My Travel Memories: Epcot Center, Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida, 1989 (also 1992 and 2003)

I am probably going to spend the rest of my life saying that I went to Epcot for the first time in 1982. I know this isn’t true, and that I went for the first time in 1989, but it’s something that I believed for a long time until I started this project and it’ll be a long time before I shake it.

Yes, Epcot opened in 1982. Yes, I went to WDW in 1982. But I went to WDW in July and Epcot opened in October. Therefore I could not have been there until our next Florida trip in 1989.

First, as always, a little (or, I guess, generally, a lot) of history.

The original term “E.P.C.O.T.” was Walt Disney’s dream of building an actual city out there in central Florida. The name is an acronym of “Experimental Prototype Community/City of Tomorrow.” Disney dreamed of making a community in the shape of a circle, with the business district in the center, other buildings (schools, recreation, health care, etc.) in a ring around that, and then a residential area around that.

Disney envisioned the “experimental” as quite possibly the most important part. They would experiment with agriculture and nutrition, with medicine and science, with urban planning, etc.

After Disney’s death in 1966, the Disney corporation decided not to go through with this plan. With one thing and another, though, they ended up developing a theme park using some of these ideas. The focus of the theme park, now called “EPCOT Center” was on edutainment.

There were pavilions dedicated to agriculture, to communication, travel, and to marine science, among other things. We didn’t watch too many of the animatronic shows when we were there the first time, but we did some of the rides, including the ride that led to the hydroponic garden, which was awesome, and the 3d movie Captain EO, starring Michael Jackson. My father was not impressed by the movie.

Some of the tile work in the Morocco section of the World Showcase

The back half of Epcot is the World Showcase. For reasons that you’ll understand, since the original intent of this blog was travel writing, I adore the World Showcase.

There are 11 countries in the World Showcase, including (roughly geographically, starting in North America) Canada, the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Norway, Italy, Morocco, China, and Japan. Originally the plan was to have more countries, but that never panned out.

I loved the United Kingdom, of course, since I’ve totally been an Anglophile since my childhood. Japan was awesome both for being so different, and also for having an actual . . . branch? of a real Japanese department store, the Mitsukoshi Department store.

I have always especially loved Epcot Morocco, though. I mean, look at that arch in the photo above. What’s not to just adore there? And much, much later I found out that there’s a reason why Morocco’s tile work is so amazing. It was done by the personal artisans of King Hassan II, the king of Morocco from 1961 through 1999. Wow.

I’ve been reading some articles about how the front half of Epcot is not what it used to be, which is sad. Epcot was one of my favorite theme parks for the edutainment of it all. I’m not a huge fan of theme parks (though I do need to visit Fiesta Texas and SeaWorld again so that I can blog about them), but if edutainment theme parks were bigger, I’d totally be there.

Today’s Gratuitous Amazon Link is for the next storyline in the Avatar: The Last Airbender comics: The Search. In this storyline, the Gaang take off with Azula in tow to find Zuko’s mom, Ursa. I become increasingly worried about Azula’s mental health in this one, as well.

National Geographic April 2013, Part 2

History’s Backyard, by Adam Goodheart, photographs by Michael Melford

First, I was kind of surprised to find that “backyard” spellchecks. Upon further research (and contemplation) I realized that I’ve generally seen noun as two words, but the adjective as one. So it should spellcheck, but it definitely looks like it should be “Back Yard” in this instance. I keep expecting it to be History’s Backyard Something (barbecue? garden?)

Anyway, the “backyard” in question is the Brandywine River in Delaware. The article goes into some of the historical events that took place along river. As this issue went to press, the government was contemplating including an area including the Brandywine River in the National Park Service. They did eventually do just that. Originally, it was made First State National Monument, then in 2015, it became First State National Historical Park, the first national park in Delaware.

When Push Comes to Shove, by Mel White, photographs by Paul Nicklen

When Push Comes to Shove is about conflict over manatees in Kings Bay, Florida. When this issue was written, over 600 manatees would spend the winter in the bay, and the manatees are a huge draw for tourists and drive quite a bit of the local economy. You see, the nearby town of Crystal River is the only place that allowed people to get into the water with the manatees.

