Welcome to my first post in the “Disney” section of Christian Traveling Mom! If you don’t know me well, then I may need to begin by explaining why there is a “Disney” section on this blog. In October of 1971, the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World first opened. In November of 1971, when I was barely two years old, my parents took me to visit the Magic Kingdom for the very first time….and we were all immediately hooked!
My dad, a mechanical engineer and builder/contractor by trade, and extremely inventive and creative by birth, had always been a big fan of Walt Disney and his imagination. While my parents were living in Florida in the late 1960s, just before I was born, they began hearing the rumors about Walt Disney buying up property in the Orlando/Kissimmee area. Dad remained very curious about it, and tried to stay on top of all news about the subject. He even considered buying some property in Kissimmee, which was still very cheap, and now kicks himself when he’s reminded that he didn’t when he had the chance. So, it makes sense that when Walt Disney World finally opened, we were among some of the very first visitors. I can only say that I’m so happy that my parents were as enchanted then with WDW as I was and continue to be, because that enchantment led to many more family visits with Mom and Dad, and later my sister and brother, to the Magic Kingdom, and then EPCOT, as we were growing up.
My dad and I used to save everything from each visit – Park guides, maps, tickets, and even napkins, bags, and cups! We’d play with Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, and building blocks at home, erecting our own versions of the Magic Kingdom. We went to every Disney movie, from replays of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, to Herbie the Love Bug, Candleshoe, and The Apple Dumpling Gang. My sister, brother, and I watched all of the Walt Disney Productions television series, from Davy Crockett and The Mickey Mouse Club repeats, up through all of the different series that came along: Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color , The Wonderful World of Disney, Disney’s Wonderful World, Walt Disney Presents…and on and on…and even now we continue to watch the Disney Channel with our own kids. I have to admit, while it’s wonderful to have the Disney Channel available 24 hours a day, there was nothing quite like waiting for Sunday evening to roll around each week so we could see what amazing things Mr. Disney had in store for us. I especially loved it when Walt Disney himself appeared to talk about the latest and greatest thing he and his Imagineers had come up with for our entertainment! I remember when Dad first told me about EPCOT. This was his dream come true! EPCOT was originally intended to be the “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.” Walt Disney described it this way, in his own words: “EPCOT… will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing and testing and demonstrating new materials and systems. And EPCOT will always be a showcase to the world for the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise. It will be a planned, controlled community, a showcase for American industry and research, schools, cultural and educational opportunities. In EPCOT, there will be no slum areas because we won’t let them develop. There will be no landowners and therefore no voting control. People will rent houses instead of buying them, and at modest rentals. There will be no retirees; everyone must be employed.” As a creative, inventive engineer/builder, I always believed that my dad should have been one of the original Disney Imagineers. Even if he couldn’t be one in “real life,” he truly is in imagination and spirit. He LOVED the idea of this prototype community, a sort of “utopian city” in which the best technology and practices known to man would be utilized to create that “great big beautiful tomorrow”… something we vividly dreamed for everyone to be able to enjoy. Yes, my dad and I have always been your typical “Pollyanna’s,” wanting things to be lovely, beautiful, and perfect. Yes, we know that things aren’t really that way in this world…we aren’t really delusional. However, sometimes we just like to dream that way. Honestly, I believe it is a desire that God has placed in our hearts – a yearning for something better, something that is truly “home”…something that God really created us for. (If you haven’t read my post entitled “Fernweh” I invite you to read it now.) I believe it’s okay to believe in a brighter future, but to also live with the understanding that this world is not perfect and never will be. However, that dose of reality doesn’t need to stop us from dreaming and working with others to achieve a better way, to alleviate pain and suffering in this world, and to help others in need. If we didn’t realize the pain, we wouldn’t be able to comprehend the hope and joy of something better to come. There IS a “great big beautiful tomorrow”… as a Christian, my hope for that is in a future with God, for eternity. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11
As EPCOT developed, it did turn into something a little different than what Walt Disney originally imagined. It is now more of a celebration of innovation, technology, and communication, as well as a showcase of many countries and cultures of the world, attempting to show and celebrate that we are all unique, and yet not so “different” from one another. I love this concept! It has often been referred to as a “Permanent World’s Fair,” but truly, it is much more than that…especially when you keep in mind what Mr. Disney originally intended. Even though EPCOT never developed into everything Mr. Disney had planned, this concept did lead to the development of Celebration, a planned community near Walt Disney World, which is based more on the new urbanism concepts, rather than the modernist and futuristic designs Walt originated.
