A brief personal history of Walt Disney World, with pictures

No-one who knows me IRL can fail to have heard about my family’s upcoming trip to Walt Disney World. It’s going to include quite a few members of my extended family, all packing our noisy selves into a villa barely seven miles from the Epcot parking lot.


Now, I could write a whole lot of actually useful stuff about using My Disney Experience (excellent customer service when something weird – not Disney’s fault – went wrong with the tickets), booking FP+, making our Advance Dining Reservations including a date night at Le Cellier… but, you know, the world is already heaving with places to find that information. I’m totally happy to answer questions and share tips, but there are people who devote their entire lives to WDW holiday planning (not least the Disney Parks Moms Panel) – more people than you can shake a stick at, frankly. And instead, I just want to share my excitement through photos.

Don’t get me wrong, I know things have changed. Obviously things have changed. I mean, my Dad labelled one of the photos below as “E.P.C.O.T. Center” (yes, with the unnecessary dots and yes, he can still tell you what it stands for). There are attractions that are never coming back (we don’t have to name The One; come to think of it, maybe we all have a different One). There are attractions that are changed beyond recognition, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. The place that I fell in love with when I was four is not the same place that my daughter, aged four, will now fall in love with. There’s a part of me that’s a little sad about that, but it’s a mistake to ever try to recreate your experience in your child; you are not the same people. It is not the same time. And, as for yourself – well, you can never really go back. I’ve made my peace with that.

But I’m also aware – and, honestly, grateful – that I will carry with me the rose-tinted specs of 1984 and see things through that lens. The new memories I create will be drawn on the top of the ones that are already inked on me, a hundred hidden Mickeys stamped all over, invisible but indelible, each layer smudged, blurred but never wiped out over time.

This week, I found these photos from my first visit. They are the set which went with this one.  They make me very, very happy. I cannot wait to have the uniquely wonderful experience of seeing it all unfold through R’s eyes; I got a hint of it at Disneyland Paris, but this is it – the Mother Ship!

And no, I will not be wearing short shorts.




Snow White and the Huntsman… and her Scary Adventures

It’s been a very Snow White week.

On the 31st of May, Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom saw the permanent closure of one of its classics, Snow White’s Scary Adventures. Based on the very first of Walt’s feature-length animated films the ride – which over the years was the subject of the most complaints about Disney to the Unoffficial Guide because of its witch-heavy visuals which saw a tamer reworking in the 90s – is lamented by many Disney fans. Although it remains in its original home at Disneyland, at WDW its footprint will eventually be occupied by a princess-y meet and greet, and there will soon be a very different Snow White themed ride in the form of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train family-friendly coaster.

Personally, I’m really not sorry to see the back of her. I do appreciate the sentiments of those who feel the announcement was not one of Disney’s finest moments, and failed to build momentum and excitement around the coaster to come. I also know some children will inevitably be heartbroken. But Snow White… scared the bejeezus out of me as a four-year-old even though to this day the Haunted Mansion is a beloved favourite; I remember clearly, at my mother’s suggestion, ducking under the safety bar and actually hiding in the front of the cart until Mum told me the coast was clear of deranged old ladies proffering poisoned apples. More to the point, the attraction was crumbling. There’s nothing wrong with the classic ghost-train style dark ride, but it lacked the essential charm of neighbour Peter Pan’s Flight or even the psychedelic lunacy of It’s a Small World (seriously – it’s quite bizarre when you ride it as an adult).  It needed a complete rebuild, or scrapping. What with Fantasyland due a huge renovation, scrapping was the order of the day.

There were some touching moments as I watched the Disney community online lay Snow White to rest – this time without a glass coffin or chance of romantic resurrection. A young boy called Ben, who has an autistic spectrum condition, held SWSA in such esteem that he’d ridden it thousands of times. Reports on Twitter quickly circulated saying that Disney Parks cast members had ensured that he got on the ride with Snow White herself, and that his family were among those on the last ever ride.

As someone who is next to return to WDW (whenever that happens) with a young child, I’m delighted that there is finally a focus on the younger element in Fantasyland, the land that most needed it. It surprises people when I say that Magic Kingdom actually does suffer from a lack of really exciting toddler entertainment – at least, for those of us who can’t pop back there regularly for short visits. Apparently, Disneyland Paris does it very well, and I hope we’ll go back some time not too far away to find out.

In the meantime, I had a rather different Snow White experience by going to see Snow White and the Huntsman. That I unenthusiastically tweeted ‘meh out of ten’ right after seeing it really says a lot about how the film left me feeling.

It wasn’t without its positive elements: the concept was essentially good, as were the attempts to flesh out the characters and give depth to the struggle between the evil queen and her step-daughter beyond a bit of petty jealousy. I actually appreciated the ending for not being entirely obvious, and not just for bringing the overlong story to a close. The visuals, which owed a good deal to Lord of the Rings, were stunning, but felt like a smokescreen to conceal the agonisingly dull performances from both Stewart and Theron. The latter did put her back into it, but the spasmodic changes of tone from cool threatening to incandescent rage merely came across as talking very slowly, as if to a tourist, and then going predictably Basil Fawlty. Chris Hemsworth was fine, but bland; a younger Sean Bean he ain’t.

There were also several cringeworthy moments: at one point, the titular huntsman rips Snow White’s skirts from her in order to stop her impeding their progress through the gnarly woods; she is taken aback, understandably, and he sneers “don’t flatter yourself”. Because, evidently, Snow White should find people ripping her clothes off without asking her a compliment, as indeed is all sexual assault.* Plus, as my sister pointed out, he then left said clothes behind as a clear indication of their progress, thus also being a crap huntsman. Then there was the failure to actually bother to cast anyone of restricted height as a dwarf, instead projecting fairytale dwarfism onto some familiar faces.

It wasn’t unwatchable, and there were some deft moments, but with a bit of life, some judicious editing and a snappier pace, it would have been considerably better. I was left wondering if the production rivalry with the apparently very different Mirror, Mirror (which I haven’t seen), forced Snow White and the Huntsman to take itself too seriously, and ruined the dark romp it could have been.

Still, if anyone wants to have a crack at the dark side of The Little Mermaid, I’m all for it.

*Withering sarcasm, in case it wasn’t obvious.

My first Disney visit: 1984

Magic Kingdom, 1984

Magic Kingdom, 1984

Picture it, Orlando, 1984.

Disney had cemented its utter takeover of central Florida. The other attractions were still scrabbling to make a presence, Epcot (then EPCOT Center) was barely two years old and post-70s optimism was on the up. And there I was, four years old, utterly transfixed by the afternoon parade.

The Magic Kingdom, to my young eyes, was quite simply the most magical place on Earth. Although I’ve since transferred my allegiance to Epcot somewhat, I still literally squeal with delight when pulling in to the Disney car parks and preparing to board the monorail to the Transportation and Ticketing Centre. That look of gobsmacked immersion has never quite left me – I’m sure if anyone had taken a similarly candid photo when we were watching the Spectromagic Parade in April this year I would have looked similarly entranced (and, admittedly, gormless).

There’s a reason why people are so utterly Disney-mad. And for me it all exists in the picture above. I still have the personalised Mouse Ears somewhere…

Magic Kingdom, 2009 (taken by me)

Magic Kingdom, 2009 (taken by me)