Making Memories at Walt Disney World

by Debra Martin Koma, ALL EARS® Senior Editor

Feature Article

This article appeared in the November 13, 2007 Issue #425 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

As I visited the Epcot 25th anniversary exhibit in Innoventions last week, a wave of nostalgia washed over me. I tend to be a nostalgic person to begin with -- not that I dwell on the past, but more that I enjoy reliving special memories. So, as I stood there, amongst the displays of the original drawings and models for all the various Epcot pavilions, I couldn't help but feel a little tug at my heart for times gone by.

So many of the ideas shown in this exhibit are now a thing of the past -- you could trace the origins of the countries of World Showcase, Imagination, The Land, and of course, World of Motion, Horizons, Wonders of Life. I've only been visiting Walt Disney World since 1994, when my son was 2-1/2 -- that's not as long as many of you, I'm sure, but still, it's a while. And in that time, I've seen many changes to the World -- the merits of which are debatable. But as I stood there, reminiscing about rides, shows, and vacations gone by, the old theme song from the Journey into Imagination preshow warbled in my ears:

Making memories, making memories
Taking pictures is making memories
Catching little pieces of time
Making them yours, making them mine
Great vacations and celebrations
Can fade away in a year
But when we're making memories
Happy days are always here.

Sigh. So it was basically an advertisement for pavilion sponsor Kodak, but the tune did have a point. Happy days ARE always here... HERE, as in Walt Disney World. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that for me HERE was quite literally all over Walt Disney World. There are very few spots I can stand in around the World where I don't have some memory of some family or friend, some special occurrence. Splash Mountain -- where I sat in the front assuring my 5-year-old niece that we wouldn't get wet... moments before we got drenched. The sound booths at the exit of Sounds Dangerous -- where an out-of-state friend unexpectedly popped in and surprised me. Casey's Corner in the Magic Kingdom -- where we've had many a succulent hot dog while listening to the jingly-jangly notes of the always-smiling outdoor piano player. Everywhere I look, I see the shadows of fond memories lingering.

And as I reflected on the happy days I'd experienced in Disney World over the years, I wondered if those memories could have been made anywhere else in the world.

Indulge me a moment, while I revisit some of the favorite memories my family, friends and I have made in the 13 short years I've been visiting the Most Magical Place on Earth...

This most recent trip was our fourth as a family during Epcot's Food and Wine Festival. While my son shares my Disney Delirium, my husband, sadly, does not. He does, however, enjoy fine dining and wining, so we manage to convince him without much effort to make the trip during the festival. This year, during the Party for the Senses, as we stood right next to the stage on which the Cirque du Soleil performers entertained, I recalled the first Party we attended as a family four years ago. I wondered at the time if our son, then just 12, would appreciate the wide variety of taste treats that would be set before him. He was not always the most adventurous eater, and there was no reduction in price just because he wasn't an adult.

I needn't have worried. Alex quickly surveyed the World Showplace, figured out the placement of the food stations, and took off to explore the culinary delights on his own, returning to our table periodically to share his critique of the latest sampling. Even as a preteen, he made sure we more than got our money's worth at this spectacular event. He enjoyed it so much, in fact, that every year since he has asked, or rather strongly requested, that we make sure we book the Party again for ALL of us. This year, for the first time, I think he not only got HIS money's worth out of the event but his father's, and that of several tables around us.

Also during this visit, we ate lunch at the new, albeit temporary, restaurant housed in World Showcase's Italy pavilion, Tutto Italia. The food was excellent, if pricier than the predecessor, L'Originale Ristorante di Alfredo di Roma, but service was good. In fact, it reminded me of the first time we'd eaten at Alfredo's, during which we spent a long while watching the "Noodle King" make pasta in the exhibition area in the lobby. We then later were wowed by the strolling minstrel who came to play for us. Then, of course, I don't think my son ever recovered from the sight of Cannolus Maximus, displayed on the restaurant's dessert table. I think his mind boggled at the idea of all that deliciousness in one cannoli. (For the record, he tried the cannoli at Tutto Italia, and shared a bite with us -- outstanding.)

Every time we walk by Test Track and Mission Space, we fondly remember World of Motion and Horizons -- both of which were still operating during our first visit in 1994. Although we are nostalgic for those rides, which definitely hearken back to a less complicated era, we can't deny how many wonderful memories we've made on the new attractions. Test Track has long been my son's favorite ride in Epcot -- even when he was still a roller-coaster fearing little boy, there was something about the thrill of the racing cars that was just OK with him. Our memories of standing in the long and winding queue, when he was younger, are filled with the ooohs and ouches of watching the banging, clanging testing devices... until we graduated to the Single Riders' line.

