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Spectacle to Magical to Tradition

The solo trip to Disney World I went on during September 2016 was interesting for a number of reasons. The main one being the solo endeavour. The second being it got me into the whole YouTube thing. The third being how differently I’d come to view Disney.

The biggest surprise was how little the place had changed in ten years. I also found I engaged with it differently. It just felt slightly less magical, while still magical, and instead I was looking for something else: spectacle.

Which is why it being so similar disappointed me a bit.

The Channel Video

We Went To Disney A Lot!

Disney World was somewhere I wanted to go for some time. The trouble was nobody I knew across family or friends wanted to go, could afford to go or both. I was lucky in my early twenties and had a good job and could have easily went.

Obviously, once I was married I had a partner to go with, so we did, big time.

Between the years of 1998 to 2007 we went to Disney World at least twice, May and September, and then we’d go to Disneyland Paris a few times (or more).  We went to Disneyland Paris so many times it made me despise the place.

While so many trips seems a bit more normal now, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t as ‘normal’ back then. Possibly it still isn’t, I’m just ‘aware’ of more people doing it in a very small community.

A Vlogging Couple Before Vlogging

It’s funny, because I see that my wife and I were like the Disney vlogging couples you see today. They’re a bit like Pokemon on YouTube, you’ve got to catch them all. We looked at Disney World in a similar way. We always looked forward to the next trip. We always had some trip or other booked or planned. We thought the place was magical and, I’ll admit, we went there at the opportunity cost of doing other things (though we did go to Vegas, New York and California).

We even had a lot of the characteristics of vloggers, in that we were using the best video camera technology we could get at the time (for portable and personal use) and videoed the trips. We didn’t turn the camera around and talk to it as that just wasn’t a thing at the time. These videos don’t exist on the Internet, instead they’re under the bed on mini-VHS tapes (I think).

In so many ways we were vloggers before it existed in the ways people understand it today. It’s even safe to say we might have, at one time or another, thought Disney World or Orlando was our home.

We grew out of that one.

The Perception Spectrum

People view Disney differently. They go for different reasons and value different things. This isn’t about the detail of what rides, parks and restaurants. It’s about the lenses through which people view their Disney experience.

I’m going with the theory that people view Disney World from three different perspectives: spectacle, magic and tradition. How these three perspectives are weighted for any particular individual defines that individual’s view of the Disney World experience.

The key is they can’t all be important. You have to have them ranked as high, medium and low. As an example, I’m heavily on the spectacle (high), magic (medium) and tradition (low) spectrum. I have virtually zero weighting on the tradition spectrum. I know people who are very different, and are weighted towards that elusive Disney magic quality or very much the tradition, history and nostalgia of the place. I tend to think people track on two with the one ranked low being…very low.

I’m also willing to speculate that most people fall into magic / tradition as high / medium with spectacle as low or spectacle / magic as high / medium and tradition as low.

While tradition has always been low (I didn’t even know it was a thing per se until recently) my magic and spectacle ranks have certainly switched.

A person more skewed towards the magic and tradition would not understand my wish to see some of the parks renewed wholescale. Change is good. Instead they are more tied to what exists already and how multiple generations have experienced it over time and the magic is linked with that.

Tradition Attractions Are Just Bad

Because I have zero weighting on tradition I have zero time for the attractions that survive almost purely on their history or nostalgia factor.

I’m not interested in the Hoop-Dee-Doo Music Review on the basis of the parents of my parents having been to it and passing the tradition down. I don’t understand the abysmal attractions that are the Country Bear Jamboree or The Enchanted Tikki Room. The irony and ‘humour’ of the Jungle Cruise doesn’t carry what is a lame attraction for me. These are really bad and survive only on the basis that they are original or close to original Walt attractions. Tradition. Zero weighting. Trash them and put something appropriate, new and better in.

While I’d never argue they get rid of Spaceship Earth, as it is iconic, I pretty much fall asleep every time I go on the ride and the animatronic sections need a serious update. The nostalgia and tradition of the experience does not keep me awake. I remain confused why anyone does Living with the Land more than once (which is how often I’ve done it). They could do something really awesome with modern animatronics and Spaceship Earth, surely?

Shifting Away From The Magic

There was a time I got the magic wholesale. I’d be swept up in the parades and the music. I’d go away from Fantasmic feeling like it had been some sort of emotional experience. I can’t even describe the feelings that used to sweep over me after watching IllumInations: Reflections of Earth.

I’m not saying some of these things still don’t work. Fantasmic is still a great show that is better than the sum of its great parts. Reflections of Earth are still some of the best fireworks you can see on a nightly basis (and I do love them). It probably also explains why I really didn’t connected with Wishes, it just feels a bit tradition focused, while I want spectacle in my fireworks show.

The Disney parks still have exemplary staff that add significantly to the whole experience.

At the same time, it’s all a bit more mundane and not that magical. I’m also not so high on the magic scale that I’m going to cry up on walking into the Magic Kingdom and seeing the castle at the end of Main Street.

This is why the fact Disney hadn’t changed much disappointed me. It doesn’t do much for spectacle seeing the same things 10 years later. Possibly, for someone higher on the tradition scale, this would be a ‘good’ thing as they could revel in the tradition, history and nostalgia of the familiar.

Character Encounters Aren’t Magical

That’s a bit brutal, they are magical for some. I even get why some people enjoy them, the interactions can be enchanting and humorous. Understanding that in the abstract or seeing how it enchants others doesn’t necessarily translate in it being magical for me.

I have great memories of some character interactions, most notable from Disneyland Paris. These are all based on family interactions with characters not personal ones to me. Let’s just say there was a time Disneyland Paris characters seemed to have more freedom than their Disney World counterparts. There was also a time Chip and Dale literally snuck up on us while we were relaxing on a bench in Epcot that still makes me smile.

It’s all the spontaneous ones that weren’t us going to a pre-arranged meet.

Is Universal Showing The Way?

You know what what the experience was during my September 2016 trip that swept me away and delivered the sort of magical awe and spectacle that I used to get from Disney World: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter areas in Universal Studios.

I was blown away by the feel of it, the level of immersion, the detail and it was just inspiring. Those areas in Universal felt how Disney used to feel. It felt how Disney should be..now. Not harking back to its past but delivering on the new and inspiring. Universal nailed the ‘Disney Magic’ with their Harry Potter stuff. If they could also nail the staff consistently they’d be on to an even bigger winner.

The spectacle element also goes for Universal as a whole. While Disney World felt the same, Universal Orlando felt like an offering that had been gutted and replaced with abandon. This was a good thing. I guess someone with a tradition weighting would still be bruised by the loss of the Jaws ride, or the original Kong attraction, and I get that, but it isn’t me.

And, Finally…

Don’t get me wrong. I adore Disney World. I spent 14-days there with 11 of them spent in Disney World. It’s just my appreciated of it has changed. The magic weighting has lowered and the need for spectacle has increased. I still get the magic but it tends to be the non-Disney, less saccharin delivered ways as I’ve got older (for example just experiencing how great some parts of the parks look at night)

This is different for others and that is great. It would be a boring world if we all thought the same. I’d still be driven insane by someone dragging me all around the old, history and tradition based attractions though.

It would certainly be interesting to know what some people think of the spectacle, magic and tradition pillars on which an individual’s view of Disney is based? How would you rate your own high, medium and low?

About Ian O'Rourke

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