By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orcas – 1/26/18

I went to Disney World last week. I hadn’t been there in nearly 30 years. I hadn’t planned to go back, but I am so glad I did.

With limited vacation time and disposable income, I day dream about hiking our National Parks and motorcycling rugged roads in wolf country, far more that I think about spending serious money to stand in lines at a theme park.

I was invited to accompany my girlfriend and her daughter on a trip to Disney World this week. Personally, I was excited to go to Disney and see the park as a caring chaperone if you will. Making sure that we got to minimize the time spent standing in lines or paying too much for a slice of pizza or water. However something happened on the trip that took me off guard. It was completely unexpected. I had a REALLY good time.

I wont bore you with the details of what rides and characters we saw. We did a lot though! It’s enough to know that we stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and went to Animal Kingdom, The Magic Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios over three days, in that order.

From the beginning I was mentally prepared for a struggle. Too many people, long bus rides, long lines for rides and meeting the characters for photo ops and autographs.  It’s possible I had such a good time because I was prepared for the worst, but I don’t think so. Immediately I started to realize what an incredible place Disney is for the infrastructure alone. The parks, entertainment, hotels, bus system, monorail, dining options, live animals, the recreations of entire Disney Worlds, etc. It’s an enormous undertaking and everything runs smoothly. The staff is excellent. Everybody is smiling and kind. It’s relaxing even.

Of course you are aware of the underlying piles of money being made at every turn, but I think Disney’s greatest achievement is that they keep you more captivated by the imagination of the place than by the cost.  They do this in two ways.  The first is the use of swipe cards or bracelets to help you buy things. Using the bracelets to charge everything you do and pay at the end of your trip in one bill keeps your attention on what your there for, making children smile and imagining the potential that their young lives can have.

The inspirational words of Walt Disney are all over the park. His creations and dreams are on display. It’s truly inspiring.

The second way they keep you engaged is the engineering. The place is filled with people. The people produce a lot if trash, take up a lot of space, are generally pretty poorly behaved (adults pushing kids out of the way to meet Buzz Lightyear etc.) and creating log jams of people too often. Disney has an excellent staff and a terrific plan in place to minimize all of this. One of the best examples are how they have constructed “museums” to walk through while you wait in line. The Peter Pan ride had a 35 minute wait when we stepped in line. Which is pretty fast for Disney, without a Fast Past. However, you aren’t just standing in some line waiting for 35 minutes. As you and all the other people advance along in the cue, you are winding through Peter Pan inspired paintings, set decorations, interactive shadow walls, and a literal Tinkerbell light production that appears to zip around the room, in and out of doll houses, and into jewelry boxes. The 35 minutes goes by pretty quickly and then you are seated on the ride itself. The entire park is like this. Well thought out and well run.

I was also particularly impressed with Rafiki’s Island in Animal Kingdom. You take a train past the large animal night time homes, over some water, and land in a very interesting conservation hall. It houses reptiles and the like to look at as you get a real sense for what an avid conversationalist Walt Disney was. You are reminded of all the nature documentaries Disney produces and the money they have put towards the protecting environment and building conservation though education young people. One of the most important things a person can do.

Finally, the fireworks show on the Magic Kingdom Castle is the icing on the cake. I knew all along that the point of this trip was to provide assistance to a young persons experience for her first trip to Disney World. The fireworks show is two 15 minute displays that support a choreographed video production that is projected on to the castle itself. It’s as impressive a show as I have seen. The kids love it and the one I was with actually couldn’t contain how great it was, yelling out “I love this place! I love this place” while pumping her arms in joy.

Disney succeeds in making the park a celebration of our imagination. I hadn’t been there in nearly thirty years, but by the time the fireworks show ended, I was reminded about my own aspirations and imagination. It’s hard to put a price on an experience like that.

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