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Doing Disney World with a Genie and a little Lightning

This isn’t the kind of genie that grants wishes.

I don’t post a lot about Disney, at least aside from stuff released by Disney. It’s become impossible to avoid The House of Mouse considering the Disney company owns Marvel, Star Wars, Hulu, 20th Century Television, and so on. I have made frequent additions to The Christmas Spot featuring a Disney special of some kind, but when it comes to the theme parks I have largely stayed quiet. That’s because there’s tons of that out there in the wild. There are plenty of Disney fanatics in the world that have an opinion on the company’s decision to remove Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in favor of an expanded Fantasyland in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. There are certainly a ton of Epcot enthusiasts who pine for the days of no character representation at the park featuring the big golf ball and absolutely hate the encroachment of traditional Disney IP into their fake world showcase. There’s just a lot of strong opinions and it all becomes an echo chamber.

My experience with Disney World goes back to the 80s. My parents actually honeymooned at Disney World in the early part of the decade when it was just The Magic Kingdom. They didn’t select that as their destination because they were big time Disney fans, it was just a pretty new experience and it was something they had never done. Plus, there were other things to do in and around Orlando, Florida and they probably didn’t have the money to go someplace more exotic. My parents always knew they wanted to have kids someday, so when they were at Disney World and they saw how kids responded to the characters and attractions they basically made a vow to return with their kids in the future. And they stuck to that, bringing my sister and I in 1988 when I was a mere 4 years old. I obviously can’t remember much from that trip given my age. I remember picking out my own set of Mickey ears and Minnie Mouse playing with my sister’s pig tails at a character breakfast aboard a ship. My parents had such a good time with us that my grandmother felt left out and wanted to experience it too so we got to go back to Disney World a year later. We wouldn’t return again until 1998 when my family wanted to do a big vacation. We stayed onsite, and it was the first trip to Disney we went on where we didn’t go see other, non-Disney, theme parks, we just enjoyed Disney for what it was.

Since meeting my wife over ten years ago now, we’ve been to Disney World six times: three as a couple and three with our own children. We’ve also been to Disneyland once. My wife is a bigger Disney fan than I am when it comes to Disney as a brand and as an attraction. I love the classic shorts and films and appreciate the theme parks. I enjoy how you’re able to feel like you’ve exited reality, to some degree, when setting foot in Disney World. They whisk you away from the airport and take you to your hotel with part of the experience being the music on the bus even changing when you hit the front gate. And unless you rent a car, you don’t ever have to leave. There’s so much to see and experience that it’s really impossible to get it all in during a single visit, which for us has always been a week. We do a five day ticket with park hopper and leave one day open to just enjoy the resort, do some shopping, and get some rest since a Disney vacation is not exactly a relaxing one.

Since I started going with my wife, we’ve seen a lot of changes at the parks. Our first trip coincided with the Fantasyland expansion and the main attraction there, The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, wasn’t even open yet. We stayed at their newest resort, The Art of Animation, because my wife is a big fan of Finding Nemo. When we returned with our children for the first time, the year was 2019. It was a big, family, trip with my parents and sister’s family and we stayed at the Polynesian resort. My family is comfortably middle class, and to afford the trip my aunt came along who is a retired Disney cast member who worked for years at the Disney Store and receives discounts on hotels. Without her, I can’t see staying at the Polynesian, but it was my dad who fell in love with the idea of being on the Monorail. When we brought our kids for the second time, it was just my family of four plus my parents and we stayed at the Pop Century resort. The year was 2021 so COVID protocols were in place. It was also after the construction of the Sky Liner which could take us directly from the hotel to either the Hollywood Studios or Epcot theme parks. With my kids a little bit older for this trip (5 and 6), it made sense to have that kind of access as they were more into the rides at Hollywood Studios and Epcot was just a great park to return to night after night for food and beverages. This most recent trip we took was in January of 2023. It was another big family trip as my sister had her daughter between our trip in 2019 and now so my parents wanted to do one more. We returned to the Polynesian and stayed for a week once more. It was by far the coldest week I’ve ever spent in Florida with the idea of a pool day being laughable as a result, but it was still nicer than the weather in the northeast.

A benefit of going to Disney World in January is that you still get to see the park decorated for Christmas without the Christmas crowds.

This most recent trip was easily the least enjoyable one so far. Part of that is my kids are even older now so the magic has started to fade a bit. My daughter was still excited to give out hugs to Mickey, Donald, and all of the rest, but my son and nephew were less enthused. My niece, who is 2 and into Frozen and Minnie Mouse, had a nice time, but she didn’t have that BIG reaction the other kids had when they were around her age. She was still a ton of fun to observe, but maybe not what was expected. We also had our travel down to Florida interrupted when the FAA grounded all flights the day we were traveling. We left the house at 4:30 in the morning expecting to be in Orlando before noon that day. What ended up happening is our connecting flight was cancelled and we had to get rerouted to Chicago. We ended up taking three flights that day and didn’t get to our hotel room until 3:00 AM. As a result, it felt like we were playing catch-up on our sleep for much of the week and that first day in Disney World was rather short since our kids just couldn’t do a full day after going through that.

