The Vacation Kingdom of the World: On a Front Porch with Youby Tom Richards, contributing writer
The late Robert Sherman, half of the Academy Award-winning songwriting team known as the Sherman Brothers, was once asked if he had a favorite song from the vast catalogue of music that he and his brother Richard created. His response? "Well, one of my favorites is 'On the Front Porch with You' from Summer Magic."
This lovely, sentimental song captures the nostalgia and promise of a warm summer evening spent with family and friends on a sprawling old-fashioned front porch. If was written for the 1963 film entitled Summer Magic, a charming little comedy starring Disney favorites Dorothy McGuire, Burl Ives, and Hayley Mills.
The film marks an important milestone for the Sherman Brothers; they wrote their first complete score for a live-action film. Summer Magic is not a "big" musical in the sense of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or the later Sherman Brothers' classic Mary Poppins; the songs don't necessarily further the plot in quite the same way. While this in no way diminishes the effectiveness of the score, Summer Magic is more of a comedy/drama with music than a full-blown musical. Summer Magic is closer in spirit of the 1944 MGM classic Meet Me In St. Louis. In both of these films, the songs develop characters and add charm, nostalgia, humor, whimsy, and warmth to a family story set at the turn of the century. (Both films, by the way, are based on stories by Sally Benson.)
Thematically, Summer Magic best reflects the look and feel of the Magic Kingdom's Main Street U.S.A., and for a very long time, wonderful instrumental versions of the Summer Magic score were included in the musical loop at the Magic Kingdom. "On the Front Porch with You" was not included in that instrumental mix, bit nonetheless, runs through my mind every time I enjoy a few moments of quite reflection on one of the many glorious porches located throughout the Vacation Kingdom of the World.
So here, in no particular order, are just a few of the many Disney created places to "linger, listen to the night birds sing, watch the fireflies, and smell the sweet air" of a warm summer evening.
Disney's Beach Club Resort
Disney's Beach Club Resort captures the ambience of a classic Eastern Seaboard beach club in the early 1900s. The historically accurate Robert Stern designed lobby features warm pastels and intricate woodwork. Just off this inviting space is a wonderful outdoor sitting area.
The sprawling porch of this Disney resort offers ample room to rock away until your heart's content on old-fashioned white wooden rocking chairs. Surrounded by huge arrangements of potted plants, these chairs offer lovely views across the expansive lawn and down towards the water's edge. There's a quiet serenity about this particular porch that is most inviting; it's very much like one of those classic Ralph Lauren print advertisements that cover two pages of the Sunday supplement.
On a warm summer night, you might watch as other guests stroll along the walkway towards the Yacht Club, the Boardwalk, or Epcot's World Showcase. The porch is set away from the actual walkway; as a result, you feel a sense of separation from all the action, yet still somehow a part of it. Across the water, the lights of Disney's Boardwalk Resort glitter off the water. Occasionally, sounds of splashing and laughter from the nearby Storm-Along Bay drift towards the Beach Club's porch. The gentle, soothing sound of the horns on the Disney water taxies echo off the lake as these charming boats ferry guests to and from Disney's Hollywood Studio, the International Gateway entrance to Epcot's World Showcase, Disney's Yacht Club Resort, Disney's Boardwalk Resort, and other nearby resorts.
The views from the Beach Club porch are unspoiled and adhere to the long-held belief of "consistency of design" championed by Disney's best Imagineers. The water views and the Boardwalk views blend perfectly with the theme of the Beach Club, and best of all, those Michael Graves designed monstrosities are completely blocked from view. (Those architectural abominations are more commonly know as the Walt Disney World Swan and the Walt Disney World Dolphin.)
Disney's Boardwalk Resort
For a radically different, but just as enjoyable porch sit, you might try the one located across the lake at Disney Boardwalk Resort. This elevated space provides much wider views than its counterpart at Disney Beach Club Resort. In fact, one can see across to the shipwreck at Storm-Along Bay, and even some of the topmost portions of the buildings in Epcot's Future World. The raised construction adds another bonus: a consistent breeze.
Unlike the relative calm of the Beach Club, the view from the Boardwalk Resort's porch is bustling with action. There's a small lawn that separates the porch from the boardwalk proper, but the consistent bustle of guests plying the boardwalk is clearly visible from this vantage point. At times, the live entertainers on the boardwalk are also visible. More often than not, even the lawn is busy with kids playing and running off that boundless energy than accompanies childhood.
Another plus for this porch is its convenient location to the food, beverage, and shopping locations that line the boardwalk. This porch works as a centralized hub for groups of travellers who might want to split up for a short while. There are even small rocking chairs here, perfect for younger guests.
Aunt Polly's on Tom Sawyer Island
For a real feeling of getting away from it all, there's no place quite like Aunt Polly's. Located off a charming little yellow house, this porch is accessible only from Tom Sawyer Island. Guests board these rafts on an unassuming dock located on the shores of the Rivers of America in Frontierland (the dock is located down a flight of stops, across from the Briar Patch gift store at the base of Splash Mountain). Rafts are named after characters from Mark Twain's immortal stories of Americana: Huck Finn, Becky Thatcher, Injun Joe, and Tom Sawyer. After a brief—and often very hot—ride across the river, guests are free to explore the wonders of the island, including meandering paths, caves, bridges, treehouses, and rock formations.
While the kids scramble up, over, and around the many wonders of the island, grown-ups might enjoy a quite respite on the porch of Aunt Polly's house. This good woman, whose literary roots can be found in Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, adopted and raised that rapscallion Tom. Her home, lovingly re-created here, offers guests a quiet place to "sit a spell" and enjoy the view.
And what a view it is.
The mighty River Belle Riverboat can be seen rounding the bend and heading towards its dock. The Haunted Mansion is also visible, sitting high upon a nearby hill. Ghostly sounds and eerie noises can often be heard emanating from this spooky old house. Visitors can also see the Frontierland riverfront from Aunt Polly's porch, watch as guests wind their way along the waterfront walkway bound for adventures at Splash Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, or maybe catch a Disney parade as it makes its way through the Frontierland town.
For many years, Aunt Polly's also housed a small, quaint counter service restaurant. The fare was definitely limited—peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and lemonade—but it certainly was an out-of-the-way spot for a quick lunch. Sadly, there are only newfangled vending machines on the porch nowadays.
Little places like Aunt Polly's add so much to the atmosphere of the Magic Kingdom, and a quiet sit here on the comfortable rocking chairs dispels misconceptions about Disney parks as your run-of-the-mill amusement park.
"The Well-Worn Welcome Mat"
The Walt Disney World Resort is an inviting place, and the many sitting areas located throughout the resort invite guests to relax and gather their thoughts. The three porches mentioned here depict the tip of the iceberg when it comes to describing the myriad places that make Walt Disney World such a well-loved vacation destination. Hopefully, you'll make time on your next visit to stop and linger at one of your favorite Disney places.