“Wait,” you may be saying to yourself, “you never shut up about Disney World, and I suspect from your last seven, long, incredibly detailed posts that you already know all of the out-in-the-open magic of Walt Disney World. So what gives with the book?” (As an aside, it’s amazing how much you sound like me when you’re calling me out! You’re also a little rude, but I’m willing to overlook that.)
What gives with the book, The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World by Susan Veness, is that in the lead-up to our last trip to Disney, I was looking for a fun trivia book that would point me in the direction of some heretofore undiscovered Disney delights. Turns out I really do know, like, 90 percent of the magic of Disney World, and this spare little book didn’t illuminate too many things I was not already aware of (at the Magic Kingdom, a kid’s eye view of the Sleeping Beauty fountain in Fantasyland reveals a crown atop Aurora’s head; over in the Animal Kingdom, the red, yellow and white pipes that run along the ceiling in Dinosaur bear the chemical compositions for ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise in a nod to the ride’s original sponsor, McDonald’s; Hollywood Studios’ Tower of Terror bears an exterior Mediterranean aesthetic in order to blend in with Epcot’s Morocco pavilion next door, over which it – pun intended – towers.)
Things I should have noticed before I purchased the book? That its information only went up to the Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland expansion in 2012, which means it was missing details on both 2017’s Pandora – the World of Avatar expansion at the Animal Kingdom and the opening of 2018’s Toy Story Land in Hollywood Studios. So it was really telling me nothing I didn’t already know. It did not take me very long to blip through this wee book.
The most complete, detailed information came in the section on the Animal Kingdom, the park I am probably the least familiar with. And I suspect that its completeness is owing to Veness securing a direct interview with Joe Rohde, Disney Imagineering legend and lead designer of the Animal Kingdom. Ultra engaged, ultra gregarious and ultra creative (you’ve seen him; he’s the very enthused, exceptionally earnest gentleman with giant, stretched out earlobes weighted down with intricate metal rings) Rohde strikes me as the kind of man who would grant a delightful interview to anyone, from a major news outlet, to an elementary school newspaper, to an author seeking information directly from the source.
There is just a ton of detail here about the Animal Kingdom, in particular Dinoland USA, a day-one part of the park (an incongruous mix of the serious – paleontology – with the not-so-serious – a trashy side-of-the-highway amusement park) that has never quite felt like it fit with the rest of the park’s lush, natural aesthetic. I love the crap out of the Dinosaur ride (it might be my third favourite ride behind the Haunted Mansion and the Tower of Terror) but I’ve just never understood the Dino-Rama midway part of Dinoland USA; why the too-bright, too-loud dino carnival in the midst of the Animal Kingdom’s otherwise peaceful oasis?
Rohde, who oversaw the design and implementation of Dinoland USA, has always said there’s a method to his madness, and Dino-Rama isn’t just a weird jumble of carnival shys, body-punishing wild mouse coasters and hokey dinosaur puns (“This exstincts!” proclaims one sign bearing a dino staring up in dismay at a meteorite hurtling towards his head.) But I’ve warmed to the place considerably since reading The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World, because it finally explained that madness, and turns out, it’s really not so weird after all.
The story behind Dinoland USA is that the Dino Institute, a scientific operation where you can take tours into the past (AKA ride the Dinosaur ride, in which you travel back to the Cretaceous period to nab a dino for a morally conflicted researcher, Dr. Grant Seeker, heh), has funded a paleontology expedition in the area and sent a number of students and professors there to carry out the painstaking work of digging up old dino bones (AKA The Boneyard, a massive, incredibly fun-looking playground area for kids.) The grad students and their professors live in the various trailers and RVs dotted throughout the area, with a number of these 1960s-style trailers converted into makeshift dining halls bearing names like Trilo Bites, the Dino Diner, Dino-Bite Snacks and Restaurantosaurus (actual dining spots you can visit and grab a – sigh – dino bite.)
So the story goes, married couple Chester and Hester, carny opportunists to the core, came to the area and immediately noted the financial possibilities inherent in a place with a totally captive audience of stressed out, entertainment-starved academics. So they moved in right next door and, cribbing off the Dino Institute’s goodwill and legitimacy, opened up Dino-Rama, a ramshackle midway competitor for the students’ attention, time and money. This is a dig at the many, many fly-by-night attractions that sprang up directly outside Disneyland’s gates when that park opened in 1955, a “how did we not see this coming?” move that irked Walt to no end and prompted him to essentially buy up nearly all of central Florida in a move to head off a repeat performance when he opened his World of Disney in 1971.
The big draw in Dino-Rama, aside from numerous looming dinosaurs and Chip and Dale strutting about in their finest dino costumes, is Primeval Whirl, a densely knitted wild mouse coaster in which your cart wildly spins, sending you plummeting downhill somehow both sideways and backwards. It’s an incredibly rough ride – really never fails to break our old arses – and you swing about so much, you never really get a chance to appreciate the silly cartoon dinosaur artwork and sad trombone jokes that pepper the attraction in a budget imitation of the legit Dinosaur ride next door at the Dino Institute. Here, behold! Now with additional Triceratops Spin action!
It’s all so very petty and passive aggressive, and I really kind of love it now that I know the backstory. The whole of Dinoland USA is actually blanketed with little bits of trivia about the two disparate groups – letters and photos and other mementos dotted about as reminders of this odd, competitive pairing. I think it’s all quite charming! And information I’m glad to have learned – it really made my experience that much richer this last visit to have the scoop on the funny little inside jokes and local colour of Dinoland USA. Which is why I chose its colourful sign – at least the Dino part! – as the subject matter of this manicure, inspired by Hidden Secrets of the Magic Kingdom, which I read in service of my friends’ reading challenge for the eighteenth prompt, “a guide.”