Thursday, October 18, 2012

10-18-12 The Magic Kingdoms: Walt Disney World v. Disneyland

For more than a decade, we've been going to Walt Disney World (WDW) and have gotten to know most of the tips, tricks, and shortcuts that make the most of our time across four different parks on property that stretches more than 40 square miles and over 30,000 acres.

Somehow, the 300 acres of Disneyland still kicked my butt.

I'd always marveled that people would take a vacation to Florida in any other time than "deep" winter (as deep as that can get in Florida -- it means you don't get into the 90s) because I knew I would be so miserable.

Well, as it turns out, October in California isn't Florida in December, either. "Unseasonably warm!" as the locals kept saying, was no comfort either. It hit 98°. And that's not taking into account the fact that you are packed on concrete and asphalt with the masses, making it much, much hotter than the ambient temperature of Anaheim.

We tend to walk between 7 and 12 miles every day at the parks, at the parks when they open and often until they close, sometimes 14 hours a day. The longest day we ever put in found us at park opening at 7:00 and closing down the park at 2:00 the next morning, but we took an afternoon break at the hotel to survive that. This is not for the faint of heart or weak of legs. You will get tired, you will be sore, and you will wonder around day three if your feet can actually fall off. Doing this in oppressive heat makes it much, much more difficult.

Ok, so Disney doesn't control the weather. It still impacted our impressions of the place.

And, when you get down to it, as much charm as the original still holds in some ways, in the win/lose column, WDW is miles ahead.

To wit:

Disneyland does not have a line for people who are not carrying bags to bypass the "bag check" line. Sunday morning, thanks to a charity walk that delayed both park openings until 10:00 the lines through bag check stretched to Terra Haute.  A cast member shouting (yes, shouting) at us in the lines was asked by the gentleman behind me (after we'd had a conversation about this stupidity) why there wasn't a line for people without bags. "We don't have a line like that, sir" was the answer. Brilliant answer to a "why" question, shouting cast member. Have a magical day! (Only the train conductor said this anywhere in DL. We found it strange. "Have a magical day" is the greeting from every CM at WDW, every time.)

Disneyland cast members were just... civil. Disney World cast members can be scarily cheerful, and always, always friendly and helpful. If they can't help you, they find someone who can. We ran into more shrugs and dead looks on this trip. I don't ever remember this happening once at WDW. Again, maybe the heat makes a difference. But the contrast is sharp. We had tried to hit the Mickey line several times to take a picture but missed him each time. They'd closed the lines out for breaks or swapped out characters every time we tried to pin him down. Finally, as we were walking out of the park yesterday for the very last time, on the way to the hotel and then the airport, there he was, with about 7 people waiting in line. When we tried to join the back of the line, we were told by his handler "No more on this line. He'll be back at 2:30" and when we explained we had to leave, this was the last chance we had, we were on the way out to catch out flight,  and had tried several other times? Could we please take 10 seconds to snap a family photo behind the last lady in line? Shrug. "He'll be back at 2:30". yeah. That pretty much sums up the treatment by the CMs at Disneyland this trip.  Not impressed.

Disneyland, because of space constrictions, does not have the ability to queue up massive amounts of people indoors. The lines snake again and again under the hot sun with little shade. I got cranky. A lot.

Disneyland offers two parks to WDW's four, so there really is no accurate comparison except between the two Magic Kingdoms.

Points to DL's MK:

Pirates of the Caribbean -- definitely better version here, although I'm still trying to understand the concept of a secret portal that takes us out of the Louisiana bayou and down to the Caribbean. Once in the caverns, you actually have many more rooms and story to envision. I do like WDW indoor queue instead of the outdoor one at DL, but this is so often a walk-on, that's not as much of an issue here.

Space Mountain wins out at DL, too. The ride is smoother, probably because of the double wide ride. At WDW riders are in single file, bobsled style. Since we were there in October, the DL version also sports a haunted ghost overlay that isn't done at WDW. They could have ramped this up considerably to make it truly scary. If you're going to throw in a bloody eyeball and some ghost skeleton on fire, go all the way. But it was fun to see the halloween touches.

The Columbia: it's a magnificent ship. WDW only has a steamboat, but no ship.

Fantasmic: the nighttime show plays at DL in the Magic Kingdom and at WDW Studios. The DL version debuted four years before WDW, where they had to build a stadium in order to stage the show. A couple of factors tip the hand to the DL version, most notably, the dragon.

