Let’s face it. We all love Disney. Whether it is Disneyland, Walt Disney World, or even just an
occasional Disney movie. There is something in all of us that has been touched by Disney and has that
one lasting Disney memory.
I’m no different than the rest of you. I grew up watching The Wonderful World of Disney in the early
to mid 1970s. I had no idea at that young age that Walt Disney was no longer with us. I didn’t care what
the show was even about. I just knew that every Sunday night, we were going to get to watch a show
and Tinkerbell was going to be flying by spreading Pixie Dust.
I guess I was lucky. My mom was a struggling single parent. We lived with my grandmother and she
would take me to the Will Rogers Theater in Chicago, IL to watch what I thought were first run Disney
movies. Some were replays of classic Disney, some actually were new. I vividly remember going to see
The Rescuers, Freaky Friday (the Jodie Foster version), and even Old Yeller.
As I kid, like most of us do, I took those simple things for granted. Not a care in the world.
In the late 70s, my mom met a guy who would become my step dad. I never met my real father, so this
was a welcome addition in a boy’s life. He was, and still is, strict and hard to get close to and very frugal.
He loved to travel and he had a motorhome. This was all exciting to me.
After a year or so of dating, he took my mom, my older sister, and I on a vacation. I had never left Cook
County, let alone the state. We were heading to Florida. I was in heaven. I knew NOTHING of Walt
Disney World, not even from The Wonderful World of Disney. Maybe I did, but I sure didn’t remember
We got to see the Atlantic Ocean, orange groves, and all sorts of things that would probably mean
more to me now than they did as a 6 or 7 year old kid.
I remember being told that we were going to Walt Disney World. Even though we were on vacation, I
can still hear my future dad complaining about the cost of getting in to Magic Kingdom. It was the only
park there at that time. I was in awe, but I didn’t get how special or cool it was to be there. It was, at
that time, just an amusement park to me.
We returned home and I went about my daily life as a carefree kid. Biking, playing baseball at the park
across the street from my house, staying out until the street lights came on. Yep, carefree for sure.
The next year we went on vacation again. And again, we went to Walt Disney World. We stayed at
campground in Kissimmee. I remember the pool there. It had fake rocks and a water slide. It was
raining, yet we were still in the pool. That was pretty awesome to me. I also remember a kid, slightly
older than me, not having any legs, yet he was still swimming like crazy with his friends or family or
whoever he was with. He was carefree, too. I still laugh at something he said. His friends were running
and he yelled at them telling them that he was tired of running, even though he was on his hands
“running” after them.
The next day we went to Magic Kingdom again. I don’t remember anything special about it. Just that
we were there. Dad complained about the price of parking, the admission price, the price of food, etc.
Souvenirs were out of the question. I remember going back to the motorhome to eat sandwiches for
lunch. We stopped at some dive of a pizza place for dinner not far from Walt Disney World. Seemed
like it was just off property. Funny the things you remember.
On that trip, he proposed to my mom. I was getting a dad!!!!! No matter how strict or hard to deal
with he could be, I was happy. All of my friends had dads. I was going to feel normal.
We didn’t go on vacation again for a few years. It didn’t really matter to me. We went on weekend
trips up to Wisconsin, where I now live. I rode dirt bikes, hiked in the woods, and watched real live
chipmunks, now I prefer to see Chip and Dale. Life was good.
We went back to Florida and Walt Disney World again in the early 80s. We got to experience EPCOT
Center. I still didn’t realize the impact these trips were having on me. They were just theme parks,
After I graduated high school in 1990, we went on a HUGE vacation in the same motorhome that my
dad had in the 70s when he met my mom. We went from Wisconsin to Florida, to California, and back
to Wisconsin. Obviously, hitting all sorts of attractions and states in between.
While in Florida, we did something that I thought was pretty cool. We stayed at Fort Wilderness
Campground. We NEVER stayed anywhere cool. It was the week before Christmas. I remember my dad
complaining about how much it cost. No big surprise.
