Written by Ty Andreaco
My first trip to Walt Disney World was in October of 1993. Through a second grader’s imagination, the destination is something of an otherworldly experience. Growing up I held onto those memories so tight, dreaming of the day when I could go back. I would religiously watch the broadcast television “making of” documentaries on the parks, creating the rides in my own mind to a scale and caliber so impossible that all of Garner Holt and Walt Disney Imagineering couldn’t hope to accomplish it. When I finally returned in my teens, I began to consume every article and website I could find that pertained to theme park engineering. In the early 2000s, when message boards were all the rage, doombuggies.com was the happening hangout, and along with many others fanatics, I checked in daily. To say that I fell in love with the idea of being an Imagineer or attraction designer is a tremendous understatement. The concept was purely enamoring.
Later in life, I took a position at the Jungle Cruise for a brief period in the mid-2000s, with the hopes of someday entering the maintenance department. In my mind, if I couldn’t design the attractions, fixing them was the next best thing. Life happened and a permanent career with the company never materialized. The experience was unforgettable, and when I hung up my khaki fatigues for the last time, there was no bad blood. I still vacation there regularly. While I enjoy every trip, there is still a vision in my mind from that first visit. A series of images that capture the spirit of the pre-intellectual property days. Lingering snapshots that make me long for the early productive years of Eisner, and envious of anyone alive to see the opening of Epcot. Luckily, there are still a few ways to relive these decades gone by. There are still attractions and experiences that have all the spirit and nostalgia of wandering through the well-themed queue line of a veritable time machine. There are “things” you can still do to recapture the golden age of the Florida Project. And no, I am not talking about the William Dafoe movie. Here are just a few that come to mind:
1. Live Entertainment
Streetmosphere entertainment and live performances can still be found on property. Whether you are meeting the townspeople of Main Street USA or encountering a film director on Sunset Boulevard in the Studios, these talented improv actors will give you a moment of relaxation and laughter. A welcome “stop and smell the roses” moment in any daunting Orlando vacation. Interacting with these cast members will help to suspend your disbelief, transporting you into a world removed from the passage of time. A throwback to Walt’s sense of immersion and his awareness of the importance of people in making the dream work. These “citizens” of a fantasy world aid in providing that extra layer to the cake. Living breathing characters, who create a stage in three dimensions surrounded by countless people who just stroll past on their way to the next attraction. The guests who remain behind and interact are the lucky few. Privy to live entertainment, merely an arm’s length away. A setting that has no substitute. More ambitious vacationers will resort hop to find some of the hidden gems, such as Yehaa Bob at the Port Orleans Riverside Resort or the bartenders at Trader Sam’s.
2. Easter Eggs
According to Oxford Dictionary, easter eggs are “an unexpected or undocumented feature in a piece of computer software or on a DVD, included as a joke or a bonus.” In the world of Disney Parks, they are a bit different. Within Walt Disney World, there are real world and sometimes even tangible easter eggs. The most cited the simplistic and well known Hidden Mickeys (3 connecting spheres in theming items, decor, or architecture). However, for the Disney parks connoisseur, there exists a subterranean world of secrets. Knowing how to find them connects you with the Imagineers who designed the parks. Delicious inside jokes between the artist and their die-hard audience. Pull the rope outside of the Indiana Jones stunt show clearly marked “do not pull” for a surprise. While inside Disney Hollywood Studios make sure you look for the famous “key under the mat” over at Muppet Vision 3D. Two amazingly subtle touches, mere steps away from each other, embody the well known Imagineering term “plussing.” there is no complete list and discovering these moments of magic is some of the most fun you can have in the parks. A few other must do’s include the party line phone in The Chapeau on Main Street USA as well as listening for the humorous sounds from the second story in the Main Street alley between Uptown Jewelers and Crystal Arts. Over in Epcot try to find the one tile difference between the two, almost identical, mosaic murals outside of the Land Pavilion. If you need help ask a cast member, although I’ve encountered a few that didn’t even know themselves.
3. Retro Rides
While we are circling the subject, let’s talk about Retro Rides. Living with the Land and Spaceship Earth are perfect examples of vintage Epcot. Mixing educational topics with an entertaining dark rides seems so delightfully dated when experienced in the present. They truly transport the guest, albeit unintentionally, to a time in the 80s where the possibilities of technology inspired a blind optimism in society. On Echo Lake in Hollywood Studios, treat yourself to the fantastic fossil that is the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. This studio park staple combines that “how movies are made” trope with truly jaw-dropping stunts. An adored remnant of the MGM Studios of our memories.
The truth is there is no way to fully account for all of these time capsule moments still left in WDW. These experiences tend to be very personal to each guest. I look forward to sharing more of my memories, and I urge you to share yours as well.
Ty Andreaco is a former skipper at the Jungle Cruise at the Magic Kingdom. To hear more from Ty, check out this episode of the Defunctland Podcast featuring more of his stories. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35BU3RsuGs8