Friday, September 9, 2016

Over View

Twelve Parks Collage
Twelve Parks Collage
So while on my trip to Shanghai Disneyland, I was asked how I would rate the park against the other parks. I have been very, very fortunate with my Disney travels in order to be able to have visited all of the Disney theme parks. For those that aren’t familiar, there now twelve parks total. You’ll find Disney across the globe. Two parks are in Anaheim, four in Lake Buena Vista, FL, Marne-la-Vallée France is the home to two parks; Hong Kong supports a single park, two parks in Urayasu, Japan and now a single park in Shanghai, China. On my excursion in June, 2016 I visited Disney in Hong Kong, Japan and China in a single trip along with a side trip to Universal Studios in Osaka. I haven’t visited the US parks since 2010, but that will be remedied in October 2016 by doing an east coast and west coast swing. Within four months that will be ten of the twelve parks.
The visit to Disneyland Paris resort was in 2008. Why do I mention this? To give a reference point of my experience with the parks and what was and wasn’t in the parks when I visited.

Little bit of a disclaimer up front. This is my rating of what I liked. You may agree with me, you may not. There are items that tickle my fancy but for you, it may be like dragging nails across the chalk board just as there may be somethings that stick in my craw but causes a big smile on your face. No two visitors to any Disney park will take away an identical experience. That’s fine. In the background, keep in mind that while there are a number of similarities, all of the parks are different. They all have their own personalities, strengths and weaknesses. My ratings will be based on my actual visits to the parks and not things they have changed since the latest visit. With each park, I’ll put the last time I visited there as part of the description.

12 Walt Disney Studios Paris

Walt Disney Studios Paris Dedication Plaque
Walt Disney Studios Paris
Dedication Plaque
This visit was in October of 2008. It was the last park on my list at the time in order to make the complete circuit of all the parks at that time. What did I like about the park? Well, they had Crush’s Coaster. You loaded 4 people into a turtle shell and rode the EAC (East Australian Current) mostly inside a themed building while the turtle shell spun around on the track. They also had the Cinemagique and Animagique stage shows in the same area of the park. Cinemagique combined on screen action with live actors telling the story of movie history. Animagique was a puppet show using techniques similar to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show at Disney Hollywood Studios that highlighted segments of Disney classic animated tales. Animagique closed in early 2016. The big highlight of the park was supposed to be the Backlot Tour. This was not a highlight. Unlike its US counterpart at the time, it wasn’t a real studio and it showed. The showcase piece was from Reign of Fire about dragons that had taken over London. It was their version of Catastrophe Canyon. It was a bad movie and it was a bad ride. They had a copy of the California version of the Tower of Terror meaning no Fifth Dimension room plus a copy of the Rock-n-Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith. Upon entering the park you walked through a large sound stage building which acted as the main hub for retail and eating. There was nothing there that made a really solid impression outside of the cleanliness or lack thereof which I will cover with my Disneyland Paris rating. The person I was traveling with even commented that he wished it could have been a better park to celebrate the accomplishment of being the last park of the global tour.

11 Disney California Adventure

Pre-Transformation Disney California Adventure Entrance Plaza
Pre-Transformation Disney
California Adventure
Entrance Plaza
My last adventure to California Adventure was May 2010. At the time the park was wrapped up in the cocoon of green construction walls as it was being converted To Disney’s California Adventure. Many people didn’t like the Paradise Pier section of the park claiming it was off the shelf amusement park rides, but I understood how is was representative of the beach side amusement parks that dotted the California coast and accepted it as a clever part of the theming. The Maliboomer was still there but much of the park was starting to transition. I was there for the DPN Westfest event. I held a meetup called One Last Time with Jasmin and Aladdin as the show was supposed to be closing that summer. Well, it didn’t. Disney changed their mind a month or so later and the show didn’t finally close until January 2016, almost six years later. Up until that time, it was my favorite of any of the Disney theater shows across their theme parks division. The icon of the park should have been those green construction walls. The Little Mermaid ride was in construction. The World of Color hadn’t opened but we could see the testing that was happening. Orange Stinger was gone and the Silly Symphony Swings were going in. I took a picture of Band Leader Mickey from the top of the ride and use it as one of my computer wall paper images. The California Food and Wine festival had been cancelled that year. The park was a mess. Due to the topsy turviness created by the transition, I give it my number eleven spot.

