It’s hard for me to believe that Horizons, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the Skyway, and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride have been gone for 15 or 20 years now. There are readers of this blog in college who never knew what it was like to smell oranges, experience claustrophobic panic attacks, anonymously spit on people from above, or go to hell.
My parents’ generation had that Civil Rights movement thing, and even today young people still picket and protest over perceived social injustices, but my crowd staged sit-ins over the right to watch a plywood toad honk at us for three minutes.
It’s been awhile since Disney closed a classic attraction (okay, it was last summer). But certainly nothing as totally beloved as Horizons or Toad. We all have ideas on what should stay and what should go. But ever since Disneyland shut down the Phantom Boats less than a year after park opening, attractions have been fair game for the chopping block, if such a metaphor is even possible.
But attractions are things that Disney can market. The all-important ride count. You can’t just shut down a major animatronics show without a significant capital investment to replace it. So today I’d like to look at 6 things that are not attractions, that somehow still linger inside Walt Disney World, in spite of the world passing them by.
Film and Camera stores
There’s a shop on Hollywood Boulevard called the Darkroom, which still advertises itself as selling cameras and film. I never understood what kind of family would show up at a theme park and plunk down huge retail mark-up cash for a camera, even when people still carried cameras. But nowadays, you’re either a serious photographer (in which case you have your own Canon SLR SuperMax Ultra Plus with a set of matching lenses), or you have a phone.
What about the store under Spaceship Earth which is still called the Camera Center? Is there an Amish family wandering in for a day at Epcot, badly in need of a role of 35mm film for their antiquated Kodak point-and-shoot? Even on the off-chance that there are a few luddites passing through the gates, shunning their Magic Bands for the old rubber-stamp paper tickets and the UV ink handstamp for re-admission, they can’t possibly be purchasing enough film to keep these stores in the black.
Yes, I know the camera and film selection at these places has dwindled significantly over the years, but it assumes that not only are there people out there who tote these cameras around on vacation in a giant diaper bag (as opposed to a phone in their pocket), it also assumes that these people, in their absentmindedness, forgot to buy film for their family heirloom. Invest in an iphone, people. You’ll be better off in the long run. Which leads me to…
The number of pay phones sitting out in the open is incredible. I have not seen an individual use one of these in at least 5 years. And yet at every bathroom, you’ll find a bank of 2 or 3 silver plated privacy cubbies where some relic receiver from a 1950s police show is hung on a braided silver wire, just waiting for you to drop in a quarter or try to call someone collect (do people still do that?)
There must be hundreds of pay phones across property, and while I’m sure the maintenance budget on those things is small, how much cash can they possibly be raking in? A buck-twenty-five every week or so? What kills me is that each and every one of these phones has a nice shelf beneath it, upon which sits a paper-bound volume the size of an encyclopedia, which I presume is the Orlando Area Yellow Pages. Trees are dying for this, and as proof of how useless they are, I bet half of you don’t know what an encyclopedia is either.
In today’s google-centric world, I can’t imagine how frustrating it would be to page through one of those phone books in search of a good pizza place for after I’m done touring the parks. They should rip every one of those phone banks out and replace them with device charging stations.
The Electrical Water Pageant
Let’s be honest: As much as we might like the old school Disney charm of something that has been a mainstay at the resort for more than 30 years, how has this little water parade managed to stick around? They trot it out every night, with its 1970s tableau of primitive Christmas Tree decorations synchronized to music. It floats past three or four hotels like a funny little ice cream truck, then rolls back into its cave and goes to sleep.
It’s not an attraction. It barely warrants mention in any of the marketing materials. I don’t see it advertised much at the resorts, other than an occasional line item in the standard resort newsletter. There are no Designated Water Pageant Viewing Areas. Nobody is booking a stay at the Contemporary because of it.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Electrical Water Pageant. But I like it because it is quaint and low-tech and it reminds me of Walt Disney World’s more innocent past. But for a company as forward thinking as Disney, I’m surprised this bit of obvious nostalgia has survived.
Half the Games at Disney Quest
DisneyQuest is the great second-tier theme park experience that tragically remains perpetually stuck in 1998.
When DisneyQuest opened, it was supposed to be a mix of current arcade favorites and several signature attractions that weren’t quite theme park rides, but were unique premium adventures far beyond anything you might find in Dave and Buster’s. The arcade games continued to be updated on a regular basis, but the premium attractions have remained mostly unchanged since opening day.
