May 23, 2020

Observations & Opinions from a (Disney) World Traveler

This post represents another installment in The Big Switcheroo series – tales from last spring’s epic journey from the northeast to the Florida Keys and back – involving family, friends and an extraordinary range of adventures.  It also represents the second post recounting our one week visit to Disney World with our daughter (Kyra), our son (Ryan), and our son’s girlfriend (Anya.)

I have an incredible amount of admiration for anyone with the imagination, creativity, optimism and perseverance necessary to launch a concept the magnitude, distinction and significance of the Disney Empire.  Walt Disney has been quoted as saying, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible,” and, in the minds of many, he succeeded.

When Disneyland opened in 1955, it represented Walt Disney’s drive to create a magical world that idealized the American values and ethics of the 1950’s.  He dreamed of a clean, fun-filled amusement park where happy families could and would share the best of times.  Even after Disneyland opened, Walt kept dreaming.  Although Walt Disney died in 1966, his brother, Roy, saw Walt’s second dream through to fruition, and Walt Disney World opened in 1971.  Roy passed away less than three months later, but the Empire kept growing, and the innovations kept coming.

Testing a new gondola transportation system

If you contact Walt Disney World by phone, a cast member will often wish you “a magical day” as you’re signing off.  One definition of “magic,” according to Merriam-Webster is the art of producing illusions by sleight of hand.”  Walt Disney and his team of Imagineers (past and present) were and are true masters of illusion.  The “bricks” that form the base of Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom are not bricks at all.  The Castle is actually made of steel beams, plaster, concrete and fiberglass.  The Castle is only 189 feet tall, but “forced perspective,” is at play here.  As you move upward on the Castle, the building proportions become smaller (the windows, for example, become taller and narrower), and the iconic edifice appears much higher than it actually is.  I understand that, if it were much taller, it would need to be topped with a red aircraft beacon for safety.  Even Disney, with all of its magic, might have a difficult time disguising that.

The Disney folks are such masters at sleight of hand that, sometimes, you don’t even see the pixie dust in the air.  Years ago, when Alan and I were standing near Cinderella’s Castle, a truck, with a bunch of colorful clowns riding in the back, worked its way through the crowd and stopped nearby.  All of the clowns leaped out, and went into such an entertaining routine that it wasn’t until they had driven off we realized the whole purpose of the entertainment was to remove a bench which must have needed to be repaired - without breaking the Disney magic spell.  The clowns had simply jumped off the back of the truck and began cavorting around, being as silly as all get out.  While they were engaging in their comedic antics, one of the clowns plopped himself down on a park bench like he owned it.  Much to everyone’s surprise, his buddies simply picked up the entire bench with their friend on it, and loaded it into the truck.  We, and the entire crowd around us, laughed right through the whole thing, not realizing we were being duped.  Mission accomplished – Disney style!

The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular at Hollywood Studios

The week that our family camped at Disney World’s Fort Wilderness, we had breakfast together at our campsite early in the morning, and then broke up and went our separate ways according to the various activities we had planned.  Alan, Kyra and I all had three-day Disney passes because we had decided to forego Animal Kingdom.  Since this was Anya’s first visit to Disney World, she and Ryan had four day passes so they could hit all four theme parks – Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and the Magic Kingdom.  (The entire Disney Empire is a “magic kingdom” as far as I’m concerned; I just wish I had a magical way of getting “It’s a Small World” out of my head.)  In the evenings, after a late supper, Alan and I would often hit the hay early while the “kids” would go off to enjoy the pool or hot tub.

In comparing notes, then and now, it seems that “the boys” (Alan and Ryan) both liked Epcot the best, although Alan admitted that he thought the Magic Kingdom was a close second.  The three “girls” (Kyra, Anya and me), all thought that Epcot and the Magic Kingdom pretty much tied for first place.  Kyra and I both felt that the level of appeal at those two parks was similar, with Epcot combining exploration and education with enjoyable attractions, and the Magic Kingdom focusing on fun-filled adventures for the child in all of us.  I thought Anya’s observation as a first time visitor was spot on:  “For me, it was between Epcot and Magic Kingdom.  Epcot had more rides that I liked and a lot more food and drinks to enjoy, and just walking around was great . . . The Magic Kingdom had the parade and all the ‘magic,’ in a sense, but was much busier . . . Epcot felt more relaxed.”  Upon hearing that, Ryan (our man of few words) said, “I agree.” 

