How often can you say you have actually had lunch with a Disney Legend? Well, if you are a D23 member, they give you that opportunity now a few times a year and I was lucky enough to have lunch with Disney Legend Charles Ridgway. Charlie, as we got to know him as, started as a journalist working his was across the country before he started his relationship with Disney in 1955 writing a piece for the Los Angeles Mirror News about a little park in Anaheim you may have heard of called Disneyland. Over the next 8 years, Charlie would cover just about every event Disneyland would have until he joined the company in 1963 and go on have a lasting impact on the Disney Parks as we know them today. As a matter of fact, the term "Disney Parks" comes from Ridgway as he shared with us that he told us how Walt didn't like the term amusement park and Ridgway didn't like the term "theme park" so when he would be asked what is Disneyland he would say it's a "Disney Park."Ridgway was joined by 2015–16 Walt Disney World Ambassadors Caitlin Busscher and Nathaniel Palma and proceeded to talk about his history with the company and some of his achievements before taking a few questions from the 40 of us gathered in the American Adventure Parlor at Epcot. One of my favorite moments was when Busscher and Palma, who both had cards with talking points or questions for Ridgway, looked at each other and put the cards under their seats because he never needed any help with topics to speak on. By far the most amazing piece of information that was shared with us was when Ridgway was talking about July 17, 1955. Among the mayhem of the live broadcast we have all seen countless number of times, it wasn't a story of ladies heels getting caught on Main St. but about how, after the broadcast, everyone left and he called his wife back to the park and was able to enjoy the park virtually empty on opening day! After 45 minutes of so of Ridgway entertaining us, we were moved into the main room for lunch.Each guest was given their choice of tables to sit at, with the exception of those who paid extra to sit with the man of the hour. I chose one close to Ridgway and had the great pleasure of sitting with Debby Dane Browne (the first Walt Disney World Ambassador), her husband, and a few other D23 members.
As our lunch went on, we focused on our own Disney (soon to be) Legend Debby Dane Browne, asking her questions about her time with the company. She shared with us how she started as one of the first "Disney Girls" at the Walt Disney World Preview Center and how she went on to become the first WDW Ambassador and her adventures with the company and Ridgway himself.But, as our time ticked down and we finished up our lunch, it was time to part. Of course, no D23 event would be complete without a gift and this one is by far one of my favorites: a matted photo of Ridgway's window on Main Street signed by the man himself.This event was one of my all time favorite D23 events I have attended. There is nothing like hearing the stories we have heard parts of all our Disney lives but from a man who lived it. Plus, the chance to sit at a table with a current or past Walt Disney World Ambassador made the day that much better.The very next day was a special screening of Alice in Wonderland with some never before seen footage of the making of this Disney Classic. The event was kicked off with 2015–2016 Walt Disney World Ambassador Nathaniel Palma talking about his love of the film and how he saw the parallels between Alice and Walt and always dreaming. After Palma spoke, he brought up D23’s Steven Vagnini who entertained us with the history of Alice and the trials and tribulations of its creation, going all the way back to Walt's first big project the Alice Comedies.Of course, as I said above, no D23 event would be complete without a gift and for this we were given this beautiful lithograph created just for members attending this event.I have said this since my first D23 event to anyone who is not a member: WHY??? Especially with the next D23 Expo just announced there is no better time to join — just go to D23.com and sign up!