As a frequent Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort guest, I go to the parks to get away from the everyday stress, pressure, and responsibility of my home life. Don’t get me wrong, I love life at home. I love my family, friends, neighborhood where I live, everything. But sometimes, you just want to get away and get lost in something where all of those responsibilities and to-do lists disappear. In my opinion, Disney does that better than any other company out there. While in WDW or Disneyland, the outside world fades away and you are completely immersed in the Disney Magic. It’s kind of like being “Under The Dome” where you don’t pay attention to (and don’t want to pay attention to) anything that is going on outside the glass bubble that is the Disney parks and resorts. While all of Disney feels like this (at least to me), there are certain places within the Disney bubble where you can almost forget that you’re not really “Under The Sea”, on an African safari, or enjoying an adult beverage (or two…or three) in one of the many far-off countries of the world. So let’s take a look at the Most Immersive Places in Disney’s Parks.
Africa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Okay, for this one I’ll admit I’m a bit biased. I began working at Animal Kingdom in the summer of 1998 when Animal Kingdom was only a couple months old. I was assigned to work as a Custodial Host (I cleaned up your trash, people!) in the Africa and Asia – the latter of which wasn’t even built yet – sections of the park. Within minutes of my first day at my new job, I realized two things: 1. I had to make sure I worked somewhere for or around Disney for the rest of my life, and 2. I really, really felt like I was walking around a real, centuries old village somewhere in Africa (and not only because it was like 1000 degrees outside in June, either!) From the moment you walk over the bridge from Discovery Island (which was known as Safari Village in ’98) into Africa, you can feel the sights and sounds of Africa all around you. From the cracked sidewalks to the beautifully designed buildings, to the live music, to the cast members who are actually from African countries, you completely (if only for a moment) forget that you’re in a theme park in Florida. The attractions in the Africa section only further that feeling of immersion, and Kilimanjaro Safaris absolutely makes you feel like you’re going through a true-life African safari (I’ll save the in-depth description for another day). If you’re taking a WDW trip soon, make sure you devote enough time to walking around and exploring the village of Harambe in Africa and if you see trash on the ground, do me a favor and pick it up. Their BEST EVER custodial host lives in Philadelphia now!
Morocco in Epcot – I hope no one who is reading this will do what a lot of guests in Epcot do and skip right by the Morocco Pavilion in Epcot! Morocco is one of the most detailed, beautifully designed pavilions in all of Epcot’s World Showcase and unfortunately I think a lot of guests skip it because it doesn’t have an attraction somewhere in the back, there’s no Be Our Guest-type restaurant beckoning guests through the pavilion, and with France and Japan on either side, I think people are more drawn to the culture or food of Morocco’s neighboring pavilions. However, if you give it a chance, you will find a pavilion full of hidden nooks and crannies (now I want an English muffin) that completely immerse you in the culture and feel of Morocco. Take the time to look at the incredible tile work that was hand-laid by Moroccan artisans throughout the pavilion and walk into the marketplace and listen to the music and sounds of an accurate depiction of what a Moroccan bazaar would actually sound like. Go meet Aladdin and Jasmine (one of THE BEST character meet & greets in all of Disney because of the interaction between the two characters). Sit down for a meal at the Tangerine Cafe or Restaurant Marrakesh and experience the flavors of Morocco, or, if you’re a little intimidated by the food (and you shouldn’t be!), try the smaller plates at the New Spice Road Table restaurant that has great views of the World Showcase Lagoon. Whatever you do, on your next walk around World Showcase, don’t just skip by Morocco!
Adventureland in Disneyland – As much as I love Adventureland in WDW’s Magic Kingdom, I love Adventureland in Disneyland just a little bit more! To me (and I know kids love it, including my own…but man is it hot waiting in the queue there in the summer!) the Magic Carpets of Aladdin really bring down the immersion level at the Magic Kingdom. Here you have a beautifully designed, mysterious part of the park with fantastic music that really sets the mood, but then there’s a Dumbo-style spinning attraction right in the middle of it! Disneyland’s version does not suffer from the same problem. Walking over the bridge into Adventureland from Disneyland’s Hub, the real, flaming torches are overhead, the beats of the drums are off in the distance, and you are truly transported to a far-off, unknown land. It’s a shame the land is so small in Disneyland but it has to be the most immersive space in all of the park. You really feel like you could turn any corner and see a wild animal, a jungle native, or a Banyan Beef Skewer at any moment (those are at the Bengal Barbecue. Try. One. Now.) The way Walt Disney’s Original Tiki Room blends into the Jungle Cruise which blends into the Indiana Jones Adventure and then Tarzan’s Treehouse is just theme park perfection. WDW fans, if you haven’t made the journey out to Disneyland, Adventureland is one of the best reasons to go!