Kyra's ready for a road trip at Hollywood Studios.

Not only was Anya excited about visiting Disney World for the first time but, because our visit was scheduled to take place during the International Flower & Garden Festival, she was delightedly looking forward to the gorgeous flowers and the creative topiaries that would be on display throughout Epcot.  The Festival did not disappoint.  If your vacation schedule allows you to visit Disney World during this annual spring Festival, I can assure you that a little extra Disney magic will be sprinkled in with the pixie dust.

One of my favorite attractions on this visit was Toy Story Mania in the Toy Land section of the Magic Kingdom.  Riding a tram through a fast-paced adventure in a carnival shooting gallery was tons of fun but, honestly, waiting in line was almost as much fun.  Seriously.  As you wind your way through the queue toward the tram and the carnival games, you stroll past amazingly huge, colorful and creative displays depicting all kinds of classic toys and games – Monopoly, Barrel of Monkeys, Candyland, Scrabble, Tinker Toys, Mr. Potato Head – a walk down Memory Lane, for sure.  I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but waiting in line for Toy Story Mania was actually an enjoyable and nostalgic interlude.

Childhood favorites ~ larger than life!

Also in Toy Land, we crossed paths with the Green Army Patrol.  What’s that, you ask?  Do you remember those little green, plastic army men that were so popular when we were little?  Well, there they were – in the flesh!  In the green flesh!  I don’t know why I got so excited about seeing them because I hardly ever played “army,” but they did induce another welcome wave of childhood nostalgia.

Disney's attention to detail is amazing - notice the realistic "extra plastic" around their feet!

My favorite Tomorrowland attraction will always be the WEDway PeopleMover.  For me, no visit to the Magic Kingdom is complete without at least one ride on this neat little transporter, the name of which was subsequently changed to the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover.  The concept dates back to the 1964 World’s Fair, when WED Enterprises was hired to design the Ford Motor Company Pavilion’s “Magic Skyway,” a show featuring Ford convertibles as the ride vehicles.  (Intentional Digression:  The Ford Mustang was introduced at the 1964 World’s Fair giving many, many people their first opportunity to ride in one.)  Following the Fair, WEDway Enterprises designed the first PeopleMover for use in Disneyland.  (Another Intentional Digression: Do you happen to know what the “WED” stands for?  The answer’s at the end of the next paragraph.)

“PeopleMover” was Walt Disney’s working title for the project, but the name stuck.  The WEDway PeopleMover was installed in Disneyland in 1967.  It was withdrawn from service in 1995, and my understanding is that it’s still missed by many Disneyland fans.  Disney World launched its own WEDway PeopleMover in 1975, and (thankfully!) it’s still transporting visitors all around Tomorrowland and right through Space Mountain.  A favorite of Disney guests, the PeopleMover gives tired visitors a chance to get off their feet, relax and cool down.  Apparently, traveling at even 7 m.p.h. creates a slight breeze that’s just enough to take the edge off the Florida heat.  Now, for the answer to our earlier trivia question, WED stands for Walter Elias Disney.  If you answered correctly, you get 500 bonus points!  (I don’t know what you’re going to do with them, but they’re yours now.)  The history of the PeopleMover was addressed on a website called, and it really was a fascinating article.  If you’re interested, you might want to hop on over there for the full story (link HERE).

The PeopleMover is a "continuous load" ride, so it can move a lot of people in a short amount of time.

