Since a holiday at Walt Disney World simply is not in the cards for me this year, the happy moments I have shared with my family have not included any time spent together at the happiest place on earth. Alas, neither they nor I will have any 2016 memories of relaxing at our favorite resort, splashing in the pool, cruising on the Monorail, dining on fine food, munching quick service snacks, delighting in our favorite attractions, or even chatting our way through long wait lines. Sadly, that is the unhappy reality for many WDW fans. Sometimes, months or even years pass by between visits. Most would say that time goes by slowly when a place long-loved is missed, which definitely can and does lead to regularly dreaming of returning there again.
For me, one of my favorite Disney songs—A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes—begins to take on new meaning as I (along with my family) daydream of standing before Cinderella’s Castle. For now, the dream that I wish is coming true in a different kind of way. You see, since I will not be experiencing the real thing with my family at WDW in the near future, I have made it my mission to find Walt Disney World for us to enjoy together in the Midwest.
Alright, alright…I admit it; I may be a tad obsessed with all things Disney. Please do not judge me; I am not always looking for signs of WDW wherever I go. However, I must say that I do notice them in unexpected places along life’s way. Whenever that occurs, I consider them to be pleasant surprises—chance discoveries—that are just meant to happen. They have a magical way of making me feel as if I (and my family) have been transported to one of any number of favorite places at WDW. Whether sought out or unanticipated, the similarities between WDW and such places and/or things are unmistakable and exciting.
What follows is a guide to finding Walt Disney World in the American Midwest. While you may not be from that region, it is possible that similar places exist near where you live, too.
Founded by 15 German colonists and missionaries in 1845, the town of Frankenmuth in eastern Michigan looks as if it was plucked out of Epcot’s World Showcase and relocated in the Midwest. The shops situated along the streets of the small town are comparable to Volkunst, Stein Haus and Die Weihnachts Ecke in the Germany Pavilion. Black Forest cuckoo clocks, steins, Christmas ornaments and decorations, children’s toys and much more are available for purchase in Frankenmuth, Michigan, as well as Epcot’s Germany Pavilion in central Florida. Moreover, just as authentic and delicious as the food offered at the Biergarten Restaurant in Epcot, the Bavarian Inn Restaurant and Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth both serve up classic German cuisine that is every bit as satisfying.
Johnny Appleseed Festival
Held in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the 42nd annual Johnny Appleseed Festival will take place this year on September 17-18, 2016. Attended by approximately 300,000 people each year, this festival celebrates the pioneer spirit of John Chapman, or Johnny Appleseed as legend likes to call him. All vendors are required to dress in period attire, and all food being sold must be prepared in a manner consistent with what was available to pioneers in the 19th century. The aroma of delicious foods being cooked in large black kettles over open wood fires combined with the simple sounds of fifes and drums bring to mind areas in both Frontierland and Liberty Square in the Magic Kingdom. Visitors will even find a stand where giant turkey legs can be purchased, and “gobbled” up while strolling the Festival grounds.
Many cities throughout the United States are blessed to have a Botanical Conservatory. Ours has several gardens, one of which is of the tropical variety. The humidity level inside the indoor greenhouse is enough to make one feel transported to Florida, and the lush foliage will immediately bring to mind the landscape of both Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and Adventureland in Magic Kingdom. Take along an iPod/iPhone, pop in some earbuds, and key up some island drums, a ukulele, or even the Swissapolka to really complete the setting.
Found in several cities throughout the country, The Fudgery entertains patrons with song as the confectioners make “fudge-in-the-round” in large copper kettles. Founded on the idea of producing a product in front of the customer and making the guest experience memorable as well as fun, a visit to The Fudgery is reminiscent of watching Cast Members at the Main Street Confectionery in Magic Kingdom or the Karamell Kuche in Epcot’s Germany Pavilion make caramel apples, caramel popcorn, fudge, and other treats.
Earl of Sandwich – Detroit, Michigan
Everyone’s favorite Disney Springs sandwich shop, the Earl of Sandwich, has just opened a location within the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Found in the North Terminal near gates D26 and D28, it is open daily from [5:00]AM-[9:00]PM and serves both a breakfast and lunch/dinner menu. While catching a bite would require one to be flying into or out of Detroit, it is possible that either personal or business travel would lead to a stop or layover in the Motor City.
Chicago Museum of Science and Industry
Visitors to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry will find that many of its exhibits have a distinctly Epcot-feel to them. This could be because the Vice President of Exhibits and Collections, Mr. Kurt Haunfelner, worked for Walt Disney Imagineering for 10 years and was mentored by Disney Legend, Marty Sklar. In his role with the museum, Mr. Haunfelner oversees both the visiting and permanent exhibitions, and has been instrumental in the addition of Science Storms, YOU! The Experience and Future Energy Chicago. He also oversaw the restoration of the U-505 Submarine, one of the museum’s premiere exhibits. A trip to Chicago MSI will satisfy the inquisitive spirit of anyone hoping to fill the Epcot void.
The Walt Disney Birthplace
A little piece of Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream can be found right in the Midwest metropolis of Chicago, Illinois. In 1888, Elias Disney married Flora Call. They, along with their two sons Herbert (1888) and Raymond (1889) moved to Chicago. In 1892, Elias built their first home for just $800. The family moved into the house in early 1893. At that time, Elias was employed as part of the construction crew for the 1893 World’s Fair: Columbian Exposition. While living there, the couple welcomed named Roy (1893), Walt (1901), and a daughter named Ruth (1903) to their family. Once in jeopardy of demolition, the home is in the process of being restored to its original state by a group of individuals that took on the task in 2013. After the work is completed, the historic Walt Disney Birthplace will be home to a museum and The Center for Early Childhood Creativity and Innovation. To learn more about this location and see photos, visit Andrew and Vanessa Prince’s blog post.
(Photos from the author’s personal collection.)
Which places in your hometown, state or region remind you of locations in the Walt Disney World parks or resorts? Let us know in the comments section below.
Kendall is an editor and contributing writer for WDW Radio. She began visiting Walt Disney World in 1991 with her family and has continued to visit the resort with her husband. Her home-away-from-home is Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, and she believes a perfect day at WDW includes a dip in the Lava Pool, a ride on Splash Mountain and a Pineapple Dole Whip. Follow her on Twitter @kl_foreman.