The Walt Disney Company's 100th anniversary celebration now is underway at the Disneyland Resort. Disney does not officially turn 100 until October, but the company will be celebrating throughout 2023 at Disneyland, with other theme park resorts around the world to join the party later.
Disneyland kicked off its Disney100 celebration with a new ride and two new nighttime spectaculars. You can read my reviews here:
Before Disney's big press event this week, I shared some of my Disney memories in a collaboration with Arthur Levine at About Theme Parks. Arthur looked at the societal impact of 100 years of Disney history, while I took a personal view of my time with the company in Why Working at Disney World Turned My Life Around.
That said, I did not include my single favorite Disney memory in that post, though it does appear in my book, Stories from a Theme Park Insider. Working at Disney for five years and covering it for 20 has blessed me with many wonderful memories, but my all-time favorite remains getting to drive a Tom Sawyer Island raft alone around a peaceful Rivers of America as the sun was rising, just before the park opened on New Year's Day - a blissful moment interrupted only by the very welcome realization that I was getting paid lead double-time plus holiday pay for the honor.
Bliss plus bag equals top-tier memories.
What about you? What has been your favorite memory involving Disney? Please vote in our poll below, and - if you so inclined - tell us about your memory in the comments.
You can find our latest reader rankings - plus on-ride videos, strategy, and links to discount tickets - on our park listing pages:
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Back in the 60's I was in my high school's marching band. There was a competition between bands with the prize for winning being a day at Disneyland, beginning with the band marching down Disneyland's main street. My school won but our principal decided a day at Disneyland wasn't educational enough so he pulled the plug on my day at Disneyland! This is my favourite Disney memory.
Why all this Disney drivel - so many more interesting stories on theme park related stories like the polish snow maze or an update on universals construction or sea worlds new park, or even exciting new cruise ships that aren’t called Disney ?
Just look at posts here about other parks. Very little in the comments section about any park not named Disney or Universal. As Robert said in another post, crapping on Disney drives ad revenue. I know this post isn’t about crapping on Disney, but any posts about Disney will best about any other post about any other theme park.
So many great Disney memories as always magical to visit WDW or Disneyland to see new stuff going. Hoping to get some good ones in March visiting with my sister's family and seeing so much new there. The best trips are still with me today in attractions long lost and why it still connects to me today.
I guess all-time January 1990 with my mom, sister and aunt. First time for MGM Studios, seeing Pleasure Island, new stuff at EPCOT and more, staying at Caribbean Beach, just a wonderful time and stands out amid so many other great trips since.
There was nothing, and mean absolutely nothing, that was more amazing to me than mid late 1980’s EPCOT Center Future World at night. The buildings, the lighting, the music……it was an atmosphere that was truly incredible and inspiring beyond description and made you marvel at the ingenuity of mankind and the possibilities of the future.
It’s to Disney eternal shame that they decided the original missions of discovery and possibility that EPCOT Center was decimated to weren’t worth maintaining and it was allowed to degrade into the mishmash of gutted original attractions/cheap thrill ride/IP dumping ground/drunk fest that it’s been for decades now.
Speaking as someone who was at the opening of EPCOT Center and at Guest Relations a couple of years after it opened there were no "original missions". There was hodge-podge of exhibits and some technology that would be outdated just a couple of years after the park opened. At guest relations information phones we struggled answering the question "What is EPCOT Center"? The theming was so undefined that Sea World actually ran ads boasting survey results showing that "people preferred a day at SeaWorld over EPCOT Center".
The company's vision was to make something shiny that would lasso a bunch of corporate sponsorships. GE, AT&T, Kraft, Kodak, GM and others.
I've been going since cast preview nights in September 1982. It's my favorite park. And I love what it once was and what it has become.
Too many favorite WDW memories to name one. But having a front row seat (working crowd control) when the candlelight processional was on Main Street USA -- with the live orchestra in Towns Square -- sits near the top of the list.
My favorite Disney memories are mostly from times where we've felt "special" in the parks/resorts and have done things not many others had done before at the time or were unique experiences for us or a typical park guest. I'll just go chronologically...
