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.

#56 - BoardWalk

Category: Resort/Hotel
Category Rank: 6

Park: "Rest of the World"
Park Rank: 12

Our next item is the first resort on our list, as well as the first to be listed as the "rest of the world" park--meaning that it lies outside of the 4 parks and Downtown Disney.  Granted, we haven't fully explored the rest of the world very well, though we have visited most of the deluxe and moderate resorts.  So, this list is missing some others that families have considered classics, including mini-golf or anything connected with the ESPN Wild World of Sports.  Our list also omits the two water parks since we haven't been to them, as well as DisneyQuest, which we just saw for the first time in October (if I ever re-do this list, DisneyQuest might find its way on it).  Essentially, the only things in this category are some resorts and restaurants, as well as some nostalgic modes of transportation.

The first item for debate is whether we should include anything outside the parks as well.  Again, the idea is not to identify the things that are most memorable, where one's favorite resorts often appear.  We tend to like Pop Century for our stays (yeah, we're cheap, and in good company), but while we have built many memories over the years, it is just meh on the nostalgia scale.

However, the first time we visited other resorts, we were blown away.  Each one has its own theme that makes it an all-encompassing experience.  It is more than a place to stay; it includes natural elements, architectural elements, all the theming that goes into it, music, sounds, activities, you name it.  It creates the whole ambience, which is the word I am using to describe a location.  While resorts are a much smaller scale than the parks in general, there is still something very special and unique with them that sets WDW aside from other parks.  You can't simply take one and levitate it to another park without it losing its nostalgia.

That brings us to the BoardWalk (yes, I am capitalizing it correctly).  The BoardWalk is both a resort (with an inn and villas) as well as a shopping area akin to Atlantic City's Boardwalk.  It lies in between Epcot--very close to the secret France/UK entrance into the world--and Hollywood Studios.

Kristen and I visited the BoardWalk for the first time on our last trip, and happened to plan our timing perfectly, as it was around sunset into nighttime, where the BoardWalk comes alive with street performers.  The smells of the confectionary and the soap stores are very entrancing.  We unfortunately were not there very long, as we were heading back to Downtown Disney, but it has become a must-do location for our next trip.

The thing that I was struck with at the resort was that sense of being relaxed.  Looking back at our discussion of "themes" that WDW uses, the World tries very hard to relax you with theming from an older time, be it the Old South or the small midwestern town.  It is as though they hearken you back to a time and place where life moved more slowly, and you can relax and enjoy life for what it is.  You can definitely see this in the Magic Kingdom, but many of the resorts (Port Orleans, Grand Floridian) do this as well.

Some might ask, then, why is it so low on this list?  Simply put, other resorts have been there longer for us.  Our exposure to this resort is so new that it finds itself pretty low on the list.

Speaking of ambience, we get our first park ambience at #55, taking us back to Epcot.  This is one location in the World known for its music and its non-Disney pop-culture references that Hailey and Zach love.

#55 - United Kingdom (Epcot)

Category: Park Ambience
Category Rank: 8

Park: Epcot
Park Rank: 9

We have our first "Park Ambience", which will require an explanation, much as the interactives/memorabilia category did.  Ambience might not be the perfect word, but it was the best I could come up with (except for maybe "Environment", which was a bit misleading).

The first term you might use to describe this is a "location" within a park.  However, location is a bit vague, since rides and shows and restaurants are all locations as well.  These are locations that don't have another stated attraction as top billing.  WDW actually helps us quite a bit here by breaking up its parks into these tiny "worlds", much like all the different countries in Epcot or the different lands in Magic Kingdom.

Location also doesn't really describe the important qualities of these items that bring about their nostalgia.  Take for example #55 on our list, the United Kingdom land in Epcot's World Showcase.  United Kingdom brings together natural beauty, architectural beauty, specific theming, sights, sounds, music, special characters, and even a bit of shopping.  All of these work in conjunction to promote the theme of the land (in this case, Britain!).  I thought a bit about trying to isolate some of these elements (say, choosing the band that plays there and the rose garden out back and the England-style buildings, and ranking each separately), but that doesn't really do the experience justice.  You experience them altogether... you have to rank them as one as well.

There are 11 lands in Epcot, each having its own unique ambience.  You could argue that all 11 have a place on this list, but we have to pick and choose.  UK has many things going for it.  Starting with its architecture, it features buildings represented from the Tudor, Georgian, and Victorian periods, as well as cobblestone streets and thatch roofs.  The back area contains a hedge maze and a traditional English garden, with one of the few quiet places in the World.  Of course, it also is the place for the British Revolution, a tribute band that plays songs from many British groups (the Beatles, the Who, and Led Zeppelin chief among them).  Plus there is a traveling improvisation group that performs there periodically.  Couple that with the traditional British characters (Mary Poppins and Alice in Wonderland) and it is one of the best lands for getting immersed in the cultural experience.

