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How Do We Go On?
or Making a Trip to Walt Disney World
Under the Shadow of Terrorism and Economic Downturn
by Debra Martin Koma, AllEars® Senior Editor
This article appeared in the
October 16, 2001 Issue #108 of ALL EARS®
The original plan was simple, really. Something my family and I had done many times.
Dad was going to Orlando in early October for a business trip, Mom and Son would tag along and visit WDW.
And then September 11, 2001, happened.
The pall cast by four hijacked airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania was a devastating one.
How could we even *think* of taking a pleasure trip in light of these tragic events, under the threat of further terrorist activity?
Then a few days later, the stock market plummeted. An already weak economy took a sudden and sharp turn for the worse.
How could we even *think* of taking a pleasure trip in light of these uncertain financial times?
In the days following September 11, I grappled with such questions. Should I expose my 9-year-old son to the possibility of terrorist violence, either in the air or at WDW itself? Should we spend the money? Was it right to go and *have fun,* given that so many others were living with the tragedy of September 11 in their faces on a daily basis? Should we continue as planned or reschedule the WDW trip, perhaps even cancel it indefinitely? I didn't know what to do.
But slowly I grew to realize that all the threats I was afraid of -- the terrorists, the economic considerations, even the potential of chemical or biological warfare -- these things were all around me on September 10, 2001. I just hadn't been aware of them. And now I was *hyper* aware. Oh boy, was I ever.
And then I decided the only thing to do, for me, was to go on.
So on October 5, 2001, less than a month after the terrorist attacks on our country, my husband, son and I went to Walt Disney World.
And had a fabulous time.
Is this the right decision for you? Only you can know for sure. Should you choose to go to WDW at this time, though, you might be interested to read about my recent experiences with increased security, chaotic airlines, and Walt Disney World cutbacks.
YOU CAN'T GET THERE FROM HERE
We headed from DC to Orlando on Friday, 10/5, the start of the Columbus Day weekend. We arrived at Dulles airport at 8 a.m. for our 10:05 flight -- the line to check in was unbelievably long, snaking for what seemed like a mile. By the time we actually reached the counter and checked in it was shortly after 8:30.
The Delta agent never told us the flight was in an oversell situation, and we didn't realize that despite our "confirmed" status, we were really on standby.
Maybe we should have grown suspicious when they asked for volunteers to take another flight, but we had no idea that our seats weren't secure. We'd been confirmed, we'd checked in -- we thought we were OK, or else we'd have made other plans right then. When they finally called my husband's name, we were relieved, since they'd already started boarding the flight. BUT... they only had room for one of us, not all three!
So we were involuntarily bumped.
Finding an alternative flight was nearly impossible. Virtually every other flight that day, on nearly every other airline, was not just booked, but overbooked, they told us, due to all the flight cancellations and cutbacks. Eventually, they sent us over to Reagan National airport, where we had to wait three hours, then fly to Atlanta, wait two hours there. We finally flew into Orlando around 7:45 p.m.
We had originally planned on arriving at 12:30 p.m. We lost a whole day of our Disney trip. But from that point on everything was peachy-keen.
ARE WE MORE SECURE?
Everyone hopes that security at airports and other locations has been heightened since September 11 and in my experience it has been, without being overly invasive.
At Dulles, our IDs were checked several times even though we never boarded a flight there. At Reagan National, police officers, machine gun-armed National Guards, K9 units and Federal Marshals were more visible than the travelers. Even after passing through the usual metal detectors every passenger was gone over with a wand before being allowed to board the plane. When we arrived in Orlando, we saw even more machine guns and National Guards, as well as police officers on bicycles touring around the gate areas.
So, should you be concerned about flying now? Well, I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't a little nervous on my flights. But I was reassured by the clearly concerted efforts at making travel as safe as possible. Obviously, there is always a chance that *something* will go wrong, but this was true before the events of September 11 -- these are risks inherent in air travel.
My son, too, was a bit anxious about making the trip, but what calmed his fears more than anything was hearing about a friend who had flown to WDW safely. Once he knew it was possible to go there and not be hijacked or hurt, he relaxed considerably and began looking forward to the trip again. En route, in fact, he seemed to be perfectly relaxed and read or listened to music as usual. WALT DISNEY WORLD: STILL MAGICAL... JUST DIFFERENT
Despite the debacle at the front end of the trip, visiting WDW was just the tonic we'd all been craving. As much as we'd tried to shield him from it, our son had been having a little too much reality, what with all the dire news he'd been seeing and hearing on television, in the papers and even at school. The pure fantasy of Disney took care of that!
At the outset, we were a bit leery about being in such a visible target as the theme parks. As we arrived in Orlando, news of a case of anthrax in a Florida man had just hit the airwaves, adding yet one more worry to our growing list of concerns. But again we determined that, for us, at least, the best thing to do was to carry on with our life as close to usual as possible.
But there were definitely some noticeable changes at Walt Disney World -- both due to the terrorist attacks, and due to staffing cuts and other economic cutbacks.
At the Disney theme parks, guards are stationed in front of the turnstiles -- they'll hand inspect your backpacks, waist packs, strollers, even camera cases. At the resorts, guards will take down your driver's license number before allowing you to pass through if you're not a guest there.
