30 September 2021

Walt Disney World 50 for 50: You Are the Magic

Walt Disney World has played an important role in my life, throughout my whole life. From the first trip to Fort Wilderness at a couple of months old in a pup tent with my parents, a moment I definitely have no memory of, to the friends who have become family through our Disney connection over recent years, it’s omnipresent. It is in the kitschy souvenirs and artifacts I display in my house, lessons I’ve gleaned and incorporated into my life from interviews and books on the parks and company, even down to the etching inside of my wedding band. There isn’t a part of my life that Walt Disney World hasn’t touched. It isn’t just a place I visit, a vacation destination that I expound about on the internet, there is so much more to it.
I wasn’t born until Walt Disney World was just beginning its second decade, but that puts me in the category of really enjoying many of the early offerings and having those moments shape me. From the rustic boardwalk at Fort Wilderness, to the ideals set forth by EPCOT Center, the innumerable trips to the Fiesta Fun Center or old watering hole, the pomp and circumstance of a park dedicated to Hollywood, and the dream of getting old enough to really enjoy Pleasure Island. All of it permeated my youth. It was a magical time to be a child and preteen in and around the Vacation Kingdom.
For good or ill, however, things change. Living With the Land lost its tour guides, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea had its final voyage, a new park dedicated to animals opened its gates, more resorts, water parks, dining, and entertainment. Passes with our photos on them, like old driver’s licenses, disappeared for plastic cards, then Magic Bands, and now its on your phone. Roaming characters found dedicated spaces and places with which to meet guests. New ghosts moved into the Mansion, Great Movies turned their reel over to Mickey and Minnie, Pirates changed their tunes multiple times, and Residential Street gave way to a stunt show, and then to a galaxy far, far away. The only constant within the boundaries of Walt Disney World is, in fact, change.
A while back I wrote, and eventually deleted without posting, an article about the state of the Disney community. At the time I felt like the group as a whole needed a lecture, a swift kick in the rump for their behavior, and I, in my hubris and with a very tiny stage in the public square, felt I was just the person to deliver said reprimand. Like every fanbase there are always a myriad of voices. Some are august in their approach, some boisterous, some honest, some silent, and all of them have opinions that may be correct, can definitely be wrong, and may even be hurtful to others. I deleted my stern talking-to for many reasons, but let me tell you a story that was in there.
Years ago, I jumped on the “characters don’t belong in Disneyland’s it’s a small world” train when the changes were announced. My feeling was that it was a disservice to the original World’s Fair attraction and to its chief artist, Mary Blair. I was incensed, as were others, even if the original had already been through changes, not the least of which was a holiday overlay. In the end, the figures arrived, they looked gorgeous and fit in perfectly, and I was left feeling sheepish. It is okay to have an opinion and share it, it is okay to be wrong, especially if you can admit it later, but the constant attacking of one another, or wanting to keep things the same at the cost of the harm and burden it places on others, isn’t.
I don’t know what Walt Disney World is to me any longer, except that it is an intrinsic part of who I am. You all have given my joy and passion a purpose. I get to share my personal ideas, history, food reviews, and the love of little details. Honestly, I am never happier than when I am looking at something and asking myself, “why is that there,” or “what was this like before?” So, thank you for letting me blather to you for more than 14 years now. I hope you have tried a new dish or learned something new, maybe a wonderful bit of trivia to impress your family and friends, because of what we have shared here, together.
Walt Disney World is the home of so many memories I hold dear. Each year it seems I have more and more memories with friends or family members who have passed away, or those individuals I don’t get to see as often as I would like. It is those cherished moments that I don’t necessarily cling to like a child to a blanket, but that assuredly bring a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. Thinking back on the time my father convinced me to go on Space Mountain for the first time, and then I wouldn’t do another serious coaster for almost 16 years, wandering Future World with my sister on our own, my mother perusing the perfumes in France while I slept in the back courtyard, taking my Nanie on Journey Into Imagination with Figment and having the burst at the end scare her like nothing else, being at the Adventurers Club one last time with friends who are as close to me as family, taking my wife our on first trip when we were dating and knowing that if we could travel together we could do anything together, strolling World Showcase at night with a dear friend capturing photographs as the park closes, and belting out Hapa Duniani whilst on safari with a crew that is always there for me. These are just a few of the memories that call me back to Walt Disney World, not to live in the past, but to imagine what new adventure might be next.
If you catch a theme running through those memories, they all involve people near and dear to me. That’s sort of the mantra of Walt Disney World in my eyes. It’s not the attraction or restaurant that calls to me, it is who I get to experience it with. I don’t agree with everything the Vacation Kingdom, and the powers that are behind it, decides to do, but I look at it in a similar way to how I look at life. Not everything is designed for me, but perhaps there is some enjoyment to be found in it, and if I have more good days, more good times, than bad, then it has been a fulfilling experience. In the end, isn’t that all any of us can ask for.
From the time I was a young adult, I had a dream for tomorrow. I would wake up early, crash the gates of the Magic Kingdom, and be able to take a multigenerational photo with my Nanie, parents, wife, sister, and child. For a multitude of reasons, that won’t be how I spend tomorrow. There was another dream that has stood the test of time, however. That beyond Walt Disney World’s 50th birthday there would be hope and new ideas that would spur it on for another 50 years. I may not be here when Walt Disney World turns 100, but based off of the last 50 years, the ups and downs, successes and failures, I think it is safe to say that someone will be looking back then on a century of wonder.
Happy 50th Walt Disney World, thank you for everything! Here’s to the next 50!

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