Last week, I was at DisneyWorld.
Why? Because my kids have a week off in February and they love the place. Why else? Because I love the place.
There is, it seems to me, a sort of wide-eyed naiveté ascribed to folks who love that place in Orlando, and one which I think is incorrect. If you like theme and/or amusement parks, nobody does it better than Disney and nowhere that I have been is as good as DisneyWorld.
You may be able to find parks with bigger thrills or flashy new rides (not that Disney isn’t constantly offering something new), but there is an attention to detail and seeming desire to impress across the board about Disney that other parks fail to match. If you only go to DisneyWorld, you may be impressed by it, but it’s only when you go elsewhere that you can truly recognize the stark contrasts.
Twice in the past 18 months or so I have been to Hershey Park. I stayed at the nicer of their accommodations, and was truly wowed by the place, but the park itself is rather lackluster. Some of the tracks of the rollercoasters are great, but they lack the theming of a Disney ride. Travel on a rollercoaster at Hershey and you may love the flips, loops, ups and downs, and the rest, but you’re going to be staring out at the terribly bland park the entire time while you’re on the ride.
No, don’t think that’s irrelevant, it’s entirely the point. The best rides tell a story, they make you believe while you’re on the ride. Heck, the make you believe before you’re on the ride. Go to Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom at DisneyWorld and while you’re waiting on line before you board the coaster, you travel through a museum all about the Yeti, one which mixes Yeti myth with true facts about animals in the area around Everest. It is brilliant and sets the stage for what’s to come. More rides than not at Disney take such an approach, while at other parks it tends to be just a back-and-forth queue.
I don’t really want to single out other places and their issues too much, but give me one more. Take a look at the names of some of the coasters at Hershey: Comet, Fahrenheit, Sidewinder, SooperDooperLooper, and Skyrush to name a few. Sure, there’s a Cocoa Cruiser, but that’s where the chocolate references end. They are just coasters, popped down in the park because there’s space and a desire to add. Or that’s how it feels anyway. It wouldn’t take a lot to have renamed them to fit the Hershey mold or to gussy up the way they look either, but it’s not a priority there. The ride is enough for them, but it shouldn’t be (and many of the rides are exceptionally similar to things you can find elsewhere).
Imagine if, today, Disney just tossed down a coaster (any ride really) and didn’t bother to do more than have the track/cars exist. It’s unfathomable, and when the Imagineers are really doing their thing, you end up with brilliant interactive queues that allow kids (and adults) to play while they wait for their turn on the ride itself.
It isn’t just on the ride and on the line for the ride, either. It is an attention to detail throughout the park. Go by the new Dumbo ride in the Magic Kingdom and there are fake peanut shells cemented into the walkway. Animal Kingdom has fake animal prints all over the place. Even the hotels on property offer up such amusements.
Without a doubt, some of the rides and areas fall short on this – perhaps most notably the Aerosmith Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster line and the one for the Barnstormer. But those are the exception not the rule.
Then there are the people – surly employees are the extreme exception at Disney. In fact, everyone seems to go out of their way to make your experience better. The individuals working rides know how to actually manage the queue and the load and unload process. The same cannot be said of other parks, and the difference is a large one – when the employees know what they’re doing, they can get people on and off faster, greatly reducing wait times. The people working at a restaurant or elsewhere at Disney also seem to actually care about how you’re doing and offering up the best experience possible.
The thing is, that this is what happens even when there isn’t money at stake.
At Disney Hollywood Studios there is a Jedi Training show, where kids can sign up to be trained to use a lightsaber on a stage by the Star Tours ride. After a brief walkthrough of some moves, the kids get to “battle” Darth Vader. It is a show held multiple times every day and one which costs nothing for the participants over park admission.
Cynics out there may suggest that the reason Disney does everything so well (even the things they do for free) is to indoctrinate you, to brand you. After all, they are convincing you to buy their product whether it’s on TV, in a park, at the movies, in a store, or any one of who know how many other places.
When you go to Hershey or Six Flags or Universal, aren’t they all selling you on it the entire way? And, would you really want to go if they stopped caring about you the moment you ponied up the price of admission?
Going to a theme (or amusement) park is all about the experience. It is entirely about what happens after you pay to get in. DisneyWorld does that experience better than anyone else. They do it with MagicBands and monorails and restaurants where the surly are made to sing “I’m a Little Teapot.”
They want you to have fun, to enjoy yourself, and to leave looking forward to your next trip and I do, every time.