Wednesday, May 23, 2012

DL to WDW and back again

While I spent 8 years as a Walt Disney World castmember, I actually grew up going to Disneyland in California.  I lived in Burbank until I was 10.  My first trip to Florida's Disney was at age 12, a visit in which we spent one day at Epcot, one day at what was then called MGM Studios, and skipped the Magic Kingdom entirely on my parents' reasoning that we didn't need to go there because it was just like Disneyland.  I finally made it there when I was 18.

My first visit to Disneyland was in December of 1988.  Mickey was celebrating his 60th birthday, and I was 7 years old.  Mom and Dad took us there as one of our Hanukkah presents that year.  I remember them telling us about this magical place before we set eyes on it (We being me and my sister.)  I remember picturing Disneyland having similar qualities to the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade that we watched on tv- with clowns and such.  I imagined It's a Small World as a cave with life sized mechanical children singing stoically in a choir.  Dad used to point out the Matterhorn when we'd pass it while driving on the highway.  The first time he did this, I somehow missed the big white mountain, thought he was pointing to a building, and briefly believed that Disneyland was inside a building.

My memories of that first visit are a little hazy.  I do know that I insisted on wearing my Donald Duck sweatshirt even though it no longer fit.  You can see how small it is on me in this picture:

We spent most of that day in Fantasyland.  I found Mr. Toad's Wild Ride to be rather scary.  Probably my biggest memory from that trip, though, took place in Tomorrowland.  I chickened out on Space Mountain, but my sister at age 5 decided to try it.  She and Dad went for a ride.  When they came back, we kept asking Paula what she thought, but for some reason she refused to answer!  We spent the whole day there, right up until the midnight closing when Paula fell asleep and had to be carried to the parking lot.  We continued to return to DL every 1-3 years until I was 16, even after my family had moved to Tennessee.

When I finally made it to WDW's Magic Kingdom, I couldn't help but make constant comparisons to the California park.  When you are used to one, it is positively surreal to enter the other- Main Street in particular is like strolling into a parallel world.  It looks the same at first glance, but suddenly- hey why is the bakery over where the Emporium should be?  And whoa- the castle shrank/grew!  I ended up working at WDW during and after college because my family now lived in Tennessee.  At first, I very much thought of DL as my home park, but gradually, I had to admit that I now knew Florida's version better.  When I returned to DL for the first time in 10 years, my point of view was reversed!

On Disney message boards, the question comes up over and over- which coast is better?  Now, it's not really fair to compare the entire resorts to each other- Disneyland's 2 parks and 3 hotels vs. WDW's 4 parks and more than a dozen hotels (although I've read that despite that, WDW has a mere 10% more attractions than DL).  The best way to compare is to look at the two Magic Kingdoms.

WDW's Magic Kingdom is DL stretched out.  The pathways are larger, there is more space between attractions, etc.  Because of this, DL can often feel more crowded and more intimate.  In fact, DL actually has more attractions than MK.  They are just all squished closer together.  DL hosts several attractions that are found at WDW in parks other than MK such as Star Tours (MGM) and Honey I Shrunk the Audience (Epcot) which has now been returned to Captain Eo status.  The most obvious difference between the two parks is the size of the their castles.  Disneyland's adorable pale pink Sleeping Beauty Castle looks like a doll house compared to WDW's majestic Cinderella Castle.

Lots of people think that the Florida castle blows DL's out of the water, but personally, I love the little castle.  I think it's smaller size gives it a feeling of being more magical and whimsical- but then again, I love dolls and miniatures.

That's my feeling about Disneyland vs. Walt Disney World on the whole.  Walt Disney World really is a world in itself- a major tourist destination that people visit from all over the globe.  Disneyland, however, is a local attraction, and you get a very different vibe just wandering through it.  There is a sense of "this is our special park."  It's a regular family day trip as opposed to a once in a lifetime (or even once annual) vacation for a greater percentage of the visitors, which makes the atmosphere a little more relaxed. Also, this is the park that Walt himself had a hand in creating and could even be found visiting often during his life.  There's a whole history there that WDW doesn't quite match.

As for attractions that can be found at both parks, I find DL often has the upperhand.  DL's Pirates of the Caribbean is longer with more scenes than MK's.  DL's It's A Small World has larger show rooms and a better sound system.  When MK still had a Toontown, it was merely a shadow of what DL offers- although with the new Fantasyland in the works, WDW is likely to pull ahead.  I find Haunted Mansion pretty equal, although DL has you walk through a segment that is ride through on the other coast.  Jungle Cruise gets a vote for WDW- the Florida version has a whole Asian ruins scene not found in California.

Which park someone prefers is going to be a personal thing- often linked to which coast one grew up with.  My family has a history with Disneyland- both parents visited within the year it opened.

This is my dad and my aunt in '55:

My mom went to Grad Night at Disneyland in 1965.  She still has a program from that day with a message in it to all the students from Walt Disney.

