Once upon a time—1906, actually—in Marceline, Missouri, there was a splendid cottonwood tree sprawled over one area of a family farm. Leaves rippled with the breezes. Birds basked among the branches. Its shadow brought refuge from blistering hot days.
One young boy and his sister regularly escaped to its embrace. Sometimes they climbed. Sometimes they played in the grass or waded in the spring as its base. Other times, the boy would lie on his back, squinting at flecks of sunshine peeping through wind-blown leaves. He’d finger patterns in the bark. Images whorled through his head—growing, evolving, expanding, then spilling out. He’d grab his Big Chief drawing tablet and pencil from Aunt Margaret and start sketching.
That’s where the magic began.
And it’s still going strong. In Walt Disney Animation Studios. At Disney Imagineering. In Disneyland and Disney World.
You guessed it—that boy in Marceline was Walt Disney. (More about him next time.) And he dubbed that tree his “Dreaming Tree.”
A hundred years later, that magic touched our family during our visit to Disney World.
We went in 2007, after a rough year. Among other difficulties, my brother had unexpectedly passed away the year before, at age forty. We needed a family vacation.
But my kids were 17, 15, 10, and 8. The older ones—my girls—were outgrowing their need for “family time,” especially with two pesky little brothers.
I envisioned them wanting to go off by themselves the entire time, leaving the rest of us in their dust. It’s tough to please everyone. What could we possibly find that would equally engage a 17-year-old and an 8-year-old?
Yet this turned out to be the best vacation ever, with enough rides and entertainment to intrigue them all simultaneously. In four days, we only split up a few times. Because they wanted to stay together.
There really is Magic at Disney World.
Say what you will about your objections to Disney enterprises or politics. Currently, my son Jeff is boycotting Disney movies because he’s annoyed that they keep doing remakes of their previous films (though some folks love it): The Jungle Book (2016), Beauty and the Beast (2017), Dumbo (2019), Aladdin (2019), The Lion King (2019), and more to come. Other people have been miffed for different reasons over the years. Even so, there’s no denying the genius behind the man Walt Disney and his imagination. (More on that next time.)
I did my homework. Tim and I had been to Disney World before, pre-kids. But things are always changing. I learned all about the fast tracking and other tricks to ensure a smooth visit.
We stayed in Pop Century Classic Years 90s with a four-day pass for one day in each park. Following are some of the highlights. First stop:
All four kids (actually, all six of us), were immediately mesmerized by the show Festival of the Lion King. Then we aimed to tackle the long line for the ride Expedition Everest. Eight-year-old Jeffrey was disgruntled waiting in line until Kaia (17) called her friend Jenna whom Jeffrey had a crush on. After one minute on the phone with Jenna and her own personal brand of magic, Jeffrey was all smiles the rest of the day. We still laugh about that.
We conquered Everest. Twice. Except for Jeff and me, since Jeff was scared. Colin loved the DINOSAUR ride in Dinoland, but Jeffrey wouldn’t open his eyes—even though Jeff turned out to be the daredevil years later. We ran into several friends from the kids’ school in Wisconsin, also enjoying their spring break.
We attended the show It’s Tough to be a Bug, hosted by Flik from A Bug’s Life—the first of many times that we got squirted with water in our seats (as part of the production). After awhile, we expected it every time we sat down in a theater. We predicted correctly.
But getting squirted was nothing compared to running the Kali Kali River Rapids that night. We screamed and laughed till we were hoarse. It was dark and close to park-closing time. At ride’s end, there was no line so the kids talked me into another ride, then another, then another. We were already sopping wet, so what’s the difference?
Disney-MGM Studios (renamed Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2008)
We went from the pulsating, ear-pounding Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster accompanied by a blast of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” to a sweet live production of Beauty and the Beast. Then we meandered through movie costumes and props from Disney’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe from the 2005 movie.
Also captivating was the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular with a Harrison Ford stunt double. Audrey loved him and had to get the T-shirt.
While Tim and the kids went on the Tower of Terror for the umpteenth time, I shopped for souvenirs. (One plunge in the tower was enough for me!) To this day, I still have my miniature Mickey and Minnie cookie tray on my frig, and I still love and use my Disney bag—sturdy after twelve years!
