to go there. Oh well, I'm still enjoying it thru your words and pictures. Thanks Keebles.