Seams of Reality

Leaving Florida this time made me wonder why I didn’t just go to Disney again. The answer, of course, was that I wanted to capstone my Harry Potter fan experience. I wanted to see the new Hogwarts, and share that love with my geeky Harry Potter friends in a small way, the four of us running around, playing like little kids.

My imagination is, apparently, better than Universal’s. And you know, I think if Disney had had this property, a few things would have been done differently.

Note the following list.

What I wanted: My own unique wand
What I got: A terrible death head’s wand that was obviously cheesy and plastic. (Later to be replaced by one that I liked better).
What Disney would have done: Made several build a wand stations at the park and its subsequent toy stores in Disney Marketplace

What I wanted: A wand that worked
What I got: A resin toy.
What Disney would have done: Set up a sort of Geocache game around the park, a la the kind of game at the Mall of America, or the Kim Possible scavenger hunt at EPCOT.

What I wanted: More wizards in the streets.
What I got: Universal employees who were holding back lines at doors.
What Disney would have done: Had a cast of roving wizard inhabitants that interacted with the visitors.

What I wanted: A nice meal at the Three Broomsticks
What I got: A mediocre cafeteria meal
What Disney would have done: Created a restaurant called The Great Hall, where the customers were sorted, and “house elves” served the food.

What my friend wanted: To put the butter beer “head” on top of a pumpkin juice
What happened: A flat out refusal
What Disney would have done: Already have thought of that, or acquiesced.

The Harry Potter park was an okay experience. Unfortunately, I kept getting pulled out of the narrative. Going to Disney is like reading a really good book. Going to Universal was more like reading a book, and occasionally noticing something the author had done. There were many reality seams.

When we were standing in line for the Hogwarts virtual reality ride, several things jogged me back to reality.

1. Crowding at the beginning of the lines was not controlled by staff.

2. It turns out there are pig chutes behind Hogwarts. Who knew?

3. There’s a big, visible plastic warehouse adjacent to the castle. Obviously,that’s where you’re going to have your “experience.”

4. The staff rushed riders through the loosely connected Hogwarts story into the ride.

5. There were lockers to put your possessions in that couldn’t hold the wands you bought. Yeah. At Hogwarts.

Now, this is all pretty standard amusement park stuff. The trick is, Disney wouldn’t have let me see these seams. The warehouse would be there. I wouldn’t see it.

Let me compare Hogwarts to the Haunted Mansion.

1. The waiting line for the Mansion can spill out into the square. Disney employees put up ropes and route overflow down by the riverboat. No one crowds the front of the line.

2. Once you are into the ride proper, the line stretches through the manor and the graveyard.

3. You enter the house. It looks like a house, but it’s really an elevator that takes you downstairs via a stretching room trick.

4. The ride is entirely hidden underground, so you don’t see the building that houses it.

5. Maids and butlers who man the ride stay in character for the whole thing.

Fewer seams. Better narrative.

I liked Universal Studios. I especially enjoyed the virtual reality rides, most of which were very well done, and didn’t kick me out of the story. While I’m not much of a roller coaster rider myself, the coasters looked fine (although Bryon, my resident coaster afficiando, is not keen on the recent architectural trend of coasters to loop more than glide). Some parts of the park were really well decorated.

There just wasn’t the attention to detail that made the visit to the park, well, er, magical.

Disneyland doesn’t have it either. I liked Disneyland, but back then, Walt Disney also had seams. He hadn’t become the master of his craft yet. Sort of like you and me, fellow newbie writers. But Walt put in his time, and we got the Magic Kingdom in Disney World.

So, I guess what works in any creative endeavor is attention to detail. Universal is a fine park to visit. I won’t go back. I’m already scheming about how to get to Disney again, because I feel like I’ve had a diet dessert when I wanted a rich piece of cheesecake.


Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

9 thoughts on “Seams of Reality”

  1. The last time I went WDW — in March — there was a rainstorm in the morning so we waited to go. We arrived at the park around noon, just before a big parade was starting. We started to make our way around the circle and down Main Street, but were told we couldn’t during the parade.

    Instead, we were routed through the backlot to Tomorrowland. Parking lot. With some topiaries along the route to make us feel better.

    I was kind of horrified, because although I really appreciated not having to stand through the parade (we wanted to get on with the rides!), I was NOT expecting to have the “seams of reality” burst quite like that! My mother said “Walt would be spinning in his grave.” She’s probably right.

  2. It’s interesting how I think many of Disney’s creative workarounds for lines and so on are directly related to overcrowding at the park. It’s vastly more busy (at certain times of year!) than it was when I was a kid. Or maybe that’s just my faulty memory at work.

  3. No, I think you’re right.

    Not that I’ve had childhood experience, but I think the MK is more congested than it was originally designed to be. It’s basic layout is only capable of moving so much traffic.

    Now, Epcot and Animal Kingdom are built on a design that moves crowds more efficiently.

    I think Walt, while having a great imagination, did not realize how very popular his park would become.


  4. I’m with you — Walt had no idea they would be dealing with the volume of people that MK currently has. I’ll have to ask my brother if he has any specifics — he used to be a cast member at the parks and still knows a lot of people there.

  5. I think the MK goes to about 115k people before they close the doors. I’ve been there 4th of July and that is really tight. As much as I love the place I really like the hard ticket events. It keeps the park down to a nice level and there are different shows just for the event. I’m going to Universal this year, right after No So Scary at WDW.

  6. Slight correction on the Haunted Mansion: Assuming you are talking about the MK in Florida, the stretching room doesn’t really go down, the ceiling goes up. This is evident by the fact that you never really “come up” when exiting the attraction, like you do on Pirates. DLR in California on the other hand does in fact go down.

  7. I completely agree! I recently visited WWoHP and wrote a review on my travel blog. While I enjoyed it, I also hated myself for constantly comparing what Disney would have done…I guess what are you going to do?

    I do have to say that for a quick service restaurant, the quality of the food at the Three Broomsticks was very high…especially compared to the food Disney has been putting out lately, since the skyrocketing population of their meal plan.

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