THP pal and guest writer, Dan Heaton, is back with a great addition to the Simple Moments series. A 2004 visit to the World, a bus driver to remember, and impressions of a place he’d known since childhood. Thanks for joining in, Dan! – emh
Growing up in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, annual trips to Disney World were just a part of my life. My parents would cram the three kids into the car for the long road trip from St. Louis to Orlando. I was hooked and wanted to learn everything about the fascinating place. My interest in Disney did slip during college, despite a visit in 1998 after graduation. Vacations happened in New Orleans, Chicago, and other places instead. I still loved Disney World, but it didn’t dominate my thoughts. The renaissance came with the rise of podcasts, which gave fanatics a chance to speak directly with people around the world. I started listening to several of the first Disney shows in 2004, and it didn’t take much to re-engage my interest.
During that summer, I also started dating a girl who liked the Disney parks but wasn’t such an obsessive. She’d visited a few times as a kid, but it had been a long time. On a whim, I’d picked up a few trip planning books mostly to catch up with the latest information. The surprising moment came when Erin thought it would be cool to take a trip to Disney World. I hadn’t been there in seven years, but I dove into the planning for our five-day trip in January 2005. We booked our stay at the Pop Century, which was still fairly new at the time. It was also before the tour group era, so the trip was surprisingly cheap by today’s standards. I wondered if we were in for it with the hotel choice, however.
My anticipation was high when our flight arrived in Orlando, and we boarded a MEARS bus for our transfer to Pop Century. This was before Disney’s Magical Express, though it functioned in a similar way. The chatty bus driver asked us about our stay, and we expressed our reservations about the value resort. His reply has stuck with me ever since. “Disney don’t make junk.” The phrase just seemed to fit and became the theme of the vacation. Erin and I still quote that comment today, despite my concerns some changes have gone off the rails. It set up the trip perfectly, and nothing we saw contradicted this refrain.
We blitzed the parks for five days, and in hindsight, it was truly a different era at Disney World. The rides were empty, and nothing I’ve experienced since can compare. Our longest wait was 15 minutes, and the weather stayed nearly perfect the entire time. I’ve never hit so many attractions in such a short time, and everything functioned well. We enjoyed great meals at Le Cellier, the Columbia Harbour House (still a favorite!), and even the food court at the Pop Century. The bus system still worked efficiently, and Fastpasses were barely needed. When I’m wondering if Disney still has it, the bus driver’s comment sticks with me as an encouragement that the quality will still be there.
Erin and I have visited the parks many times since that memorable first trip, and we’re taking our two girls next January. I may have concerns with the parks’ future direction, but I can’t deny that the quality remains high. Disney World is becoming our own tradition in a similar way to what my parents did several decades ago. The parks are more complicated and take crazy planning, yet the warm feelings they generate are comparable to my young experiences. Like the bus driver said, Disney don’t make junk.