Mousejunkies!

Mousejunkies!

Tips, Tales, and Tricks for a DISNEY WORLD Fix $16.95
By Bill Burke
May 2009
ISBN 1-932361-66-9   288 pages
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Description
Introduction
Table of Contents
Sample Chapter
About the Author

Description


“Falling in love with the idea of having my breakfast served by adults dressed as fictional cartoon animals was the farthest thing from my mind, but that’s what happened. I love Walt Disney World. I’ll spend as much time there as I can. I need my fix.” —Bill Burke, author of Mousejunkies!

What becomes of Mouseketeers when they (never) grow up? They become...

Mousejunkies!

Where should you turn if you want the best inside information for your Walt Disney World vacation? Why, to the fanatics who go year after year, several times a year, who spend all their waking hours planning their next trip and devising strategies to make the most of their time there—for them it’s not a vacation, it’s a way of life. That’s right, you’d turn to the Mousejunkies!

Inside these pages lies the accumulated wisdom of many years and countless trips to Walt Disney World, on all the topics that make a difference to you:

  1. How to beat the crowds and the lines
  2. How to take full advantage of passes
  3. When to go and what to bring
  4. Where the best restrooms are
  5. Where to stay and why
  6. The psychology behind Walt Disney World
  7. What to do when overload strikes
  8. Where to splurge and where to eat cheap
  9. How to get the best discounts
Follow the Mousejunkies and mainline the magic!

Introduction


By Bill Burke

TO LOOK AT ME, you’d never suspect I harbor such a secret.

I live in a decent house, hold down a steady job and pay the bills on time. As far as you know.

I play mediocre bass guitar in a good blues band, I love watching football and I secretly yearn to trade my sensible hybrid car in for an unnecessarily obnoxious pickup truck.

But mention something as innocuous as “Main Street” and I break out into a sweat.

That’s the first clue. Look a bit closer, however, and the signs begin to manifest themselves: Almost every shirt I own has a mouse on it somewhere; if you look closely at my watch you’ll see cleverly hidden Mouse ears; I refer to the guy at the Sip-n-Go as a gas station cast member; and my credit card bill has an inordinate number of charges emanating from the Orlando, Florida area.

Spend more than five minutes talking to me and I’ll figure out a way to insert Mickey Mouse into the conversation. It can be annoying, but I have no qualms about the fact that I am a hard-core Walt Disney World fanatic, and I know how to do it right.

This is not a boastful claim. It’s just something I’ve learned while in the throes of my addiction. I love Disney World, and I’ll spend as much time vacationing there as I can without going broke.

Actually, that’s a lie. I don’t really care about debt. I just need my fix.

I need to be standing on the sparkling clean streets of the Magic Kingdom, enveloped in ethereal music wafting from hidden speakers and bathed in the early morning Florida sun. I crave the oasis provided by an air-conditioned restaurant as fellow addicts fill the perfectly manicured park outside. And I need to end the day with a head full of frozen margaritas as IllumiNations unfolds in front of me—a majestic display of fire and hope.

But it didn’t start out that way.

Falling in love with the idea of having my breakfast served by adults making minimum wage dressed as fictional cartoon animals was the farthest thing from my mind when I got on a plane with my wife and headed south one August day in 1998.

It was on that trip that I learned an important fact: Walt Disney World is not just for kids. It may have started out that way, but the days of riding “It’s a Small World” over and over are over. There are nightclubs and restaurants and bars and attractions and shows and shopping and golf and fishing—enough to keep us going back for many, many years. For those who haven’t succumbed to the seduction or haven’t been to central Florida for a long time, it’s hard to understand.

At first, I’d begin to plan a vacation and people would ask, “Where are you going?” Now, no one asks. When I say we’re going away, I’ll get a knowing nod or a chuckle. In fact, I’ve stopped saying that we’re going to Walt Disney World. I just say that we’re going to Florida. It somehow sounds a little less crazy to my ears.

