Alternate Fantasy – Bizarro Main Street

Back in the 80s, a popular male fantasy was the idea of dating identical twins. And also to chew gum with them. I am sure the cultured, societal men of today don’t indulge in such outdated notions, but it used to be a big deal. Two girls who are exactly alike in almost every way. If you wore a pair of polarized glasses, it would be like you are dating in 3-D.

Apparently if you are around identical twins a lot, you actually can start to tell the difference. Like for instance one lives in Boston, and the other lives in California. Or one sings and the other plays guitar. Or one has short hair and the other has long hair.

There's something very familiar about this...

There’s something very familiar about this…

I’ve been to the Magic Kingdom hundreds of times since moving to Central Florida. But in that same timeframe, I’ve only been to Disneyland 3 times. Lots of people like to debate which is better. Lots of people choose Disneyland. I never really got too excited about that debate, mainly because too many of the arguments come down to things that don’t matter to me.

  • Disneyland was first. So was that bald chick in Star Trek the Motion Picture. But the sequel gave us the greatest shirtless Star Trek villain of all time.
  • Walt Disney actually walked at Disneyland. But not in the last 45 years. Other than inspiring the original versions (which he did at Magic Kingdom also), Walt has his hand in very few remaining Disneyland attractions.
  • Disneyland has more rides. And single people party more than married people. Magic Kingdom has to work in concert with 3 other theme parks, 2 water parks, and a slew of resorts.
  • The people at Disneyland care more. This is just people being homers. It’s an impossible statement to prove. And anyway, judging by the paraphernalia, Oakland fans are far more committed than Jacksonville fans, but when the Raiders play the Jaguars, it’s still a coin flip on which team is actually better.

Rather than talk about which is better, I’d rather talk about what is different. For me, a trip to Disneyland is like dating the other twin. It feels eerily similar to what I’m used to, but something is off. Not in a bad way, just in a strange “her-left-earlobe-is-longer-than-normal” sort of way.

It’s hard to describe this sensation if you aren’t intimately familiar with one park or another. Minute by minute, your mind is constantly struggling to re-adapt to a place that it thought it had memorized. I don’t mean like trying to find the bathrooms. I mean things like the number of steps it takes to walk under the train station tunnels.

I recently got back from my date with Disneyland (One of two big reasons for my parkeology hiatus — the other being a national holiday that requires me to scramble around to various stores spending money. Curse you, Ninja Day!). I thought I’d spend some time diving into the things about Disneyland that rock my Magic-Kingdom-infused world. Some are good, some are bad, but what they mainly are is different.

Today, I focus on Main Street, U.S.A. And those train tunnels are short. It’s like four strides, and you’re through. Disneyland gets room for maybe three posters on the wall. Magic Kingdom’s tunnels are like sitting through 40 minutes of previews before The Hobbit even starts. This is on top of the immense parking lot, and the giant lake you’ve already traversed. By the time you set foot in the entry tunnels, you’re ready for the themed adventures to start already. Disneyland throws you right into the fantasy.

Once you’re on the street itself, everything looks exactly like it’s supposed to. Except when it doesn’t. The buildings have some subtle differences. Disneyland does feel a little more toy-like, more intimate. This is another reason people give for Disneyland being better, but to me, it’s not much of a plus. Say what you want about Disneyland’s intimate feel. It is negated by the crushing problem with handling crowds.

This year, Disneyland had the idea to hold the Candlelight Processional on Main Street every night for a month. This means there is a giant roped off stage right at the entrance to the park, and if you dare set foot on Main Street anytime between 4 pm and the end of the Fireworks, prepare to get up close and personal with ten thousand of your favorite strangers. Did I mention there is a giant theater back in Fantasyland that is completely unused? But no, because it’s Disneyland, and tradition, and all that, the Processional proceeds.

It’s not just the Candlelight that causes crowd problems. Adventureland is at times virtually impassible, as are several areas in Fantasyland. Not that Magic Kingdom doesn’t have its choke points also, but it holds people a lot better than its sister. Forget the intimate toy-like buildings. Give me an extra yard of sidewalk width.

Remember a few years back when the big Magic Kingdom hulabaloo was that they smoothed out the physical curbsides of Main Street, especially around Town Square and Hub? Well Disneyland laughs in the face of smooth passageways. And now that I’m visiting parks for the first time with an actual stroller, I have never in my life spent so much time wishing a curb wasn’t there. All you parents and wheelchair people, I’m finally understanding. Some things are just a bigger headache than they’re worth.

Another major difference is in the walk-around characters. It is always amazing to me that Disneyland characters will simply be mingling freely, not surrounded by a mob. In fact, in Toontown, the character assistant was even announcing this fact, to tell people it wasn’t necessary to form a line. “Goofy is walking around! Repeat, he is in motion.” I expected Secret Service agents to seal all exits.

