A Lifetime of Disney Adventures – Disney Legend, Tom Nabbe (Part 2)

The Story So Far: Tom Nabbe started his Disney career at the age of twelve shilling newspapers on Main Street in Disneyland. A year later, after bugging Walt Disney like only a twelve-year-old can do, he was hired to be the Tom in Tom Sawyer Island. Taking pictures, signing autographs, and baiting fishing lines with worms. (Read Part 1 of the interview HERE.)

But his story doesn’t stop there. In fact Tom Nabbe’s Disney career is one of the most enviable and storied in the history of the Walt Disney Company.

In this second part of Tom Nabbe’s story, we meet him as a teenager. He leaves Tom Sawyer Island and begins working Rides and Attractions throughout the park. After an unforeseen tragedy cuts his military career short, he ships off to Orlando to help open the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. After an incredible string of historic attraction openings (you won’t believe his list), Tom is called to serve on the opening crew of EPCOT Center.

As if that weren’t enough Tom was honored with a window on Main Street AND received the moniker of Disney Legend. “Legend” doesn’t begin to describe this journey.

As the interview continues, I slip in that I worked at the park for a while as a Jungle Cruise Skipper under Dick Nunis.

Tom Nabbe – Oh, okay. Well, I was a Jungle Cruise Operator back in winter ‘61/62 through ‘65 and then I left to go to the Marine Corps and then I came back. I worked, depending on what seniority bought me, I probably worked a few times on the Jungle Cruise in ‘68/‘69, and then I was promoted into management in 1970.

Freddy Martin – Wow! I did not know that about you. A fellow Skipper on the phone! That’s Fantastic. How long were you in rides and attractions

The 55 Club

T – Rides and attractions for 25 years, and the the last 22 years was in support and warehousing. So 47 years total the way the company counts it. But I count it 48, because they don’t give me credit for the year that I worked for the lessee (selling the Disneyland News in 1955).

F – But you have a paycheck stub somewhere that says 55 on it, right?

T – No. I have my original hire status from 1956. Does Ron Heminger mean anything to you?

Disneyland 1955 alumni Tom Nabbe, Bob Penfield, Dick Nunis, Ron Heminger, Ray VanDeWarker
Club 55: Tom Nabbe, Bob Penfield, Dick Nunis, Ron Heminger, Ray VanDeWarker, all men who started working at Disneyland in 1955, celebrating the park’s 40th anniversary in Walt Disney’s Apartment above the Fire Station on Main Street USA. Photo courtesy the collection of Tom Nabbe. ©2018 Tom Nabbe, all rights reserved.

Ron and myself always contested with Dick that we were both there in the beginning and that we should be members of the 55 club. And when Ron Heminger’s dad passed away… he was going through the paperwork. He found his hire status from 1955. So Ron Heminger, Myself, and a guy by the name of Marshall Spelzer (sp) that worked in decorating, all had the same hire date; June 18, 1956.

“He didn’t change my hire date, but he did recognize that I was an honorary member of the 55 Club.”

Dick had always told us that if we could prove we were there in ‘55 and worked for the company, he’d make us members of the 55 Club. So when Ron found his paperwork, Dick followed up on his promise and changed Ron’s status to whenever the date was on his paperwork was in July of ‘55, I believe. And at the same time he gave me credit to be a member of the 55 Club. He didn’t change my hire date, but he did recognize that I was an honorary member of the 55 Club.

The Battle of Pacific Coast Highway

F – Let’s transition into your career at Disney World, you already had a ton of roles and it sounds like you went off to serve in our country’s service for a while?

Disney Legend Tom Nabbe in his US Marine Corps uniform circa 1964
US Marine, Tom Nabbe circa 1965 before his “Battle of Pacific Coast Highway.” Photo courtesy the collection of Tom Nabbe. ©2018 Tom Nabbe, all rights reserved.

T – In ‘64, I got a letter from my other uncle, Uncle Sam. And Uncle Sam sent me this letter that he wanted me to participate in Vietnam. And I decided then, I’m sort of a John Wayne fan, if I was gonna go to Vietnam, I wanted to be best trained. And as far as I’m concerned that was being trained by the Marine Corps. So I went down and I enlisted in the Marine Corps.

And I enlisted on a 3-year hitch. And the reason I did that is because a 3-year hitch basically said I had no active reserve time. So it was 3 years active duty, 3 years inactive duty to satisfy the 6-year obligation. And the reason-being is the schedulers didn’t really like the “weekend warriors.”