I often think about why I’m so enamored of the place. I have theories about how working in the newspaper business I spend a great deal of time thinking about war and terrorism and crime, and how Walt Disney World provides a total escape from that.

That might be somewhat true, but it’s too easy an answer. It would be best—and probably more entertaining—to examine how this all came out from the very beginning.

Table of Contents


Foreword

CHAPTER 1 A Mousejunkie Is Born  
From Chaos to Perfection
Template for an Obsession
A Vision of the Future—Circa 1981
The Heat Claims a Casualty
The Rain, Rain, Rain Came Down, Down, Down
Dread, Sadness, Regret—The Last Day

CHAPTER 2 Meet the Mousejunkies
These Are the Mousejunkies

CHAPTER 3 Mousejunkies Travel
Crowd Levels
Special Events
Cost Concerns
Getting in the Door
Moving Forward
Whither the Weather

CHAPTER 4 Mousejunkies Sleep
Where to Stay?
Fort Wilderness

CHAPTER 5 Mousejunkies Eat
Get This Man to a Buffet!
Buffets
Meals with Character
Can’t Miss Restaurants
Mousejunkies Splurge

CHAPTER 6 The Way of the Mousejunkie
The Magic Kingdom
Epcot
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Mouse Droppings
Mousejunkie Commandments

CHAPTER 7 Mousejunkies Recreate
Mickey Who?
Finding Nemo
Winding Down
Fore at Five

CHAPTER 8 Mousejunkies Procreate
Tackling the Magic Kingdom
Rules to Relax By
Strollers Are Your Friend
Epcot with Kids
Strollers in the Studios
Animal Kingdom with Kids

CHAPTER 9 Mousejunkies at Sea
The Tiny Ship Was Tossed
Cruisejunkies

CHAPTER 10 Mousejunkies Marry
Married to the Mouse
Renting the Secret

CHAPTER 11 Mousejunkies Misbehave
Mayhem with Mickey

CHAPTER 12 Mousejunkies Confess
Why We Go

Glossary
Index
Acknowledgments
About the Author

Sample chapter


Chapter 1 A Mousejunkie Is Born

MY FIRST FLIRTATION with Walt Disney World occurred on June 7, 1981. A collection of cousins, brothers, and sisters trekked from Boston to the Magic Kingdom. At the time that’s all there was. Epcot’s opening wasn’t far off, but at that point there was just Main Street, the Castle, and everything that lay behind it.

We stayed in a motel that had a small arcade where my cousin and I discovered an Evel Knievel pinball game that had about forty credits racked up on it. As a twelve-year-old, that was about as magical an occurrence as I could hope for.

The memories of that trip are a bit vague now, and come mainly in impressionistic brush strokes: Riding Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, eating at a character breakfast at the Contemporary Resort, shopping at what would one day become Downtown Disney, playing on the beach at the Polynesian Resort and feeling like we had been transported to Hawaii for the afternoon.

Most importantly, I remember the feelings. From the minute we emerged from our first attraction—the now-retired Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride—I realized we were not in a very hot and humid version of our local amusement park. That’s the primary difference between a Disney property and anything that attempts to compete with it: you can experience an amusement park, but you feel Walt Disney World.

I don’t remember seeing Cinderella Castle for the first time. It’s the icon everyone envisions when they hear the phrase “Walt Disney World,” and yet I don’t remember laying eyes on it for the first time. What I do remember is the effect it had on me. Looking back, I know that’s when I first felt the power Disney would one day hold over me. During the entire trip we were always happy, always looking forward to the next thing.

When we returned home following the trip, I immediately went into my first Disney withdrawal. I daydreamed about it, talked to my friends about it, and tried to will myself there as often as possible. I had the Disney DTs.

The urge to return lasted for a few years. Over time the memories faded, but never really went away. With no return trip possible, I discovered sports, college, and aimlessness.

