By Erin Crowell
Tammy Sofonia knows a lot about Disney theme parks. Well, that might be an understatement, considering the Traverse City Passageways Travel agent has been to Disney World, in Orlando, 53 times. Factor in the international trips to Euro Disney and Tokyo Disney, and youve got an expert park hopper.
The Express talked with Sofoniawho is a graduate of the Masters College of Disney Knowledge and got the inside scoop on whats so alluring about a mouse with lots of real estate.
Northern Express: So how did you get started on this whole Disney kick?
Tammy Sofonia: I worked for American airlines for 13 years before coming to Passageways, so I always had the opportunity to fly; and in 1978, my grandpa took our family by motor home and we stayed in Disney World. I was hooked ever since. Ive been to every Disney park except in Hong Kong.
NE: Are you planning a trip there soon?
Sofonia: Well, we went to Hong Kong on our honeymoon and it wasnt built yet, so well have to get back there soon. I dont have any future plans, but I hope to one of these days.
NE: Does your husband go with you?
Sofonia: He does. Hes ventured to Florida and California not the ones out of the country; but he has gone to Disneyland and Disneyworld. I probably overextended him lately (laughs).
NE: What do you do when you take these trips?
Sofonia: We stay there usually five to seven days, depending on what were doing. Being there so many times we dont feel like we have to rush, rush rush, and get to the parks early and stay there all day. We have the opportunity to do the extra stuff like the Disney dining plan where you experience different restaurants. People that have never been there before, they dont want to take the time to do stuff like golfing, taking a boat ride things you wouldnt normally think about because youre concentrating so much on the parks.
NE: Which park is your favorite?
Sofonia: Disneyworld, definitely; because there are the four theme parks there. Its bigger. Theres more to do. My favorite right now happens to be Hollywood Studios right in Orlando. Theyve really updated and added a lot more attractions. And, of course, theres Magic Kingdom. Thats right up there. You have to go see the castle while youre down there.
NE: How long have you been doing this?
Sofonia: From 1978 to the present. But I havent been to EuroDisney in awhile, so I want to go back and see that. And Tokyo has built a park called Tokyo Seas and Chinas on the list to build the next one. Maybe I can hit Hong Kong and China in the same trip.
NE: What is it about Disney parks that draws you so much?
Sofonia: You know, you can go there with your family or go there alone. I feel safe there. I like the different hotels. I feel theres enough to do even by yourself. You can people-watch even if you dont go on rides. Youve got the parades, the fireworks you can do it all or just do a little. Of course theres also the Disney cruise line.
NE: Have you been on that?
Sofonia: Oh yeah, of course. Ive been on both cruises a couple times. Theyve got their next ship coming out called Disney Dream, which will just be phenomenal. Disney does it right. Theyve got all the top-line stuff.
NE: Have you seen a change in the crowds over the last couple decades?
Sofonia: The crowd level has gone down because everyone is dispersed throughout the parks. Then theres Fast Pass which lets you get a reservation time to pretty much come back and go to the front of the line. Lets say you see a sign at the entrance to a ride that says come back at one or two oclock, you get a ticket, go get some dinner, then come back. Disney wants you in there spending your money on food and souvenirs. They dont want you waiting in line.
NE: And it obviously it makes the mood a lot better.
Sofonia: For sure, but you still have the 3 oclock crying hour when everyones tired
NE: Would you call yourself a kid when you go there?
Sofonia: (Laughing) Yes. Ive only taken a child down twice. My niece is six and so Ive experienced it as an adult more than with children. But Ive enjoyed reliving it through her eyes.
NE: Do you have any insider tips for first-timers?
Sofonia: Well thats what I do here. I always bring back park maps so I can go through and show the different rides. I can say go to this restaurant, dont worry about this ride in the beginning those tips that I get, I can bring back with me. Everyone here thinks Im totally crazy. But I just got done with a training session in January and there were 39 other girls that were way crazier than I was. Those people know everything. We train and learn and bring it back so we can say whats new and tell you where to go, to stay, what to do.
NE: Does that make you an expert in Disney history?
Sofonia: No, not in that aspect. But I know all there is to know about the parks. I can tell you where every bathroom is (laughs). My brother is the one who can beat me on the trivia of Disney. Its amazing at how much knowledge I do remember, when you love something so much, how much you just want to share it with other people. You probably cant stump me on Disney theme park information.