It seems only appropriate to begin this blog cruise about theme park schooling with the original theme park...the Magic Kingdom. Now to be fair, Disneyland was the first theme park, but I don't live in California, and essentially, that original park has many of the same features as the Magic Kingdom in Florida, so this is where I'm starting! Be warned, these will be long, picture filled posts!
Walt Disney designed his parks to give you the feeling that you were walking into a movie, right down to the smell of buttered popcorn greeting you at the door. In the case of the Magic Kingdom, it's really like 6 different movies rolled into one, so let's take them one at a time!
We begin on Main Street, U.S.A. While this street does not replicate any one town in particular, it is loosely based on Marceline, Missouri- Walt's childhood home. The time period is "around the turn of the century" (that would be circa 1900, since we've actually turned another century since then). Take a moment to take in your surroundings. Notice the lamp posts, the kinds of vehicles, the types of shops (below is the Emporium, a general store of sorts, that has been there "since 1863")...
Trivia: Disney buffs know that the names on the upper floor windows represent names the company used to buy up the land that would one day become Walt Disney World, and also names of people who have been significant to the history of the company.
Also notice the period correct types of entertainment. Along the way, you may find some old penny arcade games, and if you are lucky, you might catch the Dapper Dans who sing barbershop type music and tap dance too. They also play Deagan Organ Chimes which are the real deal, and made around the turn of the century.
Oh, and don't forget the trains! These are real antique steam trains that were fully restored and now service the Magic Kingdom. You can ride all the way around the park on the train, or just use it to take a quick trip to Frontierland or Fantasyland.
Another educational feature on Main Street is the use of forced perspective (please excuse the horrible picture!). What this means is that the eye is "forced" to see a perspective that isn't really there. In this case, the second and third story heights get progressively smaller as you move down Main Street toward the castle. And the on the castle itself, the window heights get smaller as you go up. All of that makes the castle seem much taller and further away than it really is. On the flip side, when your day is done, and you are ready to leave, Main Street seems much shorter on the way out!
We'll leave Main Street and travel LEFT to Adventureland.
Trivia: Most people (barring those headed for a specific attraction) go right, since most people are right-handed. This is true in all the parks, so a good way to avoid the initial crowds is to go to the left.
Remember how I said theme parks are made to made you feel like you are entering a movie? Well stop and experience how dramatically your setting just changed. Gone are the manicured gardens of Main Street, and in their place is a lush, tropical oasis. Notice how everything, even the background music (bgm) and the designs on the trash cans has changed! Adventureland rolls the east indies, the Caribbean, Agrabah, and the rivers and rain forests of several continents together into one adventurous experience. Educationally, you could discuss literature like the Swiss Family Robinson and One Thousand and One Nights. You can talk of totems and the beliefs of different "natives" around the world. You can discuss the animals you see and the rivers you travel on the Jungle Cruise. (If you were creative, you could have your children make a list of the places they "visit" on the rides at the Magic Kingdom, kind of like a passport.) You can talk about port cities and fortifications, pirates, and the selling of human cargo (in this case women) in Pirates of the Caribbean.
Just past Adventureland is Frontierland. The wild frontier opens itself to tons of educational topics! Here are a few:
Walking from Adventureland to Frontierland, you pass Pecos Bill's on the right...discuss some of the great American folk heroes.
Splash Mountain is based on a Disney movie, The Song of the South, that is not available in American these days. Produced in 1946, many believe its content too racist for today. But you can view several clips via the internet. Entire conversations could be had about censorship, prejudice, racism, etc with older students. Regardless, the movie is based on the Uncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris, and Br'er (a contraction for "brother") Rabbit is thought to be based on Zomo, an African "trickster" rabbit. (Here's a link to a book on Amazon about Zomo.)
Thunder Mountain is set in a mining setting. Discuss the gold rush of '49. There is tons of authentic mining equipment (sluice boxes, picks, etc.) scattered in the queue. Tell your students that in December 1848, James K. Polk set off the gold rush when he mentioned that gold had been found in CA during his state of the union address!
From Thunder Mountain, you can cross the Rivers of America by raft to get to Tom Sawyer Island. Discussion there is endless! Mark Twain's real name was Samuel Langhorn Clemmons, and the bridge from TSI leads to Fort Langhorn- an old frontier style fort complete with guns and an escape tunnel. Back on TSI, you can cross a barrel bridge, explore an old mine, check out a waterwheel powered mill or a wind mill, and see a fence that represents the famous scene where Tom gets his friends to pay him for the privilege of white washing the fence.
If you cross back to Frontierland, you can finish out your experience by again taking in the buildings. Check out the dates (they begin with colonial times in Liberty Square and move upward as manifest destiny takes hold and we move west) on the buildings and the types of businesses. Also note what the buildings are constructed with, because that points to the types of resources available at that time and place in history. While personally I dislike the Country Bear Jamboree, it does offer a view of entertainment on the frontier that you can't get elsewhere now that the Diamond Horseshoe is closed.
