Monday, August 7, 2017

Julie's Trip to Disney World

The Most Magical Place on Earth!

Said it before, will say it again: I come from a very Disney family. No, we’re not Annual Pass holders, we’re not locals of any of the parks, nor do we go every single year, but we like it and always manage to have a great time when we go. 

My mom first went to the park with her parents and older brother when she was seven, turning eight in 1972. Back then, there was only Magic Kingdom, and they drove from Connecticut all the way to Florida, making some stops along the way. Since there was just one park, they ended up spending parts of their two week vacation at other Florida tourist attractions. She and her family would go back to visit when she and her brother were in college, and then she and my dad celebrated part of their honeymoon there in 1987. We were actually there for their 30th anniversary, which was why they had booked the vacation in the first place. 

I love Disney history almost as much as I love, well, almost any kind of history. So even though I didn’t plan on doing a huge, drawn out photo adventure while I was there, I still wanted to do a quick write up about the trip. Considering my mom was a girl with long blonde hair and considered rompers to be the height of fashion, the obvious choice in host for this post is, of course, Julie. Read on for some Disney history and talk of tasty food!

I think it’s somewhat unlikely that Julie and her family would hike all the way out to Walt Disney World when she was a kid, even if her dad could maybe get them a deal on airfare. Walt Disney always intended on Disney World and specifically Magic Kingdom being an improved version of Disneyland, basically fixing any problems he had with the first park – which had opened in 1955 – and taking advantage of the bigger space the Florida property offered them. Because the original Magic Kingdom boasted many of the same or similar attractions to Disneyland, it probably wouldn’t have made financial sense for the Albrights to trek across the country to visit when they could just drive from San Francisco to Anaheim. On the other hand, one of the appeals of Disney World for my mom’s family was that it was a lot closer to get to than Disneyland, which meant it was a slightly less expensive or complicated vacation to take. 

In any case, the Disney World you can visit today is a lot different from the park my mom visited in 1971. Aside from there being dozens of on property hotels, three other theme parks, two water parks, a huge outdoor shopping center, and practically any other vacation experience you could imagine at your fingertips, many of the attractions we’ve come to think of as Disney World (or land) favorites weren’t open in 1972. When my mom visited, only two new attractions had opened since the park’s opening day: the Liberty Square Riverboat and the Walt Disney World Railroad Frontierland Station. 

Here’s a list of the attractions that would have been operating in the summer of 1972: 
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage 
- Admiral Joe Fowler Riverboat 
- America the Beautiful 
- Cinderella's Golden Carousel 
- Country Bear Jamboree 
- Diamond Horseshoe Revue 
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant 
- Flight to the Moon 
- Frontierland Shooting Gallery 
- Grand Prix Raceway 
- If You Had Wings 
- It's a Small World 
- Jungle Cruise 
- Mad Tea Party 
- Mickey Mouse Revue 
- Mike Fink Keel Boats 
- Mr. Toad's Wild Ride
- Peter Pan's Flight 
- Skyway 
- Snow White's Adventures 
- Swiss Family Treehouse 
- The Hall of Presidents 
- The Haunted Mansion 
- Tropical Serenade 
- Walt Disney World Railroad

So needless to say, quite a few rides and attractions have been added since then! 

One of the biggest complaints when Magic Kingdom opened caught the company by surprise: visitors were mad they couldn’t ride the extremely popular Pirates of the Caribbean! Park designers had originally assumed that Floridians would think pirates were overdone and too touristy, as they were and are a popular motif in Florida, but they gave the people what they wanted along with Tom Sawyer Island in 1973. Space Mountain and the Carousel of Progress opened in 1975, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain didn’t go in until 1980 and 1992 respectively!

Some of these changes have definitely been for the better. Looking at the original opening day list, I can’t help but be grateful that I was born 20 years after the park had opened – most of my favorite rides weren’t there when it started! But like any kind of change, sometimes new things can mean saying goodbye to old favorites. 

Specifically, my mom has always said one of her first moments of really realizing she was in Disney World was walking through Cinderella Castle and seeing Dumbo the Flying Elephant take off right behind the castle, because that was one of the shots they used in the TV advertisements for both Disney World and Disneyland. In the new Fantasyland expansion, Dumbo was relocated to what used to be Mickey’s Toontown, and in the years since, my mom’s been pretty bummed that you can no longer walk through the castle and get that quintessentially Disney moment anymore. 

But we still went over and rode Dumbo, and I made my mom take a picture with Julie in the elephant you can pose with after your ride.

