Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Top 60 Most Nostalgic Items at Disney World - Overview

If for some reason Google has led you here, then the algorithm must be afoul.  This blog is not something that will help you plan your first vacation to Disneyworld (hereafter abbreviated as WDW).  It's not even a good review of the park, and there are no insider tips on how to skip long lines or save money.  In fact, with the possible exception of my wife humoring me, I can't imagine anyone reading this at all.

That's ok, because it really isn't for anyone in particular.  It is my attempt to rank what I feel are the most nostalgic items in all of WDW.  This is something I have been thinking about recently, being that it is the doldrums of winter and there isn't a heckuva lot to do now, other than to think fondly of the greatest place on Earth.

Again, if you have a quibble with the last sentence, you will want to try another link now.  WDW is undeniably the best place on Earth.  It has been the site of so much joy for our family that we make annual pilgrimages there.  All other vacations pale in anticlimax compared to it.  Yes, the Mickey KoolAid has been well drunk by yours truly.  Now you know who you are dealing with.

If you are still reading this, then obviously you agree with my assessment, and no doubt understand why making a list of the most nostalgic parts only makes sense.  So, I won't waste any more words there.


Can't do a proper list without ground rules, so here they are:

1. Nostalgic is defined as anything that screams WDW.  They are items that make you pine for the park when remembering them and make you feel at home when you are there.  They are items that take in way more significance when being in WDW.  Another knock-off park trying to recreate them wouldn't have the same effect.

2. Because of number one above, this list doesn't contain anything that is primarily about thrills.  You will not find Toy Story Mania here, nor Space Mountain, nor Expedition Everest, though they would be at the top of my "Favorite things in WDW" list.  You will also not find thrill shows here either.  So search elsewhere for Fantasmic or Festival of the Lion King.

3. I tried to distinguish between discreet items, even if they are closely connected.  So that means you will see both the Golf Ball and Spaceship Earth the ride on this list.  Yes, they are the same attraction, but they really aren't.  One is a picturesque landmark you can see from the airplane arrival and one is a slow ride filled with classic animatronics.

4. I generated the list by brainstorming things I considered nostalgic at the parks.  I consider Magic Kingdom to be about twice as good as Epcot, and I was finding 3 things from each area within Magic Kingdom.  The numbers ended up working out to exactly 60 items, so I went with it.

5. However, to rank them, I first ordered and ranked them by categories.  This includes slow rides, shows, hotels, restaurants, modes of transportation, stores, ride queues, memorabilia, seasonal items, interactives, and landmarks.  It also includes what I'll call ambiences, a location including sights and sounds and smells that just scream WDW.  Once they were ordered, it became a bit more tricky, as I didn't want to put two hotels next to each other in the list for example.

That's enough ground rules for now.  Obviously you will have different items on your own list.  Some of these will seem rather ridiculous or trivial, but they happen to have significance for me and my family.  Still,this is not a list of the most memorable places in WDW... That list would look different.

Without further delay, let's start with #60.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

#60 - Starring Rolls Cafe

Category: Restaurants
Category Ranking: 10

Park: Hollywood Studios
Park Ranking: 7

Our family is a creature of habit; we often get the same snacks each time we visit on our meal plan, so you are likely to see them all in this list (spoiler!).

Speaking of which, I was already re-thinking the list for I didn't include some items that are institutional logistics.  The dining plan, fast passes, and extra magic hours aren't on here, though a case could be made for their inclusion.  However, not being a tangible place or activity gets you put on a different list for a different time.

If you are unfamiliar with Starring Rolls, it is located near where the Sorceror's Hat was (RIP).  Technically, it is at the end of Sunset Boulevard, which is the "street" that goes down to the Tower of Terror.  It is sunk down a bit from the main street, and we often will cut through the outside eatery to get around a gaggle of other pedestrians to make it over to Toy Story Mania's line (Yes... let's rush to that hour long wait in line!).

Starring Rolls serves both snacks and quick-service lunch, but we have never eaten lunch there.  Our family will share three of our snack credits to purchase three of their mammoth cupcakes.  We always get the Butterfinger one, as well as typically the Red Velvet and Peanut Butter Chocolate ones.  Apparently, we only take pictures of Hannah eating the cupcakes, but rest assured we all like them.  Even me, and I'm not really a chocolate cupcake kind of guy.

I should mention that Starring Rolls has, in our opinion, the best snacks in all of WDW, though it might not be our favorites, and it certainly doesn't rank highest in what we consider our most nostalgic.  Part of what it as well as other items from Hollywood Studios have going against it, is that we went to this park last out of the four on our initial visit.  By that point, some of the wonder and mystique had worn off.  This will be a trend throughout this list, as Hollywood Studios will constantly get the shaft (no thrill attractions eliminates three-fourths of what the park is known for).

If you are planning your own WDW vacation, don't just take our word for this can't-miss attraction.  People everywhere agree that this is one of the best (in most cases THE BEST) deal for the snack credit in all of WDW.

#59 sees us move to a slow ride that has taken some time to build itself in nostalgia for us...

Monday, January 12, 2015

#59 - Living with the Land

Category: Slow Rides
Category Rank: 10

Park: Epcot
Park Rank: 10

One thing that individuals realize pretty quickly is that WDW isn't synonymous with Disney.  That is to say, the World brings with it some unique characteristics that aren't the same as the Disney that we see in movies and cartoons.  While Disney is known for its classic characters (Mickey et al) and its princesses, and recently its Pixar characters, WDW is known for things like "The Technology of Tomorrow".

Number 59 on our list is nostalgic of one of those WDW-specific themes:  Being Environmentally Sound.  Living with the Land is a slow ride tucked away in the Land Pavilion, a place better known for the Soarin' attraction and the Garden Grill restaurant.  The slow ride takes you through some animatronic displays of humanity's past interaction with the land before taking you out into the greenhouse to see new innovative methods for growing crops.  This includes Mickey-shaped pumpkins, hydroponic lettuce, and 9-pound lemons.

