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My First Vacation to Disney World and Other Places in Florida

As a child, my family has always taken vacations. Originally, they were only a few days, and were to places such as the seashore and once to Williamsburg, Virginia. We also would sometimes take day-trips such as the train trip from Hamburg to Temple (two small towns by Reading, Pennsylvania) in 1987.

During fourth grade year in school, Mom felt it was time to take a bigger trip. Since about 1987 Dad was a sales representative who sold corrugated boxes. As a way to promote selling, Dad’s company sent their top thirty-three (of several hundred) best sales reps to West Palm Beach, Florida for a week in March. Dad achieved this several years, though one year he was tied with another rep and the company chose to send the other rep instead. Mom wasn’t happy, and made Dad a plaque (Good Daddy Award). The failure to make it to “In-Club” as it was called, and go to Florida, was the catalyst that put in motion our family trip to Florida.

My brother Dave and I naturally were excited to go to Disney World in Orlando, which was part of the itinerary. The Magic Kingdom was the park that I was excited to visit, and what I considered to be “Disney.” When learning about Disney World, I discovered they also had two other theme parks EPCOT and MGM Studios.

To prepare for the trip, we did numerous things. For Dave’s fifth birthday, he received a Disney Magic Kingdom Deluxe Sand Molding set. The idea was to take it along on the trip for use at the beach in Clearwater, another stop on the trip. To plan the actual trip itself, my parents went to the American Automobile Association or Triple A as it is called (AAA). In those days besides books for various locations, people used trip tiks, which were basically spiral bound, custom made maps that showed the best way to get to your destination. AAA also would help arrange hotels, purchase tickets, etc.

In the spring of 1991, I decided to reread the portion of the book, The Return of the Plant that Ate Dirty Socks, that mentioned the family’s trip to Disney World. I remembered it being in the book from back when I originally read it. We rented a video, Disney’s Sing Along Songs: Disneyland Fun, so Dave and I could see what Disney World was like (Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom were similar). We had two informational books about Disney including one that I spent time reading that gave attraction information that I really liked. The other important thing to be accomplished for the trip was to get permission from Arendtsville Elementary so I could take off the final week of school. The teacher said that the testing and important things were done.

Early in the morning on May 26th,1991 we began our trip to Florida. Around Richmond Virginia, Dave said, “Are we there yet?” not realizing the scope of the trip. We actually were stopping for breakfast. The trip through Virginia was very boring as it’s a large state hundreds of miles from north to south. I had never experienced a trip that long at the time. As we entered states I was never in before as we progressed towards Florida, I would notice what the first exit number was in the state. By this point, I understood that as people traveled south on the highway, the exits counted backwards with Exit 1 being closet to the state’s border. At the border of the Carolinas, we briefly stopped at South of the Border which is a gimmicky Mexico themed, amusement park. Though they had themed attractions like a sombrero, children could climb in, Dave and I opted to ride the “train engine” ride they had. On the way down we had a snack called “Kid’s Mix” which was basically Chex cereal, peanuts, pretzels and cheese crackers mixed together. It’s like “Party Mix” only without the butter and seasonings making it infinitely healthier.

The initial plan was to reach Florida before resting for the night, but Dad grew tired, and we actually stopped at a Comfort Inn along Interstate 95 in Georgia. The next day we reached Florida, and had our picture taken at the Welcome to Florida sign at Florida’s welcome center. They had small free samples of Florida orange juice to enjoy. Of course having it in Florida; it was fresh making it really good.

On May 28th we headed towards our first destination of Titusville to visit the Kennedy Space Center. On the way, we took, Route A1A, the famous Florida route along the coast. We drove on a street lined on both sides with trees laden with Spanish moss to St. Augustine to visit the Fountain of Youth. As I learned years later, I should have drunk more of its water. Hee Hee! The water there like many places in Florida, had an especially bad taste and smell to it (I don’t normally like water, but this was putrid). In Titusville we visited the Kennedy Space Center before traveling to Orlando to visit Gatorland. Gatorland’s entrance looked like a huge alligator’s mouth complete with “teeth” on the floor and roof. Inside they had various alligator shows as well as a snake people were allowed to hold. I took the opportunity to hold the snake. As the snake moved its head towards me, I wanted to kiss it, but Mom had a conniption as she dislikes snakes, and thought it would be germy.

