We come from around the world. We speak different languages. We have different backgrounds. But language isn’t important when you first walk through the wall into Diagon Alley and feel the heat from the Ukrainian Ironbelly’s flames. It’s a moment of “wow.” In that moment, we’re all the same. That’s what I love about both Disney and Universal.
Since Taylor posted a wonderful “walk down memory lane” earlier this week, I wanted to follow it up and talk some about my experiences with the Orlando parks as a kid/young adult — and how they’ve shaped me into the person I am today.
I grew up in the ’90s, a time then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner dubbed the “Disney Decade,” when the company was rapidly expanding its Orlando property with a new theme park, a new water park and new on-site resorts. I took four vacations with my family to Disney during this time; they were almost all in October, mainly because my dad was often attending conventions at the Dolphin. My mom, my brothers and I would take the monorail and buses around to the other hotels during the day and visit the parks at night.
Honestly, I don’t have many specific memories from this era. I do remember going to Animal Kingdom for the first time and freaking out on Countdown to Extinction (before its “Dinosaur” makeover to match the 2000 movie). I also remember seeing Stormalong Bay at Disney’s Beach Club for the first time. The fact that the pool bottom had sand blew my mind. I was from Illinois. Give me a break.
Most of my memories come from my trips in the late ’00s/early ’10s. After years away from the parks, I was intrigued to research what had changed. Imagine my surprise when the first thing that came up was Kongfrontation had been replaced by Revenge of the Mummy at Universal. The last time I had been there, Islands of Adventure was a giant dirt patch with a “coming soon!” sign. I knew I needed to go back.
So during Christmas Break of my sophomore year of high school, we ventured down for a week in Florida. I ran to Revenge of the Mummy, no idea what to expect. That moment was caught on camera. Afterward, I had to do E.T. Adventure a couple times to recover.
Although it was a terrifying re-introduction to Universal, I fell in love with the parks all over again. The first time I rode The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, I knew one day I wanted to be a part of all this. Well, maybe I didn’t know at the time, but looking back on it that was a very important moment in shaping my future.
I’d return several times through the next few years as Universal’s parent company Comcast pledged to invest millions in the parks, mostly notably with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. When I visited in March 2014, I was at a crucial moment in my life — I was two months from graduating college, with no idea what would come next or, honestly, what I actually WANTED to do. I felt lost. I was beginning to understand the appeal of running off and joining the circus. But something about being there at Universal during this time had a profound impact on me.
If this can help me forget my troubles and transport me to another world, maybe the answer is…here?, I thought. Maybe I wanted to play a part in helping other people escape their day-to-day life into a world like Universal or Disney.
That’s why I’m excited to share my stories here, both for those who go it alone to Universal and those planning a family vacation. I moved to Florida and now spend quite a bit of my free time in the parks, documenting all the new construction and yearly events like Halloween Horror Nights. I’m glad I now have an outlet like this blog to place all this documentation. I hope that one day I’ll have the chance to blog or tweet from the “other side” — working with Disney or Universal.
And, as always, I’m looking for that next “wow” moment.
Want to share your “wow” moment with us? Comment below or follow us @SingleRiderClub on Twitter!