“I always call it my “Battle at Pacific Coast Highway,” but the drunk hit me head on on Pacific Coast Highway and put me in Long Beach Hospital for 5 months. He tried to kill me, but didn’t succeed.”

If those people that signed up in the reserve or ended up getting drafted, they were “active reserve” (for) 2 years. So they had to play soldier one weekend a month and one week out of the summer. And I didn’t want that obligation. I just wanted to do my active duty time and the inactive reserve portion of it.

What I didn’t realize is that by signing up on that 3-year hitch, that I was in turn eligible for school. I scored extremely high in electronics. They decided to make an aviation radio repair man out of me. And the incentive to graduate from that was that if you failed being a radio repairman they made a radio operator out of you.

A radio operator’s life expectancy was just slightly longer than the first lieutenant of the platoon. So you didn’t want to be a radio operator. I graduated fourth in my class. And I ended up (with) orders for Da Nang.

And I guess someone up there was looking out for me… because I was hauling all my stuff back up to – my mother lived in Newport Beach – and I was hauling my stuff up to her apartment because I had orders to Da Nang. And a drunk hit me head on.

I always call it my “Battle at Pacific Coast Highway,” but the drunk hit me head on on Pacific Coast Highway and put me in Long Beach Hospital for 5 months. He tried to kill me, but didn’t succeed.

Then after that, I ended up getting mustered out on a medical. So I joined the Marine Corps in the height of the Vietnam War. I never got more than 82 miles from home, and I didn’t have to go to Vietnam.

F – What a story!

Joining The Florida Project

T – Then, when I came back I had dreams of grandeur going to Cal State Fullerton to become an electronical engineer. And I went to school on the G.I. Bill. Tried that for almost a year.

Right about that time frame they were interviewing people to come to Walt Disney World. And so I went through a round of interviews, getting promoted into management. I sort of realized I wasn’t going to be a fantastic electronical engineer, and what I really wanted to be was a rides and attractions supervisor. So I ended up taking a job offer.

I hadn’t been east of Phoenix, that I was aware of. My mother told me that we went to Chicago on a train one time, but I don’t remember that.

So, I ended up getting married in ‘68, while I was still in the Marine Corps to a lady – we worked together at Oaks Tavern (The Stage Door Café today) in Frontierland, and she was (also) working for the Anaheim School District. We ended up getting married and relocating to Florida, in January of 1971.

Monorails, Steam Trains, and Back to the Island

Two of the attractions I had never worked as a ride operator was the steam train and the monorail. And you probably know why, is they were operated by Retlaw. And in order to be a monorail operator you had to be six-foot tall, and I was never gonna be six-foot tall.

The monorail system opened in 1971 with two routes and with Mark IV monorail trains, expanded to three lines in 1982, and switched to Mark VI trains in 1989.
View showing monorail near Disney’s Contemporary Resort hotel at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida by State Library and Archives of Florida under no known copyright restrictions.

Pete Crimmings was my manager for years and one of my mentors. Pete was going to be the manager of the transportation system of Walt Disney World. And he wanted me to operate and run the Monorail system. So when I got back from the service and got promoted, I ended up getting trained on the Monorail and the Steam Trains by Retlaw. So I finally got to work those two attractions, which is sort of neat.

“Very few people on the east coast, and that’s why the New York World’s Fair (1964) was a gigantic testing ground to see how Disney attractions go over on the East Coast.”

F – You were there early on in Florida. What was it like to see Walt Disney’s Dream go to that next level? You’d been there at the beginning of the other park.

T – It was phenomenal. The people of Florida, if you look at the demographics of the people who were going to Disneyland during that time frame, only about 13 percent of the people came from east of the Mississippi. Very few people on the east coast, and that’s why the New York World’s Fair (1964) was a gigantic testing ground to see how Disney attractions go over on the East Coast.

And all the attractions at the fair were the most popular ones. So in turn, that’s how he ended up in Florida.

“Tower of the Four Winds, 1964 New York World's Fair” by Dada1960 is licensed under CC by 4.0.
Tower of the Four Winds, 1964 New York World’s Fair” by Dada1960 is licensed under CC by 4.0.

And Bob Matheison was the director at that time frame and Bob had run the Small World attraction at the New York world’s fair. And when he came back he was assigned to the Florida Project by Walt.

