Walt Disney World
2007 Magic Kingdom Photo Tour
I spent the second day of my Walt Disney World vacation in the Magic Kingdom. Because I spend so much time at Disneyland (visiting at least three or four times a day since long before I was born), I expected there to be little of interest, but boy was I wrong! I arrived just in time to see the incredible opening celebration during which a Magic Kingdom Railroad train arrives filled with Disney executives, who give a brief, investor-inspiring rundown of current corporate issues before cutting the ribbon that officially opens the park for the day. It's hard to express in words the energy in the air as literally thousands of people stand, tensed to run to Splash Mountain, praying that the corporate spindoctoring will just hurry up and end.
I think I took more photos in the Magic Kingdom than I did in any of the other parks, but I'll let you judge for yourself.
Having never been to the Magic Kingdom before, the first thing I wanted to do was take a look at Cinderella's Castle and see how it compared to Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland. I have to admit that the Magic Kingdom's castle is superior to Disneyland's in many ways. For example, it's larger, it's more spectacular, and it has room inside for a restaurant, shops, several guest rooms, timeshare units, the park security office, and the "royal chamber" that was used for the ceremonial settling of in-company disputes during the Eisner era.
My big disappointment, though, was the castle's location. As you can see in the picture, the area around Cinderella's Castle is heavily developed. It is crowded by trees and buildings, really disrupting its otherwise beautiful appearance. Someone needs to get in there with a wrecking ball and tree trimmer and give this beautiful structure some space.
The Magic Kingdom's Main Street is truly a shopper's paradise. All the little buildings that give Main Street it's old-time feeling -- such as the fire house, movie theater, and penny arcade -- have been transformed into shops for the convenience of guests. Even the horse-drawn carriage that once transported guests has been turned into a mobile churro cart, bringing tasty treats up and down the street, accompanied by the smell of freshly washed horse.
The photo here is of hand-made fudge from the Main Street candy store -- try the fresh-dipped chocolate-covered double-chocolate chocolate mints!
From the Main Street train station you have a great view of the park's entrance, including the Monorail. One thing I noticed immediately is that the Monorail at Disney World is not broken up into separate trains, but instead has an endless length of cars that constantly circle the track. That means never having to wait for a monorail to arrive -- it's always already there!
Climbing a little higher, I was able to take this great photo of the train going by below. All of the trains at the Magic Kingdom are original steam trains, built by hand by Walt and Roy Disney during their spare time while shopping for land in Florida on which to build their new resort. The only change that has been made over the years is that the highly polluting coal-fired steam engines have been removed. The trains are now 100% electric.
I hopped on the train and rode around to the Toontown Fair station. The Magic Kingdom's Toontown Faire is entirely different than Disneyland's Toontown. Instead of having a meet-and-greet in Mickey Mouse's house, Toontown Fare has a meet-and-greet in Mickey's summer home. Other attractions are similarly unique.
After looking around Toontown Feire, I hopped back on the train. I could have walked to Fantasyland if I so desired, but in that the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland is just the old Disneyland Fantasyland that was removed in the 1980s, I had seen it all back when I was in grade school.
While riding the train, I was able to catch a glimpse "behind the scenes" in a number of places. Here, for example, is a service van I caught sight of through the bushes behind Tomorrowland. My guess is that it belongs to the company that cleans sweaty cast-member costumes.
Many years ago, this "barker bird" stood outside of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, enticing guests into the ride by singing parrot versions of pirate tunes ("Sixteen birds in a dead bird's cage, yo ho ho and a box of crackers") and lewdly asking buxom women to bring it rum. Today it stands in front of the Tiki Room Under New Management -- one of the many Disney birds that participated in the beloved attraction's hostile takeover and ruination.
Some Magic Kingdom attractions are very different from their Disneyland counterparts. The queue for Pirates of the Caribbean, for example, is an incredibly detailed pirate castle dungeon -- much more appropriate to the attraction's theme than Disneyland's mosquito-infested swamp scene.
In this particular room in the dungeon, a pair of skeletons play checkers. Checker experts assure me that the checkers are arranged such that, if a permanent marker was used to draw lines connecting them, the checker board would be ruined.
This scene was modified slightly after the release of the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Observant guests will notice the subtle nod to the film -- a lantern much like the one that can be just barely seen in the film in the background hanging from a hook on the Black Pearl. Other references to the Pirates films may exist in the attraction's queue, but the lantern is the only one I spotted.
The Pirates attraction itself is also much more elaborate than its counterpart in Anaheim. The scenes are more numerous and intricate, the drops are longer and steeper, and water fills the entire attraction floor instead of just the trough in which ride vehicles travel.
Recently, several attraction scenes were modified to include characters from the Pirates movies. For example, this animatronic pirate captain appears to be a skeleton when moonlight shines on him (as it always does within the attraction).
A few years ago, management concern about "political correctness" lead to a decision to stop using real gunfire within Pirates. Although Disneyland's Pirates reinstated live gunfire not long ago (if only in the scene where pirates are fighting off a group of submerged hippos), the Magic Kingdom version still relies on less-effective recorded sounds.