10 Disney's Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom Entrance
Animal Kingdom Entrance
One of the Florida parks at the low end of the scale with a visit in April 2010. There have been complaints about DAK being a half day park. There are arguments that the half day theory is wrong. In my world both are right. If you are looking at the rides, yeah, it’s a half day park. If you want to spend the time wandering the park and looking at the details the imagineers have built into the park, it’s a full day park without a doubt. With the animal aspect, you can sit or stand there and marvel at what you’re seeing, but as Walt learned at Disneyland when he was originally putting in the Jungle Cruise, you can’t control the animals and what they will or won’t do. They aren’t paid actors and willing to do something on cue although the imagineers have worked to try to get some action regulated by the ingenious positioning of feeding troughs or possible cooled rock to get the animals close to the guests. DinoLand USA is similar to California Adventure’s Paradise Pier with off the shelf amusement park rides and games. I understand why with Chester and Hester, but I expect more from a Disney experience for this land. Another strike against the park is Disco Yeti. For those of you who don’t know, the yeti in the Expedition Everest ride was touted as the largest, most powerful animatronic that Disney had ever built. The yeti had the thrust equivalent to a 747 was the stat that Disney quoted. Then they ran into problems and couldn’t have the figure move because the foundation had issues. The yeti was put into “B mode” where it was stationary and had a strobe light flash as the train went by to try to trick you into thinking it was moving. So the BIG marketing point doesn’t work and no idea when Disney will close the ride for a long term repair. There was even a parody song made about Disco Yeti . In my book due to the lack of attraction WOW and SIZZLE, it’s towards the bottom of the list.

9 Disneyland Paris

Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant Disneyland Paris
Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant
Disneyland Paris
The first of the Disneyland style parks to hit my list a number nine. This park visit was October of 2008. The park has according to me and the person I traveled with had some of the best rides when compared to their counterparts in the other parks. We agreed that Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Phantom Manor, Pirates of the Caribbean (at that time) and Space Mountain were by far the best version of the ride that Disney had to offer. Big Thunder, ride under the Rivers of the Far West to the island in the middle and experience your ride there before traveling back under the river to unload. Pirates, tell the story in the correct order which hadn’t been fixed in the other parks after the initial concept at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. Phantom Manor, a different more macabre take on the Haunted Mansion concept based on the idea that the town had changed after the gold strike. Space Mountain Missions Deux, a launched coaster based on Jules Verne Mission to the Moon shooting riders out into space with loops and excitement galore inside of the building structure. What would drop this park to be so low on the list? The cleanliness and upkeep. The park was horrible in those areas. There were cigarette butts all over the place. People smoking in the queues. Light bulbs were out all over the place. Trash cans overflowing. Litter around the park. The cleanliness of the parks is what is supposed to separate a Disney park from its rivals. When asked during the original planning of Disneyland why his park would be different from carnivals or other attractions Walt determined and insisted that he would keep his park clean. The water in the lagoon for the Nautilus walk through was so filled with algae that inside you couldn’t see the attack of the giant squid properly and on the water surface bubbly scum floated on top from the algae laden water. The speakers on the Space Mountain vehicles didn’t work. Lastly, there were fiberglass rock structures that were kicked in. I was so disappointed as a big Disney fan and former custodial host after traveling half way around the globe that I started to cry. It’s not just about the rides, it’s the whole experience wrapped up and delivered to the guests.

