The World’s First Traffic Jam

In the classic EPCOT Center attraction, the World of Motion, they based an entire show scene around the idea of the World’s First Traffic Jam, complete with animatronic chickens.

But Disney World’s First (and Worst) Traffic Jam happens every night at the Magic Kingdom. I don’t spend a lot of time musing about the future here (too many old haunts to visit), but I do find it interesting that Disney has finally turned its eye towards the colossal log jam that develops seemingly every single night at the Magic Kingdom. It’s like they’ve suddenly come awake to the problem, after 40 years.

As a local, I will tell you that Magic Kingdom is by far the most involved park to visit — and you know why. The parking lot is a mile away from the park itself. Going to the Magic Kingdom requires an investment in time just to get through the gate. And if you want to go home after the fireworks (i.e. when everyone else wants to go home), it requires even greater stamina.

It’s well known that Walt want the park situated as far from the everyday as possible. The monorail and the ferryboats represent a decompression chamber. As you sail over the Seven Seas Lagoon or glide in through the Contemporary atrium, the real world melts away, replaced by a fantasy land of make believe. It’s all well and good until the kids are tired, your feet are shot, and sixty thousand strong are streaming towards the monorail station.

It seems like in the span of a few months, they have embarked on major efforts to fix this.

First we have the Main Street Back Alley coming to life over behind the Plaza Restaurant. They’ve always used this backstage area as an alternate route through Main Street during heavy crowds, but now they have plans to theme it, which I am all for. It’s interesting to think of Main Street gaining another corridor, and it should be fun to see what they come up with. Anyone who has ever been stuck on Main Street during Wishes will welcome this new path.

Not only that, but the entire Hub is being expanded — hence the recent draining of the moat. I’ve heard grumblings about the loss of green spaces, but I really think Disney has absolutely no choice in this. Either cancel the fireworks, or create a bigger viewing area. Pick your poison. All it’s going to take is for some nutjob to shout “bomb!” during the nightly performance, and there will be a mass panic with lots of injuries due to the body-to-body crowds. And on peak nights (Fourth of July, New Years), you literally cannot move. It’s horrible.

Those efforts help with traffic inside the Magic Kingdom, but they’re doing things outside as well. When I arrived at the TTC earlier this week, Wishes was just about to kick off — meaning the Monorail system was about to get put under heavy load. They actually routed those of us coming into the park onto the Resort Line. It was frustrating for me, because now I had to wait for it to stop at Poly and Grand Floridian on my way in, but I’m sure the reason was to allow faster turnaround of the Express Monorail.

And finally, there is a new Ferryboat dock under construction, both at MK and at the TTC.

The new dock, still under construction at Magic Kingdom. The ferry in the distance is docking at the original dock.

The new dock, still under construction at Magic Kingdom. The ferry in the distance is docking at the original dock.

Ferries are really their best way to add capacity. You can’t add another monorail track without a lot of expense, but you could conceivably add more ferries without much more cost than just the boat itself.

It did get me to thinking about other ways in which to solve some of their problems. I don’t have much of an answer for the monorail/ferry overload. For years I’ve wished for a bridge and sidewalk over that small canal at the end of the Walkway Around the World (the one which houses the Electrical Water Pageant during the day). This would allow me to walk to the Grand Floridian, and from there continue on to the Polynesian and the TTC. It’s a ridiculously long walk, I know, but on the bad nights I wish I had the option. I hate waiting in interminable lines.

For the Fireworks problem, I’d like to see them expand the show a bit. They’ve made the Castle the centerpoint for years, but why can’t they have multiple unique viewing spots? Some fireworks that are centered around Space Mountain or Big Thunder or the Riverboat? That would disperse crowds throughout the performance, freeing up some of the logjam on Main Street. When I was at Disneyland a couple years ago, the Christmas fireworks had fake snow, with several snow points at different spots in the park. We ended up at Small World, and it was much more relaxing and the fireworks were just as good.