That afternoon we took a boat ride to the Yacht Club and ate at the Beaches and Cream ice cream parlor with our Wisconsin friends.
Later, on the Mickey Avenue Backlot Tour, clouds gathered above as we rumbled on this ride that revealed various sets and special effect secrets. Rain started trickling, then gushed. Before we even got to the fake flash flood, fake geyser, and fake rainstorm, we were already soaked.
But the tour guide never veered from his script. When he said, “You might think this is real rain, but . . .” we all burst out laughing. Nothing was more real than this rain.
The rain was so real, that the Fantasmic show was canceled that night. But that’s okay. We’d had enough magic for one day.
Also, one afternoon, we dropped in at Downtown Disney (now called Disney Springs), walked around, ate Ghirardelli’s ice cream (seems ice cream and getting wet are recurring themes), and admired Lego creations of all kinds.
My favorite ride at Epcot was Soarin’ Over California. Now it has been replaced by Soarin’ Around the World, which sounds even better since it takes you over the greatest wonders of the world in six continents. It’s a flight simulator. We felt like we were flying in hang gliders over the state of California, getting a breath-taking bird’s eye view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Napa Valley, Lake Tahoe, LA, and Disneyland.
Though I’d been to Disney World before, I loved experiencing it through each of the kids’ eyes, fresh and new to them.
We hit all the highlights: Space Mountain in Tomorrowland, Haunted Mansion in Liberty Square, It’s a Small World in Fantasyland, The Enchanted Tiki Room in Adventureland—among others—and the afternoon parade. Of course we got drenched on Splash Mountain. Nobody wanted to accompany me to Toontown—Mickey and Minnie’s Country House—so I enjoyed it alone.
We climbed the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, but Colin and Jeff far preferred Tom Sawyer’s Island, where paths are only “suggestions”—kind of like the pirates’ code—or guidelines, rather. The boys explored the whole island. In fact, that was their favorite place.
Unfortunately, I have no pictures there. With their constant movement, it was impossible to catch them in a pose. I suppose the moments they relished most on that island can’t be confined to mere images anyhow.
Speaking of pirates, The Pirates of the Caribbean ride, a staple since 1973, inspired The Pirates of the Caribbean movie: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003). The movie in turn inspired adaptations in the ride. Lingering outside was Jack Sparrow, naturally. He picked Audrey as an honorary member of the crew. Enamored, both girls became apprentice pirates and have certificates to prove it.
At dark, while anticipating the ten o’clock Spectromagic Parade and fireworks, we found places on Main Street’s curb. Behind us, tired parents frantically did their last minute souvenir hunting in the gift shops. Grumpy Tim was elbowed by moms of whining kids as he searched for the perfect Grumpy sweatshirt. Which he finally found. How fitting.
After the parade, only Jeff and I stayed for two more hours of magic. We took the Winnie-the-Pooh ride, saw Mickey’s PhilharMagic in 3-D (third time for me), and rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at least four times . . . till the clock struck midnight.
Just like for Cinderella, that’s when the magic ended.
But we carried the memories with us all the way home and beyond. Or as Buzz Lightyear says, “To infinity and beyond!”
We went home weary but happy. Very happy. What a wonderful four days!
From Cinderella to Toy Story, each new animated movie brings new sites and adventures to the Disney parks. From Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Pinocchio to Peter Pan, from Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid to Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. From Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland to Rapunzel, Frozen, Inside Out, and Coco. . . It goes on and on.
Could that little boy under his Dreaming Tree in 1906 have dreamed of all this? That his initial drawings and ideas would turn into cartoons and movies and theme parks? That thousands of families would flock to Anaheim and Orlando to experience the Imagineer magic that is known by his name?
Join me next time and learn more about Walt Disney himself and his formative years in Marceline, Missouri.
Interested in a Disney trip?
Ron’s just mad about Disney travel! Travel specialist Ron Baxley, Jr. with Mad Hatter Adventures Travel Company sells and does planning for more than just Walt Disney World packages. He sells Disney vacation packages of all types. -Free Disney gift cards or other incentives with each booked, fully-paid-for vacation. -Payment plans for Walt Disney World packages. For more information, see his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/RonMadHatterAdventuresCompany/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you have any Disneyland or Disney World memorable moments?
I’d love to hear from you!