We had several character encounters in Town Square, where there were chipmunks and rabbits and all sorts of cartoon rodents randomly strolling the sidewalks. Even Mickey Mouse himself turned up (albeit in Big Thunder Ranch) and spent copious amounts of time with my three-year-old unbothered. It was bizarre to say the least, since he would have commanded an hour-long wait for two minutes of pictures in a carefully organized greeting area at WDW. Do people not know who he is? Were they looking for Duffy the Bear? I think Disneyland still has that old-school, charming feel to the characters, before WDW commercialized them into PhotoPass opportunities. They add to the scenery, rather than becoming the focal point.

Now, can I give you a tip about the Fireworks? Disney parks on the whole have fallen into this idea of staging fireworks so that they simply HAVE to be viewed from Main Street, in front of the Castle. As we discovered in our second attempt to view the fireworks (the first having been decimated by my refusal to wait in shoulder-to-shoulder crowds for a couple hours before hand), there is a much better alternative. Watch them from Small World. There were literally fifty people in that location. And they do projections on the Small World building. You don’t get to see any characters flying off the mountain, but it’s worth it for some fresh breaths of oxygen. And Disneyland’s castle makes for a less impressive backdrop anyway.

When it comes to the shops and buildings, they are different enough, but not distractingly so. The buildings are roughly the same. From an attraction standpoint, Disneyland still has its Penny Arcade and its Cinema, but those are window dressing for the most part. And I should turn in my Parkeology Card for forgetting to check out the Magic Store. Is it still there? One thing you won’t find are any of those Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom hotspots.  Which explains why I didn’t often come upon a line of people staring at a random store window.

We may as well discuss the train right now. Disneyland has a side-facing cattle train, an experience you can only get at Animal Kingdom when in Florida. The vignettes along the route are pretty much the same, until Disneyland hits you with the one-two punch of the Grand Canyon/Primeval World diorama. It seems to come out of nowhere too, if you’re used to the Florida version (the trip between Fantasyland/Main Street is easily the most boring portion of the MK’s route).

Disneyland Town Square has Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, which would be the Mickey greeting area in Florida, but the show really should be compared to Hall of Presidents. In an interesting twist of fate, this “World’s Fair Original” borrows heavily from American Adventure, which came decades later. We get the “Two Brothers” song as well as “Golden Dream.” In spite of these elements, it comes across as smaller, less ambitious than either Hall of Presidents or American Adventure. Those are both mega-animatronic shows and are quite awesome in scope. Mr. Lincoln is not. It’s not hard to see his roots, as a technology demonstration, rather than a full-fledged experience.

My big regret is that I was unable to enjoy Main Street at night. One of my favorite parts of the old Disneyland TV show was when they would show the lights twinkling on, with people milling about. And being simply unwilling to waste time staking out concrete, I missed out on the parades as well.

In spite of everything listed above above, Main Street is still the land with the most similarities to Magic Kingdom, and it’s the one where the slight differences threw me off the most. I do have a favorite Disneyland tradition, a goodbye nod to the candle burning in Walt’s apartment. That’s something I can’t get here in Florida. Maybe in the end, it does matter that this is the park where Walt walked.

Next stop, Adventureland…


Comments (12)

  1. I had a very similar disorienting feeling when I moved from NYC to Chicago 10 years ago. Every time I thought it felt really similar, something would be in the wrong place or so different that I just walked around with a headache for a year.

    To me, Magic Kingdom seems like it has too much space. It’s nice that it handles crowds better. But in MK it can be a really long walk from Attraction A to Attraction B, with not a lot in between but pavement, shrubs, and trees. I like that at Disneyland it’s not such a long walk from A to B, and on the way you’ll run into Attractions C, D, and E. When you’re pushing a stroller or tugging a long a six year old or tired adult family member, that makes a big difference.

    I’d have to disagree about the third point. The fact that “Disneyland has more rides” fit into the park is part of what makes it more convenient. I would actually turn that around and suggest the Magic Kingdom doesn’t use its space very efficiently. Just because there are four theme parks in the World doesn’t mean you should spread your attractions out. I’d rather all four parks had more to do in them. The concept of “half-day” parks isn’t very appealing to me. Why shouldn’t MK and its sister parks all have as much to do as Disneyland? What would be wrong with that?

  2. I really enjoyed reading your thought and am looking forward to the next installment! Thanks for sharing, I love this blog so much!

    • Thanks Melanie! The next installment is now live!

  3. This is great. I was just talking about this with my wife. Especially:
    “Minute by minute, your mind is constantly struggling to re-adapt to a place that it thought it had memorized. I don’t mean like trying to find the bathrooms. I mean things like the number of steps it takes to walk under the train station tunnels.”

