By the time you are reading this column, our family will be returning from yet another vacation at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. My initial introduction to a Disney Park was provided by none other than the United States Marine Corps (USMC) back in the 60's during the Vietnam War, while I was stationed in California for a time during my first enlistment. (Yeah, I enlisted twice...after all, there is a reason they refer to the USMC as "Uncle Sam's Misguided Children.") Active duty Marines were continually provided with free admission tickets to the original Disneyland which opened in Anaheim, California, back in 1955.
I spent many a liberty in a spartan room at a Motel 6 across from the park, exploring every nook and cranny of the place. As a child, my parents had taken me to Palisades Amusement Park, Freedomland USA, Rockaway Park, Coney Island and other amusement parks, but they all paled in comparison to Disneyland. At the time, I thought you can't top this. I couldn't have been more wrong.
Some three decades later, back in 2002, Grace and I took our two girls (ages six and seven at the time) down to Orlando to visit Walt Disney World, (which opened in 1971), where we spent an unforgettable week in the park at the Polynesian Resort, and I found that Walt Disney had taken his vision of a theme park to an entirely new level. We liked it so much we joined the Disney Vacation Club, and have since used our membership to vacation at Walt Disney World on a myriad of occasions, staying at various resorts within the park - the Boardwalk, the Animal Kingdom, Saratoga, the Polynesian and most recently the Beach Club.
Wherever we travel on the property, we find Disney has created a storyline for all of us to follow. From the theming of the resorts, the focused attentiveness of park staff, the unique, one-of-a-kind attractions, the myriad dining options to the interactive ride queues at the parks, Disney's absolute attention to detail immerses you in the action in such a way that other theme parks all aspire to, but never quite attain, actually bringing the story to life.
You are a “guest," not just a visitor and employees are "cast members,” not just staff. And they back it all up with cleanliness and maintenance policies that keep everything looking fresh and inviting. Instead of being tedious, Disney’s ability to sprinkle even your wait in line with a little bit of pixie dust, builds your anticipation while making time pass much more quickly. After the hot Florida sun sets, nothing caps off your day quite like one of the nighttime spectaculars that Disney World features in their parks. "Wishes Nighttime Spectacular" at the Magic Kingdom, "IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth” at Epcot, "Fantasmic!" at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and "Rivers of Light" at the Animal Kingdom literally all end your day with a bang!
As an interesting aside, I know rude behavior and profanity are almost taken for granted these days, and after two tours in the Marine Corps and 30 plus years in Corrections, my ears are anything but virgin. The character and atmosphere of Walt Disney World that immediately envelops everyone who enters the park clearly defines the park as first and foremost a place for families. Rude behavior and foul language, unlike elsewhere in our daily lives, is the exception and not the rule at Disney World. Even though some events and activities can seem really adult-oriented, like the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, it’s still Disney World, and there are still kids everywhere, and I have yet to witness any untoward behavior or hear F-bombs being dropped by those around us.
In closing, let me state for the record that I realize there are two types of people in this world, those who love visiting Walt Disney World, and those who don't. Grace, myself and our two daughters, Amy and Victoria (now 22 and 21 years old), all suffer from O.D.D., (Obsessive Disney Disorder - the only cure for which is yet another trip down south to visit with Mickey and his friends, so I guess you know which segment of the population we fall into). As for the second group, I guess some people who simply lost their love for Disney as they grew up - or never had it in the first place - just can't wrap their heads around how a grown-up could continue enjoying Disney theme parks, and all they offer. As for me, at 67 years of age with bum gams, you may find me zipping around the park in a scooter, but I still wear my mouse ears proudly!
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