The Walt Disney World Resort is celebrating 50 years, starting today, a celebration that will last for about a year and a half. There is a ton of stuff going on, with new attractions and shows and such.
I didn't grow up with the parks, and other than a day spent park hopping three of them for the coasters on a comp ticket around 1998 or so, I didn't really visit the place as an adult until 2006 or so. I was dating Cath at the time, and we did several days around the resort before doing a few days at Universal after that (where I had been a passholder for a couple of years, despite living in Cleveland). We stayed at Pop Century, and we did the whole dining plan and magical express from the airport, and it was a lot of fun. It was too much damn food, but still a lot of fun. Having grown up with Cedar Point, this was a different experience, one that seemed to revolve more around food, but I wasn't complaining.
A couple of years after that, Diana and I would visit a couple of times, and after Simon was born, we moved to Orlando for a number of reasons. It was mostly weather, cost of living and job opportunities, but it didn't hurt to have theme parks, obviously. After scoping out the area, I really liked the area west and north of Disney, which just eight years ago was barely developed, compared to now. We ended up building two houses there.
I arrived here a week earlier to start a job, but within 24 hours of Simon and Diana arriving, we made our first trip to Magic Kingdom. It's not that I didn't appreciate the park pre-parenthood, but it was something different with a 3-year-old. To see his joy on the carousel and the train, and then meeting characters, those are really vivid memories. My inner theme park nerd also was pleased to see him so interested, even at that age, in how things worked. He would come home and arrange blocks on the floor to create "rides" with his cars, and use Lego wheels to pretend they advanced the cars.
Because we're so close, and our friends from around the country tend to all visit here eventually, having annual passes seems like a required cost of living. While we love a lot of Disney's IP, particularly the Star Wars and Marvel stuff, I'm not sure that I would consider any of us Disney "nuts." But when your backyard playground is WDW, well, that's where you go. The various Epcot festivals, especially Food & Wine, are annual happy times for us, filled with food, music (well, most years) and friends. We literally go there for lunch now and then.
It's really amazing how much the parks have changed since we moved here in 2013. Back then, Seven Dwarfs wasn't even done yet at Magic Kingdom. They're still working on Tron over there. Animal Kingdom added the entire Avatar area. Hollywood Studios added all of the Toy Story and Star Wars Galaxy's Edge lands, plus Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway. Epcot was mostly stagnant other than adding another Soarin' theater, but then they blew away the entire center of the former Future World, added Remy's Ratatouille Adventure in France, and we're waiting for the Guardians of the Galaxy ride and the new areas in the middle. It seems like the "fans" hate all of the change, but I love it.
There's a lot of debate out there right now about the cost of what Disney offers, and whether or not they're outpricing some segment of the population. People have strong emotional feelings about the rat, and while I wouldn't broadly call it entitlement, a visit to Disney World does seem like an American rite of passage. It's a capital intensive business to be in, and the product seems to be good enough that people are finding a way to pay whatever it costs, because the parks aren't getting less popular (pandemic aside). I think we may take it for granted a bit, to see epic fireworks, get Dolewhip or ride Space Mountain, for little reason other than it's Tuesday. But pricing is relative. Compare the cost of a day at Disney to things like concerts, stage shows, sporting events, etc., and I think a day at the park is priced about right relative to those things.
Lots of exciting things right now, with the new night time shows at Epcot and Magic Kingdom, and the holidays aren't far off. Given the warm weather, it's hard for outside to "feel" like the holidays here without a theme park visit. I'm really looking forward to that. I also can't wait to see Spaceship Earth with its new lighting package, while under-glow monorails drive around it.
Happy anniversary, Walt Disney World. It's a bummer your namesake never got to see it open, let alone what it has become today.