It's this thing.
Like the way diseases are epidemics.
We live in an age where Disney is not just a brand. It's a way of living. It's not just a family trip you make at some point in your childhood. It's an experience. And, in the minds of many, a non-negotiable one at that.
And I'm going to make a very cringe-worthy confession here: I'm not really a big Disney fan.
Now before we get our mouse ears in a twist, let us start by rewinding about 23 years. Like many of you, I, too, was once a kid. And it wasn't until the summer after 4th grade that I was given the adventure of a lifetime: a family trip to Walt Disney World. It's really the best thing you can tell a kid: "We're going to Disney World in August." Apart from telling them that you've recreated the candy land of Willy Wonka's factory, complete with chocolate river and gummy trees, a trip to Disney takes the cake.
My sisters and I spent the entire summer getting ready. My Dad bought Disney travel guides (including the infamous Birnbaum's Guide to Walt Disney World, circa 1991). I pored over these tomes, soaking up every morsel of information on this mysterious magical land. I painstakingly read the description of every ride: the duration, the intensity, the estimated wait time. I brushed up on transportation, the best places to eat and where to find and meet characters. I even watched The Weather Channel for several weeks out, willing the the atmosphere to give us beautiful days in Florida.
Not only was this my inaugural trip, but it was my first plane ride as well. The anticipation was almost painful. The night before our journey began, my sisters and I snuggled up in one bed, too excited to sleep. At some point we must have, because we awoke to a clock reading 6:00am. We were chauffeured to the airport by a family friend, and, after what seemed like hours, boarded a plane. . Soon, the engines roared to life, and the nose of the plane tipped upward. I could feel the weight of gravity fighting my body, and the airport, trees and roads becoming miniature versions of themselves outside of my window. We were on our way. Destination: All of our Hopes and Dreams.
The plane ride was novel (as I flew in a time when they actually served meals, which was absolutely mind-blowing to a kid), but arriving in Orlando to start our adventure was even better. I didn't realize it then, but my parents spared no expense for this experience. For we stayed at the nicest hotel Disney offered at the time: The Grand Floridian. The bus pulled up to what I could only describe in my 10-year old mind as a palace, and we were ushered into the lobby. Tears pricked at my eyes, because it was probably the most beautiful place I'd ever seen. The atrium was several stories high, decked in beautiful furnishings and finishes. And they had a live piano player making music during the afternoon. A real live person! Playing Disney music! On a piano!
In a daze, we made our way to the villa which housed our room. It was no surprise that the accommodations were divine. I hadn't even made it to the parks, and my little heart overfloweth.
Over the course of a week, we sucked out the marrow of all Disney had to offer: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, MGM Studios. We rode the monorail so many times, we had the english and spanish voice instructions memorized ("Please stand clear of the doors. Por favor manténganse se alejado de las puertas"). We ate in the most royal of places. We shyly introduced ourselves to our favorite characters and princesses, walking away with the prized possession of their signatures. We rode rides (including my first roller coaster - Space Mountain - on the first night immediately after a dinner of meatball sandwiches. My stomach was not amused). We swam, we laughed, we saw fireworks.
Everything about my first time at Disney was nothing short of magic.
After my inaugural visit, I went back to Disney a total of 5 more times: once with my family in middle school, twice with my high school marching band (go Warriors!), once with my mom and sisters, and, lastly, for a brief few hours with Hubby during a conference we attended near the park when we were first married.
Each time, I experienced Disney in a new way, from a new set of eyes. We tackled Universal Studios and eventually Animal Kingdom. I saw Disney from the perspective of a 10 year old and as a 14 year old with my family. I made a ruckus around the parks with friends in high school. And I pieced together part of my new normal on a short trip with my mom and sisters just a year or two after my parents got a divorce.
Different visits, different magic.
...I grew up.
And the magic seems dim to my 33-year old eyes. It's not to say I dislike Disney. Not by any means! I can't tell you the number of my Disney-fan friends reading this right now who are tearing at their clothes, weeping and gnashing their teeth. Friends who have made it a priority to go every few years with their kids, if not every year. Who have taken Disney planning in their spare time for fun and turned it into a business. Friends who have turned Disney from an experience into a lifestyle.
I'm just not there.
I don't begrudge my friends for their passion. I don't think it's wrong or unwise or frivolous. I love hearing about their plans, scrolling through their vacation photos and listening to their stories. Heck, maybe, deep down, I am envious.
Because, I can still remember, in a foggy way, the immense joy visiting Disney gave me. But now, as an adult, I am faced with realities. The reality of the expense of a Disney trip, which can run, on a good day, $3000-$5000 when all is said and done. We've had our fair share of financial struggles over the course of our marriage. And after we learned to look at our money in a differently, learning to prioritize it in a way that made more sense, I struggle to look at those figures and embrace them. I look at that amount of money, and think of all the other, more responsible, ways I could spend it.
Like on a new heating system for our house.
Or 3 years' worth of one-week vacations to the beach.
Or, just living without struggling.
I face the reality of planning a Disney trip. Just typing that sentence brings my anxiety to a boil. There is a lot of pressure to plan The Disney Trip To Remember, hitting all of the must-see attractions and not missing a thing. I've perused the Walt Disney World Vacation site, poked around at deals and hypothetically tried to create a vacation package. It was twitch-inducing. I had no idea what to do, where to begin. Talking to friends, they know all the insider info. "Be sure to make reservations for this! Don't forget to go to that! You'll never be able to live with yourself if you don't get to do this!" Even my hypothetical trip was a failure.
Lastly, I face the reality of actually visiting Disney World. Of putting all the pieces together and making all of my girls' dreams come to life. Of going on vacation but not actually relaxing. I find the logistics overwhelming. We'd constantly be on the go-go-go, always on the threat of imminent child (or parent) meltdown. And I know there are new innovations for getting on rides, but I'm still scarred by the 2+ hour waits I endured for Splash Mountain as a child.
Do I sound like a total curmudgeon?
I know I'm a little bah-humbug about it. And believe me when I say, I feel guilty about feeling this way. I want to get excited to plan our eventual (inevitable?) Disney vacation. I want to get caught up in guide books, online research and placing reservations. But I can't. Because I'm too focused on the realities to allow any of the magic filter in.
And magic, though, is what I hold on to. I think back on those memories from my youth, my mind's eye giving them that amber nostalgic quality, instantly warming my heart the moment I remember. I do remember. And I know that, underneath the financial worries and planning stress, there is a mother who wants very much to give her daughter's the very magical experience she was given as a child. I want to feel their excitement and anticipation leading up to the trip. I want to watch their eyes widen as they walk through the turnstiles, onto Main Street and Cinderella's Castle comes into view. I want to hear them laugh and gasp and sigh over every twist and turn of an unforgettable vacation.
Part of entering adulthood is being slowly stripped of our childhood wonder and amazement. Along with it, though, comes an unspoken vow to preserve the very same wonder and amazement for our kids for as long as humanly possible. Yet, I bristle at the notion that not taking my kids makes me some somehow remiss in my parental responsibilities.
So, I'm left at this: we'll plan a trip. Some day. And I'll accept the financial burden, I'll take on the planning stress. I'll walk the parks for hours at a time and wait in line when it's necessary. And I'll hold the small hands of wiggly kids whose hearts overfloweth.
And maybe it is there, in that moment of vicariously living the inaugural Disney joy through my kids, that I'll reclaim some of my own magic once again.
What say you, reader?
What kind of relationship do YOU have with WDW?
I'd love to hear your thoughts, feelings, experiences.
(I'm also very, very open to being won over to the #Disneyside.)