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Practical About Progress
by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Senior Editor
This article appeared in the January 3, 2012 Issue #641 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
Some of us love it. Others loathe it. But whether we are in the former camp or the latter, the fact is that we can't stop it. As even the venerable old Carousel of Progress attraction reminds us, "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow..." Progress inevitably happens.
As we look the new year square in the face, we have to accept the fact that 2012 is going to mark some changes in our Disney lives. Progress is waving its wand over our beloved Magic Kingdom and the rest of Walt Disney World, and the rest of Disney in fact, and we have to be ready to deal with it.
I know, I know, some of you are screaming at me through your computer screens, telling me how some change can be bad -- and obviously I have to agree that not all progress is good. I understand why you don't want to see the closing of Snow White's Scary Adventures in the Magic Kingdom, or the revamping of Pleasure Island. I get it. Believe me, I'm still mourning the loss of the Hunchback of Notre Dame musical and don't really find the Lights! Motors! Action! Extreme Stunt Show to be a fair replacement.
But since the only things that don't change are inanimate objects, like rocks, we, in the immortal words of IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, well... "We go on."
I guess I tend to wax more philosophical about progress at Walt Disney World because I can see how it has made my life, and I don't mean just my Disney life, better.
For example, during my family's first few visits to Walt Disney World, one of my son's favorite attractions was Take Flight in the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland. We loved gently gliding through the history of aviation. It was a lovely, gentle ride. But if Take Flight had never evolved into the much more thrilling Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, I wouldn't have the happy memories I do of my son triumphantly vanquishing Evil Emperor Zurg again and again... and again!
If our dear Horizons in Epcot had not succumbed to the bulldozer to make way for Mission: Space, we might not have ever had the chance to experience zero gravity or a rocket launch just like the astronauts. And, more recently, if technology had not progressed to bring us 3D and the ability to program multiple scenarios into one ride, we wouldn't have the amazing attraction that is Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, with random flights to Kashyyyk and Naboo and elsewhere in the Star Wars universe. The Star Wars geek in me never thought she'd be happy to see the original Star Tours replaced, but wow, do I love that new ride!
So I'm anxious to see what this current wave of progress may bring. By all accounts, it looks to be a year of substantial growth.
The most obvious progress we can see at the moment is the New Fantasyland in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Gone is Toontown, with its whimsical houses for Mickey and Minnie and its pint-sized play opportunities like Toon Park and Donald's Boat. I was more than a little sad to see that area close -- I have many fond memories of my little guy exploring those buildings that were just the right size for him, not to mention taking flight on Goofy's relatively tame Barnstormer coaster. But just as my son has outgrown Toontown's quaint charms, Fantasyland has outgrown its restrictive boundaries. Based on its popularity, progress dictates that Fantasyland broaden its horizons... and it is, quite vigorously.
We're progressing to a redesigned, greatly expanded land -- a land that will include a brand new castle, a new restaurant, and new ways to interact with Disney characters. There will finally be a ride with Ariel, arguably the most popular mermaid on the planet. And maybe I'll actually get to ride Dumbo again, now that there will be TWO rides side by side, and the wait won't be (I hope) quite so long. It's been a long while since I had the patience to wait for this iconic pachyderm pal, so any progress that makes him more accessible to me, and others, is a good thing, in my opinion.
The Fantasyland expansion will undoubtedly change the landscape of the park drastically. In fact, it already has in some ways, bringing more greenery, and more space to an area that had become at times a concrete, congested stroller hell, with those wheeled tot transports nipping at your heels because there was simply so little room to maneuver. So, while I'll be sad to see Snow White shutter its doors, I'm eager to see the 7 Dwarfs Mine Train. In general I am optimistic that the net effect of all this progress will be an improved Fantasyland experience, one that I will actually enjoy as much as the littlest Disney fans.
We also are seeing progress in the development of new sorts of accommodations. I've always thought that many of the Walt Disney World hotels could be considered vacation destinations in and of themselves -- I mean, is there any other domestic hotel as exotic as Animal Kingdom Lodge? When you glance out your bedroom window and see a giraffe or a zebra, you can't help but feel that you are someplace extraordinary. OK, it may not be exactly like Africa, but you have to admit that you don't feel like you're in Central Florida any more. I think you could easily stay at the Lodge for several days, just observing the animals, and taking in all the other activities the resort has to offer.
And what about a stay at any of the other Disney hotels, from the values to the deluxe? For a long time, I've heard people say that you really don't have to leave the hotel to have a good time. Between the swimming and other water activities, the shopping, the fine dining, the spa treatments, horseback riding, tennis, golf... Now there seems to be a move toward making the hotels even more of their own entertainment centers.