“So after opening the Monorail system, they decided that they were gonna build Tom Sawyer’s Island. I had a little expertise in that area…”

The neat thing of that was to see things in the conceptual stage and to actually see them constructed and to know that you’re going to operate them and actually transport guests, in whatever it was you were looking at; Monorails, Osceolas (the double-deck, side-paddle wheel, walking-beam steam boats that operated on Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon, “The Ports-O-Call” & “Southern Seas”), Mark Twains, except it was the Admiral Fowler. That’s what the original boat was (called) on the Rivers of America.

So after opening the Monorail system, they decided that they were gonna build Tom Sawyer’s Island. I had a little expertise in that area, so I went from the transportation system operating the monorail to Frontierland/Liberty Square for the construction of the Richard F. Irvine, which was the second sternwheeler, and Tom Sawyer’s Island.

And we did the same thing there. We invited the winners of the Hannibal contest there to participate in the opening of the island, and that was in, I wanna say June of ‘73,

Spaceships, Submarines, and Wild Mine Train

T – And then right after that, I ended up going to Tomorrowland because they were gonna build Space Mountain, the Star Jets, WedWay, Carousel of Progress, and Space Mountains. So I got tagged as a sort of nuts and bolts project guy so in turn I would go to where we were gonna build something new, and then go through the training of the people, and then actually operate it after that.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction at Walt Disney World, Bay Lake, Florida, circa 1979. Photo by Alex Reinhart
“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction circa 1979” by Alex Reinhart is licensed under CC by 3.0.

Then after we opened Space Mountain the decision was to when we opened Walt Disney World, 20k, the submarine ride, the water for the submarine ride was pumped out of the aquifer into the submarine ride, and from there it went into the moat, and from the moat it went into the Jungle Cruise, and from the jungle cruise it went to the rivers of america and then from rivers of America, it went down the light boat channel into the seven seas lagoon.

All the art directors that came down here in the beginning would go to silver springs,

“…the divers every morning had to go down and scrub the portholes of the submarines and scrub the fish and scrub the mermaids…”

And were just amazed at the clarity of the water at silver springs, and so they decided that we would get the water out of the aquifer that they wouldn’t have to chlorinate it and filter it like they had to do at Disneyland at the subs.

But in turn that wasn’t a good decision because you weren’t moving the same quantity of water through the system that was coming out of silver springs. So it started getting algae built up. And so the divers every morning had to go down and scrub the portholes of the submarines and scrub the fish and scrub the mermaids, and so the decision was to enclose 20k, and go through an entire rehab, and update everything. And we had to close it and chlorinate it.

So I went to Fantasyland to oversee that project and retrain all the sub operators and we came back up.

And once we finished that, the next thing on the horizon was Big Thunder Mountain and so I went back to Frontierland/Liberty Square for the construction of Big Thunder Mountain.

And once we opened Big Thunder Mountain, the next thing on the horizon was Epcot.

Seeing Walt’s Dream Through

And so I was moved onto the project team for Epcot into PICO. PICO’s an acronym for Project installation coordination office. And Orlando Ferrante, the Vice President of WED, actually a football player with Dick and Ron Miller, and Tommy Walker back in the good old days.

Spaceship Earth under construction in Epcot Center circa 1982, Lake Buena Vista, Florida, Walt Disney World
Spaceship Earth Construction” by BestofWDW  is licensed under CC 2.0.

Ferrante pretty much established P.I.C.O. when they built the New York World’s Fair. And had developed that whole process, and what it was to take the people out of the operating side of the business, to be involved in construction, and once the construction was over with to be involved in the training of the people to operate the new ride and attractions, and then to be part of the management group going forward. So that was sort of the evolution of PICO.

I thought I was going to be a pavilion coordinator, but my boss at that time, Norm Doerges, decided that they wanted to develop an item tracking system for everything that we bought or built for show installation and we needed a warehouse in order to do that for that product that was gonna be stored prior to installation. Some of the product was delivered directly to the site and installed and so I ran that operation. That’s how I got into warehousing.

“The manager of distribution went on vacation at Christmas time of ‘84 and he didn’t come back. I don’t know if it was an alien abduction or what…”

F – And that’s where you were for the next 22 years?

T – Yes. Actually ‘79 through 2003.

So in ‘84, when the company went through the entire restructure and went through the greenmail all that other stuff that was going on during that time, and I don’t know if you’ve read The Storming of the Magic Kingdom, but all that was going on and I end up having the opportunity to go into Distribution Services for Walt Disney World versus being in rides and attractions at Walt Disney World, so I ended up going into the warehouse operation as the superintendent of general supplies and long term project storage.

