Part 5: One Good Turn Deserves Another
“Whew!” Part 5, wow! If you’ve been following along on my 30 year-old adventure, thanks so much and I hope you’ve enjoyed this even half as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. If you are just finding these, be sure to check out parts 1-4 for the full retro effect. I’ve really enjoyed hearing from fellow Walt Disney World® travelers and others just interested in all things “Disney.” If you have a memory to share, or are a Disney fan like me, please follow me over on “the Twitter” at @RachelHorsley. I hope to “see” you there! Now, on with our final installment!
Waking among the birds in our treehouse, we readied ourselves for our final (and premiere) Walt Disney World® character dining experience, “Breakfast a la Disney,” aboard the Empress Lilly. Originally named for Walt Disney’s wife, in 1996 the Empress Lilly was renovated and reopened as Fulton’s Crab House.
In 1983, the Empress Lilly housed restaurants, lounges, and was host to Walt Disney World’s most impressive character meal. By far, “Breakfast a la Disney” featured more characters than either of the other character meal opportunities. This particular morning, we were visited by Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum, Captain Hook, Smee, Br’er Fox, Pluto & Goofy! I would swear I met Br’er Bear too, but have no photographic evidence.
Unlike the other character breakfasts, which were all buffets, “Breakfast a la Disney” was served banquet style. There was a predetermined menu (primarily bacon & eggs) served to everyone.
After our breakfast aboard the beautiful (and permanently moored) Empress Lilly, we headed out for our second day at EPCOT® Center.
Starting our tour in Future World, we traveled back in time to prehistoric jungles filled with dinosaurs at the Universe of Energy. I remember being afraid that a dinosaur would pop out and scare me at any moment (the way DINOSAUR, a present day attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom®, does.) However, no such terror emerged and it turned out to be really cool.
Next up was EPCOT® Center’s newest attraction, Horizons (now Mission:SPACE®.) Opening only 2 months before our visit, Horizons would become one of the park’s most beloved, and ultimately missed, attractions. While the show did take a quick look back at man’s history, the heart of the attraction featured possibilities for our future and offered guests an opportunity to choose how to travel back to the FuturePort. Guests could choose from Sea, Space or Desert. I vividly remember this moment, and choosing the Sea path (we rode a second time and my little brother pressed the desert button…this was less a choice than it was a coincidence, since he couldn’t read.)
What I remember most clearly from Horizons was the attraction’s parting thought, “If we can dream it, we really can do it. And that’s the most exciting part!” Though Walt Disney was never able to see his “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” realized, his unwavering belief in man’s potential was showcased in Horizons, which effectively tied together all the other EPCOT® Center Future World pavilions. Horizons illustrated how communication, transportation, energy, agriculture, and even a little imagination can shape our future.
After returning to Horizons’ FuturePort, we headed into the World Showcase, starting in Mexico. I clearly remember standing on the steps of the Mexico pavilion and taking off my jacket. It had FINALLY warmed enough to go without! Inside, we purchased a pink elephant piñata for my 8th birthday. It eventually took 2 adults and a saw to break it open. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
Next, we toured China (where we watched “Wonders of China: Land of Beauty, Land of Time”), Germany, and Italy before we could sit down and enjoy the American Adventure Show (which was very similar to today’s attraction.)
Finishing up in Japan, we took a boat back to Future World, where we returned to the Land Pavilion for Dinner at The Good Turn, a revolving restaurant, which overlooked scenes from the Listen to the Land attraction.
I was fascinated by the farmhouse window, just feet away, and checking out the detail that went into the staging….a comb on the dresser, the lamp on the bedside table, and all the other little things that bring the attraction to life.
No longer The Good Turn, present day visitors to the Walt Disney World® Resort enjoy character dining at the “Garden Grill” in the same location. Given the turntable design of the restaurant, space is very limited and advanced dining reservations are usually a must. But, I think this is one of Disney World’s most under-appreciated dining experiences. Using fresh ingredients grown in the pavilion, the Garden Grill serves an excellent family style meal (better than the buffets, in my opinion.) We always ask for seconds of everything, and the smaller size of the restaurant offers more attentive (unhurried) character interactions. I swear, on our last trip, Dale spent 3 minutes just tickling my son, Andrew.
After dinner, full and ready for bed, we returned to our treehouse villa and prepared for our departure the next day.
So far, my father had planned every day of our trip in 15-minute segments, mapping out the order in which we would experience shows and attractions. It worked beautifully, as the only real line I remember was 20,000 Leagues…Waking that morning, we learned that our last day would be different. My dad left it completely open to allow us time to revisit all our favorite attractions.
We checked out of the treehouse and were given a copy of our bill…a whopping $396.81 for six people to stay 2 nights and dine at 2 restaurants.
Off we went to put one last stamp on our tickets! We aren’t exactly sure of all the attractions visited that day, but it seems we started the day in Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom. One of us chose the Jungle Cruise as a favorite and my mother wanted to ride Pirates of the Caribbean again.
My grandmother has always been a big fan of the Haunted Mansion, so that was repeated (while the Haunted Mansion has been my favorite attraction for over a decade, back then I passed on a second chance to join the 999 happy haunts.) My grandfather wanted to visit It’s a Small World, and at some point, we took time to enjoy an inaugural performance of the Walt Disney World® Christmas Parade and a holiday stage show featuring lots of our favorite characters.
I wanted to visit EPCOT® to Listen to the Land again, although I ended up being much less impressed the 2nd time around. I have no idea why I chose this attraction. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a classic and interesting, but I would not list it among my favorites (just being honest.) While at EPCOT® Center we revisited Spaceship Earth and our friends, Figment and Dreamfinder, at Journey into Imagination.
After a full day running around to revisit the best-of-the-best, everyone (including my grandparents) piled into the van and said “goodbye” to the happiest place on Earth. It was a short trip to a roadside motel, where we would spend the night before the long ride back to Mobile. I remember only 2 things about that motel…1. There was a rack full of Disney World post cards at the check-in counter, which I lovingly poured over, already missing the magic. And 2. The roach/water bug I watched run across the floor of our room. I vaguely remember a conversation about it only being for one night, so I would just have to live with it. I insisted we sleep with the light on…whether it was ultimately to keep away any bugs or the Grim Grinning Ghosts, I couldn’t say.
Despite my proven ability to dodge thrill rides, the following years were an unavoidable roller coaster in their own right. The next year my parents divorced. Shortly after, we left Mobile and moved to Baltimore. I’ve spent countless hours remembering those 6 days our family spent at Walt Disney World®, wishing we could all go back to that happier and simpler era. A time when my biggest decision was not who I wanted to live with, but whether I should choose the more traditional Mickey Mouse Ears or the wackier Goofy hat. Of course, a born Disney devotee, I went with the Ears.
Thank you so much for joining me for this adventure and look back at Walt Disney World® Resort 30 years ago!