I remember my very first trip to Disney World like it was yesterday. In 1980, I was 14 years old and my sister was 11. My parents announced that instead of visiting Williamsburg, VA as we had been every year since I was about 6 (that’s a whole other story), this year we were going to Disney. My sister and I were excited and although I had no expectations of what Walt Disney World would be like, I can tell you that after spending a week there, I didn’t want to leave.
We drove to Florida, just as we did for all our vacation destinations. Driving isn’t for everyone, I get it but for us it was one of our favorite parts of our trips. We live in New Jersey and for those of you who have driven down 95 to Florida or any of the Southern states, you will be familiar with our drive. We always had enough things to keep us busy and I remember I did a lot of writing in the car as I got older. One of our favorite games to play in the car was of course the License plate game. My sister took it a step further and would write down all the license plates she would see in a little notebook. During the 1980s, rest stops weren’t as great as they are today. (Well maybe not great, half-way decent?) We did our best to hold it until we stopped to eat or at a hotel because the gas station bathrooms were the only ones available to us during those days.
Our first ride down, my parents told us we would be staying at the “South of the Border” resort for one night. Neither one of us really knew what that was so we weren’t the least bit interested until we started seeing numerous billboard signs advertising the “South of the Border” hotel and resort. Every few miles a new sign would feature a message from Pedro letting you know all about the festive resort.
When we arrived at the South of the Border, my sister Patty and I were amazed! For those of you who are not familiar with the resort, it’s considered a family value resort and the gateway to guests traveling to and from the South. When we were all checked in, we were instructed to follow a man dressed in Mexican attire on a bike with a little wagon in the back to our room. Patty and I thought the room were beautiful, we thought it was like a luxury hotel! I have no idea what the rooms look like today, but I can tell you it probably resembled a step up from your average motel room. We thought it was a lot of fun and we really enjoyed our one-night stay.
The next morning, we were back on the road and had finally arrived at our hotel in Kissimmee. We were staying at a hotel on the famous “International Drive.” At that time, it was the Holiday Inn. Since this was during the 80s, Disney didn’t have as many resorts as they have now and staying in the park at that time wasn’t in my family’s budget. The Holiday Inn that we stayed at was circular and we had such a great room on one of the top floors with a view of the Wet & Wild Water Park across the street.
Our first day at the Magic Kingdom was amazing. I was never so excited about any theme park in my life. From the moment we pulled into the parking lot and parked our car in the “Daisy” section, I knew I was going to love this place. I mean come on, the parking lots were named for the Classic Disney characters. As if the parking lot alone wasn’t exciting enough, next we got on a tram to take us to the monorail. If the monorail was the only actual ride in WDW at that time, I would have been completely satisfied with my trip thus far. I know, it doesn’t take much, but wow I was impressed. Little did I know that the monorail was about to take me through the middle of a hotel! When the monorail was getting closer to the Contemporary – my dad was saying to us, “Watch girls, we are going to go right through it.” I couldn’t believe it and the resort was just so beautiful. I remember asking my dad, why can’t we stay here? He just smiled. I remember saying to myself, one day I am going to stay in this resort. Even though there are so many beautiful resorts to stay in now, I would still like to be able to stay in the Contemporary one day.
We got off the monorail and entered the most magical place ever! I loved it! Everywhere I turned there was something to look at, admire and take pictures of. During that time, the characters were walking around the park and I remember the very first character we met was Mickey Mouse. My dad told us to go stand next to him and he would take our picture. If I can find that picture before posting this, I will include it.
After making our way down Main Street, we made our way towards Fantasyland. Our first ride was “It’s a Small World.” We had to wait about a half hour to get on it, but it was well worth it. I loved the music and all the colorful representations of children from around the world. I always think of how much my mom loved this ride. She would be singing and smiling the whole ride through. We had very little wait times back then, but I do remember the heat. We went during the month of July and it was a hot one.
As we went on each of the rides in Fantasyland, we checked them off the park map as we moved along. We had one ride left and as soon as I saw the name of it, I started to have a panic attack. I never liked amusement parks or scary rides when I was younger, so when my dad said let’s do the Haunted Mansion next, I immediately said no. As we got in line and it was another long one, all I did was complain. I was telling him over and over, “Dad, I do not like scary rides, I’m not getting on this.” He was ignoring me, as my mom and my sister didn’t seem to mind it at all. Finally, I guess I started to get on my dad’s last nerve and he turned to me and says, “Joann, would you please look around you. Do you see all these kids in the line that are obviously younger than you? Do you think their parents are going to take them on a ride that will scare the hell out of them? Come on, knock it off, you’re getting on the damn ride.” Next thing I know, those damn doors opened, and I had to go in. Yes, I was really scared and yes, I felt like an idiot by the time we got off the ride. The Haunted Mansion is now one of my favorite rides in the Magic Kingdom. So, my dad was right, I loved that ride.
We continued to work our way through the park and we had a great time. There is nothing like experiencing the first time you visit the Magic Kingdom. All the first-time rides and attractions, are some of the best memories you will remember long after your trip is over. I remember how much my mom loved Disney. She would really enjoy relaxing on the People Mover, taking in the sights and sounds while riding around the park. She loved “The Carousel of Progress” and she always made sure to see it every time she visited the park.
Before we left the Magic Kingdom that day, we shopped our way through Main Street and one of my very first Disney purchases was the Mary Poppins figurine. Mary Poppins was one of my favorites and still is. Believe it or not, I still have that figurine and it was displayed in my mom’s curio cabinet since the day I brought it home. Now, I have it wrapped up nicely and one day after my boys are older, I’ll display her once again.
I will always remember our first trip to Walt Disney World and all the memories we shared that day. I’m looking forward to seeing the Magic Kingdom again through my boys eyes. I just know they are going to love it!
Do you remember your first trip to Walt Disney World? I’d love to hear about your experiences, please share your magical memories with me.