Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Things I Miss (Walt Disney World Edition)

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not one of those old farts who doesn't like change. I enjoy change. I seek out change. I thrive on chaos. After all, I was a youth pastor for all those years! So this is not one of those grumpy old man, "Get off my lawn!" kinds of a post. But there are things that would be better off left alone. It doesn't mean that new is not good, but in some cases old was just better. I still love New York City, but it was better when Oh-La-La was still serving the world's best hot chocolate. I look froward to going back to my old stomping grounds of Myrtle Beach someday, but not as much as I would if the Pavilion was still there. And then there is Walt Disney World.

My love affair with WDW really began on our honeymoon in 1986, and from 1991 -2006 I was an annual passholder (my wife and son still are). It was our second home, a place where we often spent days with my parents, a place where my son grew up, a place where we enjoyed many great youth group experiences and a place that for us really was the "happiest place on earth." But we also witnessed many changes. Attractions, restaurants and shows that came and went. Special things that we enjoyed because we felt like they were "our secrets." So today I want to share (from a list of about 50) 10 things that it saddens me to say are no longer part of the WDW experience. In no particular order, here we go...

* Breakfast at Tony's Town Square Restaurant - Tony's (located just inside the entrance to the Magic Kingdom) still exists, but it has now been many years since they served breakfast. Back in the old days you could make reservations, arrive at the MK an hour before actual park opening, and have a magnificent start to your days at Tony's. We made a habit of this, primarily because they served the best cinnamon rolls ever! It's not too late to bring this one back, oh high and mighty keepers of all things Disney!

* Sorcery In the Sky - For many years this end-of-the-night fireworks spectacular at the Disney/MGM Studios (which will ALWAYS be the name of the Hollywood Studios to me!) was our favorite in all of WDW. Perfectly choreographed to some of the greatest movie music of all time and narrated by the great Vincent Price, the show would light up the sky over The Great Movie Ride. And for the grand finale, set to the music of Fantasia, a giant inflatable Mickey the Sorcerer would rise from the roof of the Chinese Theater and shoot fireworks out of his finger. Absolutely EPIC!!!

* Superstar TV - Located in the theater that now houses the American Idol experience, this was a great audience participation show centered around classic television shows. Through the magic of a split screen, pre-chosen audience members would appear alongside some of their favorite characters, including Lucille Ball, David Letterman and Ed Sullivan. We also got to read lines off of a teleprompter. I myself was chosen to be play the part of Dave Garroway on the first ever episode of Today on 4 different occasions, and to have drinks with the guys at the bar in Cheers. Lots of fun, and no talent required!

* Early Mornings At EPCOT - When we lived in Kissimmee in the the 90s, we would often start our days at EPCOT in a way that is now completely out of the question, but was totally wonderful. We would park at the Beach Club Resort early in the morning (in those days there was no parking lot security to speak of) and enter EPCOT through the International Gateway (the "backdoor"). This was a time when the World Showcase opened at the same time as Future World, instead of 2 hours later as it does now. E would usually grab breakfast at the bakery in the French Pavilion. While the multitudes were entering at the main entrance, we would stroll around, often having the countries literally to ourselves for the first hour or so. And many times we would see characters roaming around waiting to greet us. Good times...

* Ariel's Restaurant - Almost every time we celebrate a special occasion at my house that involves my wife- our anniversary, her birthday, Arbor Day or whatever- and I ask her where she wants to go for dinner, the answer will always be Ariel's. Unfortunately it's been closed (and for no good reason) for over a decade now. Ariel's was a very high-end seafood establishment located in the Beach Club Resort. We ate there so often the wait staff and chefs knew us, and knew that when Marilyn ordered her scallops blackened she meant BLACKENED!!! We were there for many special occasions, including the night we told my parents that Marilyn was pregnant with Will, The really hard part about this one is that even all these years later the space is still empty, used only as a special occasion banquet room. And that's just painful.

* Mr. Toad's Wild Ride - This classic Magic Kingdom attraction is still missed by millions each year. I loved it, if for no other reason than the night in 1990 when Jeremy Godwin and I rode it over and over again just before park closing while we waited on the rest of the youth group to gather behind the Castle. Jeremy was a large man. I was larger. The 2 of us crammed in a car for the wild ride brought many smiles to cast members working that night. And to us!