A lack of cash, stability, and any kind of personal responsibility hindered my dream to one day return to Walt Disney World, and I never pulled it off.

Time marched on, and after a few false starts I joined the rat race, met a nice girl, got married, bought a house, and embarked on a career in daily newspapers. All the while those memories would occasionally emerge, reminding me of a time when all my expectations were exceeded and of a place where there were no troubles.

It would be nearly twenty years before I returned.

From Chaos to Perfection

In June of 1998 I was ordered to take a vacation. I worked as an online editor for the Boston Herald and my supervisor had generously granted me an unexpected holiday. She had just returned from Walt Disney World herself, and her glowing review of the place was fresh in my mind.

It also began to rekindle long-dormant memories. I initially lobbied for a trip to Ireland, while my wife, Amy, pushed for Paris. Since we could visit reasonable facsimiles of both at Epcot, it was the obvious choice.

And that’s how this all started. All the effort, the months spent in the embrace of the Mouse—not to mention the small fortune deposited into the wallet of the Mouse—began with a decision that took less than two minutes to make.

We began trying to figure out how to get there, where to stay, and everything else associated with a trip to Disney World. This was a bit before the internet became such a useful tool for planning vacations, so we went to a travel agent. I know that was a dumb move. Yes, I would come to regret it. But without this little diversion, our story would be a lackluster affair.

I told the travel agent we wanted to stay onsite at one of the All Star resorts—primarily because we could take advantage of the transportation system and it was one of the cheaper hotels on Disney property.

“No, you don’t want to do that,” she said. “Besides, they’re all booked up.”

Since this was, actually, exactly what I wanted to do, I asked our psychically-gifted travel agent if she’d maybe call and check to see if they actually were “all booked up.”

She went through the motions and quickly hung up, saying there wasn’t one room on Disney property for us.

We accepted that answer, but what choice did we have? I suppose I could’ve screamed “Liar!” at her and stormed out, but I only do that in cases of extreme fiction.

She then decided the Holiday Inn Main Gate East would be perfect for us. It had the phrase “Main Gate” in the title, so I envisioned a room looking over a stand of palm trees just east of Cinderella Castle. She just happened to have a package ready for us—airfare, hotel, and passes. She said we wouldn’t need a car, since the hotel ran shuttles. Not knowing any better, we agreed to that plan. There wasn’t much left to do but count the days until our vacation.

When the day arrived, we took the first morning flight and arrived three hours later in a place we instantly discovered was a different world. When we disembarked the plane, we were assaulted with a heat I hadn’t felt in decades. It was a smothering, scorching, debilitating heat. approximately thirty degrees hotter than the face of the sun.

We picked up our luggage and found the shuttle nearby. We loaded into the van along with several other visitors headed to the same hotel. As we traveled down the highway, we began to see billboards advertising attractions at different theme parks. We started getting excited about the week ahead. The sun was shining and everything was looking good.

Until we arrived at the hotel.

Our home for the week was located on a main strip in Kissimmee. This was not the resort so lovingly described by our travel agent. Where was the Main Gate? Certainly not immediately to our east. Where was the palm grove? I could only assume it was behind the chicken shack I was staring at. Or, I optimistically surmised, I just couldn’t see it through the heat radiating off the pavement, which smudged everything in my field of vision into vertical waves of blurry energy.

We got out of the van and walked into utter chaos. A mob of people was surging toward the check-in desk. Amy took the luggage and sat down on a couch nearby as I queued up to see if we could get checked in. While our trip so far had not been an arduous one, I needed order at this point. Even a line would have sufficed. Some civility, even. There was none. There were, however, flying elbows and stomping feet and threats bandied about with malicious abandon. Our travel agent failed to mention that we’d be arriving during Work Release Week for the Florida State Penitentiary system.

It was the only explanation for the pandemonium playing out before us.

