By Amy Larsen, Wyo4News feature writer
October 10, 2021 — On October 1, Walt Disney World turned 50 years old. The news has been all over every type of media outlet, so it has been kind of hard to miss it or ignore it, and I am sure in many ways, it made many of us a little nostalgic. The nostalgia may have come from your first trip (or last trip) to a Disney park, your first Disney movie, or even the Disney character you most relate to. It is weird how somehow just the mention of Disney takes us all somewhere.
My somewhere is a little bit more unique than most. The more I see about the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World, the more my thoughts go back to 24 years ago and wondering who I would be today or even where I would be today without the “pixie dust” that is the magic of Disney. I have loved Disney, especially Mickey Mouse, for as long as I can remember, but that is not where the impact of the magic of Disney in my life begins.
In the late summer of 1997, when Walt Disney World was wrapping up the celebration of their 25th Anniversary, I was embarking on my own fairytale as an intern at Walt Disney World, as part of the Walt Disney World College Program. No, I did not have a glamorous job as a Disney Princess or another character, shocking, I know! I wasn’t even in one of the three theme parks (the Animal Kingdom didn’t open until April 1998). I was able to spend hours helping to keep Typhoon Lagoon up to the high Disney appearance standards and loved every minute of it. In fact, I loved my experience so much; I even went back in 1999 for an advanced internship with Cast Activities.
I am discovering that time has a weird way of shaping our memories, defining what was important and even lessons learned. Over the last few months, I have spent a lot of time trying to understand or even define what my Walt Disney World experience was, what I took from it, and why just the thought of Walt Disney World still evokes a childlike sense of wonder and glee in me. As I look back through my scrapbooks and souvenirs, I can no longer identify most people pictured, remember what we were doing, or even why it was important to me to capture the moment at that time. I look at pictures of all the attractions, events, and adventures I was able to have, and they were fun, lots of fun, but still, I struggle to define what my head and heart are trying to put into words. Finally, I started to really see me, see something in my eyes, something in my smile, something in those that are around me. Faith, hope, and pixie dust, perhaps? Maybe as there is an indefinable joy that you only see in Disney characters. Whatever it is, I have come to realize those months were the defining moments of what would shape my Happily Ever After.
I learned a lot as a Disney intern. I learned all about Walt’s dreams and visions, his challenges and passions, the best Disney business practices, values, and ethics. Heck, I learned why it is important to point with two fingers or an open palm and still do it! I learned about hard work and what it takes to succeed, lessons that have definitely helped me in every job I have had since then. But again, those are not what created that spark in my eye, that joy that radiated from me, what makes my heart burst when I look back. I believe all that came from the Disney magic that was taking place around me, forming me into the person I have become because of my experience.
I had never been to Walt Disney World before my internship. I had never really been away from my comfort zone of Wyoming, friends, and family. I definitely had not been anywhere alone, relying solely on myself! When I stepped off the plane in Orlando, I remember vividly standing in the concourse, taking a deep breath and saying to myself, “Amy, this is your moment to define who you are. It is yours to take.” And oh boy, was it a defining moment! I had to learn to live with and work with people from all over the United States and the world. I had my eyes and heart opened to cultures, beliefs, and lifestyles that I had not encountered growing up in Wyoming. I met people just like me, looking for that great Disney story, and left with several of them as still my closest friends today, friends I honestly cannot imagine having navigated these last 24 years without! So much of that Disney magic truly came from the people I was so lucky to be surrounded by. I know it is cliché, but I learned, lived, and encountered that it really is a “Small World After All.”
Most importantly, however, amid make-believe, I learned who I truly was and that I had so much more to give the world than I had ever given myself credit for. I was capable of standing on my own two feet, dealing with adversity, defining and living by my own values and beliefs. It became so clear to me that my only limits in this world truly would be my own courage and imagination. I wrote an important chapter of my story! In many ways, I found my fairytale, and I am so thankful it was a real-life one.
Walt Disney’s motto was “Dream, Believe, Dare, Do.” It has changed the world; it has changed me; I imagine it could change anyone of you too.