That certainly wasn’t the start we envisioned, but we made do. The weather wasn’t perfect, but it’s manageable. What compounded things though were the changes we experienced. The first big one was the discontinuation of Disney’s Magical Express. That was the complimentary bus service that took guests from the airport to Disney property. Interestingly, it was one of the things my kids loved the most about our past trips because they would show Disney shorts on the monitors and there was the aforementioned big deal about hitting Disney property. What a nice perk for guests staying at a Disney hotel just taken away. Now, you have to arrange transportation yourself and wouldn’t you know, the company we hired bailed on us when our flights got all screwed up. We were left scrambling to find a cab that could get 11 people from the airport to the hotel, with luggage, at 2:30 in the morning on a Thursday. It was a nice bit of stress to add to the start of a vacation.

At least this new addition was a good one.

When I went in 1998, there was no such thing as Fast Pass. My family and I endured some incredible lines to get on the most popular rides. We were teens though and my parents were still shy of 40 so we could handle it. When I went with my wife for the first time, we got to benefit from the Fast Pass system. We would go to a ride, get a pass, and return when we were supposed to. It was easy enough to manage and there was plenty to do in between. When we returned in 2019 with our kids, the Fast Pass system had been moved to the app. It required more planning, but my wife is the type that likes to plan out her Disney experiences so it wasn’t much of an adjustment for us. We were able to get our kids onto all of the rides we wanted to experience and overall it worked really well. In 2021, the Fast Pass system was gone. The parks weren’t operating at full capacity due to COVID so it was back to the old line system, and funny enough, it was fine. I don’t think we waited in a line longer than 40 minutes for anything. The longest line was probably Rise of the Resistance, which was brand new at the time, though it also could have been Peter Pan that we waited the longest for. I’ll never understand why that ride always has a crazy line, but it is what it is.

If you’re a Disney fan then you can probably guess where this is going now. For 2023, we got to experience the Genie+ system. Prior to this thing being invented, the Fast Pass system was always part of the experience and included with every park admission. Genie is not. Now, if you want to make sure you get onto a certain ride you have to pay extra. It’s a per ticket fee, and it just gives you the right to book a Fast Pass on Disney’s app. I’d tell you the fee, but it changes from day-to-day depending on how popular a day Disney thinks it’s going to be. I think some days it was 7 bucks per ticket and others it was 12 or 15. Mind you, a ticket to any Disney park these days is well over 100 bucks whether you’re a kid, adult, or senior citizen. Adding to that expense is just asinine. Never mind that you’re going to pay plenty of money to either stay at a resort hotel, park your car, pay for food, and whatever else comes along. Disney is really good at extracting money from its guests, but this is their most naked attempt at doing so. Oh, and if you want to ride the most popular rides you have to pay per ride. Rise of the Resistance and The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train are on the Lightning Pass system, or whatever it’s called, so you get to pay extra. Your Genie+ for the day is only good for some rides. How senior citizens figure this stuff all out must be interesting.

The Polynesian is a remarkably convenient resort to stay at and quite lovely to look at, but not really worth the money.

A lot of these changes occurred under the recently ousted Disney CEO, Bob Chapek. He has been replaced with a returning Bob Iger who has started to undo some of the changes his failed successor made. He has not undone the Genie+ system and I don’t expect him to. And why? Because people use it and pay for it. Let’s face it, for a lot of people Disney World is a once-in-a-decade trip. Maybe even once-in-a-lifetime for some. It sure feels like they’re moving to that with how expensive it’s all become, and if you want to experience as much as you can you’re going to have to bite the bullet and pay for this thing. I try to tell my kids how lucky they are to have been three times already in their short lives, but they’re kids so they can’t even wrap their heads around that. I also told them to make sure they see everything they wanted to see during this trip because I don’t see us returning anytime soon. And we had to skip on some stuff, because you just do. Disney has successfully sapped a lot of my enthusiasm for the parks with these changes. In addition to the added expense is the added time sink. You better get up before 7 AM on your vacation to purchase your Genie+ add-on and start making reservations as soon as possible if you want to get the most bang for your buck. And you probably won’t if you have small kids. I think we only used 2 to 3 Fast Pass selections each day. Our kids can’t go from morning until night at the parks and we didn’t want to run them into the ground since we were there primarily for them.