After about thirty minutes, the mob began to disperse. I stepped up and presented our packet. The front desk manager issued our room key and provided a shuttle schedule.

When we first booked the trip through our travel agent, we were assured of two specific details: That the hotel provided frequent shuttle service to the parks—so we avoided renting a car—and that we’d be staying in a suite with a kitchenette.

The first thing we learned after checking in was that the shuttles ran once an hour, first come first serve, and they stopped running at 1 P.M. It was now 1:10 P.M.

Cinderella Castle was starting to feel very far away.

We grabbed our luggage and headed for the room. It was on the first floor, right next to the street. I unlocked the door and stepped inside. A hot, thick, stale smell hung in the air and there were flies buzzing about. The kitchenette described so painstakingly by our travel agent was, in reality, a microwave on top of a mini-fridge.

This was not good. I turned around to see Amy standing in the doorway, her eyes filling with tears.

I threw my suitcase on the bed, pulled out the phone book, flipped to the page with the Disney hotel phone numbers, and asked Amy to pick Sports or Music—the designations given to two of Disney’s most affordable resorts. Given the disaster we were now facing she didn’t have a preference, so I called the main number at Disney’s All Star Music resort and explained our problem.

In a voice that to this day I swear belonged to a princess, the woman on the other end said our room would be ready, and that they’d be waiting for us when we arrived.

I silently cursed our treacherous travel agent and told Amy to grab her luggage. We were leaving this non-palm-tree-stand-having, non-Castle-viewing, giant, unruly mob at the front desk hell hole.

The checkout process did not go well. Suffice to say that the first person I spoke to was belligerent and entirely without the magic I associated with a Disney vacation. I was told I wouldn’t be getting any money back (she was wrong) and that I was out of luck (I wasn’t). I grabbed anything that might be used as a receipt and headed outside to catch a ride to our new hotel.

Approximately fifteen minutes after we’d arrived at that first hotel, we were in a van heading away from it.

In the process, however, a huge weight had been lifted from our shoulders. We really couldn’t afford to pay for the Holiday Inn and All Star Music, but I did have a credit card handy and I refused to let our vacation plans go down in flames just because I wanted to stick to a reasonable budget.

Not surprisingly, this would become a recurring theme. Irresponsibility in the face of Disney was already becoming a hobby of mine.

Back to the van: Amy and I watched the lush foliage whip past as we began the final leg of our journey toward Walt Disney World. The feeling of elation we both were experiencing was probably from the not-entirely-accurate concept that we were pulling something over on the Holiday Inn people. We were splurging, and we were now truly just minutes away from the beginning of our vacation.

When we pulled up to the colorful front gates at All Star Music, the main doors swung open, swelling music reached our ears, ice-cold air conditioning enveloped us, and the cast member that met us referred to me by name. If cartoon birds had fluttered out to greet us we could not have been happier. Check-in was quick, friendly, and seconds later we were headed to our building. The bedlam of less than thirty minutes earlier was quickly becoming just a bad memory. I silently prayed a wish that those obnoxious people would be spending the week at Busch Gardens.

The room was exactly what we needed. It was small, but it was bright, colorful, air-conditioned, and quiet. My only complaint was that it was located roughly seven miles from the lobby. This was a small matter, however, and did not serve to lessen our newfound enthusiasm in any way.

We tossed our suitcases, snatched up our theme park passes, and headed back to the main building to catch the next shuttle to the Magic Kingdom.

I hadn’t been to Disneyworld in eighteen years, so it was very much like I was seeing it all for the first time. We had finally arrived. We didn’t exactly know what we were in for, but in retrospect we were just minutes away from beginning a love affair with a place that began its life with the unassuming moniker of “The Florida Project.”

Template for an Obsession

At first blush, the Magic Kingdom looked much as I had remembered it. All summer the one thing I couldn’t wait to see was Cinderella Castle from the far end of Main Street. We headed inside—just in time for the beginning of the daily 3 P.M. parade. My dream view would have to wait. It was crowded, but we decided to make our way up the righthand side of Main Street USA.

