Ask any cast member at the Walt Disneyworld Resort which days are the most crowded and invariable the list will be the major holidays of the year; Christmas, New Years Eve, Easter, Thanksgiving, and July 4th, Independence Day. Of course the hottest and most miserable of these days has to be July 4th. Combining the peak season, with Disney’s affinity for amazing fireworks, plus the opening of the retooled Hall of Presidents and you can bet that July 4th, 2009 was going to be crowded like no other day! So what do a bunch of Disney lovers who can go any day that they want do, we decide that this would be the best day to visit the park.
Why you ask? Well, we have never seen the patriotic fireworks display that is put on by the Magic Kingdom Imagineers. Knowing about the nostalgic love that Walt Disney had for the United States you just have to know that their tendency to respect his wishes should make these the best fireworks ever.
We arrived at the park around 2 pm and figured we had several hours to enjoy the park. Did mention that we decided that July 4th would be just too crazy and since Disney World hosts the same fireworks display on July 3rd, that would be just as much fun with fewer park guests. So, knowing that their would be crowds, we prepared for a busy day but with an amazing finale.
When we arrived at the park, we found it to be busy, but not crowded, meaning the walk ways were not very full but some rides and fast passes required a bit of waiting. However, from 2 to 6pm we walked onto Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Mickey’s Philharmagic, and Aladdin's Magic Carpets. We picked up fast passes for Big Thunder at 2:30 PM that came due at 5:00 PM. So, by 6:00 PM we had ridden 7 attractions. Not bad at all for a late entry on a day we thought would be ultra crowded. In fact, even though the Hall of Presidents was officially opened that day, there were no crowds waiting.
So with that we decided to get some dinner real quick and then find a nice spot to watch the fireworks. We first saw that the Noodle Terrace was open, and since it is seasonal we stopped to have a bite. We had hoped that we might be able to see the fireworks from the Terrace, but someone had already reserved it for a party (Stupid VIP’s), so we took up residence on Main Street. We had barricaded ourselves a sweet little spot, which was going along well. We had scheduled potty breakouts for the kids starting at 8:00 and felt that we were strategically spaced between the Terrace bathrooms and the bathroom by Casey’s.
I left with the 4 year old at 8:20 just to find out that there was almost no way to return to my spot when we were done at 8:30. All of sudden the street was filled with people sitting down or setting up tripods. That would have been fine, but there were so few cast members that the areas that had been roped off for walkways were also completely barricaded. The staff had come by early to tell folks they couldn’t sit in a path, but they never came back and so people fully blocked all the paths. Therefore people resorted to simply pushing their way through the crowd while dragging their children along too. I finally made it back to my area, taking 15 minutes to move 20 feet, in order to watch a woman sit down in the space between my daughter and the person next to her. It didn’t matter that there was only about 2 inches between them. She fully sat on my daughter and when I fully and loudly objected she just turned and smiled while her friend made some calls to bring more people over. It was unbelievable.
Finally the fireworks began, and after sharing glow necklaces we had brought from the dollar store with the nice neighbors around us, we had a wonderful comfortable time seeing some of the best fireworks ever. They weren’t the longest, and didn’t have the most rockets of other displays I have seen, but they were definitely the best and most memorable. With the all engulfing and surrounding affect of Wishes plus the incredible synchronization to the music and the amazing lighting on the castle, the effect was simply awe inspiring.
Of course, disaster strikes at the most inopportune time. One of my kids chose this time to get sick to their stomach so my wife (she lost the coin toss) had to push her way to the bathroom. Knowing she wouldn’t make it back we assumed that we would meet up after the fireworks.
Now our original plan had been to stay put after they were done, but with my wife and I separated, I decided to try and make it to her after waiting about 10 minutes. Big mistake. As I tried to go south on Main Street, we found that it was shoulder to shoulder people. It was so crowded that people on either side of the stroller I was pushing were toucing shoulders over the stroller. It was unreal. They were rude and tired and unable to deal with the situation. Worse, there were no cast members within visual distance explaining where to go.
We found out later that we could not go south on Main Street, that they had opened up the cast member parking lot behind Main Street for egress out of the park. If we had known that the flow of bodies off of the street would have gone faster. To complicate matters, they had scheduled the parade to begin at 10:30PM after the 9:00PM fireworks and it was evening Extra Magic Hours.
So although it was the best Independence Day fireworks I had ever seen, the disorganized egress was disgraceful, especially for Disney. We caught up with a cast member later, and she admitted that there were some problems with the crowds on Main Street. As we walked the park later that evening, we saw signs all over that indicated the exit had been relocated to the East side of Main Street and they had added an extra exit out of Tomorrowland. It would have helped if cast members had been stationed more plentifully throughout Main Street to help move crowds and further they should invent illuminated arrows that the cast members hold above their heads to help direct visitors.
We will be back, but we won’t sit on Main Street.