Disney World, 2024

Day Three: The Magic Kingdom

Oh, here we go. Here we fuckin’ go. I was skeptical of Animal Kingdom. I was charmed and quasi-indifferent about Epcot. But I was so ready to go to the Magic Kingdom. When I think of Walt Disney World, 90% of my thoughts are about the Magic Kingdom. It’s got the largest number of rides I care about, and honestly if there had been more time in the trip I could have easily done a second Magic Kingdom day.

Magic Kingdom is also the only park on our entire trip that I rope-dropped.

And what did I rope-drop? What ride was I on a mission to get there before anyone else? Well…

Carousel of Progress - When I die, scatter my ashes in John and Sarah’s rumpus room. That’s not a real request, please don’t do that. But I love the Carousel of Progress. I love Carousel of Progress to the point of being insufferable about it. And I’m going to try as hard as I can not to sit here and fellate the Carousel of Progress, but y’all? That’s a tall ask.

In my eyes, the Carousel of Progress is a flawless ride. I love EV-ER-Y-THING about it. I love the World’s Fair connection, I love how the whole thing was originally built to shill for GE appliances, I love both Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow and The Best Time of Your Life, and I love love LOVE how no one has bothered to touch up this ride since 1993. I dare you to name one other currently-running attraction in any other theme park where someone gripes about LaserDiscs.

The funny thing is that the final season in CoP has come true: we’ve got the brother playing VR, Sarah works from home with her shiny new laptop computer, even the modern-day annoyance of voice-activated tech misinterpreting things we say is in here. One could even make the argument that grampa bitching about LaserDiscs shows how out of touch he is, and Patricia’s “he doesn’t even have a CAR PHONE!” is said ironicly. Perfect. Zero notes. I told you, flawless ride.

I’m a realist. I love this ride with all my heart, but I know I’m in the minority. I know popular consensus is that this ride is boring, and the carousel’s days are probably numbered. I know we’re just one Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow away from this ride being gutted and turned into some sort of Marvel ride*. I’m not happy about that. But it’s still here today, and I am eternally thankful for that.

Carousel of Progress - 11/10. Fight me, it’s my rating.

Haunted Mansion - My sister’s feet were killing her so she decided to sleep in a bit, so next I figured I should do one of the more in-demand rides while the line was low.

There’s a lot I’ve said about the Carousel of Progress that I could also say about the Haunted Mansion. It’s also flawless— or at least, I can’t think of any way to improve upon it. I love the Haunted Mansion, but I don’t love it the same way I love CoP and I can’t begin to tell you why. Both have roots in around the same era, both have catchy songs. Maybe it’s because Carousel has that unabashed optimism. Or maybe it’s because I grew up watching the Disneyland Fun Sing-Along Songs VHS over a decade before I ever set foot in the Haunted Mansion, and the tape’s slow iteration of Grim Grinning Ghosts will always be the “correct” version to my ears, even if I know I’m wrong. Most likely it’s just the fact that I’ve never really had much of a love for ghosts and spooky stuff. Still, I can’t imagine spending a day at the Magic Kingdom and NOT going on the Haunted Mansion, so I’m glad I was able to do it while the line was pretty low.

Haunted Mansion - 10/10. I've been told how the stretching room works, but I choose to ignore it. The room is actually stretching.

Country Bear Jamboree - When I booked this trip back in August, I didn’t realize that I would be there for the final week of the original Country Bear Jamboree.

The last time I saw the Bears was in ‘97 because my mom had a lot of nostalgia for the ride, but I wasn’t particularly impressed. And because I wasn’t impressed, every other visit to WDW the Bears weren’t even on my radar This time around I made the CBJ one of my must-rides because I knew it was in the final 72 hours of its life and I figured I should see it one last time. I met up with my sister outside of Haunted Mansion and by the time we got to Frontierland the next Jamboree was in less than five minutes.

The Country Bear Jamboree actually rules, and I guess I was too young or stupid or whatever to see it. I was surprised how packed the theater was, and just how into it the crowd was. I don’t know if this is a typical CBJ crowd, or if everyone else knew our time with this original iteration of the ride was running short and we should celebrate it while we can, but it really helped sell the atmosphere of the jamboree. Big Al got a major pop (understandable) but I think for me it’s all about the Sunbonnet Trio. I also found it much funnier than when I was ten. I guess I just had to age into it.