There are a couple things that make this land even more nostalgic for us.  Both Kristen and I have always enjoyed the music within Epcot, and one of our favorite groups was the British Invasion (an excellent Beatles tribute band that has sadly been replaced).  Plus, UK offers a unique shopping experience for our family, as our kids happen to love BBC shows like Downton Abbey and Doctor Who, and my mother is a big fan of the tea shop.  Plus, we take our pictures in the phone booth each trip.  The one thing that UK has going against it is that the "culture" is very similar to ours already, that certain other worlds (spoiler) stand out more as a cultural experience.  Still, if there is ever a time where we have a vacation with limitless time to spend idling away, I can't think of too many better places to spend it than UK.

We go to Magic Kingdom for the first time with #54, once again listing a snack item as a restaurant.

#54 - Magic Kingdom Snack Carts

Category: Restaurants
Category Rank: 8

Park: Magic Kingdom
Park Rank: 21

We go to Magic Kingdom for the first time, though as you can see, it won't be the last.  We actually will be spending over a third of our time on this list in that park, as it brings the most memorable sights and sounds from the World.

And we should say, smells as well.  Our next entry is once again a snack item, but unlike the other three on our list, this one's biggest selling point is the smells wafting from it.  They are the Magic Kingdom Snack Carts, and their periodic placement around the park help place those lovely aromas everywhere.

While the carts sell a variety of different items (ice cream bars, popcorn, cotton candy, frozen lemonade), our favorite item is the cinnamon-glazed almonds.  These roasted nuts and the popcorn especially can be smelled from a long ways away, and are the perfect late-night snack.  More cinnamon-sugar than nuts, I'd say, the nuts offer a great salty-sweet taste.

I mentioned we were creatures of habit when it came to our snack credits.  Magic Kingdom is the one park that we don't always do the same thing when it comes to snacks, so the temptation is to put this snack much lower than the other three snacks.  However, we are ranking the restaurants, not the snacks, and the carts bring something extra to this equation as well.  The old-time carts couple with the fresh smells to bring that relaxed sense of small-town America in the middle of this bustling amusement park.  Nostalgia.

We will stay in Magic Kingdom with our next attraction, featuring a slow-ride with a famous narration that has been around since the opening of the park.

#53 - Jungle Cruise

Category: Slow Rides
Category Rank: 9

Park: Magic Kingdom
Park Rank: 20

Our next item in our list is the infamous Jungle Cruise.  This is an entry that many would put higher, maybe even top ten.  It has been around since the park inception and has built up quite a following over the years.  Weird Al Yankovic took his shot at the Jungle Cruise through parody:

Essentially, the ride is a trip around a river with a few scenes from the "wild" of the world's dangerous rivers.  There are pythons and rhinos and headhunter natives and such, all animatronic.  But the ride is not about the animatronics; it is about the Skipper's Spiel.

The entire spiel is a scripted monologue of the corniest jokes (we are from Iowa, so they apparently were made special for us).  Here's a list of the bit.   Or if you prefer, here's the entire thing:

As mentioned, the exhibit's longevity and cult following make it a well-known WDW attraction.  For us, it finds itself behind other Magic Kingdom items like the Tiki Room, Pirates of the Caribbean, and It's a Small World, though.  The attraction was enjoyable the first two times we visited, but it has lost its luster a bit being so repetitive, and we don't always go on it.  Which, doesn't scream nostalgia very much.

For #52, we go back to our interactives/memorabilia category, looking at an item that every person staying at a WDW resort gets.

#52 - Magic Bands

Category: Interactives/Memorabilia
Category Rank: 5

Park: N/A

As we discussed earlier, there is a variety of things that Disney has added throughout the years to make the experience in the park more interactive.  That is, instead of simply going, standing in line for the show/ride/attraction, seeing said show/ride/attraction, repeating, and sprinkling in some occasional food and bathroom stops, that there is a different way to interact with the park.  Consider these a bit like a scavenger hunt throughout the parks.

The Park Maps (#58 on our list) might not have been the greatest example of these, since they don't do very much to change the Disney experience (outside of making it more organized and raising your awareness of some hidden features).  In this respect, the WDW app would be much better, since it gives you up-to-date information and can customize maps based on your location (fancy words for allowing you to "zoom in").  That app is the very definition of interactive, when you think about it.

So, why did we pick the maps instead of the app, which (spoiler) doesn't make our list?  And furthermore, what good is it to say "spoiler" if I don't give you a chance to shield your eyes and skip the spoiled information?  The answers are 1) Nostalgia = tradition, and 2) None... none at all.  Yes, the maps have that timeless quality to them that reek of nostalgic yearnings.  The maps remind you of your childhood experience at WDW.  The app will never remind you of that, since it will become obsolete with 2.0 of the app, whatever form that takes.

