Walt Disney World

After deciding that we didn't get enough vacations while being a professor, we may have gone a little overboard trying to catch up. In mid-December we fulfilled Linda's long term wish by going to Disney World.

We stayed at the Grand Floridian. This hotel was (obviously) inspired by the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego--Victoria and Albert restaurant in the East versus Prince of Wales in the West, for example--but don't look for this observation in the Disney brochures.

It is one stop on the Monorail from Magic Kingdom, which is something Linda and I always wanted to do when we were young. One highlight was riding up front with the train operator.

P.S. Since I took lots of pictures and add lots of URLs, I highlighted the best photos and lowlighted somewhat-related URLs,  if you don't want to look at all of them.

We went to Pleasure Island on Sunday night, which is adult area with dance clubs and comedy clubs. One fun tradition is that they celebrate New Year's Eve every night.

We were pleased to see that Improv played a major role, as the Comedy Warehouse was one of the most popular spots. We even detected a bit of envy from the other performance groups, as the Improv players didn't need to rehearse or even write their own bits: "Give me a place; give me a situation; give me a punch line".

Monday we went to Magic Kingdom.  It looked like we picked the right time of year, as no line was longer than 10 minutes.

Linda went shopping while I went on Splash Mountain. Fortunately I brought my Gortex rain jacket, as it lived up to its name and soaked everyone else in the boat. (Did I mention that the temperature dropped into the low 60s? ) Briar Rabbit was the theme of this ride, which brought back memories to me.

Linda went on everything else, including Alien Encounter, which had a clever format. Alien's discover Earth and their firm XS  (pronounced "Excess") Technology try to transport things through space and time with "disastrous" results for the audience. It was entertaining and a built-in cautionary tale about technology. In contrast, the Carosel of Progress was dedicated to all the great things that technology brings us.

There was a new Toontown area, which had cartoon homes with Minnie's sewing room and Mickey's closet. Linda got into the mood, too.

We even went on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, but we noticed that Pirates have become much more civilized in the last few years. Instead of stealing women, pirates now bid on brides.

Linda got a guide book for adults going to WDW, and we were able to eat at the good places and go on the good rides without too much planning. (Although Linda claims her left arm is a little longer due to me pulling her around in the morning.)

Tuesday was Animal Kingdom day. We started with brunch at the Rainforest Cafe, which included animatronic big game surrounding the tables that would periodically start moving and making noise. We also had a few tropical storms, complete with rain and lightening.

I was really looking forward to the Kilimanjaro Safari, as my Dad, brother and I considered going to Africa earlier this year but got scared away by the warnings at the Center for Disease Control.  We saw giraffes, antelopes, strange birds, and wildebeests. But frankly, we were a little far from the animals, and its probably not as good as the Heart of Africa Walk at San Diego Wild Animal Park.

We really enjoyed Nimanjaro Falls trail, formerly called Gorilla Falls. We saw a female who had born nine childern, as well as the recovering father. Down the trail was the tip of the iceberg of a Nile Hippopotamus, but the next photo shows why the Greeks named them the River Horse.

Dinoland had a Dinosaur Jubilee, which offered the most Unusual Candidate for a Christmas Card.

In the middle of the kingdom is the Tree of Life. Forty-feet wide and 180- feet tall, this tree is the closest object to a work of art that I have seen at Disney. The trunk of the tree is covered with hidden animals. If you look very carefully, on one side you can see a sea horse, eagle, seal, camel, alligator, and spider; around the corner is a rat, horse, beaver, squid, fish, cockatoo, tropical fish, quail, dungenous crab, salmon, pit viper, and lion. In some sense it is an animal version of the Monolith of the Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo in Norway.

Perhaps our favorite attraction was "It's Tough to Be A Bug," found inside the Tree. Staring the characters of "A Bug's Life", the designers used 3D movies and animatronics like other rides, but added output devices in the chairs that blew air, moved things under your feet and chair, and even offered strange smells.