I’m lamenting all the Disney trips I should have been going to the see the Jamboree, but chose not to. And now it’s being reworked to feature Disney songs, I guess? Man, I don’t want that. I don’t need bears singing The Bare Necessities, I want the poor Sunbonnets getting shook but only receiving dirty looks. Speaking of the music, since leaving WDW I’ve been listening to Heart, We Did All That We Could a lot. If nothing else, this ride gave me another sad heartbreak song to listen to when I’m feeling down.

Country Bear Jamboree - 9/10. The only Country Bears thing that needs a rework are the walkaround costumes. Never liked the look of those guys.

The exterior of The Country Bear Jamboree. A large building seemingly made out of stacked logs. On the balcony railing of the second floor is a sign that says	"COUNTRY BEAR JAMBOREE A WILD & WOOLY GOOD TIME! "
Don't it always seem to go/ that you don't know what you've got til it's gone/ they paved paradise, and put up a... similar ride with different music.

The Enchanted Tiki Room - A month away from my Disney trip, I had a realization: I have never been on the Enchanted Tiki Room. I think we just avoided the ride altogether in the 90s with Gilbert Gottfried squaking over it that we just never went. So time to right another wrong and go on The Enchanted Tiki Room.

And… it’s fine? It’s quaint. I remember reading that Walt’s plan for the Disneyland Tiki Room originally had guests eating under the birds, and knowing that going in I can see it 100%. The Tiki Room was basically just a mid-century Rainforest Café. And there’s nothing wrong with that! But I guess I was kind of lukewarm about birds doing Bing Crosby impressions and wall carvings winking at me. The ride is very charming. All of the rides so far are exploding with that early-era charm. And I’m glad I can say I’ve finally done the Tiki Room. But I didn’t fall head-over-heels like I did with the Country Bears.

The Enchanted Tiki Room - 7/10

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - Big Thunder is a ride I constantly forget exists. If that sounds rude, I don’t mean it to be. I don’t hate this ride! I guess in my mind the brown rocky exterior of Splash Mountain (my favorite of the Magic Kingdom Mountains) blends into the brown rocky exterior of Big Thunder, so much so that they merge into one big brown rocky mass. Or maybe it’s because Big Thunder is devoid of any real characters (unless you want to count a goat that I’ve never even noticed on the ride until it was pointed out to me) so the ride is lacking in mascots for me to glom onto. Whatever the reason, it’s a ride that doesn’t occupy any brainspace for me. But when my sister suggested we go on it, I wasn’t about to turn it down.

Compared to Expedition Everest, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is downright charming. Everest has one thing that Thunder lacks, though: smoothness. Even though the ride isn’t as intense as Everest, I was felt like I was getting jostled and shaken around all over the place. But hey, that can be fun too.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - 7/10

Carousel of Progress (again) - My first ride-through was just by myself, and when my sister said she wanted to go on the ride you better believe I was down for seconds.

No change in rating.

The PeopleMover - When did the PeopleMover go from “well, it’s a good chance to rest your legs, I guess” to genuinely revered? I don’t think I’ve ever waited in line for the PeopleMover. I don’t even particularly know what to say about the PeopleMover. I love seeing Progress City at the very beginning, but other than that it’s a pleasant cruise through Tomorrowland. It’s not one of my must-rides, but it’s neat.

The PeopleMover - 6/10

The Monorail - From one transit system to another! We had about an hour to kill while waiting for a Lightning Lane, so I decided to do a loop on the ol’ Monorail.

Back when a family of five could reasonably afford it, my family stayed at The Contemporary. I thought the hotel was cool as all hell, and I still do. But those days are long behind us, and all the hotels on the Magic Kingdom monorail loop are WAY out of my budget. Still, I had to hop on.

I saw a TikTok a while back that argued that outside of New York City and possibly Chicago, Walt Disney World was the only other place in America with good walkability and public transportation. It was depressing in its truthfulness. I’ve never thought about renting a car to go to Disney World, why would I? Between the busses, monorail, skyliner, boats, and various footpaths there is zero reason to ever bother with a car in the Disney Bubble. It could be like that in most cities in America. It’s like that in many cities across the world.

The Monorail - 10/10
Thinking about how I will most likely be saddled with car ownership and dependency for the rest of my life - 0/10

Space Mountain - Back to the Magic Kingdom to experience the second of the two mountains, Space Mountain!

Space Mountain always makes me lightly nervous. It’s not as intense as Everest or even Big Thunder, but something about being indoors and in the dark makes me feel like there’s no room for anything in there. Also the fact that the Disney World cars are one person per row whereas Disneyland’s Space Mountain cars seat two people per row. It just feels like everything in there is such a tight squeeze, even the cars needed to be slimmed down.

