I’ve Been to Disney

When I was a kid, someone gave me a Viewmaster, with a – wait, if you’re too young to know what a Viewmaster is, it essentially a stereoscope, with a disc of little slides that you look through and see a 3D picture.

Okay, sorry. Someone gave me a Viewmaster, and one of the discs was of Disney World. I remember gazing at the ride with the teapots, and the castle, and the happy, 1960’s-dressed people visiting the park. I looked at that disc non-stop. I loved it – “The Wonderful World of Disney” was on every (Sunday?), and I sat glued to it. I wanted to go to Disney World. Not Disneyland – no, I’d heard Disney World in Florida was bigger, so I wanted to go to that one.

I suppose it’s a common wish among children…to go to Disney World. My parents – my mom, really – made it clear pretty early on that we were not going to go. We weren’t poor when I was little, my dad was a research scientist at Dow Chemical, and we were solidly middle class. It wasn’t a money thing – we could have afforded the trip. When I mentioned it to mom, though, she immediately started railing against lines. Yes, you read that right. Lines. All she ever said about Disney World was that people went and stood in line for three hours for every ride. Disney was about lines, and how stupid was it to go to a place just to stand in lines? We didn’t go to Cedar Point (awesome coaster park in Ohio that generally has more coasters than any other single park), we didn’t go to Michigan’s Adventure, a little park in southern Michigan. We didn’t go stand in lines.

I guess amusement parks were only a small part of the places we didn’t go as a family. Actually, we didn’t go anywhere as a family beyond the occasional dinner out, or a rare tag-along on one of dad’s business trips. We never, and I mean never that I can recall, went on a family vacation. Ever. No drives to the Grand Canyon. No summers at a cabin, or weekend getaways, certainly no 1,400 mile trips to Florida to go stand in lines.

So, as the years went by, Disney was just a place in Florida, “down south.” More movies came out, more attractions were built. There was a giant golf ball called Epcot when I was older. When I was in high school they officially decreed that one could not see all of Disney on one day, but that two day tickets were available for sale. As I grew through college, and adulthood, the chances of going to Disney were about the same as going to the moon. Worst of all was when the ads came out advertising Disney World…to adults. “Leave your kids…Disney is for YOU, too,” the ads crooned to the Baby Boomer generation. Disney was officially no longer for me, and I resigned myself to the fact that I was never going to go.

As the years went on, I knew people who went to Disney. I personally went to Cedar Point and had a blast on the mind-bending coasters. When I had kids of my own, we took them to Michigan’s Adventure several times, and had good times there. I didn’t understand how Disney could be all that much different from the parks I’d been to, even though there had to be something to make people keep going back. Fast forward quite a few years, after I’d turned 40, after I’d earned a graduate degree, after we’d moved to Florida.

That’s right, we moved to Florida. Disney was no longer 1,400 miles away, it was (and is) 57 miles from my front door. Fifty-seven miles, and about a thousand dollars for a family of six to get three-day passes to Disney. Far too much money for us when we were still getting settled. So we got a year-long pass to Busch Gardens instead, and visited there several times in the first year we lived here. Busch Gardens was awesome, a total step up from the amusement parks and coaster parks I’d been to before. The different areas were themed, with music and architecture styled to their own region – much better than rides dropped on concrete. And I really didn’t understand how Disney could be better.

And then we went. I am 42 years old, and I went to Disney World for the first time in my life three days ago. I “get” it now. I had no idea that anyplace could be so consistently fun for such a wide range of ages and interests. We were there when the gates opened at 9am, and we were there until the fireworks at 8pm, and we didn’t have a lame minute the entire time we were there. The attention to detail, the cleanliness, the friendly “cast members,” all made every aspect of the park amazing.

At a park like Busch Gardens, which is no slouch, there is awesome theming, and music and plants and rides…and then you walk for a half-mile through boringness to the next themed area to get to the next ride. At Disney, EVERYTHING is interesting to look at, to hear, to smell. Even walking from one place to another is a feast.

As a father, it moved me almost to tears to see my little girls so absolutely over the moon as they wore their princess play dresses, and characters in the parade bowed to them – Goofy bowed to them. My heart swelled to see them so…HAPPY is an understatement, but I can’t capture just how much it moved me to hear one of my twins yelling “best day ever” as we left.

I could go on, but I would just be glowing about our experience. What I can say is that the hundreds of dollars we spent on 4-day passes for the entire family is money well spent, and we are looking forward to three more amazing days at the other parks of Disney World.

What I cannot understand, or accept, is how my own parents could have so completely missed the mark on this. There were, in fact, very few lines longer than a half hour at Disney. Not only that, but the park makes the lines themselves interesting, by adding activities. When I was young they didn’t offer the Fastpasses that they currently do, but it doesn’t matter. The park was absolutely not about the lines, or even about the rides, really. It was about my children being totally, 100% ecstatic, awestruck and full of wonder the entire time we were there. How could any parent who could afford it — and I understand not being able to afford it, because Disney tickets are outrageous — deny their children the chance to feel that way, even for one day?

Days like this are a double-edged sword for me. I feel like we as parents have done something right; proud; so happy for my children. Yet, I also feel a growing sense of resentment that my own parents denied me so many chances to be a kid, when I WAS a kid. The more things I can do for my own children, the more things I realized my parents could have done for me…and didn’t.

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