The Disney experience can be a magical one for guests of all ages.  When I was in my twenties, and my Mom was a young-at-heart 71, we drove to Florida for her first ever visit to the House of Mouse.  I believe that I had been to Disney World just once before with Alan, but seeing and feeling the Disney magic through my Mom’s eyes and heart was an adventure I’ll never forget.  Mom wasn’t a “hat person,” but we convinced her to protect herself from the Florida sun with some sort of head covering.  I can still picture her, wearing Alan’s baseball cap with a Jeep logo on it, and having the time of her life.


Disney can do that to people – cause them to have wonderful family experiences and the time of their lives.  Prior to our first trip to Disney World with the kids in 2001 (when Ryan was 7 and Kyra was 2), our friend Paul coached us on how we might be allowed to ride in the first Monorail car with the pilot.  He advised us to let the gate attendant know that the kids would be thrilled to help the pilot “drive” the Monorail, and that we’d be willing to wait for another Monorail or two to arrive if that would up our chances of riding up in the first car.  Sure enough, his tips worked, and we got to sit up front with the pilot.  As I recall, Ryan even received a special pin or card verifying his Monorail piloting experience.   Disney can make a (Space) Mountain out of a mole hill, and it can also make the ordinary extraordinarily memorable.

The last time we visited Disney World (which would have been in 2006 when Ryan was 12 and Kyra was 7), Alan and I were hugely disappointed.  After having wonderful experiences in the past, we ran into numerous cast members who had, apparently, forgotten their daily doses of pixie dust.  Instead of the smiling, courteous and helpful responses we had come to expect from cast members, an unusual number of them didn’t seem interested in maintaining the extremely high level of service that we knew the Disney organization was always striving to achieve.  The magic was missing.  Interestingly, during that 2006 visit, the cast members who supported the Disney mission the best were the many retirement-aged staff members who worked in the theme parks.  Why the disparity?  Right or wrong, I attributed it to generational differences in the work ethic.  But, for all I know, something was going on in the Disney Empire at the time that was impacting the staff in a negative way, and it was the older cast members with more experience and maturity who were able to set it aside so they could continue to create magical experiences for all of their guests.  I’m happy to report that this time around, in 2019, the interactions we had with cast members were quite positive and the staff members all seemed to be back on Disney’s magical bandwagon.

I found Nemo!

Essayist Michel de Montaigne is quoted as saying, “The greatest joys in life are happy memories, which you can revisit at any moment in time.  Therefore, the great business of life is to create as many of them as possible.”  Between you and me, I think Walt Disney understood this better than anyone.

“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
                                                                   ~ Walt Disney


  1. An epic review of Walt's dream, Mary. The memories you helped make among your loved ones will be with them forever. And they will be with you, too, via this blog. (When you get my age, you'll realize how valuable that will be.) Nice read, as always.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Mike. It's hard to believe that one man and a mouse brought it all about, but Disney remains an impressive business leader in the fields of entertainment and innovation. It will be interesting to see the impact COVID-19 has on the amusement park industry. The Disney Empire, with its multiple income streams beyond its theme parks, probably has the ability to weather the storm (and any subsequent changes to the industry) better than most.

  2. I think Disney is best enjoyed either as, or through the eyes, of a child. I have magical memories of going to Disneyland numerous times during my growing up years, and equally magical memories when taking our own children during their growing up years. We used to make a particular point to visit in the winter, during an in-service school closure day, in order to avoid the summer, holiday, and weekend crowds. Meaning that we generally enjoyed fast moving ride lines, but missed most of the high season parades and firework shows, so a definite trade off.

    As an adult, however? Mmm, not so much. One thing that sped up our disillusion of all things Disney was a fringe benefit enjoyed during my working years. We had access to Club 33, which I am sure you know about, Mary. It included free access to not just the exclusive Club 33, but also the the park itself, for up to 10 people, and we both used and enjoyed it tremendously to make small, frequent visits. Once I retired and lost access to that little lovely, I pretty much fell out of love with Disney.

    Another thing that sped up my no-longer-love-affair, was being able to spend vast amounts of post-retirement time in nature. And the more time I spend in nature away from people, the less I enjoy spending large amounts of time with large amounts of people(!). So, sadly, or maybe not, no more Disney for us that I can see. The only exception might be if our granddaughters beg us to go. Since we live in Orange County, home of the original Disneyland, that is one plea we might not be able to refuse.