It’s that whole iphone thing again. Everyday technology blows it away. When DisneyQuest opened, the top video game consoles were the PlayStation 1 and Nintendo 64. Think about that. If you think the Nintendo Wii looks out of date now next to Xbox and Playstation 3, remember that the Wii is TWO GENERATIONS after the Nintendo which was popular when DisneyQuest opened its gates.
Have you taken a ride on the Virtual Jungle Cruise lately? It’s a polygonic forest. What about that Aladdin Magic Carpet ride? It’s like watching a 1950s 3-D. And you can keep going right down the line. Ride the Comix can’t match the performance of Wii Bowling. ExtraTerrorestrial Alien Encounter is — well, okay, the only place you can still experience Alien Encounter. Treasure of the Incas has been paved over and replaced with shooter games. Mighty Ducks Pinball (what’s the Mighty Ducks? Also, what’s Pinball?) is abandoned. Cyber Space Mountain is just a sickening ride through low-res 3-D environments that look like an architect’s slick presentation from 1989. The Buzz Lightyear AstroBlasters is still popular, but ironically is the lowest tech attraction in the building. And the Pirates of the Caribbean game (the ONE attraction that has been updated from its earlier Hercules incarnation) is, I suspect, only trading on the popularity of the Johnny Depp franchise, and not because of its wow factor.
It’s ironic that the most fun part of DisneyQuest today is in visiting all the old arcade games on the top floors. That, and having pay-one-price access to all the current games. The idea of blending an arcade with premium experiences has fallen by the wayside. I don’t know how long they can keep Virtual Jungle Cruise going. Speaking of which…
Specialty Stores at Downtown Disney
Downtown Disney has always had a baffling selection of specialty shops, and a lot of them don’t make it very long. It kind of wants to be a funky spin on the idea of a mall, but I don’t know what some tenants are thinking.
The list of failures is a long one. They had a Magic Shop, for crying out loud. Do kids still buy magic? Especially of the floating-penny and card-trick variety. I loved the charm of the Main Street Magic Shop, but I never really understood why there was a magic store at Downtown Disney. Or what about that shop that was nothing but magnets. “Thousands to choose from, in every shape, size, and color!” An entire building of magnets. It was a West Side staple for years. Whenever I saw it, I was always reminded of that fake Saturday Night Live commercial, about the bank whose business was making change. “How do we make money? The answer is simple: volume.” Magnetron still exists over at Marketplace, in one of those cramped little side booths. I always pass by it and think it should be holding a little cardboard sign and a tin cup: “Lost polarity. Need help. God bless.”
For the life of me, I can’t understand how the Pop Gallery stays in business. I swear they must have a leprechaun minting gold somewhere in there. Who is going to this funky little Disney mall and coming home with thousands of dollars worth of ceramic Elvis hound dogs or Suessian primary color dinosaurs?
A few of the high-end resorts have Wyland Galleries and the like, and that sort of makes sense. The resorts are more upscale, with a quieter setting and usually decorated in the sort of classy sculptures and paintings that are on display, with a clientele passing by who is rich enough to afford them. Half the time, the only people hanging around outside the Pop art store are the people in line for the next Johnny Depp movie at the AMC.
And finally we have…
It’s a shame, because Disney postcard art is sort of a classic Disney collectible, like mouse ears or trading pins or light-up spinny gizmos that your kid breaks four minutes into the parade. But I’m just not sure this merchandise is selling anymore.
Certainly nobody is mailing postcards, which renders all those mail drops moot. If kids want to say hi to their friends back home, they’ll text them. They’re not going to carry around the snail mail address, drop 40 cents on a stamp, and dig a pen out of mom’s purse in order to write “Wish you were here!” on the back of a picture of Big Al.
Where once every shop had a little round turntable full of a colorful assortment of postcard options, they’re actually kind of hard to find now. You have to look in the big flagship stores: The Emporium, World of Disney, Mouse Gear, etc. It’s a bit of theme park merchandise that has again been rendered obsolete by that ubiquitous device, the camera phone.
So that’s my list. What other things are still hanging around Walt Disney World well past their shelf life? And please don’t say Eric Idle.