How 'free play' helped 'make my day' at Walt Disney World

June 11, 2024, 7:55 PM · Theme park fans, especially Disney theme park fans, are quick to call out when their favorite parks cut services and raise prices. As they should.

Fans are entitled to shop around and always ought to be willing to change the traditions and head to other parks when they can find better deals. And other fans can be great resources in learning who's cutting back... and who is moving forward with new attractions and deals.

Parks do make improvements - and not just by installing new rides and opening new shows. Sometimes a little tweak to an old stand-by can help make a slightly better experience. I think it's important that fans highlight these positive changes, too.

I found one this week that's likely very old news to some, but was new to me. As some Theme Park Insider readers probably remember, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom was my home park. And Magic Kingdom West attractions was where I worked for most of my time at Disney. You could have found me working as a Pirates of the Caribbean, a Big Thunder Mountain miner, a Tom Sawyer Island raft driver, or a Country Bear Jamboree host.

Or, if I was pulling an unlucky slot in the rotation, you would find me making change on the Frontierland Shootin' Gallery porch.

Frontierland Shootin' Gallery
Frontierland Shootin' Gallery

Sure, there was a change machine there, where you could get four quarters for your dollar bill. But if you wanted to break a bigger bill to get your quarters to play the Shootin' Gallery, I - or whoever was working that position - was there with a money belt to make change. And to reset the guns when people inevitably complained that they weren't working.

That particular responsibility made working the Shootin' Gallery my least favorite job in the Magic Kingdom. Cast members typically fired the gun after reseting it to demonstrate that it was, indeed, hitting targets. But you could have given me the most reliable gun on that porch and I couldn't hit spit for squat. Instead, I just made a show of resetting the gun and then handed it over to the guest to try. If they still couldn't hit anything, I'd rather refund them their quarter than embarrass myself by missing everything, too.

So, needless to say, I never bothered stopping by the Shootin' Gallery porch on my many visits back to the Magic Kingdom over the years. But when I was back at Disney this week for the Tiana's Bayou Adventure press preview, something called me to give the old Shootin' Gallery another look.

And I will tell you what that something was - a sign that said "Free Play."

Yes, Disney did cut the price on something. So I said, "what the heck" and decided to give my former nemesis a go.

And here is the other thing. A few years ago, I discovered that I have something called "Cross-Eyed Dominance." That means that while I am right-handed, I favor my left eye. So when taking aim with a gun, I need to use my left eye to line up the sight, while holding the gun to pull the trigger with my right hand.

Yup, it's awkward. But it works. That discovery has helped my scores on interactive rides, and now I was ready to try again on the Frontierland Shootin' Gallery.

For the first time ever, I was hitting targets like Dirty Harry. My old Stormtrooper disease was gone. I nailed every target I aimed for and felt years of frustration working on that porch melt away. It was Robert's Revenge Tour.

So kudos to Walt Disney World for making the Shootin' Gallery free play, whenever that happened. That enticed me to give this old standby another chance, and helped make my day (pun intended) in the Magic Kingdom.

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Replies (4)

June 11, 2024 at 10:36 PM

Man I haven't tried this shooting gallery in years, maybe decades! This is my reminder to check it out next time I stroll on by.

By the way, well done pun sir!

June 12, 2024 at 12:52 PM

The last time we spent time here (pre-pandemic), I had stumbled on one of the gallery's rifles allowing free play (the rest still required payment). However, I wonder if this move to make the entire gallery free play is more of a result of Disney not wanting to plunk money into maintaining it and upgrading the payment system to be cashless (or paying for labor to monitor and make change for guests) or if it's really a conscious decision by park ops to give guests entertainment without needing to wait in line or pay extra. Something tells me it's the former.

June 12, 2024 at 11:26 AM

Kudos on Disney for making this free! But isn't the Shooting Arcade going away soon to make room for a DVC lounge?

June 12, 2024 at 7:49 PM

Yup. Gone by the end of the year, I heard today. But I am glad that I got to show it who's boss before the real bosses took it out.

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