I don’t know if I would classify myself as a Disney Die-hard. My wife is, and I’m something approaching that. I really enjoyed the parks each time I went, and when the subject of a vacation comes up it was always my default selection because where else am I going to have that much fun with my kids? Leaving at the end of a vacation was always a sad event, but this time I felt none of that. And now I think I’m kind of done. I’m sure I’ll go back someday, but right now I couldn’t even make a guess. If my kids become fans of the brand and its past then maybe we’ll do a trip to Anaheim if they would appreciate seeing where it all began. For now though I feel worn down by Mickey. If I had any advice to share with Bob Iger it would be to keep Disney in reach for those with modest incomes. Stop trying to court the wealthy, which is what it feels like Disney is out to do with crazy additions like the Star Wars hotel experience. And get rid of that stupid Genie! Making people pay extra to skip lines is just creating a multi-class environment. If you must, make aspects of the Fast Pass system exclusive to those who are staying on Disney property like a longer window to book reservations. The system they had in place when they first moved it to the app was pretty great and it didn’t need to be changed. And also get rid of the stupid Lightning Lane. About the only change I thought was a good one was the new virtual queue system for extremely popular rides. That’s where you get into the queue in the morning if you have a reservation for the park the ride is located at, and in this case it was the new ride based on Guardians of the Galaxy. In reality, very little about the queue is virtual since it works like a Fast Pass in that you have a time to show up, but unlike a Fast Pass you’re just getting in line to wait for the ride. I think we waited for close to an hour. Was it worth it? To a point, since it was a new experience and the ride was fun. Would I do it a second time? No. Which is the same answer I’d give to someone who said to me “Hey, you want to go to Disney World in 2024?” And that surprises the hell out of me.

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Lego: Disney’s Cinderella Castle

disney-lego-castle-5This past spring Lego released its third line of mini figures to be based on an official license. Following two straight years of The Simpsons, Lego turned to Disney and its cast of classic characters. Going with a mix of old school, Pixar, and movie characters not touched by the existing Lego Disney Princess line, the line appeared to sell really well for Lego and the likelihood of future releases for the license seemed almost certain. I reviewed those figures back when they came out, and in that review I mentioned my desire to see Lego tackle some famous Disney World and Disneyland attractions, specifically Cinderella’s Castle from Walt Disney World. Ask and you shall receive, as it wasn’t too long after the fact that Lego did indeed announce such a set was coming late in the summer.

Now, my wife is a Disney fanatic. She loves Disney and going to the park, so much so that I made sure I proposed to her in front of the imposing castle. Considering I purchased myself a pair of Simpsons sets and a Ghostbusters Firehouse, I kind of owed it to her to get this set as well. It arrived at the end of August, but since we were in the middle of moving to a new house, construction did not commence until the first week of September. After a fairly leisurely build schedule, we completed this masterpiece over the weekend and both my wife and I are quite pleased with the results.

First and foremost, this set is large and expensive. It retails for $350, which seems to be the going rate for 4,000+ piece sets based on a licensed brand. It’s the same price as the Ghostbusters set, and comparable to some Star Wars sets as well (though cheaper than the upcoming Death Star re-release). Disney is likely not a cheap license to acquire, so there was little sticker shock for me, as much as I hate to spend that kind of money on what ends up being a big plastic, sculpture of sorts. Compared to the firehouse, it’s probably a lesser value. The piece count is comparable, but many of the pieces to the castle are of the smaller variety. It’s been many years since I last built a Lego castle of any kind, but I’m left to believe there are a fair amount of unique pieces to this set, which is obviously a factor in cost. There is minimal use of stickers, which is something any expensive set should be trying to achieve. All of the stickers felt reasonable to me as they’re basically confined to the outer brick detail for the wall (which are simple to place), three shields that adorn the main hall, and a single mirrored sticker for, naturally, a mirror. There are some printed pieces that, in a lesser set, could have opted for stickers instead.


A look at The Royal Suite. Below it is where Mickey hides his sorcerer garb and above it is the domain of the Evil Queen.

The mini figure count is where this set may come up short for some. The Ghostbusters set came with 9, and even the Kwik-E-Mart came with 6. Cinderella’s Castle comes with 5, four of which are re-releases with one being unique to the set. Of the four, Donald Duck is the only one who is identical to the mini figure released a few months back. It always disappoints me when a toy line repeats a figure within a set. It would have been easy enough to re-color Donald as he sometimes sports a white cap instead of a blue one. Or even just lighten the color of his shirt, or gone with a full reprint of his body to match one of his many Disney World attires. Both Daisy and Minnie are re-colored versions of their previous release. Daisy has a pink color scheme while Minnie is in her more traditional red and white polka-dot attire. Mickey is the only one getting a whole new outfit as he’s in his park-appropriate tuxedo. Tinker Belle is the new addition, and she fits in with the previously released Peter Pan and Captain Hook and also makes sense as she’s pretty central to the various Disney World ceremonies centered around the castle. Disappointingly, she does not come with a flight “peg” like the ghosts did with the firehouse making it hard to find a fun place to pose her on the castle. As a figure, her likeness is well-done and includes two wands, wings, a hair piece, and a fabric skirt. In addition to those five figures, there’s also two sets of display armor for the interior of the castle that are essentially mini figures with all black heads.