The conflict is that the government, which has an interest in preserving biodiversity (which means preserving the manatees in particular) for future generations, wanted to enforce speed limits on boats in the area to protect the manatees.  Ideally, they would have liked to make Kings Bay off-limits to swimming with the manatees entirely.

I have been unable to determine what, if anything, has changed about this situation in the last three years. I am thinking, though, that a happy medium would be to have licensed manatee tour operators. If visitors who are allowed to swim with the manatees are required to go through a tour operator, then the tour operator would be required to limit swimmers to those that they can supervise (and thus keep from harming the manatees) successfully. Manatee Visitor Supervisor could become a new growth job in the region.


Our 1982 Florida Trip — A Little Free-Asssociation

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out whether we did anything new on our Florida trip other than visiting EPCOT at Walt Disney World.

Let’s see.  My mom had talked to my cousin and my cousin had told her that my other cousin (her son) had bought all of the Dungeons and Dragons manuals and that they contained the ritual for a black mass*.  My mom believed it, but I didn’t.  So I remember spending a lot of time reading manuals looking for that passage.  I never found it, believe it or not.  My mom believed my cousin until the day she died. When a group approached her to allow them to play D&D in her library, she refused based on my cousin’s story.

I saw Poltergeist on that trip. I somehow ended up sitting between my cousin and her husband, and her husband literally sat there and laughed at me for being frightened. I was one of those kids who always thought that there was something under my bed when I was little, so Spielberg’s script and Hooper’s direction played right into those early childhood fears in a way that would have had me chewing on my fingernails, if I had had even the slightest beginning of an inkling how to chew my fingernails (I made a friend who chewed his a few years later and somehow it was totally different from what I’d imagined).

I guess the only other interesting thing about that part of the trip was my first outing without a bra (I left my strapless bra at home and my dress had spaghetti straps).  Fortunately I’m not abundantly endowed, so while it was kind of awkward, it didn’t actually hurt like it would have been for some of the women I’ve been friends with.

We had car trouble on the way home and ended up unexpectedly spending the night in Tennessee. Fortunately the mechanic was able to get the part we needed and get us on the road.  The night we got home, our dog was still being boarded at the vet’s office, so we dropped off our suitcases and went to see E.T.

*We aren’t Catholic.

Alex’s Photography History

It was a big deal the first time I ever used our family camera.  Our Swinger had cost my folks around $20 in 1965.  Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $150, so I really don’t blame them for waiting until I was seven, even if it was frustrating to see things that I wanted to photograph and not to be allowed to.

Twenty-nine years later, we put a camera into Alex’s hands for the first time.  He was three. We were at EPCOT and Alex was really fussy. Alex was normally a very easy-going kid, so was unusual.  We asked him what was up and he indicated that he wanted a camera.  He had grown up seeing us taking pictures, so he certainly knew what a camera did by then.

We had one of those disposable cameras on us, so we handed it to him. We figured that he might be able to work out how to work the shutter button and we’d have one picture taken by him as a souvenir.  Alex lifted that camera to his eye and pushed the shutter button.  And then he advanced the film and took another picture.  You could have knocked us over with a feather.

So we bought another disposable camera for me to use (my ex had the digital camera) and continued our day. By the end of the day, we had bought him another camera, and when we went to my folks’ house the next, day, he went through a few more cameras.  And he went through a few more during our side trip to Key West that week.

And even from the very first, he had a pretty good eye.  My mom told him that she wanted him to take some pictures of people (my mom seemed to think that the purpose of a camera was to take pictures of people and absolutely nothing else).  And it seems to me that a few pictures of family members once in a while is fine, but I’ve never been that big on taking pictures of (family member) in (location) and then (other family member) in (same location) and whatever.  So Alex took a picture of my dad (whom he adores) and then my mom suggested he take a picture of his dad and me.  So his dad and I posed and Alex looked into the viewfinder and then took a step back.  He looked in the viewfinder again and took another step back.  He did this another couple of times and then finally took the picture.  When the picture came out, there were his dad and me smack in the center of the picture.  And way, off to the viewer’s right was my dad.  That kid, at the age of three, knew how to get the shot he wanted, and he wanted my dad in that photo.