I have an interesting perspective.  I grew up going to Disneyland only to end up spending most of my adult life so far working at WDW.  And now, I'm living back in California- only up north this time, about 6 hours from Disneyland.  And while I miss my life at Walt Disney World and it will always hold a special place in my heart, I can't help but feel as if I'm coming home now that Disneyland will be my Disney home base again.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Feminist yet a Disney Princess fan

The other day, I added to my collection of Disney fashion dolls (mostly Barbies, but some Disney Store brands too).  I have an entire over the door shoe organizer  full of them.  The vast majority of them are of my favorite of the Disney characters- the princesses.  I have nearly 30 of Belle alone:
Who's my newest addition?  Why Princess Merida of course:

Princess Merida is Disney's latest princess- an independent minded Scottish gal with a mane of fiery red hair whose movie arrives next month.  I know that technically she is Pixar, but as far as I'm concerned they are all one big happy family now, and I welcome Merida into the line up that began with Snow White.

What makes Merida interesting is not only is Pixar *finally* creating a film with a female protagonist, but from what I can tell from the trailers she has no love interest - making this the first Disney film to feature a princess character whose happily ever after for the moment doesn't involve finding a man.  Feminists rejoice!

I have to say, though, that while I consider myself feminist and am very excited to see Pixar's Brave, I do not have a problem with the romantic love stories of the other princesses.  I love a good love story.  What bugs me about some feminists is that they act as if woman shouldn't be feminine at all- as if it is a sign of weakness to be girly and romantic.  The truth is while a Disney princess usually end up with a man on her arms, that is not always the entire goal of the character.  I'll grant that Snow White seems to have very few goals beyond being swept away from her grim reality by a handsome prince and Princess Aurora has very little to do in her story, but Cinderella's desire to go to the ball had more to do with wanting to seek out joy and escape her stepfamily for a night than specifically to fall in love.  She doesn't go expecting to dance with the prince- she just falls into it.

Ariel is the first Disney princess to have real spunk and spirit enough to put changing her life into her own hands.  On the surface, it might look as if she sacrifices her whole world just to be with Prince Eric, but really it was an extension of wanting to be part of the human world.

One of my biggest pet peeves regarding the princesses are people who claim Belle has Stockholm Syndrome- the idea that Belle is acting like an abused wife who refuses to leave.  Belle sacrificed herself to save her father, and when she felt truly threatened, she did leave.  She only returned to the castle because the Beast saved her life!  She never sought out to change him.  She only helped him along when he showed her with his actions that he wanted to change.  She didn't love him until after this point.

The most recent additions to the Disney Princess line are the very different Princess Tiana and Rapunzel.  Tiana has amazing drive and passion with a dream to open her own restaurant. Rapunzel wants to see the world outside her tower.  Both meet their loves by chance while aiming for the path to their dreams.

I'm proud to be a fan of the Disney princesses- I have no shame in it.  I spent four years working at Cinderella castle completely immersed in their stories and little girls in sparkly dresses.  And while the princess franchise turns me off when it generalizes the characters and makes them all about tea parties and pretty hairdos, when one sits down and appreciates them as individuals, the beauty of their stories really shine.  If I have daughters someday, they will be allowed to play princess and be as frilly and pink and girly as they wish.  It won't make them into weak women.  And if they decide they don't want anything to do with that stuff, that's fine too.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Beginning

In second grade, I brought my Oliver and Company soundtrack to school and convinced my teacher to let us listen to it in class.

In third grade, I mentioned in three different school assignments that "Under the Sea" was my favorite song.

In fifth grade, we were asked to draw a picture of our favorite place.  I drew Sleeping Beauty Castle.

In eighth grade, I had a letter and my address published in a Disney comic book.  I ended up with a couple dozen penpals.

In high school, I was the one everyone came to if they had a Disney related question.

I chose a trip to Walt Disney World for my high school graduation gift.  During college, I spent a semester on the WDW College Program.  After I graduated college two years later, I moved to Florida where I would work for Mickey for the next eight years.  Needless to say, the Mouse and I have a long history together.

Last November, I got married, and my new husband and I moved all the way to Silicon Valley, CA where he has a great job as a software engineer for a start up company.  Since I left my castle home and am currently a stay-at-home wife (not yet a mother, but that will come within the next few years) keeping an eye out for opportunities, I decided to start this blog to share and nurture mutual Disney love.  In fact, I've discovered that since leaving the castle, my love for the magic is stronger than ever.

So what will this blog be about? Anything and everything Disney- from the parks to the films to the man himself and anything connected to those things such as fairy tales in general.  Let me know if there is something you'd like me to write about!

People often ask me what is it about Disney that I'm so infatuated with.  My own family doesn't get it- they have a healthy appreciation for Disney and they'll humor me, but I know they think I'm a little nuts.  The best way I can explain it is it's the stories- the happily ever afters and characters who touch your heart, the music- certain Disney songs can lift me up instantly, and the inspiration- Walt was a big believer in dreams and making them happen.

I recently visited the Walt Disney Family Museum.  I left feeling so humbled and proud and in complete agreement with many of his philosophies.

Here's a great quote of his:

"Why do we have to grow up? I know more adults who have the children's approach to life. They're people who don't give a hang what the Joneses do. You see them at Disneyland every time you go there. They are not afraid to be delighted with simple pleasures, and they have a degree of contentment with what life has brought - sometimes it isn't much, either."

I salute you Walt.  And I vow to never let go of my inner childlike smile and laugh and find joy in simple things, to skip instead of walk, dance when the music moves me, to imagine and create and explore and experience.  

That is why I love Disney.

Hope to seeya real soon, fellow Disney dreamers!