Let’s be honest — you laughed a little when you saw kids and soon adults slingshotting angry birds at green pigs. Then your curiosity of this Candy Crush game slowly started to suck you into the universe of mobile device gaming. Then, surely as a Disney fan, you couldn’t resist the cuteness of the adorable Tsums Tsums. And now, I’m pretty confident you’ve already started your journey to “catch ‘em all.”
For those who don’t know, the popular new Pokémon Go game for iPhone and Android utilizes GPS technology to create an augmented reality where players (a.k.a. "Pokémon trainers") must walk around in the real world to find, catch, and battle a variety of creatures known as Pokémon (a Japanese amalgam for “pocket monsters”). The app finds your precise location on the globe and tells you on a map where there are Pokémon going about their business. When you have reached a particular creature’s location, your phone’s camera shows you where they are standing (or swimming/flying) in the real world and, from there, you can catch them by throwing Pokéballs at them. “Journey” is probably the most appropriate word for the latest and greatest mobile game because a journey is what you must take to play it.
By now, many trainers have explored their own neighborhoods and cities to hopefully catch ‘em all. Along the way, they discover landmarks and notable places of interests such as museums, statues, and local artwork because they have become the game’s “Pokéstops” for restocking on supplies. This, in turn, encourages players, formerly confined to playing in front of a screen in the shelter of their home, to actively move around outside and learn and discover about actual things in the real world. Which leads one to wonder: how does this game work in the Disney theme parks and resorts? What kind of Pokémon are found in each park? What kind of things are Pokéstops?
Being an Orlando resident, I am lucky that my neighborhood is the Walt Disney World resort. I’m happy to report that Pokémon Go makes the magical world next door even more magical. Since the game launched, I’ve managed to explore Disney Springs, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and the Magic Kingdom.
I met Professor Willow and caught my starter Pokémon at Disney Springs. From there, I learned I could catch plenty of normal type and water type Pokémon since Disney Springs is a little town by a spring. I was able to stock up on items at local art and landmarks such as the Snow White Lego Statue and the giant Lego Sea Dragon in the lake. The T-Rex Restaurant offers two stops: the T-Rex fossil skeleton at the entrance and a statue of a dinosaur (whose scientific name escapes me) at the rear of the restaurant that no longer exists. WDW is ever-changing with areas constantly being redone and under construction. It is very easy to see that the Pokéstops here must’ve been created well before many changes occurred. Another example is the giant dinosaur that used to sit on top of the old Planet Hollywood gift shop that is now simply a stretch of pavement. We’ll see more as we journey around the resort.
Disney's Animal Kingdom
Once my weekend began, I knew I had to check out the Disney theme parks. My first plan was to head to Disney’s Animal Kingdom as the beautifully wild park would most likely lend itself to interesting Pokémon. As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by many normal type Pokémon at the entrance. Jiggypuff was hanging out by the flag, probably waiting to sing us the national anthem. Once past the gates and inside the Oasis, I found plenty of bug and bird Pokémon fluttering about. Even water type Pokémon were hanging out in the ponds and springs.
As I approached the bridge to Discovery Island, the map showed that the park was bursting with Pokéstops! The ones in the distance even looked like they were inside the Kilimanjaro Safari. I hoped to ride it to see what I could find, but the 40-minute wait deterred me from exploring that far. I later read that there are indeed many stops within the ride.
The floating blue boxes are Pokestops. They change shape into giant Pokéballs once you are close enough to collect from them.
Inside the park, Pokémon were scurrying around all over and, compared to those I saw in Disney Springs and around my apartment complex, there seemed to be different and rarer Pokémon aptly living in their surrounding environments. The coconut/egg like type Pokémon Exeggcute were gathered under some palm trees, with its evolved form Exeggcutor emerged from the jungles by Dinosaur. The exotic Meowth who wears a shiny coin on his forehead, was meeting guests by the Harambe market, hopefully waiting for a careless guest to drop some change.
As I continued my walk through the parks, I began encountering more and more Pokémon I have not yet run into at any of my previous locations. My Nearby Pokémon guide told me a ghostly Ghastly was somewhere haunting the temples outside the forbidden mountain. The very rare Dragonair also was somewhere in these parts. The number of footprints beneath each Pokémon and also its position down the list indicates about how far they are from your current location. Your phone will vibrate or ping if a Pokémon is suddenly within range. My phone was consistently pinging as I walked through the park, but usually it was something boring like Pidgey. I got lucky and found a Vulpix prancing around the road to Everest, so its two footprints indicator was accurate in indicating its proximity.
Past Expedition Everest (which had a 60 minute wait), I crossed the bridge when my phone pinged again but it wasn’t another boring ubiquitous Pokémon! The Dragonair was in the water right by the mountain itself! What luck!
It was a tough one to catch and the app crashed my first attempt, but luckily it was still there after I restarted it. Which brings me to my next point: as fun as it is to play in the parks, the volume of players and the quality of WiFi made playing a bit difficult. First of all, as with any new game, the servers seemed to go down a lot when you were in a particularly crowded area. Plus the spotty WiFi of the parks didn’t help either.
Many times, when playing throughout the day, the app would crash on me the moment that I caught a Pokémon. Sometimes I was lucky and, after a restart, the caught Pokémon was there on my roster but other times I missed it. Then, half the time, the Pokémon I missed catching during the crash was still roaming the area and I could try again. Sadly, other times it was gone completely.
