Betsy and Dale Nelson left their law enforcement jobs in Fort Lauderdale to move to an Orlando suburb so they would be closer to Walt Disney World; but the 45-minute commute wasn't close enough, so they moved again — this time within 2½ miles of the theme park.
Actor Patrick Labyorteaux of CBS' "JAG" bought a second home just blocks from Sleeping Beauty's castle in nearby Anaheim, Calif., so his family could drop in on Disneyland whenever they want.
These Disney fanatics have taken the theme park experience to the extreme. They've adopted it as a lifestyle — quitting jobs, transforming their bodies, purchasing real estate and moving to strange cities based on their need to immerse themselves in the innocence, happiness and community that they feel the entertainment conglomerate gives them.
"The bottom line is it makes me happy," said Reiger, 51, a postal worker and part-time magician in Bethlehem, Pa. who has been married six times. "Wives come and go, kids come and go, but Disney is always going to be there for me."
Disney executives are very aware of the visceral, personal connection the theme parks have created for their fans.
"This is where the consumer experiences Disney at its best," incoming Disney CEO Bob Iger during a speech this year in Orlando.
Disney planted the seeds for this sort of mania by opening Disneyland a half-century ago, followed by Disney World and parks around the world in Paris, Tokyo, and later this year in Hong Kong.
Part of Disney's success in creating hyper-fans stems from the "sacred" role the company has played in childhood and family life, said University of Oregon communications professor Janet Wasko. "As far as I know, Disney is the only brand that has so many fanatics."