Revisiting Walt Disney World… 36 Years Later

by KJ Simpson
AllEars® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the September 13, 2016 Issue #886 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

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.

Disney 36 years AgoThe year was 1977. I was 9 and my sister was 10. We lived with our single mom just outside of New York City, in a tiny basement apartment that would flood whenever a heavy rain fell. Growing up, we never had much money. My mom worked very hard to be able to provide for two young children on her own. A “real” vacation — rather than visiting the cousins upstate, or an occasional trip to Jones Beach –was something we'd only dreamed about. Little did we know, but Mom had been scrimping and saving for a few years, putting away a little bit of money each week. She surprised us, with the most incredible news we had ever heard — we were going to Walt Disney World!

She broke the news early in the summer, but we weren't going until the end of August. That left all summer long for dreaming and planning. Of course, since this was 1977 — and since I was 9 — my planning resources were limited. As luck would have it, I had one friend who had been to Disney World, and we took a school bus to day camp together that summer. I spent every moment of the long bus ride there and back each day, peppering her with questions and asking for every detail she could remember. Hotel? I needed to know what it was called, what the room was like, if it had a pool, and how far it was from the Magic Kingdom. Monorail? Tell me exactly what it looked like, what the seats were like, how long it took, and what you could see out the windows. Tickets, park gates, cast member costumes, and of course, every last detail of every attraction. I wanted to know it ALL. In hindsight, I guess this was the start of my obsessive vacation planning! My friend was a good sport, and shared everything she could remember. (If you're out there: thanks, Diane!)

The end of summer finally came, and going on that trip was the most exciting thing I could have ever imagined. It was my first time visiting Florida, my first time flying, my first time going on a “real” vacation. We were staying offsite, of course — waaay offsite, at a small motel whose name I really wish I could remember. I know it had the word “Admiral” in the name, but my internet sleuthing hasn't turned up any details on what or where this motel might have been. I'm sure it seemed palatial to me at the time, considering it was my first ever stay in a motel.

My mom had gone all out on the planning. Before visiting our ultimate destination — Walt Disney World –she arranged for us to hit several of the other area destinations that were popular at that time. We went to Sea World, Circus World, Mystery Fun House, and Wet ‘n Wild (a water park?! This was totally new!). These were all loads of fun, but we knew the main event still awaited us.

Our Disney days finally arrived, and they were even more magical than we imagined. We had a fantastic time, racing from attraction to attraction, watching shows and parades, sampling treats, and relishing the Most Magical place on Earth.

My main memories of the visit include seeing topiaries from the monorail — a vision that would often revisit me in dreams during my childhood years — and the Main Street Electrical Parade. Watching that parade, I was transfixed, and felt like I had been transported to another place and time. For a brief moment, I was the luckiest girl in the world.

To a kid in the '70s, it was the absolute ultimate vacation. We had so many incredible experiences. What we did not have, however, were very many photographs.

This was of course back before we all had cameras in our pockets, and my mom was not an avid photographer. She did have a small camera along for the trip, but our photos from Walt Disney World were limited to just a few. The three of us pored over those few shots so often in the subsequent years, reliving the magic and remembering back to that trip time and time again.

In the years that passed, my sister and I both had families of our own, and started visiting Walt Disney World on a regular basis. Of course every trip was special, and we made new memories with our own children — but there will always be something uniquely important and special about that very first visit.

Jump ahead a few decades now, to 2013. My sister and I had started doing runDisney events together, and we had a race weekend planned for November of that year. We decided to ask our mom if she'd like to come — just the three of us, recreating our trip from 36 years earlier. She was SO excited!

Disney 36 Years AgoWe started talking about those photos from our first trip, and decided it would be great fun to try to recreate the shots. With only a few photos, though, our options were limited. Recreating shots proved to be much more challenging than we originally expected.

Several, we definitely could not recreate. Sadly, the site of the flower mart on West Center Street is now a part of The Emporium. We also attempted to recreate the photo at right, which we think was on Tom Sawyer's Island, but we were never able to find the right spot. Could this have been near Aunt Polly's? We're not really even sure which side of the water we were on, so if you have any ideas, please let us know!

Another failed attempt was a sisterly shot in front of an Adventureland sign… but alas, a few cast members have confirmed that this sign no longer exists in the park.

There was one shot, however, that we knew we could recreate, as long as the crowds weren't too bad when we were in the area. After a little bit of waiting our turn and seizing the moment when passers-by cleared away, we were successful in recreating this Adventureland photo of Mom and me! You'll find us below, in 1977 and in 2013:

Disney 36 Years Ago

Many things were different on that revisit trip, but so many things were the same. Gone were the topiaries in view from the monorail, but we did see some of the newer topiaries in Epcot. We also got to see the Main Street Electrical Parade again… only this time it was me scoping out a good spectator spot at the curb, setting mom up with a good view, instead of the other way around. The details may change, but the pervasive sense of magic and wonder never go away.

Now it's 2016, and a few years have passed since we recreated our trip. Although my sister and I have both been back to Walt Disney World several times, my mother has not. She's also never had the joy of taking a multigenerational vacation with all of her grandchildren. We decided to make that happen. Later this year, we'll be taking one more magical trip.

We're doing something we've never attempted before — a FULL family trip. Not just my mom, my sister, and me, but my sister's husband, their children, and my daughter. All of my mom's children and grandchildren together! It will be the first time ever that we go on a big trip as a whole family — something my mother really wanted the chance to experience. We'll be staying at Disney's Yacht Club and spending a few days at the parks, before setting sail on the Disney Dream. This land/sea combo seemed like the perfect compromise for us, meeting the needs of the young daredevils as well as the older people who want to relax. We'll have a wide demographic range to satisfy: kids, teens, senior citizens, special needs, vegan, celiac — a little bit of everything, but we have no doubt that Disney is the place to bring a smile to each person in our group. We'll be revisiting old memories, building new ones, and taking photos that hopefully will mean as much to the young people in our group as our '77 photos meant to us! Who knows — maybe in 2052 (!?), one of them will attempt to recreate some of the photos from our upcoming trip.

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Disney and Back Again: A Dad's Journey

Planning for Intergenerational Travel to WDW

Disney Nostalgia

Why I'm Grumpy, or "Yes, I'm Going to Disney World Again… and Here's Why!"

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KJ Simpson is a Disney fan who loves reading and writing about the magic. Epcot is her favorite place, and her main areas of interest include Imagineering, design, resort dining, and park history.


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.