With my rare Dragonair caught, I decided it was time to leave and check out another park’s collections of Pokémon. On the way out, my Nearby Pokémon Guide told me the most popular Pokémon of them all, Pikachu, was somewhere in the parking lot. I ended up spending 20 minutes circling and wandering between the park entrance and bus loop looking for him, but to no avail. He moved up and down the list, but his three footprints remained unchanged. Even as I drove away well enough down the Osceola Parkway on the way to Magic Kingdom, the guide still said he was nearby, so really he could’ve been anywhere on the whole property.
Magic Kingdom (and Polynesian Village Resort)
The Magic Kingdom parking lot brought a lot of hope of what was to come inside the park. I encountered and caught some moderately rare Pokémon just by walking from my car to the monorail station. A Slowbro was hanging out in my car after I parked and a Golduck greeted me in the canal between the Zurg and Scar parking lots. Plus a Scyther was slashing away by the trees near a Tram stop.
Once inside the park, I was thoroughly disappointed in the Pokémon I found on Main Street. Aside from seeing a lot of the adorable Eevee, there were generally a lot of generic, easy to find Pokémon similar to those I saw at home, all over Disney Springs and earlier at DAK. I had met up with my sister and friend by this point and learned all three of us had been playing Pokémon that day! We decided to duck out of the Florida heat for a little, get dinner at Captain Cook’s in the Polynesian and also take the opportunity to charge our phones.
At the Polynesian Village Resort, we also discovered a Pokéstop at the old lobby fountain, an outdated Pokéstop already and a sad reminder of what once was there.
As many of you playing Pokémon Go are well aware, this game uses up battery fairly quickly since the GPS technology is required to remain on during gameplay. I had a full 100% charge when I began playing around 12:30 and by the time we stopped for dinner around 5:30 pm, I had to start charging on my spare battery. I was charging while continuing to play and got about an 88% charge from it, and three hours later when we were leaving the park for the night I was down to 12%.
After eating we made our way back to Magic Kingdom, but my sister and friend still had insufficient charge. In a happy coincidence, several days prior to Pokémon Go’s launch, Disney rolled out the new FuelRod kiosks that sell mobile charging kits (contains one FuelRod, one cord for Android, and two iPhone adapter attachments). The great thing about this service is that once you use up the charge, you can trade it in for a fully charged one at no extra cost. Our friend Alex and my sister each purchased a kit for $30 at the Big Top Souvenir Store in Storybook Circus and we found it worked pretty well. Alex said the FuelRod seemed to charge about 1% per minute while not in use. As she played though she got to and remained at about 20% throughout the night before she switched it out for a new FuelRod at Pecos Bill’s. She said if she wasn’t playing, she probably would’ve had a full charge out of the FuelRod before switching.
While purchasing the kits, I ran into a former coworker and his wife, and it wasn’t long into our chat before we realized we were both here to charge our phones to keep playing Pokémon! Which brings another fun aspect about this “augmented reality” game: real life social interaction with other players. We discussed where in the parks we found rare Pokémon, how we liked how the game worked in the parks, and even gameplay tips (the Walt Disney World railroad is slow enough that it counts as walking to hatch eggs). And it wasn’t just old friends — strangers and Cast Members alike were talking about the game. Talking to strangers isn’t anything new when you’re at a Disney park, but, when you’re all playing the same game, there’s an even higher sense of community. (Please note: I do not support the idea of children talking to strangers in the real world for this game.)
I didn’t pay much attention to the Pokémon gyms in the parks. Afterall, I was only at level 6 and my Pokémon were too low in level (measured by CP — Combat Power) to battle any of the high-level Pokémon at these gyms. But, by some miracle, the menagerie of Pokémon became much more exciting in the park as I ran into a Vaporeon outside of Big Top Souvenirs. After many attempts, I caught him! He ended up having a CP of over 600, which was just about the level of the Pokémon at the Haunted Mansion gym. We were intrigued about the whole gym process and, now that we had a high enough level Pokémon to battle, we were able to test it out.
I was accustomed to the gameplay for the Game Boy version so I was a little disappointed that battling in Pokémon Go was simplified to tapping the opponent. But still, it was cool because I was battling another player at the Haunted Mansion! To my surprise I beat the Gym Leader as he was the only opponent, thus dethroning him as well. This left the Haunted Mansion gym without an owner... though at the time we didn't really know what that meant. Alex tapped the gym and suddenly she became gym leader, stealing my glory! It was all in good fun and at least now we understood how it worked. The gym at Pirates of the Caribbean at the time had super low-level Pokémon leading it, so now that I understood the process, for a few brief shining minutes I was the Gym Leader of Pirates!
My later elementary and middle school years were comprised of such nerdy things as reading everything about Walt Disney World and countless hours playing the first Pokémon games on my Game Boy Color. Probably my favorite thing about Pokémon Go as a Disney fan is the mash-up of the two fandoms through this new game. Exploring the fictitious Pokémon world was loads of fun at home, but doing the game in real life and in Walt Disney World is totally mind blowing. I can stock up on supplies from Sonny Eclipse, or refill on pokéballs while having a ball with Dumbo.
When catching Pokémon, you also have the option of taking photos of those you encounter since the game is equipped with a Camera mode. Walt Disney World provides many fun and beautiful backdrops for your Pokemon, it definitely is thrilling to see Pokémon “existing” in this world too. There’s just something really exciting about seeing a childhood game come to life in a totally separate childhood fantasy world.