8 Disney Hollywood Studios

Disney Hollywood Studio sign
Disney Hollywood Studios sign
The second of the four Florida parks on the list with last visit in April 2010. This park too suffers from the fact that it is now a faux studio with no real work being done there. I can remember visiting the park in September 1989 when it was Disney-MGM Studios and being so excited about the fact they were making real movies and TV shows there. Walking through and seeing the sets for Wheel of Fortune and The New Mickey Mouse Club or riding upon the back of a bumble bee to make a green screen insert for Honey I Shrunk the Kids provided as we say in Hawaii, chick skin moments (For those of who not in Hawaii and don’t’ speak Hawaii Creole, aka pidgin, chicken skin means to get goose bumps). Move forward to 2010 and it’s just a shell of what it used to be one. For me one of the highlights was the Citizens of Hollywood. I absolutely adore these people. The fact they can work their improve, keep it clean, for the most part, stay in character, take what is given to them and bring smiles and laughter just amazes me. Upon my last visit, the staff has been cut down, cut me down. The shows Beauty and the Beast, Indiana Jones and Lights, Motor, Action has stopped to impress me. Yes, they had added Toy Story Mania and The American Idol Experience but the overall magic of movie making had been lost. The giant sorcerers’ hat didn’t add much and was blocking the beautiful view of the Chinese Theater. Although granted, a picture taken down Hollywood Blvd and using Photoshop to insert Neil Patrick Harris did help me win a contest (Day at the Park with Neil Patrick Harris), the idea of Hollywood in the 1930’s-40’s had been contaminated with the addition of what would become the icon of the park.  One bright spot for the park is that they still have the original Tower of Terror with the Fifth Dimension room. I know that my upcoming visit in October 2016 will be like my last visit to Disney California Adventure in 2010 with lots of construction walls so not sure if this ranking will change anytime soon.

7 Tokyo Disneyland

Partners statue at Tokyo Disneyland
Partners statue at
Tokyo Disneyland
Surprisingly, this park is in the bottom half of my rankings even with my visit in June 2016. I had worked at the Magic Kingdom in 1986 and many aspects of this park remind me of that time. They still have the old Autopia, Star jets, Country Bear Jamboree, Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, and the old style Dumbo ride where you can see the giant pneumatic pistons keep the park rooted in the past. One the plus side, the Japanese take aspects of the parks and bring them to a whole new level. The customer service at the park is just WOW. As an English speaker, they went out of their way to try to help me. Many of the cast members spoke English, but if they didn’t they would move very quickly to get help. I was looking for post cards and stamps and the Cast Members were extremely accommodating to assist me. Their food selections were different, but familiar and yet crazy all at the same time. How they handle you at restaurants while they are crowded and how they handled parade crowds would be wonderful if they could transfer those skills to the American parks. The popcorn flavor selection, the popcorn buckets and Dreamlight parade brings it up on the rating, but with all the items rooted in the past the ranking isn’t in the top 50% on my list.

6 Epcot

Spaceship Earth at night
Spaceship Earth at night
At one point in time Epcot or more correctly EPCOT Center was the love of my Disney life. I had finished the Walt Disney World College Program in the spring of 1986 and stayed on through the summer working The Land Theater and The Kitchen Kabaret. As a cast member I had access to the library and spent hours watching videos of imagineers talking about the different pavilions, why it had a particular sponsor, the story being told at each location and inevitably each finished with the explanation of the double knit polyester costume used to complement the story. I loved the learning aspect and took all the tours I could sign up for at the time, edutainment at its finest! Now jump forward to spring 2010, my first visit during the Flower and Garden show. The show itself was impressive, but there had been no new pavilions in years and they relied on the show to bring in people because the park itself didn’t have new and exciting features. The guest center for the event was being housed in what used to be the Wonders of Life pavilion which opened in 1989 and then has sat empty of full pavilion status since 2007. Heck, World Showcase hasn’t seen a new country since 1988. Because of this miring and stagnation, Epcot and Tokyo Disneyland positions are interchangeable.

