Realityland is more or less a recount of the history of Walt Disney World, from when the idea was conceived back when Walt was still alive until the book was published in 2007. I found the book to be chock-full of great information and very captivating, and I would highly recommend it to all Disney fans and anyone with interest in the history of the parks. While the book progresses through a general timeline, each chapter is focused around a different topic, and the book is full of fun and interesting little stories along the way.
I will admit that the book starts out a little slow, but if you push through it you’ll be glad you did. The beginning discusses a lot of the construction and the politics that went into making Walt Disney World actually happen, and for me that wasn’t quite as interesting as much of the other stuff later on. A lot of the events in the book show how the company dealt with trying to figure out what Walt would have wanted, even long after he had passed on.
Epcot is spoken about a lot, and the initial plans to actually make it an “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.” One of the coolest things to see was a diagram of the proposed layout of Epcot when they were working on the idea in 1966. While we all know that Epcot ultimately became a theme park and not a place to live, it’s interesting to see how the transition happened. The company was in denial for quite awhile about building Epcot, insisting for a long time that it would still be what Walt envisioned, even after they opened it as a theme park.
Some of the topics discussed in the later chapters include safety of the rides, what the experience of cast members is like, Disney vs. Universal, animals at Disney, security, and more. There were so many great little stories throughout – I would repeat a lot of them to my husband, who also found them interesting. For example, when Walt Disney World was first being built executives had some early morning meetings to attend – when one was scheduled for 6am, they expressed how they felt about that by all showing up for the meeting in their pajamas! There’s also a story of man who went streaking through the Magic Kingdom in the middle of the day… can you even imagine?
It was also slightly weird to see Disney as vulnerable. They are such a big company and do so many things well, but there are still times when they really screw things up too. This book showed a lot of that – how they weren’t prepared for crowds at openings and big events, rides malfunctioned or didn’t open on time, how they were scrambling for money and funds, a recount of many of the lawsuits that Disney has faced, and even the deaths that have occurred in the parks.
While the majority of the book is factual and not opinion-based, I do think that Koenig makes it clear how he feels about the parks, and it seems that he isn’t a big fan of how they’ve been run and operated recently – particularly since Walt no longer has a strong influence. He ends the book with this statement: “Maybe one day another innovator will come along who can pull off a real, live Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Sadly, this world doesn’t produce a whole lot of Walt Disneys.” Not exactly the most positive note to end on.
All in all I really enjoyed reading this book and even as a big Disney fan I feel like I learned a ton of information I didn’t know before. I would say if you’re reading this blog you’d probably enjoy this book! And stick with it past the first couple of chapters if you do give it a go.