But undoubtedly the most fun was at the Ring Tailed Lemur site in the Oasis, sometimes (inaccurately) called Ring Tailed Monkeys. Linda's nickname for our son Mike is Hedgehog, and Mike's nickname for Linda is Lemur. At first the Lemur's were playing together and ignored the people staring at them. Linda had earlier purchased a stuffed lemur toy, and when she brought it out the lemurs either recognized the lemur aspects of Linda's personality or spied the stuffed lemur. The Disney "cast member" (as they are called) was very surprised by their behavior. We thought it was because the toy looked like a baby lemur and they were showing parental concern--assuming it wasn't Linda. The guide said these were bachelor lemurs who were territorial and considered the stuffed lemur (or lemur Linda) a threat. They became agitated, and began trying to jump out of their area. The "CM" asked Linda to put the toy away, as she didn't want them learn to attack the tourists.

Wednesday we went to Epcot.  Although we got three 45 minutes after it opened, the lines were short, mostly because the foreign tourists all headed for the silver dome ("Spaceship Earth") that is in all the commercials. Its a C-ticket ride on an E-ticket scale, but kept the lines down for the rest of us.

Its divided into Future World and World Showcase.

The most imaginative attraction in Future World was the Universe of Energy. It starts off as a movie theater with Ellen Degeneres learning about energy sources (solar, wind, hydro, natural gas, petroleum, and so on). In the middle of a Jeopardy dream sequence, the theater divides into sections, shuffles itself single file, and then turns it into an amusement ride! After you get through ride, it reforms into a movie theater, and the 45-minute event is over. I never expected to see a movie theater transform itself into a ride.

We noticed a tension in the messages, depending on the pavilion. For example, the Circle of Life attraction bemoans the damage to the environment via dams and artificial lakes, while the Universe of Energy notes that hydroelectric power supplies 10% of the power in the US and it doesn't pollute. (By the way, WDW includes a giant artificial lake, as does the World Showcase.)

World Showcase is populated with the Disney samples of Canada, France, Morocco, America, Italy, Japan, Germany, China, and Mexico. I drank a 32 ounce Beck's in a Biergarten in "Germany" and then a pint of Guinness at the Rose and Thorn Pub in "England" just two hours later. The World Showcase shops has souvenirs from the (real) home countries, and everyone who worked there was born in the homeland. This was my favorite shopping.

It also typically had the Disney version of the most famous landmark from each country: France's Eiffel Tower, China's Forbidden City, Italy's San Marcos Piazza, Norway's Gol Stave Church, German bell towers, and so on. For example, which is the real Campanile:
Door #1? Door #2? or Door #3?

Finally, on the way to the airport we visited the Town of Celebration. This town is on Disney property in WDW, and looks like it is targeted at 8000 homes and apartments when full size. Disney owns the land and places controls on colors, but you own the house. (They had California prices, and you don't even get to own the land.)

They were large houses, 4000-5000 square feet, and most had white picket fences. It looked something like Mayberry from the Andy Griffith Show. There is a small downtown, a school, an artificial lake, and a community center. I'm sure they get lots of jokes about Pleasantville and Stepford Wives, but apparently lots of people want to live there.


They've only developed about 10% to 20% of the land they own so far in Orlando, so I expect them to keep expanding WDW for the next 50 years. They aren't exactly under the law of the State of Florida--Walt negotiated that before he agreed to develop the land--and Disney employees 100,000 people, so they have carte blanche. For example, Animal Kingdom was terraformed from swamp land by 60 dump truck loads of a soil everyday for two years. Its hard to imagine what they couldn't do if they wanted to.

It was a little unsettling to see that Disney people would tour places that people liked and then make a Disneyfied-version of it at WDW: landmarks, savannas, hotels, restaurants, towns, and so on. Its almost as if Walt believed people can't afford to travel, so he brought the world to them, after cleaning it up a bit first.

As long as Disney/ABC/ESPN remains a small portion of the entertainment options, who can complain? We enjoyed it; if you don't like it, don't go. But if Disney becomes a much larger part our future, then you get this vague feeling that somehow this won't all be for the best.

(By the way, the answer is Door #2; Disney's is #1, and Berkeley's is #3.)