Staffing cutbacks have resulted in shorter park hours and reduced hours at many attractions. This caused us some inconvenience -- we had to wait to get into Food Rocks until 10 a.m. for example, though The Land itself had opened at 9. Also, our bus ride from the Dolphin resort to the Magic Kingdom took 20 minutes longer than we anticipated, since the route has incorporated stops at the Yacht Club, Beach Club and Boardwalk. By and large, though, our visit to Walt Disney World was about the same as ever -- magical!
CELEBRATING 100 YEARS OF MAGIC
Despite a crowded Magic Kingdom over the weekend, the rest of the parks seemed rather lightly attended during our stay. Most rides were walk-ons in Epcot, the Studios and even Animal Kingdom.
We spent much of the day Saturday trying to make up for our lost Friday. Fortunately for us, light crowds made it possible to cover a lot of ground in a little time.
We concentrated quite a bit on visiting newly opened attractions, especially things created specifically for the 100 Years of Magic Celebration that had officially kicked off October 1. We ran into an early show of Who Wants to be a Millionaire -- Play It? (I didn't get in the hot seat, but made it into the top 10 twice!), and also hit Star Tours, the Backlot Tour, Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, and MuppetVision 3D.
We spent quite a while exploring the new exhibit, Walt Disney: One Man's Dream. The memorabilia on display was interesting, even to our 9-year-old, but what really made the exhibit for me was the 15-minute film at the end of the walk-through. Hearing Walt's voice as he talked about his childhood and his experiences evoked memories of hearing him every week as I watched him on TV as a child. For adults who love Disney, and for children who may not realize what a remarkable man Walt Disney was, this exhibit is a must-see. (For more information on the One Man's Dream exhibit, see http://allears.net/tp/mgm/m_oneman.htm )
After sending my menfolk back to the room to rest, I also managed to squeeze in a drop on the Tower of Terror and a visit to the newly revamped Playhouse Disney Live show. Featuring characters from Disney Channel shows Rolie Polie Olie, Book of Pooh, and Stanley, as well as the original Bear in the Big Blue House, this show is as cute as can be! They've added more dancing and interacting with the children in the audience, as well as showering the audience with whimsical bubbles. This 20-minute show will please the preschool set, as well as some older viewers. (For more information and pictures of this new show, please visit http://allears.net/tp/mgm/m_plhs.htm )
The Tower of Terror drop afforded me my first spontaneous "Magical Moment" with my new Sorcerer Mickey Hat Magical Moment light-up pin. As I sat in darkness in the twilight room, my pin flashed red and blue for about 30 seconds! What fun! There were several other places during our trip where the pin lit on its own, not to mention the many times my son would slyly slip his arm around my shoulders and reach down to tap the pressure-sensitive pin and create his own "Magical Moment" for me. These pins are expensive -- $15.09 + tax -- but really do create some fun memories. (Be sure to go to the 100 Years of Magic page on Disney's website to get a certificate for a free Internet pin with the purchase of a Magical Moment pin!)
The new parades at the park each have their own charms -- my son particularly enjoyed the Animal Kingdom parade, Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Expedition. The animal floats are whimsical and cleverly executed, while the bright and bouncy calypso-inspired music leaves you tapping your toes. (See http://allears.net/tp/ak/ak_mjj.htm for more info and some of my photos!) Also, the Share a Dream Come True parade in the Magic Kingdom, which features a multitude of characters contained in their snow globe floats, spreads an extra helping of pixie dust on its viewers. I especially liked how Mickey stops and talks with the audience from his snow globe at the start of the parade -- made me feel he was talking directly to *me*. (See http://allears.net/tp/mk/mk_share.htm)
As I always tell my family and friends who wonder *why* I go to WDW so often, the place is never the same twice! This was just as true this trip. In addition to all the 100 Years of Magic stuff, we saw Cirque du Soleil's La Nouba for the first time -- an awesome experience that took our breath away. We also experienced a delightful evening at the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, dinner at the Animal Kingdom Lodge's Boma, and acts at Epcot we'd never seen before, like the Comic Watchguard, brilliantly dressed Beefeaters who perform a crazy Changing of the Guard ceremony unlike any you're likely to ever see in England! And mixed into all the new and different experiences, we were lucky enough to repeat some old favorites as well, including the Celtic rockers Off Kilter in Epcot's Canada pavilion, and my favorite parade of all-time, SpectroMagic!
So... should you still plan on going to Walt Disney World? Should you worry about the possibility of further terrorist attacks? Should you be concerned about economic uncertainties? I'll reiterate: Only you can decide what's right for you and your family.
But based on my experiences, I would have to say that there really aren't any overwhelming reasons NOT to go, if you really WANT to go.
As so many others have already noted, the words to Epcot's IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, express such a positive, uplifting and relevant message:
We go on, to the joy and through the tears We go on, to discover new frontiers Moving on with the current of the years We go on, moving forward now as one Moving on, with a spirit born to run Moving on, with each rising sun to a new day We go on...
Go on we must.
And is there a place better than Walt Disney World to go on to? I doubt it.