When I think of a theme park, especially in comparison to an amusement park, I really tend to focus on the idea of immersion into a fantasy world, or at least a world that is unlike the real life I just came from. I want to not have to think about the real world for a week and instead be completely enveloped in a world that was seemingly built for sensory overload. I want that overload, and I don’t want it to stop until I have to check out from a hotel and disappear back into my normal existence.
The problem with that is that it is not entirely possible. Real life can’t be permanently left behind, even on the most lavish of Disney vacations. They can try all they want to pull you into a hotel, provide you with transportation and enough activities to keep you occupied for a year and it is still not enough to stave off the real world creeping into your life at least a little. I have a cellphone, and a laptop, and a car, and all sorts of other things that can get me away from the Disney Way so fast it would make the Cheshire Cat’s head spin (not that he would feel it). Suffice to say, I need that sometimes. I need to take a break from the magic at least a little. Even if I was only spending a single day in one park of my choosing, I would find it difficult to go through that day without a cellphone or some other creature comfort I have grown to rely on to keep me grounded. This isn’t the 70s anymore and it is definitely not the 50s. It’s not hard to get away from the magic anymore.
However, Disney seems to have decided long ago that they really don’t care how much of the magic you experience, as long as you are happy with what bits you do get. Where-as I would enjoy becoming entirely wrapped up in the world of the Magic Kingdom or any of the other parks with maybe only my cellphone as a lifeline out, Disney has made it so much easier to picture yourself in a maze of retail rather than a place where dreams come true. Sure, every amusement park and theme park has a merchandising core associated with it, especially those that only make a fixed amount of cash off admission, but there are very few parks that specifically advertise their hollowed grounds as a place that is literally overflowing with magic and imagination. Even through my somewhat jaded eyes, it is hard for me to not look at Cinderella Castle and not hear heavenly music and angelic harmonies as a tear rolls down my cheek. Even though I am walking from turn of the century America to a 180 foot tall European castle and beyond, I can accept that break because, hey, it’s Disney World. I can accept that a few hundred feet separate me from the Swiss Family Treehouse to the Hall of Presidents. I see “Walt Disney World” as part of the reality. I look at it as though I have been shrunk down and placed into a model built for Walt Disney himself of all of his dreams for park design – a place where a family can be together and play together. While I appreciate the planning that went into sight-lines, architecture, and environmental design, I still treat the world of the Magic Kingdom as one man’s dream brought to life, and I am lucky enough to be able to see it along with him.
In that way, I have a bit of a nostalgic heart for the classics (hence my disgust with Aladdin’s Flying Carpets over Dumbo), but only when the refurbishments seem pointless and take me out of the reality I have envisioned for myself. Sorry Disney, I don’t care that the Nightmare Before Christmas crew has taken over the Haunted Mansion, or that Tarzan is really in the Treehouse instead of the Robinson Family or even that Iago and Zazu have somehow procured managerial positions at the Tiki Room. I need to feel like I am taking part in something Walt would have wanted, because that is where I think the magic in the Kingdom comes from. I can even extend this to attractions I do like, such as Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin or the revamped Pirates of the Caribbean. I don’t mind fighting against Zurg or hunting for treasure alongside Captain Jack, even if neither or these were a twinkle in Walt’s eye when he first got the idea to built a park in California sixty years ago. Actually, I kinda like the newer Tiki show, even if it is not out of this world (zah, or far enough out of this world!), but then again a great deal of happiness out of eating ice cream in front of the Castle and listening to music play, so what do I know?
I know that the last thing I want to spend entry fare on is the chance to be bombarded by commercials and advertising, especially if I am a parent. As a note to Disney, if I have a child of age range of your products, I’m already incredibly well aware of them and decided to bring my child to your lovely park in order for them to experience the things I grew up with and to create lasting family memories, even if those memories involve standing in line and getting a little annoyed at prices. I want an augmented reality, something that tells a story that I get to be a part of, not somehow placing me into the part of a consumer upon my arrival through your gates. I was a cast member once, and I know how important it is that one sticks to rigid terminology like “cast member” and “guest”. I threw on my custodial costume every day with the thought that even though my job was to sweep floors, empty trash cans, and answer guest questions like “where is the nearest bathroom” and “what time does the three o’clock parade start” that I am still a part of the show and that the people who wander through the turnstiles are our guests and are deserving of the greatest show they can get even when they are standing in line or lightening their wallets at one of the many retail opportunities that surround them.
As I stated in my previous post, if you give me a good reason to want to spend money, I probably will, but the second my brain tells me that all I am is a queue placeholder with a bank account then the magic drains away with incredible speed. There is no amount of castle-gazing that could make me forget that you took what was one man’s dream and turned it into one corporation’s tillbox. That is nothing worth leaving reality for, no matter how bad it gets out here.