Eventually, of course, we bought him his own camera, an inexpensive digital camera. He took pictures for another couple of years and then when he was in kindergarten or thereabouts, he stopped.  When he was twelve, I think, I bought him a Black Friday special camera and then another year or so later, he got the picture-taking bug again.  He has been taking pictures pretty steadily since then and has filled up, I think it’s two SD cards with pictures in that time.

My Travel Memories: Jupiter Inlet Light, Jupiter, Florida

This may be the last post of my going-to-Florida-up-to-1977 posts.  Next, I guess, will be my family’s and my trips to Western North Carolina, where my maternal grandfather had a cabin.  We made several trips there, including 1974 and 1977.

Jupiter Inlet Light was built on the premises of the Jupiter Military Reservation.  The original structure in that region was Fort Jupiter, built in 1838, during what looks like the Second Seminole War.  The government then expanded the property to an entire reservation.

The lighthouse was built atop a mound that was originally thought to be a midden — a garbage pile — left by the natives.  It was later proven to be a natural sand dune.  The lighthouse was built in 1860.

Lighthouses have something called a “daymark.” This is the color markings and shape of the lighthouse.  No two lighthouses are identical. This allows sailors to use them as navigational aids during daytime, as well as at night.  One of the most famous daymarks is the black-and-white spiral marking on Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.  Jupiter Inlet Light’s daymark is its red color.  During its first 50 years of operation, Jupiter Inlet Light was unpainted, and in 1910, it was painted a bright red.  During renovations in the early 1990s, the red paint was changed to a more muted brick red color.

Parts of the grounds, including the museum, are handicap accessible.  There is a ramp with handrails at the Tindall Pioneer Homestead Exhibit and there is an ADA-compliant path through the nearby natural area.  Unfortunately, the light itself is not wheelchair accessible. There are 34 steps to the top of the hill and the top of the lighthouse is accessed by a 105-stair spiral staircase.

I recall being disappointed by Jupiter Inlet Light the first time I saw it.  As I pointed out before, the black-and-white pattern of Cape Hatteras Light is one of the most famous daymarks.  I was under the impression that all lighthouses were black and white, and when I saw that Jupiter Inlet Light was red, I kind of felt that it was a counterfeit lighthouse.  I was also disappointed that we couldn’t climb it.  That opportunity wouldn’t come until one of my visits as an adult, since they didn’t have any tours to the top of the lighthouse until 1994.

Now Jupiter Inlet light is one of my favorites.  It was, after all, the first lighthouse I can remember having visited.  My parents retired to the area near where my cousins lived and whenever my now-ex and I would visit, my folks would take us to dinner in one of several restaurants that were close enough to see the light flashing in the night.

To-Do List: Lighthouses

Unlike my last To-Do List post, which was something new that I’d just discovered and wanted to get started on, today’s To-Do List post is something that I’m actively working on already.

I grew up in Chicago, which does have a few lighthouses to its credit, and yet for most of my life, lighthouses were something that existed somewhere else.  We visited one (I’m pretty sure it was Jupiter Inlet light) during my childhood.  I definitely have visited that one during my adulthood.  We may have gone to Tybee Island light during one of our trips to Savannah, since we have a postcard of it.  I don’t remember it, though.

My interest in lighthouses goes back to 1993 or 1997, depending on how you count.  In 1993, when we first got cable, one of the channels we got was the Sci-Fi Channel, and I finally, after about 27 years of hearing about it, got to see the original 1966 Dark Shadows television program.  I became a fan instantly.  The town where Dark Shadows is set is described as being 50 miles from Bangor, in Hancock County, and on Frenchman’s Bay.  So once I had an Internet connection, in 1997, I set out to figure out where, exactly, that would be, and in the process, saw all kinds of photographs of lighthouses.  At first, I wanted to see one lighthouse, but then with time I decided that I want to see them all.

Since 1997, every time I visit a place that’s near water, I try to see at least one lighthouse (and if I can climb one, that’s even better).  In my 2015 vacation, I got three lighthouses in.  The first was the Statue of Liberty, which is no longer a lighthouse, but was one from 1886 until 1902.  My second and third were Blackwell Island Light and Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse (the subject of the children’s book “The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge”) on our Circle Tour trip (more on the tour in a future post).

I still have never visited a lighthouse in Maine, though.