So Magic Kingdom might not look the same to a kid from the 70’s, but it’s still pretty incredible how many original attractions are still going strong! In comparison, I think all of the original MGM Studios attractions either have been or are being closed at Hollywood Studios, and that’s a much younger theme park.

Now, as many a Jungle Cruise skipper has joked, the most Magical Place on Earth is also the place where chicken tenders cost $16, but price tag aside, eating in Disney is usually a lot of fun. We stopped by some favorites in Epcot like Katsura Grill for tempura shrimp udon, Le Cellier for beer cheese soup – on their menu since 1982 and a perennial favorite! – and steak, Via Napoli for some authentic Neapolitan pizza, and fish and chips at Yorkshire County Fish Shop:

And we also managed to score reservations at my favorite restaurant: Hollywood Studios’ 50’s Prime Time Café! The Studios is undergoing some major renovations, and I was really worried for a while that both this and Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater would be on the chopping block, but they seem safe for now. I was a little bummed to discover they’d taken my favorite s’mores dessert off the menu and don’t give you viewfinders to select dessert anymore, but otherwise the food was just as good as always:

Although we stayed at the Yacht Club, we got to swing by our two favorite hotels for meals: all you can eat cowboy food and meatloaf for me at Whispering Canyon at the Wilderness Lodge for dinner and Kona Café at the Polynesian for brunch, where we enjoyed macadamia nut pancakes and Tonga Toast, a staple of the hotel’s menu:

And I enjoyed a mini cupcake at the Yacht Club, along with some ice cream I forgot to take pictures of.

But there were a few fun surprises as well. We usually don’t spend that much time at Animal Kingdom because various family members have a somewhat irrational, somewhat justified hatred of the park, but the new FastPass+ system meant we had a lot of time to kill there, and so my mom made reservations at Tusker House, a buffet style restaurant specializing in African and American styled food. Note: this is African AND American, not Africa American. The food was really tasty, with a lot of options for both adventurous and picky eaters, and in true Gwen fashion, as soon as I heard they had samosas, I basically only at those. Spicy potato pea pockets are my downfall. 

Unfortunately I apparently forgot to take pictures while we were there – tensions were running high at that point, as they often do at Animal Kingdom… – but the food was great and I’d happily go back. Perhaps my favorite snack on the whole trip came from the quick service accompaniment to the full service Yak and Yeti restaurant in the park’s Asia area. It was a mango custard pie, with a crust that tasted like crushed up sugar cookies. It was honestly amazing, and just the right size, even though I would have happily eaten another four of them if given the opportunity. It was a super fun treat to snack on while waiting for my dad and brother to get off Kali River Rapids.

I also hadn’t been to the parks since they opened Disney Springs, the redesign of Downtown Disney, but my parents and brother had dined at Frontera Cocina before, and man, was it good. Disney Springs is overall a really nice improvement over the last iteration of Downtown Disney I experienced, and I’ve heard there’s lots of other tasty food options. But if you like tacos and delicious hot cheese and sausage, I would definitely recommend this one.

And although we love to get dogs and fries at Casey’s Corner Café, which has been a park staple since 1995…

We usually don’t eat much in Magic Kingdom now that we’ve kind of aged out of the Winnie the Pooh character dining at Crystal Palace, or as my brother once called it “Winnie the Pooh’s Highway Robbery”, because the food isn’t that great for what you’re paying. Of course that was several years ago, maybe things have changed. We like the counter service options just fine (see again: Casey’s), but historically don’t often have dinner reservations in Magic Kingdom. If we want to be in that park for the fireworks, we might eat at one of the resorts near the Magic Kingdom for dinner and then head over afterward. 

Well, that’s been changing. It kind of seems like Magic Kingdom is stepping up its game food wise, which has resulted in some pretty delightful dining experiences. Of course, Gaston’s Tavern and the Be Our Guest restaurant have been winning people’s hearts since they first opened a few years ago:

But I think my new favorite is the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen in Adventureland! It’s one of the newest restaurants in the parks, if not still the newest, and is based off of the Jungle Cruise attraction. You can eat in three different themed dining rooms meant to look like the headquarters of the company that runs the jungle cruises, and the menu takes its inspiration from African, Asian, and South American cuisines, as you travel through rivers on those continents during the ride. 

The menu is full of very punny names that often reference the ride, like the Tastes Like Chicken – Because It Is!, which is what I ordered. It’s referencing a posted menu you see in the queue right before you get onto the boat, which basically says the week’s menu is going to be featuring a lot of chicken like meat, but not necessarily chicken. I also thought the entrée portions seemed pretty reasonable and hearty, although the desserts were definitely not typical Disney portion size. The cake I got at Prime Time could easily have fed a group, but the cake I got here was definitely an individual portion at best and priced similarly. 

