As I enter the Magic Kingdom and walk down Main Street, U.S.A, I notice a long line stretching from the Main Street Bakery, all the way down the sidewalk. I’m struck with curiosity. What’s going on here? Is it a special character meet and greet? Maybe even an early line forming for guests to snag their favorite spot to watch the afternoon parade? No. It’s the line for Starbucks Coffee. And just like that, I’m taken out of the fantasy and brought back into the real world. It’s the real world that I specifically came here to avoid for as long as my wallet will allow. As I pass the entrance, I can’t help but think to myself that we don’t need this. Perhaps more accurately, we don’t want this. I know this example may seem a bit arbitrary, but I can’t get it out of my head. Inside the bakery, I gaze at the menu littered with Starbucks drink titles and trademark logos displayed like a stamp of approval allowing Disney the right to sell their brand. Those trademark logos tattooed across the board feel somewhat intrusive. As if my fortress of fantasy has been penetrated by reality. I guess having a Starbucks on Main Street, U.S.A is somewhat poetic. An all too real reflection of corporations muscling their way onto the main streets of America. The long line of customers acting as the public’s willingness to play along. Although, I didn’t come here for a realistic view of our daily lives. I came here to escape daily life with a little help from some Disney magic.
I’m not completely naive. I understand the business motive behind these types of decisions. Money. Commercial branding, big movie properties, and a wider appeal to the general public seem like a sure bet for a prosperous financial future. Yet, as a loyal regular, I have to wonder. At what cost?
As a child, I recall my interactions with cast members as being one of the key components that made the Disney difference I fell in love with. Now, those special interactions seem to be dwindling. It’s not a criticism of the caliber of cast members these days. It’s more a reflection of how many guests are now circulating the parks on a daily basis. This example is further illustrated by visitor’s recent accounts of better service and better cast member interactions during their COVID limited-capacity visits. The number of guests they aim to pack into the parks now seems to have made it impossible for the cast members to give each of us that little special attention that we used to get. A lot of them seem to have the attitude of “let’s keep this train rolling.” Make sure guests queue correctly and efficiently. Make sure they pay up and get out as quickly as possible from their favorite dining locations. And, for the love of God, don’t take too long taking your picture with Mickey. It’s made to feel as if the cast members are just there to make sure that we stay in line and keep moving. Unfortunately, I think this is an answer to the question I posed above. As they commercialize more, we get less. My most recent visits have started to feel like “get in, empty your wallet, and get out”.
I keep walking. All the way back to Tomorrowland. Although a bit outdated in its decor, this is still a unique and original creation that expertly displays Walt’s vision of the future. I marvel at the sight of my favorite mountain. Space Mountain. Gleaming in the distance as a unique promissory note that we’re not in Kansas anymore. To the left, I notice a new attraction being built with one big word stretched across the construction barrier; Tron. Now, here I am again. Pulled away from the unique fantasy and pushed back into the real world with big movie titles. The coaster itself looks fantastic, but I have trouble looking past the (insert big movie title here) branding. Like it or not, this seems to be the future of Disney World attractions and refurbishments. It feels like a somewhat desperate attempt to appeal to the general public with big names that they can identify with. To me, it feels like the death of artistic integrity and originality. The unique Disney storylines featured in their rides seem to be on their way out the door to make way for the next summer blockbuster.
I’m not saying the magic is all gone. I still love Disney World. I typically find myself planning my next trip on the plane ride home. I simply want to point out the commercially motivated changes that I’ve seen recently and why they worry me for the future. Disney World has always been the definition of artistic success with its ability to entertain, educate, and inspire guests of all ages. At its core is originality, unbeatable customer service, and commitment to the value of art. For now, let’s just call that core magic. It’s the foundation to which everything else is layered upon. Without it, nothing works. As we move forward, I hope we embrace the future without losing that magic.
Walt Disney World fanatic with over 30 trips under my belt. I'm just happy to be here, folks.