Hard-Core Disney Fans Can't Be Corralled by the Corporate-Approved Fan Club, D23

Pete Werner had been clean and sober for nearly a year. He'd attended his third treatment program, moved in with his parents in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, and started working to slowly rebuild the life he had lost chasing booze and drugs. He had spent all his money and lived on the streets for a while, but at age 26, he had recently landed a job as a programmer for a company that made software for the military. He tried to keep his friends and his boyfriend close.

His next addiction started on a lonely business trip. Werner flew into Orlando International Airport in May 1991 for a conference. He had one day off before the event began, so he got in his rental car and followed the overhead signs toward Walt Disney World, destination zero. He didn't realize it at the time, but he was about to be reborn as one of the world's most influential Disney nerds.

He had no particular love for Disney lore, found no nostalgic childhood comfort in the movies or characters. Simply curious and killing time, he arrived at Epcot, paid his money, held a ticket in his hand. And then — as he tells this story, his Disney-mania foundation myth, he gets wistful and a little giddy remembering the rush — he walked around Future World.

He heard what he would later call "bush music," happy tunes emanating from speakers hidden behind Disney's immaculately landscaped shrubs. He watched the crowd, which was light on this weekday. He sat on a bench, dumbfounded but alive, and stared up at Spaceship Earth, the huge, resplendent polyhedron.

"This," thought Werner, "is why I did drugs."

During his treatment, Werner had tried to catalog his emotions, taking stock of his elusive highs and his more persistent, searching lows. This feeling was new, though. He had seen the skyscrapers of New York, but this was somehow larger. Disney World existed for the sole purpose of enjoyment. Abandon was OK here, and it didn't require chemicals.

Before long, Werner would find a way to feed his habit and sustain a full-time Disney high. He made Disney his work. He began organizing Disney tours and, more influentially, established an online fan forum: the DIS boards at disboards.com, the internet home to hundreds of thousands of hard-core Disney fans.

Disney, when measured by revenue — $30-some billion per year — is the largest media company in the world. It has a market capitalization of $62 billion and subsidiary businesses that include radio, television, sports broadcasting, hotels, movie studios, and videogame developers. So Disney's individual theme-park visitors might seem like a minuscule part of the business. But taken together — as they always are, streaming through the gates in sweating masses — they're a tremendous source of cash.

Pete Werner and superfans like him make up a small but important fraction of the Disney audience. They pour roughly bazillions of dollars into the company coffers, whether it's by collecting Disney merchandise or returning to the safe confines of Disney parks whenever they need a lift.

So when Disney announced in 2009 that it would be starting its own "official" fan club and convention, offering a sanitized, controlled take on the fan experience, it stood to reason that these devotees would have some high expectations.

Werner's reaction? "D23 is bullshit."

For eons," said Walter Cronkite, "our planet has drifted as a spaceship through the universe. And for a brief moment, we have been its passengers." Werner had gotten up from his bench to board Spaceship Earth, his first Disney ride.

His blue Omnimover vehicle neared the top of its track inside the huge sphere, where an animatronic young man sat in front of a "Network Operations Center." Werner was carried upward into the top of the dome. Stars were everywhere, and a blue Planet Earth hovered amid the constellations.

The carriage squeaked and jerked and rotated slowly. Moving backward, it retreated down a ramp. Werner's back was pressed against the seat, his gaze angled upward at the receding world. The music swelled, and Cronkite spoke again: "Today, our search for understanding is unbounded by space and time. Centuries of information stand ready to reach us in an instant: our link with the past, our hope for the future."

After Werner returned from his business trip, he told everybody about his Epcot revelation and started planning to return the following year. His second trip only cemented his new obsession, and he started coming once a year, dragging along whomever he was dating. He would break up with at least one man who couldn't embrace Disney's appeal.

In 1998, Werner and his partner moved down to Orlando. They bought passes to the parks and kept exploring them until Werner's knowledge needed an outlet. The internet was just gaining popularity, and Werner learned HTML and created a personal website. That turned into an online Disney travel-planning guide, the DIS, which he approached with his usual obsession.

In November 1999, he launched a travel agency, Dreams Unlimited Travel, using the knowledge he had collected to sell tailored trips around Disney World's resorts. "We staffed it with Disney fans and taught them and ourselves to be travel agents," he recalls. He put ads for the travel agency on the discussion-board and travel-guide pages, and it's still the way he makes most of his money. Werner says his business has "grown by double digits" in recent years, save an 8 percent decline in last year's tough market.