    It’s like a fever dream where you are somewhere you know intimately, yet you keep getting lost! My wife and I were both WDW cast before we got married, and we got married at DL. I remember walking around in a haze! It took us forever just to find the exit!

    I like da lot about DL (especially Indiana Jones) and want to bring our 5 year old daughter, as she’s only been to WDW many times, just to see her reaction.

    I love them both, but I guess I really love the half-recognition and slow disorientation of being completely lost in a familiar place.

    • Sorry it took me so long to respond, but I’m glad there are others out there who feel the same way. It’s not really a matter of getting lost, and it has to be so hard to explain to somebody who is not REALLY familiar with one or the other park. If you only go to WDW once a year, you might know it better than DL, but it’s not as strange as when you live there. it’s like somebody’s been into your things, rearranging them while you stepped out for groceries or something.

      I’m trying to think of other examples, but it’s hard to think of places that are very similar, almost identical, that aren’t theme parks. The closest I can come is… You know that feeling when you go to a Target store that is not your normal Target? And it looks the same, but you don’t know precisely where everything is? It’s kinda like that.

  4. Well clearly Shane is wrong.

    I see some inter office bickering about to start… And perhaps a point counter point style post by myself.

    I just got back from DL. Though like Shane I grew up visiting WDW and considered it “my” park (going back to when they had just the one), I can clearly see DL is superior to MK in most every possible way.

    The sole win the MK really has is its physical size, and that is what Shane mostly complained about at DL. I cannot argue this but guess what… Your a parent now, get used to it. Gone for the next 15 years is your ability to zig when the rest if the world zags… You will be taking your trips during school breaks, aka the busiest times at the parks, aka the time suckers visit. Welcome home sucker.

    DL around Christmas can be one if the least pleasant places on Earth. Nonetheless it is still superior.

    And for the record the Magic store is of course still at DL, though they did license it out to a chains hoc shop big in Vegas called Houdini’s. Not what it once was but at least it’s not a sweat shirt shop.

    • I’m glad you confirmed the Magic Shop. I was kicking myself for forgetting it.

      The one thing I will continue to reiterate… My experience with Disneyland’s cramped confines is not because I have kids now. It’s because the park is freakin’ small. I still navigate better than everyone else at the parks (elite Disney freak status, at least). But the crowds do make it more annoying. They did before I had kids, and they continue to be even more annoying pushing a stroller.

  5. The character interaction is one of my biggest gripes about WDW. You could seriously spend an hour just waiting in line to spend 60 seconds in the presence of a character.. and there is no intimacy. A hundred other people are watching, there is an obvious script, half the time the handler is ordering you to do something or practically stomping their foot to hurry you up, you feel very rushed and awkward. The characters have no “character”, they have no time to be “themselves”. Most of them are “attractions” of their own, and the few that appear randomly are there and gone so fast, and when their time is up they go whether there are guests waiting to see them or not. My daughter spotted Marie (from the Aristocats) when we were in Epcot, and we literally had to beg for just one photo, because apparently she was “off the clock”. She was covered in Marie “bling”, was obviously a huge fan, and still had to practically tear up before the handler agreed. I guess I’m spoiled by a childhood at Disneyland where you could spot a character out of the blue, run over, and give them a hug. You would be sitting down eating lunch and the seven dwarves would just go dancing by, patting kids on the head and shaking hands as they went. I’ve had the chipmunks sneak up behind me and tap me on the shoulder to surprise me. WDW is doing it wrong.

    I’m looking forward to the rest of this series. IMO Disneyland is the best, and not just because most of the rides are better than their WDW doubles, but it’s the entire feel of the park. It’s just more magical.

    • The WDW character greetings are frankly out of control. I don’t know who to blame, but I kinda want to blame the tourists. I don’t think Florida management created this monster. I think they’re catering to it. Somewhere along the line, great hordes of parents decided that meeting college kids in fuzzy costumes was what their kids really wanted to do. And Disney figured out a way to monetize this behavior. I can’t really explain it. It’s weird. I think Disneyland’s local audience helps prevent this silliness, because it’s not little Johnny’s once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet Friar Tuck.

      To your other point, I certainly will find no fault with somebody preferring Disneyland to Magic Kingdom. I happen to love them both. I do think it’s debatable that most of DL’s rides are better than the WDW doubles. I think there’s an equal number that are “better” at one property than the other. The main difference is, that when the WDW version is better, it is only marginally so (Splash, Thunder, Mansion, Jungle Cruise, in my opinion are all slightly better at WDW, and this is just an opinion). But when Disneyland is better, it is FAR superior (Pirates, Space Mountain, the Fantasyland dark rides).

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