The Jungle Cruise is another original Disneyland attraction that exists in enhanced form in the Magic Kingdom. Much of the attraction is the same as it is in Disneyland, but several exciting, extensive scenes have been added. For example, this Jungle Cruise includes a tour through an ancient sunken temple (the photo shows a Jungle Cruise boat entering the structure) where tigers, snakes, and other high school football team mascots can be seen.
One disappointment -- when I visited the backside of water was down for refurbishment, so we only got to see the front side of the falls.
Although the Florida Jungle Cruise is longer, not all of the additions are particularly effective. Some of the animals are far from realistic -- this elephant, for example, is a little too cartoonish, and his twin (across the water on the other side, not pictured) is no better.
Again, these animatronic crocodiles are not nearly as realistic as they should be. Their snouts don't look particularly crocodilian, and they almost don't move at all. And if they were really crocodiles, some would be in the water, looking for easy prey and "handouts." And why the heck would a crocodile let another crocodile use it as a tail rest? Seriously, Disney should be able to do better than this.
I'm sure you can tell that, despite its flaws, I love the Jungle Cruise -- that's why I took so many pictures on it -- and the reason I love it it is scenes like this. This "trashing the camp" scene is well done, realistic, and exciting (and, if you look carefully and don't let yourself be too distracted by the crazy gorillas, you might be able to spot a traditional Disney cartoon character!)
The Magic Kingdom doesn't have Disneyland's Indiana Jones attraction, but I was very excited to see this construction wall advertising an Indy-themed addition to Adventureland. Although Disney is being very secretive about this attraction, rumor has it that guests will board vehicles and help "Indy" race against evil archaeologists, ancient spirits, and creepy Nazis (including "Adolph" Hitler) to rescue a mysterious box from a gigantic warehouse. Sounds fun to me!
Big Thunder Mountain is one of the most popular attractions at the Magic Kingdom, but most riders probably don't know that it's also an incredible feat of engineering. Walt Disney World has always tried to be a leader in "green" technology, which is why Big Thunder was designed to attract lightning and then store nature's own electricity to power the attraction! That's right -- Big Thunder uses no traditional power whatsoever!
When I rode Big Thunder, I did my best to drink in the attraction's excellent theming instead of just enjoying the speed and sharp turns. By doing so I was able to appreciate the fabulous views of the park afforded by the height of the ride's track. For example, isn't this view of Tomorrowland (with Main Street beyond) breathtaking? Where else in the Magic Kingdom can you find a view like that?
True confessions here -- I didn't ride Splash Mountain. The fact of the matter is, I hate getting wet and besides, I forgot to bring changes of clothes into the park with me (as most tour guides recommend).
Another reason I avoided Splash was that, as you can see in this photo, the attraction's main drop sends riders plunging directly into the river -- the same river that's frequented by filthy ducks and oily riverboats, to the point that its once-clear water is now a sickly, unnatural green. Can you blame me for not wanting to plunge into the sludge at 60 miles per hour?
Now, I don't blame anyone who enjoys this kind of thing -- I just hope you got your shots before coming to the park.
Ah, the Country Bear Jamboree. I've loved this attraction since I was a wee child, watching it with bright eyes in its original home at Disneyland. I loved the seasonal overlays (Christmas Hoedown, Summer Splash, Maul in May, etc.), but the original was always my favorite, and that was what was in store at the Magic Kingdom. I swear, every time I hear Henry sing "Achy, Breaky Show" I end up rolling on the floor in laughter (and, more often than not, getting thrown out for it -- I almost never get to see the end of the performance).
After the show I went next door to Big Al's Toy Barn -- the perfect place to pick up a Country Bear-themed gift for the kids!
It's hard to miss the Rivers of America, connecting Frontierland and Liberty Square, so I didn't! There are many ways to enjoy the river, but I chose the riverboat as it was the least likely to get me soaked. Look at all the great pictures I got!
What's this? A settler's cabin on fire!!!
No, not really. This unburnable cabin is just the home to a bunch of natural-gas burners and Disney special effects (or so I learned after throwing my water bottle into the flames from the boat in an attempt to put it out).
The Magic Kingdom's Tom Sawyer Island is actually two islands connected by a rope bridge. Some people mistakenly call this Tom "Sawyer's" Island, but that's a silly mistake guaranteed to get you laughed at by any true Disney geek. Sadly, even Sam Clemens, a crew member on the riverboat, gets the name wrong. The guy should try reading a book once and a while. What a moron.
Tom Sawyer's Island is also home to an intricate labyrinth of caves, just ripe for exploring, ditching parents, or surviving a Cuba-based nuclear missile attack. There are many surprises waiting for young adventurers in these caves, including hidden treasure, mysterious fossils, and eerie lights. But watch out for bats and mice!
The Island also serves as the base for Fort Fanghoot, a traditional wild-west fort constructed from traditional Florida swamp logs.
Within the fort, guests can peer through windows to see cast members acting out scenes of common day-to-day fort activities. Although I found their acting to be a bit stiff, the experience was still quite educational.
Young guests who are not so interested in being educated can climb up stairs in any of the fort's four towers and man the weapons! Here, children can push a button to "fire" (via recording) a cannon at passing boats, natives, ducks, and mothers with sleeping babies in arms.