By the time we got near the Castle, the parade was getting ready to start in earnest. We veered right and headed into Tomorrowland. It was oppressively hot. There were so many people, and it had been so long since either of us had been to the Magic Kingdom, we had a hard time getting our bearings. We were lost in a world of bright colors, cacophonous sounds, and hordes of people milling about. Many of these people were wearing strange hats on their heads and exhausted looks on their faces. I would one day come to know that look well, but this was day one of a new obsession. We were primarily excited, disoriented, and sweaty.

We stopped just in front of ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, which, by the way, no longer exists, saw no line, and headed inside. It stopped being hot, and that was good. Air conditioning quickly became the measuring stick by which we gauged the success of attractions.

Trying to skip to the next closest artificially chilled enclave, we ducked into the nearby Timekeeper attraction—a Circle Vision 360-degree film combining audio animatronics and a humorous storyline narrated by, among others, Robin Williams. Until now, we had been going nonstop since about 4:30 A.M. This was the first time all day we had had a chance to relax for a minute and take stock of where we were and what had happened.

It was at this moment that a not entirely unpleasant haze began to overtake me. At the time I believed it was relaxation. In reality it was closer to euphoria. I began to suspect Disney was pumping some kind of synthesized opiate through its air-conditioning systems, and I liked it.

What happened next would cost me many thousands of dollars, consume countless hours of thought and focus, and bring a bemused disapproval from family and friends.

This is the precise moment I fell in love with Walt Disney World. It happened in the hallway leading to The Timekeeper—a rather nondescript attraction that has since been wiped from the face of the park. It wasn’t the most picturesque spot or a classic attraction. It was a rather plain hallway stuffed with people, but that’s where it hit me. My Disney love affair was consummated at this precise point.

We spent the rest of the day wandering aimlessly around the park with no real plan and reacquainting ourselves with a theme park almost entirely devoid of lines.

Almost devoid of lines. The mountains—Splash, Big Thunder, and Space—were a different story. We opted to skip them rather than wait for ninety minutes. Besides, our priority seating at the Crystal Palace restaurant was fast approaching, and my head was screaming by now. In the chaos of travel, I had forgotten to get my caffeine fix. It was a mistake I would not make again.

We sat outside the Crystal Palace and watched the crowd pass by. It was starting to get dark, and a bank of lights lit up the castle—first purple, then red, then orange, and then purple again. It was really quite beautiful, and the newly rekindled affection I felt for this place was starting to grow.

Exhausted after a day of travel, switching hotels unexpectedly, reuniting with an old flame, and finally stuffing ourselves at the buffet, we thought it was best to return to the hotel. We fought downstream against a steady stream of visitors heading upstream for the nightly fireworks display.

By the time we got back to All Star Music—the Resort That Saved Our Vacation—we were practically stifled by the heat, which made the icy air conditioning that much more satisfying. It was not difficult to drift off to sleep that night.

I woke up many times wondering if it was time to get up.

Finally, it was.

A Vision of the Future—Circa 1981

In case we needed a reminder that this was Florida in late August, our sunglasses fogged up immediately upon leaving the cool confines of our hotel room. The humidity remained beyond my comprehension.

However, the scorching heat and crushing humidity served as not-so-subtle reminders that we were on vacation. We bypassed breakfast and headed straight to Epcot aboard the first shuttle of the morning. Driving by the Swan and Dolphin hotels gave me my first glimpse of what Disney had been up to since my last visit.

I had also never been to Epcot before, and didn’t know what to expect. As we turned the corner from the parking lot and Spaceship Earth—the park’s massive iconic structure—loomed above us, I got a glimpse of what post-1970s Disney looked like. Spaceship Earth is an 18-story geodesic sphere referred to by most people as “the giant golfball.” For something that looks rather plain from a distance, it’s an impressive gateway to the park beyond, and houses a thirteen-minute dark ride that serves as an introduction to Epcot’s unique mixture of entertainment and education. It also serves as a great place to get off your feet for a while.

