Friday, November 19, 2010

Being Their Guest: Walt Disney World and Universal Studios' Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Part 1

So Much Magic! by Tom Charney

I went on an actual vacation last week! I traveled on an airplane without hauling my gigantic blue trunk of Jane the Phoole clothes along with me. And while that in itself was novel, the newness of being in places where Other People had to engage Me in environmental interactive entertainment was beyond delightful. I had a fantastic time visiting the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and Disney's Hollywood Studios, and then cheating on Disney for a day with a side-trip to Universal Studios' The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

First View of the Magic by Tom Charney

I'd never been to Walt Disney World before this trip - I'd been to Disneyland in California (and you must ask me about that trip.  What a strange trip it was!  It included adventures with former Bristol Renaissance Faire Puritans Eric Forsberg and Maurice McNicholas.  If I haven't done so yet, make me tell you the story about the three of us on Space Mountain and Star Tours), but I hadn't really encountered any character interaction there, and I was much younger, less experienced, and less invested as a performer, so back then, I wasn't really switched-on for scrutinizing What Worked.

But on this trip, I was overwhelmed with glee from the first moment I walked through the gates. Yikes, it's powerfully detailed there.  No holes. Everything is designed, and I really dug it.  We visited the Magic Kingdom the day we landed, and we stayed until midnight, getting our minds blown by fantastic live music all over the place, parades, fireworks of unbelievably high quality and astronomical expense, and bizarre, unexplainable, possibly-supernatural experiences on three rides which you'll have to ask me about in person next time we congregate.

I know I'm extremely late to the party on this, but there is good customer service at these parks.  Everyone was cheerful, slightly crazy in the way that we like, and solicitous.  Even the ducks on the super-manicured lawnlets seemed helpful:

Solicitous Duck by Tom Charney

Cartoony Hodge-Podgery of Fantasyland by Tom Charney

Many years ago I visited Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and I found a house there that was yellow and tall and crooked (this link goes to a page that has a picture of it) which I'd decided needed to be replicated for Jane the Phoole's house, just plonked down on the grounds of Hampton Court Palace somewhere.  When I arrived in Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom, so much of it reminded me of Rothenburg, except with wider, flatter streets, but still very silly and charming.  We rode Peter Pan's Flight, which I recommend, and in Adventureland, we rode Pirates of the Caribbean two and a half times -- and I'll have to tell you about the half next time we meet!

Ridiculously Perfect Castle Shot by Tom Charney

We stayed for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, which was exactly as described:  Merry, Christmas, and Party.  Hot chocolate, SNOW, special parades with fabulous holiday costumes, and extra mind-blowing fireworks.  We dug everyone in the parades, especially all of the female performers who danced the entire paved parade route in 2 1/2" heels, showing what looked like genuine smiles of joy the entire time, and the Toy Soldiers, who marched and actually played practical instruments really very well while wearing the equivalent of full suits of armor:

Photo by Tom Charney

Caboosing the parade was the Santaman himself, who greeted a small girl seated near us during the parade, called her BY NAME, and wished her a Happy Birthday.  The look on her face was too magical.  We thought it might seem skeevy to take a pic of her, though, so here is a shot of the Man With the Bag instead:

Photo by Tom Charney

We stayed in the Magic Kingdom until midnight, looking at everything, enjoying so many families having so much fun everywhere, absorbing the details, from the second-story shop windows, to the gradation of forestry and gardens from land to land, to the intense theming of every little thing, to the attention given to each guest by each character in every encounter.  Characters there manage to make every encounter feel like it's their first and most exciting of the day, even through extended hours.

The next day we devoured Epcot's World Showcase, where naturally I went crazy over the United Kingdom Pavilion and its charming Arthurian-Legends street show:

Photo by Tom Charney

And of course we let a couple of hours slip away from us as we dallied in Italy:

Photo by Tom Charney

Photo by Tom Charney

We had an excellent pranzo at Tutto Italia Ristorante, watching le sorelle Ziti play with the crowd, doing the fake Italian stuff which we all love so well in the world of the Renaissance Faire.

Photo by Tom Charney

I dug how they amassed a crowd immediately, simply by appearing on the sidewalk outside the pavilion, drew their crowd along with them, and instantly integrated them into the act. Disney audiences seem to arrive ready to play, and they require no warm-up at all -- you can just leap directly into involving them in the action, without needing to go to any lengths to play low-dominance or exposition.  Young or old, they're all just ready to be a part of the game.  It was invigorating to be a part of that kind of crowd.  And all of the players we encountered pushed guests just a little bit, whether through danger games or just a little gentle mockery, all to delighted audience response.

But I had to ask our server, Eduardo from Napoli (with whom I'd enjoyed using almost all of the Italian I remember in chiacchierare), whether he thought it was strange that the park didn't hire an actual native Italian street act for the pavilion, and that led to a sweet discussion of the real beautiful things about actual Italian culture and living.  Eduardo asked, "When you were in Italy, what did you love most about the country?" I replied that on all of my visits, especially on our honeymoon, I appreciated above all the rhythm of life there -- the slow, casual, calm, human pace of enjoying life.  "Ah, you make me cry!" exclaimed Eduardo; "The rhythm of life, that's it.  I miss it so much. Ah!"

Photo by Tom Charney

In the Germany pavilion, we liked this statue of St. George, and we enjoyed the silly automaton clock too:

Photo by Tom Charney

We didn't spend much time in FutureWorld, apart from an awesome freaky voyage to Mars on Mission:Space.  And we laughed our faces completely off during Turtle Talk With Crush, which is a must-experience if you go.  It's hilarious.  Can't figure out how it's done, but Crush interacts with the crowd, and it is hysterically funny.  On my next trip I'll definitely try Test Track, which we just didn't get to for whatever reason.

I'm out of writing time now, but as soon as I can, I have many, many more Orlando adventures to share.  The  next day of our trip was spent in the village of Hogsmeade -- and butterbeer, I'm here to tell you, is very, very yummmz.

1 comment:

Stephen said...

Really? We were at Disney from the 13th through the 20th, we must have just missed you!