As most of you know, I recently went to Disney World and, less than a year ago, I went to Disneyland.
I was five the first time I went to Disney World. There are still pictures of me greeting characters around the park (I put them at the end of this post too). This was 1981 when the big characters, aside from the main five, were from Robin Hood and the Rescuers. This was before the Princesses were a big deal and many of the rides weren’t branded to Disney properties. We went back, about six years later, when my sister Katie was the same age. I’ve seen pictures of me in a Goofy hat, one I’m pretty sure they still sell in the park. Epcot was included in this trip since it had opened. I remember another trip when I was in high school, while my father was away for a long trip. My mother took us for a long weekend. Then there were the day-long trips with my youth group in high school and the infamous one to Epcot when I came home with the flu. The last time I remember going to any of the Orlando parks was in my early twenties when Hollywood Studios was still MGM and the rides weren’t that great. Tower of Terror had just opened, but for some reason, I skipped it.
My favorite parts of the parks, of all amusement parks, in fact, are the rides. The food, the characters, the shops, the shows, and the parades don’t mean as much to me as the rides. Space Mountain and Thunder Mountain were my first rollercoasters at five (I was tall). Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Snow White didn’t scare me the way it did other kids. I love the feeling of my feet leaving the ground, my body jolting back and forth, being upside down, and spinning wildly in circles. Even the People Mover and the monorail (not technically a ride) are things I enjoy. Of course, there are rides I love more than others, but if someone wants to ride something and needs a partner, I’ve never said no.
Then there was the Disney drought that lasted nearly twenty years and I forgot how much I love the company. There were little reminders in my house, mostly centered around DVDs and one, lone, porcelain figurine of Briar Rose. It all came back to me when I went to Disneyland for the first time last year with Katie and her friends. It took three days to take me back to feelings I had forgotten about for so long. Plans started taking shape: visit ALL the parks, travel the world to different related properties, collect pins, pick favorites, and more. I started seeing the outline of a story I could and wanted to tell, with a couple tweaks to make sure I wasn’t interfering with the Disney copyrights and trademarks. I started watching YouTube videos about the history of the park, about the people who go to the park, about the travel agents who build a business around getting families to the park. I had lists of questions I wanted to know.
Then an idea popped into my head: I could easily drive from Miami to Orlando and do a few days the next time I had to see my parents.
Things happened quickly from there and grew beyond what I expected. Original plans to stay in a budget resort changed to staying at a more expensive hotel. The park’s annual Halloween event fell on one of the nights I was planning to be there. I saw a YouTube video about a paid tour behind the scenes of the park and knew I needed to do that tour more than anything else. What, on the surface, seemed like a pleasure trip and a stretch to make a trip into research, turned into more research than pleasure. To be fair, for me, research is part of the pleasure. I love learning things and getting special information. It’s my entire career!
For the next few months, I’m going to be telling you about the Disney trip I had this October. Unlike my other recent trips, this wasn’t about promoting a book or going to a conference. This was an experience that you are going to be able to see progress into a book. Each month you’ll get another post about something that happened on the trip. Not a mere recap, but exploring how this is developing into the story for Northanger Parks, book four in the 21st Century Austen Series. I’ll be comparing the experience to previous trips to Disney World and to Disneyland in 2017. I’ll share what aspects made sense to the story or characters in development and more.
For now, enjoy some pictures of me at five, for my first Disney trip ever.