Florida and The Mouse

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut

We had not yet left Tennessee airspace when conversation about The Mouse began.

I recently took a short trip to visit a friend and relax on a cruise, and I flew in and out of Orlando. After the safety announcement, the flight attendant said, “Sit back and enjoy your flight as we deliver you to the land of The Mouse.” When we landed, she said, “Tell The Mouse hello from me.”

“The Mouse” is an Orlando area thing. No one says “Disney” or Walt Disney World. You are visiting The Mouse. You work for The Mouse. You pay homage to – or you hate – The Mouse.

I did not visit The Mouse on this trip. First, I had no grandchildren with me. Second, my trip was about catching up with a dear friend and relaxing. The Mouse is an adventure, and it comes with a pretty hefty price tag. Still, The Mouse was everywhere, and I couldn’t help but dig in a little with the locals I met to see what they think about living in the Theme Park Capitol of the World.

It is definitely a love-hate relationship. Disney’s empire in Orlando sits in two counties, is the top employer in the whole state, with about 65,000 people on payroll. Disney World has its own independent government, fire department, emergency services and water treatment plant. More than 40 million visitors a year come to see The Mouse. In addition to the four major theme parks, Disney has two water parks, 20-plus themed hotels and several golf courses.

Walt Disney World opened in 1971. Walt wanted to improve on what he had in California, and he wanted control of the area that would surround his theme park. Books on Disney say he thought Southern California’s Disneyland, a franchise built in the mid-1950s, was compromised because of the types of businesses that had sprung up as a result of the park’s popularity. In the swamps of central Florida, Disney could buy a larger area of land that he could design and manage.

What would Orlando be like today had Disney chosen Tampa or Miami, two cities on his list that he rejected because they had more hurricanes? People still visit Lakeland and Ocala in central Florida, but they don’t have international airports and convention business through the roof. It would be a very different city, and even those who don’t care for The Mouse seem willing to pay homage to the difference it makes in the welfare of their community.

Florida residents do get special pricing at Disney, with the biggest perk of those packages being that it includes a parking pass, one Orlando resident told me. “Snowbirds” have to live in Florida six months plus at least one day and have a Florida driver’s license to qualify.

As for my Orlando trip, well, I really was just passing through. Still, I made a quick visit to Disney Springs, a Disney-themed shopping and restaurant mecca outside the parks. At Goofy’s Candy Company, I bought a Mickey Mouse shaped treat and ate the ears first.

You just gotta pay homage to The Mouse.

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