THE ZENITH OF OLD KEY WEST
“Disney’s Best Kept Secret” reached my ear back in 1997. I was on my Walt Disney World honeymoon, strolling hand-in-hand with DH through the landscape of Downtown Disney, when an attractive kiosk caught my attention. The sign attached to the kiosk promised to reveal a carefully protected Disney confidence if I would only approach the kiosk-keeper who smiled pleasantly beside the booth.
DH was very reluctant to stop. Disney secrets were not his forte, and he was suspicious of individuals who oozed happiness in temperatures nearing a hundred degrees. Nevertheless, because his blushing bride was so eager to learn this critical morsel of gossip, DH consented to a brief encounter with the kiosk that now held me in a spell-binding trance.
It only took a few minutes to learn that “Disney’s Best Kept Secret” was a concept called the Disney Vacation Club. It was Disney’s version of a timeshare, but it functioned with quite a bit more flexibility. I found it appealing on so many different levels, but the bottom line for me was that it somehow enabled a person to get to Walt Disney World every year. The bottom line for DH, though, was “the bottom line,” so he dragged me away from the company of my kiosk-keeping friend in an attempt to protect our joint bank account.
DH was too late though. The dream of joining the Disney Vacation Club had taken root deep within my soul. I knew that at some point my fate would bring me to the doorstep of a Disney Vacation Club resort.
Ten years later I find myself finally realizing my dream. Our mini-van turns into the entrance of Disney’s Old Key West Resort. We pass the inviting sign that proudly displays the Disney Vacation Club logo and resort name on a stark white background. I feel excitement rise up within me, for this is hallowed ground.
As the vacation club’s first resort, Disney’s Old Key West Resort is the birthplace for this elite organization. For far too long I have hoped to know more about the carefully guarded secret of this DVC spot. For far too long I have wished to see what lay behind the picturesque guardhouse. The time has finally come for my questions to be answered . . . for my curiosities to be satisfied . . . for my DVC yearning to be fulfilled.
I sit in awe of the beautiful architecture of the porte cochere and the buildings behind it. The very familiar feeling of Disney neurosis begins to take hold of me as I acknowledge my arrival here. The nirvana is heightened by the fact that this previously off-limits part of Disney will now become a part of my Disney journey.
I am in my own realm at this point. DH and the kiddos barely enter my consciousness. It is just Disney’s Old Key West Resort and me in this surreal moment. While my eyes bulge and my smile takes on Cheshire Cat-like characteristics, I feel unable to control myself entirely. The car is still in motion since we have not found a parking spot as of yet, but I fantasize about jumping from our moving vehicle since I might gain an extra minute of Disney life with my hasty action. In his best automated voice, DH recites a familiar script that instructs all persons to not exit the vehicle until it has come to a complete stop. And like all NDMs who are trained to not question the authority of automated safety scripts, I obey.
Once the car is parked, I leap from my seat, grab the children and rush to the shelter of the porte cochere. DH is left to take care of gathering pertinent items like identification and reservation confirmation numbers. I cannot be bothered by such trivial details. All that matters is entering the magical aura of Disney’s Old Key West Resort.
As soon as my mouseketeers and I step underneath the shade of the porte cochere, we hear the mesmerizing sound of Harry Belafonte. His call to tally bananas slows our run to a leisurely pace while we all join in singing, “Day-O! Da-a-ay-O! Daylight come and me want to go home.” I feel myself being transported to a life of beaches, boardwalks and flip-flops.
We pass by a kind beach attendant who is behind a guest relations stand placed on the pathway. He has a gentle smile and beckons my soon-to-be beach bums to approach his stand. They are only too pleased to follow the call of this pied piper when he dangles Mickey Mouse stickers before their eyes. After each little one has been branded as Disney property with their prominently placed sticker, this helpful attendant offers to escort us to the Hospitality House. I am happy to accept since I have never been here before and am uncertain which building houses the check-in counter.
I am shown the appropriate door to the lobby and take a deep breath before gripping the door handle. This is a moment that I have anticipated for a decade. My moment is abruptly spoiled, though, when I open the door to find that there is a long line that ends right at the door. The enormous amount of people gathered in the room makes it difficult to even enter this place. Apparently this is a peak time for arrivals and the check-in line nearly extends out of the lobby. I realize that the children will not be able to remain happy in such a long line, so I burrow a path through the crowded lobby to find an alternative for my exhausted mouseketeers.
Happily, I find a den of sorts adjacent to the lobby. It has a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere, showcasing floor-to-ceiling bookcases, inviting stuffed armchairs and sofas, cozy table lamps for reading, a fireplace and lush potted plants. I entertain the idea of avoiding the check-in line and simply living in this den for the week.
Then I lay eyes on the solution to my problem of impatient children. There is a TV tucked away in a corner, playing classic Disney cartoons. Set up directly in front of the electronic babysitter are two rows of miniature wicker chairs. They are perfect for my pint-sized brood, so I usher my little people to the few remaining seats available. My avid Disney channel watchers are pulled in by the novelty of this charming nook, and I can see that the ambiance of Old Key West Resort has captured them in a powerful way.
DH finds our cheerful group in the cartoon-viewing area. He looks happy but exhausted from the long drive. Due to my adrenaline rush, I am unable to sit. I offer to take the pertinent materials from DH and wait in line while he rests on a striped sofa. He accepts my offer and quickly assumes a comfortable position on the furniture.
I glance towards the lobby area. It is crowded, but it is time to take my place among this privileged group of vacationers.