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December 29, 2010

Explaining Disney - From My Perspective

If you know me at all, you know that I am an insanely obsessed Disney fanatic. It's much worse than you can comprehend. I do Google searches for Hidden Mickeys and scavenger hunts. I have an obscenely large mental bank specifically reserved for odd facts regarding Walt, his films and his parks. The Mickey Mouse head I have tattooed on my arm is only one of many Disney themed tats I'd like to have. Are you starting to get a gage on my obsession? Good... multiply that by a billion. To me, the pinnacle of the Disney dream is the Walt Disney World Resort. There is simply nothing like it.

My first visit to WDW was in December of 1989. I will never forget the way I felt when I entered the Magic Kingdom and saw Main Street, fully decorated for Christmas. It took my breath away. I moved to Florida, from Texas, soon after that visit and returned to the park many times over the years. First, I went as the "kid" (technically teen at that point), and then I began going more frequently as the parent. It was pretty much automatic... if we were going away - for a day or for a week - it was going to be Disney. 

Every visit was just as magical as the first. Every visit held something new - even if just a simple, little detail that we had failed to notice before. In fact, it was exactly those little details that helped to grow my Disney love. The little things that the typical tourist rushes past... we often fail to notice them, but we would certainly notice their absence. It's those details that make Disney Disney - that set Disney apart from all of the other theme/amusement parks out there. 

I've always loved the perspective of Disney through the eyes of my children. As a mother, I have gained a whole new level of love and appreciation for Walt Disney World. The memories I hold from each and every visit are priceless. In 2002, I added yet another perspective - that of the Disney Cast Member. Frankly, working on the parks simply doesn't mesh well (financially, or time-wise) with motherhood, so my employment there was brief, but it was extraordinary. My very favorite memory... The Magic Kingdom was closed and the guests were cleared out. I was leaving for the locker room from our area's closing meeting as I passed the back of Cinderella castle. There, still lit up from the Christmas party, was Cinderella's carriage. Happy holiday music blared from unseen speakers that surrounded me. I stood there, alone, just soaking up the magic... enveloped in the indescribably beautiful combination of Christmas and Disney. I must have stood there for ten minutes, but time stood still. It was just a purely amazing moment and it was all mine. 
In 2006, while living in the Orlando area, we bought our first house outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. When we moved, we knew we were going to become one of "those" families. No longer would Walt Disney World be our "neighborhood park". Now, we'd have to save like crazy, or win the lottery to manage a Disney visit. It would become a crazy-hectic vacation where we scrambled around ruthlessly on a mission to check every single attraction off of a mental checklist in some mad competition with our vision of "getting our money's worth". Where's the magic in that? The Tennessee move was of indefinite length, but obviously long-term. To say good-bye, we made one final, whirlwind visit to the parks before we left, in May of 2006. 
Fast forward to 2010. We have officially had all that we can stand of rural life in the Bible belt. Life's too short to move this slow and we want some life back NOW. We move back to Orlando and lo and behold, we're five miles from the Disney gates. As it turns out, we're only one mile from Universal Studios, who also offers a ridiculously cheap monthly payment plan for annual passes - about $8/month. Disney had no such plan and annual passes were simply unaffordable. We became Universal pass holders and we were really basically okay with this. After all, it's a theme park! There are some crazy mad rides there, Halloween Horror Nights, Harry Potter and other fun characters that we all love. After a few months of calling Universal our second home, we came to get a little bitter toward the park. We began to notice all that was missing from Universal and we constantly compared it to Disney. Not only does Disney just have more, but they do it all so much better. We found ourselves going to Universal and just sitting around, struggling to think of what we wanted to do. Really, we had the attitude that we had done it all to death. This couldn't have come at a better time - Disney began offering payment plans on passes AND it's Christmas! Well, you know what happened next...
After presenting the passes to the kids, I explained something to them. It sounded something like this... To most people, Walt Disney World is a dream vacation that they save up for for years - something they hope to do before they die. For us, it IS our neighborhood park. We can go after school for a couple of hours to play in the water and have an ice cream. We can run there in the evening just to catch a show or grab dinner. We're exceptionally lucky, if you think about it... and don't ever forget that. There are thousands of kids all over the world that can only dream of having this. Don't take it for granted.

This is why I love it and why it will never get old. We can spend a whole day there, like we did on Sunday, and there's no "vacation rush" to do it all. If the line's too long, wait till next week. It was nice when Gino called from work midday and said, "pick a Disney show and let's go tonight". We went for one ride, a show and a stroll this evening. For our anniversary, I'm requesting a Mexican dinner. It's quite cool that one of the options we're considering is in Mexico at EPCOT. We can also take the time to truly notice and appreciate the little things and explore the massive environment that is the Disney Resort and all of its amenities. Sunday night, we found an inviting set of plush couches in a quiet little nook at The Contemporary hotel and we all just sat there and relaxed with some hot cocoa, taking it all in.
This is why I love Disney. This is why we can go there every day and still love it and want more. The next time YOU visit Walt Disney World, even if only a short vacation, do make time to enjoy these little things that make Disney what it is. Meet the characters. Try on a funny hat. Visit "Push", the talking trash can. Stop and watch the dancing fountain at EPCOT. Listen to the piano player at Casey's. Find the Hidden Mickeys!! Every single detail was planned just so by Walt himself - every color, every design, every name on every building, every line, every plant - acknowledge his efforts and his brilliance. But most of all, just enjoy what he gave us and enjoy it with your family.