Walt Disney World “At Large”

The Big Picture… Now With Options!

by Joshua Olive
AllEars® Guest Columnist

One of my favorite things about Walt Disney World is that things are always changing. That may sound a little odd, since I could most definitely be considered a traditionalist when it comes to the parks, but I still love that there are always new things to experience. As always, I look at new attractions and shows with an eye toward how accommodating they are to people of size.

On my last trip, I got to experience the new Toy Story Midway Mania attraction. The queue for this attraction, like the queue for Expedition Everest, is fantastic. All the toys from your childhood are there, and they're all life-size — or you're toy size — and it's a lot of fun. I picked up Fast Passes for this ride, then got immediately into the 40-minute rope-drop queue just so I could experience the incredible new Mr. Potatohead audio-animatronic. Of course, he chose that day to be out of commission. Sigh. But it was still worth it; this queue has plenty going on to keep your mind occupied!

This attraction has definitely changed the way you'll spend your day at Disney's Hollywood Studios. If you don't get FastPasses for it first thing, you might not be able to get them at all. And the line will be long, no matter what time you try to hit this ride.

The new Toy Story Midway Mania attraction has a lot going for it, with its hyper-interactivity and competitive playability, but I didn't find it to be all that exciting. It was impressive — don't get me wrong — but I honestly prefer Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin over the newer Toy Story attraction. While the 3-D element is entertaining and the games themselves are fun, it's nothing more than a giant video game. I can play video games at home. Buzz Lightyear is just as action-oriented, if a little more difficult to master, but I definitely prefer the omni-mover ride system over the Toy Story Midway Mania ride that moves you from giant TV to giant TV, and I really enjoy going through the sets of Buzz Lightyear rather than the 'warehouse' of Toy Story Midway Mania.

While Toy Story Midway Mania isn't my favorite new attraction from an entertainment standpoint, I will say that it was designed with a variety of body sizes/types in mind. At 6'6" and 400 lbs, I had no problem whatsoever fitting into this ride vehicle. More than just fitting in it, it was, in fact, comfortable! I inspected the ride vehicle with people of size in mind, and I don't think anyone would be precluded from enjoying this attraction because of their size.

That said, I don't have any issues with Motion Sensitivity, but anyone who does may want to take precautions when it comes to this ride. As it moves you from game station to game station, it whips you back and to the side at high velocity, spinning you around and then stopping suddenly – something akin to the spinning rides you can find at any county fair or carnival. I was surprised at how quickly you are thrown into motion and how fast you move from station to station. When you factor in the 3-D glasses on top of the crazy motion, it could be a problem for some people.

I got to revisit the Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor Comedy Club a couple of times on this most recent trip, and I've got two tidbits for this attraction. First of all, the seating is surprisingly comfortable, and there is more than enough leg room for anybody. It was a pleasant surprise to be able to actually stretch out — your sense of humor is much more accommodating when you're not in physical discomfort! Second, I was popped up onto the screen as some monster or other each time I experienced the attraction. If you're a person of size wearing a bright red t-shirt and you've got a huge grin plastered on your face, the camera operators are just drawn to you. I enjoy being the center of attention, so that's a lot of fun for me. If you'd rather not see yourself on the big screen, the only suggestion I can make is to let your body language show that. I think they pay attention to that sort of thing.

Moving on to other areas: readers of past Big Picture columns know that one of the chief difficulties at the parks is finding souvenir clothing made for larger sizes. As we've covered before, they now routinely carry shirts up to size 5X at Epcot's MouseGear and Downtown Disney's World of Disney stores. That has been a positive change over past year or two.

While t-shirts are available up to size 5X, there are only 2-3 options in those sizes across the parks – a generic Fab 5 in front of the Castle type shirt (in red, blue, or gray) and another of the same, but with the year on it. Better than nothing, certainly, but it still leaves a little to be desired. Now, thanks to the newly opened Design-a-Tee store in Downtown Disney, the options are more or less unlimited… up to a size 5X. You can choose from a variety of colors, not just the red, blue, and gray, and you can choose all kinds of images now, customizable from eight different general categories: Characters, Celebrations, Pirates, Princesses, Holidays, Tinkerbell, Disney Films, and Pixar. Sizes and Options! I can safely say that this is a new thing to WDW, and it's a definite improvement. For a detailed explanation of the unique method of operation, read about this new Design-a-Tee shop HERE. In 20 minutes, you could have your very own, custom Disney shirt made up. Not a bad deal at all.

In the spirit of always trying something new when we go to WDW, my wife and I decided to visit Jiko at Animal Kingdom Lodge on our most recent trip. First of all, Animal Kingdom Lodge is a worthwhile destination on its own. What an amazing place to explore! I could haunt that lobby for hours, just taking in all the design elements and fascinating paraphernalia.

Then there's Jiko itself. In a word: incredible. The atmosphere is subdued, but engaging, and the food was terrific. Like most of the restaurants at WDW, they have plenty of booth and table seating. Given my size, I much prefer tables to booths, and we were happily accommodated by the courteous staff.

I'm not the most adventurous eater on the planet, but I couldn't resist trying their ostrich appetizer. It was… phenomenal. Like the best steak I've ever had. Next time, and there will be a next time, I may just get that as my entree; it was amazing.

One final, completely unrelated note: I miss the bus drivers. Oh, they're still there, taking you to and from the parks, but their voices have been replaced with automated spiels and themed background music. I'm sure Disney installed this system to homogenize the experience, making sure everyone who boards a Disney bus gets the same, exact level of service. While that's an admirable goal, I suppose, it has actually been a huge negative for me. Prior to the implementation of this 'service,' your bus ride had the potential to serve as an excellent warm-up for the parks or served as an extension of your park experience on the way back to your resort. The bus drivers with personality were fun! They were entertaining. Now it's just a bus ride. The magic — that little bit of pixie dust — is gone. I know it's a small thing, but that doesn't mean it's not an important thing. I hope Disney brings back the bus drivers!