My Travel Memories: Key West, Florida

I finally found the album on our trip to Florida from when I was five.  A lot of the space is taken up with brochures and leaflets from things like the jai alai games and greyhound racing that my parents went to with my cousins.  There are also the notes that my mom left for the babysitter that watched me and my cousins’ children those nights. There are also post cards from places near Savannah that I do not remember at all, such as Fort McAllister and Tybee Island Light.  I don’t know if I ever actually went to those places or if they were in a package of Savannah post cards (all but eight of the photographs in that album were post cards) and my mom just included them.

One thing I sort of remember is our trip to the Florida Keys.  My mom always told me that we got about halfway down the Keys and my dad got frustrated and we turned around.  However, this photo album has a leaflet from Ernest Hemingway’s home, so it certainly looks like we made it all the way to Key West.

I remember parts of that trip.  My mom told me that we were going to visit some islands.  My only frame of reference for “island” was the television show “Gilligan’s Island,” so I basically spent the whole trip looking for lagoons and sandy beaches.  I didn’t realize until years later that every time we were on land for most of that trip, even without any visible shoreline, was still on an island.

My now-ex, Alex, and I went to Key West in 2003, and so I have better memories of that trip.  We drove down, stayed the night, and then toured the island the next day.  On that trip, we went to the Southernmost Point in the Continental United States, Key West Lighthouse, and we returned to Ernest Hemingway’s house (though I didn’t realize that I had been there before).  And, since Alex has always been fond of animals, we spent quite a lot of time stalking the gypsy chickens of Key West.

Early on the morning of our trip to Key West, I heard a vague sound that sure sounded like a rooster in the distance.  I told my now-ex that I had heard a rooster and he doubted me.  Then I heard it again.  This time he heard it, too.  So we headed out for our adventure and there they were.  Chickens.  Everywhere.  No one is really sure how they got there.  It is likely that they are descendants of several waves of chickens, from birds brought by early European settlers to animals released once cockfighting became illegal.  The gypsy chickens are numerous and reproduce quickly, so the Key West Wildlife Center have begun exporting them to the Florida mainland.  As they are feral, they are actually excellent predators of insects and other pests.  Several farms on the mainland use Key West gypsy chickens as part of their pest control plan.  Alex, who was three at the time, had just begun learning to take pictures, so we gave him a disposable camera (he went through several on this trip) and let him have at it.

My Travel Memories: Lion Country Safari, Loxahatchee, Florida

Lion Country Safari is a drive-through wild animal park with its primary focus, as the name implies, on the animals of the African savannah.  Lion Country Safari was founded in 1967 as an attempt to bring a real safari experience to the people of the United States. The park originally only had a pride of lions, but over the past nearly 50 years the park has grown to over 900 individuals of over 20 species.

Traditionally, the animals have walked free, but safety concerns have led the owners of the park to install fences between the cars and the lions and chimpanzees, in particular.

However, during my visits to Lion Country Safari, at least two during the years before 1977 and one 2002, all of the animals, including the lions, roamed freely through their habitats; today, you can still have that experience with the herbivores such as the zebras and giraffes. On some of our trips, the animals got right up to our car, which is an amazing experience. On others, the animals were farther back in their habitats, so it didn’t really matter if they were free-roaming or not. An animal way back there might as well be behind a fence. You kind of have to take your chances on each visit. Apparently the animals are more active and therefore, more interesting, in the morning and while it is raining, so take that into account when making your plans.

Since Lion Country Safari is a drive-through park, it is as handicap-accessible as your vehicle is. There is now a walk-through park that I don’t seem to recall from other visits. The website for Lion Country Safari says that the walk-through park is designed to be handicap-accessible, though a wheelchair user may need assistance getting into and out of the petting zoo area.

My Travel Memories: Food at the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, Florida

On my first and probably second trips to Walt Disney World (assuming those trips would have been around first and third grades), we mostly ate crummy hamburger and hot dog type food from the “quick service” outlets like the oddly named Pinocchio Village Haus. 

Then when I was in I think it was fourth grade (I really wish we could find those photo albums!) my teacher mentioned that there was an actual sit-down restaurant upstairs in the castle.  This was the also oddly named King Stefan’s Banquet Hall.  I say that this name was odd because King Stefan was Sleeping Beauty’s father. Cinderella’s father didn’t have a name, and besides that, he wasn’t the king and wouldn’t have belonged in a castle.  As the 21st Century approached, the suits at Disney apparently decided that a woman could be the host of her own damn banquet hall and the name was changed to Cinderella’s Royal Table.