This is a silly irrational worry. Seeing Space Mountain with the lights on would dispel this notion immediately. But I have never been on the ride with the lights on, nor have I seen a ride-through video of this, so I guess I’ll just keep having this unease.

I bring all this up because as soon as the ride started I found myself, either subconsciously or consciously, scrunching up in my seat. As if my 5’4 self was really gonna hit my head on a beam in the dark if I sat up straight. Again, silly irrational worry, but’s that’s anxiety for you!

Space Mountain is a great fifty year old ride. I’m not sure which is more jostling: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad or Space Mountain. But at least with Big Thunder I can see the track ahead and my brain isn’t thinking up stupid ways it might get hurt.

I think my one gripe with Space Mountain is how I always wish there was MORE space theming. There’s a few little animatronics in the queue and the exit, but the ride could just as easily be called Rollercoaster In The Dark. I dunno, maybe a little more flashing lights would help. Like project a galaxy or something in there. Or maybe put some little planets or rocketship done in black-light paint or something to have a quick look at while you’re whizzing past.

Or maybe don’t. It might be crammed enough in there already.

Space Mountain - 8/10

An animatronic robot sits at a large console with several screens. This is the Tomorrowland Station MK-1 Command Center
This is the guy that makes sure I don't bump my head.

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin - Bring! Back! BOOSTER!

Buzz Lightyear of Star Command was a good show, and this is a hill I’m willing to die on. It expanded the Buzz Lightyear lore infinitely better than that Lightyear movie, it was charming as hell, and most importantly, it had Nicole Sullivan playing Mira, and if you closed your eyes the show sounded like Joan of Arc from Clone High was having wacky space adventures with Puddy from Seinfeld. Perfection.

Even though the ride itself depicts Buzz as a toy, there were some nods to light Buzz Lightyear of Star Command in the attached gift shop. One of which was a giant fiberglass statue of Buzz’s fellow space ranger, Booster, a big red alien who (from what I remember) was a big well-meaning klutz. Love me a well-meaning klutz.

But when I got off the ride, Booster was nowhere to be found! How are you gonna do poor Booster like that?

The ride itself? Fun. Totally fine. It’s like the Men in Black ride at Universal Studios, but with more black-light paint. I think I might prefer Men in Black more, but honestly it’s been so long, who can say. I forgot to look up where the best secret targets to shoot at are placed, so I only got the rank of a mere Planetary Pilot. Whatever.

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin - 5/10, we need to talk about how Astro Blasters in an infinitely better name than Space Ranger Spin.

Pirates of the Caribbean - Buckle up, there’s a story to this one.

The entirety of my trip, I decided to wear this goofball baseball cap with Mickey Ears attached to it. It looks pretty silly, but sometimes you just want to look silly on vacation. I wish the left ear would have decided to play ball and stand up in every picture I’m in. Wearing this hat makes you look silly, but wearing it with only one of the ears sticking up? You look like a complete moron.

Every time we got on a ride with any sort of motion, my sister would remind me to take my hat off. I really appreciate that, because there were some times I honestly forgot.

Pirates wasn’t one of those times. Not for me, anyway.

Pirates of the Caribbean has a small drop near the beginning of the ride to separate the two chapters of the ride: the atmospheric, emptier scenes and the more iconic animatronic pirate scenes. It’s no Splash Mountain or anything, but it’s still a drop that might, say, knock a hat off.

But not just any hat— a brand new bucket hat that my sister had bought from a gift shop in Fantasyland less than an hour prior. I knew there was a drop in Pirates, so I put my hat away. I wasn’t even thinking, or I would have reminded her. We hit that drop and while I’m focused on the ride, I hear a “Oaah!” from beside me. My sister turns to me and yelps “My hat flew off!”

The rest of the ride is a complete blur, it’s like I didn’t even go on it. I was lost in thought. How do we get a hat back? Can we even get the hat back? I should be a good older sibling and buy her a new hat. But maybe we can get the hat back?

Talking to the Cast Member operating the ride led to seeking out a Guest Experiences Cast Member somewhere inside Adventureland. During all of this, my sister is frazzled to the point of tears, and I… am trying not to laugh. Of COURSE I feel bad my sister’s hat flew into the Pirates water, and I feel even worse that we are stumbling through The Most Magical Place on Earth and my sister is crying. My anxiety is also spiking as we wander around looking for a specific type of employee, it feels like everyone is staring at my sister, and then looking back at me as if her unhappiness is my doing. So I just start laughing. It’s a nervous reaction, I guess. Now to the uninformed vacationers I just look like a callous boyfriend or brother, which is even worse.

