One cafe cook still working there remembers cooking breakfast for her on the weekends, Patel said.
When Patel and her future husband decided on a two-month engagement and a small wedding reception, she quickly booked the park's $5,000 wedding garden package for just 20 people (including the bride and groom). Her father-in-law has given the couple a Disney cruise for their honeymoon to schedule whenever they'd like.
But Patel won't visit Walt Disney World.
"I grew up going to Disneyland, and that's the original park," she said. "I'm a Disney conservationist. Walt Disney World looks so big, and it's not him (Walt Disney). I think you lose the intimate magic that happens at Disneyland. It's way more corporate. Disneyland feels like being at home."
Excesses of commercialism
For Lindsay Potts and her family, a good vacation is spending time with their extended family, outdoors and in nature. Potts hasn't ever visited any Disney parks but she says that paying lots of money to stand in line for "fast-paced, high-pressure" entertainment isn't for her. (Her husband visited Disneyland and Disney World as a child.)
She also doesn't want to support Disney.
"Spending hundreds of dollars to wait in lines and be surrounded by consumerism does not appeal to us," wrote Potts, who lives in Brownstown, Indiana. "Disney is a brand and also portrays a certain lifestyle that aligns with current corporate American culture.
"We have chosen to live a more alternative life style that is rooted in sustainability, equality and entertainment that is independent of television and popular media."
The princess stereotype
Alissa Guntren of Bloomington, Ind., went to Disney World in Florida as a child, but she won't be taking her daughters to Disney theme parks either. No matter how far Disney's princess stories have come, she doesn't want her daughters limiting themselves.
"While I am not averse to my daughters exploring fantasy worlds, I find that Disney and Disney products present children, especially girls, with a very limited fantasy world -- one in which a prince will sweep them off their feet so that they can then live happily ever after," wrote Guntren in an email. "I want my daughters to be confident as individuals, not to grow up thinking there is a prince out there waiting to save them."
"In addition, I have a difficult time with the princess body types that Disney presents children with, which is an idealized adult female body type and not an appropriate one for my young and impressionable children to try to emulate."
Consumer behavior expert Kit Yarrow isn't surprised that people have such strong emotional reactions to Disney, positive or negative.
"People have strong feelings about it because Disney is such a prominent part of their childhoods," said Yarrow, chair of Golden Gate University's psychology department in San Francisco. "Whether you went to theme parks or watched movies and cartoons or got the goodies in some way shape or form, it's touched nearly everybody's lives."
The feelings Disney is able to evoke are incredible, she said. People who love Disney feel the perfection and happiness of the culture.
"And that's exactly what repulses other people; a 'plasticness' that other people find offensive. In a world that is increasingly crass and negative, it's a positive, predictable happy place. "
Everything in moderation
Brooklyn minister Ann Kansfield, 37, has a word of caution for parents keeping their children completely away from Disney -- or anything else. Her parents didn't take her to Disney theme parks because it would have been expensive to fly the family of four from Rochester, New York, to California or Florida. They were saving for other things.
Kansfield doesn't remember wanting any Disney toys. "I really just wanted to ride the rides," she wrote. "I definitely realized by high school that I wasn't going there any time soon."
After a couple months of dedicated Superstorm Sandy relief work, Kansfield and her family were on a cruise with the chance to take a day trip to Disney World.
"I'm really thankful that my parents hadn't taken me to Disney before, because it made this trip extra special," she wrote. "Plus, I did feel like a little bit of a Disney rebel -- finally getting to go.
"Parents can do everything in our power to limit our children's access to the Disney Industrial Complex, but even when we limit it, they'll find other ways to watch the shows, sing the songs and be involved with Disney-something-or-another. We choose to enjoy it together as a family in small doses, which seems reasonable."