LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL— “It all started with a mouse.”
That was just one phrase attributed to the late Walter Elias Disney as he spoke about the success of what was then called WED Enterprises after the opening of Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., in 1955.
For my husband and me, our trip to a Disney park started with a pair of “I do’s” followed by “bride and groom” Mickey ears.
And while the mouse ears didn’t need to keep our human ears warm during our Dec. 2 trip to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida—the temperature averaged around 80 degrees—they did put us among a large group of newlyweds who chose “The Most Magical Place on Earth” to spend their first week as a married couple.
While attendance is notably down at the four parks that make-up the 25,000 acre resort during the winter months, that only means one thing for Mickey Mouse fans: shorter lines.
The very first day, we rode one of Disney’s most popular attractions, “It’s A Small World,” at the Magic Kingdom without having to wait in line at all.
In fact, the majority of the rides we enjoyed, including Space Mountain, Big Thunder Railroad, Splash Mountain, The Haunted Mansion and even Pirates of the Caribbean had a wait time of 15 minutes or less. Needless to say, we rode them over and over again.
But, as any Disney historian will tell you, that was exactly what Walt Disney envisioned when he decided in 1952 to build an amusement park around the various animated characters his employees had been successfully bringing to life since 1928. He wanted a family park that entwined the traditional lifestyle of turn-of-the-century America, with future, fantasy and a great deal of imagination. A park where families could enjoy the day together, traveling to and from different lands while experiencing first-rate technology designed to entertain and inform people of all ages.
He got the idea while spending Sundays with his daughters and realizing there was no place like that to take them.
After the success of Disneyland, he moved forward with his dream; this time going east.
Opened in 1971, five years after Disney’s death, the pioneer park for the Lake Buena Vista resort was the result of a 1959 marketing survey that showed only 2 percent of Disneyland visitors came from east of the Mississippi. Disney himself first flew over the future site Nov. 22, 1963, and, after immediately deciding the site was what he wanted for his second park, returned to his hotel room to learn President John F. Kennedy was dead.
Many close to him later said that fueled his desire to continue with his dream, as he saw how short life could truly be.
You won’t find any ride billed as “the tallest” or “the fastest” of its kind in the world, but you will find smiles—lots of them.
One of the many featured rides that continuously yields smiles at the Magic Kingdom is The Haunted Mansion.
One of the original rides when the park first opened, The Haunted Mansion was the result of a 1950s idea Disney had in which the look and feel of two Paramount Pictures films, “The Cat and The Canary” and “The Ghost Breakers,” would be captured in a walk-through attraction. He wanted the attraction to be what he described as a retirement home for ghost, ghouls and goblins. While significant changes were made by the ride’s designers after Disney’s death, his basis remained the same. Replacing the walk-through concept with a ride-through concept allowed for a greater ride capacity, but it also allowed “Imagineers” to be more creative with visual and sound effects.
This year, dedicated “ghosts-to-be” will notice some wonderful changes to the Liberty Square ride, as the attic of the house is now open for tour. The “doom-buggies” now introduce riders to Constance, a ghostly bride with a bloody past. In one spectacular effect, the ghost of Constance is seen floating as you exit the attic, sinisterly repeating the numerous vows she took with several of her deceased husbands, who later “lost their heads” over her.
Pirates of the Caribbean is also a popular ride, though the line for the ride, which was the basis for three movies, was unusually short during our visit. In 2006, refurbishments designed to coincide with the films were added to the ride, as Barbossa, Davy Jones and even Captain Jack Sparrow are now a part of the attraction. The notably spectacular special effects, which were state-of-the-art when the ride opened in the park in 1973, are now decorated with a “false waterfall” projection with Davy Jones warning you that “Dead Men Tell No Tales” and the unbelievably life-like animatronic of Captain Jack. The Imagineers did such a great job duplicating the mannerism’s of actor Johnny Depp that you may find yourself staring down the figure just to convince yourself it is not Depp himself.
Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Railroad and the Mad Tea Party are still as popular as ever, but don’t expect to wait long to experience these rides. If you don’t want to wait at all, you can obtain a FastPass, the park’s ticketing system which allows you to reserve a seat on a particular ride at a certain time at no additional cost. However, only so many FastPass seats are available on each ride and with the lines being short at the time we went, the FastPass tickets were not necessary. We entered the rides either at the same time or before FastPass ticket holders.
Move on to EPCOT, Walt Disney’s vision for an Experimental Protocol Community of Tomorrow, where park patrons can experience first-hand the cutting edge of technology coupled with international cultures and customs. Opened in 1982, Epcot was originally intended by Walt Disney to be a self-sufficient, self-governing community, but, during the design process, officials in the Walt Disney Company decided they did not want to enter into the city government business.