It is with great irony that we embrace the technology-du-jour with our next interactive.  Disney has really been pushing the Magic Bands (I think there is a TM in there somewhere).  In an effort to make the park more interactive, these bands now can serve as your room key, your credit card, and your FastPass device.  It also connects you things like PhotoPass, where the pictures those "supposed" photographers from Disney (yeah, right!) take get linked to your personal account (oh, I guess they were really photographers from Disney).  And, we are just scratching the surface for how they will be used in the future.

I mean, Disney has REALLY been pushing these things.  You can go purchase all kinds of bling for your band.  They have t-shirts promoting the bands.  I'll bet Disney will monetize giving your Magic Band a name and a backstory, too (Mom!  Sprinkles, my Magic Band, was once worn by Rapunzel when she visited Epcot during her 7th birthday too!).  This kinda screams rapid mania marketing, which again, does not scream Nostalgia.  Why would this find its way on our list?

Band as seen on Zach here.  See if you can spot
the band in other pictures on our blog.  Wow, an
interactive of an interactive... meta!
Two reasons.  One, they are pretty cool, and they are quite fun to use (can't remember having to fish out all my cards for the different functions in the past).  And two, and much more important, these are the things that really get you psyched for your trip.  When these bad boys come in the mail, you know you are getting close.  It's like the first snow or the first time you hear Christmas music in the season.  Either you are a Scrooge and are immediately turned off by the prospect of spending the next two months in anticipation for the magic of Christmas, or you are all abuzz.  Well, with a WDW trip, the Scrooges have self-selected themselves out... the last place someone who hates magic would go to is WDW.  So, essentially everyone starts feeling the buzz when those come in.

And, there you have it.  That's why they make the improbable jump and make it on the list.

We are almost done with our first 10 items and a ways still from the big ones.  Our next stop is our last Snack Restaurant (if you've been reading carefully, you should know what park it is from).

#51 - Crepes des Chefs de France

Category: Restaurants
Category Rank: 7

Park: Epcot
Park Rank: 8

We've talked quite a bit in our first 10 items on our list about snacks in Disney, so not much background needed here.  Snacks don't rank as high as our favorite restaurants in terms of nostalgic longing for WDW, but when you have set ones that you hit every trip, those are going to make your list as well.

That is definitely the case for the "Crepe Stand" in Epcot.  Its full name is Crepes des Chefs de France, from the restaurant around the walkway.  They have a simple menu featuring sugar, strawberry, or chocolate crepes.  They also have ice cream available, although the ice cream is extra and does not come with the snack credit.  For those that haven't had a crepe before, it is essentially a very flat/thin pancake, folded over several times into the shape of a triangle.

The Crepe Stand ranks highest on our list out of the different snack locations, meaning it is the most nostalgic out of the group.  This in spite of it being my least favorite out of the snacks (which is a bit like being the least favorite flavor of ice cream or your least favorite cruise destination).  What makes the crepes special?

Part of it is Epcot is a more special place.  It is the food capital of WDW, and as our representative snack in that place, crepes have a higher than normal level of nostalgia.  It also has been our place since the beginning, and like the carts in Magic Kingdom, the kiosk itself is quaint and the aroma is enticing.  Plus, they make the crepes right before your eyes.

Crepes, for us at least, also are a more unique food.  Ice cream cookie sandwiches can be recreated, as can fancy cupcakes.  Even the roasted almonds are a staple around the Christmas season.  Crepes for us are a little less present in our ordinary lives, making the experience even more unique.  So while the other snacks are great to eat and a special experience for us when we visit, crepes remain a special item for us all the time.

This is a good example of where people differ in their lists.  I estimate there will be about 20 items that everyone would have, and 20 more items that many people will have.  And then 20 items that are more unique to me and my family.  Many of you will have Dole Whip on your list, something we have not been that fond of.  Others will have the Mickey Bar or the Mickey Ice Cream Bar or the Butterfinger Bar (or whatever else there is).  Or even something simple like the Cotton Candy.  That's part of the magic... WDW is so big, there are many different corners of it for every taste.

That concludes our first 10.  We start off our second ten with our first seasonal event... one that really racks up the electric bill for the Disney Corporation.

#50 - Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

Category: Seasonal
Category Rank: 6

Park: Hollywood Studios
Park Rank: 6

We start our 2nd ten with our first seasonal item.  This category obviously relates to things that are not permanent attractions, but come out at the same time each year.  Seasonal events are like Magic-squared, given that you get the overall magic of the park, as represented by all the things on this list, and add to it other special events AND the fun of that particular season.

