Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Disney Report - December 2013

Depending on how you feel about Disney, Walt Disney World might be considered a gold mine for classic movie fans, since it contains rides, tributes, and swag devoted to films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. Disney films are probably the only classic movies some people ever see, and plenty of children get their first experience with  "old movies" in front of a TV where some grand old Disney classic is playing.

I'm a lifelong Disney fan, and this month we made another trek to the Land of the Magnificent Mouse to spend a week mugging with characters and flying around on Dumbo. We head to Orlando every two or three years, which is enough time for there to be something new every trip. Here's a rundown of the recent additions we encountered on our December 2013 trip.

New Fantasyland - Sure, Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid are too recent to be classics in the strictest sense, but it has been 22 years since Belle fell for her hairy prince, and 24 years have passed since Ariel wished for those feet! The new section of Fantasyland celebrates the Disney renaissance of the 1990s with some gorgeous new attractions. Ariel has a high-tech ride with some very spiffy animatronics, and Belle has an elaborate meet-and-greet that features some eye-popping technology. Be Our Guest takes the Disney restaurant experience to a whole new level, and the food is pretty darn good, too. Overall, the new section is a great addition to Fantasyland and shows how much progress Disney has made in improving its experiences, even if the recently rolled out Magic Bands are creating some problems throughout the park (we didn't use them, so I can't really speak to that aspect of the park experience).

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom - Disney has introduced interactive games in several parks to keep folks busy while they wait for their Fastpass times on rides, and SotMK seems to be the big hit of the bunch. You can get free packs of starter cards and then use them to battle Disney villains throughout the Magic Kingdom; the technology and theming for these encounters are top-notch, with Disney using otherwise dead space in some very creative ways. If you get hooked, you can buy booster packs of cards in the park or online at the Disney Store. Judging from the huge binders of cards folks were toting around, this game really has a addictive appeal for card-collecting types. There's also a home game you can play with the cards when you aren't tooling around the Magic Kingdom.

Test Track - What happened? The corporate sponsor changed, and it feels like all the humor and charm in this already rather flat attraction has fizzled completely. We never loved the old Test Track, but the new version made us positively nostalgic for it. At least you still get the high speed experience at the end.

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party - This was our first time doing a special seasonal event, and we really enjoyed it. The park was not at all crowded, we snacked on "free" cocoa and cookies, and we got great character encounters with special characters who aren't usually out. If you want to meet the Disney princes or the Seven Dwarfs, then this is the party for you. (Note: These events also have special Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom cards!)

As always, I had a ball on The Great Movie Ride at Hollywood Studios, although the Kid tells me she was not impressed with their version of Gene Kelly. Our favorites continue to be classic rides like The Haunted Mansion, The Jungle Cruise (currently the "Jingle" Cruise with seasonal jokes), and Pirates of the Caribbean. I missed Snow White's Scary Adventures, but the princess greeting hall that replaced it seems to be jam-packed at all hours, and hopefully the new Dwarfs coaster will open soon to bring that film back into action in the park.

One of the biggest pleasures of this trip was having photos made with the characters. The Kid decided to hunt autographs and photos this time, after several years of pin trading, and we all loved interacting with the hilarious characters. Chip & Dale tried on the Kid's bracelet, Tigger stole her autograph book, and the Wicked Stepmother and Stepsisters from Cinderella had us cracking up at their antics. If you're only in the parks for the rides, you're really missing a lot of the fun, and we were glad we stopped to visit with Mickey, Goofy, and the rest of the colorful inhabitants of the parks.

What's your favorite Disney film or Disney theme park experience? Let me know in the comments!