I took my first trip to Walt Disney World in 1978. My mother, father, brother, grandmother and I drove in a red Oldsmobile hatchback from NY to Orlando, Florida in February. We rode side by side for 2500 miles. We all had to take turns sitting on “the hump” but mostly it was grandma as my brother and I sitting next to each other would soon come to blows over some slight the other had created.
The main portion of our trip was to attend the Daytona 500 race but we were able to spend two days at Walt Disney World.
My aunt, uncle, 2 cousins, 1 girlfriend and another couple all went down at the same time we did. So for two nights we all packed into a Buena Vista Suites Condo. These are no longer there but I remember it being gorgeous in my mind. There were two large bedrooms with king size beds upstairs and a queen sized sleeper sofa downstairs. A small kitchen and a dining room table made me want to move here permanently as I thought it was so much nicer than home.
We had our books of tickets. This was back during the time that each ride was given a specific letter grade A-E and when you bought you books of tickets you would get so many tickets for each letter ride. I have vivid memories of the Jungle Cruise, the trolley along Main Street and Tom Sawyer’s Island.
We also rode Space Mountain. To this day this is the most talked about part of our trip in our family’s lore. This was back when Space Mountain did not have individual seats but a long bench down the center and was divided in half by a seat back. Two people sat in each section of the car with the front person sitting between the legs of the person behind them. There was a seat belt type thing that went across your lap. I was in the front of the car riding between my mom’s legs. My aunt was in the back with my diminutive 4 ft. 10 grandmother between her legs.
What I remember from the ride is going up the hill in the beginning and shortly after ending up on my back as I slid down in the seat and ended up lying on the bench. I could hear my Aunt screaming but I had no idea what was happening as I was just trying to hold on. As we pulled up to the platform to disembark I could hear my Aunt yelling my grandmother’s name over and over.
Grandma was lying on her back between my aunt’s legs on the bench not moving. As soon as we stopped Grandma popped up looked around and said, “Thank the Lord that is over.” Got up out of her seat and jumped out. My aunt had been scared that grandma had a heart attack during the ride when she slid down in the seat! When we gather we still tell the story of Grandma on Space Mountain.
I have a picture of my mother, my aunt, my 16 year-old cousin and myself posing for the camera in big floppy 1970’s hats outside the Tiki Bird Room in Adventureland that brings tears to my eyes. This is one of my favorite pictures of my cousin. Some years later she would be diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer that was not caught soon enough because she was “too young to have breast cancer” when she told the doctor about a lump in her breast. I attended her funeral 4 months before my daughter was born.
So memories of Walt Disney World can make me laugh and make me cry all at the same time. We are now building memories for our own children as we prepare for our daughter’s 10th trip and our son’s 8th trip with their 93 year-old grandmother for her first trip to Walt Disney World.
We can make each other giggle mentioning the time that I twisted her ankle walking into the Tiki Bird room and no one noticed that I was lying face down on the cobblestones until a cast member stopped them as they were about to go into the show and said, “Excuse me, your friend is back there on the ground.” I was fine but mortified at having fallen in a room full of people.
My eyes can mist over as I look at the pictures of my son two weeks after he was diagnosed with Autism, most likely to manifest itself later as Asperger’s Syndrome, my little girl who is suddenly “too old for princesses” sitting next to Ariel looking shy and demur and our honeymoon pictures where it all started.
So what will your memories be?