Epcot's not the only park that we've made memories in, though -- not by a longshot. Who could forget one of our biggest parenting errors ever? We coerced our then almost-5-year-old offspring to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Magic Kingdom. I had spent the previous day locked in the bathroom of the hotel (the long-gone Villas at the Disney Institute, now Saratoga Springs). Was it a virus? Or perhaps lunch? Who knows? I only know that they are 24 hours best forgotten! (OK, so not all of the memories are pleasant ones.) But that next fateful day in the Magic Kingdom, we were determined to make up for lost time and have fun, dagnabbit! And that meant riding a lot of rides, even those that our son wasn't eager to try. So onto BTMRR we went, with a little boy who screamed, "I'm gonna puuuuuuuuuuke!" the entire time, and ended the ride by saying, "I told you I would hate it!" Well, let's just say that we never did THAT again... and he didn't ride Big Thunder again until just last year. Bad Mommy. Bad Daddy. And yet it remains one of our favorite, if rather embarrassing, memories.

And speaking of embarrassing, what can compare with the memory of watching Dad get up and perform the "Daisy Dance" along with 20 or 30 other fathers during dinner at the Whispering Canyon Cafe? Is there anywhere else where staid and stable paternal types would subject themselves willingly to such foolishness? Although my husband was reluctant at first, he twirled and sang along like a trooper. We were so proud of him. I'll always remember the rather sheepish grin on his face as he returned to his seat to the audience's heartfelt applause.

In spite of these embarrassing moments, I do believe that we're slowly winning my husband (remember, the non-Disney fan) over to our way of thinking. In fact, he says that one of his favorite memories of any vacation we've taken is the time we rented a Boston Whaler boat and drfited around Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon. I'm not surprised that he's fond of that memory -- he loves anything to do with water, the shore, the ocean, the beach -- but I am surprised that he counts it among his favorites. It was the first time I had ever done such a thing at Disney World, and it was most relaxing, not only because the weather warm and the sky so blue, but also because we were, as Mr. Toad used to say, merrily on our way to nowhere in particular.

Other memories we've made at Walt Disney World have involved meeting up with friends -- both planned and unexpectedly. There was the time when my husband surprised our friends by showing up at dinner at the Yacht Club Galley. My son and I were in the World and coincidentally so were my husband's college roommate and his family, so we were having dinner with them. What they DIDN'T know was that my husband had flown to Orlando for business that day and was going to sneak in to surprise them at dinner. Only our friend was facing the entrance of the restaurant and suddenly blurted out, "Hey! That guy looks like Brian!" Imagine his surprise when he discovered that it actually WAS -- we all had a good laugh at that.

But of all the memories, one of the absolute best has to be from our very first trip, when our son was 2-1/2. It was our first night there. We were tired, but I had planned for us to have dinner at Chef Mickey's, which at the time was located over in Downtown Disney. As we were seated, I recall feeling the Disney magic for the first time -- despite the packed restaurant, and hustle and bustle, it seemed that they were especially catering to US. Nothing was too much trouble. And then, Chef Mickey himself came over to greet us. Our son spontaneously threw his arms around the white-coated Mouse with a huge grin on his face. Yes, we snapped that picture and made that memory. I don't care what anyone says about kids not remembering when you take them to Walt Disney World when they're that young -- the thing is YOU remember. And it's a memory you, er, I, cherish.

So many, many memories -- even the less than pleasant ones (like the blisters, the 95 degree days with 95 percent humidity, the 24-hour viruses that cause us to stay in the room and close to a toilet) seem to be happy ones at Walt Disney World.

Could we have made memories like this anywhere else BUT Walt Disney World? Maybe, but I doubt it.

Many other things can be taken away from me -- they can tear down Horizons, or close Food Rocks, or turn Timekeeper into the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. They can change the way Tigger looks, they can close Minnie Mia's restaurant.

But they can't change or take away the memories that we've made... or the memories that we WILL make in the coming years.

All around us
Everywhere we look
Every moment that we live
Can fill a picture book
Light and shadows
Smiles and sentimental tears
They're a precious treasure
We can cherish through the years
Making memories, making memories
Taking pictures is making memories
Catching little pieces of time
Making them yours, making them mine
Great vacations and celebrations
Can fade away in a year
Cause when we're making memories
Happy days are always here
Happy days are always here

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Related Link:

Other ALL EARS® articles by Debra Martin Koma: http://allears.net/btp/dkoma.htm


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.