As a first time visitor, Epcot was a shining example of what Disney’s Imagineers had been up to since construction at the Magic Kingdom was completed. It took advantage of newer technology, was laid out quite differently, and felt much larger.

We stopped in at the Fountainview Café and had a quick bite. I was determined not to make the same mistake I made a day earlier. Caffeine would be an essential part of the Disney experience. As it turned out, our timing was perfect. As we sat down to eat, the first fountain show of the day kicked off. I’m not one to fall for water shows or flowers or topiary—normally. I’d rather watch a hockey fight than a ballet, but I shockingly found myself enraptured by the dancing waters and the swelling music. I still couldn’t really explain the hold this place had on me, but as evidence my love of a water show, it was tightening its grip.

It was almost as if Disney knew it had me, and now it was just showing off. Every new thing I saw confirmed that even though we were only now embarking on our first full day at the vacation kingdom, I would be back.

We wandered through the main plaza, and came out near Ellen’s Energy Adventure—a lengthy treatise on different types of energy. Amy said she wanted to head inside, and since it was forty-five minutes long we wouldn’t have to kill too much time before the World Showcase opened.

I protested, saying forty-five minutes was far too long to spend on one ride.

“But it’s air conditioned,” she said.

We got in line.

Not long after we found ourselves winding our way through the World Showcase, a world’s fair come to life that loops around a scenic lagoon.

We planned to eat at Chefs de France that evening, and arranged to have our reservations moved a bit earlier. This would serve two purposes: it would get us in a little earlier, and it would allow us to order off the lunch menu—which in some cases is the same food, only less expensive. Our reservations sufficiently altered, we continued on to the United Kingdom pavilion.

We stopped on the bridge connecting the two lands and took a good long look across the lake. I wasn’t prepared for the brilliant layout of the park, the perfectly manicured landscaping, the moving, ambient music or the feeling of happiness and relaxation that seemed to permeate the place.

When we arrived in Epcot’s version of the United Kingdom, we headed straight for the Rose and Crown Pub. In another example of Disney making dreams come true, we learned they served Guinness. I was pleased. Then I was pleased again by the size of approximately one pint.

As we walked back across the bridge toward dinner, the lights encircling the World Showcase Lagoon blinked on and I fell more deeply in love with this small part of central Florida. We arrived back at France just a bit before our advanced dining reservation time.

They didn’t want to seat us.

“We weel seat you, but we weel not serve you until zee propair time,” the waiter said. Being in Disney, I wasn’t in the mood to argue. We ate our bread and water and watched waiters stand around and watch us as we all waited for our appointed dining time to arrive.

Our table was by the window, introducing us to one of the finest people-watching locations in all of Walt Disney World, so rather than pick a fight we enjoyed a bit of down time. In the end it was worth the wait. The food was good, the service was friendly, despite the maitre d’s obsession with time, and the ambience was immersive. Designed to resemble a French neighborhood with shops and a view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance, the pavilion completely took us out of central Florida and transported us to Paris—if only on the surface and only for a short time.

It was getting late in the day, and since we were both used to getting up at 4:30 A.M. we were starting to tire. Too worn out to continue the commando pace, we headed back to the Resort That Saved Our Vacation.

We filled out a few postcards and watched the in-room resort channel for a while before falling asleep later that night. I woke up several times to see if it was time to head back out to discover what else this place had to offer.

Eventually, it was.

The Heat Claims a Casualty

We caught an early bus to MGM Studios and headed across the parking lot. It was a sunny, beautiful day, but even at this early hour it was hotter than it had been previously.