4 parks in a single day - Long ago when Disney used to let you park hop whenever you wanted and had crazy EMHs that started early in the morning and extended well past midnight, we visited all four WDW parks from 6 AM until 2 AM the next morning - seeing 2 different nighttime spectaculars in the process.
Segway Tours - We actually did this on both coasts (at DCA and EPCOT). At the time, Segways were novel contraptions, and getting to ride them was a pretty neat treat topped off by rolling around Disney theme parks well before they opened to the public.
Brewer's Dinner at EPCOT F&W Festival - We participated in a special dinner hosted in the American Adventure Pavilion with foods paired with beers from Sam Adams. The first surprise was that Jim Koch (founder of the Boston Beer Company) was there to provide tasting notes for all the beers, but what shocked us was that all the food was prepared by a chef from our local area.
Chef's Table at Victoria & Albert's - The most exclusive food experience in all of WDW is certainly one of our fondest culinary memories.
Seeing Galaxy's Edge for the first time - I've always been a huge Star Wars fan, so getting to step foot on Batuu was an amazingly memorable experience. Savi's Workshop gave me chills, and even without RotR open when we visited Disneyland's version in August 2019, it was something I will never forget.
Festival of the Lion King Package - We did this just before the pandemic closed the parks and brought a halt to a lot of the special tours and experiences. This special tour provided us front seats for the production, which Zachary got to participate in, but also an exclusive ride through the Kilimanjaro Safaris that was quite enlightening.
Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser Media Voyage - I have the privilege of covering lots of theme park media events on behalf of Theme Park Insider, but this was the first time I had ever had the opportunity to cover a Disney media event. As I noted, I'm a huge Star Wars fan, so while getting to visit both versions of Galaxy's Edge in their debut year was extremely memorable, it's tough to beat this experience early last year.
My favorite memories are of the Contemporary Hotel in the late 70s, early 80s. When I was still a little kid my mom would send me downstairs for a cup of coffee every morning, and would let me keep the change and go to that insaaaane arcade in the basemen while she was getting ready for the day. Mom trusted Disney, I thought I was self-reliant big boy, haha. I have a crystal clear memory of watching Song of the South in the little free theater down there.
Once I had a babysitter at the hotel who insisted I not push myself up on the railing to look down into the atrium from the floors above. "A kid went over, fell 20 floors and smashed through the glass roof of the gift shop down there, dead," she told me. I was terrified, and for some reason was scared of both the railing AND the gift shop for years after.
We would go to dinner at the Top of the World, the restaurant on the top floor, and take a break in our meal to go on the outside patio and watch the fireworks at the magic kingdom. They had entertainment up there, and once we saw Vic Damone perform, the guy who sang "Weekends are made for Michelob," hahah. He brought me on stage, aged 7, with a girl, aged 11, for some little comedy routine, and ended by making some weird crack about how he would "get a room for us." That was a different time.
Last one: having breakfast with the characters, for some reason Donald Duck slapped the sh*t out of me, I was probably 8. I'll never forget watching my mom read Donald the riot act, threatening to end his life if he touched her kid again, haha.
I should note we were firmly middle class, but my dad's work would take us to Disneyworld every year for a WEEK, and we would have rooms looking out at the Magic Kingdom. Today not even a law firm could afford the expense of something like that.
My favorite memory is of the night in June of 1999 when I hit the Magic Kingdom with 3 friends from work. We’d been in Orlando working a conference and didn’t get to the park until about 5:00 pm. But we still managed to do ALL the major rides—regular stand-by lines, no less—before the park closed about 1:00 am. The last ride we hit was Pooh - it was my first time on it and, while I enjoyed it, I was still mourning Mr. Toad’s :-) Anyway, it was a great night, and a feat not likely to be accomplished again with the crowds and stupid queues they have these days.
TH Creative will accept no criticism of modern EPCOT: film at 11.