Still, I’d really recommend swinging by and giving it a shot. Unfortunately, a lot of the restaurants with more “exotic” food often get dumbed down to appeal to a mass audience instead of sticking with authenticity, and while the Skipper Canteen doesn’t have truly authentic food, I can see how their more creative dishes might be a turn off to the people I walked by in Epcot who thought Japan the country was a part of China, not an independent nation. 

Yes, that actually happened.

Finally, we celebrated my parent’s anniversary at the California Grill on the roof of the Contemporary Resort. California Grill is definitely one of the higher end restaurants on property, and even has a dress code, which I can’t remember ever seeing posted before at any other restaurants. It’s not an out of control dress code or anything – I’m pretty sure it basically said you shouldn’t show up in pool gear – but that’s more of a rule than most of the other restaurants! 

The food is marketed as being high end, seasonal, and fresh, and I was honestly pretty impressed by it. They also made good Mai Tais, and my brother got a free cupcake because he had an I’m Celebrating button announcing he had graduated from high school.

And there’s one more 70’s throwback to tell you guys about. In 1970, the Florida Citrus Commission agreed to sponsor the Tiki Room at Magic Kingdom in exchange for a newly designed mascot known as the Orange Bird. He appeared in commercials for Florida oranges and was a nationally recognized mascot. In the Magic Kingdom’s early years, he was a meetable character and the park sold tie in merchandise, including a figurine my mom bought as a souvenir and has since been lost to a move or tag sales. 

The Orange Bird faded into obscurity after the FCC and Disney severed ties in the 80’s, but thanks to Japanese fans of the character, he has experienced a huge comeback. The park has begun selling Orange Bird merchandise again, from t-shirts to plush toys to a vintage inspired dress. 

He also has again found a home at the Sunshine Tree Terrace, a quick service stall that sells drinks and “Citrus Swirls”, which are a thick orange slush twisted with vanilla soft serve ice cream. My mom remembers eating these at the park when she first visited, but I’d actually never had one before. I’ve also never had Dole Whip, which I’m sure makes me a heathen in the eyes of many other Disney fans. 

It was tasty! Although I’ve never had orange juice made from concentrate, which is what this is, and it tasted very… orange-y. And a little strange at first. But after the first bite or two, it was tasty, and the vanilla ice cream didn’t feel like too weird of a contrast to the flavor. I’m not sure this is going to be something I’m going to adopt as a new Disney World tradition for me personally, but it was fun to get an authentic taste of 70’s Disney World, and I’d recommend giving it a shot for yourself if you’re down in Florida. I can definitely think of worse ways to indulge in the Sunshine State’s favorite fruit!

So that was our trip! In some ways, this was sort of a weird trip for me. It’s been ten years since my family totally surprised me with a scavenger hunt through the park for my 16th birthday, and more than fifteen years since we went for the Millennium Celebration, which was maybe my now eighteen year old younger brother’s first trip to the park. A lot has changed since then for both us and for Disney World, but even more has changed since my mom first visited here as a little girl! Hopefully the changes coming down the pike will be just as nice as the Skipper Canteen and New Fantasyland.

Keep moving forward, right guys?


  1. *From Julie's Doll mom, Sharry :*

    My first trip to Disneyland was in 1973 just before my 7th birthday. I remember really loving the Dumbo ride, talking to Disney characters on telephones, The Bear Country Jamboree, The People Mover/America The Beautiful, and the Electric Light Parade. I still have some old snapshots of my cousins and I talking to Chip & Dale and the Three Little Pigs (that walked around the park).

    1. Oh cool, I had never heard you could talk to characters on telephones! That must have been a lot of fun.

  2. I'm the same age as your mom and I can remember being absolutely fascinated when a recruiter came to our high school looking for potential employees for Disneyworld. Unfortunately I didn't get there until much later on, but it really is pretty amazing. Cool that Julie got to go with you, I agree that she was the perfect choice!

    1. That would have been a dream come true for me in high school! I guess it still is a little bit. xD

  3. Ahhhh, what a fun (and tasty) trip! I miss WDW so much!! Orange Bird is so adorable! I made sure I got a pin of him when I was there. He's starting to show up more at Disneyland, too! :)

    1. Oh that's awesome! I'm glad he's been making a comeback. :D

  4. I'm glad you and Julie got to join us for the WDW adventure. Hopefully the whole gang can go the next time and hopefully next time isn't too far away.

    1. I hope so too!! Already counting the days. ;D