Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World by David Koenig
It's easy to find information about Disneyland's inception and design. We've all seen the film clip of Walt telling the story about sitting on a park bench as his two daughters rode the merry-go-round and he thought to himself that there should be a place where parents and their children could enjoy an afternoon together. I've read a number of books about Disneyland, its construction and early years. But when it comes to the history of Walt Disney World, they're really isn't all that much information out there.
Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World helps fill that gap. For the most part, the book starts after Disneyland has already been built. It describes the search for the perfect location to build "Disneyland East." It goes into detail about how the company was able to secretly buy forty-three square miles of land in Central Florida. The nightmares of constructing such are vast complex are explored. And the frustrations Disney experienced during the first few years of operation are presented.
Ever wonder why Walt's vision of EPCOT was never brought to fruition? Ever wonder why Disney only built three hotels until Michael Eisner came along? Ever wonder why the Swan and Dolphin hotels are located where they are? Ever wonder why all the shops now carry the same merchandise? This book answers these and many other questions.
But to tell a "complete" story of Walt Disney World, tales of its darker side must also be told. This book explores some unpleasantries that I'm sure the Disney marketing team would prefer not be brought to light. Many of the injuries and deaths that have occurred here are chronicled. The imperfect personalities of a number of the company's executives are put under a magnifying glass. Decisions to sacrifice "show" for money are presented.
Did I like this book? Yes. I enjoyed it very much - especially the sections that followed the history of Walt Disney World - good and bad. However, I felt the author sometimes went to great lengths to put Disney in a bad light. Take for instance, Chapter 8: Crash Mountain. This chapter describes many of the accidents and deaths that have occurred at Walt Disney World. After reading several pages I thought to myself, "All right. I get it. People can and do get hurt at Disney World. Enough already."
I suspect that Mr. Koenig feels he presented a fair balance between those accidents that were Disney's fault with those that were brought on by the guest's own carelessness. I'm not so sure it was all that balanced. Overall, Disney was made to look bad. A similar chapter, later in the book, goes into detail of why security is needed in the parks. Although not as heavy handed as Chapter 8, once again I felt the scales were purposely tipped away from Disney.
I would be the last person to think Disney perfect. Often in the book I thought to myself, "That can't be true." But then I remembered back to the nine years I worked at Disneyland and thought, "Well, maybe it can be." But I don't think Disney is as bad as the book makes them out to be.
Should you read this book? If you're like me, and want to know everything you can about Walt Disney World, then by all means pick up a copy. I know a lot about the "World", but I found this book packed with fresh information. I kept saying to myself, "I didn't know that."
However, if you're a person that believes all of the stories that the Disney marketing people spin, (and you want to continue believing them) then you might want to steer clear of this book. Often, when I'm waiting in line for an attraction, I can't help eavesdrop on other people's conversations. When I hear them wax poetic about how everything here is perfect, I roll my eyes and think, "If you only knew." It's these people who shouldn't pick up a copy.
Disney's single greatest asset is their fantastic reputation. And it's well deserved. But the Disney organization is made up of flawed people, just like the rest of the world. This book explores the good and the bad, albeit tipped to the dark side - thus the title Realityland. If you can accept that Disney has some blemishes and can get over a slightly biased take, then you'll enjoy this book. I did.
Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World by David Koenig is published by Bonaventure Press and sells on Amazon for $18.45.