O'BRIEN: Disney's genius lives on through successful theme parks

Posted: May. 27, 2014 8:59 am Updated: Aug. 19, 2014 9:15 am

It wasn't until my last trip to the Magic Kingdom that it finally hit me.

Walt Disney was a genius.

I'm sure the guy born in tiny Marceline, Mo., had no idea that a lovable mouse he scribbled down after his original character was stolen from him would become a worldwide sensation. Yet, today the Disney name is one of the most recognizable in the world.

That's a far cry from when he was starting out and hanging his hat on a character that he called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. A New York distributor wound up stealing the rights to the character and swiped all of Disney's workers in the process.

Disney struck gold with Mickey Mouse and his crew. That lead to many successful Disney movies and, ultimately, a modern-day empire rivaled by few.

Disney was a visionary with his plans for family fun parks in California and Florida. Disneyland opened in 1955 in California. Soon after he started buying huge plots of land in central Florida. He had already died by the time Walt Disney World opened near Orlando in 1971. For such a bad start in business, the Disneys, Walt and his brother, Roy, figured it out.

If given the choice to take my family anywhere in America on vacation, I would pick Disney World. The Magic Kingdom is just that -- magical. I've been fortunate enough to be to both the California and Florida Disney establishments multiple times. Twice, I've trekked to Disneyland. I've been to Disney World too many times to count, first going there in 1974 as a 3-year-old.

Walt Disney World is a spot that should be on most people's travel "bucket list." Disneyland in California is OK, but doesn't hold a candle to its eastern counterpart. The only problem with going to either place is how pricey it is to soak up that Disney magic.

Earlier this month, Disney announced getting into its California park will cost $96 and a park hopper pass to go back and forth between the two parks on site will cost $150. The Florida experience is even higher with tickets at $99 to get into one park. The entrance fee has more than doubled since 2000 when it was merely $43 to get in. Next year, it likely will cost more than $100 per person to get into Walt Disney World.

As crazy as it sounds, the trip is worth the money. For the $99 you pay, you can walk around the grounds for hours on end and still not see everything inside the park. Of course, you'll need to bring extra cash for food, but it really is an experience unlike anywhere else I've ever been. Each of the parks rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

As an American, you may actually feel like you're in another country with all of the different languages you hear while you're waiting in line for rides. You'll soon find out that "It's a Small World After All," one of the most popular rides at the Magic Kingdom.

The only problem with the Magic Kingdom -- or any of the Disney parks -- is that there is never a slow day. Attendance has averaged more than 17 million visitors a year over the last five years at the Magic Kingdom alone. Don't expect to go running through the park by yourself, and let your kids get a little older before taking them. We've taken each one of our sons when they were old enough to really enjoy the parks.

It boggles my mind when I see people with toddlers there. What are they going to get out of that?

Yes, it may be huge tourist trap, but I'm a sucker for "The Happiest Place on Earth."


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