February 2015: Leg 3 – Fort Wilderness, Walt Disney World

Several months ago, my daughter called up and said, “Dad, we really ought to make another trip to Disney World while it’s still magical and before it’s just fun…” So, as part of our circumnavigation of Florida, here we are.

2-3 February: Drive down and set-up; Behind-The-Scenes Tour

Normally, a drive down would be nothing to write home about, but this drive did indeed have something worth noting: 20 mph cross-winds. So, with passing trucks, swirling winds around clearings, sideways blasts from overpasses, and so on, it was a pretty tiring exercise. Actually, it sort of reminded me of flying in turbulence: not dangerous, but constant attentiveness and manipulation of the controls. After two hours of that, I was beat. Lesson 4: When driving along the edge of a passing cold front, expect a demanding trip.

But we’re here, and who cares? Since we’ve been here before, and we’re such old hands, we could actually navigate the campground, in the rain, and back in in 27 seconds. Here’s proof:


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So, after tending to a variety of chores (getting water delivered to Jennifer’s hotel, picking up Hoop-Dee-Doo tickets, and checking on reservations), and after relaxing for a few moments, we went over to Narcoosee’s restaurant at the Grand Floridian for dinner. Wow. Steak, crab’s legs, lobster bisque, and sour dough bread with butters covered in sea salt. Not exactly “on the diet.” Oh well, the step counter will be active tomorrow and maybe it won’t matter.

And I’ll try not to repeat everything about why Disney is such an amazing place (see my original post on the topic), but one moment did crystallize the essence of this place. Just as we were snuggling in to tap out for the night, at 9:45 or so, the most cheesy electronic music started blaring from the lagoon. The “electric light parade of boats.” No kidding. We both started laughing out load. We had this image of parents all over the campground, dealing with kids in that half-zonked/half-wired state of total physical and emotional collapse, just finally getting the Little Darlings settled in and ready fall asleep, and BLAM! electric light parade! What a place.

And then the next day, Tuesday, after a good night’s sleep and dropping off the doggies at the local pet boarding facility, we headed over to the Magic Kingdom for our “Keys to the Kingdom” behind-the-scenes tour.

Our guide, Nicholas, starting the tour on Main Street:

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These recurrent observations I’ve had about the invariable excellence of Walt Disney World in everything it does are starting to come together. It turns out that WDW is built on four “keys”: safety, courtesy, show, and efficiency. Each of these operates in different ways that were illustrated to us as we toured the park (including the areas normally closed to the public). For safety, for example, the curbs are always a different color than the sidewalks and roadways, so that even excited guests, not paying attention, can see a curb coming up. The concrete sidewalks have pieces of recycled tire to provide a good grip, even when wet. Each of the floats has an emergency stop button on each corner.

For courtesy, each “cast member” (employee) wears a name badge with his home town on it. Each goes through the same intense training (1-1/2 days), followed by 1-2 weeks of training specific to the task. Every day, each receives a printed update with resort information so that answers to common questions are readily at hand. The physical design of the park reflects the same idea. Somehow, Disney discovered that when a roadway branches off towards two different areas, a disproportionate fraction of people go right; so, the roadway on the right fork is two feet wider than the left.

For “show,” it was explained that all of the Disney “imagineers” came out of the film industry, so the idea is that the theme park experience is essentially a 3-D interactive film experience. Main Street uses “forced perspective,” with the upper floors of the buildings proportionately smaller, and the farther-away buildings smaller, to provide the impression that Cinderella’s castle is off in the distance. Music pervades all areas of the park, but the music in one area gradually fades out as the music in another fades in, leading to a seamless transition. Even where people would never notice, the quality of the show is paramount–in the Hall of Presidents, if the president wore glasses, his replica does too and the prescription in the glasses matches that of the president on the day he was inaugurated. No one could possibly know that, but that kind of attention to detail in what doesn’t show is what makes for excellence in the things that do.

And for efficiency, the park is built around not only efficiency in its own operations, but in the guests experience as well. The hub-and-spoke layout allows guests to transition easily between areas. The underground network of open utility corridors allows maintenance and repairs to be made quickly, without shutting down any area of the park. The park operates on a 24-hour basis, with upkeep and replenishment occurring overnight when the park is closed.

Besides all this, we were treated to 5 full hours of stories, anecdotes, secrets of each ride, all of which culminated with the famous tour of the underground “tunnels” (except that they’re really not tunnels–groundwater doesn’t permit such a thing in Central Florida, so the “utilidors” were built at ground level and the Magic Kingdom built, no kidding, one story up with excavated dirt). We even learned things I wish I didn’t know–like the turkey leg in Frontierland packs a walloping 2400 calories! Mostly, thought, the tour was the story of five people: Walt Disney (the creative force), Roy (his brother, and the businessman), Claude Coats and Marc Davis (two of the original imagineer geniuses behind the implementation of Disney’s creative ideas), and Card Walker (the “justice of the peace” who often mediated the differing visions of Walt and Roy).

I’m aware of some criticisms of the tour that it’s too long on trivia and not enough on meaty facts on operations and processes. Ignore such sentiments–those people are morons. Bringing a grand vision to reality is largely a practice of focusing on smaller things. Excellence doesn’t fall out of the sky fully grown–it evolves through an infinity of details. That’s what the tour shows: there is so much magic in the small things that the collective effect is greater than its parts. A truly magical place on all levels.

Tomorrow, the Little Darlings arrive and Phase II of the adventure begins.

  1. LaGrange to Coastal RV Resort, Brunswick, GA
  2. Brunswick to Anastasia State Park, St. Augustine, FL
  3. St. Augustine to Walt Disney World, Fort Wilderness, FL
  4. Walt Disney World to Cape Canaveral, Jetty Park, FL
  5. Cape Canaveral to C.B. Smith County Park, Miami (Pembroke Pines), FL
  6. Miami to Key West (Summerland Key), FL
  7. Key West to Flamingo Campground, Everglades National Park, FL
  8. Everglades to Naples RV Resort, Naples, FL
  9. Naples to Cedar Key RV Resort, FL
  10. Cedar Key to Carrabelle Beach Outdoor Destinations, FL