I feel like recently, I’ve been too obsessed with pointing out the problems in Epcot, both here and elsewhere.
I know what you’re thinking. You are writing a manifesto about Epcot, it’s kinda your thing. We don’t come here to read happy thoughts.
I promise, I’ll be back on that soon. But I’ve been realizing a little lately that with the start of this manifesto, my Disney fandom has started to slant WAY too far towards crapping all over current Epcot, and it misrepresents my overall feeling about Walt Disney World as a whole. I see a lot of really great stuff going on in the past few years, and in the upcoming years as well at Disney World. Overall, I’m extremely bullish on what is going on in Florida. I wanted to take a little time today to go through why I’m very excited for the future of ¾ of the parks at WDW. Maybe some of the good vibes will rub off and I’ll start to see Epcot in a whole new light! I’m not holding my breath though.
I’ll go park to park just for an easy way to organize my thoughts. I had started this post with the intention of talking about construction at all of the parks, but 1000 words in and I’m still talking about the Magic Kingdom, I’ve now decided to break it up and save the other parks for later posts.
Why not start out with a few controversial subjects? There was a lot of hubbub around the development of New Fantasyland, and it makes sense why. It was the largest expansion in Magic Kingdom history (I think). We got to watch the construction for years happen right in front of us. Also, going on around the same time was Universal making major investments in their park, and really stepping up their game in terms of theming and attractions. I think that a lot of these competing factors really increased people’s expectations on what New Fantasyland was going to be.
With increased expectations (helped along by Disney’s social media marketing efforts), I think that New Fantasyland came across as a disappointment for some. Not to me. I think that it was a great addition to an already iconic section of the park. Taken as a whole now, Fantasyland is home to 5 classic attractions (Small World, Pan, Teacups, Dumbo, Carousel), 3 highly themed meet and greets (Belle, Princesses, Circus), 2 family roller coasters (Dwarfs and Barnstormer), 2 new-ish dark rides (Mermaid and Pooh), a play area for young kids (Casey Jr.), a great 4D film, 2 high-demand restaurants (Be Our Guest and Cinderella Royal Table), and various and sundry shopping establishments. That’s one heck of a lineup for WDW’s flagship land. Taken together with the clearing up of the bottleneck in the old skyway area with the addition of the nicely themed Tangled area, the updated train station that actually is very theme appropriate, and the visually interesting breaking up the land into mini-lands of the Castle Courtyard / Fantasyland Forest / Storybook Circus, Fantasyland is a massive win. It was never meant to bring swarms of new guests. It had those in spades. It was meant to give the guests more to do while they are at the Magic Kingdom, and I feel it succeeds at that.
If only we could get them to take a look at Tomorrowland with the same eye towards filling out offerings.
Moving from behind the castle to what is in front, let’s briefly discuss the Hub. Once again, a controversial topic, and one that I understand both sides of. I cannot pretend to say that the original, tree filled, version of the hub was not a more beautiful and apropos area. It was. The separation that it gave between Main Street USA and the rest of the park was really a boon. There is something to be said about the difference in theme that can be made from a few trees. With the larger trees present, it gave a visual barrier between Main Street and the castle. The Castle was there, behind a series of trees partially obscuring it from view, leaving a touch of mystery to it. The castle was made to seem more distant, and not associated directly with Main Street.
Of course, that was back when Magic Kingdom was seeing far fewer guests. Based on some of my likely flawed research, between 1980 and 1996 the average annual guest number was around 12.5 million guests per year. Last year’s (again, probably flawed TEA numbers) the Magic Kingdom played host to 19.3 million guests. That’s 6.8 million more guests annually inside the Magic Kingdom. Averaging that out, it means that over 18000 more people are in Magic Kingdom on any given day than were in the 80s and 90s. That’s enough to fill this ridiculously oversized Texas high school football stadium:
Also, consider that the castle projection technology would not be possible with large trees in the hub. I happen to love the castle projection show. It’s still not yet lost it’s ability to amaze me. Given the fact that there is a good portion of the year when Magic Kingdom is open the latest of all of the parks, and that people come streaming into the park from others just to watch Wishes, the hub can be overcrowded by day, a nightmare by night. The only show that rivals Wishes is Illuminations, so if you are in the mood for a nighttime show, you are either going for Illuminations or Wishes, and a lot of times Magic Kingdom is open late enough to make that park hop make more sense. That means that besides the insane number of people in the park on an average day (52600 on average), you actually likely have more people in the evenings than other parts of the day, mostly collected together down Main Street or in the Hub.
So, I actually really like what they’ve done with the hub, given their constraints. I think that the garden area and fountains look great, the walkways have really opened up for foot traffic, and it was a greatly needed update. It gives the area more cohesive theme than previous (trees not withstanding), much more space, more walkways, and more interesting visuals.
Would I rather see the old growth trees with the twinkling lights? Sure. I’d also like to have 18000 less people there to help reduce the traffic. I do not however think I’d trade the castle projection show for the trees, so I fall down firmly on the side of the new hub.
Slightly related, the updated Main Street bypass. I’ve been using the bypass for years to avoid the aforementioned masses during Wishes. I’ve searched it out and tried to use it anytime I could. I did however always pause on using it on the last day of the trip. I didn’t like the idea of my last view of WDW being of dumpsters and a parking lot. I liked the idea less however than pushing my family through the crowds on Main Street, so the bypass has always won.
Now, they’ve at least made the bypass marginally themed. Slightly less likely to rip you out of your suspension of disbelief. Did they go all out and make it look like in Disneyland Paris? No, but I do not think that they needed to.
I’d rather they took the money that would have been required to do something like that and done something else with it. As nice as it is to look at, I’d much rather have a themed eating establishment or something.
Which brings us to the soon to be opened Jungle Cruise Skippers Canteen. With this not open at current time, I want to try and be careful at making loud proclamations, but let’s take the general idea. The idea of a canteen, run by “off duty” Jungle Cruise skippers is just fantastic. Not a full show like Adventurer’s Club, but more accessible to the public. Hopefully a little more themed than the 50’s Prime Time (at least based on my one experience there, which the waitress was not in character at all). It’s just a great idea, and I’m very excited to see Disney looking at adding more of this well themed food and drink options (I’ll hit Jock Lindsey’s at a later time). I know that out of all the soon to be opened (next few months) pieces, this one and Rivers of Light have me most excited. I will be making an ADR for it 180 days out for my next trip. Whenever that is.
There are other things that I could add comments on, most specifically the return of unique merchandise at locations like Memento Mori, but I think that I’ve really covered enough already. All told, Magic Kingdom is the most visited theme park in the world, and with the additions they’ve added and are adding, they are doing quite a bit to help manage the largest crowds in all the parks.
Of course, there are other ways to help reduce stress on the Magic Kingdom, namely giving the other parks enough to draw visitors in for multiple days, but I’ll get to those another time. Well, the other non-Epcot parks. This entire blog is devoted to trying to come up with ways to get Epcot back to it’s rightful spot in the upper echelon of theme parks, so that one gets a lot more in depth treatment.
As it stands, Walt Disney World’s main park is set up for success for the foreseeable future. Let’s hope that they do not rest on their laurels though and continuously update the parks.