    1. It sounds like you collected many wonderful Disney memories, Tamara, but I do understand your reasons for transitioning away. While I admire the Empire that Walt Disney built, and have enjoyed myself on many occasions, I'm comfortable with a "been there, done that" attitude at this point - especially since we were able to check off the Fort Wilderness camping experience last year. But, if a truly special occasion pops up, I'm in. By the way, I have absolutely no doubt that you'll cheerfully don your Mickey Mouse ears again when the chance to make even more memories with those adorable granddaughters of yours rolls around - maybe in July? It would be heartwarming to see the youngest family members begin building their own magical memories.

      For readers who may not be aware of its existence, Club 33 is a VERY exclusive Disney club. Members can dine in the VERY exclusive restaurants and enjoy the VERY exclusive lounges at various locations around Disneyland and Disney World. The locations are fairly secret, generally marked only by an inconspicuous "33" outside the door. My understanding is that membership in the VERY exclusive Club 33 starts at $25,000 and goes up from there. I didn't realize that membership included access to the theme parks, but that makes perfect sense. That was an amazing perk that your employment provided!

    2. It does indeed include VIP entrance admission. Hard to comedown from THAT! 😆

      Club 33 in Disneyland is in Walt Disney's private apartment, very near the entrance to Pirates of the Caribbean. And get this - if you book your dinner reservation (and the food is ah-ma-zing!) around the time of the Fantasia light show, everyone in the restaurant stops eating when it starts in order to watch the show from one of apartment's little French balconies.

      Yep, I do miss that.

    3. Disney does so many things right - and Club 33 definitely sounds like one of them. Who wouldn't love to dine in Walt Disney's private apartment?!

  3. I've never been to Disney World, but Disneyland was a very big deal when I was young. It was close enough that my parents could make the drive up and back in a day so it was (believe it or not) a fairly reasonably priced outing for our family of five. I don't know if Disney World started off with ticket books instead of a single price entry but, when I went as a child, each ride required a different ticket level. The E Tickets were the most sought after since they were for the best rides. The description became part of the vernacular: describing something as an "E Ticket" meant that it was really great. If I use that term around anyone who was born in the 70s or after, they have no idea what I'm talking about.

    Oh, and I've been lucky enough to have gone to Club 33 a couple of times. I worked for a large company who had a membership and used it as a perk. It felt very special. Like Tamara, now that I'm retired, I'm no longer privileged :)

    1. I had forgotten about those tickets, Janis! Disney World opened in 1971. I don't recall the year of our first visit, but Disney must have used the same ticket system there as in Disneyland. The ticket books had one transportation ticket (because you had to take either the monorail or a ferry across the lagoon to get from the parking lot to the Magic Kingdom), a gate admission for the Magic Kingdom (the second theme park, Epcot, didn't open until 1982), and an assortment of A, B, C, D and E tickets for the rides and attractions. Cinderella's Golden Carousel was an A ticket; The Haunted Mansion and Space Mountain were both E tickets.

      Guessing that you may have been a child in the 60's, I looked up Disneyland prices from 1964. A Big 10 Adventure Book cost $3.95 for adults, $3.45 for Juniors (ages 12 - 17), and just $2.95 for Children (ages 3 - 11). Jumbo 15 Adventure Books cost $1.00 more. Parking was 25¢ per day. Not bad at all for a fun-filled day at Disneyland! As the expression goes, read it and weep.

    2. Just for fun, I put those prices into a CPI calculator, Mary, and came up with their adjusted 2020 prices. Adult admission today? Only @ $32.77, so way more than inflation has crept into Disney's admission prices over the years!

    3. Yikes! Well, I guess someone has to pay for all of the latest and greatest attractions, hotels and restaurants (not to mention the new gondolas). Apparently, that someone is us! Thanks for sharing, Tamara!


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