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Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Returning to my memories, Walt Disney World 1997

Photos from Walt Disney World 1997

I am packing for our holiday to Walt Disney World and it feels like it is the first time I have ever been but it isn't. Perhaps this is because the last time I went to Walt Disney World now feels like a lifetime ago, I have some strong memories of my visit there in 1997 but many very distant ones! I do remember good times during the trip to Florida but would I be able to remember the geography of the parks- definitely not and I also cannot remember absolutely every attraction we went on. It is amazing to think that I only took a handful of photos at that time- when I think of the number of photos I take now when I visit Disneyland Paris compared to the number I took on that trip the contrast is mind blowing! I have cropped many of these photos to remove the children who I accompanied, although they are very much adults now!

Mickey in 1997

I was 18 when I headed to North Carolina for a six month adventure volunteering in a children's home on my gap year placement between sixth form college and university. When I was offered North America it took me a while to decide to take up the placement- would I really get much out of it? Did I really feel like the United States would be the place for me? I am so glad I said "yes"!

During the placement I spent my days working in a thrift store, a charity shop attached to the children's home- anybody who knows me will know how much I would have loved that! I spent the evenings and weekends working with the children and teenagers- spending time with them, reading with them, eating with them and accompanying them to church clubs and on days out.

I was fascinated to learn about American culture from the different people I met from many different backgrounds. I also had the opportunity to travel a bit whilst on my trip, visiting Virginia, New York and Washington. I am a Quaker and visited other Quakers in North Carolina, I stayed at the Quaker College in Pennsylvania and visited Philadelphia. In June, four months into the placement, a charity paid for the children to spend a week in Florida and all the staff including us volunteers went with them. It was a whole day's drive down on the coach through South Carolina and Georgia and I remember the feeling of relief when we entered Florida and stopped at a welcome centre decorated with oranges!

We stayed in a hotel in the wider Orlando area with a pool and each of the adults on the trip had a small group of children who we stayed with and cared for. I had a group of three high spirited but lovely girls aged between 9 and 12, I knew that this was a new and exciting experience for us all and it was a privilege to be able to share this with these fantastic kids who had been through some very difficult times in the past and had not necessarily experienced happy holidays before.

Teacups in 1997

Disney World's 25th Anniversary celebrations were still going strong so the castle was dressed as a pink birthday cake. Animal Kingdom didn't open until the following year so we spent a day at Magic Kingdom, MGM (Hollywood) Studios, Epcot and a day at SeaWorld. Each day we went back to the hotel for a swim and a sandwich tea mid-afternoon before returning to the parks for the evening.

25th anniversary Disney World cake castle

Of our trip to Magic Kingdom I remember very little! I do remember going on the Teacups, Carousel of Progress and watching the Hall of Presidents. I also remember the Enchanted Tiki Room- once experienced probably never forgotten! At MGM Studios, as it was then, I remember the thrill of getting closer to the park and seeing the 'Earful Tower' which has sadly now gone. I also have fond memories of going on Tower of Terror, well as fond as they can be for a ride I find terrifying! The 5 year olds in our party loved it though! I remember the Muppets 3D cinema and the Great Movie Ride and would have loved for it still to be there but time moves on.

Miss Piggy fountain, 1997

My strongest memories are of Epcot where I remember the Spaceship Earth attraction and  how much I loved the World Showcase and how the United Kingdom part reminded my 18 year old self of home! I remember visiting the Garden Grill restaurant. As this is one of the clearest memories I have of the fun we had (probably helped by having a photo of it) I have made sure we are going back there again- I want to remember! That meal with the characters felt like the biggest treat of the holiday for those kids I was looking after and myself too -it was joyous!

Chip at Garden Grill, 1997

I am fascinated to see if any other memories come back to me whilst I am visiting the Disney parks on our trip. I feel very emotional about returning as it was an incredibly formative time in my life which I shall always be very thankful for. I will be turning 40 whilst I am there this month and I can't help but reflect on that six months in the US. I had lots of fun at Disney World and throughout my placement,  it was a time of huge personal growth and I feel very thankful for all the experiences I had there.

Pooh at Walt Disney World, 1997

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