p. 01 p. 10

The world's crises are easier to deal with here. Iran, Afghanistan, the prime rate, mortgage interest, inflation, and presidential politics are pushed aside.

In this world — Walt Disney World — the crises are different, more mundane. They concern fidgeting children, tired feet, what attraction to visit next, the souvenir dilemma, where to eat, what to eat, whether to brave Space Mountain, whether to allow junior to eat potato chips for breakfast – really heavy things.

Last year, 13.8 million people faced all or some of those crises as they made the pilgrimage to this shrine of escapism. This year the figure might reach 14.1 million. It is the nation's No. 1 tourist attraction. Walt Disney World covers 27,400 acres of central Florida 20 miles southwest of Orlando, but the millions who flock here come to pay homage to Mickey Mouse and his minions, and focus on 100 acres called Magic Kingdom.

Magic Kingdom is many things to many people. It is cool, colorful, kitsch, plastic, greenbacks, and high technology.

NO MATTER WHAT value judgment you place on Walt Disney World and Magic Kingdom, the bottom line always adds up to fun. If none of the 45 major attractions grabs you — and that's just about impossible then those 15,000 to 85,000 bodies — 40,000 is the average daily attendance — that pass through the entrance gates certainly will entertain you.

Even the late Walt Disney's genius and today's inventive engineers who continue this legendary heritage couldn't produce the memorable vignettes that occur here every day. The engineers have done a superb job with swashbuckling pirates, ghosts, singing birds and flowers, water-spouting elephants, rhinos that wiggle their ears — they all look real. And Mickey Mouse and his gang are not even viewed as actors in Costumes. Mickey attracts as much attention from a crowd as a President or a Pope. Neither works a crowd better than Mickey.

But the Disney creatures cannot hold a candle to the visitors who fill the Magic Kingdom set. Where else can you see 40,000 pairs of jogging shoes, sandals, clogs, and thongs. And hats. There are cowboy hats, baseball caps, visors, bonnets, sombreros, straws, and Mickey Mouse ears. Just picture 40,000 different T-shirts, tank tops, sport shirts, blouses, halters, and jackets. There are bell bottoms, fat bottoms, short shorts, long shorts, jogging shorts, designer jeans, cutoffs, short skirts, long skirts, and lots of doubleknit and denim.

DISNEY'S AUDIO-Animatronlcs (voice, music, and sound effects synchronized with three-dimensional animated objects) sometimes is frighteningly real, but none of the characters matches the real ones who click off miles of Kodak and munch endlessly on ice cream cones, popcorn, and hot dogs. These 40,000 mouths are in perpetual motion; if not chewing, then talking, laughing, smooching, yawning, and crying. Children are part of the show: They play with toy pirate pistols, get bubble gum rations from main, pull dad's hair while riding piggyback, hum, clutch shoulder purses just like mom, tug at caps, twist either parents' wrists to see what time it is, pull on mother's wrap around denim skirt, or straighten the twisted string on the Magic Kingdom pass.

The most common admonition from parent to child: "Just stand still!" Impossible.
[…]