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Cinderella Castle

Now more than 40 years old, Walt Disney World continues to grow, evolve, expand, and change. It is only inevitable that some experiences have come and gone over the years. While we mostly tend to focus on the big things, such as rides and restaurants, today we want to give a little thought to the smaller experiences. While none of these could make or break a trip on its own, taking them as a whole conjures up nostalgia for a simpler, more personalized, and more individually interactive time that I’m not sure MagicBands will ever truly provide. Here’s a roundup of some of what we have lost.

1. Finding paint brushes on Tom Sawyer Island

Whitewashed Fence

A 1973 addition to Frontierland, Tom Sawyer Island itself is a throwback to a simpler and more interactive age. The massive playground, filled with caves and a fort to explore, does not use screens, graphics, narration, or even moving ride vehicles to tell its story. Instead, kids and adults alike are free to wander, climb, crawl, and have good old-fashioned family fun. 

Still, we miss the extra interactivity that the long-standing paint brush game used to provide. One of the island’s sets is the fence that Tom and Huck were supposed to whitewash—a major plot point in the novel. Of course, on the island as in the book, the two ran off before the job was completed.

For a long time, Disney cast members hid a collection of paint brushes around the island each morning in an interactive tribute to this scene. If you found one and returned it to a raft driver, you would be rewarded with a FastPass. It was a great game that drew adults as well as children into the island’s story, but sadly, it was discontinued. Disney has not given an official reason, but it seems likely that the introduction of FastPass+, coupled with some guests’ tendency to pocket the brushes as souvenirs, marked the end of the tradition.

2. Waking up Tinkerbell

Tinkerbell's Treasures

Early birds in the know used to be rewarded with a special magical moment. At the Tinkerbell’s Treasures shop in Fantasyland, Tinkerbell flitted around the room at various times throughout the day. Each morning, a lucky family was selected to wake her up by gently tapping on a chest, and then enjoy her first flight of the day. The experience often included a personalized certificate.

In 2010, Tinkerbell’s Treasures closed to make room for Castle Couture. The new shop holds merchandise featuring all the princesses, and also serves as a portrait location for Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique makeovers. Castle Couture is not a bad shop, but something magical was definitely lost in the changeover. On the upside, it gives stroller-wielding parents one less reason to bash other guests out of the way each morning.

3. Getting special messages delivered by a Coral Reef diver

Image (c) Fodors

For many years, diners at Epcot’s Coral Reef restaurant, located inside The Seas With Nemo and Friends (formerly The Living Seas), could sign up in advance to create a special surprise. If you called ahead to speak with manager Debi, you could actually arrange for a diver inside the tank to hold up a message of your choice during your meal. From marriage proposals to birthday wishes, many Epcot guests had a moment to remember thanks to Debi.

And that wasn’t the end of the magic Debi could create. If you sent her photos in advance, she would even print up personalized keepsake menus. Can you imagine opening your restaurant menu to find photos of you and your loved one inside? What an amazing souvenir.

According to Internet legend, Debi was promoted in 2009, and her replacement no longer offers these tributes. Regardless of whose idea it was, however, neither the diver nor the menus are now available. It’s understandable, given that as word got out, the restaurant was suddenly swamped with requests. But it is another individualized experience that we can no longer have.

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