Anybody else have some ideas for how to improve the bottlenecks? Maybe we need a third transportation mechanism at the Seven Seas Lagoon. Ziplines over the water? An underwater tunnel? End-of-the-day Monorail FastPass? Maybe we can crowdsource a solution to make life easier. With all the changes happening to Magic Kingdom these days, a better exit strategy would be among the most welcome.


The Thing Behind Door 24

It cannot be real. I won’t let it. Yet somehow the desperate, still-sane part of my mind will not let me forget the truly unsettling site I witnessed at the Magic Kingdom on the evening of March 24.¬†As I write this, I am still quite shaken. I don’t know what will come of this nightmare. But there is a dark presence at work in Walt Disney World. And it is clutching at us all.

It happened on an innocent trip to Liberty Square. Wishes had just ended. A light rain was sending even the dedicated spring break crowd streaming for the exit. A perfect time for me to circle through the pleasantly empty sidewalks of the Magic Kingdom.

I crossed over the bridge from the Hub, studied the empty moat for a few moments before moving on. I was hungry, and checked out the menu for Sleepy Hollow. I decided with the chill from the rain that an ice cream sandwich did not sound appetizing.

I continued on past Hall of Presidents. No more shows for the evening. I rounded the corner, into that little outdoor sitting area between the Presidents and Columbia Harbor House. And then I saw it.

No other people were around in this little corner of the park — though they were certainly on the main walkway between Liberty Square and Fantasyland. Something flashed in the corner of my eye, startled me, made me turn around.

The Western face of Hall of Presidents is rather unremarkable. Colonial brick, a few faux doors, and the Paul Revere window on the second floor. Here’s how it looked the night of my passing:

Door 24

But there is something insidious behind Door 24. A strange force that delights in the creepiness of the ordinary. Allow me to brighten the above picture for you just a bit.

Door 24 Brightened

Do you see it? That thing lurking behind the window? It’s a ghostly presence, I tell you. The vestiges of some spirit creature roaming the halls of Liberty Square. What is this demon spawn? I moved in as close as I dared and turned on the flash. Behold!

Come inside and play.

Come inside and play.

Is that not the creepiest doll you have seen outside of Gran Fiesta Tour? What is that thing doing in the window, grinning its knowing smile, its pinpoint eyes searching the streets for easy prey? It’s got an odd wooden head, painted hair, a black backdrop. It’s a warning, I tell you. We have disturbed something primeval in our travels, and now it beckons our souls to come inside Door 24, where it can show us what darkness truly looks like. Perhaps it is the same evil spawn that drove the Carousel family to madness, or etched its permanent horror on the windows of New York Street, or devoured small children whole at Test Track.

Do not set foot in Liberty Square after dark. You are not safe. None of us are.


Return to Opening Day: Disney MGM Studios 1989

Last week we embarked on a different path: The Opening Day Tour. Here is your chance to visit classic attractions as they appeared on opening day. Short shorts and feathered hair are optional.

We began in 1998, with the opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Remember Nah-ta-zu? If so, you’re an AK Baby! We stopped by the Boneyard for some good old fashioned playtime, then queued up under the Tree of Life to watch It’s Tough to be a Bug, starring a whole bunch of strange Pixar characters that won’t debut on screen for several more months.

But today, our time machine is rotating backwards for our return to the 80s, that magical land of mullets, Max Headroom, and Milli Vanilli. The year is 1989 and You. Are. There.

This place is so old, even the name is gone.

This place is so old, even the name is gone.

Welcome to the Disney MGM Studios! Not only was it announced after the Universal Studios park, it managed to open a full year before. Quite a reversal from 2014, where we wait half a decade for a Seven Dwarfs coaster to appear while Universal rattles off Harry Potter Land 2 in the span of a few months. Here’s your Opening Day list of attractions.

  1. The Great Movie Ride
  2. The Magic of Disney Animation Tour
  3. SuperStar Television
  4. The Monster Sound Show
  5. The Backstage Studio Tour
  6. Hollywood! Hollywood! A Star Studded Spectacular!

Whoa, and you thought Animal Kingdom was light on things to do! It’s a little misleading. The two tour based attractions were rather long. And of course so is the Great Movie Ride and SuperStar Television. And let’s not forget about all those celebrities you were bound to see, what with all the actual movies being filmed there. But let’s see how much has changed in 25 years…

This guy has been directing the same shot for decades.

