Our Time with The Mouse

In late March, we travelled to Lake Buena Vista, Florida, to spend a week with The Mouse – we went to Disney World. When I refer to we, I mean our family and extended family.  There were fourteen in our menagerie; four grandparents, two sets of parents and six children under the age of eight. It was a kid-fest extraordinaire.  It was not a quiet week.

We left behind the remnants of the flood. Major roads were still closed. Many areas along the Missouri River were still under water (and some still are in late August), and the clean-up had hardly started as our plane left the ground. We were lucky. A few more inches of rain just at the wrong time could have added to the inland waterway near our house in such a way that we would have taken water as well – and no Disney World for us.

Just a few more observations about the flood before I return to Disney World.  This morning (August 24, 2019), Janet and I took a short drive to survey the residual flood damage just about five months after the Elkhorn and Platte Rivers reached their high-water marks. Our baseline for observation was the moment when the two rivers became one large, fast-moving and dangerous non-stop flow of water. The point of reference also included washed out bridges and highways, flooded farms and grazing fields, partially submerged homes and vehicles, trapped livestock, and the looks of bewilderment on the faces of people who could not believe that this had happened. Note the normal and flood images (right).

Today, the roadways have been mostly rebuilt, although areas along the Missouri River are still not back to “normal.” Some will never be normal again. Cattle and horses graze in fields that for the most part show no long-lasting effects of the flood. Home repairs for some continue, but there are no longer large piles of carpet, drywall, destroyed furniture and appliances, and other stuff stacked up in the front yards of those homes.  Businesses are back up and running, long after replacing damaged equipment and furniture. Most fields are planted (except those where a lot of sand was deposited). The crops, soybeans and feed corn for the most part, look excellent. We have had a mild, very few scorching days, summer and a good deal of rain. The combination of sun and water have resulted in a very rich cover, one that shows no obvious signs of the fast water that covered so much not so long ago.

The recovery seen has been possible because of the combination of the resiliency in the land and the grit of the people most affected. Community response both during and after the flood was swift and heartfelt, and certainly most needed for recovery to occur. We were committed to restoring power, water and highways, the infrastructure that must be in place for the rest of the healing to take place. Nevertheless, for me it has been the resiliency of those who were driven from their homes, who had to find short and long term solutions for their animals, who quickly got back to planting crops once the water receded, and who doggedly brought their lives back to normal, or closer to it, that was most impressive.

Walt Disney was a genius. While today we know Disney World as the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, or the Old Key West Resort, in the 1960s he saw 25,000 acres of swampland and other low-lying vacant space that made up the area south-west of Orlando and imagined what we see today. He knew a lot his customers at Disneyland; in particular, that in the late 1950s only five percent of them came from places east of the Mississippi River. Given the success of Disneyland and armed with a sense that there was considerable market potential in the eastern on-half of the U.S., he set out to find a location for a new park, one that was a combination of the best of Disneyland and the new ideas that he had for making the new park an even better experience.

Walt Disney never saw his idea become reality. Plans were made, land was purchased (in a very smart way), and work was initiated, but Walt Disney died in 1966, five years before Disney World opened for business.

Roy and Minnie converse in the park

However, Walt‘s brother, Roy, was dedicated to carrying forward Walt’s vision, and he moved forward quickly with planning and construction, successfully addressing a number of legal and other issues along the way.

Unfortunately, Roy passed away in 1971, only three months after the park opened. The vision of Walt Disney as operationalized by Roy Disney carries on currently as the park opens new attractions and closes others.  For example, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is scheduled to open at the end of this month. The Disney Skyliner, a gondola style lift transport system is scheduled to open in September.

We stayed at an original property (of course, refurbished over time), Disney Contemporary Resort. The structure looks out over The Seven Seas Lagoon, and because we were living on the eighth floor, our view was spectacular. We did not look out at the Magic Kingdom, sorry no fireworks from the comfort of our living space, but we could see out to the edge of the Disney properties and well beyond.

It’s always good, and cool, to stay in a place with a monorail that comes through the middle of the structure, an easy transition to some, but not all, of the places we wanted to visit.

The best part of a trip to Disney World, especially if you are an old dude like me, is the looks on the faces of children as they are riding a ride or meeting one of their favorite movie or cartoon characters. In this case the kids were mine, my grandchildren, and the characters were among my favorites as well. Some of the characters such as Mike and Sully from Monsters Inc. are physically large, so the initial kid reaction might be one of trepidation. But, the initial surprise quickly wears off, and the characters are for the most part played by people who are used to that first reaction, and everyone is suddenly happy – – especially if you have stood in line for a long while to see Mike and Sully in Monstropolis.

It’s good to see the Mouse (and Baymax) in March, not July or August, and to have a really clever person, in my case my daughter-in-law, Alicia, negotiating the wait-in-line system.  A combination of Fast Passes and other exceptions kept us from standing in line too long for rides and exhibitions. The weather was excellent, not too hot or humid. We lived north of Orlando in Winter Park for two years and many times experienced the energy-sapping heat and humidity that affect central Florida times during the summer months.

I should note that I have only been at Disney World for the attractions one other time, in 1989. Yes, that was 30 years ago. My grandmother, Adele, and my father, Louis, had come for a visit, and we took them to Disney World. Walking any distance at all was a challenge for my grandmother, so we rented a wheelchair and off we went. Wheelchair-bound folk and their entourages did not have to stand in line for rides and such. Yep, step to the front and move ahead quickly. I was younger, age 40, so pushing a wheelchair through the park for the day was no big deal. Besides, it was January and neither hot nor humid.

My sense is that this Mouse visit thing will become a regular on our travel circuit. While I would not want to go more than once a year, the smiles, laughter and good stories from my grandchildren are still fresh in my mind. I just wish that some the characters would age, making people like me feel a bit less old. Remember, Micky and Minnie are a lot older than 70.

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