Sunset Boulevard at Disney’s Hollywood Studios – With Disney’s Hollywood Studios currently in a state of construction, change, and looking toward the future, there is one section that I hope remains untouched by imagineers (except maybe to add a Jalapeño pretzel stand), and that is Sunset Boulevard. Like every other immersive place on this list, the atmosphere is perfectly set with the music, the Streetmosphere (Disney’s actors portraying residents of the Hollywood that Never Was out amongst the crowds), and the Hollywood Tower Hotel beckoning you from the distance. While you’re wandering down the famous Hollywood street, take a look at the authentic to the time period cars, buildings, signs and advertisements. Even the street and the manhole covers look exactly like they would have during the Golden Age of Hollywood. If you have to opportunity to get to Hollywood Studios soon, make sure you give this area a second visit at night. Like so many other places in the Disney parks (Big Thunder Mountain, Main Street USA, and Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, just to name a few), Sunset Boulevard is a totally different kind of immersive experience at night. Next time you’re there stop by the Anaheim Produce stand, grab yourself a Frozen Margarita (because let’s face it, you’ll need to cool down!) and enjoy your leisurely stroll through the Hollywood That Never Was.
Cars Land – Disney’s California Adventure – BLOWN AWAY. That’s exactly what I thought when I first saw Cars Land at night this past February. I hadn’t been to the Disneyland Resort in about 6 years so the last time I was there, Cars Land was only just beginning to be built. Therefore, when I first walked out onto Route 66 in Cars Land a few months ago, I could not believe my eyes and my ears. Never before has Disney done such an exceptional job of placing guests into a movie like they have with Cars Land. The music is top notch, the meet & greets with Lightning McQueen, Tow Mater, and other characters from the film are awesome, and the neon lighting at night FAR exceeded my expectations. If you do have to opportunity to get out there, MAKE SURE you are standing on Route 66 when the lights are turned on for the evening. It’s a pretty incredible sight and one that makes the trip to DCA worth it. The lights rival Main Street USA’s lights at both Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, and that is REALY saying something! The attractions in Cars Land (especially Radiator Springs Racers) are so much fun I found myself lining up again and again even thought I didn’t have FastPasses. That was actually a good thing since I was able to take my time through the queues and REALLY experience the land the way it was meant to be experienced. Oh, and if you do get out there, make your way over to the Cozy Cone Motel and order the Chili Cone Queso. Trust me, you will thank me later!
The Disney parks and resorts are all about storytelling and placing you, the guest, into a certain place and time. I really believe that Disney does a phenomenal job with this with almost everything they do and I only scratched the surface with these few examples. In the next few years, in my opinion, Disney is only going to ramp up their game and open even more immersive, awe-inspiring experiences. I’m really looking forward to the completely renovated Spaceship Earth in Epcot and can’t wait to see how it will look inside as a roller coaster (just kidding! I wanted to see if you were still paying attention! I’ll bet at least some of you are FURIOUS at me right now!). I honestly can’t wait to see what Disney will bring us with the new Star Wars Land, Toy Story Land, and the World of Pandora (judging from the models at the D23 Expo, it will be incredible!) I am so excited about the futures of Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
Thank you again, as always, for reading along today. I’ve been getting some great emails about these blogs that I write, please keep them coming. Any feedback, positive, negative, constructive criticism, etc. is always greatly appreciated! If I missed your favorite immersive place or of you want to talk about it a bit more, please comment here on this page, contact me on Facebook HERE, send me a Tweet on Twitter HERE or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, feel free to share this or any other blog that I write on social media platforms by clicking any of the buttons at the top of this and every other post.
Thank you again and please enjoy the rest of your stay here at Ear To There Travel!