Disney from a Non-Tourist Perspective
I have lived fifteen minutes away from Disney World for over twenty years. I moved here at the age of ten. For Christmas that year my grandparents got my family tickets to the Magic Kingdom. Before coming to Florida I had only known Disney through television shows. It was a child’s dream to go to the magical Disney World. I lived in Maryland and, to a kid, Disney seemed very far away. But out of chance I ended up getting to grow up going to the parks. A child’s dream come true that evolved into a fun way to hang out with family and friends. Living here as long as I have, I have seen Disney morph into the enormous resort it is today. I have so many nostalgic memories. Animal Kingdom was not even open in ’97, and now it’s my favorite park!
Magic Kingdom 20 Years Ago
In Magic Kingdom back in ’97 the big attractions were Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, & Space Mountain. Lots of mountains. My sisters and I always wanted to drive the sports cars around the track in Tomorrowland. I also remember taking the ferry to Huck Finn’s Island and getting a huge cup of soft serve before running around on the kid-friendly bridges and tree houses. The mountains are still there, but Huck’s Island is no longer operational. The Haunted Mansion has barely changed, but after the namesake movie came out in 2003 there have been some updates to go along with characters from the movie. Another updated ride is Pirates of The Caribbean. After the first Pirates of The Caribbean movie came out, Disney closed the ride for a bit and did an overhaul, placing such things as likenesses of Johny Depp, Captain Jack Sparrow, into the animatronics throughout the ride.
One great perk of living so close to Disney World is that it is very easy to get into the parks for nothing. As long as you know someone who works for Disney, there is a chance you may go to the parks at least once or twice a year. The Disney cast member community is so huge that everyone here knows at least someone that can get you into the parks. When I was in high school marching band we marched in the Disney holiday parade each year. Disney gave us each two tickets just for marching in the parade. It was so cool to be a part of the behind the scenes of the show. I remember one year I saw a sewing room from the school bus. The magic behind the magic.
Growing Up Disney
The first time I went to Disney without an adult was in eighth grade, year 2000. My friend’s mom got a few of us into the park with the new perk—park hopper passes. I specifically remember standing in line at the Tower of Terror in what used to be MGM, now known as Hollywood Studios. I was afraid of the sudden drops, but everyone else was a veteran rider and assured me it was not too bad. I had ridden Disney roller-coasters before; Aerosmith’s Rockin’ Rollercoaster, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, but there was something about the idea of free-falling that scared me a little more. The screams coming from the people on the ride did not help. After I got off the ride, I actually really liked it. My adrenaline pumped every time the elevator dropped, and despite being buckled-in, with every fall I raised up off of my seat a little.
Drinking Around the World
I knew I was an adult when Epcot transformed from being the most boring park, to “drinking around the world.” Each country has a signature libation. Mexico has margaritas, Germany has beer, Morocco has a few spiked coffee options… They say never to mix your alcohol, but locals with season passes ask themselves on a Friday night, “What should we do tonight?” “Let’s go drink at Epcot!” A great time of year is the annual Food And Wine Festival. Small plates and small glasses of wine, or other sorts of adult beverages can be bought at tables set up in each country.
Disney as a Grownup
Even as a grownup, I still feel like I am in a magical place whenever I get to visit the parks. I am very excited about the Star Wars World that is being built. I remember the Star Wars ride before it was upgraded to have a random assortment of story-lines to be a part of; instead of just a predictable simulated ride. The Avatar World is in Animal Kingdom. I have not gotten a chance to go yet, but it looks awesome! Just make sure to get your fast-passes way in advance, I’m talking months (seriously). Disney was a childhood dream, now it is a playground for someone of any age. Even though Disney is still magical for me, I cannot wait to take my own kids someday to experience their life growing up with the mouse!
Special thanks to Emily Shannon for writing this article. Emily Shannon lives fifteen minutes from the happiest place on earth. She grew up going to the parks and has loved Disney all her life.