That Disney ‘Magic’

Epcot at Night

Epcot at Night

It had been a typical long, hot day in Orlando in July. Not the ideal day to be out at the theme parks, but work dictated we needed to do some last-minute up-dating at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and then Epcot.

It’s always a valuable exercise to do what the majority of the general public do; see it through their eyes, and feel their joys and (more importantly) frustrations. The secret of good guidebook writing (in our minds) is to approach it with the view of the end user in mind or, in this case, the thousands of Joe Tourists we are writing for.

So, Epcot parking lot at 4pm on a hot (around 92F) July afternoon. Just missed the tram to the front gates and there isn’t another one in sight. So I decide to walk in, from row Create 45 in the parking lot, which seems about two miles in this kind of heat (ground temperature well past 100). I still manage to get there before the tram has even left to return to the parking lot, and I wonder how those left standing in the afternoon Florida sun must feel (pretty hot and bothered, I’m guessing).

Once at the turnstile, my ticket won’t work (not for the first time). Now, we bought 7-day Premium tickets with the non-expiration option earlier this year to give ourselves the ability to hop in and out of the parks on work duty when necessary. And yet this is at least the third time in the past 5 visits when one of our tickets has malfunctioned at the turnstile. Chalk up another frustration for Joe Tourist.

We usually take bottles of water with us to keep us hydrated around the parks, but I’d managed to leave mine sitting back in the kitchen, full of lovely, ice-cold H2O. So I was forced to go looking for a drink from one of the park kiosks. $2.50 later, I at least had something to prevent me keeling over in the heat, but add another (price) frustration to the growing list. For a quick bite to eat, the ‘turkey sub’ at the Electric Umbrella sounds like it fits the bill. For $9 I get a small torpedo roll with two thin slices of pre-packed turkey, a thin layer of cheese, a small slice of tomato and two limp pieces of lettuce. Not the bargain of the day, and it leaves us speculating just how much Disney are cutting back in the current financial climate. Sure, the parks are busy, but there is the distinct impression people are being given less along with the special ‘deal’s aimed at luring them into resort stays.

The Epcot park lot - hot!

The Epcot parking lot - hot!

Surprisingly for this late hour in the day, the queue for Spaceship Earth was still substantial, the FastPasses for Soarin‘ were long since gone and the trip around World Showcase felt like a forced march with the Foreign Legion through the heart of the Sahara (albeit with better scenery).

A vision of holiday heaven this certainly was not.

By 7.30pm, many people are already starting to stake out the best spots for the IllumiNations firework and special effects show that brings down the curtain at the park at 9pm each day. Some have even put towels down to mark ‘their’ territory along the waterfront in Canada. I can envision some less-than-friendly jostling later on. With the way the day is shaping up, you have to wonder seriously at the rationale behind taking a holiday somewhere so hot and crowded. Is this really what people should be doing with their hard-earned money these days.

Why would you want to enter, voluntarily, somewhere that has the  climate of a sauna with the controls turned to “full on”?

As we are pondering this apparent vacation conundrum we pass by the Off Kilter show in Canada. It is right at the end of their final set of the day  and, just as our patience and sanity is about to wear out with the apparent welter of small frustration and iniquities of the day, we are stopped in our meandering, weary and distinctly sweaty tracks.

Off Kilter!

Off Kilter!

For anyone unfamiliar with the Canada pavilion’s signature live act, Off Kilter are a rock band. With bagpipes. And it works. Despite all the rock ‘n roll evidence to the contrary (what next – a heavy metal band with duelling tubas?), this is a great sound, one of our all-time Epcot favourites, and our sanity is temporarily saved. With a smile back on our faces, we are able to complete our World Showcase tour and pronounce the Epcot re-write of the Brit Guide to Orlando, well and truly ‘done’.

With our final note-taking complete (including little sweat-stained corners), we decide to get out of the heat; somewhere, anywhere. It is a distinctly busy evening (an Extra Magic Hours evening, so not the wisest of choices on our part but, when the schedule dictates, we have to obey it!) and the crowds are now pretty thick everywhere; the lines for even the counter-service options are about a half-mile long, so we’re a bit strapped for choice of anything, anywhere, to cool down. We’re in France, so, into the Impressions de France show we go. Any port in a storm, hey?

Only a funny thing happened on the way to the air-conditioning. Some more Disney magic just ‘materialised’, and this time it took over completely.

The beautiful France pavilion

The beautiful France pavilion

By the end of the 20-minute film, we are smiling and serene; cooled off by the A/C but, more importantly, inspired by this truly beautiful look at France, its countryside, history, people and music. Especially the music – Saint-Saens, Debussy, Satie and Offenbach; epic stuff.

Then it’s time to head out around the World Showcase promenade and experience one of the greatest Imagineering feats Disney have ever pulled off.

IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth is a show we have been utterly captivated by and in love with since its debut for the Millennium celebrations in October 1999. We know it inside out and off by heart, having seen it scores of times since then. And we still end in tears every time, moved beyond words by the epic majesty, choreographed beauty, heartwarming essence and stirring musical score.

Nowhere in the World (the rest of the world, not just Disney’s version) has anything like this, and nothing else makes you feel quite so hopeful for humankind, quite so moved by man’s positive achievements and quite so joyful at the overall effect.

The sense of awe, wonder and grace that the show provokes every time (and they do this EVERY night, remember) is simply unequalled in anything else we have seen of its kind.

And so, we leave Disney World with the earlier frustrations forgotten; with happy, embedded memories, ready to sing the praises of this amazing park and not worry too about the drawbacks. Disney magic at its very best.

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3 Responses to “That Disney ‘Magic’”

  1. Andy De Maertelaere Says:

    No mather how bad a day starts, IllumiNations always makes it better! I love IllumiNations and hope to get to see it many times on our next trip. (But you did scare me with the heat story)

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