This guy has been directing the same shot for decades.

You can forget about the Hollywood Hollywood show. Pretty much everyone else did. It was a live theater thing in the Theater of the Stars, and it didn’t even last the year. By August it was gone, and the theater spent the next several months in the dark, gearing up for a Dick Tracy show. It seems odd, but the Theater of the Stars actually used to be very close to the Brown Derby, and made up one ear of the largest Hidden Mickey on property. Check out early guide maps if you want to see it. Parts of the giant Micky are still there today, including Echo Lake (right ear) and different colored pavement that forms Mickey’s eyes. It wasn’t until Sunset Boulevard was constructed in the mid-90s that the theater moved to its current location down near Tower of Terror.

Both tours are still operating in some form. The Backstage Studio Tour (now called the Studio Backlot Tour) featured both a walking and a riding portion, just as it does today. But today’s tour is a shadow of its former self. The tram has nothing to visit now except Catastrophe Canyon (still identical to its opening day incarnation). The rest of the backlot is gone, though many of the boneyard props are still scattered about (and look exactly as if they’ve been sitting in the Florida sun since 1989). The tram will still take you on a big loop, but there’s nothing to see except the Lights Motors Action theater and a topiary of the Earful Tower. Remember that back when the Studios first opened, New York Street was considered a live set, and guests were prohibited from moseying back there.

Mojave Oil has caused more disasters than all their competitors combined.

Mojave Oil has caused more disasters than all their competitors combined.

The walking tour portion involved the water tank, still in use today. It even used the big dump tank with the wheelhouse, which was a much more timid sea-captain-in-a-storm scene than today’s Pearl Harbor Attack. But the walking tour used to continue through a series of soundstage corridors with various celebrity guides, culminating in the Walt Disney Theater for a look at upcoming Disney movies. The same theater is now used for One Man’s Dream, and at least some of the sound stages have been eaten up by Toy Story Mania.

The Animation Tour is also a shadow of its former self. Gone is the Back to Neverland charm-fest with Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite. Now we get a forced interaction between Mushu and a Cast Member pretending to be an animator. And there’s no longer any Animation Studio tour. Just Mickey meet-and-greets and tired interactive games.

It’s a shame we are focusing on Opening Day and not Opening Year, because two more major attractions were added to Disney MGM Studios towards the end of 1989. Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular debuted in August, and the show is still running strong. Though its script has changed over the years, most of the same elements are still intact. Star Tours opened in late November, but of course has been revamped completely since then.

Over on Echo Lake, we had Martin Short and Chevy Chase starring in the Monster Sound Show — which had the distinction of being the first opening day attraction to disappear completely (except maybe that Hollywood show). They tried to keep the same gag going, with a sound effects show based on the Disney TV cartoons, and then later with a stereophonic sound demonstration starring Drew Carrey. But that theater is empty now, only used on special days like Star Wars Weekends.

Next door was SuperStar Television, which introduced guests to the magic of the green screen. The shtick petered out and it was junked in favor of Doug Live, a live action show based on a forgettable cartoon character. Then it sat empty for many years until it was reborn as the American Idol Experience.

But all is not lost, Time Travelers! You still have the Great Movie Ride, which is as close as you’re going to get to Opening Day 1989. Let’s face it. The script has changed, and the ending montage has added a few different clips — but honestly, it’s not that different. You still have virtually all the same scenes, right down to the shoot-outs with cowboys and gangsters. The guides may give you some different lines, but otherwise it’s the same show. Even the trailers playing in the queue are the same (and the print looks like it hasn’t been replaced in 25 years).

The rare cowboy scene -- brought to you by Mojave Oil.

The rare cowboy scene — brought to you by Mojave Oil.

25 years is a long time. It’s amazing that we have any attractions from a quarter century ago that still look basically the same as they did back then. But our journey isn’t over. Let’s rewind the 80s even more. EPCOT Center awaits. Could there possibly be anything left from 1982?