Happy anniversary, Walt Disney World! The time is finally here! Months of planning finally paying off. Regardless of how guests respond to the new fireworks shows, special treats, and nostalgic merch, you have to admit it’s fun to experience.
Our illustrious founder, Mike, has the pleasure of being the first of your ConciEARS planners to visit the parks on their anniversary. I imagine we’ll see plenty more from him in the coming days, showing off how great a time he’s having. The rest of us got to thinking about our first times at Walt Disney World. What follows is a brief glimpse into the past, but it’s a great illustration of Disney World’s allure and staying power.
Some of us visited in the fog of our distant youths. Some got to experience the parks just recently. And one of us has (gasp!) never been! Despite all of this, each member of the ConciEARS team has heartfelt admiration for Roy Disney’s labor of love for his departed brother Walt.
Join us as we reminisce and wish Walt Disney World a happy anniversary!
Lyndsey Wells, Travel Planner
My first trip to Walt Disney World was in 1997 during the 25th anniversary celebration! Cinderella’s Castle was dressed up in a very . . . shall we say “distinct” ? giant birthday cake overlay that loomed huge and neon pink over the Magic Kingdom — but we didn’t care!
I had a blast with my parents and siblings, exploring all the things and comparing Disney World to our hometown park of Disneyland. I remember experiencing Florida’s spontaneous downpours (we wore plastic ponchos!) and riding the newish Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, which I loved. I had also spent months prior to our trip reading guidebooks and researching the parks (this was pre-internet at my house!). My parents let me plan every detail of our vacation, which led me to fall in love with Disney travel planning. Who knew that trip would end up being a precursor to my current job as a ConciEAR!
James Hall, Travel Planner
My first visit to Disney World was in the summer in 2013. Growing up in Southern California I had been to Disneyland numerous times but it could have never prepared me for what a different ball game Disney World was. With more attractions spread out between the four parks there is so much more to do I couldn’t believe my eyes! Other than Mexico I had never traveled to another country outside the US so Epcot was amazing to get a tour of so many countries as well as trying foods native to those places.
Erik Johnson, Communications ConciEAR
My first trip to Walt Disney World was in 1985. I don’t remember much about the trip other than the part my family tells all the time.I turned five while we were there. I also ran into a car.
A parked car, in fact. It was in the parking lot. I believe I was spinning around. It’s fine. I’m fine. The car was probably fine, too. I don’t think we had to leave a note or involve insurance.
We went a few more times in the eighties and nineties. I remember loving the Magic Kingdom, but really falling for the vision of the future in EPCOT Center. Video phones! Being on TV in front of a blue screen! Touch screen computer screens! Computers at all, really.
I treasure these memories, even though some blend together. Sometimes we flew on Delta. Sometimes we drove all the way from Chicago, sleeping on the floor of our van while Dad drove through the night.
I also remember visiting during the 25th anniversary. As I stared at the beauty of that pink birthday cake castle, I wondered what it would look like during the 50th anniversary. I’m not kidding. I calculated how impossibly old I would be when that 50th anniversary came along and vowed I would be back to see Cinderella Castle again.
This is going to be a pretty cool year.
Jimmy Hunt, Travel Planner
I grew up at Disneyland. Living in Utah, my dad and I would make that seemingly endless journey from Salt Lake City to Anaheim each summer. Dad had one rule. We could go to Disneyland, but we would leave after ten attractions. This included the main street vehicles, The Enchanted Tiki Room, Great Moments with Mr Lincoln, and the like. For a 10-year-old, this was less than ideal, but really made this budding Disneyphile appreciate the detail and quality of what Disney parks offer. In the summer of 1997, I got a job in guest control at Disneyland followed by a 2-month stint at Disneyland Paris doing roughly the same thing, but in a language I didn’t fully comprehend.
Then, in 1999, my best friend’s parents brought us to Orlando. We had one day to experience Walt Disney World. Disney’s Animal Kingdom had opened the year before and Disney World was such a mystery. To my mind, Animal Kingdom was just a big zoo. EPCOT was housed completely in that big ball and why even go to Magic Kingdom? It was just a big Disneyland, right? I don’t need to tell you just how wrong I was.
Tony Baxter has a quote: “Disneyland hugs you, Walt Disney World consumes you.” That is the most accurate description of these two resorts. The immersion of Walt Disney World is exactly what this escapist needed. There is no replacing Walt Disney’s original vision for themed entertainment. But Walt Disney World and its 4 theme parks, five championship golf courses, two water parks, two mini golf courses, water sports, horseback riding, twenty-five resort hotels, and more certified wine sommeliers per capita in the Magic Kingdom resort area than anywhere in the world, has no equal.
Since 1999, I have visited Walt Disney World no less than fifty times. We own Disney Vacation Club shares at Bay Lake Tower. My wife and I were engaged and married at Disney’s wedding pavilion. We have had annual passes there for the better part of twenty years. Walt Disney World is an all-consuming escapists paradise. I have stayed in every resort hotel on property and each trip brings with it a new discovery in theming, experience, hidden detail and dare I say, magic. Thank you, Walt Disney World, for decades of memories. And here’s to generations more. Happy 50thBirthday!