We have a chat with the Guest Experiences Cast Member and I’m trying to keep it all together and explain the situation without cracking a smile. I’m terrified if I show any sort of mirth, the woman is going to think we’re trying to bilk Disney out of a free hat. She asks for a receipt and of course we don’t have one, because we are people under 50 so our default answer to “do you want the receipt?” is “nah”. The woman fills out some sort of voucher, tells us to next time please be mindful of our hats on the attractions, and we’re back to the same store in Fantasyland exchanging the voucher for the exact same style of hat.

Pirates of the Caribbean is an iconic Disney ride that is beloved by many. Personally I like the Haunted Mansion more, but I still feel duty-bound to ride Pirates at least once per trip. I didn’t like the inclusion of the Johnny Depp animatronic when it first happened, and I like it even less now.

Please be mindful of your hat when going on Pirates of the Caribbean.

Pirates of the Caribbean - 6/10

It’s a Small World - Since we were in Fantasyland after The Hat Catastrophe (the Hatastrophe), it was time to hop on another classic. I really don’t have much to day against Small World. You know exactly what this is, even if you have never been on the ride before. Pirates of the Caribbean has penetrated modern American pop culture as a series of movies, but for my money there's probably not a Disney ride more well-known (or parodied) than It's a Small World.

I don’t have much to say *for* it, either. It’s charming! The song isn’t as bad as everyone claims it is! The Disneyland one has cartoon characters in it, and this one doesn’t. Which one is better? Unsure! They’re probably both great, in their own separate ways. I don’t think I’ll ever skip this ride on a trip to the Magic Kingdom, but I don’t find myself running to the entrance as soon as the park is open.

It’s a Small World - 7/10, hearing the little French dolls say “Ooh la la!” will never not make me smile.

Peter Pan’s Flight - My sister’s favorite Disney animated movie is Peter Pan, so this was a must-ride for her and the grand finale of our time at the Magic Kingdom.

But if it were me? I would have probably gone one the Carousel of Progress one last time.

Peter Pan’s Flight is such a unique ride, where instead of riding in a car with the track below you, you’re dangling in a boat with the track above you. It’s a rudimentary thing but still has such a novel feel to it. Gliding over miniature London is so cool despite the fact that there’s very little to it. That’s probably the hallmark of a great ride effect, like the use of Pepper’s Ghost in the Haunted Mansion: low-tech but still able to look remarkable today.

But outside of the flying over London segment, I find myself kinda uninterested in the ride. My gut reaction to seeing the long wait times for PPF is usually “really?”. I know it’s an opening day Disneyland ride and is just as iconic as your Pirates and your Small Worlds and your Haunted Mansions, but for me it just… isn’t. Peter Pan is one of those sub-30 rides for me, as in “I'm only interested if the queue line is under 30 minutes”.

The only other interesting thing I can add about the ride is that while we were on it (right above Captain Hook’s ship) the ride came to a sudden halt. I’m assuming they paused the omnimover to help someone load/unload the ride, but we suddenly stopped and lurched forward in a way I wasn’t expecting. Not a graceful pause at all, not that I’m complaining. Sometimes pauses and evacs and malfunctions are more interesting than the rides themselves.

Peter Pan’s Flight - 5/10

Other non-ride misc:
  • 1. I saw the fireworks show, but my location (sitting on the second floor of the Main St Railroad building) meant I couldn’t really see the projections on the castle or other buildings. It was neat, but in retrospect I should have just called it a day or hopped on another ride.
  • 2. I went to every major gift shop looking for a postcard, with no luck. I eventually was able to find one for $7 (oof!) at the Main Street Gallery at the end of the day. Learn from my mistake: If you’re going to do the thing where you mail yourself a postcard from Disney World, bring your own postcards, or buy them at the airport (I found some later at MCO), or go to a nearby Publix.
  • 3. I had lunch at Cosmic Ray’s. People can argue that the food at Disney World is kinda lackluster, and I can’t really argue, but all food tastes better then an animatronic lounge singer is singing to you. I also wound up getting a very nice Magic Kingdom mug, largely because it hat Sonny Eclipse on it.

Sorry this one was impossibly long, the next one will be much shorter.

*Richard Sherman wrote a song for Iron Man 2 vaguely based off of There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow AND Now Is The Time, so if ANY Marvel property was to take over the Carousel of Progress’ building, I feel like Iron Man would be my personal pick, if only to hear Make Way For Tomorrow Today in the park somewhere.

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