I vividly remember going into Wilderness Lodge’s lobby. That was the first time that I actually started
to realize how cool Disney was. I had never seen anything like that. How could people afford to stay
here? Why was I thinking that? To this day, that few minutes spent in that lobby stands out in my head.
We did a lot at Fort Wilderness. Swam, walked, looked at wildlife. How many lizards could there
To this day, one of my fondest Disney memories is swimming with my now deceased mom in the pool
at Fort Wilderness Campground. Just a simple day of fun. Joking around, splashing, just having fun.
Dad recorded this on our new video camera that he didn’t really want to buy, but he was going to get his
money’s worth out of it.
We visited Magic Kingdom, EPCOT Center, and the new MGM Studios.
Holy cow, can you believe how much a hamburger costs? Guess who said that.
I still wasn’t getting how cool, or special it was to be there. The Christmas decorations were pretty cool
to see. But I was almost 18. How cool was it to be there with my parents? It wasn’t, at the time. I was
getting ready to join the U.S. Air Force. I was too cool to be there. Or so I thought.
On that trip we visited Disneyland, too. The experience was lost on me. I wanted to get back home to
my friends. Away from my parents. It had been a long vacation to that point. I remember very little
about Disneyland except the monorail, how small the park was compared to Walt Disney World, and
that we parked in the Eeyore section of the parking lot. Again, the things you remember.
I went into the military and moved on with life. I found it weird that one of my roommates was looking
to by Cinderella on VHS for his mom. It just came out of the Disney Vault, you know? Strange to me
then, but I totally understand now.
Disney wasn’t even a thought to me anymore. Chasing girls, going to concerts, and the life of a young
guy in his 20s was my priority.
I got out of the military and life moved on. I focused on work. I got into racing cars with some friends
and that consumed my whole life.
I do remember going to see The Lion King and Toy Story in the theater by myself. Somewhat ashamed,
maybe. People were probably wondering about the single guy in this theater full of families and kids.
Maybe I was starting to understand, or grasp, what watching The Wonderful World of Disney so many
years before had been implanting in my subconscious.
In 2002, I moved quickly through a relationship with a great girl who I had known for a few years, and
we got married. Our first date was in July and we were married in December. She had a young
daughter. My new daughter was 5 when we married.
In 2003, my mother –in-law had planned a trip to Walt Disney World for her (gasp) 50 th birthday. I
wasn’t overly thrilled to go. But it was for family. So, why not. We were staying on property. Some
resort called All Star Movies.
We drove from Wisconsin to Florida. I was beat when we got there. We hurriedly checked in. Man,
this resort is pretty cool, actually. I couldn’t get over how shiny the lobby floor was. And how friendly
all of the employees (cast members, get it right, Mike!) were. We were staying in the Fantasia section.
After we got our stuff to our rooms, we rushed to a park that I had never even heard of. Animal
Kingdom. We had a breakfast reservation at some restaurant (Restaurantosaurus) where there were
actually characters coming to your table. What? We’re eating at a restaurant? Hmmmm. Strange.
The next four days were filled with firsts.
I was amazed at the detail they put into a “Value” resort. The size of the decorations on the outside of
the buidings. The beautiful pool. How clean and neat everything was. I really was starting to “get”
Seeing the parks through my step-daughter’s eyes changed me. The wonder, the surprise, the
innocence. It was a transportation through time, for me. I got it! I finally understood. I GOT what Walt
was trying to convey.
All of these things. These seemingly unimportant moments in life, had been sticking in my head and I
didn’t even realize the impact that they were having.
That is what Disney magic is all about. While we were on that trip in 2003 I didn’t think about work,
our neighbors, my truck, nothing other than being at Walt Disney World and the magic that was
unfolding around me with every turn and every step.
My jaw hurt from smiling so much. Even though I had just turned 31 years old, suddenly I was 7 again.
I wasn’t ashamed to be seen hugging Mickey Mouse. I wasn’t worried what others would think about
me being silly, because EVERYBODY, was being that way.
