I recently took my family to Orlando's Walt Disney World, our first visit to the "House of the Mouse." For my two kids, this was certainly one of their trips of a lifetime, and they're itching to go back for more. The whole place is an incredibly impressive experience, and the Disney memory-making machine is certainly a well-oiled success. In 2010, almost 17 million people visited the Magic Kingdom alone; the company's worldwide parks and resorts generated a mammoth $11 billion in revenues in 2011. Big numbers aside, though, there were some areas where I left feeling a little disappointed. Here's why.
Food Fit for a Princess? Hardly.
I wasn't expecting gourmet food and knew that everything would be theme-park prices, but the food we had at both the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios was a huge letdown. We even tried dinner at the Animal Kingdom Lodge's more upscale Kidani restaurant and left feeling that even its more exotic menu was dumbed-down for mass consumption. Given the huge demand and global clientele, I think Disney's missing a trick in introducing bolder, more imaginative flavors to its theme-park fare. Yell at me all you like about tasting the food at Epcot, but why can't this be a resort-wide focus? Perhaps then I might feel less aggrieved at parting with $40 for lunch for a family of four.
This is more of a personal failing, but the Disney crowds took their toll on this family. We hit the parks at opening time each day, but by lunchtime it quickly became apparent that we needed to be more meticulous and ruthless in our planning. The lines were beginning to snake back into 60-minute wait territory, while just moving from ride to ride became an ordeal. These were rookie mistakes, no doubt, so pay heed to all the online advice and tips for ways to maximize your time in the parks. Take advantage, too, of the Disney FastPass program, but be strategic about where you're going to pull your "fast" one (as there's a time window on how often you can exercise the privilege). On the upside, though, heading back to our resort in the early afternoon meant we had lots more time to enjoy less-crowded amenities like pools and waterslides.
Mickey Doesn't Do Green?
Walt Disney World Resort has made a pledge to minimize "its overall impact on the environment as it encourages and inspires environmentally responsible behavior on the part of its Cast Members, Guests, and business partners," though from my perspective, this commitment was not easy to spot once you entered the resort campus. A fleet of over 270 buses, making it the third-largest transportation fleet in the state of Florida, racks up probably thousands of trips every day, yet not a single of these buses was running on clean fuel as far as I could see (I even asked one driver, who told me they'd experimented but it was too costly). Recycling bins were available throughout the parks we visited, but the recycling and other conservation efforts at our resort hotel seemed half-hearted at best. I don't consider myself an eco-warrior by any stretch, but I didn't leave Walt Disney World feeling inspired to take any environmentally responsible behavior.
Enough With the Lectures
Kids will be kids. They will also get cranky and require the guiding hand of a parent when tiredness or hunger hits, for example. During our visit to the Magic Kingdom, my son was beginning to act out under the glare of the midday heat, prompting my wife to give him a stern word to keep it together. At which point a passing Disney "cast" member had the nerve to tell her "not to spoil the magic and save it for when we got home." Talk about swallowing the company line (not to mention crossing a line). Walt Disney World's fabric of fantasy, magic, and imagination is an achievement of epic proportions—generating a gazillion smiles and happy memories around the globe each year—but I personally think it's OK to acknowledge the realities and wrinkles of everyday life wherever one may happen to be vacationing.
Photo Credit: Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom (Alistair Wearmouth)
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