Is Disney World Still Magical After 45 Years?

Dennis Raabe
Walt Disney World Welcome SignPublic Domain

I have promised my readers to take them with me as I embark on a year of adventure travels. An adventurer is more than a tourist, as adventure implies the unusual, the exciting, and the potential for danger. The danger in adventure travel could be likened to being as mild as shopping at Walmart on Black Friday to an actual life-threatening activity akin to doing any kind of household project with your spouse, the most dangerous of which would be wallpapering.

During the year, I plan on taking you with me to a Canadian Fish Camp, hiking up Half Dome in Yosemite, a low-budget trip to the Galapagos, a safari in South Africa, and places unknown both to my readers and myself. While I look forward to having you as my companion for these adventures, I must admit my first adventure, in less than two weeks, is one that has filled me with both angst and a sense of dread.

For reasons I can’t explain I have agreed to travel with my loving spouse, our three grown children, their spouses, and three Grandchildren to a place that even the greatest adventurers of all time dared not consider. Though the feats of Marco Polo, Sir Edmund Hillary, and Amelia Earhart are legendary, not one of them ever considered taking their families to Disney World. This is fact and you can look it up if you question my credibility.

Mind you I am neither a Magic Kingdom hater nor a neophyte. My first trip to the Florida shrine was also my first trip out of the state. In the spring of 1975, for the sum of $75, I boarded a bus in front of my dorm at UW Eau Claire along with 70 0ther spring breakers in varying degrees of intoxication. We rode through the day and night and in the early morning arrived at Daytona Beach. Our accommodations were a Days Inn, they didn’t have star ratings at that time, but if they did this hotel would not have earned any. Just the same it was an exciting week with many experiences. Of course, I was sunburnt on the first day, fell in love by the third day, and had my heart broken by week's end.

I also went to Disney World. It cost me about seven bucks for an entrance ticket. I received a coupon book consisting of tickets that were designated from “A” to “E”. Tickets in the A to C range were basically the salad bar of Disney World. They took up some time and looked a lot more interesting than they were. These tickets allowed me to ride on a Main Street omnibus (just a fancy name for a bus painted with Disney characters), visit Swiss Family Treehouse (so lame the family was evicted in the late 1990s,) and take a ride with a Toad (had to share my seat with a stranger, awkward!).

The D and E tickets were the entrees of the experience. With these tickets, I experienced the Country Bear Jamboree, the Hall of Presidents, and Pirates of the Caribbean. Today’s generation of techno wizards may look down on their noses at such early animatronics, but at that time, they were the source of wonderment. Mind you, right or wrong, there was little discussion at the time regarding the moral compass of the pirates or the politics of the Presidents gathered in the hall. It was all a diversion from reality, and it was as magical as advertised.

I visited Micky and his friends a couple more times during my college years. Each Spring I would borrow my sister’s car, drive straight to Florida, stay in the cheapest hotel I could find, and of course, visit Disney World. Fortunately, Disney was quite affordable during the mid and late ’70s. Ticket prices had raised only about $2 during my formative years, the attractions were pretty much the same with the only noted addition being the Main Street Electrical Parade. Unbeknownst to me, I had met the person I was to spend the rest of my life with during this same time, but she did not join me on any of these visits to the Magical Kingdom.

Fast forward a decade and more. It is 1995 and my lovely spouse and I with three children in tow pile into our minivan to share the “magic” with our preteen sons and four-year-old daughter. Put mildly going to Disneyworld with actual children is “different” than going solo as a child at heart. Ticket prices had soared by this time, to about $35 dollars each. I avoided these costs by signing my wife and me up for a timeshare tour in which they gave you free Disney tickets. It was a typical low-pressure tour that included such an acrimonious and embarrassing dispute between the salesman and myself that the free tickets almost cost me my marriage. A bit of an exaggeration but an experience which we agreed would be our last!