The next stop was finally Disney! the stop I had been waiting for, for many months. We stayed at the Disney Caribbean Resort. This hotel was broken down into several sections named after various Caribbean Islands: Barbados, Martinique, Trinidad, Aruba and Jamaica. The common building with shopping and restaurants was Old Port Royale. Our room was in Aruba. Fortunately for me, this building had a mint green roof. We looked around in the shopping area in Old Port Royale, located between Martinique and Trinidad. I wondered why we were able to enter this building when our room was in another building; not realizing it was a common area for everyone. The resort also had buses that took tourists between the hotel and the three major theme parks as well as a few other places.

The next day we finally went to the Magic Kingdom. Now in Fantasy Land there was a ride, The Dumbo Ride, that Dave really wanted to ride. Based on the description, I thought the ride would be scary. I pictured a motorized elephant shaped car that traveled freely in the air. I believe that Dave’s interest in the ride had to do with my initial fear of the ride, and also the fact that I didn’t like elephants. The ride itself actually was quite tame and fun as it simply went in circles and the cars were all attached to a motor in the middle. We then went straight to Mickey's Starland so Dave and I could get our pictures taken with various characters. We also got Mickey Mouse’s autograph, and we all bought Mickey Mouse ears. The land also was set up like Duckburg from Ducktales from the popular Disney Afternoon TV programming block. Speaking of the Disney Afternoon, they had the Mickey's Starland Show (known to us as the Disney Afternoon Show) featuring characters primarily from the three main shows at the time: Ducktales, Chip ‘N’ Dale Rescue Rangers, and Talespin and of course Mickey Mouse. The show was hosted by a girl named C.J.

We then went back to Fantasy Land, and took the rest of the areas in order. It’s a Small World was the first ride we went on in Fantasy Land (the second time). Riders would ride on a boat that took them “around the world”. Animatronic dolls with authentic dress were shown performing typical activities in their respective countries. I recognized the song, “It’s a Small World” from the video Dave and I watched earlier. The lyrics of the song were also sung in various languages matching the featured country. Peter Pan’s Flight was next and was a ride with an off the ground vehicle that took the rider from the Darling’s house to Neverland, and ultimately to Captain Hook.

The 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride has an interesting story. The featured character Captain Nemo, made me think of Nemo from the video game Little Nemo the Dream Master. The ride itself made the rider feel like he/she was in a submarine underwater. Dave was afraid of the Snow-White Ride because of the wicked witch. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was fun as the rider would almost crash through obstacles before narrowly missing them.

At one point during the day, we visited Liberty Square, and went to the Hall of Presidents. Mom thought the show was neat, but we were all tired, and all of us nodded off during the show! Other highlights included the Jungle Cruise, The Pirates of the Caribbean with its opening cave with fake stalactites and stalagmites and The Haunted Mansion. The Haunted Mansion gave the warning that there were nine hundred ninety-nine ghosts, and they were looking for number one thousand. The vehicles also turned around in the room with the “crumpled paper” ghosts, and went down a hill backwards. At the end of the ride a ghost appeared in the car with the riders, which we could see in a mirror!

Dad bought a “15 Puzzle” on the first day in the Disney parks, and scrambled the numbers up. He was amazed at the speed that I was able to put the numbers back in order. After attempts to make it more of a challenge, it was discovered that I was good at solving these puzzles. I did them sometimes in the lines while waiting to get on a ride or into a show. In the evening we would go to firework shows. Dave was afraid of the noise the fireworks made, and usually Dad took him into a store during the shows.