Living with the Land is a typical example of one of those "Ho Hum" rides at first glance that you overlook.  In fact, we didn't ride on it until our 3rd visit, as it always lost out to other highly-billed attractions.  It goes to show you have to explore the World to find all of its treasures.  Think of it this way: No other theme park would dare put in an attraction like Living with the Land, let alone have it be a successful attraction for over 30 years.  But WDW does, because there is more to the World than just thrills and excitement.  That gets it onto our list.

Next up is #58, which takes us to our interactives/memorabilia category for a very recognizable but underrated item, something seen at all four parks as well as Downtown Disney.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

#58 - Park Maps

Category: Interactives/Memorabilia
Category Rank: 6

Park: N/A

You undoubtedly have two thoughts floating through your mind.  One, what the heck do you mean by "interactives/memorabilia" and how do those logically go together (because if I'm anything, I am logical about the rankings in this list).  And two... maps?  Seriously?  There aren't 60 things better than maps?

Starting with number one, I was thinking about what makes Disney World "Disney World", and I was struck by many knick-knack type items that Disney is known for, such as Mickey Waffles or Mickey Ears or Mickey Hats.  You get the gist.  Those items would make this list extremely long, and in all honesty, the list would look more like things you could purchase at the local mall's Disney store.  And, if the food items are truly important, they would be covered under the restaurant category, much like Starring Rolls cupcakes.  I decided that individual items for purchase would be excluded from the list.

But, what about things that you get (for free) that are part of the interactive Disney World experience?  There were six items that came to my mind, and all six have made the list.  None are things you necessarily purchase (though if you want to quibble, you could purchase them), and they all are uniquely connected to making the park more interactive.  At least, our family's definition of interactive.

While I thought of 6 when I created the list, I've been struck by many others that could be included.  There was a trip where our oldest daughter Hailey was obsessed with pressed pennies.  Our first trip featured the autograph books for all of the characters.  We even attempted to search for Hidden Mickeys, at least for about 20 minutes (that really isn't as exciting as you would think it would be).  Oh well.  I made my list and I'm sticking to it.  The interactives/memorabilia is a strange, tough-to-define category of items that help make the park become interactive, and they are items that have stood the test of time for us.

Which of course leads us to... maps.  This is where you know a male has made the list instead of a female.  I believe there is something innate that draws men to maps.  They could look at them for hours.  They really don't even want to begin exploring the park until they have internalized the map.  They judge the quality of their day on the percentage of the map that can be crossed off as "done".  If you are nodding in agreement or looking on in bewilderment to this post rests solely if you have a Y chromosome or not.

The Disney Maps are a completely underrated part of the park experience.  You see them immediately when you walk in the park.  No... you seek them out.  Could you imagine your park experience without them?  And then... think of what happens when you dig them out of your luggage 6 months after your latest trip to the world.  Don't you immediately reminisce about the World?

The designs are iconic of sorts.  After a few visits to WDW, you will have memorized the colors associated with each park, and you will immediately know what is different on the map from the last time you visited (oh look!  They made that bathroom into a family bathroom!).

See, now I've got you pining for some Disney Maps.  Or you are female.  One of the two.

We are going to circle back to our restaurant category for #57, and it will feature my personal favorite snack in all the world (though still not the most nostalgic).

Saturday, January 10, 2015

#57 - Dinobites

Category: Restaurants
Category Rank: 9

Park: Animal Kingdom
Park Rank: 4

For number 57, we hit my personal-favorite snack in the entire World, the ice cream sandwiches at Dino-Bites in Animal Kingdom.  Unlike the Starring Rolls Cafe however, Dino-Bites doesn't pretend to offer quick service entrees; it is all about the snacks there.

It goes without saying that the Dino-Bites are really big ice cream sandwiches and a relatively excellent deal when used as a snack credit (though you can get the same deal at the Plaza Ice Cream Shop in Magic Kingdom).  However, it used to be an even better deal, because they were downright ginormous at one point in time, as seen by our first visit (no, our kids are not midgets or the victims of trick photography).  With the amount of ice cream and cookie you got, it made this a must-do attraction within Animal Kingdom.

As mentioned in the post on Starring Rolls, we have our favorites when it comes to snacks, so it makes sense for our favorites to be on this list when other individuals probably do not think they rise to the level of beating out other notable attractions.  One thing that was difficult for me to consider is how they ranked in terms of nostalgia.

The ice-cream sandwiches are my favorite snack.  The cupcakes at Starring Rolls are typically considered the best snack, because you can only "gourmet" ice cream and cookie so much.  But both get ranked lower than the snack option from Epcot and Magic Kingdom.  What gives?

Part of this is the overall effect of the parks.  I consider Magic Kingdom to be the park that truly screams WDW, and Epcot a distant but respectable second.  Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, while offering the better snack option, don't bring the same cachet when making one reminisce fondly about the World.  Ergo, they rank lower on the list.

Animal Kingdom, as you noticed, has only four items in the entire 60 (not counting World-wide things like the maps).  That's pretty low, compared to the 21 that Magic Kingdom has.  Part of this is because the park is smaller (in number of attractions that is... in size, it is a lot bigger actually).  Part is because it isn't quite as good.  A big part is because it has a disproportional number of thrill attractions compared to total ones.  Festival of the Lion King, Finding Nemo the Musical, Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, and Kali River Rapids are all ineligible for this list, and that doesn't leave you with much in the park.

Number 56 on our list is going to see us move outside the parks and look at a resort (hotel) for the first time, featuring an up-and-comer for our family.