The manager of distribution went on vacation at Christmas time of ‘84 and he didn’t come back. I don’t know if it was an alien abduction or what, but he didn’t come back and six of us interviewed for the job and I ended up getting it.

That’s how I ended up being the manager of distribution services for Walt Disney World.

And Everything Else

F – What didn’t you do in the parks?

T – I was in food in ‘65 just prior to going into the Marine Corps. When all the lessees contracts started to run out, most of them were on 5 or 10 year contracts. And ABC owned United Paramount Theaters, UPT, which ran all the fast food operations at Disneyland. In ‘65, their contract was up and Disneyland Incorporated took over the fast food operations. And I worked as the Assistant Supervisor in Frontierland outdoor foods in the Oaks Tavern area.

It’s A Small Team After All: Tom Nabbe (far left) along with other Walt Disney World managers on duty for the Cast Member Christmas Party, 1975. Photo courtesy the collection of Tom Nabbe. ©2018 Tom Nabbe, all rights reserved.

And then at that point then I went into the marine corps, and when I came back, I came back into rides and attractions.

Then in ‘79, after we opened Big Thunder, I worked in Area 3 food in Walt Disney World. And that was back when they were talking about Generalists. They wanted people with backgrounds in rides and attractions, and merchandise, and food. And so I had gone in and talked to Bob Matheison about getting some food experience.

And I ended up being the food manager in what they called Area 3 Food, which was Frontierland/Liberty Square and Adventureland. And I had that for just a little less than a year until I got the job offer to go to Epcot.

The only thing I haven’t done is actually operate a merchandise location, but I was in charge of all the warehousing to support merchandise, so one of my warehouse managers used to call me a merchant wannabe.

F – I would take issue with that. I mean you sold newspapers in 1955. That’s merch, right?

T – Oh yeah. Ok. Yes, I had merchandise in 1955 as a newspaper boy.

Great Moments With Mr. Nabbe

F – I know you got Disney Legend status but did you get any other honors along the way?

Main Street USA window honoring Disney Legend Tom Nabbe at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World
A Window On Main Street: Tom Nabbe’s window tribute is located above the Main Street Cinema in the Magic Kingdom. Photo Courtesy Sarah Brookhart of TheBrookhartProject. ©2018 Sarah Brookhart, all rights reserved.

T – Well, I ended up with a window on main street when I retired in 03 at Walt Disney World. I tried for both parks but I didn’t make it. But they did give me a window on Main Street. It’s above the cinema on the right hand side. And the window says Sawyer Fence Painting, Proprietor, Tom Nabbe, Lake Buena Vista, Florida and Anaheim, California.

 

Tom Nabbe’s Window on Main Street USA at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, Florida
Tom Nabbe’s Window on Main Street: “Sawyer Fence Painting Co. Tom Nabbe, Proprietor, Anaheim, California, Lake Buena Vista Florida” Photo Courtesy Sarah Brookhart of TheBrookhartProject. ©2018 Sarah Brookhart, all rights reserved.

F – What were some of your greatest moments in your Disney career.

T – Every 5th anniversary for Disneyland, with the exception of the 10th cause I was gone then in the Marine Corps, my goal is to be on Main Street on July 17, and I’ve managed to accomplish that ever since 1970.

And when we were out there for Disneyland’s 50th anniversary, the alumni club out there had a dinner dance, and we had gone to the dance, and while we were at the dance, Jim Cora (James Cora), does that name mean anything to you? Well Jim sorta looked at me and said, “Well, Tom, I’ll see you in September.” And I don’t know if you ever worked with Jim, but Jim was one of those guys that if he could pull your leg, and throw something out there, he’s always looking to razz you, and so I’m sort of a little curious here, but I says, well, no I won’t be back in September.

He says “We’ve been nominated and going to be inducted as Disney Legends.” I thought, “Well that’s sorta neat.”

Partners and Legends: Tom Nabbe with his Disney Legends award at the Legends Plaza at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. Statues “Partners” and “Legends” by Disney sculptor, Blaine Gibson.
Partners and Legends: Tom Nabbe with his Disney Legends award at the Legends Plaza at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. Photo courtesy the collection of Tom Nabbe. ©2018 Tom Nabbe, all rights reserved.

