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Published: July 25th 2015
... with Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse in the foreground. "I only hope that we don't lose sight of one thing - that it was all started by a mouse."
In the last week of June I attended the World Congress on Positive Psychology
at – no, I am not kidding – Walt Disney World in Florida. I have written something on the congress on cut-e scienceblog
. It was a super interesting and extremely inspiring congress. But as you can imagine I also wanted to explore Disney World.
Disney World is a huge area. There are four theme parks: Magic Kingdom
, which is the classical one where you find the famous Cinderella Castle and all the Disney characters; Epcot
, which in a way explores the world of today and tomorrow; Hollywood Studios
, where you can experience all the Disney movies; and Animal Kingdom, a zoo that showcases today’s and yesterday’s animals. Moreover, there is Downtown Disney
, which is located on the shores of a lake and has restaurants, cafés, and shops, and there are a few water parks.
I arrived on Wednesday night, the day before the congress started, and since the congress opening would only take place on Thursday afternoon I had time to meet up with my uncle Helmut and my aunt Anne who live in Okala, just one and a half hours from Disney World. I had not seen them in maybe twenty years,
The entrance and "Mission: Space".
but I still recognised them. They had driven all the way to my resort to pick me up although they would be going to New York the next day and still had to pack. They invited me for lunch in a town called Celebrations. After lunch we took a walk and then went to Downtown Disney for a coffee. Not too much to see there, as I already mentioned it is just restaurants, cafés, and shops, and of course a lot of merchandising. Back in the resort we had a drink, and then Helmut and Anne left. Thank you for a super nice afternoon! I went to the congress opening and was busy presenting, attending talks, and networking until Sunday afternoon.
For Sunday I bought an afternoon ticket for Epcot. The highlight of this theme park to me clearly was World Showcase Lagoon. It showcases different parts of the world in a nutshell. There is Canada, Mexico, China, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, England, France (represented by Paris), Italy (represented by Campo di San Marco, Venice), and Germany. In each of the “countries” there are a few buildings in traditional style, you can buy local food, there are shows, and employees
Germany. Of course represented by Bavaria...
working there are from the respective countries. Of course I spent some time in “Germany”. There was a medieval castle and a few “old” buildings arranged around a square. As always, Germany was represented by Bavaria. So employees were wearing Dirndl and Lederhosen, and one could buy steins and other items with the Bavarian flag. I talked to a girl who works there for a year and who is from Mainz, and she said that was kind of strange to represent Bavaria although being from a totally different region of the country. I can imagine! Most importantly, in the shop they sold the famous Christmas Pickle there that all Germans put into their Christmas tree. There was a table explaining this tradition (that actually is a legend!). I had Mezza in “Morocco” for dinner and later on bought some ice cream in “France”. One might smile about all this, but I think the creators really had a vision behind this: showcase the world to those who can’t afford to travel to these places. I think this is a great idea, and of course such a place will never ever reflect the complexity of a country with all its different regions.
Christmas Pickles. As everyone knows, it is a tradition to put the famous Christmas Pickle into the Christmas tree here in Germany. Fellow Germans, if you don't do that you are missing out on a tradition ;-)
But is it not better than nothing at all?
Apart from World Showcase Lagoon there are a few other attractions as well. I flew over the West coast of the US in a hang glider at “Soarin’”. The flight was nice, but they should not have labelled it as a flight in a hang glider. We started off above the clouds (totally unrealistic because you can’t get above cloud base in a thermal; on aero-towing we once made it above cloud base briefly, but that was only once). A very cool attraction was “Mission: Space”, where we were recruits that were briefly trained by Gary Sinise and then flew to Mars. The take-off was really fast and nothing for weak stomachs. Another cool attraction was “Test Track”, where you test drive a self-designed car. It is very fast and a lot of fun. After dark there were wonderful fireworks at World Showcase Lagoon, and with this, my afternoon at Epcot ended.
The next two days I spent in Magic Kingdom to meet all the heroes of my childhood. I first took a ride around the park with a real steam train and then started exploring the park on
Campo di San Marco in Venice, Italy.
foot. You enter at Main Street USA, designed like a town in the US in the early 20th century, and walk right towards famous Cinderella Castle. The castle is not accessible, you can only walk around it, but it has a stage where there are dancing and singing performances several times a day. Behind Cinderella Castle Fantasy Land begins. It is the home of all the magic Disney characters, such as Ariel the Little Mermaid, The Beauty and the Beast, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, Dumbo, Goofy, and of course Mickey Mouse. Walt Disney always reminded everyone (and maybe also himself) that it all started off with a mouse.