We encountered a pair of cast members at the gate who inquired about our plans. They talked us out of our plan of attack, convincing us instead to fill a nearby stadium nearly an hour before show time. We took their advice, but later found it to be misguided. The villains were among us.

As we walked down New York Street a few hours later, the heat peaked. It had progressed from merely scorching and crushingly humid to incendiary and unable to support human life. We were both starting to falter a bit. At the end of the street however, I found the “Singing in the Rain” lamppost. It had an iron umbrella attached to it, and if you held the handle rain started falling out of it. It was a quick way to cool off, and I even drew a crowd. Since the sun had sapped my sense of humor, I just stood there looking menacing and getting wet.

After toughing it out for a few hours, we wavered, bent, and finally broke. It was time to get away from this blast furnace with movies. We surmised that an air-conditioned drive over to Disney’s new Animal Kingdom park would soothe our scorched psyches.

The Rain, Rain, Rain Came Down, Down, Down

The convenience of the Disney transportation system alone made it worth the whole rigmarole that accompanied changing our hotel earlier in the week. As we queued up to catch one of those buses to Disney’s Animal Kingdom early one morning, the weather grew rather threatening. As we made our way to the front gates of the park—our second trip there in as many days—it started to come down.

“It’ll stop in twenty minutes,” I confidently predicted.

Forty minutes later we found ourselves jumping over puddles and attempting to remain just a little dry. We were still reluctant to admit defeat by buying a rain poncho, so we ducked into a shop to dry off. By the time we finished shopping the rain had turned sideways. It was coming down so hard it was difficult to see.

This, I would come to learn, was how it rained in Florida.

We relented and bought two rain ponchos. When we went outside, I turned to look at something, turned back to ask Amy a question, and looked out over a sea of light-brown-clad people who—aside from differing heights and widths—looked exactly the same in their Animal Kingdom rain ponchos.

By the time we caught the bus to head back out to Epcot later that day, the skies had cleared. Through some tragic accident, we found ourselves walking into the Journey Into Imagination attraction. Inexplicably, when it underwent two distinct overhauls in ensuing years, people were saddened by the excising of its small, purple dragon mascot, Figment, from this brief journey into boredom. I hated it. I hated the song and the contrived cuteness. I hated everything about it. It nearly single-handedly killed the Disney magic for me. It represented that point in a relationship when you learn something unseemly about the person you previously thought of as beautiful, perfect and unblemished.

As it turns out, Disney World had its own blemish. And it was called Journey Into Imagination. Had the attraction gone on for a few seconds longer, this book would’ve been quite a bit shorter—indeed, might have been stillborn.

Following the sickeningly sweet Figment, I was ready for a good, stiff drink. We walked over to the United Kingdom pavilion and headed straight for the pub. It helped to soothe the scars inflicted upon my burgeoning relationship with Walt Disney World by the creepy Dreamfinder, the red-bearded host of the attraction, and his annoying purple pet.

When dinnertime arrived we found ourselves feeling our way carefully through the San Angel Inn to our table. It was so dark inside the Mexico pavilion’s restaurant we could barely see our food. On subsequent trips I would learn that this was a blessing.

Dread, Sadness, Regret—The Last Day

Anyone who visits Walt Disney World has to deal with it: the final day of the trip. Hours filled with happiness, relaxation, food, music, drink, and laughter (and, let’s be honest—exhaustion, dehydration, heat, grumpy tourists, blisters, discomfort and crowds) are about to be replaced with the return to the daily grind.

Despite my critical eye, the place was winning me over. For the small cost of buying into the premise, we were seeing world-class entertainment, eating great food, and completely checking out of the real world. Any inconveniences—reservation mix ups, the uncomfortable weather, attractions that didn’t quite hit the mark—were just that: minor distractions in an otherwise perfectly engineered environment. As far as I was concerned, there was no outside world while we were there. No news, no troubles, and no worries. The last thing I wanted to do was leave it behind. But that’s what we were preparing for.