So when we got back to the hotel room after dinner, I had called my sister who was house sitting for me, and said, “hey is there a letter from the studio there.” And she said, “oh yeah.” I said, “How about opening it up and looking at it?” And sure enough it said that we were invited back in September of 05 to be inducted as a Disney Legend, and so Cora wasn’t pulling my leg. It was an actual event that was occurring.

So we were able to come back out and they treated us like royalty. Because of the anniversary, they normally had the ceremonies at that time frame at the studio. Because of Disneyland’s 50th, they had it at Disneyland, which was sort of neat.

F – Where did that take place? At the Hub?

T – Opera House. We had lunch at a restaurant there at Downtown Disney, the Napa Rose restaurant. And I had the opportunity to have lunch with Roy Disney at that lunch. The Legends program was very much Roy’s baby. Sorta neat.

Roy E. Disney with Tom Nabbe at his Disney Legend induction dinner held at the Napa Rose in The Grand Californian Hotel. Note Disney Imagineering Legend, X. Atencio
Roy E. Disney with Tom Nabbe at his Disney Legend induction dinner held at the Napa Rose in The Grand Californian Hotel. Note Disney Imagineering Legend, X. Atencio looking on. Photo courtesy the collection of Tom Nabbe. ©2018 Tom Nabbe, all rights reserved.

Plus Roy’s a sailor and I’m a sailor. The only difference is my boat is 16 foot and his boat is 60 feet, but sailing is sailing so we were both able to talk a little bit about sailing. He had just finished up on the Honolulu race.

NEXT: We go back again to Disneyland on July 17, 1955, when a celebrity makes Tom Nabbe’s dreams come true with a couple passes to the fateful Press Opening. You won’t want to miss one magical moment with Disney Legend, Tom Nabbe in Part 3.

Cover of From Tom Sawyer to Disney Legend - The Adventures of Tom Nabbe by Tom Nabbe
From Tom Sawyer to Disney Legend – The Adventures of Tom Nabbe

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Read Tom Nabbe’s auto-biography, From Tom Sawyer to Disney Legend – The Adventures of Tom Nabbe available at TomNabbe.com (autographed and personalized) or on Amazon.

To learn more about Walt Disney’s affinity for Mark Twain and a mysterious mark inside a cave on Tom Sawyer Island at the Magic Kingdom in Florida, check out “The Hand of Walt – A Disney Secret Hidden For Decades Is Finally Revealed!”

 

Did you miss Part 1? The story of how Tom Nabbe became Walt Disney’s own Tom Sawyer is the kind of magic every Disney fan dreams of. Read it HERE.

Moving to Disney (Part 1) – How One Young Couple Took Hold of the Disney Dream

YouTube personalities Sarah & Peter Brookhart left Chicago for Florida to follow their dream of Moving to Disney World. (10 Minute Read)

Moving To Disney

Did you ever dream about living at Disneyland? I know I did. I clearly remember being nine-years-old, drooping sadly out the gates after the fireworks and thinking out loud to nobody, “If I could just stay hidden in one of the caves on Tom Sawyer Island, I could wait out the security guards and have the place all to myself… forever.”

But that’s unrealistic, right? Eventually fantasies give way to reality and childlike dreams fade away.

However, sometimes when you’re not looking, the dream stirs again. Enter YouTube personalities, Sarah and Peter Brookhart.

Magic Kingdom Kids

Sarah and Peter Brookhart at Walt Disney World
Peter and Sarah Brookhart on board a ferry boat on the Seven Seas Lagoon in Walt Disney World. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

The Brookharts are an insufferably cute pair of high school sweethearts from Chicago (seriously, folks, they’re adorable) who just recently pulled up stakes and moved to Walt Disney World to follow their dreams.

Sarah Brookhart's family at Walt Disney World
Sarah’s family vacationed at Walt Disney World every two years as far back as she can remember. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

Sarah, an expressive young woman whose animated eyes, snowy complexion, and icing-blonde hair makes one think of the wooden-shoed Dutch maidens on the It’s a Small World attraction. Born into a Disney-loving family, her parents honeymooned at Walt Disney World and raised their three daughters to love castles, princesses, and talking mice. Every two years like clockwork, Sarah’s family traveled from Chicago to Florida for two weeks at a time to experience all that Disney has to offer.

Peter, broad shouldered and gregarious, did not grow up going to Disney. His family did other things on vacation, but when he fell in love with Sarah, it became inevitable – he’d have to fall in love with Disney too.

