Doing Disney, then and now

Shannon CareyAround Town, Feature

My mom is not a big traveler.


Christa Bryant likes to watch the birds while she sips coffee on her back porch. She doesn’t like crowds or commercialism, and a trip to the Smokies sometimes feels a little far for her. I never expected her to want to go back to Disney World, but I guess having grandkids changes you in unexpected ways. Mom wanted to do Disney with me, my son Daniel (age 10), and my older sister, Erin Bryant.

So, last week we got on a plane and went to commune with the mouse.

Christa Bryant (second from right) at Epcot in 1986 with daughters Megan (age 5), Erin (age 12) and Shannon (age 8). (Photo courtesy of C. Bryant)

Mom and my dad, who passed away in 2015, took me and my two sisters to Disney twice, and the trip I remember best happened in 1986. Erin was 12, I was 8, and Megan was 5. Now that I’m a parent, I can’t imagine taking a trip to a place like Disney with kids outnumbering the adults in the family. But somehow they did it and managed to have a great time.

Back then, Epcot was a new attraction, and there were only two parks to visit instead of four. We drove from Knoxville to Orlando in an aging Isuzu Trooper with no AC and stayed in the Fort Wilderness campground. There was no such thing as a Fast Pass or Magic Band, and if you lost your group you couldn’t text them to ask their location.

I chatted with Mom on the way home about the differences in the two trips. She said both trips, 1986 and 2018, were fun family experiences that she wouldn’t trade for the world. And it was made even better by having a kid along.

“For me, it was the moment when we got on the teacup ride in the Magic Kingdom. Daniel is at the ‘cool 10,’ and I was thinking this was going to be too tame for him, and too tame for all of us. I mean, we’re going around in circles in a teacup. But just right from the start he was whooping and hollering and having a great time,” she said. “We had to practically drag him onto It’s a Small World, but before the ride was over he was smiling and humming along, and later we heard him singing the song in the shower.”

Hands down, the best change in Mom’s view is in the way Disney deals with lines. I can remember this clearly: standing in the baking Orlando sun on hot pavement and no shade, waiting for the Dumbo ride. In fact, my sister Megan got seriously dehydrated on the 1986 trip.

Now, the focus is on getting guests out of the sun and into air conditioning, shade or both, often with fun things to do or see in the line. That Dumbo ride? There are two now, and the line goes through an indoor, air conditioned playground where parents can get a pager and relax until it’s their family’s turn to ride.

There’s more to do at Disney these days. With four parks, the trip can seem rushed, and that was certainly something Mom didn’t like. But she loved Animal Kingdom’s immersive, international and off-planet experiences. We all agreed, devote two days to Animal Kingdom and maybe give Hollywood Studios a pass.

Another big difference? She said Disney back in 1986 felt much more spontaneous than it does in 2018. She felt micromanaged sometimes, but chalks it up to Disney’s efforts to deal with the huge numbers that descend on the park every day. Some of the “magic” is lost, though. She remembers when the Disney characters roamed the park to meet kids on the street. Now, they’re in lines that you need a Fast Pass for.

One exception is Peter Pan in the Magic Kingdom. He does roam free, and ran past us one day, saying hi and smiling at Daniel as he passed.

But even with the changes, “no one does it like Disney,” she said. From cute towel sculptures in our room every day to a Finding Nemo pool with no fewer than six lifeguards on duty at any given time to a hotel concierge who was friendly and alert at midnight, every touch helped us feel relaxed and welcome.

“I can’t imagine anyone going to Disney and walking away saying, ‘That wasn’t worth it,'” she said. “Every detail is covered. Everything is perfect. There isn’t any place like that. I don’t know how Disney has kept the magic going for all these years, but somehow they’ve done it.”

By the way, Mom booked this trip through family friend Alicia Lucy. You can find Alicia and her business on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LandnCayDreams/.

Shannon Carey, Christa Bryant, Daniel Carey and Erin Bryant in the Pandora area of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. (Photo courtesy of S. Carey)

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