Christmas, for example, is a unique experience all in of itself, and it represents half the seasonal events on this list.  And, that was somewhat of a slight, as there are many Christmas traditions in WDW that could easily find their way on a list like this.  Everything from the big trees that decorate each of the parks to the decorations at the resorts, to things like the gigantic gingerbread houses that sell gingerbread shingles... the World is an entirely different experience at Christmas time.

We have been to WDW three times during the Christmas season, so the seasonal aspects hold quite a bit of nostalgic longing for our family.  We consider it the best time to be in the park, and only part of that is because its the best time to avoid Iowa's weather.

One of the most unique items on our list is the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, proudly keeping the tradition of making the official title way longer than it needs to be.  The lights are a Clark Griswold-like display on the Streets of America within Hollywood Studios.  This display is set up in November and December only to coincide with the Christmas season.  There are lights everywhere except for the street you walk on, and they are all synchronized to blink to the different music (think the infamous Engineer's Christmas synchronized to Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which launched the YouTube sensations and the subsequent reality shows).

This tradition came, not from the Osborne Family of Ozzy Osborne fame (thank goodness), but rather from Jennings Osborne and his family in Arkansas, which had been going full Griswold before there was a Griswold.  They "shared their magic with the world" in 1995, as the website proclaims.  And thank goodness they did.  The streets are rather barren otherwise, and looks amazingly empty and a huge waste of space the rest of the year.

A few thoughts about its ranking on this list:  It is easy to see how this item makes the list, as it is easy to recognize and remember.  It is unbelievably crowded when the lights show comes alive, as people love wandering the streets in wonder.  However... it is just Christmas lights, and while it is a memorable part of Christmas, it falls much more in the "yes, we need to see it to get our 15 seconds of wow completed, and then it is checked off our list" part of our itineraries.  And, as far as Christmas decorations go, I feel Hollywood Studios is much weaker than the other parks.  It's almost like they can't come up with any creative ways to implement Christmas other than that one item... as though it sucked up all their creativity (or electricity).

It is properly placed here at the back end of the top 60 list, since it is definitely memorable and has its place, but isn't a headliner item when it comes to thinking of WDW.  I think if given a sheet of paper, a pencil, and the order to write down the things that come to mind when thinking of WDW, this won't appear on your list until someone reminds you of it, and then you say "Oh yeah!".  However, because of the magnitude of the display and the fact that it appears next to very little else in the park, this event makes it over things like the Jingle Jungle Parade in Animal Kingdom or the Candlelight Processional at Epcot, which don't make it at all.

Our next item takes us back to an ambience, again within Epcot.  This one will be a bit of a surprise on the list, as it isn't that memorable to most people, but is one of my personal favorites.

#49 - Morocco (Epcot)

Category: Park Ambience
Category Rank: 7

Park: Epcot
Park Rank: 7

We discussed the concept of Park Ambience with our UK entry in our list, and we revisit it here.  We have our second country from the World Showcase, featuring its architecture, music, shopping and sights/sounds for the total immersive experience.

I am guessing that Morocco would not be one of the top countries on most people's lists, unless they were Aladdin fans for some reason.  It doesn't have that worldwide cultural base that UK, France, or Italy have.  To talk about why it is on my list, let me start with a birdwalk.

It doesn't take too many trips to Epcot's World Showcase before you think to yourself, "I could have done this better."  Or, at least invited better countries.  A parlor game question would be to ask, if you could remove some current countries and replace them with others to improve the World Showcase, which would they be?  Or, if the rumors are to be believed, if you could fill in the empty 8 lots, what would you add?

It is important to have countries that have its own distinct culture, food architecture, music, and stories.  Even better if there are connections to Disney characters, so they can stand out there and sign autographs.  But, there is something to be said with adding some diversity to the World showcase, to truly build the worldwide experience.  So my answer to the first hypothetical would be:

• Remove USA, Canada, and Norway and replace them with Brazil, India, and *a sub-Saharan African country (I'm going to admit I would need to do some field testing to choose a country that isn't going to create problems... I wouldn't want to select Kenya, only to find out a year later, they are having a genocide)

My answer to the second hypothetical:

• Add Brazil, India, sub-Saharan African country, Australia, Russia, Indonesia or Philippines, Greece, and Jamaica or Cuba.  Or something like that.  Could add Chile instead... I've always like Chile.

Regardless, you can see that there are many countries with one skin pigmentation already represented, and many countries with many different skin pigmentations not represented.  Now you can see why Morocco is so important.

Morocco truly represents something unique to the experience.  Go in any other shops and you see soccer jerseys and chocolates from that country... it is a very similar experience.  Morocco gives you incense, henna, and traditional scarves.  Likewise, the food is unique.  Going out for Italian, Chinese or Mexican food, but Moroccan?