My teacher told me that we had to have reservations some number of months ahead of time, so one of my parents (likely my mom) got on the phone and made them.  And it was wonderful.  I was kind of an unusual child.  Most “kiddie foods” like hot dogs did little for me, unless they were very good, and I was a teenager by the time the chicken nugget became a common thing (discovering that one of my friends loved McNuggets may well have damaged our relationship permanently).  I did like fried chicken, but it had to be an identifiable part.

I loved King Stefan’s Table, but it was expensive, so it was a one-time thing.  Fortunately, EPCOT was on the horizon by then, and that would change my eating-at-Disney habits for good. But that’s a story for 1982 and not for Before 1977.

I do have one last Magic Kingdom eating experience to share.  It fits in with the theme of “food at the Magic Kingdom,” but doesn’t fit in chronologically.  When my now-ex and I went to Walt Disney World in 1992, we bought a cookbook called Cooking with Mickey, Volume II. This book had a recipe called “Freedom Fighter Chicken.”  My first thought was that sounded more like a superhero from a funny animal comic than an entree, but it’s really good.  It has chicken and vegetables in a sauce made from white wine and white wine Worcestershire sauce.  Freedom Fighter Chicken comes from the Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom, which neither my folks nor I had ever noticed was there during our 1970s visits, but I’m pretty sure it must have been, and it probably served real food at the time.  In 2003, my folks, my now-ex, my son, and I all went to the Liberty Tree Tavern for dinner.  Freedom Fighter Chicken is apparently a lunch menu item, because dinner is a family-style Thanksgiving dinner, which, as one would expect, was a little steep, but very good thus worth the money.

My Travel Memories: Walt Disney World, Orlando (more or less), Florida

Where to start?

Well, the obvious place is 1972, my first visit, but I was awfully young and don’t remember a whole lot.  I remember taking the monorail from the parking lot to the park.  My mom wanted to take the ferry boat, but I refused (more on my old fear of boats later). I also remember some of the kiddie rides, like the Dumbo ride and the Teacup ride (which was my very favorite for probably entirely too long).  I remember, without a great deal of enthusiasm, the food.  I think that was the visit where we ate at Pinocchio Village Haus restaurant with a German name, which is exceedingly odd for a restaurant that takes its theme from a movie based on a book that’s set in Italy.  Casa di Pinocchio would be more appropriate, I would think.

Sadder than the German theme was the food, if I recall.  I seem to remember fast-food type hamburgers and not much else.  I don’t think there were chicken nuggets.  The chicken nugget had been invented, but no one had heard of them yet.  That was still a good eight years in the future.

My parents and cousin went on the Haunted Mansion ride.  I don’t think I went on the Haunted Mansion on that trip yet.  I was still pretty little and very imaginative.  Even though it was all in fun, I probably would have had problems with some of it, like the head in the crystal ball. That would have totally freaked me out.  I do wonder who watched us, though.  The oldest child in our group would only have been nine at the time. Maybe my cousin’s husband watched us.

We didn’t take many, if any, photographs at Walt Disney World that trip.  I seem to recall all of the Disney World pictures in that photo album as being postcards.  Our old Swinger camera was pretty bulky and really didn’t travel very well.

This was the first of many trips to Walt Disney World.  We originally did it as a day trip from my cousins’ house, but one year my family stayed in a hotel in Orlando.  If I recall, that hotel was the first time any of us ever saw a digital hotel room lock.  I think that was the 1974/1975 school year.  Since they reprogrammed the lock for every visitor, they let us keep the key and I brought the room key back to show in school.  My most recent trips were in 1982, 1992, and 2003.  I will likely be back to discuss them in those years.

And why do I refer to Walt Disney World as being “more or less” in Orlando?  Because the resort is not actually in Orlando.  Walt Disney World is actually southwest of the city limits. Most of it is in Bay Lake, Florida, and the rest is in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.  But the popular perception is that it is in Orlando, so I figured I’d better reference that, rather than putting either of the other two cities as the location.

(originally posted June 24, 2015)