I get asked this question a lot. Now, I think I’ve found a good answer. This last weekend, several friends forwarded this New York Times article to me. In it, Brook Barnes describes how in researching the Disney theme parks he became a fan. I’ll just quote a few passages here that reflect my own thoughts about the Disney experience, but if you are a fan, if you are puzzled by fans or if you’re interested in reading about the overseas parks, I would highly recommend this article.
…human beings, on a very basic level, like to collect things. Instead of compulsively searching for Hummel figurines or Honus Wagner baseball cards, “these people, like all travelers, are collecting experiences…” Describes me to a tee…I don’t collect things, I collect experiences.
Taken by Jo N – https://www.flickr.com/photos/alternateparadise/149700385/
We were slack-jawed upon entering the main park. To compete with the splendor of Paris, Disney spent lavishly to open the resort in 1992, and its ornate landscaping has only improved with age: Austrian black pines, endless rhododendrons, pathways that hug serpentine streams. Of all the Disney castles, the one here is the most extravagant. ‘Even I thought that was pretty cool,’ a normally nonplused Joe said after a peek at an animatronic dragon residing in the dungeon. The animatronic dragon is really cool!! When visiting the Paris parks, I came to the realization that Disney is certainly about the brand and the characters but it is also interesting to see how cultural differences are manifest in the parks: wine/beer with lunch, beautiful landscaping (similar to Versailles), a slower pace, the absolutely macabre Phantom Manor (which Walt may never have approved of in his lifetime as the morbid imagery is much stronger than in Anaheim or Florida), the Jules Verne theming of Tomorrowland. These are just a small number of the differences that make the Paris parks unique, interesting and culturally placed in France.
It happened almost before I could help myself. All of a sudden, there I was munching on “milk tea”-flavored popcorn at Tokyo DisneySea, a park with an extravagant nautical exploration premise… Along with that popcorn — other flavors include soy sauce and curry — we stuffed ourselves with chocolate “Toy Story”-themed mochi dumplings. The gift shops overflowed with oddball items you would never find in Orlando, making shopping a delight. (There are apparently a lot of adult men in Japan wearing Winnie the Pooh boxer briefs.) And one of the two parks, Tokyo DisneySea, offered a parade-on-water called Legend of Mythica that left us speechless: fireworks, dancing fountains, lasers calibrated to thundering music, acrobats, a Jet Ski ballet, floats with massive motorized serpents and griffins.
Tokyo Disneyland may have the single best attraction in the entire Disney empire, but you won’t find it on a park map. Disneyphiles privately call it the Running of the Bulls, and it takes place every morning on the entrance plaza. When the 20 gates open, roughly 40,000 people stampede through them in the first hour and a half (at least according to a Tokyo Disneyland employee) in an effort to beat the lines. And I do mean stampede. Joe was nearly mowed down by two young women in Chip and Dale costumes. “Retreat!” he shouted, taking refuge behind a pillar. I was too busy happily soaking up the mania to offer a response.
Rick and I had been planning to visit Tokyo this year for my 55th birthday but unfortunately plans fell through. Having taken Japanese language as an undergraduate, I still hope to visit Japan sometime in the near future.
Disney Overseas and the Disney Experience
Disney haters have long criticized the company’s overseas parks as products of cultural imperialism: the evil Mickey Mousification of the globe. But Disney has aggressively dismissed that criticism as unfair and outdated. ‘We made some mistakes early on, but we learned from them…how can you judge us without seeing for yourself?’
I thought about what visiting the 13 parks had taught me about how Disney operates, particularly overseas. Far from monolithic, the company’s theme park empire is full of quirky surprises. Yes, the notion of Disney as a cultural bulldozer needs to be retired — especially as it builds a 14th park in Shanghai that will be the first to do away with a Main Street-style entrance. (Instead there will be a vast garden that will accommodate Chinese cultural festivals.) But Disney is Disney is Disney: Dumbo and Pinocchio and the “Frozen” princesses will always be there. At the end of the day, what makes a Disney park unique are the people who occupy it.
In France visitors stroll along those glorious garden paths — no rushing to the rides. Disney World in Florida is a melting pot endurance test, while the original Disneyland in California relies less on tourists than on annual pass-holding locals. Tokyo visitors, once completing that initial sprint, stand politely and quietly in tidy lines; Hong Kong attendees from mainland China show little interest in personal space, even leaning on one another in the ride queues, and go gaga for simple go-in-a-circle rides that would bore most Americans. It was also cool to notice a similarity: No matter which park we were visiting, there were smiley people enjoying one another’s company and, for a few hours at least, forgetting the pressures of the outside world.
It’s that last sentence that encapsulates why I enjoy a Disney theme park. It’s a complete escape from the outside world. You can be a kid again (or a villain if you so desire!). In my opinion, no other place does this as well as Disney!