Sarah and Peter Brookhart accepted to Disney College Program
Peter and Sarah receive their Disney College Program acceptance packages. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

During their college years, Peter convinced Sarah to join the Disney College Program so they could spend a Summer or two working as Cast Members. Until then, Peter had never visited a Disney Park, so Sarah insisted they go down to Florida a week early because, as she says, “He has to experience the magic before he can be behind the magic.”

Sarah and Peter Brookhart with Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse at Walt Disney World
Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Sarah welcome Peter to Walt Disney World on his very first visit. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

They were married in August of 2015, and you’ll never guess where they honeymooned. That’s right – Niagara Falls! Just kidding. They drove Route 66 to California to spend a week at Disneyland.

Back home in Chicago, surrounded by close family, working good jobs, and enjoying the support of a network of lifelong friends, the Brookharts lived a life marked by stability.

Somewhere in their hearts, however, discontent was brewing.

Home Is Where?

From time to time, Sarah and Peter toyed with the idea of moving to Orlando permanently.

“Since 2011, the thought has been in the back of our mind, ‘What would life be like if we moved out here?,” Peter said. “‘What would we be missing? What would we be gaining? Would it be forever? Would it not be forever?’ And I think it’s been just sitting on our mind for the last 6 years.”

In February of 2017, after a weeklong visit to Walt Disney World, Sarah and Peter sat near the pool at Saratoga Springs Resort sipping a vacation favorite, the Lava Smoothie. They were intent on soaking up the last few moments of Florida sun and Disney magic before the airport shuttle arrived.

And they weren’t happy.

If you’ve vacationed at Disney – or anywhere else for that matter – you’ll remember these three stages of vacation emotions. First, you experience the dogged intensity of planning and preparing for the trip. Second, you’re giddy with excitement as you finally arrive at your home-away-from-home. Third, you descend into a fog of melancholy as you reach the vacation’s final day.

The Brookharts were in that third stage.

Peter spoke in a low voice, apparently trying not to disturb the air. Sarah leaned her head against his shoulder, her eyes billowed like the Florida sky, threatening rain. So many times they’d left Disney World, and they felt sad every time, but this time was different.

“We just looked broken,” said Peter. “And it was like something (had) snapped in us.”

On the flight to Chicago they didn’t talk much. When they did speak, they could only describe a looming dread that they weren’t just going home. They were leaving their dreams behind.

“I didn’t want to be 85, talking to my grandchildren,” Peter remembered thinking, “and let them know that Grandpa didn’t follow his dreams. Grandpa didn’t try, at least, to see what living at Disney World would be like.”

After a week of hard conversations thinking and talking about what a move to Disney World might mean, Peter finally asked Sarah, “We’re doing this, right?” And that’s when their journey began.

Courage Givers

It’s a scary thing to leave the comfort of home to follow a dream. Like the gold-rush 49ers who headed West in pursuit of fortune and glory, true courage is required to face down the fears, doubts, and obstacles that will come your way.

Sarah and Peter found courage in a growing number of pioneers who were making their own way and documenting their life journeys on YouTube; folks like the Ballinger Family or Casey Neistat.

Still from Tim Tracker Video
YouTube stars like Tim Tracker make the idea of living at Walt Disney World a little more plausible. Still from “TheTimTracker” video: 9 Parks In 1 Day Theme Park Challenge!! | Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens & More!!

More to the Brookhart’s interests, Disney park video bloggers like Joey Beth & Josh Bugg (It’s The Bugg’s Life), Brock & Promise (Ears2You), and the current king of the craft, Tim Tracker (TheTimTracker) proved that there is a growing demand for true-life human adventures that take place at Disney.

These trailblazers paved the way for Sarah and Peter to courageously ask, “If they could do it, why couldn’t we?”

But courage from strangers wasn’t going to be enough to uproot them from the community where they were raised.

The Ties That Bind

Sarah and Peter grew up on the Southside of Chicago in a village where you’re known by the church you attend. The small-town in a big-city vibe afforded them some of the most close-knit and satisfying community connections the Midwest has to offer; friends, jobs, lifelong connection to a city that they love…

Sarah Brookhart and her sisters at Walt Disney World
Sarah and her sisters, partners indeed. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

And family. Sarah and her sisters were an inseparable trio who had gone through everything together. To Sarah, leaving her family to go live at Disney seemed like betrayal.

“We were used to being the people you could lean on,” Sarah said.” So telling someone we’re not gonna be there is a pretty harsh blow for them and it’s a pretty harsh blow for us because, you know, we enjoy being there for others.”

