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In this age of digital photography, smartphone apps, and virtual vacations, it may seem more than a little old-fashioned to value tangible vacation mementos that one can actually hold in one's hand. Yet in many ways, these relics of bygone years are among the most potent reminders of "great vacations and celebration." While recently sorting through some boxes of Walt Disney World paraphernalia, I came across some old treasures—free treasures—from past visits to the Vacation Kingdom of the World and realized just how much these "little pieces of time" capture the very essence of long ago vacations.


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It reminded me that sometimes, holding a little bit of the past in one's hand can re-create memories in ways that even the most sophisticated piece of technology cannot match.

Resort welcome folders

The artfully designed welcome folders given to guests as they register at Walt Disney World Resorts are among our favorite reminders of vacations. These folders typically feature custom artwork specifically designed for each resort; the designs, patterns, colors, and Disney characters featured on these folders tend to capture the look and feel of the resort. As a result, they provide a tangible "take-away" that not only re-creates the feeling of the resort, but also offers a convenient storing place for other mementos from each specific Disney vacation.

Through the years, the designs of these folders have changed and evolved. Early folders from Disney's Contemporary Resort and Disney's Polynesian Resort take us back to the days when the Vacation Kingdom of the World was new and much less complicated. The graphic designs capture the look and feel of the resorts in their early years; the Polynesian tikis that once adorned cups, signage, even the mirrors in the Polynesian are gloriously captured forever in their green 1970s glory on our welcome folder. The bold orange design of the Contemporary's original insignia still sparkles on the welcome folder from this iconic Disney resort. The quality of the design elements keeps these little treasures fresh and appealing; despite their obvious 1970s origins, there's a timelessness about the simplicity of the original iconic symbols for each resort.

Our welcome folders from other favorite resorts—Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort and Disney's Port Orleans Resort—feature resort maps as well. As an added bonus, the check-in host or hostess circled the building and room number for each of our stays. Holding these maps bring back the excitement of entering the resort room for the very first time. The maps also serve a historical purpose, preserving the nomenclature of restaurants, snack bars, pools, and entertainment options that change or disappear through the years. For example, the original maps from Disney's Port Orleans Riverside feature the Dixie Landings nomenclature originally featured at this resort before it was combined with Port Orleans.

Many of the resort folders also include "newspapers" or activity guides. Some of the Port Orleans papers, for example, include something called the Sassagoula River Times. In addition to including practical information about the activities available to resort guests, this paper also included the very entertaining backstory of the resort.

Room keys and park passes

Your very own "Key to the Kingdom" is another tangible reminder of vacation. From early Guest ID cards printed on paper to more recent plastic key/park passes to the much-publicized NextGen magic bands, nothing captures the magic of visiting Walt Disney World like holding your very own, personalized key to all the magic.

It's fun to watch the evolution of the Disney ticket media from the old A–E ticket books to the magic bands of today. Resort room keys as well as park tickets are often adorned with custom artwork, often commemorating a special event, like an anniversary year or the opening of a new attraction. This adds to their collectability and helps to mark the specific year in which you visited the Walt Disney World Resort.

For kids, there's nothing like seeing their names in print on a Disney Resort room key or on their very own Walt Disney World ticket.

Complimentary resort room amenities

The little details make or break the ambiance of Disney's best resorts. The complimentary soaps, stationary, postcards, and "do not disturb" signs make for fun, useful souvenirs that appeal on many levels. It's fun, long after vacation has ended, to send a note or card on resort stationary. Using soaps and shampoos from Walt Disney World help re-create that elusive feeling of being there. Some of my favorite "little things" from Disney vacations through the years include soaps from the Grand Californian Resort at Disneyland, a shoe mitt from the Contemporary Resort, a notepad from the Polynesian Resort, and coasters from various Disney Vacation Club resorts. They all bring a little bit of that Disney Resort feeling into our everyday lives.

Shopping Bags

Walt Disney World shopping bags are useful, practical, and "free" souvenirs. They come in a variety of sizes, and the kids tend to use them for everything from lunch bags to overnight bags when they visit their grandparents. The larger bags—the ones with handles—seem to last forever, and hold a surprising amount of goodies. We use them for everything from picnics to gift bags. After all, who wouldn't love a gift wrapped in a Disney bag?

Shopping bags are also somewhat historical. At one time, each Walt Disney World theme park featured its own shopping bag design. In the late 1980s, bags featured park-specific logos for the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT Center, the Disney-MGM Studios, and even the Disney Village Marketplace. In 1991–1992, Walt Disney World celebrated its 20th anniversary in grand style; special bags and gift boxes were designed to reflect the 20th anniversary colors and logos. The same thing happened in 1996 for the 25th anniversary. In subsequent years, Disney bags typically changed yearly and featured bright, original artwork. Now, sadly, the "Disney Parks" brand bags are somewhat generic. They are, however, still sturdy with plenty of life beyond your stay at Walt Disney World.

Park Maps

The holy grail of free Disney souvenirs, park maps capture the specific attractions, parades, shows, and restaurants available during your specific visit. They are, in reality, little time capsules, offering a snapshot of each park during a specific time. It's fascinating to watch the progression of graphic design on the park maps, and always nostalgic to see long-gone attractions listed on the map. We try to keep one set of park maps in pristine condition for the scrapbook, but like to keep the ones we use as well. Seeing our notes, check marks, circles, and doodles years later seems to keep the vacation memories crisp and real.

Do you have any special keepsakes from your Walt Disney World vacations? If so, please chime in below.



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(Send an email to Tom Richards)

Tom Richards is a life-long admirer of Walt Disney, something of a Disney historian, and a free-lance writer. His Disney interests include but are not limited to: Walt Disney World, classic Disney animation, live-action films made during Walt's lifetime, and Disney-related music and art.