A closer look at the infamous mirror. Below is a chest containing her spell components with the fireworks shooter behind.

Building the castle is a pretty painless experience. There’s some very large pieces composing the outer wall area which makes that fairly simple. As you start to move up the castle and towards the towers, more small pieces are introduced and there are some tedious spots. The numerous little white accents you see along the top of the walls and around the towers can drive you mad if you’re insistent about making sure everything is perfectly square. Some of those pieces are anchored by solid bricks behind them, while others are on blue pegs. Those ones have a tendency to swing and I found them irritating. Other places, like around the front clock above the main door, are resting as opposed to being snapped in tight which is something I do not care for. I want everything on a Lego set to be as solid as possible, and the only resting items should be the kind that need to be easily removed like the roof on a house. The set builds basically in three parts:  the outer wall and main hall, the base of the tower, and the tallest main tower itself. The last step in the process is putting all three together and they go together very simply. In total, there are 14 steps in the instruction booklet and there are quite a few leftover pieces when complete. Mostly, they’re small pieces that could be easily lost or overlooked while there are a couple of spare accessories, like a second pair of shears and a sword. I did notice at least one printing error in the booklet where some of the necessary parts for one step are not included in the parts summary at the top of the page. They’re mistakenly included in the following step, even though the graphic for placing them is on the previous step. It’s an easily catchable error as the parts are a couple of traditional bricks, but just be on the lookout (I think it was part of step 11 or 12).

For Disney fans, building the castle offers other rewards beyond the simple satisfaction of construction as the set is loaded with numerous easter eggs. One of the earliest in the build process is the magic carpet from Aladdin being draped on a wall with the Genie’s lamp included as well. The enchanted rose from Beauty and the Beast receives its own room with a familiar looking candelabra looking on. The menacing spinning wheel from Sleeping Beauty is present, as well as the apple for the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. One of my favorites, is a stash of objects from Cinderella hidden under a steeple at the base of the tower which includes her famous glass slipper. There’s also a main suite, which I assume is to represent the actual Royal Suite from the actual castle in Disney World, as there’s nothing obvious within the room to tie it to a film. There’s also a kitchen which could be a stand-in for numerous films (the cleaver on the wall makes me think of Louie from The Little Mermaid) while there’s also an archery set atop the main wall in front of the tower. The included booklet connects that Merida from Pixar’s Brave, but I prefer to think of it as a an homage to Robin Hood, since everything else appears connected to a classic Disney film. There’s a fireworks shooter towards the top of the tower which is another connection to the actual tower in Disney World. By far though, my favorite is the room towards the middle of the set which features Mickey’s hat from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice as well as a couple of buckets and mops and a spell book for good measure. Sadly, the hat does not fit on the Mickey mini figure.


High above where Tinker Belle dwells. I wish it came with a piece to simulate her flying around the tower.

When all is said and done, you’re left with a pretty imposing looking structure. It’s easily the tallest Lego structure I own and I assume it ranks among the tallest the company has ever produced. The likeness to the actual building is pretty impressive, though it’s certainly possible to nit-pick the Hell out of it. The open design on the back means it really only displays from the front. I don’t know if a clamshell design was considered, but it definitely would have added a considerable amount of pieces and complexity to the set. I’m guessing Lego chose to prioritize the front and making sure the size of the set felt appropriate for such an iconic landmark. I would also assume that, even though the box suggests this is for teens and adults, this castle has a lot of playability for a child given all the rooms and accessories. I wish the previously released mini figures supplemented it a little better, but the Disney Princess line obviously would fit in well and it’s a significant upgrade over that line’s Cinderella’s Castle.


The finished product. It’s hard to get the whole thing in frame.

Where will Lego take Disney next? Given that The Simpsons received two waves of mini figures, I’ve been assuming Disney would too. There’s a more obvious fit between Disney and Lego than there was with The Simpsons so maybe this could continue for awhile. Even if Lego chooses not to devote entire lines of mini figures to the brand, there’s still a wealth of potential sets from the parks themselves. Sleeping Beauty Castle from Disneyland seems like an obvious potential candidate, while Main Street USA would fit in with this set. If they wanted to do something different but also tie it to a park, Mickey’s Fun Wheel from California Adventure would be another attractive piece for Disney enthisiasts to display. It’s fun to speculate but even more fun to build, so I hope the line continues beyond this set, even if my wallet does not.

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