Today, October 1, 2021 is a historic day as Walt Disney World Resort is celebrating its 50th birthday. The celebration will last for the next 18 months at the Florida parks with tons of festivities including the new, fireworks show – Disney Enchantment at Magic Kingdom Park and at Epcot the new Harmonious nighttime show.
Yet, with all of the celebrations taking place, I can’t help but get back to basics and remember the one man and his brother who created this dream of an incredible destination for families. This joyful, magical place that millions have experienced over the last 50 years is because of them.
And what’s even more incredible? Walt didn’t even live long enough to see this dream place become a reality. He passed in December 1966 leaving his brother Roy O. Disney in charge of seeing his dream into creation. And two months after opening Walt Disney World, Roy passed in December 1971.
I feel like this was their gift to all of us. A place to create magic, a place for families to create memories together and maybe just slip out of ‘reality’ for a few days. It is important for each of us to remember their legacy and dedication. And, now, while it may have grown into a place that maybe Walt and Roy would have never envisioned, I like to think they’d still be happy knowing families are spending time here and creating their own version of magic together.
As a native Floridian, my first visit to Walt Disney World was when I was probably six or seven years old. My sister and I quickly learned our way around the parks soaking in every moment of the fun. As kids, my family had annual passes (Four Seasons Salute passes, for you old-schoolers) with another family and we would all visit together as often as we could. If my parents didn’t want to go – my sister and I would pack it up and go with the other family and vice-versa. Some of my greatest Disney memories involve them.
Now as a parent, I love taking my children to the parks. And even better, my friends that I grew up going with — we’ve been able to return with our own kids on a few visits and let them experience the parks together too. It was true magic seeing our Disney visits come full circle.
Everyone has their own magical memory of Walt Disney World and that’s a big part of what makes it so special.
My number one rule when I visit Walt Disney World is to experience one ‘new to me’ thing. Whether it is staying somewhere new, eating at a ‘new’ restaurant, getting a picture with a character I’ve never met (pre-Covid, of course) – there’s always something different to experience there and that’s why it never gets old. Ever.
Another thing that is important to me on every Disney trip is that I remind my girls that this was all created by one man using his imagination and dreaming BIG. Because one man worked hard, hired a good team and let his imagination go wild – he created a global empire and allowed families from around the world to enjoy the magic that he envisioned.
When my girls were younger, I would always stop by Walt’s statue at Disney’s Hollywood Studios to say thank you. (I hope that bust returns one day!) I’ll never forget the day Maggie, my oldest daughter, asked me who that man was and why we always stopped there to see him. It led to a long conversation as I tried to fight back my tears of happiness and thanks.
Years later, when Maggie chose to do a school report on Walt Disney, I used that as a reason to make another visit to Walt Disney World and let her experience the “One Man’s Dream” museum at Disney’s Hollywood Studios to see first-hand how one man’s vision created a world of magic for all of us. I mean, there’s no better place to learn, right?! She had her notebook out and studied the displays so closely, ready to tackle that report with lots of knowledge. I wanted her to know the impact Walt’s vision has had on all of us. Truly, one dream.
It is important to me that my girls understand that yes, this is a HUGE global corporation that makes tons of money each year, but it truly started with the dream of one man. And in the end, one dream is truly all it takes. A vision. A goal. And the need to share that vision and joy with others truly making anything possible.
So, on this 50th birthday, I say thank you to Roy and Walt.
Yes, I may just be sitting at my desk today, yet I’m thankful knowing that there are so many people there today carrying out Walt’s vision of a place filled with joy and happiness. And I can’t wait to get back there again very soon.