I’m about halfway through my Disney College Program experience, and it has been keeping me away from something that I’ve sorely missed over the past couple of months: writing. Down my drain went my ambitious plans to update my blog once a week, at least; nowadays, it’s a blessing if even the thought of posting something new on this blog scratches the surface of my brain.
But I’ve found a few bits and pieces of downtime, secreted between drowsing off on the bus and drowsing off on the couch and drowsing off in God knows whatever else place I’ve fallen asleep at, to put together a little something.
See, I grew up at Disneyland in California. I treated that place like it was my backyard; I would head there after school to blow off steam, or spend a weekend day there merely gawking. When I got into photography for a brief stint in high school, most of my photos came from the Happiest Place On Earth.
So when I moved across the continent to Walt Disney World, one of the things I was looking forward to the most was experiencing the duplicate attractions that existed in both resorts. The list spans quite a few names: Autopia, Space Mountain, and Jungle Cruise to start, and going on for quite a while. Because while Disney is rich, both in monetary value and creativity, it’s not quite rich enough to ensure that all of its resorts worldwide feature a 100% unique experience.
After riding pretty much everything everywhere, I put together a little list – a list I like to call, “The Land Versus The World”.
Part 1 is below. Part 2, which encompasses the attractions that are better in Florida, will follow shortly. (And by shortly, please understand that it is a relative term – time seems to have an entirely different continuum in mind in this little patch of Florida.)
Better at Disneyland
The Disneyland version is vastly superior. It has an all-new track installed in 2005, a better light and effect package, darker… darkness, two-across seating that actually gives you room to move around, and on-board stereo speakers with what is, in my opinion, some of the best attraction music Disney has ever composed:
In addition, even though Florida’s queue line has recently installed mini-games to play in line to alleviate the wait, nothing beats that initial view of coming through the airlock and seeing the loading platform open beneath you in California’s version.
Florida can have their custom-built amphitheater, which, I admit, is snazzy. But there is something to the spontaneity of seeing a grand-scale production unfold on the Rivers of America, which is where Disneyland plays host to its (far better) version of Fantasmic!.
That’s not all, though. Since California’s Fantasmic! plays on the actual River, they can bring in a slew of new props and effects. (It should be noted that Disneyland’s Rivers of America boasts a far wider range of watercraft than its Florida counterpart.) The canoes that set the scene for the middle act? Actual longboat canoes used by the Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes attraction in the daytime. The character steamboat at the grand finale? None other than the three-story Mark Twain Riverboat, a much grander scale than the small Steamboat Willie replica used in Florida.
And there’s a whole new scene, too, which takes advantage of the Sailing Ship Columbia, a near-scale replica of an authentic sailing ship. I won’t spoil the fun, but suffice to say: blows anything Florida’s got out of the water.
Soarin’ Over California
The original incarnation of Soarin’ at Epcot (they dropped the California part), I prefer the older version thanks to its surrounding theming and atmosphere. While Epcot’s Soarin’ is crammed in as an afterthought as part of The Land pavilion, the version at Disney’s California Adventure is the centerpiece of its own themed land, Grizzly Peak Airfield. Combined with the far more interesting queue – an exhibit filled with pieces of aviation history and trivia reminiscent of the Air & Space Museum at the Smithsonian – Soarin’ Over California is a far more compelling experience than its Floridian counterpart.
Plus, the California version recently came out of an extensive rehabilitation which enhanced the IMAX experience, cleaned up the film, and significantly boosted its resolution.
It’s A Small World
Although neither version is something I find myself experiencing very often (for obvious reasons), the California version is superior thanks to updated Audio-Animatronics (including a stable of Disney characters that are integrated very well into the existing theme), the wonderful facade and surrounding horticulture, and its location near the edge of Fantasyland. It just feels like a grander and more complete experience than the Florida version, which seems like it was shoehorned in as an afterthought.
Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters
Two words: Removable. Blasters.
Florida’s version of this popular shoot-em-up attraction (called Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin) has the laser blasters attached to the ride vehicles themselves, which makes it so much harder to accurately hit targets – there’s only so much you can do by spinning the vehicle.
On the California counterpart, however, the blasters are now attached to extendable ropes that give you so much more freedom of movement – and, thus, a better chance at defeating the Evil Emperor Zurg in his quest to collect space batteries. Also, the sets and show scenes are much bigger and more detailed on the West Coast.
Pirates Of The Caribbean
Florida’s version of this swashbuckling adventure through fortresses, skeletons and redheads showing their larboard side can barely hold a candle to the California version of the attraction, which is several minutes longer and features many scenes not present in the shorter, watered-down experience at Walt Disney World. Although Florida’s queue line is more intricate and sets the scene much better, there is absolutely no competition once the attraction actually begins, as you realize that there are so many scenes missing in the Disney World version. Plus, California’s version opens up with a tranquil ride through the bayou with the diners at Disneyland’s finest restaurant – The Blue Bayou – eating just meters away. It’s a wonderful way to begin one of Disney’s trademark attractions, and overall, California’s Pirates of the Caribbean is a richer, more complete storytelling experience.
No second drop, no eerie grotto, no Blue Bayou – what’s even the point?
Enchanted Tiki Room
Let’s face it: both versions of this indoor show… well… leave a lot to be desired. The Audio-Animatronic birds, while state-of-the-art a couple decades ago, are showing their age, and the entire concept of the theater – where you sit on benches watching birds talk to each other and burst out into song – is almost laughable.
However, Disneyland’s version edges out its Florida cousin with two points. One, you can buy Dole Whips – a succulent pineapple-flavored sorbet that is one of the best food items Disney serves anywhere – while you wait for the show to begin, and two, a special effect involving jets of water and a descending fountain that will wake you from from your stupor long enough to let out a quiet “wow” before falling back asleep again.
Known as ‘Tomorrowland Speedway’ at Walt Disney World, Autopia’s eastern counterpart not only has a lamer name, it also suffers from an uninspired layout, less interesting sights, and the systemic problem that stems from basing a Tomorrowland attraction on the concept of freeway driving.
While both attractions suffer from that final point, at least Autopia’s lanes do everything the Tomorrowland Speedway doesn’t: twist, turn, separate, merge, and in general, act like a real driving experience should. Or, at least, as far as it could with tiny slot cars that burn rubber at 5 miles per hour.
Yes, Magic Kingdom’s version of this famous flume ride through Brer Rabbit’s Laughing Place has two-across seating instead of the more traditional straddle-seating logs at Disneyland, and that might be a deal-breaker for some folks who feel uncomfortable with the close quarters. But such discomfort is mitigated when you consider that the Disneyland installment features double the number of Audio-Animatronic figures in its show scenes – courtesy of a former Disneyland attraction, America Sings. When that attraction shuttered its doors, many of its resident fauna trekked across the park to settle down in Critter Country and sing to the tune of millions of guests per year.