Kailyn Paris, Travel Planner
My first trip to Walt Disney World was in October 2020. I decided to go during this time because the prices for flights and everything were amazing. I would be crazy not to take the opportunity! I went with two of my sisters and my cousin. I don’t know what it was like before the pandemic but I still felt every bit of magic I could have wanted. I can’t even explain the feeling I had turning the corner to walk down Main Street and seeing Cinderella Castle for the first time in person. It’s something I’ll never forget.
My family and I are huge Disney fans and we have been going to Disneyland since we were born so it was perfect to experience it with some of my sisters and my cousin. We all had tears in our eyes and had the excitement of kids going through each park at WDW and getting to do it for the first time together. It’s just unreal.
We had a particularly fun experience at the 50’s Prime Time Cafe in Hollywood Studios. We all enjoy the 50’s time period and having your servers treat you like kids in their own family was so unique and fun. We never stopped smiling the entire way through.
We ended up going back to WDW in February 2021 because of the pricing being great again and of course I just couldn’t wait to go back after an incredible experience. We visited 50’s Prime Time Cafe again and we ended up with the same server we had our first time. He was so memorable and we were so excited to see him again four months later. We showed him some videos from our last visit and he remembered us and he was so great at making us laugh. It was definitely something special that I’ll never forget!
Bryn Wittmayer, Social Media ConciEAR
I’m a Disneyland girl. I’ve never been to Walt Disney World. I would like to visit someday; I’m sure it’s great. Lots of people seem to like it. So, it’s probably, whatever, fine I guess.
It’s no Disneyland.
Joking aside, I always feel a sense of indignation when people say that Disneyland isn’t as good as Walt Disney World. Many of them haven’t been to Disneyland, of course, so I can’t blame them. There is no need for the two parks to compete for fans’ love.
Ultimately, the Disney Park you love is like choosing your favorite Disney snack or favorite princess: entirely subjective. You can look at the data about the number of rides, size, attendance, etc., but the issue isn’t one of facts, it is one of emotional connection. If you grew up going to Magic Kingdom, or it was the first park you took your kids to, you form a bond with it that will never be the same at Disneyland or any other Disney Park.
I’ve had a lot of fun working on social media for ConciEARS for the Walt Disney World 50th anniversary celebration. People are excited about it and it looks like it will be a lot of fun. I don’t need to have been there myself to do the work, or appreciate other people’s joy.
For Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary, remember that many Disneyland fans are happy for you. We’ve had our celebration years, and we will again. Have a great time. We’ll be out here cheering you on.
Mike Renfrow, Head ConciEAR
While it was just earlier this year that I realized my first trip to Disney World was actually when I was about one year old (a fact that blew me away when I found the photographic evidence), I still consider my “first trip” to Disney World as the one I took around the time that I was eight years old during the mid-1980s.
I have so many fond memories, from meeting Mickey Mouse to watching the Country Bear Jamboree, from getting stuck on what is now known as Tomorrowland Speedway to my father waiting patiently for what seemed like forever so we could ride Space Mountain, just to have me freak out before we were to board. He still managed to coax me onto the ride and endured a screaming child the entire time. The things parents do for their kids!
What will always remain with me most from that trip is my intense love of EPCOT. We had three-day park tickets and after visiting each park once, Magic Kingdom and EPCOT, mom and dad let us boys pick which park we wanted to do a second time. I think, to their surprise, we said EPCOT without a hesitation. Of course, I loved the fantasy that Walt created in the Magic Kingdom, but his legacy that was realized in EPCOT – the dreamer, the inventor, the creative spirit, the scientist, the explorer, and so much more – connected to me in that park.
Nowadays, my kids and wife give an audible groan when I play the Veggie-Veggie Fruit-Fruit song from Kitchen Kabaret . . . with good reason. But all those years ago, I was inspired by the storytelling and animatronic medium they used. I remember distinctly being enamored by the jumping water fountain in the Imagination Pavillion, still there today. But most of all, I became a life-long fan of a purple dragon I had never before seen!
Yes, for me Figment the dragon, from the ride Journey IntoImagination, was the highlight of my entire Disney World trip. It is amazing that after all those movies I had watched, rides, character meets, and more, it was this rather obscure dragon that left such an impression on me. The ride, supported by one of my all-time favorite Disney songs written by the famous Sherman Brothers, One Little Spark, was something I couldn’t get enough of. The idea of our dreams and imagination being powerful made my mind and heart dance with creative thoughts. While I have always been considered a strategic left-brain thinker throughout my life, I have consistently been able to take “one little spark, of inspiration” and become creative when it was needed. I truly believe that I would not be as creative of a person today without the impact of Figment. Something from my encounter with him stayed with me for years to come.
It would be almost 20 years before I returned to Disney World to see my purple friend who inspired me such and I couldn’t wait to share him with my two little ones. While I don’t think they had the same experience as I had, I know they appreciate him for how he inspired me.
Now, almost 35 years since that first trip, the only souvenir that remains is a two-foot-tall, stuffed purple dinosaur with the word FIGMENT printed across his yellow shirt. He sits by my side in the ConciEARS office, still providing inspiration. He reminds me every day that A dream…can be…a dream come true. With just a spark, from me and you.
Happy 50th Anniversary Walt Disney World!