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 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.)
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!
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.
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.