DL is on the left, WDW on the right:

And then there's the issue of the steamboat.
The actual Mark Twain at DL, versus the... Mickey Mouse one:

And, of course, Eisner wanted to push Pocahontas when the show started up in Florida, so you get stuck with them instead of Peter Pan and the big Tick Tock Croc:

The stadium, however, does offer easier seating. We knew the prime spaces would be hot property. They've cut the showings down to weekends only, when the park is already overcrowded. We intentionally chose the second show, since people start camping out for a spot near the railing hours before the first show. For the second, you merely need to be ready to pop in as the first crowd clears out. In fact, we discovered CMs not all on the same page for this, either. They told everyone they needed to clean out the space first, and then one started letting a group come on in anyway. You should have seen the stampede to throw down a blanket and claim a place on the ground. Then, you sit. On the concrete. And wait. Or, if you didn't get your butt to the concrete in time, you get stuck in the stand-and-wait section. At least in the Studios stadium, everybody gets to sit on tiered benches and can see the show in some comfort. So the edge goes only slightly to DL.

Oh, and the Matterhorn Bobsleds. WDW doesn't have them. And if you've never ridden Expedition Everest at WDW's Animal Kingdom, you might find the little Yeti here... cute.


And that's pretty much it for DL advantages. Splash Mountain in DL is bobsled single-file riding, which means the log is faster and you get much, much wetter. Soaked to the bone wetter is not pleasant to walk around doing anything else in the parks. They've also stuck Winnie the Pooh in the back 40 of something they call "Critter Country" next to Splash Mountain instead of in Fantasyland where, and maybe this is just me, a fictional group of stuffed animals in a child' nursery, actually might be more at home.

In Frontierland, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad coaster is a draw between the two parks -- both versions are fun and very similar, but the queue space is better at WDW. They did have a good Mexican food place here to rival Pecos Bill's joint. But that's about the extent of Frontierland in DL since they relegated Splash Mountain back into Critter Country.

In New Orleans Square you hit up the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean (again, what?) The Haunted Mansion in DL gets a special Halloween overlay of Nightmare before Christmas which actually takes away from the charm of the ride.

In DL's Fantasyland you still have some of the old school animatronics that either never were or are long gone at WDW: Snow White, Pinnochio, Alice in Wonderland, and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride are all very simple and aged ride throughs with scenes from the movies, but they were also very poorly attended. Disneyland may have the angle of nostalgia that allows them to keep such simpler, less popular rides around. Dumbo and Peter Pan are the stalwarts that have held up to the test of time, but the new version at WDW of Dumbo may not be far behind for DL.

The Peter Pan ride had some differences, and Sam and I both thought their use of the stars in the lighting was better. But the ride is much jerkier and the loading is painfully slower because of the lack of conveyor belt. If you don't hit this ride the moment the park opens, plan to stand for an hour to ride for 2 minutes. We queued up after the fireworks one night, which closes down Fantasyland and waited for it to open to get on the ride in less than 10 minutes. The last morning we were there, the only thing we hadn't ridden on our list was Dumbo (also very slow and very popular) so we waited in the masses for the rope to drop to get into Fantasyland. Every other person in the hoard was trying to get to Pan. We rode Dumbo first thing with one other group and lots of empty elephants. It's a Small World is longer at DL, which isn't necessarily a good thing. You get on that ride with room after room of dolls singing that infernal song in an endless loop and the world seems much, much larger than it should be.

In Tomorrowland, they've got Star Tours here, which has a home at Disney Studios in Florida. Both versions have been revamped and are loads of fun, although I'm prone to motion sickness on these kinds of ride simulators so I pay for it an hour afterwards. Stupid inner ear. They've also got Finding Nemo, a submarine ride that took the place of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea which WDW does not yet have. That was fun, but the queue in the midday sun with a few umbrellas put up to try and prevent as many cases of heat stroke would have done us in, were it not for the brilliant move on Disney's part to have a cast member selling frozen lemonade to people stuck in line who would sell their souls for something cold. We didn't partake of Captain EO, so I can't comment on Michael Jackson's contribution to DL when he was still relatively black.

In Adventureland, one of the longest lines every time we passed by was for a Dole Whip. Some poor sap probably thought he was waiting on line for a ride only to discover he'd been waiting an hour for $5 soft serve ice cream with pineapple. The Jungle Cruise had a queue that could go up into a second story of the building, unlike WDW. The jokes were just as corny and the ride very similar. No Aladdin carpets in DL. Instead of the Swiss Family treehouse, you get Tarzan's here. Adventureland has always held the least amount of interest for me in either park.

Edited to add: The Indiana Jones Ride has been down for months, so it might add a lot, if it weren't closed a quarter of the year...

DL has Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and a single animatronic president.  WDW has Hall of Presidents and currently 44 of them, all moving around and fidgeting during roll call.

And then, of course, we can't leave out the comparison of the castles.

It's a good thing it's an inanimate object or Sam and I would have given the DL castle a complex. Every time we saw it we looked at and said, "It's so small!"

Sleeping Beauty's Castle versus Cinderella's:

Charming versus Spectacular

I think the next time, and probably any other time, we're going for spectacular.


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