The Coupon Book ticket system had by now been abandoned by Disney and long lines in the hot sun were the fate of so many mere mortals who visited the park in the mid-’90s. But my wife’s strategy and analytics for visiting the park made General Patton’s plan to liberate Western Europe look like a walk through the park. We arrived early and literally ran to the Haunted Mansion followed by Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Big Thunder Railroad. The mid-day was spent on low-hanging fruit such as Peter Pans Flight, Dumbo, It’s a Small World, and of course, The Enchanted Tiki Room. In the evening we hit the main attractions hard again, cleaning up what was left of the rides and then revisiting the rides when the lines dwindled as people were lining up for the evening parade and fireworks. Arriving at the parade route a bit later you might think that we would have been destined to watch the parade from a spot ten people deep. You would have forgotten the skill set of my significant other who could work her way through a crowd with all the subtlety and gracefulness of a Genghis Khan invasion. We were close enough to shake hands with Goofy.

Other than acquiring the tickets to the park, my primary role was to carry my daughter on my shoulders from the first break of dawn until the last sight of tinker bell flying about the castle, while holding my middle child’s hand so that he was not abducted by a stranger,(I didn’t know that was a thing but after the Timeshare Tour I was in no position to argue), and also oversee our budget so that I still had a travel check or two left at the end of the night. Yes, I still used travel checks in the mid-’90s, a fact that still puzzles my children.

Going to Disney World on a budget was much more challenging by the time we first took our children. Mickey had gone corporate, big time, and the typical visitor had to be vigilant as Goofy, Minnie, Cinderella, Snow White, and the Seven Dwarfs used every trick available to get their small but greedy hands deep into your pocket. There was expensive food, expensive treats, expensive pictures, and expensive souvenirs which quickly depreciated in value long before the long drive back to Wisconsin.

We were not typical visitors, however. Mickey in the mid-90s would have been one irate rodent had he known that our stroller and backpack were crammed with sandwiches, snacks, and soft drinks. (Currently, Mickey has softened his viewpoint on outside food and drinks). Each child had the obligatory Mouse Ears with their name stitched upon it but that was the extent we were willing to contribute to Mickey and the gang's account for a retirement that apparently will never happen.

However, I can attest that going to Disney with our children was an experience that was a bit more challenging but no less magical. While the whole family rode one last ride on Dumbo friends as the day was ending, and while the fireworks exploded above us, I remember thinking that this day was one that we would all remember fondly in the future. Now, as the Carousal of Progress had assured us, the future is here, and I can assure you the memories of that day are cherished by each of us.

In less than two weeks we will be returning. Instead of driving down, we will all be flying from various airports in the Midwest at different times on different airlines with the hope of all meeting in Orlando within an hour or so of each other. We will be renting cars and meeting up at an AIRBNB only ten minutes from Disney World, all under the same roof for about a week. I suspect the cost of food and souvenirs has not become comparatively less expensive in the past 20 years. I have heard lines of over an hour or more have become routine. This adventure could be a disaster in so many ways.

It could also, and most likely will be, quite magical. While my wife and I will no longer be the leaders of the group, we have wisdom and perception gained from a gauntlet of experiences our adult children and their spouses will not. We plan to put that to good use and will create a plan for the park which maximizes adventure and minimizes wait times. Having reached an age where we can be less cautious with our funds, we will probably spoil the grandchildren in a manner which will our children themselves were not accustomed to. (However, not the $30 popcorn buckets). We will appease our children for this transgression by taking over the responsibility of watching the grandchildren while their parents enjoy the rides suitable only for adults. We will enjoy seeing the new attractions, perhaps none more so than Oga’s Cantina, the Star War-themed tavern which we were fortunate enough to all have reservations for.

There is still room for the trip if you want to join us. Just follow me and I will provide a complete overview of what went right, what went wrong, the moments that were less than magical, and the memories that will be looked upon fondly long after my adventures have come to an end. See you real soon! (For those younger than 55, please see the Mickey Mouse Club)

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I have thoughts in my head and need to let them out! My stories center upon travel, everyday observations, humor, and just enough serious perspective to warrant consideration!

Stevens Point, WI

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