Over the weekend, my May analysis of our visit to Walt Disney World in Florida (Why Two Disneyland Vets Didn’t Love Five Days in Walt Disney World), unexpectedly became the most popular post I’ve written in eight years of Chicago Carless. Or perhaps, the most infamous. On Shabbat, it was posted to a popular Facebook page for WDW cast members (BackStage Humor), where it drew an immediate and quite polarized reaction. So far, about 2,500 people have read the article since Saturday, and it has received nearly 700 likes on Facebook. In two days.
In my four month-old post, I laid out in thoughtful detail the reasons why Ryan and I–a new Disneyland Resort (i.e. Anaheim, California) fan and a longtime Disneyland Resort veteran–were disappointed with our Memorial Day trip to the east coast Disney parks. We spent hours and hours planning our trip, fully expecting WDW to be different but equally magical, and afterwards we spent hours and hours trying to figure out why we didn’t love Disney’s Florida empire as much as we love the California parks. (Actually, Ryan could go the rest of his life without ever visiting Orlando again, but I will admit to a fondness for Magic Kingdom.)
Many of the comments that ensued, both here and on Facebook, were from thoughtful, committed CMs who hoped we’d give WDW another try, some agreeing with our take on the place’s problems in part or in full, but at least reading all the way through the piece and considering what we wrote about our experience there.
Other commenters, many of whom clearly did not read more than a few paragraphs into the epic-length post, were to understate things, less thoughtful. It has always been clear to me that WDW fans and Cast Members have extraordinarily thin skins when it comes to criticism of the World. Visit any WDW discussion forum (like this one), and you regularly will witness people who don’t agree that everything is absolutely perfect about Walt Disney World shouted down. Not by everyone by any means, but by enough people to be a bit jarring.
My question, as a west-coast Disney park fan, has always been why? Is it that WDW is so perfectly managed and maintained that it renders all criticism meaningless? Or is it that, as I have long suspected, most CMs are fully aware of the way things are in the World, but some cannot admit it to themselves–or by extension to others (like me)–without realizing that maybe they don’t work in quite such a perfect place?
In the time since our trip, talking with Ryan, I’ve worked up what I call the My Little Pony theory of Walt Disney World Fandom. Most WDW vets and CMs live in the real world, even when they’re experiencing or, for the CMs, creating major magic at Disney, and are able to enter into critical discussion and consider opposing ideas and the other side of issues they might not agree with.
But some WDW fans and Cast Members don’t deal so well with the real world and use their Disney trips and Disney jobs as the ultimate escapist fantasy, similar to the way some people lose themselves to an embarrassing degree in fantasy-based hobbies like collecting My Little Pony figures. You always think the latter group is no different from the former group until you tell them you think Rainbow Dash Pony is queer. And then they freak out, throw you out of the house, and decide out of spite they won’t bring anything back for you from the Brony convention.
It is, to my mind, the most pernicious aspect of the east coast Disney “bubble”–it’s so large and secluded, some people strive to take WDW as if it is the real world. Much as I’d love to take another spin on the bumpy but historic east coast Space Mountain, I much prefer my Disney parks with a world city wrapped around them. True, it’s not as easy to get lost in the Disney bubble in Anaheim.
But the upside is that it’s not as easy to get lost in the Disney bubble in Anaheim.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.