Eventually, my dad did get to work for Disney, in a roundabout way. He became an onsite project manager for the Disney Vacation Club’s Hilton Head Island Resort! He lived there for two years, living out his dream of being involved in a large Disney building project, and it happened to be in one our family’s other favorite places on this earth. We visit Hilton Head often, and it is still a wonderful feeling to know that my dad had a role in creating that magnificent Disney Resort!
As you can see, all of this love for Disney was ingrained in me as I grew up, with my dad kind of leading the way with my childhood Disney infatuation. However, as I grew older, my infatuation grew and took on a life of its own. I envisioned myself growing up and moving to Florida to work at Walt Disney World. However, I got sidetracked, and married a great guy who didn’t exactly have the same vision. In fact, he’d never been to Walt Disney World in his life! Can you imagine? But, I did manage to convince him to spend our honeymoon there, and he was converted and is now almost as much a fan of Disney as I am, even though I still haven’t convinced him to move there, yet! Marrying young, while still in college, we didn’t have lots of money to spend on frivolous things for many years, but we always made it a priority to save and visit Walt Disney World on an annual basis. Then, for our 10th anniversary, my husband surprised me by purchasing a membership in the Disney Vacation Club! Finally, I OWNED a piece of the “magic” for myself. Now, thirteen years later, it still thrills me to hear “Welcome Home!” from the Disney Cast Members every time we drive through the gate of a Disney Resort property. A few years ago I heard, through my sister, about a new thing called the “Walt Disney World Moms Panel.” Now known as the “Disney Parks Moms Panel,” it is a social media strategy implemented by Disney to create consumer-to-consumer interaction via the Disney website for sharing information that will help Guests plan their vacations to the Disney Parks. I tried out a couple years, and didn’t quite make it to the final round either time. It was devastating, but I never really expected to be chosen…it was just a big dream. But the third year that I applied, Disney was just getting ready to release the film sequel, “Tron: Legacy,” and since everyone had always called me “Tron,” I thought, “hmmmm….maybe this is my year…”
Can you imagine how incredibly excited and honored I was when I was actually chosen as one of fifteen Walt Disney World Moms Panelists in 2011! They even wrapped the monorail for MY movie…it was known as the “TRONorail” that entire year! I told everyone it was done just for me! It has truly been a dream come true for me to serve as a part of this incredible venture. The other panelists (which include Dad’s as well as Mom’s) and I have become a great, big, crazy family – we call it ‘Ohana, a term from the Disney animated film, Lilo & Stitch. You can only imagine what it must be like when dozens of us, and sometimes our families included, get together in the Disney Parks & Resorts for reunions and meetings – a group of Disney fanatics just like me! It is nothing short of incredible – an experience like no other! I am truly thankful to be a part of this, and know that even if I never got to set foot inside a Disney Park again (heaven forbid!), I’ve had my wildest “Disney Dreams” come true!
One of the greatest things I’ve learned as a panelist is that the Disney Family is HUGE! There are so many different people from all around the globe who take part and share in spreading the Disney Pixie Dust, as we call it. There are bloggers, website designers, writers, photographers, members of the media, fans, member organizations, and of course the amazing Disney Cast Members and Guests who all contribute to keep the magic going. I think this is the true “community” that Walt Disney has created, and it is these friendships that I sincEARly treasure now, more than anything – even my Mouse Ears! As Disney continues to grow and change, I continue to enjoy following along – as a spectator, a fan, and now as someone with a little taste of the “InsidEAR” magic! This is why there is a “Disney Section” on my personal blog. I hope to continue to share some of the Disney Magic and Memories that I’ve experienced, as well as some “tips” I’ve learned about Disney travel over my lifetime with you, and I hope that you’ll do the same…becoming part of the big Disney ‘Ohana Family! Blessings (& Pixie Dust)! Tron