The thing I like best about it is the music.  For years, the sounds of the band Mo' Rockin was the enticing sounds from the pavilion (coupled with their gratuitous belly dancing).  They have replaced them with a new band called B'net Al Houwariyate, which features a similar sound, but loses the land a bit of the luster (I liked Mo' Rockin that much... join the Facebook group to "save" them).  Regardless, the sounds of Middle Eastern music forever makes me think of the Morocco pavilion.  Which, deserves them a place on the list.

Our next entry is our first show on our list, and features the first of the "4D" shows.

#48 - Muppet Vision 3D

Category: Shows
Category Rank: 4

Park: Hollywood Studios
Park Rank: 5

Revisiting our criteria, we mentioned that we were excluding anything from this list considered a thrill.  That is to say, roller coasters would have a similar amount of appeal in the local amusement park as they would in WDW, as well as shows like Fantasmic or the Finding Nemo Musical.  Slow rides, on the other hand, don't offer much in terms of thrills... it is hard to think that you would pay money to ride on a boat and see animatronic puppets move in "synchronization" with music being pumped in.  But in WDW, you are willing to stand in line 45 minutes to go see animatronics of Peter Pan without batting an eye.

Shows are a bit harder to delineate than the slow ride/thrill ride dichotomy.  Basically, any show with a set showing time (including Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, for example) tends to have qualities that are more "thrilling".  Shows that repeat themselves around the clock like Muppet Vision 3D tend to be thrilling the first or second time you see them, but if you continue seeing them every visit to the park, they enter that nostalgic category.

So, that's why you will see the "4D" category of attractions here.  I know, I know... Muppet Vision is not listed as a 4D show, with the 4th dimension being other physical effects that synch with the 3D film.  But, in all intents and purposes, it certainly is.  Effects like having Fozzie Bear spray the audience with water from his flower corsage puts it firmly there.

Muppet Vision 3D is a brief story of one muppet (Bean) whose crazy antics make him not appreciated by the fellow cast members (for good reason, in my opinion), and who decides to runaway.  Bean befriends the "spirit" of 3D who causes even more mayhem.  As the muppet cast tracks down Bean, they unleash the spirit, and in the chaos that ensues, they destroy the theater.  Much like Donald does in Philharmagic, actually.  What is it with 4D shows having a character that destroys the theater at the end?

The brief movie is quintessentially the muppets; everything from their gags and situational humor to their characterizations.  If you love the muppets, or can even just stand them, then you will like the show the first time you see it.  However, if you love WDW, then you will gladly love seeing the show over and over, every time you visit.

The one thing I have trouble with, which might not be an issue for younger people, is that I don't innately consider the muppets "Disney".  It will be the same with Star Wars or other purchased properties in the future.  I am a big fan of the muppets (I spent my four college summers as a camp counselor with a Kermit the Frog hand-puppet always connected to me for impromptu impressions).  And while the movie definitely has a special place in my heart and is more exciting than some other shows within Disney World, it doesn't scream WDW quite as much as they do (like the Tiki Room, for example).  That, more than anything else, pushes it down to #48 on our list.

We are up to #47, which takes us to another interactive/memorabilia item.  Unlike the park maps and the Magic Bands, this one is a much more interactive hands-on scavenger hunt we recently discovered in Magic Kingdom.

#47 - Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom

Category: Interactives/Memorabilia
Category Rank: 4

Park: Magic Kingdom
Park Rank: 19

I wasn't quite sure if our next item should count for our list, or whether it was considered a "thrill".  Nor was I sure whether it was truly nostalgic or not.  Most of our interaction with the event has been on the thrill side (we only did it on our last family trip, and it was more of a thrill for our youngest two children).  It remains to be seen if our family treats this as nostalgic.

For those not sure what this is, the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is an interactive scavenger hunt within Magic Kingdom.  There is a bit of backstory, as Merlin from the Sword in the Stone is recruiting you to help track down the notorious bad guys of Disney movie fame.  Their ringleader, Hades, is attempting to take over the Magic Kingdom by reassembling the Crystal of the Magic Kingdom.  To accomplish this task, you sign up for the adventure at the Main Street firehouse, where you receive a pack of spell cards.  Then you go to different interactive portals hidden within the storefront windows (usually) in the different lands, waving your identification card to activate the next part of the story, and using one of the spell cards to ward off the bad guy.

The idea of interactive role playing games (RPGs) is a new feature being implemented within theme parks over the past decade.  The goal is to create appeal for age groups that might not have appeal otherwise, and to be an attraction for repeat visits.  As a collectible card game, the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is very appealing to both genders, but especially to 2nd thru 5th grade boys, who might not find much of the park that exciting, given its proclivity of rides for young children and princesses.  Plus, it is an activity that you don't undertake the first trip to Disney, when there are so many new things to explore.  We hit it on our fourth family trip.

