Finding Disney Magic Closer to Home or
Disney in a Day Trip
(When You're More Than a Day Trip Away)

Brian Martsolf, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the July 27, 2004, Issue #253 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Budget can seem like a four-letter word when you want to take a trip to Walt Disney World but can't. (I know, I know -- there are really six letters in budget.) Perhaps you had the money saved up, but other obligations keep you from going now. At times like these, you may want to see what activities you can pursue locally to connect you back to that magic. In looking back over the past few years, I realize that these opportunities can actually come along fairly regularly if you keep your eyes and ears attuned to them, and it doesn't hurt to use your imagination a bit as well. Just to help some of you get started, or to give you a few additional categories to ponder, here are some of the opportunities I became aware of over the past few years in my area (North Carolina).

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Sure, this one is pretty obvious. When you're missing Disney, just catching a Disney film is a great way to reconnect to the magic. Some of the live action films can also evoke that feeling. "Pirates of the Caribbean" is probably my favorite example of this, with its multiple references to the Disney ride, both visually and in the dialogue throughout the film. Still, if this does not seem like enough of an "event" to help ease your Disney craving, perhaps another type of Disney movie will do. Going to an IMAX or other large format movie may be a way to make more of a day of it, especially if you have to go some distance. In the past few years there have been a few animated films in this format -- "Fantasia 2000," "Beauty and the Beast," and "The Lion King" come to mind. There's even a nature documentary called "Sacred Planet," which has been released by Disney in this format.

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Disney has touring companies of the stage versions of "The Lion King" and "Beauty and the Beast" that travel the US. Check out your regional performing arts center schedule to see if one is coming nearby. There are also several touring companies of "Disney on Ice," which changes from year to year by adding new characters or focusing on different ones. Also, if you use your imagination, you can find other arts events that tie in to the Disney feeling as well. Many of you know already that much of the background music currently played on Main Street U.S.A. can be found on the first two CDs of a group called the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra. (Prior to the mid-1990s, many of the songs were from three albums by The Gaslight Orchestra.) The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra performs several dates a year in various locations, mostly on the East Coast, but they have also performed in Kentucky and Florida at various times. (

One of my favorite groups no longer performs in the Disney theme parks -- the Future Corps. But even though they are no longer around Walt Disney World, you can still get their drum and bugle corps-style delivery. You could attend a local drum and bugle corps event or a band competition, but even better, you could see a show that has a Disney connection all its own. For example, the group Blast! which performed both at the America Gardens Theatre in Epcot's World Showcase and at Disney's California Adventure. ( Or simply look online for your favorite group that no longer appears at WDW, like Cast in Bronze (the Christmas season carillon), or Lord of the Dance, to see where they may be appearing! And, of course, there are always those energetic Off Kilter performers! You can purchase their CDs or simply visit their website and listen to some tunes. Don't forget to check out their touring schedule! I've seen their schedule include dates as far from Florida as Indiana and Pennsylvania. (

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Over the past few years, Walt Disney World has sent its steam engines to be overhauled. While they can do a lot of this work at the park, sometimes they choose to send the engines off to a shop that is quite well regarded in the theme park steam engine community. That place just happens to be Tweetsie Railroad right here in North Carolina. Tweetsie is a small theme park of its own with a shop that does work for other parks. Tweetsie will actually allow rail fans in to certain parts of its shop facility with the proper permission. (When you visit, simply ask and they will let you know in which areas you are allowed.) Seeing one of the Disney engines this way would be an interesting day trip indeed. And although you may not live near Tweetsie, maybe if you keep your ears tuned for Disney news like I do, some other artifact of Disney's may turn up closer to your own back yard.

Now, let's go back. WAY back, as Bill Nye the Science Guy might say, to "two hundred twenty million years in the Earth's past. Give or take... uh... a day." Actually we don't have to go quite that far -- let's skip forward to 1990 when a fossil hunter named Sue Hendrickson found the most complete T. Rex skeleton ever found, now nicknamed Sue in her honor. Skip forward a few more years until the legal battle over who actually owned the fossil was decided, when it also the most expensive fossil ever. With help from McDonald's and the Disney Company, the Field Museum in Chicago paid $8.4 million for Sue -- the most ever paid for a fossil. In 1998, Disney's Animal Kingdom opened, and in the park was a lab with windows through which you could watch the fossils being worked on. Of course, even though this is a laborious process, it doesn't take forever, so that facility is no longer there. But those of you who live in the Chicago area (who are already lucky enough to have a DisneyQuest!) can see the original fossil, except for the skull, which is considered too valuable (or too heavy) to risk using in the display with the rest of Sue's bones. Don't live near Chicago? Well, you still might not be out of luck. You see, casts of Sue's bones were made, so replicas can tour other museums. In fact one set is currently on display at Discovery Place right here in Charlotte! A tour schedule for Sue is on the Field Museum's web site. (

There are often other traveling exhibits, as well. Following their display at Walt Disney World this past year, the 100 Years of Mickey statues, decorated by various celebrities, are also taking a tour of the United States. They are currently only on display in groups of 15, so you won't see them all in one place. However, that's because they will be in five different cities at a time, so there's a good chance they might be coming to a town near you. Check here for the touring schedule:

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If nothing is happening in your area, or you are reading this article months after I'm writing it, and many of these things are a distant memory, don't worry. I myself have missed some of the opportunities listed on this page, but the fact that there have been so many helps keep in mind the likelihood that there will be more. For example, back in 1999 Disney sent out an Animal Kingdom caravan, the Animal Kingdom Adventure Outpost, which toured a number of cities (like Miami, Dallas, Houston, and Washington, D.C.). And remember the Epcot Spaceship Earth balloon that went on tour a few years back? Who knows what will be touring next year!

Just keep those great big mouse ears open, and maybe use a little imagination -- your next trip to the zoo might bring back a few memories of Animal Kingdom.

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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.