Well, let’s see……At EPCOT’s peak you had pavilions dedicated to Energy, Imagination, Transportation, Land, Sea, Communication, Invention, the Human Body with Horizons tying it all together. All of which were elaborate dark rides and/or pavilions with multiple options for exploration and had incredible education value. .
Today you have a GOTG roller coaster, a glorified carnival ride for “space”, no Body Wars, a pavilion for transportation whose big draw is that you can go nearly as fast as in a real car on the highway, an Imagination pavilion with a ride 1/3 as long and inferior in every way to the original and no Image Works, a Sea pavilion with almost no sea life and an awful Nemo overlay, a Land pavilion that added Soarin’ a dumbed down Spaceship Earth and no Communicores.
Books have been written about the countless hours that hundreds imagineers toiled to make EPCOT something more than just a bunch of rides. And countless more remember it as something that aspired to be something greater as well. But, sure, because you worked at guest relations, it was clearly just a bunch of random shiny objects with no purpose like you describe.
Pretty incredible how you won’t put up with most of the legit criticisms of the crap that Disney produces today, yet you’ll gladly trash what many people consider to be one of its greatest achievements on the basis that a bunch of people who were too lazy to put in the effort to learn, told you they would rather see a bunch of abused captive killer whales do some tricks.
Well enjoy that glorified splash pad that they’re opening eventually. I’m sure Disney won’t let that go to pot once they realize how expensive it is to maintain an outdoor water based attraction like the in the Florida sun. I’m also sure they’ll get around to “Play” in 2040 or so.
TOC: "Books have been written about the countless hours that hundreds imagineers toiled to make EPCOT something more than just a bunch of rides."
Me: The number of hours put in were not "countless". They were finite and measurable.
@TheOldCream - EPCOT is definitely a different park than it was 30 years ago, but I don't think that the original EPCOT was any better than EPCOT today. I actually like how Disney has generally been using IP to integrate into original ideas and attractions. The use of characters in World Showcase has been pitch perfect, and helped to engage kids more into a park experience that was decidedly adult.
I was a teenager when I first visited EPCOT, and while I love the original version of the park with its heavy focus on "edutainment", it was not appealing to a lot of my friends at the time. You could see how little it connected with younger guests in declining attendance through the 90's and early 00's (why Disney started the EPCOT F&W Festival) and lagging engagement. There's no doubt many of the attractions were iconic, but they simply weren't re-ridable because they were so static (save for Horizons, which still had limited variation) and derived much of their popularity for providing dark, air-conditioned respite for weary, heat-exhausted visitors.
The slow transformation to add IP across the park has added interest from the younger generation as well as adding excitement for the next generation of adults (teens and early 20's) who will form the backbone of Disney's core audience in the coming decades. EPCOT of 10+ years ago was much like MLB is today, a good product with an aging audience. If Disney sat around and did nothing but play on nostalgia, the park's audience would continue to age and eventually die off. The reimagination of EPCOT has been essential to save the park from certain doom (maybe not in the immediate future, but certainly 20-30 years down the road), and while not all of the moves have been surefire hits, they have all been necessary to keep the park relevant and to secure its future through the 21st century.
I love the old EPCOT, I do but I also remember not one time the line for Horizons was longer than five minutes and other rides as light as we got into the 1990s. I acknowledge a new generation that wouldn't connect to that as the classic dark ride with AA style fit a different time. Universe of Energy was pretty much an excuse to sit for 40 minutes and see the dinosaurs more than any message.
If any park was meant to adapt and change, it's Epcot and while I wish it could be a bit more on the education side, I agree with Russell, keeping things the same runs the risk of looking stagnant, not "traditional. Yes, they made missteps (the 1999 Imagination makeover) but also smart to realize some changes are needed to spice it up, especially that park.
While my favorite memory is being a cast member at Disneyland in the mid-1990s (especially before the PeopleMover closed), because we had an amazing group of cast members in our department of around 350 in the offseason (remember offseasons?) and 700+ during the summer, there are three specific memories that stand out more than others for me, two of them as a cast member.