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is also not the only interactive role playing game either.  At Animal Kingdom, there was a Wilderness Explorer game where you can earn badges like Russell from Up.  This only appealed to our youngest daughter, but it made what could otherwise be a boring day at Animal Kingdom going on foot trails with Grandma "who has to see the parrots", she was able to madly scramble around the park to fill up her badge booklet.  She was not successful as account of not enough time, so she still has it, and if age hasn't caught up with her, she will tote it out for completion on our next visit.

At Epcot, there is the Agent P game, which was boring for our youngest, but incredibly fun for our two oldest, and me as well.  Though I'm not a Phineas and Ferb aficionado, I know enough about them to know that they have a very wry sense of humor throughout the cartoon.  The interactive game, where you are seeking to foil Dr. Doofenschmirtz's dastardly plots, is woven into the Epcot World Showcase experience so beautifully that scenes you had taken completely for granted come alive (e.g. we did something to shoot off a projectile that goes into the huge volcano on the back mural of the Mexico pavilion, causing it to erupt... and for all this time, we thought it was just a volcano).  There are some other games that we haven't played yet as well, so this isn't the all-encompassing list.

I'm picking this item for a few different reasons.  It is representative of the RPGs in general, and since it most closely connects with the most nostalgic area (Magic Kingdom) and Disney characters, I more readily pine for WDW when thinking about it.  Plus, it truly fits the "memorabilia" portion of this category, as you keep the cards that you get when you go in.  This includes special cards for events like the Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party.

I'm also picking it because it has the promise to be symbolic of greater things to come for the parks.  This was our first interactive scavenger hunt game that we did, and Disney is actively trying to step up both these and interactive queues to improve the experience.  We can see many more of these added in the future.

But, I'm really picking it for one special event.  As I made this list, I thought about how big an impact first impressions made on me, as many of our firsts appear near the top of our list.  As I mentioned, the first go-round playing this game was so much fun for Zach and Hannah that I was having the time of my life despite it being the fourth trip.  We were in Magic Kingdom, not riding on rides, and still having quite a bit of fun.  How does this happen?

We were in Frontierland by the Liberty Boat ride doing our interactive spot, where we were waiting for two elderly ladies (mid 60s by my estimation... my apologies if the adjective elderly does not apply there) were playing with it.  We at first thought they were having trouble with the game, as they were just standing there, and so Zach attempted to show them what to do.  They smiled and said, "Oh, we know.  We are just deciding which of our spells to use on Dr. Facilier."  Then they showed us this binder full of plastic-sleeve-contained cards that they were using, containing at least 500 cards.  Yeah... you could say they were fans.

We followed them around (there are only so many spots in the hunt, and more often than not, they had us going to the same spots.  At one point, they asked us what cards we had, being this our first time, and they traded us some neat ones for some of our duplicates (giving us a 2 for one deal in the process).  In other words, they made our kids day.

What drives a couple of elder ladies (my apologies again) without kids to come and enjoy a game designed for 10 year olds to the point of amassing a huge collection?  #47 on our list does.

Speaking of interactive queues, we hit a queue for our first time at #46.  It features a ride that was remodeled a few years ago, and went from our biggest disappointing ride on our first trip to one of our favorites.  The new queue is a big reason why.

#46 - Star Tours Queue

Category: Queue
Category Rank: 2

Park: Hollywood Studios
Park Rank: 4

Most of the time, you would consider the wait in line the worst part of the amusement park.  One of the improvements for parks has been to make the queues much more engaging and interactive.  You can see this in the rides in the new Fantasyland, including the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Ariel's Undersea Adventure.  You can also see it in Epcot's Test Track.

While an interactive queue makes it exciting, it doesn't make it nostalgic.  A queue has to capture something special, something for which you would want to take a multitude of pictures for the memories, in order to be nostalgic.

This severely limits the number of queues that could appear on this list.  Unless you happen to be one of those amateur photographers who needs to take a picture of everything.  In which case, your list is probably all queues, because where else do you get that much time of doing nothing that you can take endless pictures.

There are only two queues that I identify within WDW that are worth being listed here, and our first is another ride that had its queue dramatically improved when the ride was updated.  When we first visited WDW, we rode on the 2D version of Star Tours, and I remember being extremely underwhelmed.  This was, after all, the Star Wars ride in all of Disney World, and it seemed like barely more than a slow ride.  While our next visit was during the refurbishment process, when we experienced it after it opened, it was a night and day difference.  The ride's motion improved, its graphics improved, it added 3D, and it added the interactive storyline.

