Today RD shares a special personal story of a very important day in his life, when he fell in love with Theme Parks and coasters.
Enjoy this great story and article. Do you have a special day you remember that made you love your hobby?
Today, I wanted to share with you a bit of my own history rather than a true OpEd piece - so bear with me, the trip you're about to go on is through not only Space... but time. With that said, please fasten your seat belts, put your tray tables and seat backs into the upright & locked position, as we're descending through time - to March, 1988.
In December, 1987 One of my parents was asked to speak at a conference in Lake Buena Vista, Fl. I had -no clue- at that time what or where Lake Buena Vista was - or for that matter that it would alter my life permanently. The conference was set for the first week in March, and I would be going along for the trip, the highlight of which would be my first trip to Walt Disney World.
March in Virginia can be 'moody' weather wise, and so it was on 5 March, 1988 - when we headed to Dulles Airport for the flight southbound to the mysterious place called Orlando, Fl. This was long before the explosion of Universal occurred; Sea World was still a learning park with no hard-core rides, and there were only TWO parks at Walt Disney World. Our resort hotel (Marriott's Orlando World Center) would be home for the next week. The portico out front was bigger than the block of flats we lived in up north; indeed, even the resorts were magical in size & scale. Large glass elevators ran up the tower in the middle of the lobby to our room overlooking the golf resort - and off in the distance, the world's largest golf ball awaited.
Now, in those days for me I had a totally different visualization of Walt Disney World: I honestly thought when they said that EPCOT was built in the same place as the Magic Kingdom, they were in fact right NEXT to each other. Of course, reality seldom has anything to do with the imagination of a teenager.
The first few days of our stay were spent getting used to the warm Orlando weather (When we left DC, it was a balmy 24f/-4c outside) so 72 and cloudy with rain was GREAT! Partaking of my young stupidity, I was the only one in the pool complex during a rainy afternoon, using the waterslide & discovering that one could ride it forwards, backwards, facing up, facing down...again, teenage stupidity for the win! The extra rain helped in adding more 'push' to the slide as well - no problem there at all. The sheer scale of the resort was on par with the largest of Vegas: I found the food court to be a good place to find eats at all hours; the buffet dining was amazing for breakfast, and for me, one of the most important events of my life took place in the Golf Course dining room: French Fries with mayonnaise. (OK, stop it. Y'all are supposed to be adults. Quit all the gagging noises. NOW.) Yes, even then I was a budding foodie, something that I learned during this nexus moment in my life.
7 March, 1988:
The morning started off more or less like any other vacation morning - though at this point it was like any other theme park trip for me: Just 'there' and nothing else. Parks, no matter who they were or where we went, were rather unimportant in my world. Breakfast was at the fantastic buffet, before a short ride over to the Walt Disney World Resort complex. I was headed initially to the Magic Kingdom, but the sheer scale of everything was grandiose on a totally different level than anything I had ever seen before. Tickets purchased, I had a 4 day unlimited park hopper pass (BOTH parks! Four days! For only 96.00!) complete with Monorail access and off I went. The Monorail terminal stood up a series of ramps, and there I waited briefly for the 'hisssss' of the monorail to arrive. Just like anyting else new, everything seemed so perfect, so incredible - and it was. The trains were the original MK IV model - with the individual doors per row. A push-button system on the side of the lead cars 'popped' each door open, and into the bench seats you went, sliding across the car. On the bulkheads was the Walt Disney World "D" logo - a nice touch. A few seconds later, and all the doors were 'KLONKED' shut, and off we hissed in air conditioned comfort to the Magic Kingdom.
The first day at the park was rather, well, random. I didn't do a lot of rides or attractions; mostly sticking to things like the Swiss Family Robinson tree house & the PeopleMover, as well as "If You Could Fly" - a very rare & truly wonderful advertising piece by the then-official airline of Walt Disney World - EASTERN AIR LINES! Most of the day was spent doing more sightseeing than anything else. Lunch in Fantasyland introduced me to Disney dining - and everything tasted so good! In the early evening I headed back to the hotel - but what awaited me the next day would truly alter my life permanently.
8 March 1988:
I write this piece with crystal-clear memories of some 27 years ago; the day, the time & the events are unaltered in ANY way. The moment was so important to me that I can tell you in precise detail, as I will here, down to the exact pinpoint moments.
The second day for me would be one of actually RIDING things in the park beyond the family attractions & such - I had to conquer a fear I'd had for many years of roller-coasters. Yes, good readers, I still was uneasy about riding things; while I'd already had my first coaster credits (less than 10 overall) I had not embraced them as I do now. That morning was a beautiful spring-like morning as I entered the nearly deserted Magic Kingdom at 9AM; the streets still slightly wet & shining with the overhead sun as I made my way to Tommorowland, and to the white cone in the far distance. Out in front a spire with a 'rocket' mounted to it introduced me to Space Mountain - and for me I recall pausing for a second before heading into the queue.
