Discovering the Magic

Maggie Krohne

A Walt Disney World intern gives an inside view of why to visit and how to cut costs

Cinderella’s castle is the center of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in Florida.

Credit: Andrew popik

This year’s advertising slogan for Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., is “the happiest celebration on earth.”

And it is. At least it is for Ken Stahl, junior visual communication design major.

“It’s a magical experience that Disney preserves,” said Stahl, who participated as an intern in the Disney World College Program in 2002 and has been back twice to visit since.

He said it is Disney’s attention to detail that makes it magically different.

“Disney is the cleanest park you’ll ever find. No gum is sold on Disney property or within so many miles,” Stahl said. “That’s why it is always clean. You don’t have little black spots all over the sidewalks like a lot of other amusement parks.”

The Walt Disney World complex consists of four theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park. There are three water parks on site, resort hotels ranging from value resorts to deluxe resorts and a shopping and dining complex called Downtown Disney.

With spring break just around the corner, the hot Florida sun will lure many college students to its white, sandy beaches while the charm of a Disney vacation often goes unrealized. At least, according to William Westover, general manager of Portage Travel Service in downtown Kent. He said the expensive nature of a Disney vacation often keeps students away from the magic.

“Most students come in looking for cheap, tropical locations to spend their spring break,” Westover said. “If a student can afford it, however, they should definitely go. At Disney, they do it right. We never have people complain about a Disney World vacation.”

While the Disney experience is undoubtedly costly, Stahl said it is worth the money.

“A vacation to Disney World is expensive, there’s no way around that,” Stahl said. “You have to pay for the pricey tickets, hotels and food. The food is always more expensive than people anticipate. But you can control spending by packing a lunch and storing it in a locker at the parks, or eating two meals a day instead of three.”

Planning ahead seems to be the key to cutting costs, and the chances of headache, on a Disney vacation.

The American Automobile Association in Kent offers discounted tickets and lodging, as well as a Disney Diamond card that allows travelers to save 10 to 30 percent on merchandise and food.

“To make traveling easier and more affordable, we offer Disney Vacation Packages that include hotel, ticket and meal options,” said Bonnie Panovich, travel counselor at AAA Travel Association. “You can also save money by driving down, and we offer a trip-tic travel map with directions to make that easier as well.”

Once in Disney, however, the worry of finances tends to melt away.

“The money is definitely worth it,” Stahl said. “You can’t put a price tag on the magic Disney creates.”

That secret to that magic in one word is work. Stahl said what goes on behind the scenes is kept secret, so when a visitor enters the park gates, they enter the magical world of Disney, not just another amusement park.

“It’s supposed to be a secret, to preserve the magic,” Stahl said. “They don’t want you to wonder who they really are or how they do this or that. It’s just supposed to be a magical experience.”

It takes work to preserve that magical illusion, and Stahl said Disney does everything to maintain it.

“You can’t be caught drinking or eating anything in the parks,” he said. “Basically, you can’t be caught being human. When you work, you’re not an employee. You’re a cast member; you’re a part of the magic.”

Every character portrayed stays in character, even behind the scenes.

“I’d walk back in the employees’ lounge, and Belle would be there reading a book,” Stahl said.

Another attraction to Disney is the diversity that the magic brings to the Orlando area.

“There are people from everywhere,” Stahl said, “people from Germany, Japan, France and Britain. It’s interesting watching them adjust to our culture.”

Whatever the reason for coming to Disney World, Stahl said, one thing’s for sure — just get there.

“It’s a magical experience,” he said. “It’s one you’ll never forget.”

Contact features reporter Maggie Krohne at [email protected].