The Disney Zone

by Mike Scopa, contributing writer
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“You're about to enter another dimension; a dimension not only of sight and sound but also of mind; a journey into a wondrous land of imagination.”

“Next stop—The Disney Zone.”

With apologies to Rod Serling, these words could very much welcome those who enter through the Walt Disney World Resort archway.

So what is the Disney Zone? How does one know he or she is “in the zone?”

In this session, let's sit back and talk about this mystique… this hold that the Disney culture has on those of us who just seem to feel a bit special when experiencing the Walt Disney World Resort.

Mike's Theory

I think we all have come across friends, relatives, colleagues, and neighbors who, for some reason, do not share the passion that others have for all things Disney and especially for that 42 square-mile area in Central Florida.

What is most surprising is that some of these people have been to Walt Disney World, but just never “clicked” with it.

I think if we try to truly understand why Walt Disney World works for some guests, we may find the reasons why it may not work for others.

The Disney Zone seed may have been planted early. It all starts with an association of the Disney name to childhood memories. I have found that most, but not all, of those who sense themselves being in the Disney Zone were children in the '50s and '60s.

If you were grew up in the '50s and '60s, then you remember huddling around the television on Sunday night with your family and watching The Wonderful World of Color, later known as The Wonderful World of Disney.

It was a time when everything was right with the world. The whole family would watch Swamp Fox or The Nine Lives of El Fego Baca, Davy Crockett, or some animated fun with Mickey and friends.

The Association Theory

Those watching such Disney television shows may not have realized it at the time, but they were becoming conditioned to associate all things Disney with the comforting feeling of family.

This association spilled over to the Mickey Mouse Club, The Hardy Boys, Spin and Marty, and of course my favorite Disney program, Zorro!

Moreso than any other stimulus, when Disney came on, all troubles, cares, and worries seemed to be put on hold.

Of course the extension of Disney on television were the many films seen in the theater. You would forget neither the famous nor the not-so-famous films. I remember the first time I saw Old Yeller, but I also remember Darby O'Gil and the Wee People.

Do you ever wonder if the phrase “willful suspension of disbelief” was coined with Disney in mind? I do.

When Disneyland—and for our purposes, Walt Disney World—was created, the Imagineers were able to parlay that same sense of wonder and comfort drawn from television and movies into the theme parks. They were part of the formula in creating the Disney Zone.

A Haven

To this day, I still hear many people returning from a trip to Orlando describe how Walt Disney World offered them a magical place, a haven, a sanctuary that allowed them to leave their problems at the gate.

So how do you describe Walt Disney World to someone who has never visited? How do you explain what kind of an effect it can have on you? Have you ever made that attempt to make someone understand?

I remember trying to do that with a friend once. He was thinking about taking his family to Walt Disney World and wanted a sense of what the resort was like. I stumbled in my attempt to describe the atmosphere, and then remembered something that might help.

During one visit to the Magic Kingdom, I found myself not only forgetting what day of the week it was, but also not caring about it. Think about this: How often do you ever forget what day of the week it is? We may forget for a second or two, but for 15 minutes? Does that happen often to you? It doesn't happen to me, either, except for during that visit.

I have always considered those 15 minutes to be my initiation into the Disney Zone.

The Disney Zone is a state of mind in which Disneyland and Walt Disney World guests no longer care about problems or the time of day. They are released from the stress of everyday life, and stress is most likely replaced by a feeling of carefree happiness. Sort of like childhood… hmmm, there's that connection with childhood again.

The Song's The Thing

It is not only the sights that draw us into the Disney Zone; it is also the sounds. This is well understood by the Imagineers and all parties who create the Walt Disney World atmosphere.

We can never take lightly the lyrics from any Walt Disney World song. If you look closely at these lyrics, you will understand the great care that was taken in putting the words together and for the occasion. The words are hauntingly true.

I submit to you the Share a Dream Come True song that was created for the 100th-Year Celebration of Walt Disney's birth:

They say it started very small as most dreams do,
a twinkle in an eye; the thrill of something new.
Then the dream began to grow and come alive,
touching every one of us; lighting up the skies.

We share the magic days. We share enchanted nights.
It's a never-ending story that together we all write.
It's been a part of me. It's been a part of you.
A part of growing up together, sharing a dream come true.

The first time I heard this song, I was amazed at how the lyrics captured the essence of what the Disney culture has nurtured all these years. It all comes full circle to many of those who visit a Disney theme park, and especially the Walt Disney World Resort.

