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Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Magic of Disney

My wife and I had the chance to go to Walt Disney World a couple of weeks ago. I hadn't gone since 9th Grade, and my wife Karen hadn't gone at all. Going to Disney World as an adult is a different experience than it is as a kid, but its grandeur and overall fun wasn't diminished. I daresay, in fact, it was enhanced now that I'm old enough to look at it in a deeper and more appreciative light.

I loved the different parks; we got to go to the four main ones—Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios—and each had a magnificent and artfully designed layout, with rides fitting the various Disney titles. I've loved Space Mountain since I was a kid. I could go on it over and over again. Fortunately for us, it was the perfect time of year for lines. School had just started for all the kids, and we got to go on all our favorite rides twice. In Space Mountain's case we went three times.

Each ride at Disney World is a masterpiece. From the queue line to the pre-ride storyline to the ride itself and even the cast members operating it, the moment you step on you feel like you've gone into a different world. On the Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios,  for example, the ride appears to be an immense, old-fashioned hotel. From outside you can see the hotel's neon sign, partially obscured by a charred lightning strike, and flickering ominously. The queue line on the outside is decorated around by overgrown hedges, and on the inside appears to be a snapshot into the lobby of a 1930's hotel lobby, wreathed in cobwebs. Before the ride is a brief synopsis of an accident that supposedly happened in the hotel years earlier that left the elevators damaged and dangerous, delivered by The Twilight Zone's Rod Serling through a television set seemingly powered by its own accord. The line continues into the dank boiler room of the hotel, where you board an old-fashioned elevator. The cast members are dressed in perfect 1930's bellhop costumes, and as you board the elevator they say something like "This elevator will take you up to your room... your bags will be up shortly. If you need anything, just scream."
The ride afterwards uses a masterful presentation of Pepper's Ghost images, sound effects and animatronics, and then of course is the intense dropping and bouncing of the elevator itself. After the ride, you exit through the gift shop, still keeping the "cobwebbed, ancient hotel" motif.

I was impressed with every ride I went on. Disney doesn't just make sure their rides are a top-notch experience. I was impressed at how clean the parks were; I found that the park staff (called "cast members") were for the most part agreeable and friendly, clean-cut, and professional in dress and appearance. I didn't see any with a beard or a tattoo. They made sure to appear approachable and helpful.

At the end of each day at a park, the park had a special presentation with fireworks and lights. They were all not only spectacular, but inspiring. They talked about the things that the Disney movies taught us as kids—that big things start with a tiny wish, that we're all human beings, and the power of our imagination. In the Magic Kingdom presentation, my wife started to get emotional and cry. She was embarassed about it, but I told her "Karen, look around you. There are grown men here with Mickey Mouse ears on." Everyone goes to Disney World because it makes you feel like a kid. Stepping into the park seems to erase any problems you had with hugging giant Disney characters you know are just costumes with strangers inside of them, or riding a ride based on a kids' movie.

I am certain that Walt Disney must be going to a good place in the Hereafter. His morals were posted around the park. "If you can dream it, you can do it," and "The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing. The Disney parks around the world are an example of what can be done with teamwork, imagination, and perseverance. All of these things combined beautifully to literally make a new world, and an experience that was, for my wife and me, a blissful escape from reality.

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