So, since we are moving backward in time, you will now cross the Mississippi and move to colonial times in Liberty Square. This is my FAVORITE educational area in the MK, so bear with me! To really appreciate Liberty Square, I like to enter from "the hub" in front of the castle. There, you will see a plaque that reads:
And before you even enter Liberty Square, you find a little outpost. Take the time to investigate- a feather pen, and ink pot, horse tack, a candle and reflector, a log book. Nothing is there by accident. All of it helps to tell the story:
The first thing to notice as you enter Liberty Square, or really in any of the lands, is the pavement. Yep, that's right. What's under your feet, and what is it trying to convey? In this case, you will see this:
The red? It's the dirt of the roads. But that gravelly area in the middle? Some say it's a river, and maybe it is, but not the kind they are thinking. It's meant to represent effluence. Ahem. Think no indoor plumbing and an urgent need to GO in the middle of the night. What to do with the waste come morning? Toss it out the window of course. Eeeeuuwwww. And speaking of that...there are no visible restrooms in Liberty Square because there was no indoor plumbing in colonial times!
The Sons of Liberty met under the branches of a tree such as this (called the Liberty Tree). As nothing was mass produced at that time period, you will notice that every lantern is different.
Houses feature period appropriate items like boot scrapers, hitching posts, and large outdoor cooking kettles.
Ahhh, the Hall of Presidents. So many educational topics...so little time. The above carpet is a representation of The Great Seal of the United States. It took an act of Congress to allow it to be placed there, and it is behind a rail so it is not stepped on. You could discuss why we have a seal (Kings had signet rings and family crests...we had no king, but needed to relate on a level they understood.) You can talk about the symbolism on the crest. There are 13 stripes and 13 stars. The Eagle clutches an olive branch and arrows indicating the powers of war and peace. In it's mouth the ribbon reads, "E Pluribus Unum", meaning "Out of many, one". Also in the preshow area are recreations of the official portraits of the presidents while they sat in office including the one of George Washington that Dolly Madison saved.
And then you have the figures themselves. Each is life size, and each wears period appropriate attire. The minute details are all there, down to braces on FDR's legs. Current presidents are dressed in articles of their own clothes (like ties) when possible. (Trivia: Audio Animatronic figures like these "wear out" their clothes from the INside out, while we wear our out from the OUTside in. The 3 speaking Presidents are all from the most advanced model of Audio Animatronics ever made.) The whole Hall of Presidents show is a huge educational experience that could spur discussions in almost any subject in American History.
Pepper's Ghost. Follow that link to learn more, and you'll know how the ghosts in the ballroom do their thing.
(Trivia: Disney employs many, many skilled artisans, but they don't get to sign their works of art. Instead, sometimes they do creative things to mark it as theirs, and sometimes Disney itself will honor them in a discreet way. For example, many of the names on the tombstones in the Haunted Mansion queue, including Master Gracey, are the names of imagineers who helped to conceive and build the ride.
Two more lands to go!
But my favorite attraction in Fantasyland is actually a little piece of American History. Created by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1917, the Prince Charming Regal Carousel is a truly handcrafted treasure. Each horse is hand carved, and held together not with nails or glue, but by the wedge-and-peg system. (You can kind of see the idea HERE.) The carousel was originally called the Liberty, and you can still see some details that pay homage to that past:
Educationally, you could discuss the construction, and also the way the horses go up and down. You could even recreate it with pipe cleaners.
There are 90 wooden horses on the carousel, but they obviously need maintenance from time to time. So there are also fiberglass ones that take the place of the wood ones as each is rotated off to be touched up. (Trivia:They are painted by HAND! And that gold? It's real gold leaf.)
There are 5 different sized horses, and the biggest and most ornate go to the outside. As you move inward, they get smaller and plainer.
There's a lot of new things coming for Fantasyland which I'm sure will offer their own educational opportunities, but for now, as we leave it behind, I'll mention that at the teacups, you could have a rousing discussion about centrifugal and centripetal forces.
And that leads us to Tomorrowland. Space Mountain, because it is a roller coaster, offers many science related topics like friction, inertia, acceleration, etc., but also opportunities to discuss, well, space. And most of the attractions in Tomorrowland offer some technology related learning, like lasers in Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin or the just-too-cool interactive technology in Monsters Inc. Laugh Factory. But the best educational attraction Tomorrowland has to offer, in my opinion, is also the oldest...The Carousel of Progress.
Originally designed for the New York World's Fair in 1964, the Carousel of Progress shows us how far we've come. Beginning with the turn of the century (the top pic), the theatre seating rotates around stationary sets that also depict the 1920s and the 1940s (both above) as well as a look at a future that does not seem too distant at all. Carousel of Progress opens up all sorts of educational topics related to time saving devices and the changes in the way we perform our everyday tasks and spend our days.
Finally, you should definitely ride the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover. Originally called the WEDway PeopleMover (WED stands for Walter Elias Disney), it may not be the end all be all of technology, but it does offer a view of part of a diorama of Walt's idea for EPCOT (the city, not the theme park). It's neat to see Walt's dream for what our Cities of Tomorrow would look like, and it also makes the perfect segue for Day 2's blog post about Theme Park Schooling at Epcot.
Over 65 of my TOS Crew mates are participating in this "5 Days of..." blog cruise, and each has a different topic. You can click below to check them all out. I know I will!
Before her life as homeschool mom, One Blessed Mamma spent over a decade working at Walt Disney World in many capacities including being a facilitator for Disney's Youth Education Series (Y.E.S.) and the Disney Institute/Disney University where she facilitated programs like Backstage Magic, Disney by Design, Disney's Amazing Architecture, Imagineer It, and Yuletide Fantasy. Now, after years of sharing the educational information she learned with her own children, she is sharing with you. Let it whet your child's appetite for learning...and definitely check out Y.E.S. or any of Disney's tour offerings. They offer firsthand experiences you can't get from just reading this blog.