SP75's entry queue was built to allow access to the ride by going UNDER the train tracks as to not break the Disney illusions. And it worked. Even now I can recall the smell of moist concrete from the day's previous washing, and the Star-Tunnel soundtrack playing overhead as I passed the visuals that Disney had installed as part of the overall theme to the ride. In the background you could still hear the sounds of 'rockets' rattling around in the cone above, and upon entering the loading platforms, the sight of the red-nosed rockets added a totally different dimension to the experience. At the top of the entry ramp, I turned right and entered the nearly empty queue for the Alpha track, as rockets lined up and people piled in. I was assigned seat #1 - the lead position - for my first trip into Space.
9:45AM 8 March 1988.
The rocket pulsed forward into the first of two hold areas prior to the star tunnel. In this era, there were no lap bars; a single seatbelt would be more than enough to hold me into the original rockets. At the third hold, a sign flashed to my left side "Prepare for launch!"
And the brakes released.
Down and slightly to the right we went, into the star tunnel, the spacey sounds of the light sequence timing somewhat to the movement of the rocket forward. A perfect Disney illusion, you felt like you were going a LOT faster than you actually were - and it worked perfectly. A loud ROAR and the train bolted to the right, and into the Space Station, complete with flashing signs...
"30 seconds to launch."
"10 seconds to launch."
"5 seconds to launch."
And then... into the darkness.
(I will dismiss you from recalling the entire first ride with me; many of you have already experienced Space Mountain before. For those who have not, there are some excellent videos of the ride on YouTube.)
Halfway through my trip into Space, something 'clicked' with me. It was a crystal-clear awakening; the moment when you know with perfect alignment that something takes over. It was, for me, like falling in love: THIS WAS FUN! It was at that point where I was altered - either by illusion or by forces - that I could totally escape my mundane (and let's face it: shitty) life into a totally different dimension. There WAS a better place out there, and it happened to be on guided rails. I didn't care about anything else around me, and for that matter: It didn't exist. Spiritually I was in a totally different consciousness; it was ethereal.
And I realized that, as the rocket 're-entered' and turned towards the unloading dock that I had been changed - changed by Disney. I exited my rocket, blistered down and out... and back into line to ride the Omega track. And the experience was (no surprise here...) identical. Disney had introduced me to immersion & illusion in one step of time.
That day, 8 March 1988, I rode Space Mountain no less than 37 times. The light crowds & more able legs of a teenager made it easy to do - and FAST. (I do recall the travelator exit ramp 'bounced' nicely when jogging up and into the exit path!) That same day I also 'earned' the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad credit, and the race for more was on.
Over the next few days, I experienced the rest of what Disney had to offer at Walt Disney World - riding the Monorail loops to EPCOT - where I got to experience more of what Disney gave to me: Total immersion. At that time, EPCOT was a nearly-deserted park, with many attractions that at the time seemed almost a bit dated - but in a good way. Universe of Energy was a dichotemy of itself: A building entirely solar-powered was sponsored by an OIL company and about how dinosaurs turned into petroleum. The ride was pretty nifty, though a bit canned in audio & performance, the sheer size of the travelling theaters was impressive. Horizons was a walk-on re-ride if you wanted it, complete with 'your own future' endings, I tried all of them! World of Motion (Sponsored by GM!) talked about how (ahem) great US cars were, and how GM was leading the world in auto design. (Hey, this was 1988. We were still optimistic then!). A brief crossover to the other side of Future World provided us with a cute though dreadfully long journey into Imagination, complete with the ubiquitous Captain EO theater. (Needless to say, I did not spend a long time there.) Next door though was one pavilion that I thought was truly amazing: The Land. A pavilion about future foods, complete with Kraft Ranch Dressing! And finally, the then-new Living Seas pavilion rounded things out - complete with cheesy ride-through fishtanks & oversized swimming areas for the many types of marine life that wre showcased there.
(One thing though stood out in my mind: Why was there a seafood restaurant that faced the side of the fish tanks??? Did they throw the fish that weren't behaving into the kitchen as a threat to others?)
My first Walt Disney World experience changed me permanently; not only for how I feel towards theme parks, but also towards rides, immersion and into a world where I truly feel safe. It is a huge part of who I am, of where I come from & my beliefs surrounding things. When I enter a Disney park, I leave my reality behind, and for me it is the only place on earth where I can live, exist & belong without the outside influences of reality. It is true freedom for me - something I do not enjoy in my actual daily life. As for coasters - a similar but extremely important altered universe exists: As many of you know, I battle a debilitating disease that is difficult to live with - Multiple Sclerosis. When I'm on a coaster - whether Disney or otherwise - for the brief period of time that I am on it I leave my broken & damaged body behind - and let my spirit exist in freedom.
And it is all because of 8 March 1988.