To all the ConciEARS friends and families out there, I want to say hello and thank you for welcoming me to the team. I’m so excited to be officially joining ConciEARS, and now seems like a great time to share the beginning of my Disney story with you. I worked for Disney for 15 years, and over that time I experienced so many things, I know the parks and resorts inside and out, and I've learned Disney history directly from people who are a part of it. I’ve gotten to participate in the opening of new resorts, I’ve been among the first to experience new attractions, even new lands, and new parks. I’ve done things that seem surreal in retrospect, like driving a golf cart through Disneyland park before dawn, or helping Mary Poppins lead children in a game of bingo in the lobby of a hotel because there was a hurricane approaching and the theme parks, and all outdoor areas were closed. I have a lot to share when it comes to my Disney career, and 15 years worth of stories are probably too much to try and squeeze into a first blog post, so I’ll be sure and take the time to share my career experiences with you over a few posts in the future. For today I think I’d like to start a bit further back and share a little about how I first got to know the Disney parks, and how they began to play such a big role in my life.
I think that the first time I became aware of Walt Disney World was in 1982. My Grandparents went on a vacation to Florida and while they were there they visited Walt Disney World and they came back with photos, gifts, and lots of incredible stories about the Magic Kingdom and Epcot Center. My brother and I were completely fascinated by the photos they showed off on an old Kodak carousel slide projector, but to me, the best thing was a large map of The Magic Kingdom they brought back as a gift. It was far more detailed than the maps you may be used to seeing, like the small guide map you
can pick up at the entrance of the park to help you find your way around. This map was about 4 feet wide, and 3 feet tall, it had tons of amazing details for a kid to obsess over. You could see Mickey marching down Main Street U.S.A. leading the band, there was a little illustration of people heading into the Haunted Mansion, and one of the people was clearly terrified to enter. The hippos, elephants, and lions from The Jungle Cruise. Best of all there was a key at the bottom of the map, divided by land and listing every attraction and dining location. I would stare at the map proudly hung on my bedroom wall and fantasize about where I would go and what I would do if I ever got the chance to go to Walt Disney World. We did finally go. As much as I wanted to go the moment
my Grandparents told my brother and I about their trip, our parents were pretty darn smart. They knew that a Walt Disney World trip would be the type of thing that we might only be able to afford to do once, maybe twice ever, so they waited until my older brother and I were tall enough to ride just about anything we would have wanted. And then that fateful day finally arrived.
I remember driving on to the property for the first time and seeing a monorail with a lime green stripe running down the side, taking the ferry boat across the seven seas lagoon and seeing Cinderella Castle for the first time and watching the park get closer and closer as we crossed the water. I remember suggesting that we ride the train first and going on the grand circle tour, so we could see everything before we got started. I remember learning that the map on my wall wasn’t perfectly accurate, you couldn’t actually see 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ( R.I.P. Nautilus ) from the train, but we did see quick glimpses of Big Thunder Mountain, the River’s of America, Space Mountain, The Peoplemover, and the Grand Prix Raceway (that’s what the Tomorrowland Speedway was called in 1987). And when we got back to Main Street station, we were off to explore a place I had never visited but felt I knew like the back of my hand.
This vacation was one of the truly transformative experiences of my life. We drove from our home in Minnesota down to Florida in a 1969 Suburban pulling a trailer, and stopping at state parks and campgrounds along the way. I had never traveled that far. My brother and I saw the ocean for the first time and immediately waded out way further than we were supposed to. There were so many ‘firsts’ on this trip; first castle, first roller coaster, my first time driving, first ride in a submarine, my first visit to Mexico whilst traveling through time aboard a small boat ( ( R.I.P. El Rio de Tiempo ) wow, so many attractions have changed since my first visit! ) ). This was also the first time that I realized that I could work here someday. While waiting for the Star Jets in Tomorrowland (another attraction name from the past) our family spoke with a Cast Member who absolutely loved her job. She spent time talking to our family, asking what we had done so far, making suggestions of what we should try next, and answering all of the questions that I had for her about working there. From that point on, I knew that I wanted to be a Cast Member, but that’s too long of a story to try and include here. The whole trip home my brother and I kept reminding each other of our favorite moments from the vacation and quoting lines from the attractions to each other, “…cause this here’s the wildest ride in the wilderness!”. We couldn’t wait to go back.
Over the next decade, our family was fortunate enough to go on a few more Disney vacations. Next, we visited Disneyland in California for the first time just a few years later during their 35th anniversary, and I even won a prize from the “Dream Machine”. I didn’t get a car, or a lifetime pass, but I did win a Space Mountain pin with Dale on it. Just as good. I spent most of that trip comparing every difference I could spot between Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Pirates of the Caribbean was much longer at Disneyland and had a better beginning, but WDW’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride ( R.I.P. Mr. Toad ) had two tracks, and all of this great near miss moments with other guests ride vehicles. The Peoplemover at Disneyland went up and down hills, and wove between the shady trees of Tomorrowland, the Monorail, Skyway, Autopia ( R.I.P. Skyway and Peoplemo...this is becoming a very sad trend ). I even bought my own oversized souvenir map of Disneyland, to hang next to the Magic Kingdom map in my bedroom.
We would later even returned to Walt Disney World to celebrate my brother’s high school graduation, and a couple of years later for mine. These trips were great because we were starting to get to know the parks well, and everyone had their favorite things to do. My brother and I were old enough to go off on our own and experience the parks as we saw fit, while Mom and Dad could relax and enjoy the parks at their own pace, knowing they wouldn’t have to worry about us. These trips were also great because we started to have a more well-rounded visit. When my brother and I were in grade school it was tough for Mom and Dad to get us to spend half a day in Epcot which we thought was way too much like school, we just wanted to be at the Magic Kingdom going on ride after ride. Now that we were older, we were more interested in spending time in each area of each park. We slowed down to watch the unique entertainment or listening to cultural ambassadors throughout the World Showcase at Epcot. We started to enjoy exploring the resorts and Downtown Disney. We would often comment that we couldn’t believe how unprepared we were for the first trip, and how we wish we had all
of the knowledge that we did now. In 1987 our best planning tools were an out of date Walt Disney World vacation planning video that we borrowed from the local library and an 8-year-old with a decent understanding of the layout of Magic Kingdom park. Ten years later we all knew what to pack, what we wanted to do, where we wanted to eat, and the value of a midday break.
These first Disney trips are some of our family’s most cherished memories and are one of the major reasons I am now working with ConciEARS. A Disney vacation can have such a major impact on a family, even going as far as to change the direction of your life, as I know it did mine. And now I have the opportunity to pour into families helping to create these magical moments for others. It is truly an honor and a privilege. As for you? This is the perfect place for all the help you will ever need planning your next Disney vacation. Whether you’re visiting for the very first time, or you’re an annual passholder that visits every month, I would love to share my experiences with you and assist in making your trip a little more magical. So go ahead and reach out to me directly at smahlke@ConciEARS.com and let’s start planning!