* Walter Cronkite's Voice on Spaceship Earth - Other voices narrating our trips through the history of communication have been just fine, including the wonderful Jeremy Irons. But nobody beats Uncle Walter. He will always be the voice of Spaceship Earth to me. I can still hear his words "Behold the majesty of the Sistine Chapel" ringing in my ears...

* Horizons - I understand that EPCOT, by its very nature, was meant to be constantly evolving. There are many additions that have been made over the years that are truly great, including Soaring, Test Track and Mission: Space. That said, I wish they could have left Horizons for future generations to experience. That trip into the future was, like so many things at EPCOT, both fun and educational. And getting to choose which future you wanted to be part of made you feel special. I see petitions to bring this attraction back floating around the internet all the time. It is missed my many!

* Same Day Meal Reservations - The internet, thousands of people who are "experts" on WDW and the sheer growth of the place have made it nearly impossible to get meal reservations if you decide to just go over for a day. There was a time when you could stop at City Hall in the MK and make a reservation for later that day without a hitch. Now, for the really good restaurants, you often need to plan 6 months in advance. And if you go far enough back, there was a time when dining reservations at EPCOT could only be made at the park on the day you wanted to eat there. In 1993 on a youth trip I made nearly 60 reservations at 5 different restaurants one morning for THAT day using a computer at Communicore. Now they are even taking advance reservations at our beloved Beaches & Cream Soda Shop, where we have eaten probably a hundred times on the spur of the moment. Spontaneous dining (other than fast food) is rapidly becoming a thing of the past at WDW. Sigh...

* Cranium Command - The loss of the entire Wonders of Life Pavilion (still sitting empty) is a travesty, but Cranium Command will always hold a special place in our hearts. This journey through the day of a teenage boy (Buzzy..or was it Scuzzy?) was filled with with amazing character voices. It never failed to crack me me up as General Knowledge (the brain) tried to take control of his emotions and his body functions. My personal favorites were Hans & Franz pumping us up as Buzzy's heart. Again, a true loss for future generation- and all because a corporate sponsor pulled out. Ugh.

So there's my list. My friends Lisa and Amy suggested 20, 00 Leagues Under the Sea, an often missed classic at the MK. The live Hunchback of Notre Dame show at the Studios was a family favorite of ours. And as cool as it is to have Captain EO back at EPCOT, I loved Honey I Shrunk the Audience. There are so many wonderful new things to enjoy. And so many wonderful old things that will always be missed. What's on your list? Have a magical day!


  1. Oh man, I didn't even realize that the dining situation was so hairy until I tried to get a reservation for Ohana's for that week and was told the reservations were 6 weeks out! Unbelievable!

    I also miss Mr. Toad's Wild ride. We found the "Wind in the Willows" video on Netflix for Josephine to watch and man that brought back memories.

    And I was broken hearted that the Wonders of Life pavillion was closed! I still imagine Charles Grodin in my head when I'm about to make a bone headed decision going "I think that is highly ill advised!" and then John Lovitz screaming "DO IT!!"

    1. Love the Charles Grodin voice! Too funny. Time marches on, I guess. Dang it!

  2. Like you, I love and miss WDW. I grew up there (as both of my parents worked there for a time and then just my dad). I swear it felt like we were there every weekend. Best. Memories. Ever!!! I look forward to living a bit closer, soon (not this summer but next, we make our move to TX!) so hopefully we'll be able to get season passes or something! My kiddos would love that!!!

    Yes, "Sorcery in the Sky" was fabulous but given my choice of fireworks display, I always picked "Illuminations". And, I am a fan of "Fantasmic". And, I agree, "Hollywood Studios" will always be MGM Studios to me, too!

    I was not impressed with Spaceship Earth the last time we were there. I echo what you said about Walter Cronkite being the best voice for that ride. It's a bummer when they mess with a good thing. Further, I want Horizons and "The Wonders of Life" back also and the original "The Living Seas"! I'm so excited "Captain EO" has returned! Yay!

    Boy, I sure do miss hanging out on Disney property. :-)

    1. Thanks for checking in, Brook. And I love Illuminations and Fantasmic- just miss Sorcrery a lot!


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