It happened slowly. I never thought I would be one of THOSE people. I never imagined that I would be the person who needed my fix and would start to go into withdrawal if the space between visits went too long. But then I moved to Florida, and it became harder to resist. People offered it for free. Opportunities and temptation rose up everywhere. And then my husband gained free access to it it any time, offering it freely.
Of course, I am talking about Disney World.
Since I grew up in Memphis, Disney World was just a magical place far away that required a long drive, a lot of money, and a week off from school to visit. Only the truly blessed got to go to Disney World. My parents took me when I was 4 but I don’t remember much of the trip. We had family in South Florida and my mom was pregnant with my brother and I am sure I had a blast, but I only know that from the pictures. My parents took us again when Sam and I were about 8 and 12, respectively, because our cousin was getting married in Sarasota. I remember that trip and it was a blast. Crawling through “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” with my brother and gawking at Indiana Jones escaping from the huge ball still stick in my brain. I had the chance to visit The Mouse again as a high schooler with a church choir tour of the Southeast. That trip was fun as well, but I mostly remember it as time spent pining after a guy I had a crush on and trying to figure out how to get him to ask me out. (Side Note: You could not pay me enough to go back and be a teenager again.)
By the time I moved to Orlando in 2012, I thought Disney was cool but it was even more expensive than it has been in 1987 and I cried every time I had to drive further than five miles in Orlando traffic, so The Happiest Place on Earth wasn’t really on my radar…until someone took me to Epcot Food and Wine Festival.
Epcot? Really? As a kid I remember Epcot being the boring park where I had to learn about things. It turns out that when you become an adult, people will take your money and give you food and drinks from all over the world and bands play cool music and you can relive your middle school glory days with hundreds of other people and there are fireworks and tons of coffee mugs to buy! Disney is so cool!
Tim and I purchased Florida Resident Annual Passes when we were dating. We were both on a budget, we needed affordable date nights, and we had both enjoyed Disney as kids. We thought it would be a fun way to do something fun, get to know each other, and see how much we REALLY liked spending that much time together. (I will never forget going to Disney with my brother a few years ago. He noted that Disney World would be the best place to get to know someone because you would see how they handle money, stress, heat, long days, ignorance, crowds, decision making, and the ability to have fun.)
I hate to ruin it for those of you who don’t live in Florida, but when you live in this state you can go to Disney an unlimited amount times during the year for about $30 a month. You can also take in your own food and drinks, so Disney days turn out to be pretty cost effective unless you don’t live in Florida and you have to spend your life savings staying in an on-property resort, purchasing tickets and overpriced Mickey-shaped-foods. People do it all the time.
My point, however, is this: Disney truly is magical, but I don’t know why. Maybe it is because there are people hired to keep the parks meticulously clean. Maybe it is because there are also people paid to call me “princess” when I walk into a store. Maybe it is because 90% of my childhood is wrapped up in one place and I get so drunk on nostalgia I think I need to move into Cinderella’s Castle just to soak it all in. (My favorite Disney movie as a kid was Old Yeller, but they don’t make rides out of killing old dogs so I’ll settle for Little Mermaid, which was the first movie I saw in theaters.) I remember watching an old VHS tape of a musical tour through Disney on repeat with my cousins until we broke the tape. I was completely fascinated by the dancing ghosts in Haunted Mansion and knew I had to see them in person one day. I am STILL fascinated by those ghosts and I am 35 years old and totally understand how the technology works. Pineapple Dole Whip sends me to the restroom for hours but I still crave it. The line for Peter Pan’s Flight is always long and smells like body odor and diapers and stale rain, but I stand in it forever to feel like I am flying over Neverland for a total of three minutes. Where else in the world (other than Disney in other countries) do we pay extravagant amounts of money to sweat our nards off for hours only to enjoy a 180 second thrill?
I don’t get it, but I fall for it every time. Last weekend I went to Magic Kingdom with my friend, Megan, and we stayed for the newish fireworks show. The old routine has been replaced with a stunning mixture of pyrotechnics, image projections, music mashups, lasers, and flying humans and I just really needed a fix. Did I know we would be smashed up against sweaty strangers for at least an hour when the show is over? Sure. But that didn’t matter. For 18 minutes, I was a 6 year old girl singing along to every song, mouth open, eyes bugged out, and heart exploding. For 18 minutes, every man, woman, and child around me looked just as stupid as I did. There were people of all ages, sizes, ethnicities, languages, religions, orientations, and backgrounds all staring at the same mesmerizing display, completely intoxicated by the message that dreams really do come true.
And you know what? I am ok with it. I am ok with the whole thing. Yes, sometimes I wonder how many children we could feed with the money spent on Disney parking profits alone. But I don’t dictate how other people spend their money, and I am fortunate enough to go to Disney for free. If given the chance, I think we would all trade a few bucks to feel weightless, childlike, uninhibited, and magical even for 18 minutes.
My inner socialist gets that this is all irrational and a bit irresponsible, but put me in front of a stunning pyrotechnics extravaganza set to the music of my childhood and a mouse shaped ice cream bar in my hand, and I forget about everything else in the world.
I guess the magic lies in the ability to transcend anxiety, fear, cultural differences, rationality, and maybe even reality, even if just for a few moments. I think I am just happy I still have a little magic left in me in spite of my cynicism.