Even though their family was supportive of the move, the knowledge that they would be missing important family moments made it even more painful to leave.

At one point, Sarah’s sister, Christina, announced that she was pregnant. In the midst of the joy and excitement, Sarah was struck cold by the realization that she would be in Orlando throughout much of the pregnancy. With her sister-senses tingling, Christina wasn’t about to let Sarah call off the dream. She looked Sarah in the eyes and said, “You still have to go to Disney.”

The good news is, unlike the 49ers, Sarah and Peter have FaceTime, Snapchat, and their daily video diaries on YouTube to make communication with their families easy.

“Luckily for them, every single day of our lives is on the internet so they can see what we’re up to,” Sarah laughed. “But it is still up to us to make sure that we stay updated on their lives too.”

A Goal, a Plan…

Once their minds were made up to go, all they needed was a goal to aim for and a plan to get there. For Peter, a zealous foodie, there was one target he could focus on that would keep them moving forward.

Sarah and Peter Brookhart moving into their apartment
Spoiler Alert: Peter and Sarah moving in to their apartment in Florida. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

“I didn’t know what job I’d have,” said Peter. “Didn’t know if we’d both have to work full normal jobs. If I’d be working weekends, second shift, third shift, first shift? We didn’t know! But all I said is, ‘I wanna be in Florida by Food and Wine festival.’”

So with Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival as the carrot to draw them on, they set about to make their plan.

Sarah is a freelance graphic artist with a steady client load. Her job would be portable. Peter would have to find a job, and searching for work from half a continent away wasn’t going to be easy.

They also needed to find an affordable place to stay (hopefully within 10 minutes of the resorts), a vehicle to get around in, and a whole lot of money for moving expenses.

Step by step, hour by hour, week by week, for 4 months they researched, saved, asked a lot of questions, and patiently pursued their dream until at last, most of the pieces had fallen into place.

Sarah Brookhart and Eve
And Eve makes three! Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

Peter got a promising job with a timeshare company that would be waiting when they arrived. They found a place to rent seven minutes from the gates of Disney World (a feat they are still super proud of). They managed to save just enough to pay for all the expenses of the move, and even had something socked away to buy a car once they arrived.

Along the way, they welcomed to the family a cute little sidekick to share their adventures, a Pomeranian puppy named Eve.

But there was one more puzzle piece they would need to complete the picture. A name.

…And a Name.

Still from Sarah and Peter Brookhart's wedding video
Scene from the Brookhart’s wedding video on “The Fab 5207”, their original YouTube channel. Still from “Peter & Sarah’s Wedding Highlight Film” Click to view on YouTube.

Their original YouTube channel, named The Fab 5207 , was a collaboration with friends from their Disney College Program days. If they did actually make it to Florida, Sarah and Peter intended to create a brand new YouTube channel to share their adventures with their established audience and friends back home.

Their new adventures, to be filmed and published every day, would center around their relationship as a couple, their highs and lows – even their starting of a family – all within the context of their shared love for the Disney experience.

Now, every good story has a title and every YouTube channel needs a name. The Brookharts wanted to choose something just right, so they decided to look for inspiration from the man whose mouse started it all, Walt Disney.

Back in the 1960s, Walt was looking for a place to build his outrageous dream of a master-planned vacation kingdom and city of tomorrow. He settled on Central Florida as the ideal location. Long before he had a name for the place that would become Walt Disney World, Walt and his team simply referred to it as “The Florida Project.”

Whenever Walt spoke of “The Florida Project”the words seemed to flow off of his tongue with a sort of reverent excitement that revealed his true feelings for what he was certain his dream would one day become. His brother Roy reported that Walt was still scheming about the project on his death bed, using the hospital ceiling tiles as the gridlines of a map to point out where he wanted certain features and attractions.

Sadly, Roy would be the only Disney brother to see The Florida Project become a reality.

Still from The Brookhart Project video
Moving Day! The Brookhart Project is on the road from Chicago to Walt Disney World. Still from “Moving Day Road Trip! Part 1 – Chicago, Illinois to Atlanta, Georgia” Click to view on YouTube.

Influenced by that same spirit of hope and vision for the future, the Brookharts’ new life and video channel was sure to become a long-running documentary of their very own Florida project.

So, on July 28, 2017, The Brookhart Project set their cameras to record, kissed their families goodbye, and hit the road, bound for a brand new life in Walt Disney World.

