Africa and Asia, Disney Style

Disney AfricaI just got back from being a good dad, taking the family to Disney World and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It was fun to ride the rides and watch the little one’s face light up. She was in heaven. This time of year is a dream time to go too. I think the longest we waited in any line was 15 minutes. Most of the time we just walked right on. Plus the sucking sound from my wallet was much softer than it would have been in crunch times.
The most interesting part of the trip for me though was seeing Disney’s take on architecture of the developing world. Is the picture on the left from Kenya? From Uganda? From Tanzania? No, it’s from Disney’s Animal Kingdom–the Africa section!

Somebody did their homework, I have to admit. On this picture, check out the protruding wires going every direction and the plumbing on the outside of the building. The chipped concrete, peeling paint, and general sense of neglect on this one and the pic below. The crudely painted signs for bars and travel agencies. There’s even a guesthouse looking place with plastic chairs and towels draped over the balcony.

Disney Africa 2I didn’t see a cheap Tusker beer anywhere though, or anything cheap for that matter. It just looks that way.

Then after walking for a few minutes, I found myself in Asia. Once again, whoever designed this part of the park was minding the details. The electric wires are again going haphazardly all over the place. Poles are covered with hand-painted signs for guesthouses, travel agencies, and restaurants. There are real bicycle rickshaws and carved windows that look like they came straight out of Nepal.

Disney AsiaThe eerie thing is, if you frame the photos right, it really does look like you are in the Himilayas somewhere. Check out this shot here, complete with bamboo scaffolding and a temple that looks like it belongs outside Kathmandu somewhere. There are even the requisite mildew stains on the white paint!

There’s only one thing wrong with the set-up though, the thing that would give it all away if you blindfolded an experienced traveler and then put them in one of these scenes. The signs all look right in appearance, but close scrutiny reveals a major flaw: the English is perfect on all of them. I suppose it would not be politically correct to have a bunch of misspelled words and garbled syntax on every sign. The p.c. police would probably say that we’re making fun of another culture by doing that. But hey, that’s part of the charm when you’re traveling. We take pictures of those signs. We write letters home about them. We scribble down what they said in our journals. It’s not that we think we could do any better in their language, but if you’re going for authenticity, that one last detail has to be right.Magic Kingdom Asia

This last photo is from the Magic Kingdom itself, from the Jungle Cruise ride. No, that’s not Ankor Wat, and those roots are actually made of concrete. But not too shabby eh?

I love to complain about the Disneyfication of tourism as much as the next smug traveler, but maybe, just maybe scenes like this will inspire a few tentative tourists to expand their horizons a bit and go somewhere more exotic than Orlando. It’s a small world after all.


  1. Marie 09/26/2006
  2. tim 09/27/2006
  3. Deanne 12/09/2007

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