Anyone who’s been to Disney World, assuming they enjoyed it, knows how the final day goes: you spend the dwindling few hours trying to squeeze everything in.

Fortunately, we avoided spending the last day traveling from one park to the next by sticking to a simple plan: We’d visit the Magic Kingdom in the morning and Epcot in the afternoon.

As we walked slowly up the middle of Main Street, taking in the great view of the castle, we came across a young couple at the Partners statue in front of Cinderella Castle. The young man knelt down on one knee and popped the question. His companion was overcome with emotion as a barbershop quartet—the Dapper Dans—appeared as if out of nowhere and serenaded the two as they embraced in this life-changing moment. Disney’s grip on my heart was now…complete.

We walked around the park trying to take everything in. I felt like I was banking magic to get me through until our next trip. Of course, I hadn’t said anything to Amy about a “next” trip, but I was already working on one in my mind.

As we turned around one last time and said goodbye to the Castle, I envied the people who were walking through the main gate on the first day of their vacations as we were walking out. It’s not too difficult to tell the first-timers, and that’s one of the things I liked best about the trip. It’s all but impossible not to get caught up in everything.

After dinner it was time to head back to pack up and get ready to return home. The only thing left to do was say our goodbyes to Walt Disney World and take stock of exactly what had happened over the previous week. Namely: I had become deeply obsessed with the place. Expecting an amusement park, I instead discovered a place that made me feel something. And that alone was reason enough to want more. The sweeping music, the unmatched attention to detail and the opportunity to act like a kid again—without feeling out of place or strange about it—was an entirely new experience. It was small enough to navigate and yet big enough to keep us uncovering details and finding new experiences for years to come. I found a place with a tangible sense of fun, happiness, and discovery. And I knew that if I returned, so, too, would that feeling.

When we got home, I was still buzzing from this new vacation discovery. Within days, however, I would suffer a backlash I could not have foreseen. I began to fixate on the things we saw and did on the trip. One night I pulled a chair up in front of our computer and started to write.

I liked what I had seen, and I wanted more. Every day I missed the music, the sights, and the feeling of being in a place that is everything you imagined it could be. I wanted to go back, and it had to be as soon as possible.

The thought of returning so soon seemed weird at first. After a while, however, it became the only option I would even consider. I wasn’t interested in traveling anywhere else. I wanted to experience that same euphoria I had when we first arrived on Disney property weeks earlier. Luckily, opportunities continued to arise. My career choice aided in my new obsession, and I would spend weeks at a time completely immersed in a world where every expectation was exceeded beyond my wildest dreams.

About the Author


Bill Burke is a journalist with eighteen years experience in the newspaper and magazine business. A dyed-in-the-wool New Englander who recently came to the conclusion he hates the cold weather but can’t live without good fried clams, Bill spent portions of his childhood living in different parts of the country and traveling throughout the United States. His family then returned to the northeast where he remained until discovering the joy of having his meals served by adults dressed as fictional characters. Now he flees to the warm embrace of central Florida whenever time and finances allow. Or even if they won’t. After trying out a number of different career options ranging from installing concrete foundations and digging ditches to working as a bouncer at an oceanfront nightclub and selling sci-fi collectibles, he stumbled across journalism. In the ensuing years he has covered marathons and murders, and written everything from business features to comic book scripts. He has been a cops-and-courts reporter, written features, interviewed musicians and actors, and worked as a travel writer. He was the online managing editor for the Boston Herald for six of the eleven years he spent at that newspaper. Bill has been traveling to and writing about Walt Disney World for the past ten years. Bill plays bass guitar in a blues band, Irish music on the tenor banjo and mandolin, and bagpipes when he wants to annoy his wife of thirteen years. He has considered moving to Florida, but has been told that the state lacks good Chinese food. He lives in southern New Hampshire with his wife, Amy, and six-year-old daughter, Katie.

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