At Home in Disney World

Sarah and Peter Brookhart at Walt Disney World
Sarah and Peter enjoy date night at the Beach Club Resort at Walt Disney World. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

Six months later, Sarah and Peter sit on a bench at the Beach Club Resort just few short steps from the entrance to Epcot. They’re reflecting on the what they’ve experienced and learned since their journey began one year ago.

“What has been the child, almost, of The Brookhart Project,” said Peter, is really the lifestyle that Sarah and I have adapted and been growing into since we moved down here – and that’s just appreciating every single day, and every single minute, every single thing.”

Moving to Disney has developed a deeper appreciation for the obvious things like the rides, architecture, and the food (they did make it in time for the Food and Wine Festival after all). However, they’ve found themselves appreciating the little things even more, like the way cast members work so hard to give each guest a special experience.

Sarah and Peter Brookhart at Walt Disney World
Always on, the Brookharts film a day in the Disney parks for their YouTube channel, The Brookhart Project. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

“Even though we live in such a grand place, it’s this humble view on life has been the biggest gain for us.”

Naturally, they have experienced every parade, show, and attraction many times. Still, it hasn’t been all churros and Dole Whips for the couple.

“We’ve heard few snide comments,” Sarah said, “where people are like, ‘Oh, you live in Fantasyland.’ I mean we still have laundry! We still have dishes. We still have bills, we’re not eating out at the parks every night. You don’t see us when we’re downing PB & Js in the car before we head into the parks!”

And it hasn’t been easy being so far from their families.

“My family is just used to being obsessed with each other,” Sarah said. “We FaceTime every other day almost. I talk to my mom every night on the phone. But, you know, we just miss being able to stop by and shovel the sidewalk for her.”

Nonetheless, the happiness they’ve experienced as a couple and the friendships they’ve built are valuable beyond measure.

“Because we are constantly interacting with others who watch our videos, we’ve had some incredibly humbling messages sent to us about what our videos do for them.”

Once, they heard from a woman in a nursing home who was feeling trapped and hopeless. She told Sarah and Peter, “You guys give me my freedom because you take me away from this place every day.”

Sarah and Peter Brookhart at Walt Disney World
Sarah and Peter Brookhart sharing their story with me on the phone from California. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

“Stuff like that makes me realize, this isn’t just a YouTube channel,” said Sarah.

Now that they have realized their dream of moving to Disney World, the Brookharts feel a responsibility to inspire others to pursue dreams of their own.

“Even if it’s inspiring them to do something of their own. Maybe Walt Disney World is not their ‘Disney World.’ Maybe going to explore South America is their ‘Disney World,’” said Peter.

Sarah and Peter Brookhart at Walt Disney World
Peter and Sarah Brookhart at the Magic Kingdom. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

For Sarah and Peter, Walt Disney World has become more than a vacation destination. In many ways, it has become the laboratory for a grand relationship experiment.

“No matter what,” said Sarah, “it’s kind of been strengthening us as a couple just to figure out how we want to live.”

Ask any marriage counselor and they’ll tell you that the best ways to perpetuate the romance and insulate a relationship against divorce is to share a hobby and to keep a regular date night.

If that’s true, then Sarah and Peter’s story will end in “happily ever after.” From the day they arrived in Florida, they’ve enjoyed date night every night, wandering hand in hand together and capturing every moment in the most magical place on earth.

Freddy’s Move to Disneyland – An Epilogue

Freddy Martin at Disneyland
Freddy Martin doing actual work on board the Disneyland Railroad during the first day of “office hours” at Disneyland. Photo shot by a nice tourist lady. ©2018 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

I wrote the first words of this story on board the “Ward Kimball” steam train while taking a grand circle tour of Disneyland. If you had been there, you might have thought it a little strange to see me working on my laptop as though the tunnels and tracks were a suburban Starbucks.

After observing people like the Brookharts, Peter Tu (the clapping man of Disneyland), Lou Mongello, and many others, I decided to turn what I do into something I love by doing it in the place where I feel most creative – Disneyland!

Although I didn’t actually “move to Disneyland” (I still live over an hour away), I started 2018 with the commitment to hold my “office hours” one day a week at the Disneyland Resort. You might find me running reports at the Hungry Bear in Critter Country, drafting an appeal letter on the old Motor Boat Cruise launch, or editing content on Tom Sawyer Island.

And yes, I am actually working.

Next:

How To Move To Disney World – 8 Tips To Know Before You Go

Here’s what I learned from the Brookharts about how to follow your dream to live at Disney in 8 practical steps.

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