5 Hong Kong Disneyland

Sleeping Beauty Castle Hong Kong Disneyland
Sleeping Beauty Castle
Hong Kong Disneyland
People are going to be surprised at my ranking here with Hong Kong. During my first visit to the park in June 2007, the sight of the mountains behind Sleeping Beauty Castle gave me the chills. To me it made sense that a fairytale castle would have the backdrop of mountains. My original trip coincided with pirates taking over of Adventureland to try to draw people to the park. Between that visit and my next one in June of 2016, they added a number of items including Small World and three new lands: Grizzly Gulch, Toy Story Land and Mystic Point. While the park is small, the additional lands help flesh it out. The area of Fairy Tale Forest and the vignettes from many of the classic tales with their animated scenes added a charming layer of whimsy that brought a smile to my face. On this trip I again stayed at the Hollywood Hotel on property, but this time, I walked to the park instead of taking the bus. The back promenade between the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel and the entrance plaza walking among the character banners, water fountains, topiary and sculptured landscaping set the atmosphere. Walking in again I had that heightened sense of anticipation knowing what I would see again. Tomorrowland was pulled apart as they were getting ready for Star Wars to take over which was going to open two days after I left plus the building of the Iron Man Experience construction limited movement in the area but with Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars terrain coaster and the styling and story of Lord Henry Mystic and his monkey companion Albert at Mystic Manor more than balanced out the excitement level. Add to that the original Paint the Night parade, Hong Kong Disneyland lands in the upper half of my rankings.

4 Shanghai Disneyland

Enchanted Storybook Castle at night Shanghai Disneyland
Enchanted Storybook Castle at night
Shanghai Disneyland
After visiting Disney’s new park during the Grand Opening on June 16, 2016, it ends up ranking in the top third of my list. Shanghai Disney was unique among the Disneyland style parks. Tomorrowland was on the left and not the right. No Main Street USA or World Bazaar but Mickey Avenue. No hub, no train circling the park or within the park. In front of the humongous Enchanted Storybook Castle and not part of Fantasyland were Dumbo and the carrousel. Lots of deviations from the normal expectations but replaced with many unique facets Disney styled for the Chinese market. Going back to the castle for a moment, it was HUGE with the attraction inside of the first Disney princess Snow White with tributes to the princesses that came afterwards. The Pirates of the Caribbean Battle for the Sunken Treasure was a masterpiece of the blending animatronic, environment and screen technology that just caused your mouth to drop. The Captain Jack stunt show with a feature that I won’t reveal here I hadn’t seen before. The magical environmental storytelling of Tarzan: Call of the Jungle with the incorporation of the Chinese acrobatics kept me mesmerized. The Voyage to the Crystal Grotto boat ride that brings you under the castle in a ride is unique to Shanghai. Over in Adventure Isle they had a ropes course that had me hanging strictly by my harness as my foot slipped off a cable and for the first time in my life I lost a pair of sunglasses. Lastly mounting a cycle to be enveloped in the electronic world of Tron Light Cycle Power Run is something that I hope they leave in Shanghai to force Disney fans to get their passport and Chinese visa to experience a Magic Kingdom of a different level.

3 Magic Kingdom

Custodial host on the right!
Custodial host on the right!

This rating is mostly sentimental. My last visit to the Magic Kingdom was in April 2010, but it was my first which vividly sticks in my mind. The Challenger shuttle had exploded just a week or so before my college program started. My first steps EVER into a Disney park were through stairwell number 9 by Lancer’s Inn, what is now Mrs. Potts, looking out to swarms of sea gulls hanging around trying to get food dropped by or stolen from people sitting at tables with umbrellas and on the other side of the walkway was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. My first entry ever into a Disney park was as a cast member. It wasn’t until a week later, on my first day off, I parked in the regular parking lot with thousands of others to take the tram to the TTC then the ferry across the Seven Seas Lagoon to walk in the gates as a guest. Many of my memories are tied to helping people as a custodial host. Gone are the Sky Buckets, Mike Finks Keel Boats, the bird show in Adventureland where I nearly wet myself with excitement as I was allowed to help walk out a hyacinth macaw and Tabasco the 80’s cover band who would make their entrance or exit as I pushed the button on the elevator stage at the Tomorrowland Terrace. More memories about the Magic Kingdom, rather than the attractions and shows in the park were of the program itself and the friends made. Even today, 30 years later a number of us are still in contact.
Cinderella Castle Magic Kingdom
Cinderella Castle
Magic Kingdom

Damn it…I got water drops screwing up my key board now. Twenty ten was my DC2CerUMA, Disney Coast to Coast-er Universally Magic Adventure doing the six US Disney parks, riding all the attractions on both coasts that weren’t under rehab, passing out Awesome Job cards by catching people doing their jobs well and as stated in other blog posts, visiting with Disney friends old and new so while I was traveling solo, I wasn’t traveling alone. Yeah, a very sentimental rating because of people and friends instead of rides, parades and shows.

