It was Yogi Berra, the famed philosopher, who best summed up the Disney World experience.
“No wonder no one ever comes here,” he once said. “It’s too crowded.”
Berra (also known for baseball) was talking about a New York restaurant, but his comment perfectly suits the mega-theme-park (show here) in Orlando. By all logic, the crowded conditions would keep people away … except, quite obviously, they don’t.
I went during what books describe as one of the quieter times, waiting until Jan. 2 to enter the parks. Walking past one ride, I mentioned that the stated wait-time was two hours. “It’s insane,” a stranger said, while pushing a baby stroller. Still, a 13-year-old whom I know to be exceptionally sane waited two-and-a-half hours for the “Avatar” ride. Afterward, he pronounced it as worth it.
Certainly, Disney has tried to cope with this. It has kept its pandemic habit of limiting the number of people in the parks. (Signs at some of them warn you not to come without a reservation.) It has those helpful wait-time signs; on hot days, it even spritzes us with water.
But it has ditched the “fast-pass” system, which allowed people staying at one of the park hotels to pick out a few rides where they could jump to the front of the line. Replacing that is a “lightning lane” alternative that is complicated and expensive.
Well, everything is expensive these days at Disney World. You used to be greeted by a cheery (and free) bus that whisked you from the airport to your hotel. Now Disney has stopped that service; you need to separately reserve a spot with a private bus line.
Maybe we can blame the new TV world: Spending a fortune to propel its Disney+ streaming service, the company seems to want park visitors to make up for its financial shortfalls. For now – coming off a two-year slowdown – families are willing to do it; next year, they might not feel the same way.
For all my grumbling, however, I have to admit that there are lots of terrific things at these parks.
I didn’t go on any of the big-deal, whoosh-you-around rides. (You could blame that on general wimpiness.) But I still found lots of things worth catching. Consider:
— Any of the 3-D films. The Muppet and “Mickey’s Philharmagic” ones are delightful … and lightly attended. So is a collection of three shorts, ranging from clever 3-D to deep emotion.
— The stage shows. The “Frozen” one mostly uses scenes from the movie, but does it brilliantly. The Indiana Jones stunt show is fun. In the Animal Kingdom, the bird show and the “Lion King” performance are terrific.
— The nightly fireworks-and-light shows.
— Many of the traditional favorites – “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Peter Pan,” “Haunted Mansion,” etc. They’re still fun.
— Several of the old-time rides and shows. “Small World” has an innocent charm. Others – “Hall of Presidents,” “American Experience,” even the thoroughly outdated “Cavalcade of Progress” – can seem like fun, in a long-ago sort of way.
— And the Animal Kingdom “safari.” In a Disney world of make-believe, it’s a delight to confront real animals. I went early in the morning, when only the lions were sleeping. Others – from giraffes to rhinos – were strolling around. Also, the nearby walking trails led to other animals.
One of the best things about Disney is its emphasis on true talent. The talent in the “Lion King” show – singers, dancers, acrobats, stilt-walkers – is amazing; so is the remarkable young woman who stilt-walks around Animal Kingdom, disguised as a sort of mobile tree.
With performers like that, we can see why people do go there, even when it’s way too crowded.