Friday, February 19, 2010

Space Is Big

Space, Douglas Adams has assured us, is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.

Do you know what else is big? You guessed it: Walt Disney World. How big? Over 43 square miles. It used to be close to 47, but they sold off some land (Walt is rolling over in his grave, I just know it). To put that in perspective, that’s twice the size of Manhattan. It’s larger than some countries, including Monaco and San Marino. Why is this important? Because seeing everything WDW has to offer over the course of a week-long vacation is about as feasible as eating everything on a Cheesecake Factory’s menu in one sitting. Sure, it sounds like a good idea at the start, but a quarter of the way in you begin to reevaluate…

Some people associate only the Magic Kingdom with Disney, and forget about the huge complex comprising this magical vacation destination. Too often, I hear someone say something incredibly stupid along the lines of “I didn’t go to Disney, but I went to Epcot”. This makes me want to shove a pencil in my eye (or theirs). To keep me from causing anyone bodily harm, I believe a brief tutorial is in order:

1. Disneyland – this is in California. Remove it from your brain for this conversation.
2. Walt Disney World (WDW) -- not Disney World, not Disney, but Walt Disney World -- is in Florida. Technically, it’s in Lake Buena Vista, not Orlando, but I won’t get that picky. Some of its major components:
a) The Magic Kingdom (MK) opened in 1971, and was considered at the time an East coast version of Disneyland - 107 acres
b) Epcot opened in 1982. Walt originally visualized this as an “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” but upon his death it was re-imagined into the park we know today -- nearly 300 acres
c) The Studios – Originally opened as Disney-MGM Studios in 1989, it was renamed Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS) in 2008 – 135 acres
d) Disney’s Animal Kingdom (AK) opened in 1998 – over 500 acres
e) Typhoon Lagoon – 61 acre water park themed after a typhoon that wreaked havoc upon a pristine tropical paradise
f) Blizzard Beach – 66 acre water park themed as Florida's first ski resort after a freak snowstorm hit the area, which melted into a water park
g) Downtown Disney – lakeside shopping, dining, and entertainment district
h) Around 2 dozen resorts (and a campground) that are every bit as much a part of Walt Disney World as the aforementioned theme parks

Tying into this, another mistake that people make is to assume that the theme parks are the only things of interest, sort of a "Cedar Point South" with furry characters running around. They show up, wait in long lines, ride some rides and go home wondering what all of the fuss is about. Generally, these are the people that stay in a Motel 6 on I Drive, battle the traffic to get onto WDW property, arrive in the Magic Kingdom at about 11:00 AM, and are standing in front of Cinderella Castle with a map wondering where to go. Now, I'm not saying that people like this can't have a fabulous Disney vacation. Just not as fabulous as mine.

Here's the scoop: the real magic of a Disney vacation isn't in zipping down Splash Mountain or screaming through Expedition Everest. It's about immersing yourself in the Disney magic. In being able to forget the "real world" outside of the Disney gates. As much as I adore Disney attractions, I don't have to ride a single thing to have a fantastic vacation. Just let me pass under that welcome arch and honey, I'm home.

Of course, planning a vacation to a destination this vast does take some research. It boggles my mind that people will spend huge amounts of time researching a $500 dishwasher before buying it (checking Consumers Digest, Epinions, etc.) but will spend $2,500 on a vacation without giving it any more forethought than a trip to the beach. I’ll discuss the dangers of that in my next blog – The Popcorn People.

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