When I was a boy my parents took us to Florida every year to spend two weeks in Disney World. We’d go in February when it was bitterly cold in the Northeast. We’d drive in our motorhome for about 28 hours, making a stop or two along the way, oftentimes staying at South of the Border, an odd Mexican themed rest-stop between North and South Carolina.
At Disney, we’d stay at their Fort Wilderness campground. I loved it because I could ride my bike anywhere I wanted, it was freedom. Sometimes I’d even go on my own for breakfast at the Trail’s End restaurant, my favorite was the french toast, three triangle slices encrusted with sweet cinnamon-y goodness, covered in warm syrup. One year I met another little boy and we’d meet for breakfast like two adults discussing whatever it was.
Another year, me and a family-friend took stacks of newspapers out of the dispenser and delivered them to people’s campsites, just for fun. When I was a little older, we’d ride the transportation (boats, buses, and monorails) to the other resorts to play in their arcade or eat in their quick-service restaurants. All of Disney was open to us for exploration, again it was freedom.
Eventually when my parents retired we moved down to Florida. When the opportunity presented itself, I moved right next to Disney World in a quaint little place called Celebration, a community designed by Disney. I used to walk to the Market Street Cafe, sit at the counter and order an Open-Faced Meatloaf Sandwich and a Coconut Cream Pie or I’d go to the Celebration Town Tavern and get Lobster Chowder and a Blackened Prime Rib sandwich, finishing with a Boston Cream Pie. We’d often walk the streets of Celebration, sometimes going as far as Aquila Reserve or Artisan Park.
When we lived in Celebration, I liked going to Downtown Disney — after eating a Full Montagu at The Earl of Sandwich in the Marketplace side, we’d head over to the West Side for a Haagen Dazs Mint Chip Dazzler, walking past the Lego store and Pleasure Island (as it used to be called). We’d also drive to all the resorts just to look around and walk, or we’d go to Epcot to walk around the World Showcase, often listening to Spelmanns Gledje at the Norway pavilion or the Voices of Liberty in the American pavilion and ending with a Napoleon at the Boulangerie Patisserie in the France pavilion.
My sister used to work at Disney, she’s very short and used to dress up as Mickey Mouse and take photos with people. My mother has worked at Disney since moving down, showing people to their table in a restaurant. My wife used to work at Disney, floating between a bunch of different jobs, from resorts to theme parks to call centers, and even in the animation building that they no longer use for actual animating. You could say I bled Mickey red. For a time I wanted my ashes sprinkled about in the backwoods of Fort Wilderness, because to me, Disney represented fun and freedom, something I lacked back home growing up.
Having immersed myself so much in Disney by living there, I kinda got it out of my system. Plus, they did get rid of some of my favorite childhood memories, such as in Epcot’s Future World they dumped Horizons and changed the Imagination ride — and in the Magic Kingdom they dumped 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Mister Toad’s Wild Ride. And the last time I stayed at Fort Wilderness, there was no French Toast, we had to bike over to the Wilderness Lodge and get some at the Whispering Canyon Cafe.
After I left Florida they built a neighborhood of luxury houses literally right beside Fort Wilderness. For a time it was a dream of mine to live within Disney itself. Yet even if I won the lottery, I don’t think I’d consider moving there though, I mean it might cross my mind, but I think I’ve moved on. It was my childhood home of sorts, the place I remember most fondly — but when you fuck with my french toast, that’s unforgivable.