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By Mike West.

{Editor’s Note: Today we are joined by Mike West, a good friend of mine and a noted Disney expert.  Today, Mike is sharing some of his memories of Walt Disney World.  Enjoy, and please give Mike a warm welcome!}

You know you’ve done it.  You’ve been standing in line for an attraction like Splash Mountain at the Magic Kingdom for 45 minutes and you’ve thought to yourself, “Wouldn’t it be great if I had the entire ride all to myself?  I could walk right through this line, hop onto the first ride vehicle and be the only person on the ride.”  We’ve all done it!

Would you believe it if I told you I’ve experienced that actual rare Disney moment?  I’m surely not the only one, but I was fortunate to have numerous occasions in which I had the theme parks all to myself.  Well, it seemed like it.  Here’s my story…

Years ago, I had the good fortune to work with the folks at Walt Disney World Merchandise doing photography for the screen savers they sold in the parks and on the Disney Cruise Line.  In fact, if you bought any of these Disney screen savers, I was the person who took the photos found in each one.

Disney Screen Savers - 8

As part of the photography process, Walt Disney World Merchandise would arrange for me to have access to the parks first thing in the morning, well before the parks opened to guests.  While there were no guests about, a small number of maintenance personnel were busy finishing a night of cleaning the parks and making sure everything was in working order and ready to create another day of magical memories.  As a result, I spent much of my time moving about the parks taking photos while music was playing, train whistles sounded and the smell of baked goods filled the air…but nobody was around.  To be able to experience them all to myself while I was “working” was a truly unique and enjoyable experience.

I thought I’d share some a few of my favorite memories…

The feeling of walking through the Magic Kingdom and having it all to yourself in the cool air and morning light is simply magical.  Everything is sparkling clean and each path before you is unobstructed to any destination.  I always enjoyed how most everyplace I went was open, yet vacant, as Cast Members were busy behind the scenes getting things ready.  Imagine every store you walk into is welcoming, yet nobody is there, restaurants are perfectly still and you can see all the way across Frontierland and not see a single person.  I always wanted to sit down and take it all in, but I had to keep moving and taking photos, as I had only a couple of hours with which to work.

One of my favorite memories was walking through the entire queue at Splash Mountain with not a soul around.  I stepped into the queue and continued without slowing my pace and approached the loading area where I found a couple of Cast Members preparing the log vehicles for the day.  I explained that I was “working” and asked if I could sit in the front seat of one of the logs and ride the attraction to take some photos.  They replied in true Disney fashion with a genuine “Sure!”, and with that I boarded the first log of the day and had the entire attraction to myself!

Walking into the Magic Kingdom mid-day is always a special experience, but before-hours is something else.  By early morning, the hard working maintenance staff has all of the Magic Kingdom sparkling clean and ready for guests.  As a result, I found myself on more than one occasion walking down the middle of Main Street, U.S.A. towards Cinderella Castle all by myself with not a soul in sight while all the lights on the building facades were still aglow from the evening before and one of my favorite Disney songs, “Flitterin’”, filled the air.  The task before me?  Make sure I photograph the Partners statue with Cinderella Castle in the background in the early morning light before moving on to other areas in the park.  It was a tough job, but someone had to do it.

Epcot at 6:00 a.m. is an altogether different experience from that of 11:00 a.m. when it opens to guests.  The air is cool, the shadows are soft in the early morning light and the lifting fog slowly reveals the pavilions on distant shores.  However, with a circumference of 1.25 miles, it can be a lot of ground to cover when photographing all 11 pavilions before they open to guests.  To photograph as much as I could, I had to move very quickly from shot to shot and pavilion to pavilion, but two pavilions tempted me to stay longer than I should; China and Japan.

One of my favorite moments photographing Epcot was stepping from the clearly defined technology, music and hard edges of Future World East into the calm and serene landscape of China.  Unlike Japan, which uses moving water in its landscaping, China uses still water, and in the early morning light, China presents radiant colors, ancient architecture and serene pools filled with blooming white water lilies.  Since I had it to myself, I always made sure to linger a moment at the China pavilion to enjoy the beauty and art of this ancient culture.

Later, while photographing Japan on a foggy morning, I was struck by how the morning fog brings an entirely different experience to the pavilion.  With the torri gate in the lagoon at your back and all the other pavilions obscured by the fog, it really feels as if you’re in Japan.  With nobody else around, there aren’t any elements which break that sense.  Even seeing a single Cast Member with a name tag can make it clear you’re at Epcot, so having the pavilion all to myself allowed me to transport to Japan in the way Disney Imagineers intended.

These are but a few of my favorite Walt Disney World before-hour memories…which I can share.  There are certainly others.  Backstage was always interesting, and being questioned by Disney Security on a regular basis always made me feel like I was some kid in trouble.  (That incident on the Disneyland Skyway when I was 12 didn’t help.)  I was also in the right place at the right time to shoot an image on the fly of a comical scene in Disneyland unlike any I’ve ever seen.  I’d include it with this article, but Walt Disney wouldn’t have wanted it published, so it will remain right where it is.

Lastly, thank you to Mickey Mouse for allowing me to take your first photo of the day…before the gates opened.

Disney World Mobile Guide iPhone 4 - 172 x 310 Mike West is the author of numerous trip-planning and in-park apps for Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort, including the popular Disney World Mobile Guide.  In addition, he’s regarded as an expert on the secrets of both Walt Disney World and Disneyland having published two best-selling apps, titled “Walt Disney World Secrets Gold!” and “Disneyland Secrets Gold!”, both available on the iTunes App Store, Google Play and Amazon AppStore.  Learn more at www.TimeStream-Software.com – Contact:  Media@TimeStream-Software.com

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3 Replies to “Walt Disney World All to Myself”

  1. Thank you “Mike 1 and Mike 2” for providing this wonderful post. Mike W – your descriptive writing with all the wonderful details really made me feel like I was there in the park alone too – seeing it through your eyes. And that is so wonderful, since it is probably an experience I will never actually get to have. (The closest was an early morning breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table, where there were just a few other guests in the park and the early morning Around the World Segway Tour at Epcot, where there were only maintenance people and a few artists). Both are treasured memories — and your post brought them back vividly for me. Thanks so much for sharing this.

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