The Art of Attractions | Mickey and I Go Way Back
THIS OCTOBER, WALT DISNEY WORLD RESORT WILL MARK AN IMPORTANT MILESTONE when it celebrates its 50th anniversary. It will also mark a significant personal milestone. The Florida resort’s 25th birthday celebration, held in the mid-1990s, was the first major media event I attended as a journalist. The 2021 gathering will therefore be my silver anniversary of newsgathering while park hopping.
I’ve been to some extraordinary events, including the grand opening of Shanghai Disneyland, the launch of Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and the rollout of countless coasters and attractions. But nothing has come close to the spectacle of Disney World’s 25th gala.
I was one of 10,000—10,000(!)—members of the media and other invited guests that Disney invited to the event. I met journalists from all corners of the globe, including Australia, Eastern Europe, and Africa.
Presumably because there was no place on the property to host such a large group indoors, Disney presented a kickoff party and presentation at the former indoor arena in downtown Orlando. I was absolutely dumbfounded by the audacity of the undertaking and the military precision with which the company loaded all 10,000 of us onto an enormous fleet of buses in the Magic Kingdom’s parking lot and commandeered the caravan en masse to downtown Orlando (and back after the event). Florida state police closed every entrance ramp along I-4 between the resort and the arena to accommodate the rolling armada.
There was magic in the air that evening. I forgot my press credentials in my hotel room and had to go to the guest relations window at the arena to get new ones. In line ahead of me was none other than country boy John Denver in all of his Rocky Mountain high splendor.
Disney World’s 25th anniversary may best be remembered for the transformation of Cinderella Castle into a garish, pink birthday cake. But I vividly recall the scene at Epcot when Disney cast members somehow distributed 10,000 custom printed umbrellas to journalists just before the skies opened and a rainstorm threatened to put a damper on the exclusive event at that park. I half expected the crowd to spontaneously break into a rousing rendition of “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from “Mary Poppins.”
Later that evening, I stumbled upon a veritable mountain of yummy sweets that the park had prepared for the media in attendance. Apparently be-cause it was buried deep in one of the Innoventions buildings, and there were dozens of other food stations set up throughout the park, I was virtually the only journalist who somehow discovered the stash. It was just me and thousands—thousands(!)—of chocolate truffles. Talk about a kid in a candy store.
Congratulations to Disney World on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. I don’t know what the resort has in store this time around, but I look for-ward to it with great expectations.
I’ll see you at the parks. I’ll be the one making like a chimney sweep with my Walt Disney World commemorative 25th anniversary umbrella.
A lifelong park fanatic, Arthur Levine has been writing newspaper and magazine travel features about the industry he loves since 1992. He’s been the Theme Parks Expert at TripSavvy.com (formerly About.com) since 2002, and is a regular contributor for USA Today.
Beginning Oct. 1, Walt Disney World Resort will honor its 50th anniversary with an 18-month event, “The World’s Most Magical Celebration.” (Credit: ©DISNEY)