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68 comments
AngelElement444
AngelElement444

LOL!  Not too surprised by any of it but the forums are fun, though I haven;t had much time to visit this past year.  Funnily enough, I DID have a lot to do with picking the lime green!  it was about the only color not being used to recognize some illness or organization, that would stand out in a crowd.

COS
COS

Circle of sarcasm it's the UnDis!

Songbird13291
Songbird13291

Seems there are a lot of unhappy former DIS board members. And a lot of unhappy former customers of Dreams Unlimited. Can it be because of the way Pete treats people?

Tsmith1005
Tsmith1005

Couldn't agree more, they talk to talk but don't walk the walk. Poor business.

Songbird13291
Songbird13291

Could barely wade through the article. Former member of Werner's board and current Disney fan. I didn't learn anything about Pete that I didn't already suspect. On my most recent trip to WDW, planbed without Pete's help, I had a wonderful time. Won't be giving him, or his travel agency, any more of my vacation money.

Loot101
Loot101

I think Pete sounds like a cool, no-bullshit guy.  Nice article

Scoutfreckles
Scoutfreckles

On that,  you are wrong.  There is nothing "cool" about Werner, and he's so deep in bullshit, he's drowning.

JL
JL

hmm...I had to stop reading the article halfway through b/c it was so poorly written but I got the gist of what the author was attempting to say.  Being a long time listener of the DIS Unplugged podcast, and random browser of the DIS Boards, I guess I kinda know Pete's personality and it doesn't bother me at all.  He has a dry sense of humor, he has the NJ attitude, and I think it's hilarious.  He does love Disney and has every right to be extremely critical of the company.  He has the only 'real' opinion in the Disney community, if you ask me.  All the other extremely popular podcasts sugarcoat and gloss over everything.  In their eyes Disney can do no wrong and it's annoying.  Not everything is pixie dust and princesses in real life, and Pete makes sure to point out the flaws.  Bravo to him!

Dark1wolf
Dark1wolf

Pete sounds like a real douche. I run a Disney blog and I've always said that "Disney fans" who don't embrace Walt's optimism and hope for the future aren't real Disney fans. Try to look on the bright side of life once in a while.

JezusC PETE!!!!! :-(
JezusC PETE!!!!! :-(

Pete, if you are REALLY so called "clean and sober", then you have ALOT of amends to make. ie, all the money you owe from the DIScons, banning people, etc, so much more! But, hey! I'm not your sponser, thank God. Keep on thinking, on that third column, "what's MY part?" instead of blaming everyone else. (And sending over a few minions over here to defend you.) Pathetic really.  

Robsmi
Robsmi

If you don't like Pete, don't go to his website.  That seems simple enough.

Besides he said that he used to be annoyed by small kids and since he took a small child he understands.  That's at least a step in the right direction.

So much whining both in the article and in the comments.

David Graff
David Graff

Pete rules, he is a REAL person, he has flaws, imperfections just like everyone of the people who are writing negative comments about him on here. I think he is awesome, he is super funny, he does a LOT of charity work and he does a LOT for disney fans (who else rents out a Ride at Disneyworld at their own cost?) I love listening to Pete, i may not agree with everything he says, but im glad i live in a world where he is allowed to say what he thinks freely. DisUnplugged for the Win !!!

Holy
Holy

Oh, honey, every person on this planet is a REAL person.  To single Pete out for being REAL because his life has been a total train wreck is to dismiss the lives of the other seven billion people on the planet, most of whom have things so much harder.  Try living in abject poverty in a part of the world where help is not available.  When you look at REAL problems, Pete comes off as a whiny, selfish, insecure, insignificant brat who blames everyone else for his own failings as a human being.

missy12
missy12

Keep drinking the juice David, I suppose you think everyone is great and wonderful!  He hates kids and is not a fan of Disney, but he makes his money off of those people, NICE.

disneyfan
disneyfan

No wonder the atmosphere on the DIS is so negative...look at their leader!  Ask a question and get your head bitten off by "experts".  I have a 10 year old who can give a better, more detailed answer...but he would never listen to her because she was, at one time, sat in"the shin-attacking strollers" having a "red-faced screaming fit".  What an ass...who does he think Walt designed the park for??  A middle aged man with a drinking problem who is making money hand over fist off of Walt?  Or families who want to make lasting memories?  Oh that's right...for Pete - because apparently it is all about him.

Stefan Kamph
Stefan Kamph

"She won't remember much of it, but watching her reactions, seeing it through her eyes, was a whole different experience," he says. "If you want the real experience, come here with someone you love."

missy12
missy12

what a douche bag and people follow him on the Dis?????? WTF???? is wrong with people?

 
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