2 Disneyland

me and partner statue Disneyland, Anaheim, CA
me and partner statue
Disneyland, Anaheim, CA
What to say about Disneyland. This is where it all started. Walt Disney planned and tinkered and experimented and created a new American cultural touch stone with this park. It’s been the foundation for what was planted in five other global locations. It’s small but it’s very intimate. This is where WED Enterprises cut their teeth designing attractions that even after 60 years are still in place. The iconic monorail, the Matterhorn, Small World brought back from the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, the omni mover from The Haunted Mansion, Great Moments with Mr Lincoln also from the New York World's Fair, the Jungle Cruise, all elements that mapped out the blue prints and standards for the future in technology, creativity and story telling. It all helped found a company that has influenced America and people around the world. You stand on Main Street USA looking at Sleeping Beauty Castle and wonder what Walt would think of his park today. You look at the light illuminating the window in the apartment above the firehouse and just say to yourself, Thank You or in my case, Mahalo for having the guts, insight, fortitude and willingness to surround yourself with people who were willing to push boundaries and the financial wrangling (Roy I’m looking at you!) to have a dream and vision come true.

1 Tokyo DisneySea

Mt Prometheus behind Fortress Explorations
Mt Prometheus behind
Fortress Explorations
Here is it, the top dog, the big cheese, the golden Mickey. To think this or a variation of it could have ended up in Long Beach although if it had, I don’t think it would be at the top of the list. This park really shows what Imagineering is capable of doing when provided the budget. To walk in past the Aquasphere and under the Hotel Mira Costa to the reveal of Mediterranean Harbor is one of the moments you won’t forget. For the first time in June of 2007 and again in June 2016, looking at Mt Prometheus with its smoking vents and occasional rumbles with expulsions of flame with the large Fortress Explorations in front of it as a streamer moves to the left and seems to approach a Venice canal gondola cause you to wonder what mystic portal you just stepped through transforming and transporting you from the everyday world into this unique environment. The Ports of Call instead of lands let you know you’re not in your typical Disney park. Owned by the Oriental Land Company they have to constantly change the park to keep the local population which is the largest group of attendees coming in through the turn styles. The architecture and blend of attractions have those fine details that distinguish this park among the Disney park roster. But, it’s the constant changing of the parades, shows, special events and food mean you won’t experience the same park twice. The one strike for the park is that a number of the newest attractions like Toy Story Mania, Fantasmic or Turtle Talk with Crushwhich can find elsewhere are almost direct copies as compared to the attractions early in the park’s life like Aquatopia, Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or my absolute favorite attraction across all of the Disney parks, Sindbad’s Storybook Adventure located in the Arabian Coast section of the park. OLC poured $4 billion into the park and surroundings when it opened in 2001 and are looking to invest $50B into the entire resort between 2014 and 2024. It’s going to be fun watching the park evolve even further.

So that’s my list. With my upcoming trip to the US parks for the first time in six years, my rankings may change. Cars Land, World of Color and Buena Vista Street at Disney California Adventure, experiencing Food and Wine for the first time at Epcot, the new Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom, Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios being ripped up for the new Star Wars lands and maybe The Rivers of Light at Disney’s Animal Kingdom will undoubtedly factor into those rankings.

Are you P12 meaning that you’ve experienced all twelve parks? If so, share your rankings let’s see what makes or breaks your rankings for the parks? You know, P12 probably isn’t a good name because eventually Disney will build their 13th park. What would you call it instead?