It's very popular with the kids!
Liberty Square is adjacent to (and about 5% the size of) Frontierland. It is the home of two of the Magic Kingdom's most technologically advanced attractions. The first of these attractions is the Hall of Presidents, in which robotic recreations of American Presidents (one from each of the 50 states) speak and move just as if they were the real thing. Unfortunately, to save cost, the animatronic figures are only scale models (photo shown at actual size).
Even more frightening than the Hall of Presidents is the Haunted Mansion. The mansion is a beautiful building, with creepy details inside and (as shown here) out. As you stand in the queue, keep an eye on the Leota tomb. It features an "inverted mask" illusion that makes it appear as if Leota's eyes are following you as you enter the attraction!
I honestly had no idea how popular churros were in Florida. When I visited, the line for the House of Churros was almost two hours long! Granted, a churro can last longer than some attractions that people regularly stand in line for hours to enjoy, but somehow I just can't see myself standing for 120 minutes just to eat a sugary fried stick. Anyone else with me on this? Anyone?
Space Mountain -- gigantic, majestic, futuristic. I walked all the way to Tomorrowland and forgot to go on it. Pathetic, eh?
Here's another difference between Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom -- Disneyland's Autopia has rails to keep the cars in their lanes, but the Magic Kingdom allows kids to drive as they please. And you know what? There are very few collisions or accidents. No, I can't believe it either. It must have something to do with the low quality of California drivers.
Here's another Disneyland classic that moved to Florida for a working retirement -- Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress. I took a lot of photos in this attraction (after asking permission, of course!) and hope to put them up later for your enjoyment. But for now let me just say that this robotic review of technology through the ages (from 1880 to 2000 in 20-year increments) is a real gem.
This photo shows the 1880 scene -- one of my favorites -- in which Pa is whittling a new leg for his daughter who lost hers when a date brought her too close to one of those "new fangled" steam engines. Classic!
Some people hate Stitch's Great Escape, others simply loathe it, and still others find it impossible to tolerate. Personally, I think it's kind of enjoyable. The concept (depicted in the pre-show) of teleporting a friendly-looking alien to its death is funny, and the in-seat special effects cured me of both my claustrophobia and my life-long addiction to chili dogs.
The newest Tomorrowland attraction is the Monsters, Inc. Death Floor. It seems that the monsters who used to generate power with human screams discovered that they can get ten times the power by killing a human outright, but that this slaughter necessitates a constant influx of new subjects -- and that's where you, the guest, come in!
The show is a technological marvel, featuring interaction between the audience and animated monsters in real time. I particularly liked the part where the monster stepped on a loose floorboard, causing the board to jump up and knock the monster's head clean off. What a laugh!
Having skipped breakfast and lunch, I was feeling a tad famished so I stopped in at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café to grab a snack. Ray has a wide variety of unrecognizable space food available (with fries), and diners are entertained by the animatronic stylings and wry mechanical humor of Sammy the Lipse (if I read the sign correctly; I can't remember his name).
Sammy is funny, but slightly insane in that he has a tendency to speak to "angels" that nobody can see but him. Now that I think of it, he's actually pretty creepy.
All of this exposure to excellent attractions got me interested in learning more about how the Magic Kingdom works its magic. After a couple of quick phone calls, I discovered that nobody was signed up for that day's Keys to the Kingdom tour (I also learned that this was such an improbably occurrence that I was probably making the whole thing up). The Keys tour allows a group of true Disney fans (in this case, just me) access to a variety of behind-the-scenes areas in the Magic Kingdom.
One of the first stops on the tour was the cast member costume department. We weren't allowed to take photographs in the back-stage areas, which explains why my photo of the costume department is blurry and looks like it was taken through a hole in my pocket. Not that I would do that.
Ever wonder what happened to the old Submarine Voyage attraction vehicles? Well, judging from what I saw in the Magic Kingdom's backwoods, they were stripped of decorations and just left for the swamp to reclaim. What a sad fate for such a wonderful attraction!
Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress is, as I mentioned above, one of my favorite attractions, so I was thrilled to get a chance to go below the spinning building and see the massive machinery that makes it all possible. My tour guide assured me that these gears were powerful enough to rip your arm right off without so much as stuttering. Talk about Disney magic!
Out last stop on the tour was a look inside one of the most spectacular feats of Disney Imagineering. We were actually able to stop Space Mountain for about ten minutes so that they could turn on the lights and let us see exactly how the whole thing is put together.
I had no idea that the attraction was so beautiful and colorful! It really makes you wonder why the heck they keep the lights off all the time.
Well, that's about it. I would have stayed longer at the Magic Kingdom, but it was nearly 8 p.m. and I still had to have dinner. With extra magic hours the park was only open until 1 a.m. -- leaving me barely enough time to grab a standby table at Tony's.
Even thought I arrived at park opening there just weren't enough hours in a day to experience everything this magical land has to offer (particularly when I had to spend all that time chatting with security after trying to take comprehensive park restroom photos).
My next day of vacation was spent at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Take a look!
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