I hated to leave. When are we going back? Not soon enough.
We returned home and as usual, life got in the way. Building a house, newer vehicles, different jobs,
having another child, etc. The whole time, I was thinking Disney. Studying it. Living it. Breathing it.
Our second daughter was born in 2007. She was an absolute blessing. She was born with Down
Syndrome which was, and is, a whole new lesson in life. It’s amazing how much of an impact she had on
When can we get back to Walt Disney World?????
My wife and I started planning a trip, even if it was just in our heads. I was putting things on paper.
Where to stay, how to travel, who’s paying for this???? Ugh oh, I was turning into my dad. But we were
going no matter the cost. It was worth it. And we were getting souvenirs!!!!!
We settled on 2012 for our tenth wedding anniversary. That’s worth celebrating, right?
In April of that year, my wife went to the doctor for some lingering headaches she was having. They
were turning into migraines. She chalked it up to her Multiple Sclerosis. Tests were done, medications
given, nothing worked.
She finally got a diagnosis, over the phone, mind you, on April 20, 2012. She had a brain tumor. After
our initial shock, her first question was “What about our trip?”. We had put our deposit down and were
excited to go. My response was, “We’re going!” We will get through this.
On June 26, 2012 my wife had surgery to remove her tumor which was attached to the Coratid Artery.
VERY scary. The thoughts that ran through my mind were crazy. The Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups were
nothing compared to the spinning going through my head. What was life going to be like after today?
How would this affect her? Would she make it through the surgery okay? Too many thoughts to
process. I used Disney as a distraction during the surgery. I had my planning books with me and as long
as I kept looking at them, I wasn’t thinking about what the alternatives could be.
Surgery went as well as could be expected. We had a fantastic surgeon. A lot of tears were shed.
We finished our trip planning in the coming months and went to Walt Disney World in December 2012
with A LOT to celebrate. My youngest daughter’s first visit, my 40 th birthday, and obviously, my wife
having successful surgery.
December 2012 was FINALLY here. We were going back to Walt Disney World!!!!! !!!
On our way to the airport, which was over a hundred miles from home, we spotted a truck on the
interstate with a “Tree of Life” logo on it. I had never seen that before. We stopped for dinner at
Culver’s (a great Midwestern fast food chain). I had a “Hidden Mickey” in my deep fried cheese curds.
Purely coincidence, right? The lady that checked us in at the airport had a very uncommon name, Dory.
Seriously? I can’t make this stuff up.
Disney was surrounding us!!!!
We splurged and got a Savannah View room at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Like I said, we had a lot to
celebrate. This resort is absolutely stunning. The architecture, the colors, the smells, the sounds,
everything. Purely amazing. Seeing the excitement in both of my kids’ eye’s, even though one was now
15, really made it special for me.
All of these things led up to me finally “getting” Disney. I understood, no, I EMBRACED, what Walt had
planned all those years ago.
Disney isn’t a place, or a business, or a movie. It is a way of life. Once you “get” it, you never lose it. It
may take a while, like it did for me, but you’ll understand.
When you are at Walt Disney World, or Disneyland, or even on a Disney Cruise, nothing else matters.
Your job, your grass not being cut, the jerky neighbor across the street. They don’t exist.
Disney magic makes sure of that. You really are transported to another place. Another time.
Innocence is restored in everyone, young and old, alike.
It’s okay to be silly. Have some fun. Don’t take everything so serious. Enjoy the time you have,
because you don’t know when that time is up.
I have a hard time explaining to people who have never experienced the magic of Disney what it’s like.
They don’t understand. They have long since forgotten Peter Pan. They are pirates now. We all need to
embrace our inner Lost Boy.
One thing that comes to my mind right now is my dad. He doesn’t “get” Disney. Everything is black
and white with him. It’s about money, and being practical. Growing up and not being silly. But he DID
take us to Walt Disney World on numerous occasions. There had to be something there for him to keep
Thank you, dad, and thank you Walt. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.