It also made the queue improved as well.  It isn't a long queue (Star Tours loads a lot of people really quickly).  So, there is an outdoor area in the Endor forest, underneath the legs of an AT-AT walker (not realistic, as the AT-ATs were seen on Hoth, but details details).  Upon entering, you see a gigantic flight display showing different destinations and their current statuses, while interspersed with commercials for different flight destinations.  All of which with the semi-robotic tones that travel companies and flight attendants bring.  Meanwhile, commentary is provided by C-3PO and R2D2, who sits on a Star Tours vessel.

There is an additional room with a wise-cracking droid providing security scanning, and then pre-boarding, there is a humorous flight instruction video.  Again, nothing that complex.  But, the designers did a great job making all the components look realistic and lifelike.

Now consider that last sentence for a second.  The designers of the queue succeeded where the filmmakers of the last 3 movies failed.  The prequels were filled with overbearing obnoxious caricatures totally reliant on CGI.  There was nothing realistic and lifelike about them at all.  The Star Tours queue actually created a more nostalgic Star Wars artifact than the movies did.  This is incredible to consider, and is the primary reason why this is on the list.  While the ride is better than the queue, the queue does become a favorite of Star Wars fans everywhere.

I'll interject one thing about queues here, as again, I think it takes something truly special about a queue to get itself on a top nostalgic item list.  This is the only category out of all the items that Disney would lose to a competitor... at least for the top queue.  While we haven't seen Disney's top queue on this list yet, it would actually lose out to queue for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which takes you into Hogwarts itself, and contains the talking portraits, the house cup vials, the sorting hat, and much more.  It, and other areas within Hogsmeade, are the only areas where you can say Universal creates nostalgia.  Harry Potter, like Star Wars, offers a franchise to set a queue in, and that makes a big difference.

With our next item, we have our first mode of transportation on the list, connecting Magic Kingdom to the Polynesian and Grand Floridian Resorts.  And no... its not THAT one... that's much higher.

Friday, January 9, 2015

#45 - Seven Seas Lagoon Water Taxi (Gold Flag Launch)

Category: Transportation
Category Rank: 4

Park: "Rest of the World"
Park Rank: 11

Wow, we have already finished a quarter of our entries!  We are moving quickly in some areas, and haven't even scratched the surface in others.

This entry hits two of those hardly scratched areas, as we have our first mode of transportation and our second entry from the "Rest of the World".  There are, of course, many modes of transportation around Disney World from place to place.  The design of WDW meant that moving tourists around its 43 square miles and managing parking would be critical.  This meant the inclusion of onsite resorts and the inclusion of mass transit systems to shuttle people to the parks.

We mentioned earlier that there are probably 20 items on this list that everyone will agree with, 20 that many people will agree with, and 20 that few will agree with.  As a spoiler, you can probably predict that the Monorail is on this list, being almost synonymous with WDW for years.  This item, however, will come as a surprise, as it travels the same route as the monorail, but with less passengers and less fanfare.

The Gold Flag Launch water taxi takes passengers from Magic Kingdom to the Grand Floridian (docking on their beaches), and then to the Polynesian resort (likewise, its beaches), before returning to Magic Kingdom.  The boat is an excellent place to relax and take in the beauty of WDW without the bustle.  Being away from the parks, it is amazingly tranquil, and yet it is very useful (we often will visit those resorts either for shopping or eating).

My favorite time on the boat, and truly the sole reason this boat trip is on this list, happened during a trip I don't even consider official.  Kristen and I were in Orlando with her sister for a few days (I was there for a conference).  We didn't have time to spend a full day at a park, so we never went.  But, we did a tour of "Free Disney", so to speak.  We parked at Downtown Disney, did a bit of shopping, traveled on the boat ride up to Port Orleans Riverside and ate at the food court, took the buses to Magic Kingdom, and then the boat to look at the different resorts.  There was a mishap, where we went to Fort Wilderness instead of Wilderness Lodge (we were young and naive back then), but were given a nice ride aboard a utility van over to the correct location.

The time on the boat was perfect, as we happened to be on during the fireworks show.  The music from the show carried over the lagoon to the beach at the Grand Floridian, where we disembarked.  It was all unobstructed, and comfortable (I hate sitting on the pavement for the castle show... sitting on the boat's benches was much better). Overall, it was quite an experience (for free).

We mentioned that Disney was all about themes, and one of its themes being old-time Midwest town relaxation.  Sailing on that boat is one of the best examples of that, and every time we go on it, it is hard not to feel at home.

Speaking of "Rest of the World", we continue our stay with our 5th highest ranked resort next.  This one is a newer location, and a place where we can eat smores... with giraffes.

