The Escobars visit Frontierland at the Magic Kingdom in 1981
In the early ‘80s, Pablo Escobar was at the top of his game. He was the richest man in Colombia, he had the family he had always dreamed of, and he was supplying 80% of the world’s cocaine via the Medellín drug cartel. The best part for Escobar was that he was not yet a known criminal. Just a few years later he would be outed as a drug lord, a merciless killer, and he would become the biggest target in Reagan’s “war on drugs” facing a real threat of extradition. For now, he was still legally doing business, buying properties, and traveling under his own name. He used his political influences in Colombia to gain diplomatic immunity and a visa which allowed him to visit the United States as often as he wanted with red carpet treatment.
In May of 1981 Pablo used those privileges to vacation in Walt Disney World Florida with his family. His sister Alba Marina Escobar helped organize the trip and Pablo was joined by his wife Maria Victoria Henao, his five-year-old son Juan Pablo, his mother Hermilda, brother Roberto, and cousin Gustavo Gaviria. The Escobars left their Miami Beach vacation home which was supposedly rented from Julio Iglesias and one of the Gibb brothers of the Bee Gees, then headed 230 miles north to Orlando. While Pablo did not yet have any enemies or scores to settle with the law, his growing economic power made it necessary for him the use bodyguards for the very first time so friend John Jairo Arias Tascon (aka “Pinina”) accompanied the family to the Disney theme park.
The Escobar family reportedly spent ridiculous amounts of money on their vacation, filling dozens of suitcases with souvenirs and clothing. Pablo hired a personal consultant to advise them on attractions as well as a driver to escort them around. Free to do and buy whatever they wanted to in the park, Pablo was overjoyed and acted like a child alongside his son Juan Pablo. Although he was afraid of roller coasters, Pablo rode them all to make his son happy. “Our family life hadn’t yet become encumbered by complications. That was the only period of pure pleasure and lavishness that my father enjoyed,” said Juan Pablo (who later changed his name to Sebastian to protect his anonymity) in his book Pablo Escobar, My Father.
The hit Netflix series Narcos even brushed on the Escobar’s trip to Disney World in a recent episode titled “Deutschland 93.” In a scene where a very emotional Pablo (brilliantly played by Brazilian actor Wagner Moura) is reflecting on his past, he asks “Have you ever been to Disney World? It’s beautiful. It’s very organized. Very clean.” Pablo definitely kept the Disney spirit and thirst for fun alive at Hacienda Nápoles, his vast and awe-inspiring ranch in Colombia about 100 miles east of Medellin. The ranch which put Michael Jackson’s Neverland to shame included three zoos full of exotic animals, 27 artificial lakes, go-karts, and even a mechanical bull. In 2014 a private company appropriately turned the ranch into a fully operational theme park which includes a Jurassic Park simulator. “Pablo World” (if you will, whose mascot is a female Hippo named Vanessa) is currently accessible to anybody with 32.000 pesos (around $15) willing to sit through a three-and-a-half hour bus ride from Medellín.
Pablo’s son Juan Pablo meets Mickey Mouse in Tomorrowland
The Escobars walking through the Swiss Family Treehouse in Adventureland