Yes, I haven’t been around in about a week. The mission I undertook was one that tested every bit of training that I received in the United States Marine Corps. It pushed every fiber of my being to get through it and…oh, the hell with it. The last week was family time as we took a vacation to Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL.
Reportedly – with the reporter being my mother – I had already been to a Disney property, the California location known as Disneyland. Since I was nine months old when I allegedly did this, however, I can pretty confidently say that it wasn’t a part of my decade’s long consciousness. As such, it was safe to say that this would be my first visit to a Disney property, as it was for my son, and the first time my wife had visited the park since she became of drinking age.
You’ve got to hand it to the namesake of the property, he was a visionary. Walt Disney – yes, the man who created Mickey Mouse and his cohorts – wasn’t simply satisfied with dominating the world of cartoons and children’s films. After visiting amusement parks with his daughters in the 30s and 40s, Disney decided that he could do better and set about showing he could.
He would build Disneyland in just over a year, opening the gates to the premises in 1955 on another innovative venue – television – but it reportedly wasn’t well received. Perhaps because of the rush of getting the park opened, several bugs were apparent at the grand premiere, including asphalt that hadn’t sealed yet (and allowed women’s high heels to sink into in the 100 degree heat), non-operating water fountains (given the option of water fountains or operating toilets, I think Disney made the right choice) and traffic delays around the park.
Still, the new attraction in California would become a landmark in the United States. Reportedly Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev wanted to visit the park when he came to the United States in 1959; he was denied due to security concerns. As of today, it has welcomed over 650 million visitors, young and old, fulfilling Walt Disney’s dream of a place where children and adults could equally have the time of their lives.
While many may think the original in the Golden State is the main attraction for the Disney organization, it is actually the Walt Disney World Resort – also called Walt Disney World or simply Disney World – that is the “flagship” of the Disney Empire. Opened in 1971, it is reportedly the most visited vacation resort in the world, with total attendance over 52 million people per year. Originally, however, it wasn’t supposed to be a huge resort and amusement park like its predecessor.
Disney’s original thoughts for the Florida property was one of discovery and experimentation. It was to include a planned community called the “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” (remember this, there will be a test later) where new creations and innovations in city living might be tested. Alas, after Disney passed away in 1966, the organization instead moved towards creating an East Coast version of what already existed on the West Coast.
And here I had been able to avoid it for most of my life…
When you have children, you sometimes make those sacrifices. Who hasn’t let their kid occasionally beat them at something, just once, so they don’t get discouraged? Who hasn’t done something that they really didn’t want to do just to make their tot happy? Hey, let’s be honest, if going to Walt Disney World is the toughest thing I have to do to make my little son happy, then I’ll do it every day and twice on Sunday. What you don’t realize is just how difficult it is to make the trek around the grounds of the “House of Mouse” (hereafter referred to as “WDW”) and emerge on the other side unscathed.
After landing at the Orlando International Airport – one of the nicer airports I’ve been in, honestly – you think you’re on your way to WDW. There are several ways to get there, however, and it is dependent on how you’ve created your trip to how you get out of the airport itself. There are taxis and hotel shuttles for those “off property” hotels around WDW and you can go through the burdensome task of the rental car, but most who have booked their trips through WDW will be dependent on the “Disney’s Magical Express” for their transportation to WDW.
“Disney’s Magical Express” is NOT operated by WDW, however. This is an outside contractor, Mears Transportation, who also seems to have a pretty good lock on the taxi market for the entirety of the WDW complex. The reason I bring this up is that, while efficient, they aren’t exactly looking out for the customers that are traveling via their buses. Personally, my wife and I left our son’s stroller on the bus once we arrived at our hotel; while we didn’t have it for the entirety of our trip, it “magically” appeared in the hotel’s lost and found the day we were to leave WDW. If you get on one of these buses, make DAMN sure that you grab everything upon debarking, otherwise you might not see your property again.
It isn’t a short trip from the airport to WDW, either. Be prepared, depending on which hotel you are staying in on the WDW Resort compound, for up to a 45 minute trip. For example, our bus had to make stops at four different properties on the WDW grounds. As the second stop, we took approximately 30 minutes until we were situated in our hotel room, ready to begin the grand adventure.
But what do you do when it is late in the afternoon? The best bet for Day One was to head to Disney Springs, or “Downtown Disney,” where many restaurants and shops are located. If there is anything that you want to buy, you can probably find it here. There was the Ghirardelli chocolate shops located right next to the Starbucks located right next to a jewelry store located right next to the Disney Store. After a very good dinner at the Rainforest Grill at Disney Springs our family, which had now been joined by my son’s maternal grandmother (or “Noona”), decided to get some rest before the real fun began.
First off, write this in your memory bank: there is NO WAY you will be able to visit the four different parks that make up the WDW compound in one day (the total size of the WDW property is 43 square miles, about the same area as San Francisco). Besides the original Magic Kingdom built in 1971, there are Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and EPCOT (remember the original plan of Walt Disney?). None of these properties are particularly close together and you must depend on Disney Transport, the in-house bus system for the sprawling park, to get around. About the closest thing that Disney Transport has to a schedule is that “a bus will be around about every 20 minutes” so you never know when you’ll be picked up unless you happen to luck into catching one when it is in the depot.
From a planning aspect, my lovely wife did an outstanding job. I don’t think General George Patton could have put together a better plan of attack for his Sherman tank divisions than what she scheduled for our family. If you don’t think this type of preparation is necessary, it is, otherwise you won’t be able to enjoy each park AND be able to squeeze moments of sustenance around the fun.
For the first day, we attacked the Magic Kingdom as my wife admitted it was her favorite from her visits as a child. And it is easy to see why this, even after more than 40 years, is still the star attraction for WDW. The outdoor rides are pretty much all located at this park, including the popular Space Mountain and other attractions, and there are five different segments of the park that we could probably have a day spent in them alone.
For those that claim that cities such as New York, London, Paris or Munich are the “Crossroads of the World,” these people have obviously never been to WDW and, in particular, the Magic Kingdom. Languages from around the world – Portuguese, Korean, Japanese, Spanish, French, German…you get the idea – fluttered in the air of the Magic Kingdom and mingled like an exquisite jambalaya. There is a bonhomie amongst the visitors to the Magic Kingdom (and across WDW) that transcends simple nationalities, making everyone a true member of the world community, at least for their stay at WDW. It was a bit refreshing in this day and age of hyper-nationalism and the xenophobia we sometimes see in the world.
As to the rides, there is something for everyone. With a young boy who is a burgeoning daredevil, the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was the first stop and it was a blast (he thought so too). Next on the agenda was Splash Mountain, a water flume ride that was adequate (a bit slow for my tastes and our son “got his butt wet” as he laughed) and a few other rides that were all outdoors. This is important, as you’ll learn later in our program.
If you have a young child and don’t have a stroller, you’re going to have to cut your visits short for each day you are at WDW. Our son required a nap each afternoon from the excitement and the walking (up to eight miles per day, in some cases) and it wasn’t a bad idea for the parents either. We normally were out of the park by 2PM (the hottest part of the day and a good time to take that break) and back at the hotel within a short time.
With two days down and three to go, everyone was in bed by 10PM the second night. You definitely had to be rested up for the daily workout and, as was to be expected, the excitement that would come in the future.
IN PART TWO: Why outdoor rides are important, dining around WDW and some questions need to be asked.