I cannot let another week go by without acknowledging the 50th birthday of Walt Disney World. On October 1, 2021, a baby laughed, and my happy place was born. Oh no, wait, that is what happens when fairies are born.
Well, whatever, Walt Disney World opened its gates on October 1, 1971. I was just 12 years old. Because I lived in California (Anaheim- Disneyland’s hometown- as a matter of fact,) my family saw no great need to sojourn across the country to a swamp in central Florida to visit the new House of Mouse. In fact, there was always a certain, imperceptible disdain for Disney World amongst us original Californian Mouseketeers. We had the “real thing.” Why would we want to go to the eastern imitation?
At least, that was my parents’ take on things. I think, deep down, I really wanted to see Disney World for myself. When I was in my twenties, my New Yorker aunt and uncle bought a mobile home in central Florida and began to winter in a town about an hour from Disney World. At that time, Disney World only included two parks- Magic Kingdom and Epcot. I went to visit my aunt and my uncle and, nonchalantly (not really) also went to visit Disney World.
I did enjoy the trip very much. I agreed with the party line in my house that the Florida Magic Kingdom was not quite as good as Disneyland in California. Epcot, on the other hand, was so wonderful. I also loved the Lake Buena Vista shopping area. It was not a perfect trip by a longshot. My aunt and uncle were not superfans. We did not eat at any of the restaurants or stay to watch nighttime fireworks and shows. I had brought $200 worth of cash with me (remember, it was the eighties and I was poor. Two hundred dollars was a veritable fortune to me). I remember hiding it somewhere safe. Unfortunately, that was as much as I did remember. Where that something safe was did not make it to the long-term memory banks. My aunt and uncle were fine lending me whatever money I needed or wanted, but every time I drew from that loan account, my aunt made a notation in her ledger (yes, an actual ledger). As a result, I was very aware of the money issue and ended up scrimping on everything. If I did not absolutely NEED it, I did not want to impose on my aunt and uncle. Luckily, I did finally end up finding the money in the airport on the way home, hidden safely away in an eyeglass case.
So, with this background, you will understand when I say that I finished my trip to Disney World with a sense that something was missing. It was a nagging feeling that I missed something. It was not FOMO (fear of missing out.) It was COMO (certainty of missing out.) I knew my experience, while very fun, was not the experience it could have been.
Shortly after my trip, I began the descent into darkness into my marriage and divorce. Life happened personally and professionally. Other trips, expenses, experiences took precedence over my desire to take an “all in” Disney Vacation. I visited Disneyland and, later, California Adventure at least once a year. I watched all the television specials about the expansion of the Walt Disney World experience with longing but did not do anything about that longing for many, many years.
Finally, in 2003, Max and I made our first trip to Walt Disney World. It was supposed to be our “once in a lifetime” trip. We spared no expense. If we wanted to do something extra, we did it… a character breakfast, a horse and carriage ride in Port Orleans, a hotel with a phenomenal water recreation area. We planned every detail. I obsessed about doing it “right” and not missing anything important. I think the only reason I survived that planning process was that I had a friend who had just spent a couple of weeks on Disney Property when I started the planning process. It was calming to tell her what was going through my head and validate whether my thought process would line up with reality. I made such a big deal over this trip; I became almost convinced that there was no way it could live up to all my self-induced hype.
It did. And more. I cannot describe the feelings that I experienced on that trip. It was nostalgia over a place I had never been. It was a childhood I never allowed myself to have. It was a brainstorming board of exquisite creativity. It was a glitz-a-thon beauty pageant for the senses. All of the feels I had every time I went to Disneyland came rushing over me in some super-sized fashion. The tears fell down my face. My heart expanded throughout my body, settling in an awkward yet familiar place around my appendix. I know Disney pumps in various fragrances to give guests the sense that they can smell comforting aromas like chocolate chip cookies baking. Part of my brain (the part that was not impaired by joy drunkenness) wondered if they were also pumping in some nitrous oxide variant.
After our “once in a lifetime” trip, we made four more trips from California to the Most Magical Place on Earth. On the last trip, in 2012, I bought a very special souvenir. Some people buy t-shirts. I bought a house. When I retired in 2014, Max and I pulled up stakes and moved to Florida. Mickey and his friends are now our neighbors. We visit them often with our Florida resident weekday passes. I know that Disney World has enriched me in many ways. My spirit is always rejuvenated by a day at Disney. My heart is always more hopeful. My mind is more carefree. There is nothing I do not like about going to Disney World- except maybe the trip from the parking lot to the Magic Kingdom. Really, the imagineers knew enough in California not to build a huge moat around the main attraction! Ferry rides aside, Disney World has certainly enriched me. I am also certain that I have enriched Disney. The Disney Corporation leaders are no fools. They sell me a ridiculously cheap annual pass, which is in essence a license to purchase. I have way more than my share of Disney swag.
At any rate, I have to say, “Happy Birthday, Disney World!” And many more!
Who else out there is a Disnerd? Any noteworthy experiences from the 50th birthday celebration? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a magical day!