Vacation Memory #4: Disney World—No Longer a Contender for Happiest Place on Earth

Have you ever discovered something about a family member decades after the particular situation occurred? Well, I just did! 

When I asked you all to send me your vacation stories, my sister Carol sent one of hers. Thus, I learned that she’d been traumatized at Disney World, of all places, during our family’s visit there in 1973. I was surely with her the entire time—well, at least 98% of the time—and I don’t recall this scenario. 

But sometimes my family accuses me of not remembering things. They’re wrong, by the way. They’re the ones who don’t remember things accurately. (A running joke in our family.) Either way, this event occurred almost fifty years ago, shortly after Disney World opened on Oct. 1, 1971. 

Cinderella’s Castle as seen from Main Street. All pictures Courtesy of Visual Hunt (except our family pictures)

To put the time period in perspective, that’s back when the only Disney princesses were Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora (Sleeping Beauty)—ones who needed rescuing. 

Back then, the more independent princesses—Belle, Ariel, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, Elsa and Anna, and Moana—were just a gleam in the Disney animators’ eye. 

Elsa & Anna drawings

Lest the aforementioned trauma cause you to be nervous about proceeding, fear not. And keep in mind, my sister was twelve in 1973, and extremely shy (which, incidentally,  she has completely grown out of). 

Now I’m going to be a bit self-indulgent. I was perusing my old photo albums for a family picture of my siblings and me in 1973, and this was the best I could do. I found NO pictures of us at Disney World, and just a few of us together when we were younger. This is my family . . . 

1969–I’m the oldest (11), Carol is 8, Jake is 5, and Dave is 3. This is 4 years before our Disney World trip.
1971–Roasting marshmallows over candles. Does their mother know? Yes! She’s taking the picture (ages 13, 11, 7 & 5). Two years before going to Disney World.

Before reading Carol’s story, consider all the villains you might run into at Disney World. Rather frightening, right? Captain Hook, Snow White’s wicked step-mother, and Maleficent.

Trauma at Disney World — by Carol Garcia

It’s every child’s dream to go to Disney World, right? Most of us would probably agree, unless that dream turns into a nightmare. No, don’t worry, I’m not recounting a catastrophic tragedy that happened in the Magic Kingdom. But I do recall a very vivid memory that did not exactly leave me with a good taste in my mouth at the time.

While I loved the princess stories like everyone else and giggled at the antics of Goofy and his friends, suffice it to say that in my childhood opinion, Disney characters should remain in books or on the screen. Yes, that included even the star of the show, Mickey. 

So when our family decided to take our vacation in Disney World, I was thrilled, and looked forward to the exotic rides I’d heard about—Pirates of the Caribbean, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, and many more.  

Above: Pirates of the Caribbean.

Upon arrival, I was confronted with the reality that our pathway would sometime cross with Disney characters along the way. Though the thought of meeting Snow White in person was mildly intriguing, I was very hesitant about actually engaging her. What would I say? Would I have to hug her? 

Talking to and hugging strangers, even strangers I have “known” for most of my life, did not have any appeal. So every time I saw Chip or Dale or Donald Duck coming around the corner, I strategically made sure my dad was placed directly between the Disney character and me, successfully dodging any unwanted encounters.

By the end of the day, I was pretty exhausted by all of the excitement, along with the ever constant being “on guard.” I was ready to go back to the hotel. For some reason, we stopped and waited for someone. I was extremely fatigued and just wanted to rest. After telling Mom, I quickly headed to the nearest empty spot on a bench to relax in peace until we were ready to move on.  

That’s when it happened.

I looked up and saw Mickey Mouse across the way. He was definitely far enough way that I didn’t even worry when I first saw him, but I suddenly became aware that he was making his way my general direction. No, toward my specific direction!  

My eyes darted around to a multitude of other children in close proximity. What were the chances that he was actually headed over to see me? It only took a few more seconds (that felt like hours) to discover that the chances were 100%!  

It was too late to run or hide. By now I was frozen in fear, hoping that he would be distracted by an engaging fan, but no one approached him. Was everyone else just as scared of him as I was? If so, what adult in his right mind thought it was a good idea to have roaming characters going about provoking anxiety attacks in young children?  

I didn’t have the answer to that question, but it didn’t matter, because now my fears were becoming reality. Unable to move, I simply sat still as Mickey came over and greeted me.  

To be truthful, I remember all the moments prior to that event, but I don’t remember at all what he did. Did he kiss me? Hug me? Give me a high five? Shake my hand? I don’t recall. And that’s OK. I don’t want to remember. I just remember how grateful and relieved I felt when he left me and went on to torture another child.

Parents sure pay a lot of money to traumatize their children, don’t they?

***************************************

The happily-ever-after ending is three years later. From the picture below, you can see that Carol outgrew her fear of characters at Disney parks.

Carol, Donald, & me, 1976 at Disneyland

Check out previous Vacation Memory Posts from my readers:

Did you ever learn about a family incident (vacation or otherwise) long after the fact? OR did a much longed-for, anticipated event have an unexpected outcome? 

Please add your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,

Laura

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6 thoughts on “Vacation Memory #4: Disney World—No Longer a Contender for Happiest Place on Earth

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Irene! Glad you enjoyed it, and I’m glad my dad gets to see you at Aunt Ann’s, too.

  1. Poor Carol! I’m laughing at her Disney memory instead of feeling badly for her!
    This was so fun to read!
    When we visited Disneyland 3 years ago, I was so prepared to hate it, but instead fell head over heels in love. It was October, so maybe not as busy or with as many life-sized mice, ducks and other critters hanging around. (They give me the creeps too, Carol. Their plastic expressions don’t change!) My oldest grandson was 4 at the time, and desperately in love with every Disney princess, even though we didn’t see many. But when it was his turn to meet Belle, his shyness kicked in and he could barely speak to her. She was kind and sweet though, and I got some good photos!
    Thanks for the memory, ladies. It was fun seeing photos of you as a child Laura! Were you all brown-eyed Dutch kids?

    1. We were all blue-eyed Dutch kids, and only blonde when we were little.

      I’m so glad you ended up liking Disneyland! Were you prepared to hate it because of potential crowds, life-sized mice and ducks, or because it could never live up to all its hype? I have been to Disneyland or Disney World as a high schooler and an adult, and loved it at both ages. Probably even more as an adult! I wonder what it would have been like to be there as a 10-year-old. I might have responded more like my sister did!

      Fun that you got good photos.

      1. See how observant I am? I thought your eyes were dark. Yikes. I think we need to meet again 🙂
        I think I was afraid the Disneyland would be too touristy? Long lines and being too tired
        from being there all day? But it was clean as a whistle, everyone, from rides people to shopkeepers to street sweepers seemed genuinely friendly. Just delightful, although after 10 hours I must admit I was dragging a bit 🙂

        1. Yes, I have always been amazed by how clean and organized Disney World is. It definitely adds to the pleasure of being there!

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