50 Years of Magic
For fifty years, Walt Disney World has been making wishes come true and transforming dreams into reality. That’s a half century of wonder, laughter and memories. Over the decades, Walt Disney World has consistently raised the bar for family entertainment through a combination of technical wizardry, imagination, and determination. Of course, it doesn’t end with creation and innovation. What truly brings the magic to life are the Cast Members, a teeming community of individuals who work day in and day out to make sure that every Guest to Walt Disney World has an unforgettable experience. They’re the beating heart that pumps the magic throughout the resort.
My personal Walt Disney World story began in 1989. My parents planned a surprise trip to Walt Disney World for my seventh birthday. My Dad was a pilot, and they told me we were going to see him off to work one day. We drove with him to the airport and my Dad asked I wanted to see the inside of his plane. Somehow, I didn’t notice that they had luggage with them. I made my way onto the plane, and they asked if I wanted to sit down and see what the seats were like. A few minutes later, the airplane was taxiing down the runway and my parents told me that we were on our way to Walt Disney World. It remains my fondest birthday memory.
In fact, I loved it so much that I decided to recreate the experience for my own kids. Of course, I’m not a pilot so it wasn’t exactly the same. As an adult, my first trip to Walt Disney World happened the year my son turned seven an my daughter turned one. Their birthdays are only a week apart, so my wife and I planned a special surprise. We organized a birthday party consisting of carnival style games. The kids won tickets for each game, and at the end of the night they cashed them in for prizes. The grand prize was a backpack with our Magic Bands, autograph books, and lanyards for pin trading. The next morning we set out on our cross country drive to the Most Magical Place on Earth.
Walt Disney World has become our home away from home, the happy place we return to at every opportunity. It’s hard for me to walk through any portion of the resort without thinking of some story or memory that I associate with it. Walking down Main Street, I can’t help remembering singing with the Citizens of Main Street, or the time some of the ducks that call the park home decided to “cut” in line so that they could wander through Pluto’s meet and greet. The Cast Member helping Pluto stopped and informed the ducks they would have to wait their turn like everyone else. I remember riding the Jungle Cruise with family friends and reciting every bit of dialog and goofy joke. I remember my son’s desire to ride The Many Adventures of Winnie-The-Pooh five times in a row as the park closed, and my daughter’s star struck gaze when she attended a Halloween dance party with Vampirina and Doc McStuffins. I also remember the brilliant CM who cracked jokes with the audience as we waited for a late night showing of the Country Bear Jamboree to begin. Then there’s the Haunted Mansion. I can’t think of it without picturing my wife’s giddy joy every time we approach the queue of the attraction. Her eyes gleam, and it’s easy to picture her as a kid again. She knows every bit of dialogue, but still approaches it like each ride through is her first in terms of sheer excitement.
At Epcot, I remember my grown up sister giggling and smiling like a little kid as she met Joy and Sadness, or my daughter’s excitement after riding Soarin’ for the first time. Immediately after she began asking if we could go on the ride that goes “Up! Up! Up!” Then there was my son’s excitement as we played the Agent P World Showcase Adventure, hunting for Perry the Platypus all over the World Showcase and racing to defeat Doctor Doofenshmirtz. And, of course, I remember the wonder and beauty of IllumiNations, the inevitable lump in my throat that formed when the torches began lighting around the World Showcase Lagoon.
My memories of Animal Kingdom feature rain a lot. For whatever reason, we seem to get caught in the inevitable daily Florida downpours every time we visit. On one occasion, it began raining on our way to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, and we ran giggling from the train all the way to the building, splashing along the way. During our first visit, our daughter (just barely one) wasn’t quite sure about meeting characters until she met King Louie. His lips looked like he was trying to kiss her, so she puckered up, and gave him a big smooch. After that she wanted to kiss each character she met. Then there was my son’s first time on Flight of Passage. He was nervous at first, but the moment his banshee took flight he cried out a wonder-filled, “What?!?!?” and we could hear him laughing and gasping throughout the entire experience. When it ended, he declared it the best thing he’d ever experienced.
Hollywood Studios is where one of my dreams came true: I became a part of the Indiana Jones world as a Guests asked to participate in the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. As a kid, my goal was to become Indiana Jones. I didn’t quite get there, but I did get to be part of his world. Then there are countless memories of my kiddos taking part in Jedi Training Academy, and my wife’s eyes glistening with tears as snow fell during Jingle Bell Jingle Bam. Trips on Millennium Falcon Smuggler’s Run turned my parents into thrilled teenagers, being taken back to their youth when Star Wars first premiered. I think my mom was almost star struck when she came face to face with a Stormtrooper for the first time. Taking a jump back to the Magic Kingdom, Big Al of the Country Bears makes my father-in-law a kid again, and my mother-in-law loves sharing memories of seeing “it’s a small world” at the New York World’s Fair.
I hope you don’t mind this meandering trip down memory lane. It’s impossible for me to separate the history of Disney’s first fifty years with my personal experiences of the park. I think that is true for anyone whose ever visited. The magic and wonder is all the more magical and wondrous because we got to be a part of it, and that made it part of us forever. It’s been an incredible half century. I can’t wait to see what happen next.