Well it was early December, 1973, and my dad came home from work and said, "get your stuff packed....we're taking a trip to Florida". Can a 12 year old get much more excited when hearing those words? Six of us (my parents, my grandparents on my dad's side, and my sister, piled into our brown Chrysler New Yorker and made the trip from Maine to Florida. After two full days of driving (this was the beginning of the Arab oil embargo), we settled into a hotel in Jacksonville, FL (our first night was spent in Richmond VA). Next day we'd be a Disney, but first we made a side trip to Marineland in St Augustine. By 4pm the next day, we were driving onto Disney property. At the time, all of Walt Disney World sat at the end of World Drive and there was absolutely nothing between 192 and the MK toll booths. It seemed to take forever to get there. By the time we reached the toll booth, we were met by the very first castmember we would ever encounter....I seem to remember his name as Jack. Anyway, my dad asked if there were any rooms available for the night, to which he replied yes! With that, he gave us directions to the Contemporary. Couldn't get any better than that! We checked in (as quick as we could) into our room in the South Garden Wing, then headed off to the Magic Kingdom...by monorail of course!
The resort monorail travelled in the same direction as it does now, so the anticipation was really getting thick as we pulled out of the Polynesian station. We couldn't get out of the monorail fast enough, once we reached the MK. We had bought our tickets books at the Contemporary, so all that was needed at the turnstile was the admission ticket out of the book, and we were in. I'll never forget seeing Town Square for the first time as we emerged from the tunnel under the Main Street Train Station. And as a bonus, everything was decorated for Christmas! It was beautiful. The other "first" memory I have, is that as we walked down Main Street, there seemed to be no one in the park. Looking back, it was due to the oil crisis and also an extremely cold stretch in Florida. I remember heading directly to Fantasyland (as my grandmother wanted to go on It's a Small World-her favorite attraction from their trip in March of that year), but we decided to ride Snow White first. Since the park was closing at 7pm that night, we only ended up having 2 full hours in the MK that first day, but without any crowds, besides Snow White, we rode Toad, Peter Pan, It's a Small World, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the Mickey Mouse Revue and the Skyway, which at the time was a round trip ride, since Space Mountain and the rest of the Tomorrowland expansion was going on, leaving the TL Skyway Station in the middle of a construction zone. I remember seeing the Mad Tea Party, but 7pm rolled around and it had closed for the night. We took a leisurely stroll out of the park, stopping at the Magic Shop on Main Street where my dad bought my sister a Charlie McCarthy puppet, and then rode the monorail back to the Contemporary, where we had dinner at the Gulf Coast Room.
The next day we were up bright and early. We had a quick breakfast at a restaurant in the Grand Canyon Concourse (it could have been the Concourse Steakhouse...) and then we were off again, to the MK. The day was spent visiting every attraction we could find. While waiting for the Tropical Serenade pre-show to start, we could see Caribbean Plaza being readied for its opening just 10 days away. Once again, the crowds in the Kingdom were almost non-existant, and we saw very few kids. In fact, we had 5 of the Seven Drawfs, and the Big Bad Wolf with us for almost 1/2 an hour. I think the fact that there were so few kids in the park worked to our advantage. They followed us around and actually accompanied us to lunch at the old Tomorrowland Terrace. We have pictures (somewhere) of us sitting at tables with the characters around us. Sadly, the days of encounters like that are long gone. We ate at the Crystal Palace for dinner that second evening and finished our day with a trip on "if you had wings"....it was a complimentary (free) attraction, and we were out of tickets for that day. Our well worn feet appreciated the monorail ride (albeit short) back to the Contemporary for the evening.
Planning on just two nights at WDW, we realized that the next day would be our last, and that we'd be leaving mid-afternoon. Once again, we armed ourselves with new ticket books (with admission included) and decided on which attractions deserved one more visit. I remember that the Haunted Mansion and 20,000 Leagues would be repeated, and so would Pan and Small World. We also took another trip on the Skyway to look at Tomorrowland one more time. As mid afternoon approached we knew the end was near. Sadly, we said goodbye to the MK, but vowed to return again someday. Little did I realize that this trip would begin a life-long obsession with Walt Disney World. Now I'm a DVC Member, I'm married with two grown daughters, and we've spent literally hundreds of days at the Vacation Kingdom of the World. Not bad, considering we live in Maine. It's funny, but some of my strongest memories of the early Magic Kingdom are of things and places that don't exist there anymore....the Main Street Magic Shop, the flower market on West Center Street and the weird food at the Adventureland Veranda. I also fondly remember the Three Caballeros in the Mickey Mouse Revue, and how amazing the Country Bears and the Hall of Presidents were. By far, my favorite place was the Walt Disney Story, on Main Street, and the large model of the Magic Kingdom in the exit lobby. It is my hope that Retro Disney World helps ignite more of these memories on a daily basis. I plan to visit frequently!