When college was in session while we still had summer crowds, I would sometimes work overtime as Fantasmic! guest control. Some nights I got to "put the island back together" -- help put railings back in place that were removed for the show. I worked in ODV in general, but they would let me push the raft off the dock so the pilot could make the turn to take guest control cast members.
Another time I was working the popcorn cart at Central Plaza in the morning, and had a family come ask me for help planning their five day visit (this was before DCA was a thing). I spent about an hour with them (I was immobile, they could have said thank you and walked away at any time; it was their decision to stay with me that long). They were a really nice family visiting from Washington State. I helped them strategize to get to popular attractions when the wait times wouldn't be too high, told them my favorite places from which to watch shows like Fantasmic! or Fantasy in the Sky or the best places from which to watch The Lion King procession (fun fact: when Disneyland was selling souvenir VHS tapes of the show, I was one of the "guests" on the cover -- it was a pre-opening photo shoot for cast members who could each bring a guest). I gave them my schedule for the next four days in case they had more questions. I also had two ducks hanging out behind my cart in the grass, which the daughter decided were named "Pop" and "Corn."
And then I didn't see them until the last day of their visit. Sadly, the daughter had gotten sick, and they were only there on days one and five. I saw them on the bridge from Central Plaza to Frontierland after closing time and went to say hello. The mom filled me in on the illness, and asked me not to ask things like favorite attractions since they barely went on any.
Security came by on their sweep of pushing guests towards Main Street and the park exit, and I pulled on aside and explained the situation, and asked if I could take responsibility for getting them out after they took in the atmosphere. Security agreed. There were two ducks in the water. The girl decided they were "Pop" and "Corn."
We talked for a while, then I took them to the exit. They were literally the last guests out of the park (Security had told the cast to keep one exit open as I would be guiding one more family out). For such a disappointing trip for them, I was still able to make it special for them.
Then there was the time as a guest, before I was a cast member. As Robert (and others) probably know, the former Carnation Plaza Gardens used to host "Big Bands at Disneyland." I was there one day and saw on the sign that Cab Calloway would be performing that night. I like Cab Calloway, even as young as I was. Getting to watch him perform Minnie the Moocher and return the hi-de-his and the ho-de-hos was a highlight for me.
Like Robert, I grew up on Disneyland. I've been fortunate enough to visit Walt Disney World several times (the first being during The Millennium Celebration) and I'm not going to get into the argument about EPCOT then vs Epcot now. I didn't grow up on that park, so I feel it's not my place to get into it. I now have a friend in Tokyo who was a Tokyo Disneyland cast member. Given that Tokyo Disneyland is not run by Disney, it's amazing how similar our experiences and stories are.
And my current job, managing a casino? HR specifically told me that I was hired specifically because my experience as a cast member. I will forever be grateful for my experience going to Disneyland as a kid, becoming a cast member, and being fortunate to visit Walt Disney World. Sure, there are things I think Disney could do better, but there's also a whole lot that they could do worse.
I launched the first ever Figment website on Jan 7, 1997 called Figment's Imagination. It was humble in the beginning but its fan base grew over the years and I finally shut it down in 2012. During its lifetime, it went from a 56K dialup experience to a full Flash heavy video/animation celebration of Epcot's favorite dragon. When the original Journey Into Imagination closed, we and the fans launched a "bring Figment back" campaign and when the 3rd iteration of the ride brought the little guy back, another fan group "The Friends of Figment" organized a get-together at Epcot.
It was wonderful to attend the dinner and presentation where I got to talk about the website and its development over the years. 3 of the original Dream Finders were in attendance (including Ron Schneider) and it was an honor to meet them and get photos. We all then rode the ride as a group and celebrated the return of Figment. It was my most magical Disney moment ever!
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I enjoy Disney, it’s fun. Favorite park is classic EPCOT Center, favorite animated movie Emperors New Groove, favorite live action film The Love Bug. I am obsessed with books about WDI. The team in Glendale, when given free reign are amazing.
My favorite thing, which I voted for, was working for The Mouse. I left many years ago but I met and married my wife there. Married 20 years now after meeting as co-workers.