Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A Tale of Two Kingdoms

Hi all, Tim here.

With Nathaniel off for his first-ever trip to Walt Disney World (he's probably getting to see his first Disney fireworks show right now!), I've found myself thinking a lot about that famous "magic" that happens at the Disney theme parks. It's easy to call that a marketing ploy, because it is, but the thing that always unnerves me a little bit, every time I go to one of the parks (which I do with embarrassing frequency), is how tangible that magic really is. You walk around those stucco and plaster mountains and castles, tiki huts and space stations, and dammit if it's not the easiest thing to think, "yes, I do believe that I am now standing in a fantasy kingdom that is about 200 yards from the Arizona desert."

What I've really been thinking about, though isn't just that ol' Disney magic that they weave so well, it's about how there are really two flavors of that magic, what we might call West Coast versus East Coast if that dichotomy hadn't been used already. Going to Disneyland is a different beast entirely than going to Disney World, as I learned at the age of 17 when I visited the California park after five trips to Florida in twelve years (since my first trip, my Disney World attendance record is once every 2.6 years, which is kind of humiliating). Don't get me wrong, I love the Florida park and I'm absolutely certain that Nathaniel is having the time of his life. But for my money, there's no magic like the magic in the actual Disneyland that Uncle Walt himself created 53 years ago.

There are two differences between Disneyland and WDW's Magic Kingdom that are immediately obvious to even the most insensitive guest. First, Disneyland is plopped right in the middle of a street in downtown Anaheim, which like all of the Los Angeles metropolitan area is virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the Los Angeles metropolitan area to a nonresident; the Magic Kingdom of Florida is in the middle of 30,000 acres of privately-owned swampland. So while the Magic Kingdom feels like part of a giant hidden-away resort (which is, after all, exactly what it is), a place that you journey to and where you stay - and the sense of being disconnected from anything close to reality if you stay at one of the Disney hotels, and take Disney public transit to the parks, and eat Disney food for seven days straight, is the uncanniest thing I have ever felt - Disneyland is, well, it's a fantasy kingdom stuck right there in the middle of a city. One moment you're on the Anaheim sidewalk, the next you're on a Midwest main street in 1910, and you're staring at a fairy castle, and there is not a single square foot of Disneyland from which you can hear the traffic, see the buildings or smell the fumes of the city outside. If that's not magic, I don't know what else is.

The other difference is that Disneyland is tiny. I mean really freaking tiny. Compared to the elegant spires of Cinderella Castle in Florida, Sleeping Beauty Castle looks sort of like the entrance to a suburban mini-golf course. Instead of the giant buildings housing Disney World rides (which must be aboveground, since, y'know, Florida), there are several modest little affairs covering what amount to large subbasements full of rides. At first, this is shocking; but after a little while it becomes absolutely charming - for what is not cuter when made small? - and since everything is cramped together more, without the breezy walkways between Lands found at Disney World, the feeling that the jungle and desert and futuristic spaceport are all jostling in amongst each other is much stronger. You can stand in one Land and look into another in Disneyland, something you just can't do in the Florida park, and that really punches up the feeling that you're in a special place that couldn't possibly exist, but does.

Basically, the difference between the two parks as I see it is that Disney World is trying to construct an alternate reality, where Disneyland is presented as the ultimate unreality. Don't get me wrong - I love Disney World, and having gone there all of eight months ago, I'm already itching just a little bit to get back. But for me, it will always be Walt's little slice of magic in the bustle of the Santa Ana valley that will always be the Happiest Place on Earth.


PIPER said...

While the fam and I go to WDW every year, I grew up on Disneyland and I actually prefer Disneyland. Mostly because there's more history there and I appreciate the design a bit more. Plus, I miss the Matterhorn. I don't get that at WDW. And the Indiana Jones ride is pretty sweet as well.

Anonymous said...

you have got to be kidding. I mean Disneyworld vs Disneyland.


Glenn said...

In my next trip to the US I will get to Disneyland (or Disney World).

Will said...


You've made the first *convincing* argument I've ever heard for Disneyland over Disney World. Which is an achievement, seeing as the whole of Disneyland could fit into the Magic Kingdom's parking lot (my favorite statistic on the matter of size).

Catherine said...

Huh. So, if I've already been blown away by DisneyLand Paris, should I prepare for an aneursym when I finally visit either of the American ones?

Michael B. said...

Yes. I go to Disneyland, almost every summer, and I went to Walt Disney World about 5 years ago, and I prefer Disneyland. Another thing that you/I could argue is that Disneyland has all the aspects of Disneyworld into 1 park instead of 4. And not just that, but Disney World reminds me of ALL the theme parks in LA. The Animal Kingdom is basicially like the San Diego Zoo/Sea World. MGM Studios is basicially Universal Studios. Epcot Center is, well, all of LA. Lol. You can go from different ethnic places in a matter of minutes. And Magic Kingdom is Disneyland without Fantasmic and other rides and also the castle is much different.

WickedScorp said...

Several of the attractions are also stronger at Disneyland: Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, It's a Small World, Fantasmic!