Reflecting on My Years at Disney World

Edited: October 1, 2021, 1:30 PM

The first time I visited Walt Disney World was with my family in 1973. We returned the following year and stayed at the Disney's Polynesian Village Resort. To this day my dad brags that he paid $29.00 a night for the stay. The park was still using the ABCDE ticketing system. In early December the weather was pleasant and the crowds were relatively thin. I have great memories of those visits. Eight years later, in the Fall of 1982, I returned as a student in the Magic Kingdom College Program. My primary role was working in Main Street/Adventureland Ops (Jungle Cruise skipper) but I also lucked into some special assignments -- once as a "shopper" (pretending to be a guest to see if bartenders were checking the IDs of younger looking adults and another working crowd control for the Candlelight Processional which originally took place on Main Street USA with the orchestra and choir set in Town Square in front of the train station. The crowd control assignment was especially cool. Not only did I have a front row seat wearing my black and whites, but my trainer was Joe Schott, the guy who currently runs Disney's Shanghai park.

I left Disney for a while – later returning as a guest relations host at EPCOT Center in 1986. Eventually I moved on to another career path in construction management. Since 1998 I have worked on a healthy list of theme park projects -- spending time with Walt Disney Imagineering, Universal Creative and several commercial contractors. I have built or renovated theme park attractions, resorts and back-of-house facilities.

Over the course of living in Central Florida for almost 40 years, I have so many memories and experiences related to the Disney parks. As an MKCP student, I attended the cast preview night for EPCOT Center -- in early September 1982. I have ridden 'Horizons' and seen the Kitchen Kitchen Kabaret. I watched Denny Zavett and the Riverboat Rascals at the Baton Rouge Lounge aboard the Empress Lily. I saw Johnny Mann and the Radio City Rockettes perform at EPCOT Center. I was on stage in the library at the Adventurers Club. I saw Frank Wells and Bob Allen speak at a stockholder's event. I had coffee with Dick Nunis. I have gotten wasted at those EPIC Sunday brunches (Contemporary, Lake Buena Vista, Golf Resort) that offered a decadent all-you-can-eat buffet and all-you-can-drink mimosas, bloody marys or champagne for like $14.95. I have been on top of Cinderella Castle, walked the scaffold above Spaceship Earth, and stood on the roof of the Chinese Theater at Disney's Hollywood Studios. I have fired a .38 handgun caliber at a rampaging hippo.

Over the course of my history and affiliation with the company the parks have changed. And there are many passionate opinions regarding quality and price and corporate motivations.

And sure, Universal Orlando is a world class resort -- and while I enjoy needling the fan boys, I’ll often re-post what I wrote on September 23, 2011: "Seriously, there is no denying that the team at Universal Creative has consistently outpaced WDI since the opening of Islands of Adventure. Universal Creative is the GOLD STANDARD for innovation in theme park design. "The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman," "Men in Black: Alien Attack," "Revenge of the Mummy" "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey." There is not a single WDW attraction that is anywhere near as innovative. Even "Twister" demonstrates how Universal Creative is more committed to take an extraordinary risk at creating the (apparently) impossible theme park experience."

But I'll still celebrate WDW. For me it's still my hometown. And over the last 39 years, I have spent thousands and thousands of days on property -- whether I was working on a construction project or piloting a boat along the world's most treacherous waterways. I have decades of memories and dozens of family members and close friends who are Disney cast members -- several who have been there for 30 plus years.

Happy 50th anniversary, Walt Disney World. Wishing you and all of your cast members (former and current) the very best … today and always.

Replies (8)

Edited: October 1, 2021, 2:03 PM

I first visited Disney in 2006, in 2008 I quickly realized I liked Disney but Fell in Love with Universal. The End.

Disney just gets too damn busy, There is no Off or slow season.

AK is the best US park for Disney.

"To this day my dad brags that he paid $29.00 a night for the stay." That is about the price to park for one day.

Edited: October 1, 2021, 6:41 PM

Happy birthday to Disney World from the west coast. As one of four former cast members in my family, I loved my time working at the Magic Kingdom and I enjoy continuing to cover the resort for Theme Park Insider today. (And all my good stories about working at WDW are in my book.

October 2, 2021, 8:44 PM

My first visit in 1984 was wonderful with a few more every couple of years. Then from 1991-1995, my family lived in Jacksonville and used Florida resident deals to enjoy the wonderful visits there. It was terrific with so many new rides opening all the time and a magical era overall.

Been back there a few times although sadly not since 2012. Yet so many great memories (I saw Everest with a working Yeti) and can't wait as my mom is hoping to get there with her grandkids for the 50th next year and be a fun return.

October 3, 2021, 3:11 PM

Wow Th. I would love to know about the rampaging hippo. Perhaps the most striking memory for me is the near empty parks when they did reopen after 9-11. It was great and at the same time a eiry feeling. Surreal migth be the rigth term.

October 4, 2021, 2:28 PM

This was wonderful TH. Thanks for the recap and a look at the man behind the painting of a man in a NY Yankees baseball hat.

October 4, 2021, 5:13 PM


Thank you, Mr. McCullough. My profile pic is the painting of legendary aviator and Indiana Jones sidekick Jock Lindsey that hangs in Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar at Disney Springs.

October 6, 2021, 1:54 PM

That is awesome TH! No wonder you have such a passion when it comes to conversations on this site. I do enjoy your comments and look forward to them with each visit.

The only ties I can claim to WDW was many many many....many years ago, I was a Lighting Applications Engineer and I placed the lighting fixtures electronically onto blueprints of the Wedding Pavilion and many locations around the Grand Floridian. Many of the lighting bollards you walk past on paths at different resorts...I placed them there! On some of my visits, I'd stop and pose with the fixtures and tell my family..."That's right! They're there because of ME!"

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