Matching his-and-hers T-shirts spoke volumes about the Walt Disney World experience.
Hers said: “Greatest Day Ever.” His said: “Most Expensive Day Ever.”
Both would be correct.
Welcome to the world’s biggest play land, also nicknamed Theme Park Central, where the world’s most-visited vacation resort covers 43 square miles. (That’s equal to the size of San Francisco, folks, and it’s growing daily.)
My wife and I accompanied our two sons, their spouses and our two very impressionable, wide-eyed grandkids for a six-day, five-night summer sojourn.
$3.5 billion investment
Walt Disney World is a $3.5 billion investment that averages 1 million visitors per week. Today, the average adult admission for a one-day-only pass exceeds $100 – about 30 times the cost of the opening-day rate of $3.50 per adult admission in 1971.
Overall, let’s just say that’s a pretty good return on the initial investment by Walt Disney, who had a vision and $5 million he paid for some Florida swampland in the mid-1960s. At the time of announcing the new theme park, Disney’s ambitious goal was to create “the greatest attraction in the history of Florida.”
It was patterned, of course, after a pretty successful venture called Disneyland, a theme park that opened in Anaheim, California, in 1955. The vision was to create a place where both kids and adults could go and have fun.
Seeking a theme park to complement Disneyland, the project’s patriarch targeted thousands of acres in the Lake Buena Vista, Florida area and upped the ante with other aspects such as lodging areas and other novel ideas.
The visionary provocateur died five years before his sparkling-new resort opened on Oct. 1, 1971. Forty-seven years later, you can bet your Mickey Mouse ears that the founding father would be pretty pleased by how his vision has evolved.
A man who was clearly ahead of his time, Disney wanted a “wow” factor and set out to use technology to bring life to stories and characters in a multi-dimensional way.
One of the most innovative ideas Disney had was the creation of the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT), opened in 1982 and loaded with ideas that sprang from concepts of the future that were seen at the World’s Fair.
During our family’s six-day excursion in late July, our agenda included a day each at Disney Springs, Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, and the Animal Kingdom. The latter outing was a grandparents/grandkids venture, freeing up time for their 30-something parents to tackle the rigors of a 14-hour day at Universal Studios.
I was the prototypical grandparent who was literally along for the ride. The appeal of a nice, family-bonding experience was counterbalanced by the thought of sleep deprivation and a vision of being surrounded by overzealous Disney fans whose unabashed passion and squeals of delight far exceeded my excitement.
I never reached the “Eureka!” level of my wife/”travel agent” Karen, who spent countless hours planning the trip, but to see the grandkids’ eyes-as-big-as-saucers reaction to hugging the Disney characters was pretty special.
Our little Miss Princess, Maeby Buckley of Sioux City, Iowa, beamed with the level of delight that you’d expect of a 6-year-old dining in Cinderella’s Castle and being photographed with the likes of Rapunzel and Cinderella.
Any concerns that our grandson, Kareem Dennis Buckley (nearly 2 years old at the time) would be too young to appreciate the experience were abated early on. There’s just something about characters like Goofy and Donald Duck that resonates with all ages. Kareem and his parents live in Boynton Beach, about three hours south of Orlando, and were able to make the trip by car, which gave us convenient access – and a less-expensive outlet – to snacks and sundries.
We’d received the usual do-this, don’t-do-that kind of advice from other parents and grandparents who have scratched Disney World off their bucket list (some of whom are already charged up about the next big trip there).
If you’re planning Disney World in your lifetime, here’s what we would suggest:
• First and foremost, get a guide book well in advance of your trip. We bought “The Unofficial Guide: Walt Disney World,” which is updated annually.
• Download the Disney app to your smartphone.
• Have a question prior to departure? Go straight to the source and call the Disney hotline. My wife found their reps very helpful and cordial.
• Consider staying at a Disney property. Perks provided to lodging guests include access to shuttle service to the parks, earlier access to Fast Pass and dining reservations, and airport transportation. In addition, staying at a “value resort” such as the Art of Animation (which we chose) will generate savings that may be spent on meals with Disney characters, which can be pricey, or other splurges.
• Take into account any special needs within your party, such as strollers, which may be taken on the commuter buses. And when parking a stroller prior to entering an entertainment arena, take special note of where you’ve left your stroller. Several stroller parking areas are within a few steps of each venue. A show’s exit area may be near several stroller stations. On a few occasions we came dangerously close to misplacing our grandson’s stroller.