In “Under the Sea – The Journey of the Little Mermaid” you sit in a little car that takes through the entire Ariel story, along with all the songs. At “Enchanted Tales with Belle” you enter the Beast’s castle to meet the beauty Belle. At “Peter Pan’s Fight” you fly over Neverland with Peter Pan, Wendy, and her brothers and see how they defeat Captain Hook. At “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” you follow Winnie the Pooh into his world in a giant honey pot
and meet Tigger, Piglet, and all the other characters. “The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train” is a fun roller coaster. At “Mickey’s PhilharMagic” you watch Donald Duck trying to conduct an orchestra and being swept into several of the Disney tales – all in 3D.
On the other side behind Cinderella Castle there is Liberty Square, designed like an American town from colonial times. There you can take a ride on a Mississippi steamboat. In Liberty Square there is one building dedicated to the US presidents. A few presidents and their achievements are described in detail. And there is a show on these presidents and their achievements. After a short movie the curtain opens and Abraham Lincoln starts talking. The thing is that he is a dummy, but he looks so real that I almost found it scary. When the curtain opens he is sitting in a chair and after a while he gets up, moves his lips, arms, and hands. And towards the end of the show it gets even creepier because a second curtain opens and then one can see a big room with all the US presidents. Each president is briefly introduced by the speaker and bows
the head or moves somehow. This attraction, however, is not meant to be scary or creepy, although I found it to be exactly that. There is one attraction that is meant to be exactly that: scary. It is the Haunted Mansion, a ghost train – designed nicely, but not exactly scary. Anyway…
Next to Liberty Square there is Adventureland, where you can do a jungle boat trip and climb into a tree house. There are also the Pirates of the Caribbean, but this attraction was closed. At the far end there is Frontierland that showcases the Wild West. It is designed like a Wild West town; there is a boat that takes you on Tom Sawyer Island, there is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster, and Splash Mountain white-water ride.
On the other side of Cinderella Castle there is Tomorrowland. There is the People Mover that takes people around the area and that gives a good overview. On Speedway one can go for a rally; one can assume the role of a space prison guard that is faced with Stitch, who escapes from prison; there is a Monsters Inc. comedy show; there is the Carousel of Progress that
showcases the progress in technology (home appliances) during the last century; and there are a few other attractions which I did not try out because queues were way too long, such as Space Mountain and Astro Orbiter.
The park is incredibly crowded, but I found it super fascinating that it never ever got crammed. People kept moving although there were so many and additionally there were stroller and scooter parking areas. I wonder whether there is some mathematical model behind the whole layout of the park that ensures that the crowd keeps moving. Another thing that is really well-organised is the system of Fast Passes. When buying a ticket there are three complimentary Fast Passes per day. One is allocated a time window of an hour to an attraction one can select in advance. When one gets there within this time window one has immediate access to the attraction without any waiting time, which is great because at the popular attractions waiting times can be between 40 and 100 minutes! The food I ate was okay, but not super. Still, also here everything was well-organised and there were no long waiting times. Another thing I found pretty cool was
the Magic Band, and wristband on which your park entrance tickets and Fast Passes are saved. It also serves as a key to your resort room and you can even pay with it. Of course this wristband makes you easy to track, but it is also very convenient.
All the attractions are designed with a lot of attention to detail and everything is extremely well maintained. Also the rides are fairly long, so you really get something after waiting outside the attraction. I had the feeling that I really immersed into the stories. So I had had two and a half days full of impressions. I have to confess that on Monday night I felt even a bit overwhelmed and could not take in any more information. Tuesday was better again.
On Wednesday I did not have to leave for the airport until in the afternoon and thought of maybe going to Hollywood Studios, but then decided that I had had enough of Disney. Instead, I went for a morning run, had a one of the most fantastic massages I had ever had, spent an hour by the pool, and then did some work before leaving for the
Mexico. Aztec pyramid that is accessible, it has a restaurant inside and you can even take a boat trip und the earth.
airport and flying back home.
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