Soon I will be traveling with my family to Walt Disney World in Florida. I’ve previously visited Walt Disney World on three occasions (1976, 1981, and 1982) as well as once visit to Disneyland in California in 1980. So it’s been 35 years since my last visit to a Disney park, and my have things changed.
When I last visited, there was just the Magic Kingdom and some hotel resorts. EPCOT was under construction and Disney Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom were not even on the drawing board. This guide and the film below show what it was like on my last visit (kind of disappointed we didn’t take advantage of the free loans of Polaroid cameras!).
Growing up in the 70s and 80s meant a different relationship with Disney than the generations before and after. The classic animated movies were re-released to movie theaters from time to time, but weren’t shown on television (even on cable) or available on video until the late 80s, when I was a teenager and not as interested. I do remember seeing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in a stage adaptation at Radio City Music Hall, but other than that it was The Wonderful World of Disney and later The Disney Channel that provided glimpses of classic Disney films. Meanwhile the Disney studios were going through a troubled period and while I loved The Fox and the Hound, most of the movies released in the 1970s and 1980s were not very memorable. Kids who grew up during the Disney Renaissance starting in 1989 don’t know how lucky they had it.
So in a strange way, the parks were the main thing for Disney when I was growing up. There were all these rides and characters based on movies we never saw and vaguely knew the plots. People dressed as characters have always been part of Disney World, but planning for this trip I’m surprised to learn that they no longer walk around the park greeting visitors but instead it is required to queue up for “character experiences” and even pay good money to have diner with characters. It seems strange to me but apparently it is an extremely popular thing to do. Luckily, my kids are interested in going on rides, which I think is much more fun.
With that in mind, here are ten things I loved at Disney as a kid. It will be fun to see what lives up to memory, and what new things will join the list.
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – the roller coaster so good that even my roller coaster hating mother liked it. I remember riding it three times in a row one afternoon. And we didn’t even need a FastPass.
- Contemporary Resort – also known as the hotel that a monorail goes through, which is freakin’ awesome! We didn’t stay here, or any Disney hotel, but we did have dinner her one night, and apart from the freakin’ awesome monorail going through the lobby I also enjoyed playing in the video arcade.
- The Enchanted Tiki Room – audioanimatronic birds singing and telling bad jokes, what could be better? And as my Dad noted, the birds won’t crap on you.
- The Haunted Mansion – a ride that is fun because it’s funny, from the stretchy portraits to the hitch-hiking ghosts.
- Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – another funny ride I absolutely loved, from the oncoming train to the trip to hell. I suppose that might’ve scared some kids.
- Pirates of the Caribbean – the ride so good that they made it into a movie.
- The Skyway – Who doesn’t like a bird’s-eye view of the magic? (Apparently the people who decided to tear this ride down)
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – It may have been a kid’s perspective, but it really felt like one was going on a submarine voyage. Can anyone explain why Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, The Skyway, and this are all gone but the boring-ass Carousel of Progress still survives?
- Space Mountain – the coolest ride at the center of the coolest land, Tomorrowland (my impression is that Tomorrowland is not so cool these days because the future came and it’s nothing like what we were promised)
- WEDWay PeopleMover – I was an impressionable child and believed them when they said that peoplemovers would be the transportation system of the future in big cities. I’m still waiting.
To prepare for our visit, I’m going to try to watch some animated Disney movies I’ve never seen before, so you’ll be seeing my reviews here.