Monday, March 27, 2017

Magic Kingdom At Night

Walt Disney World is a magical place. But Disney magic takes on a whole new meaning once the sun goes down.

This is not a post about Disney fireworks, castle projection shows, or nighttime parades. I'm going to be honest with you: I haven't watched a Magic Kingdom fireworks show since my age was in the single digits, I've never seen a castle projection show in person, and when we took our kids to Disney for the first time two years ago, we didn't even bother to stay for the nighttime parade. In fact, we bypassed the parade completely by entering Casey's Corner and walking our way through the Emporium all the way to Town Square and exit the park. Now that I think about it, I don't think I've seen a nighttime parade since SpectroMagic replaced the creepy clowns on the balls with the face characters (which I was very upset about, by the way).

Previous creepy mask face creatures of (literally) nightmare-inducing horror. 
Most recent creepy face creatures that I avoided at all costs (even as an adult).

No, instead this post is about the magical experiences that occur in the hours of darkness at The Magic Kingdom (see what I did there? 😏). About an hour before the first nighttime parade, the back three quarters of the park begin to clear out as many guests begin to line the streets of Main Street USA and Frontierland in preparation for the parade (well, I guess began...there's no nighttime parade as of when I'm writing this article). Let me share one helpful tip with you that I've learned the hard way: if you don't want to get stuck in Adventureland and the west side of Main Street for about an hour to an hour and a half during the parade, plan ahead. Once the parade begins, the likelihood of you crossing the parade route to get to the east half of the park will be severely limited.

Because a sizable number of guests are viewing the parade and subsequent castle projection and fireworks shows, this leaves much of the rest of the park cleared out, or at least a more sparse grouping of people. This creates the illusion that the park belongs to you. Yeah, it's nice that there are fewer people around the attractions so that you might actually stand a chance getting on Peter Pan's Flight without having to wait 270 minutes in a claustrophobic queue with a bunch of sweaty and screaming toddlers. But there is so much more to appreciate at night than simply taking advantage of the shorter lines.

Take, for instance, the fuller immersion of the lands and story of the park just through the addition of lighting. For example, Tomorrowland seems to come more alive, at least to me, in the dark. The electronic background music that plays throughout the land seems to mesh a lot better when the neon lights and spinning planets that are lit up over Astro Orbiter are admired down the Avenue of Planets.

Or take, for example, Storybook Circus. One of my fondest recent memories of visiting Walt Disney World happened back in 2012, when my wife and I visited for our second anniversary (this was the same trip she almost killed a giraffe at Animal Kingdom Lodge and when we ate at the Coral Reef, all while evading a hurricane). It just happened that my aunt, uncle, and younger cousin were visiting Walt Disney World at the same time as us, and we had coordinated our plans to spend the evening together at the Magic Kingdom after dinner. It was late and the park had pretty much cleared out. We ended up over at Storybook Circus to ride Dumbo, which was one of my cousin's favorite attractions that trip and one of the few that my very pregnant aunt could actually ride. My cousin decided after a spin on Dumbo that she wanted to ride the Great Goofini, so my uncle took her over to ride it three or four times, while my wife, aunt, and I sat and talked while sitting on a low wall overlooking the dueling Dumbos. We didn't get to see my aunt, uncle, and cousin very often, as they, like the rest of our family, lived in Michigan, while my wife and I lived in North Carolina. It seems insignificant, but for me it was a special few moments with a family member that I had been very close to growing up, highlighted by the beautiful lighting of the fountained Dumbo spinners and the bare bulb sign of the Great Goofini.

Sometimes darkness creates an opportunity for adding story elements, as well. For example, the Haunted Mansion seems to become "more alive" after the shadow of darkness has fallen like a death veil. If the effect is working during your trip, you may see a ghostly light moving from window to window as though someone is carrying a lantern or candle through the mansion. During the evening hours, the howl of wolves or coyotes can be heard in the distance. There are also times when a strobe light simulates the flashing of lightning on the mansion, accompanied by a clap of thunder. These lighting and sound details can only be experienced at night, adding to the magic of this park later in the day.

I would argue, however, that the best place to spend the evening and nighttime hours in the Magic Kingdom is Adventureland. There is just something about the claustrophobic feeling of the dense jungle closing around you while flickering tiki torches light the area and the steel drum background music echoes through the land. One of my favorite Adventureland details, and I'm not sure if this is an effect that is still active or not, used to scare the crap out of my family. At night, the sounds of cannon fire could be heard occasionally from the cannons watching guard in the clock tower outside Pirates of the Caribbean, accompanied by steam issuing out of the barrel after he erupting cannon ball. Again, this effect was only active at night, which made it more startling because of the loud explosions in the pitch dark.

Some people argue that certain attractions should be experienced both day and night, as the darkness and mysteriousness of night brings a new dimension and side of the attraction's story. I couldn't agree more. However, while some argue that the best nighttime attractions are Big Thunder Mountain Railroad or the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, I would argue that the best nighttime attractions are the Jungle Cruise and the Swiss Family Treehouse. There is just a sense of more laid-back adventure riding through the pitch-black darkness of the Jungle Cruise rivers, lit only by the search light mounted to the front of the boat, and the darkness seems to create a sense of intimacy between the passengers and skipper, more-so than one experiences during a daytime cruise. Darkness also creates a sense of serenity and peace in the boughs above Adventureland in the treehouse home of the Swiss Family Robinson. The vertical distance from the ground as well as the branches and leaves, both natural and Imagineer-made, that populate the area around the enormous tree, seem to block out the noise from the park and attractions below. The height of the platforms also provide some excellent night views of Adventureland, as well as the Magic Kingdom as a whole, that cannot be seen anywhere else in the park.

Once the fireworks have concluded, the park pretty much empties out, giving you a true opportunity to play and be spontaneous in the park. In fact, in certain parts of the park, you might not see another family or another person, creating the illusion that the park is yours alone. Take, for example, the time I was on vacation at Walt Disney World in my college years with my parents and teenage brother. We were in the Magic Kingdom around eleven o'clock and the hub had pretty much cleared out. We were taking our time leaving Liberty Square and heading toward the park exit, when we decided to stop on one of the bridges and peer into the canals. I turned and looked for my brother over my shoulder to see him standing against the railing, his hands in his pockets, peering into the black water below. At first glance, I thought he was urinating into the canal, and I called him out on it. The four of us laughed, because it was very obvious Sam was doing no such thing, but he quickly pretended like he was while I snapped a quick picture (#WeirdKisteHumor). Something like this would not have been possible during the daylight hours. Now, I'm not advocating that everyone go and pretend like they are peeing in water features throughout Walt Disney World, but this kind of spontaneity and playfulness only exists in the hours after the park has cleared out and gives way to the cover of darkness.

Hah...sorry, Sam ;-)

So next time you have the opportunity, I really encourage you to take a few moments and enjoy the peace and beauty that is the Magic Kingdom after dark. 

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