The main feature of Epcot is its signature geodesic sphere known as “Spaceship Earth.” In this ride through time, park goers of all ages ride “time machines” that show the progression of human communication throughout history. While the ride has been upgraded numerous times, the most recent occurred in July 2007, when it was shut down for refurbishment. When it opens later this month, riders will experience various updates and changes, including the addition of individual touch-screens that allows riders to envision their own future simply by answering a series of question.
Spaceship Earth is located in the Future World area of the park, which features several pavilions dedicated to innovention and technology. For the kids, the area includes Imagination! where they can explore their imaginations and understand their five senses, get “shrunk” by Dr. Wayne Szalinski in “Honey I Shrunk the Audience!” and explore the living seas with Nemo.
Adults can take a trip to Mars in the space simulator “Mission: Space,” experience the fast-paced lifestyle of NASCAR in “Test Track” or simulate hang-gliding in “Soarin!”
Across the World Showcase Lagoon, a 1.2 mile man-made lake, is the World Showcase section of the park, where the cultures of 11 countries are celebrated in various pavilions. Last December, Epcot introduced Holidays Around the World, in which the holiday traditions in each country were visually presented to patrons in first person accounts throughout each day in the holiday season. Whether you are hearing the legendary tale of La Befana, an Italian woman searching for the baby Jesus, or about Santa Claus’ history, the young and old will enjoy this unique experience.
World Showcase also provides you with the opportunity to experience various cultures, dine on foreign cuisine and shop in the various marketplaces staffed by natives of those countries.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios may have just changed its name in January, but it was still Disney MGM Studios when we visited. And while this tribute to the golden age of Hollywood focuses primarily on Disney production, you still see a lot of the legendary Metro-Goldwyn-Mayor studios in the park.
Take Graumann’s Chinese Theater, which houses “The Great Movie Ride.” Opened in 1988 when the park first went into operation, this journey through the movies takes you right into the heart of a western bank robbery, puts you face to face with an alien, and even puts you right in the middle of Munchkinland in a battle with the Wicked Witch. Animatronics and astounding visual effects bring the actors and actresses to life in this recreation of various movie scenes.
Disney Hollywood also takes advantage of the creativity synonymous with Disney by mixing pop-culture with thrilling rides and shows with attractions like “Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular,” “Star Tours,” “Rockin’ Roller Coaster with Aerosmith” and “Fantasmic,” a nighttime fireworks spectacular based on the Disney hit “Fantasia.”
One of the most prominent rides and our favorite was the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Opened in 1994, you become a tourist in the fictional Hollywood Tower Hotel which was closed after an “accident” in 1939. But as you ride a service elevator, you enter a dimension of sound and sight where ghostly beings lurk and an eery presence felt. Soon your car will begin a series of rapid drops and lifts that will cause you to lose all sense of direction, but definitely will bring a smile to your face.
That’s what Walt Disney was all about after all, as he sought to bring happiness to all families.
In 1998, that vision was continued in an entirely new way, as Animal Kingdom was opened on a 500-acre piece of land near the Magic Kingdom. The first Disney park to be centered entirely around animal conservation, the idea once again came from Disney some 40 years before the park was actually built. Made up of seven themed areas that house thousands of species of wild and exotic animals, patrons also experience numerous interactive rides and attractions that the Disney name is famous for.
Expedition Everest, a 199-foot roller coaster ride through the Himalayan Mountains, opened in 2006 and is Disney’s 18th mountain-themed attraction. Joining Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Mount Gushmore, Splash Mountain and numerous other artificial mountains in Disney parks worldwide, this family thrill ride takes visitors on a tour of a “forbidden mountain” guarded by the Abominable Snowman.
If you’re hungry in any of the four parks, you won’t have to fight it long. Each themed area has a number of eateries ranging from full-scale restaurants to hot dog and hamburger stands, and just like the attractions in the park, they are an experience you will never forget. Whether you are eating sushi at the World Showcase at Epcot, tasting couscous in Morocco or dining surrounded by famous television and movie props at the ABC Commissary at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, there is something to satisfy all tastebuds.
While many say Walt Disney World Resort is a place for kids, we can attest to the fact that adults love it just as much.
As we wandered the beautiful landscapes seeking another attraction to excite our minds, we couldn’t help but notice the large number of happy couples strolling arm-in-arm enjoying the magic of Disney and the traditional values it emulates.
And as any Disney historian will tell you, that would bring an endless smile to the face of the man who made it all possible.
Fact BoxTo Go: Visit disneyworld.disney. go.com to plan your vacation or call your local travel agent.