May 30th would bring the Character Breakfast, which was a special breakfast that could be purchased extra. Characters would walk around the tables while people ate and took pictures. Along with the Character Breakfast came the Early Bird Special, which was early entry into a park of your choice, allowing the person to beat the crowd. We chose the Magic Kingdom.

For the remainder of our stay, we divided the day into three parts. We would go to a park in the morning. In the afternoon we went back to hotel to regroup, rest and nap, and return to a park in the evening. Dave was napping one day, and the maid saw him, and thought he was sick, so she brought him a plush Piglet toy. How nice of her! Often, we would also eat supper in the Land Pavilion at EPCOT Center where they had a food court. One noticeable flaw with many restaurants at Disney was that the food always came with French Fries and to the point that Dave and I became tired of them for a while.

Speaking of EPCOT, we took the bus there on the second half of May 30th. We went to Future World. Spaceship Earth was the first ride we went on. It seemed okay at first, but at the top, it had a dark tunnel with slanting purple flashing lights that got on my nerves. Looking back, I’m sure my autism sensitivity caused the problem. Outside the tunnel, the ride turned around to face the tunnel, and went down a large hill backwards for the remainder of the ride with a lot of television like monitors in the background (the reason will be explained at a later date in a blog about my second trip). At the bottom of the hill the ride turned around, and I saw the AT&T logo on the wall who apparently sponsored the ride. We also went to the ride Journey into Imagination, which was a much tamer ride in my opinion (no flashing lights.) The World of Motion featured the story of motion, and culminated with showing what a futuristic city might look like. They also had the Living Seas ride and Horizons. Horizons offered the riders a choice of endings. I chose the Ocean Colonization option which led to my family joking about why I picked another water option when we just left the ride, The Living Seas. The World of Energy was another attraction we went to. It was two parts video and one part a scene with dinosaurs in between the two videos.

MGM was visited on May 31st. I liked the Star Wars ride since it was fast, though Mom and Dad weren’t fans of it as it upset their stomachs. They also had a “set” from Honey I Shrunk the Kids, that Dave and I played on.

A different time at EPCOT we went to the World Show Case. It was largely pavilions with information about various countries. I thought it was long and boring since I preferred rides to pavilions filled with cultural experiences. We all liked Maelstrom, the ride at the Norway pavilion that featured a polar bear. Inside the Mexico pavilion was a ride I wanted to go on (since it was a ride of course, and being on water reminded me of It’s a Small World. I joked with Dave on the ride when we entered the room with the “fireworks”. “Here are fireworks you can enjoy since they make little noise.”

One evening we went to the Village Market Place. The first and only store we went to (we ran out of time) was the Disney Store which was a store that carried a lot of Disney Merchandise. It was awesome and seemed to be one of a kind! At the time there was no other store like it that we knew of (one would come to a mall in Lancaster a year later). While at the store, Dad bought a Mickey Mouse watch, that he still had around thirty years later, but on April 9th, 2021, he gave it to me to save as a memento of memorable childhood events. I was tickled with it and figured out exactly where to display it.

To ease the pain of leaving Disney, our parents bought Dave and me Disney coloring books and a container of “Disney Crayons” that we could use to pass the time. We also got a cassette featuring music from Disney Afternoon to play while traveling.

From Disney we headed to Clearwater Beach for a couple of days before heading home. Three of us got sunburned, because we put on our sunscreen right before we went to the beach. We learned to give more time for it to work before going in the super-hot sunshine. On the way home, we played and played the Disney Afternoon tape that was purchased and most of us sang along. Dave and I also colored in our new coloring books.

The first Florida Trip my family took was very exciting. Though all parts were enjoyable, Disney World was definitely the best part! The timing was perfect as the lines were much shorter than normal for the rides due to a lot of children still being in school. We discovered this when returning to Disney the following summer which will be discussed in a later blog.

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