Back in late 2010, I visited Eurodisney with my family and a friend of mine from the UK and his family. Today, I returned after maybe 25 or 30 years to the mother of all theme parks – Disney World Magic Kingdom in Orlando. So, not only can I compare it to it’s European version but also to my childhood memories. I’ll try to restrain myself somewhat.
First off, then idea of an outside park with unshaded walkways all over the place is a bit, well, insane. Or is it we, the tourists of sultry August, who are nuts? I. Any case, it is scorching hot. No wonder nearly all the rides have aircon! And at a minimum of $3, liquid refreshments were both necessary and a bit excessively expensive. But then Disney is all excess. Excess of kitch. Excess of bonté. Excess of enthusiasm. Excess of commercialism. Taking Orlando in general, it is like Vegas for families. Sprawling and with omnipresent billboards beckoning you to spend more to live more. Sometimes, I could let myself glide and just play along. Other times, I was preoccupied with the onslaught of advertising in all its forms at Disney.
Compared to Eurodisney, the Orlando original feels about 20% larger. The rides are about 80% the same and in roughly the same order. The main thing at the Parisian version that Orlando lacked was a large play area with ladders and slides and tunnels for the kids. Ok, there was the Tom Sawyer Island, but it was really kind of boring and offered little of enduring interest to the youthful visitor despite the respite from the Frontierland crowds. There was also the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, but that too was devoid of anything save ladders up and down with no variants or detours possible. I don’t recall Splash Mountain from Eurodisney but it was definitely a highpoint today for the whole family here in Orlando. My wife felt that everything was painted far brighter here than in Paris (but is that the brilliant sunshine of Florida compared to the drisley grey or northern France?) but that she felt the otherworldly quality more in the Parisian version that the Orlando one. Personally, they both have their convenience (one is only 1h from my flat in Paris, the other 4h from my parents in Miami) and their charms but both are, let’s face it, prohibitively expensive. Perhaps the Parisian version has a slight edge because at least one can get there on public transport and thus save on the exorbitant $14 for parking in Orlando. Now, I’ll also need to specify that in Paris, all you get is Magic Kingdom as described here and Hollywood Studios whereas in Orlando you also have Animal Kingdom, Epcot, ESPN, and loads of other sub-parks.
How does Disney stack up to my memories of it? Well, it’s really hard to say because those memories are very dusty and hard to decipher. I already mentioned the commercialism. I think I also was taken back by that a little as a kid because I never returned until now, some 30-odd years later. Everything here is designed for you to purchase something to take home with you. Perhaps that is always the case but here it is so deeply engrained in everything. I was thinking of the movie Toy Story as a good example of this. Now, before Toy Story, the world had never heard of Buzz Lightyear or Woody. Yet, in the movie, these toys are presented as extremely well-known and treasured by kids. It is such a self-fulfilling fantasy because now, of course, kids do really love Buzz and Woody because of the movie. Am I making any sense here? I spent nearly 45 minutes in the sweltering heat for my kid to get his photo with Woody today so I had plenty of time to ruminate. Too much time? Perhaps…
Ok, so tomorrow….Sea World! Shamu, here we come!