We've already seen the introduction of the themed "storybook" rooms at some Walt Disney World hotels -- the pirate rooms at the Caribbean Beach Resort, for example, with their beds shaped like buccaneer ships. Next they're rolling out the "Royal Rooms" at the Port Orleans Riverside Resort, featuring an array of regal appointments fit for a prince or princess -- and just wait until you see the new animated headboards on the beds! You might not be able to get the kids out of the room. (Well, at least for a few hours.)
Shortly after that, the new Art of Animation Resort will debut, with 1,120 suites designed to accommodate families and themed after "The Lion King," "Cars" and "Finding Nemo." (The resort will also have 864 traditional themed rooms in "The Little Mermaid" wings.) These rooms promise to be full of details that will make them as much fun to play in and they are to stay in -- maybe they won't convince your little ones to skip a day at the theme park, but they'll certainly try. As a further enticement to keep you at the resort, it will eventually feature the largest swimming pool (nearly 12,000 square feet!) outside of Disney's water parks in the Finding Nemo wing of the resort. That's a far cry from any boring old-style motel you might find on Rte. 192.
There are lots of other areas around Walt Disney World where progress is leaving its mark. For example, advanced technology is bringing a new game to the Magic Kingdom this year called, appropriately enough, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. I haven't seen it in action yet, but it sounds rather like a combination of the Kim Possible adventures in Epcot and the "Midship Detective Agency" game offered on the Disney Dream. It allows you to use special cards to search for Disney villains around the park, and then battle with them using "magic spells." You know, I was sad a few years ago when the Magic Kingdom did away with the old Merlin/Sword in the Stone skit, but looking back I can see that it was definitely too low-tech for many kids in this Wii/XBOX/Playstation generation of ours. This upcoming interactive game sounds a little more cutting-edge, not to mention like a lot of fun -- I can't wait to try it.
I also see progress in the revamped menus and re-imagining of some of my favorite Disney eateries. Over the last few years there have been some great additions to Disney World's cuisine scene: La Hacienda and Via Napoli in Epcot, Kouzzina on the BoardWalk, Paradiso 37 at Downtown Disney. There's been a gradual shift to healthier eating that's evident on the menus -- whole grain buns, veggies and fruits instead of fries -- and now there's even a bakery on Disney property (babycakesNYC at Downtown Disney) that acknowledges not just our dietary special needs (such as food allergies), but also our dietary choices, such as vegetarian/vegan. Even more recently, the Yakitori House in Epcot's Japan pavilion was remodeled into the new Katsura Grill -- a new menu, updated decor, and most importantly a much-needed, improved ordering area. Elsewhere around the World I have seen counter service restaurants installing automated ordering stations, to expedite the ordering process (check it out at Pecos Bill's in Magic Kingdom, Contempo Cafe at the Contemporary, and at Captain Cook's at the Polynesian Resort). It's the food of the future.
Speaking of eating, the AMC 24 Theatres over at Downtown Disney has introduced Dine-In Theatres in six of its auditoriums, in which guests can watch the latest movies while dining. I haven't tried it yet, but I love to eat, I love to watch movies -- combining the two? I think that's an idea whose time has come.
And speaking of Downtown Disney, have you seen the changes taking place over there recently? Yes, I still feel the sting of the closing of the Adventurers Club and the Comedy Warehouse (sob), but at least we are now starting to see some progress on what the area is going to become. Work is under way on Splitsville, which is supposed to feature bowling, billiards, dining, music and more, when it opens later this year. And a number of new shops have opened -- Apricot Lane Boutique, Something Silver (jewelry), BLINK by Wet Seal -- not to mention the greatly expanded LEGO Imagination Center and Sunglass Icon store. More and better shopping is not something I personally wanted, but I know quite a few people who are excited at this prospect -- for them, this is progress of the best kind.
So yes, in the coming year we may see the closing of some old favorite attractions, like Snow White's Scary Adventures. And no, we may not see the likes of the old Pleasure Island ever again. To paraphrase a popular bumper sticker: Progress Happens.
Even though not all of these changes appeal to me, I suppose that I'll continue to be pretty practical about progress. It is the way of things. And who knows? Sometimes you might dread it, and it will end up surprising you. (Hey, they brought back the original Tiki Room, didn't they? Sometimes progress comes full circle!)
As for me, I know that no matter what, no matter how things progress, no matter what course progress may take as it weaves around and through our treasured Walt Disney World theme parks, those parks still make up "The Most Magical Place on Earth." Which means they are filled with the Magic that makes me smile, and brings me back again and again... and again.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Debra Martin Koma, AllEars.Net's Senior Editor fell in love with Walt Disney World on her first visit there -- when she was 35! She's lost count of how often she's returned to her Laughing Place in the ensuing years, but knows that she still isn't tired of it... and doubts she ever will be. Read more of her writing for AllEars® here: http://allears.net/btp/dkoma.htm
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.