#44 - Animal Kingdom Lodge

Category: Resorts
Category Rank: 5

Park: "Rest of the World"
Park Rank: 10

We discussed earlier why the resorts of WDW are an integral part of the magical experience, including the ones that you don't stay at.  Actually, it most often isn't the ones you are staying at, unless you can afford the deluxe resorts.  We can't.  But we do like visiting our favorite resorts every time we visit.

Sometimes it is hard to remember that Disney's hotels are actually resorts much the same way you might have experienced regional resorts, where they have their own schedule of events and activities for guests.  It isn't just a pool; its outdoor movies on their beach front, luaus, bicycle rides around the integrated waterways, children's activities, and more.  With so much else to do in the World, time spent at the resort can seem like a waste, until you try it.

I think the best concept for a resort is the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  We'll create a resort that sits adjacent to the wide lands of Animal Kingdom and allow animals to graze on the surrounding perimeter, affording guests breathtaking views from their balcony.  Going back to those running themes that Disney employs, this lodge reinforces that "living in harmony with nature" theme that Animal Kingdom and places in Epcot promote.  (And, if you are here to say, "in actuality, these practices are very cruel to animals and plants, etc", I'd say don't rain on my nostalgic parade).

We have never stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge, but we visit it every time.  We enjoy the majestic interior of the main area at Jambo House, overlooking the Boma restaurant.  Though the restaurant is not quite high enough to have a place on the list by itself, it is one of the top restaurants in the World and one that you should experience at least once (we are still strategizing to get our kids there, though).  The other African restaurants at the lodge have high reviews as well.

The outside area is, of course, what it is known for.  There are better times than others to be there, as animals tend to be more active around sunset and sunrise.  But, there is a wide variety of animals, so there will always be some animals to see on one of their three savannas.

Though we felt much like a wedding crasher coming into these resorts we weren't staying at, we have since overcome our guilt and enjoy partaking in some of the activities.  In the evening, they have a campfire out in the outside area, where you can have a Smores while watching the giraffes roam around.  It provides one of the most beautiful and relaxing scenes within the whole World.

Animal Kingdom Lodge is probably my favorite or 2nd favorite resort in all Disney World (it has much in common with another favorite of mine, the Wilderness Lodge).  For this list, however, its relative newness and the nostalgic charm that the other resorts provide push them up higher.

We move back to the interactives/memorabilia category, for what I think will be the most "controversial" item on this list.  In fact, I would bet that only a person or two out of a thousand might put this item on their list.  You will instantly argue that it isn't interactive, and it isn't great memorabilia.  I will counter that, much like the Park Maps, this item is an under-appreciated item that you get now with each stay with the meal plan.

#43 - Disney Mugs

Category: Interactives/Memorabilia
Category Rank: 3

Park: NA

Okay, here we go.

Disney has been offering refillable mugs as a service for many years.  There is nothing unique about this... it essentially allows for free refills.  However, it is only good in restaurants in the resorts; restaurants in the parks do not honor the mugs.  Plus, it is only for certain beverages... pop, coffee, hot chocolate.  Not for milk or juice, which are sold in individual containers, and definitely not alcohol.

In recent years, Disney has added an RFID chip to the cup to assure that you are not cheating on your refill purchases.  The RFID chip only works on the soda machines, but it assures that you cannot bring back one of your old mugs and use it.  Well... in theory.  In practice, it doesn't always work well.  Plus, individuals have discovered that hot chocolate doesn't have the RFID chip on it, meaning more people are drinking hot chocolate, which is like 10 times as expensive for the restaurant managers as pop is.  So in a rare Disney screwup, many managers have shut off the RFID service on the pop machines.

You can purchase these mugs for different time increments, or you receive them for free if you are on the dining plan.  We have amassed many mugs over the past few years because of this.  If you were to purchase a mug, it probably would not be a good deal for you, since it is difficult to get your money's worth (unless you aren't going to the parks, but rather staying in your resort all day long).  Plus, many people suggest toting the mugs to the park is a waste anyways, since they only hold about 12 ounces, can't be refilled at the park, and end up being something you have to lug around the whole day.

To which I say poppycock.

I am most at home lugging around said mug in my hand, full of hot coffee for the first couple hours of a theme park.  And then, when we get home, I get the pleasure of reminiscing about WDW every time I heat up a hot beverage.  You can't get any more nostalgic about beverage containers than that.

Oh well... my love of the Disney mugs does not have to be a universal trait.  Make your own list if you would like, but I'm going to enjoy my mug.

#42 on our list IS a universally nostalgic item.  In fact, many will have this one higher up on our list.  It is the first from our "landmark" category, consisting of the central structure in each park, and it happens to be one that hasn't been torn down in recent weeks.