It's hard to believe, but this summer it will have been fourteen years since my family last visited Walt Disney World (or WDW). I don't remember everything, but I remember loving the heck out of the Main Street Electrical Parade, taking excellent pictures on our film cameras, getting to ride on a speeder bike (kind of), wearing a fisherman's hat that I thought was cool, and racing to be the first people to ride Splash Mountain for the day.
Ah, those were good times.
But for my family, it's been fourteen years! So much has changed since then. Luckily, a show that I know a few of you watch - The Middle - spent their season finale at WDW. If you watched carefully, you may discover some new and amazing things at the Magic Kingdom that may not have been there in your last visit. There also are a few things that were clearly stuffed in there for product placement. (ABC is owned by Disney, after all.)
If you want, you can catch the episode here. I'll do my best to point out all the big changes at the Magic Kingdom if you haven't been there a while, plus the highs and lows of a family vacation to WDW that we probably haven't seen since Full House.
There is one big difference shown immediately as the Heck family tries to enter the park. If you notice, there aren't any turnstiles anymore. Instead, they have these Mickey poles where you tap your RFID tickets to enter the park. (RFID tickets have a little micro computer chip inside that activates when swiped or tapped at an RFID reader.) In my extensive research for my trips to WDW, I have heard that these were put in sometime in 2012, and fully in 2013 to go with the new Fastpass+ system (more on that later).
I doubt there's any way Disneyland or WDW would print out paper tickets like the ones Frankie Heck presents to the cast member. If anything, they would have taken their voucher to Guest Services and gotten their tickets there. Plus, Frankie can't be that blind to see that they are for Disneyland, right? The giveaway poster shown in the previous week’s episode even said "Disney World" on it. I blame Ehlert Motors for the mix-up.
The cast member explicitly says "Magic Bands," which are part of the Fastpass+ system. The RFID chips are now on cute little wristbands that Disney is giving everyone! You get them by mail if you have a Disney resort hotel reservation included in your package, or you can buy some nifty colors and styles at the park. They want it to be the new pin-trading. Or Vinylmation. (Don't know about that one? Don't worry - it's managed to come into existence, get really popular, get oversaturated, and get unpopular again.)
Anyhoo, the cast member mentions Magic Bands like it's easy as pie. Except while WDW has been rolling the thing out, there's been a few issues. Here's one of those times when Disney executives told The Middle writers to "Stick this in there, so people think Magic Bands are fun!" But don't worry - Magic Bands will be no problem by the time you get back there. Maybe.
More Disney executive meddling? The guest relations guy manages to change the tickets to WDW Park-Hoppers (since Frankie and Mike end up in Epcot after starting the day in the Magic Kingdom, clearly they have a Park-Hopper pass) even though a WDW Park-Hopper is probably $20-$30 more expensive than a Disneyland ticket. Heaven forbid ABC show WDW cast members in a negative light. ("Make sure they get the best, most expensive hotel suite, too!")
Seeing the Castle for the First Time...LIVE
Sue's reaction to turning the corner and seeing Cinderella's castle at the end of Main Street is pretty much anyone's reaction...without the whole fainting part. Usually when I have seen the castle (on my four solo trips to the park) it has been when I am jogging with other tourists at rope drop to get on Space Mountain first. As a matter of fact, when I went back in 2009, I think I jumped about ten feet in the air as I turned the corner! I'm almost surprised there weren't more people having Sue's reaction around the Hecks as they looked at the castle. It's a magical experience that doesn't need to be hyped up by Disney executives.
Brick's Mickey Ears
More Heck ineptitude, as Brick actually asks if Mickey Ears are sold in the park. He just so happens to go into the Chapeau, which is in Town Square (near the entrance to the Magic Kingdom) and has a gajillion hats - not just Mickey Ears. You'll see that WDW hats have really improved since they plastered ovals on a baseball cap and called it Goofy Ears. (I know my family has a pair like that somewhere in our basement.)
Disney Product Placement (we'll just call it DPP from now on) also manages to use Brick's indecisiveness when the cast member asks what font and color he wants to personalize his name, since they can do that now.
"No one is splitting up."
Frankie, Frankie, Frankie. This is the worst thing to come out of your mouth so far. WDW is best experienced when sharing the experience with like-minded people. Let Axl tour around and let Mike go to Epcot. When you all meet up for dinner later, you'll have so many more fun stories to tell! (She does wise up about this later.)
Sue's Disney Binder
Sue gets a month to plan her Disney vacation, which means she makes an enormous binder and carries it with her. When I went with my friend back in 2009, she also made a binder. However, it had far fewer pages, and she was smart enough to leave most of it at the hotel, bringing only the most relevant papers. She inspired me to do my own Disney binder when I returned with another friend in 2010!
Sue's information also seems to be incorrect, which she figures out when trying to line up for Space Mountain, and I figured out way back when she said Jungle Cruise was the best ride at 2:00 in the afternoon. I use TouringPlans.com to make my schedules, and it's never let me down. Sue should have looked into that.
"There's no line on Dumbo."
Yes, the Dumbo ride has moved from its place behind the castle to the rear area of New Fantasyland. It also has two Dumbo rides, and the queue is inside a big tent instead of outside. I saw this on my solo trip in 2012, and it was pretty cool - especially at night.
Axl and Sue are both wrong when they say there's no line for Dumbo, or that Dumbo's line is always short. It's not as bad as it used to be, but it's still long.
After Brick loses his hat and the Hecks retrace their steps, they stop beside a fountain of Gaston. Wait, that's never been there before? Well, that fountain (and the Tavern behind it) were just opened up last December. Gaston donated the fountain of himself to the town. He occasionally does meet-and-greets there, too. It's near the Be Our Guest restaurant, where you can eat inside Beast's castle, including the grand ballroom!
Each member of the Heck family gets their own turkey leg. Bad idea: those turkey legs are huge, and a normal person can only take approximately 8.4 bites before not wanting to eat anymore. (I got that statistic from the Book of Fake Statistics.) They should have bought one turkey leg and split it, giving them a better chance of riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. (Plus, five turkey legs is equal to about fifty bucks! And that is not a Fake Statistic!)
Following the Heck's realization that they need to split up to enjoy WDW, they cut to...a Disney commercial advertising their newest ride - The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train!
I hope the Heck kids enjoyed waiting in line for three hours to ride Peter Pan in the middle of the afternoon. There is only one good time to ride Peter Pan: the first hour of park opening.
Epcot is Amazing
Mike and Frankie spend their evening in the World Showcase section of Epcot, enjoying themselves and eating lots of international food. Yes, people: Epcot is a great park, especially for adults!
And those fireworks they watch at the end? That's just "Illuminations - Reflections of Earth." That is something that was there back in 2000, but it's still going strong and just as great as it was before. Now I know the best place to watch it, too.
DPP Commercial part II!
After the episode wraps up, there's yet another Disney commercial for their hotels!
During the end credits they show some of the pictures of the Hecks on vacation, and Brick is reading the Hidden Mickeys book by Steven Barrett - a book about one of those awesome little additions in WDW that are easy to spot - especially after you know what to look for!
I know a lot about WDW, and I'm looking forward to my next trip, whether it's with friends or family. If you plan on doing a Disney vacation, you can see from this episode that you will need to be fully invested in Disney. Be prepared, get to the park early and have a grand time! (And don't do anything the Hecks did. Their trip was a warning to us all.)