My Disney Top 5 - Things That Instantly Got Me Hooked on Walt Disney Worldby Chris Barry, contributing writer
I think this is surely a first for me. In all the years that I have been writing about Disney I've never written an article on the eve of a Walt Disney World trip. As I write this, our suitcases are packed. The wife and kids are asleep. I'm hammering away at the computer barely able to contain my excitement. Tomorrow morning, the taxi arrives at 10:30 to bring us to the airport—on my 48th birthday no less—and come late afternoon, we'll be in Orlando.
Right now, it's just after midnight. I've been packing and preparing all day. I figure that the anticipation is what's keeping me awake and writing right now. I should be exhausted. But I'm not. I have all sorts of visions going through my head about what to expect from this upcoming trip. There's a big pack of us going, 13 in all. We'll start off our trip over at Universal for a couple of nights. We're dying to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter's Diagon Alley for the first time (Look for a report on that in an upcoming Top 5, probably later on in August). After that it's off to Disney's Yacht Club and that, no offense to Harry, is where the real magic begins.
As I mulled about several topics that have been rolling around in my head for this next Top 5 article, I got to thinking. How did I end up here, with trip number 15 about to commence? What was it about that first trip with my wife and then 4-year-old daughter that set me on this course? What was it that hooked me?
Despite being a lifelong Disney fan, I never went to Walt Disney World as a child, nor a teenager. Come to think of it, growing up, we never did the typical American East Coast trips. We never went to Hershey or Colonial Williamsburg, never to Washington DC or Boston. Not that I'm complaining. All of my summers were spent on the beach swimming and boating and my winters were spent skiing. So, I certainly didn't suffer.
My first Walt Disney World experience, however, wasn't even my idea. My wife decided that we should get away for a few days and show Samantha, our adorable little 4-year-old princess, Walt Disney World. She pretty much had no choice but to inherit my love of the Disney animated classics. She knew and loved all the characters, as did her old man. It made sense to take her and it made sense that I finally take the pilgrimage myself. I'm quite sure my wife had no idea the monster she was about to create.
Let's try to dig through the cobwebs of this near 50-year-old brain to discover the Top 5 things that instantly got me hooked on Walt Disney World.
5 – The Scale of the Place
Most people have no idea just how much of Walt Disney World here is in Central Florida. It's really quite staggering when you think about it. It's about the size of Boston or two Manhattan islands. You don't realize just how large a 47 square mile resort is. It's something that we'll never see again in this country for sure and it's one of the things that make it so special.
Part of the magic of the place is the true escape that you're able to experience when you're there. It's so large that you can truly leave the world behind once you enter the resort property. When I first realized this, I knew I had found something really special. The enormity blew me away.
4 – The Complexity of What They Do Every Day
One of the most consistent thoughts I had on that very first trip was, "I can't believe they pull this off everyday, all year long." When you consider just how many guests make their way through Walt Disney World on any given day of the year, it's an astonishing feat that the cast pulls it off each day. The movement of people around the property, the food, the hotels, the attractions, the entertainment, the shows, fireworks and parades, the infrastructure needed to make it all happen… it's really mind-boggling. And for the most part, it all goes off well. It shouldn't work as well as it does. It's one of the most impressive well-oiled machines that you will ever encounter in your life.
3 – The Details
This aspect of Walt Disney World hit me immediately and it's something that I watch so many guests ignore as they rush around the parks and resorts. The legendary details are everywhere. This stems back to Walt himself. He knew that filling his beloved Disneyland with details would make the place seem that much more special to the guest, even as some of his most trusted designers were warning him that it wasn't necessary.
Walt was right, of course. I could visit Walt Disney World and never step foot on a ride or experience an attraction and feel like I've gotten my money's worth. If you walk around and observe all of the extraordinary details present throughout the entire resort, you begin to appreciate just what they are trying to do down there. It's about immersing the guest into an environment. I got that right away on that first trip and it obviously stuck with me.
2 – Peter Pan's Flight
Yes, it's one of the simplest attractions in all of Walt Disney World. The animatronics barely move. It's short. The lines are always long. But nothing hit me at the core of who I am more than the first time I took off on that pirate ship through the Darling home and off to Neverland. Peter Pan was always a favorite movie and character of mine. I suppose I too have no interest in really ever growing up. Peter Pan's Flight instantly turns me into a little kid again and, for me, that's one of the most important aspects of visiting Walt Disney World.
The music gets me as soon as I approach the queue. It's that moment of transformation that got me when we first boarded our ship that still gets me each and every time I arrive in this corner of Fantasyland. I knew as soon as I got off the ride for the first time that I would never stop coming back. Yes, I love Space Mountain and Expedition Everest and the Tower of Terror, but it's Peter Pan that brings out the inner child in me, and I can't wait to unearth him again this week.
1 – Breakfast with Winnie the Pooh and Pals at the Crystal Palace
I will never forget the moment when we entered the Crystal Palace at the end of Magic Kingdom's Main Street for breakfast the very first time. We weren't quite sure how little 4-year-old Samantha was going to feel about giant Disney characters walking around in such close proximity to her. It can be daunting and some kids get overwhelmed. The look in her eyes, however, said it all. She was simply amazed. She played with Pooh at home. We read the books. We watched the videos. But, now, here he was, in the flesh—or fur I suppose. That was the real Winnie the Pooh to her. She fell for it hook, line, and honeypot-shaped sinker.
The moment I saw that look in my little girl's eyes, I knew that something very special was going on in this place. It's an amazing thing that occurs when you allow yourself to see that kind of magic beaming out of your child's eyes. How could I not get hooked on that moment? I wanted it to last forever. I'll be there again in a few days for breakfast and despite the fact that my three kids are now teenagers, when we walk through those doors into Pooh's world, they'll be forever 4-years-old in my eyes and that's worth going back for time and time again.
It's getting late now. I need to post this article and get to bed. I have so much to look forward to tomorrow. I get to be with my wife and kids and some very dear friends for a solid uninterrupted-by-the-real-world nine days. I can't wait. Each one of these things that got me hooked on our very first trip way back when will still stop me in my tracks all these years later.
I'm still totally enamored by all of the details that await me at every turn. I'm so looking forward to discovering new ones as well. I'm still floored by what goes on there each and every day. It impresses me to no end how many people work so hard to make me feel this way and I'm very thankful for all that they do. I'll still choke up when I hear the melody of "You Can Fly" as I approach Peter Pan's Flight, and I can't wait to be with my kids and their old pals from the Hundred Acre Wood for breakfast again.
All of these things got me hooked on the place back then and as soon as I arrive in Walt Disney World this week, I'm going to get hooked all over again.