The year was 1998. Disney’s Animal Kingdom had opened only a couple of weeks ago, and my family and I (all eight of us) were exploring the park for the first time.
It was a time before the internet, or at least a time before the internet was used the way it is today as social media did not exist and Disney fan sites were barely around yet. I was also six, so while I used the computer on occasion, I certainly was not about to spend hours endlessly researching various aspects of Disney theme parks like I do today. (Still, some fan-created Disney sites did exist in 1998… case in point the Save Toad site that is still up in its original 1998 glory today.)
The reason why I point all of this is out is to prove a point which I’ll get to shortly, that even I, a six-year-old in an entirely new and unfamiliar place was able to outsmart the adults and have one hell of an “I told you so moment.” (I’m also hoping this post doesn’t come off as conceited, that’s definitely not the point.)
In any case, we were a couple of hours into our first trip to Animal Kingdom just a couple of weeks after the park had opened. The early days of Animal Kingdom were certainly strange and probably unlike any other time at any Disney theme park. Initially Disney Imagineers wanted to do away with maps and most of the park’s signage to offer a truly immersive and adventurous experience. As you’d imagine, this idea did not last very long, and while I’m not sure if this family vacation was before or after the park’s signage was improved I can assure you it would have made no difference for the mayhem that was about to detail our day.
See the problem with these big family trips is that it’s impossible to please everyone, especially in a place like Walt Disney World where even the adults are experiencing a sort of sensory overload and the entire group is more than ready to run off in different directions. I’m not sure why, but we always tried to stick together (just a more pre-cell phone mentality perhaps?). We did have some walkie talkie type gadgets during this trip that I don’t remember ever working so they likely just added weight to someone’s backpack the same way unnecessary water bottles do (pro-tip: Disney will give you free water, just ask for a cup of water at any quick service restaurant).
When we inevitably got tired of each other’s company it was decided that we would split up. I’m sure my six-year-old self was quite pleased with this as I was keen to get in multiple rides on Kilimanjaro Safari and take in the Fossil Fun Games in DinoLand (oh how times would change later in life when I worked in DinoLand…) The one problem with splitting up though is deciding on a meeting point and time to reunite the group. It was in this instance that my family made the mistake that this entire post is actually about: “Let’s meet at the tree!”
Excuse me, what? Have you see the tree? The Tree of Life is 50 ft. wide (and 145 ft. tall). Exactly which part of the tree were we supposed to meet at? Moreover, the technical “entrance” to the Tree of Life was the doorway to It’s Tough to Be a Bug, a 3D show that’s actually housed inside the tree. As my entire family prepared to set off in different directions, I stopped them and asked for clarification on where we would meet since “the tree” was kind of vague and totally unhelpful. No one had a reasonable answer, and despite my continued efforts the adults were all done dealing with it too and everyone was on their way.
A couple of hours passed and it was time to meet back up. I stood in Asia along the walkway between where Expedition Everest is now and Africa, near the path that at the time was a smoking section. My mom declared that we were at the tree. Are you crazy? We are NOWHERE NEAR THE TREE. We were actually so far from the tree that there was no way to walk closer to it even if we wanted to. This was definitely not the place to meet.
We wandered back to the front of Discovery Island, still not too close to the tree, but a little bit better. My parents were growing increasingly frustrated and they pulled out one of the walkies attempting to communicate with the rest of the group. There was no answer and I wasn’t entirely sure those things even worked in the first place. Our circular motion around the tree continued, until I had an age-appropriate meltdown for a six-year-old who had been brought to the newest park in Walt Disney World only to walk around a giant tree in a state of confusion for a series of hours. Again, at the risk of sounding conceited, the “I told you so’s” were rampant. I knew saying we’d meet at the tree with no further instruction was a bad idea, and I knew this when I was six why couldn’t the adults figure this out?!
Eventually, after what felt like the entire day (at least to me), a third of the family showed up. We must have all been wandering around this tree in circles like a bunch of idiots and somehow two parts of the group finally came together. A little more time passed and the rest of the family showed up and STILL without admitting that a six-year-old was right, everyone decided that meeting at the tree probably wasn’t the best idea.
All these years later, we all still joke about the day we tried to “Meet at the tree,” and people are *finally* starting to acknowledge that I was the only one who knew what was happening. It’s an honor, really. My family is totally dysfunctional, as many are, and there is truly no better place to grab some popcorn and watch the hysterics than there was in those couple of hours we all spent circling the tree. Thankfully we’re all able to laugh about the incident today, but as a result this is really one of the few memories that has stuck with me about my first visit to my favorite Disney theme park.
And that my friends is why instead of ‘meeting at the tree,’ you should get your act together and find a real meeting place. Or just keep your cell phone in charge, it’s 2019 for crying out loud, this should never be an issue again.
If you’ve made it this far… check out this post on Castle Party all about the animals you can help with the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. You can easily donate to the fund all around the park by donating a specific amount or rounding up your change in merchandise and quick service location in the park for it. The fund truly is great because every dollar raised is matched 100% by the Walt Disney Company AND Disney covers all overhead costs, so your donation is never going towards things like keeping the lights on. I always love seeing which nonprofits the DWCF is working with any any given time and it’s really cool that something as simple as rounding up your change during lunch in the park can make a difference.