Those words especially hit home for this long-time Walt Disney World veteran. The last two lines of the second stanza, about it being a part of me, are particularly appropriate.

Do you see a reoccurring theme here regarding the link between childhood and Disney?

In the Words of Peter Pan

Remember the famous declaration made by Peter Pan? He said, “I'll never grow up!”

It sounds like something Walt would like to say as well. Maybe the thought crossed his mind that very milestone day when he took his daughters to an amusement park and thought, “There should be a way for the parents to enjoy the amusements with their children.”

The Disney theme parks have achieved just that, and more.

Let's look a little closer at the Walt Disney World Resort. Have you ever noticed children in a Walt Disney World theme park? They are skipping, singing, and laughing.

Subconsciously, those of us who return to Orlando are also traveling back to a special place that transforms us back to a time when we didn't have to worry about phones, deadlines, or deliverables.

Personally, one of the greatest joys in life for me is jogging the Magic Kingdom resorts an hour before dawn. That's my haven… or is it heaven?

It is so peaceful, and eventually, ever so slightly you begin to sense the area wakening up and you then realize that this day will bring a smile to a child, some laughter to a grandparent, and a memory that will last a lifetime.

Disney Zone Clues

For some guests, there are even more telling signs that they are in the Disney Zone. Many guests have mentioned certain experiences during their Walt Disney World vacations in which tears well up in their eyes. Sound familiar?

When pressed to explain why this happens, these same people shrug their shoulders and say, “I think I get so happy, I start to cry!” Let's call them tears of joy, or tears of elation.

Think of your own experience in Walt Disney World and compare your memories to the following specific instances where tears have surfaced:

…“Mostly this phenomenon occurs whenever I witness any fireworks display in The Magic Kingdom. I think the fireworks, combined with the music, takes me back to my happy childhood days. I get pretty emotional… the tears just show up.”

…“Whenever I attend the Festival of the Lion King in Disney's Animal Kingdom something special happens to me. There's a point in the show where the children are taken from the audience and parade around with the performers. When that happens I think about the joy those children are experiencing and are happy for them yet sad for others who may never get to a Disney theme park. I usually need a tissue during that time of the show… I'm both happy and sad.”

…“Every year we visit Orlando in early December and our favorite attraction is the Candlelight Processional in Epcot. The songs and atmosphere remind me of all the happy Christmas memories I had as a child and I remember all the members of my family who are gone. I can never get by that performance without tears streaming down my cheeks… but I love it… nothing else in the world affects me that emotionally at the CP. I'll keep going back as long as I can.”

…“I lose it whenever I witness the Kiss Goodnight! Ceremony in The Magic Kingdom… even when I just watch it on tape. I don't exactly know why I lose it… maybe because it completes my day and reminds me of why I keep going back. It's almost as if Walt and Mickey are thanking me for visiting… I should be thanking them.”

Somehow, I sense you nodding your head. I know I did when I first heard some of these recollections. Some guests understand the Disney Zone enough to realize how difficult it is to leave it behind. We all have traditional things we do when visiting Walt Disney World. May I submit this guest's ritual?

“My family and I have been visiting Walt Disney World for many years. Our memories of our time together there are very special to me. The place is magic and although we love being there, we are filled with some sadness when leaving. To this day, every visit to Walt Disney World ends with our final night in the Magic Kingdom. I myself have a ritual that I seem to have a tough time shaking, and it goes like this: Just before I walk under the train station, I turn to the castle, allow my eyes to climb ever so slowly up to the tallest spire, continue to look up into the sky and under my breath mutter, “Thanks Walt!

“I quickly turn around, walk under the station, on to the monorail… never looking back. My kids ask me why I do it, and I can only say that it makes it easier for me to leave and face the real world.”

That Special “Something”

Call it the Disney Zone; call it Disney Magic… call it anything you want. There is something in Florida that “touches” a lot of guests in a special way… enough to keep them coming back. This was an attempt to uncover the reason for this effect. My theory is that it all stems from our childhood introduction to the world of Disney.

On the flip side, why doesn't it do the same for everyone? That's the big question. Was there a gap in their childhood? A Disney gap? Possibly. If so, then getting “into the zone” may prove to be quite a challenge.

For those who have further thoughts on this please drop me a line so we can share your thoughts with everyone.

My guess is that if you're reading this then you have experienced… The Disney Zone.

Next Time

In our next session we'll look at the world of Hidden Mickeys.