Once Upon 1997: My First Trip to Walt Disney World

It’s hard to believe there was a time when Disney wasn’t a huge part of my life. Sure, it always existed in one way or another (annual treks to the movie theatre to see the latest animated feature, willing myself to dream of a huge birthday party in Walt Disney World, surrounded by my family, etc.) but once I started visiting the parks – my adoration reached a whole new level.

After years of going to the Jersey Shore for family vacations – boardwalk, beaches, arcades, oh my! – my parents decided to take my sister and I on our first trip to Walt Disney World. I was 12 and she was 7. Finally! It was my turn to experience all I had heard from my friends about Typhoon Lagoon and meeting Mickey Mouse. My parents planned their trip with family friends who were seasoned Disney travelers and helped us book where to eat, and what to do. We would leave New Jersey in our matching conversion vans at 3am on a Wednesday morning, stay overnight in a hotel down south, and arrive in Disney World sometime on Thursday afternoon. Armed with an oversized bags full of books and some new movies to watch on the drive (Pooh’s Grand Adventure & Jungle 2 Jungle), we were ready!

I can still remember snippets of our car ride – laughing hysterically at Jungle 2 Jungle, the frequent bathroom stops, and my sister getting car sick. Once we finally arrived, I remember a fountain show in Sea World, a performer in the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue touching my shoulder, and being absolutely mortified by the “ambiance” of the 50s Prime Time Café (we still have not returned).


But the rest is a little fuzzy. Thankfully, I was a dedicated journal writer in those days.

I was shocked to rediscover our Florida trip did not begin with a walk down Main Street but a Sea World experience – scandalous! I didn’t wax poetic about my first sight of the castle, which was “so beautiful looking like a beautiful cake”. It was the 25th anniversary of Magic Kingdom at the time, and I remember one of the spires at the tippy-top of the castle was always shaking and looked like it was about to fall off. Back then, I called Spaceship Earth “the large golf ball” with a ride “that told about technology and everything”. And probably the funniest note is about MGM Studios (where I often complain there isn’t enough to do anymore) – “it was filled with characters and things to do”.

I did enjoy my first Mickey Mouse waffle. Chip stole my scrunchie at breakfast, and wouldn’t give it back until I gave him a peck on the cheek. Honey, I Shrunk the Audience actually had a 45-minute wait back then! And Muppets 3D was called 4D to be funny. (We actually thought it was an advance on 3D. Sigh.)

walt disney world 1997 muppetvision

It’s amusing to see a bit of my present “Disney self” in my writing. Jotting down how we “lived” at Trinidad South at the Caribbean Beach Resort. I already felt at home! How I liked Cinderella’s Royal Table but thought the food selection was small or how I didn’t like the food at Biergarten but enjoyed the entertainment. A critic from trip one. And mentioning how Illuminations was “really great”. I was just glad to read that I liked this night show from the very beginning. Even today I could see it three times in one trip and never tire of it!

I’m really glad I recorded some of the attractions I came to experience that first trip that are now extinct – Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Skyway to Tomorrowland (“double the height and length of Seaside’s”), The Hunchback of Notre Dame Live Show, Timekeeper, Superstar Television at MGM, Residential Street (part of the Backlot Tour), and even lunchtime at the Garden Grill in Epcot. In the course of 14 years, it’s is amazing how much the parks have grown and changed.
thishappyplaceblog.com; walt disney world 1997

We learned a lot that trip – what kind of restaurants we liked, the pace we wanted to move through the parks, and just how many plush animals we could fit in our car. (My sister acquired quite a collection.) I left Florida that year armed with a Jiminy Cricket stuffed animal, a new t-shirt, and a “very cool” fanny pack (someone save me from myself!). Most importantly, we left with the promise of another trip the following year as my mom started planning our itinerary on the drive back home.

thishappyplaceblog.com; walt disney world 1997

You know, I always thought my extreme love of WDW was immediate but from reading over my 12-year old self’s thoughts… it’s obvious that my love developed over time. How could it not if my family and I went there once a year after that first trip for 10 years, and I, myself, have not missed a year since 1997? More and more, I appreciated how happy and in love my parents were down there, obsessively capturing every moment with a camera or video recorder, the true escape from the real world, and how important it was to not lose the wonder of being a kid – no matter how old you got.

4 thoughts on “Once Upon 1997: My First Trip to Walt Disney World

  1. congrats on the blog! We too went the year of the castle cake. oh boy. lol! I work for travel with the magic http://www.travelwiththemagic.com, a great group of women who love all things Disney and we are all so knowledgable of Disney! So, I get to talk Disney all day which is a lot of fun, as I'm sure you can understand! check out our webpage!

  2. LOVE the new blog!!! I've never been to Disney. I know this is a travesty, and I'm still angry at my parents for it.

  3. Honestly, you already know just how much I adore anything and everything Disney. It’s clearly one important part of my life! I loved this recap post, as it made me nostalgic for my first few visits to WDW too…

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