Friday, December 2, 2016

Magical



Sometimes I wonder if there will be a time when my family will want to take our annual vacation to someplace other than Walt Disney World.

Then I realize that it is a magical place, a place where childhood knows no number, where dreams can come true, where comfort comes in many ways, where encouragement is boundless.

Maybe to you this sounds far-fetched. Maybe to you Disney is just a big corporate monster who use impeccable marketing to suck dry the wallets of those who are too weak to withstand the forces that are at work. Maybe Disney is something you avoid on principle, or maybe you think it's just too corny. Maybe you think that the stories that Disney presents are unrealistic fairy tales and you want to protect your children from the stereotypes perpetuated in every Disney film.

Or maybe none of that is you. Maybe you're just indifferent to Disney. Maybe your thoughts on Disney are different than what I've listed or you have no opinion whatsoever. Or maybe like me, you have found the magic at work in Walt's timeless kingdom. The heart of a man who was known for calling his employees to perfection, wanting to make sure that all of those who walked through the gates of his theme parks were able to relax, be or become children, to make the experience worth the money that they doled out at the ticket window.

The first time I went to the Magic Kingdom as an adult I was skeptical. I had only been one other time in my life at 17 years old and the only memory I had was blisters from jelly sandals and getting yelled at by a grouchy dad while clapping at the doll-acrobats with friends as we were stuck on "It's A Small World". At his insistence we arrived at the park for the opening ceremony and we waited outside the Main Street Railroad station, staring upwards waiting for the train to arrive that would signal the opening of the park.
Me at Epcot pre-kids: 2010

As Casey came down the track, as the faces of so many favorite characters came into view, as the early 1900's-era dancers sang out the refrain of "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Da" while Mickey waved to the onlookers below, as streamers and confetti and fireworks came popping out of strategically placed locations - I froze. I watched. I got chills.

They had me at "Here comes Casey comin' down the track..." 

Over the years until we had kids, Steve and I enjoyed many magical moments over the years at Walt Disney World theme parks. Getting close enough to the Illuminations: Reflections of Earth night show at Epcot to feel the heat of the fireball on our faces. Overcoming my life-long fear of heights on the Tower of Terror. Getting giddy with excitement waiting in line to meet the Genie and bouncing like a child when I saw him pop out of a box in the "Move it, Shake it, Celebrate it! Street Party". Inviting friends to join us for trips not once but twice and making memories there with them as well. Discovering the wonderful world of Disney cuisine and making sure we planned our meals around a stop at the French bakery in Epcot.

Then... the kids came. That was when we really started to see what is meant when people say Disney is "magical".

If you want to know what magic is - I mean really and truly - you need to see things of wonder through the eyes of your children. The first time they see Santa in the mall and make your mind up for you about whether or not you'll incorporate him into your Christmas celebrations. The first time they see fireworks light up the night sky. The first time they really understand what happens when they begin to tear back wrapping paper on a birthday gift. The first time they look up at the skies during a snowstorm and let the flakes fall and melt on their faces. The first time they realize they can gain speed on their tricycle by pushing back with their feet and then lift their feet up to let the breeze hit their face. The first time they throw an armful of leaves in the air.

And if you're insane like our family - the first time they go to Disney world.

Meeting Mickey for the 1st time
We thought for certain that the first time our shy guy saw Mickey Mouse he would cling to our legs, curl into our shoulders, and maybe even cry. Instead the first time we stood in a meet & greet line to see the Mouse he stared intently at Mickey, patiently waiting for his turn. As soon as the words "Go ahead, Will" left our lips, he quietly and with determination made his way to Mickey Mouse and opened his arms for a big hug. Tears came to our eyes as we watched all of our little guy's inhibitions melt away and he hugged and got excited for character after character like they were old friends.

Our daughter has never been one to sit still for anything. She's constantly moving, always looking for something to climb or listening for music to dance to or chasing after her brother or imagining something that lets her move about freely. The first time we brought the kids to the "Festival of the Lion King" show, she was completely mesmerized. Her high-gear motor was brought to an abrupt halt as she listened to the songs, watched the "tumble monkeys", stared at the fire-spinner, and was enraptured by the various dancers.

Or maybe the time that Will eagerly ran to Chip & Dale during the "Move it, Shake it, Dance it, Play it! Street Party" and then a day later I had to follow him through a crowd as he hunted down Pluto to dance with him at a holiday dance party. Or when Evie only opens herself up to see Sofia the First, confessing to Sofia that she is "so special" to her, rubbing her arm and hugging her only to politely decline every other character she encounters with an air high-five and a blown kiss. 

Maybe it's the way that chefs treat my 4.5-year-old son like an adult as they talk to him about the foods he likes when they come out of the kitchen to discuss his food allergies with us. Maybe it's the way that cast members treat Steve and I like joyful children when they see us pushing a stroller with napping actual children inside of it.

Maybe it's the excitement you feel when you're picked for the Indiana Jones show or one of the shows in Epcot or one of the participants for the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor show (which Steve has done the first two and I've done the second - twice).

The look on your kid's face when they see the "Eiffel Tower" and recognize it from their monthly "Little Passports subscription, and thank you for bringing them to see it with a look of wonder on their face. Even your explanations of it not being the real one can't ruin that moment as they look and tell you "No, no - that's the Eiffel Tower... it's RIGHT THERE."

This is me cursing myself for not getting an embarrassing
picture of my mother squealing like a child when she saw
Winnie the Pooh. Instead, this is us that day
in front of the Grand Floridian Christmas Tree.

Maybe it's the way my own mother - who had never met a Disney character in her life before she came to a character breakfast with us - squealed with delight when Winnie the Pooh and Tigger walked into the room. And the way she casually dismissed it later like it was "just excitement for her grandchildren" and laughed when I called her on it. And the way her face lit on on the way to said breakfast when she saw Cinderella's Castle for the first time from the monorail - because the wonder of Walt Disney World knows no age limits.

Or perhaps it's the customer service. The way a cast member will chase you down with a full bucket of popcorn after you spill your almost empty one or they give you 2 "FasterPasses" and $10 on the rare occasion when you've been let down by their service or when they see that you're getting frustrated on the phone with an airline so they give your kids tiaras/hats/stickers to entertain them or when - just because you were nice to them - they ask their manager to give you an uber-FastPass to be able to do a kid-switch on a popular ride without waiting in line.

Or the way you feel the first time you watch that opening show at the Magic Kingdom with your kids on your shoulders, hoping they can feel the magic as the fireworks explode after the countdown to open the gates.

Even going to one of their local ice or stage shows is a sight to behold, with costumed characters' mouths moving, perfected choreography, and making sure that Disney Magic is accessible to those around the country who may never have the opportunity to make it to one of their theme parks. The faces of the children when Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and the rest of the Disney favorites come out from behind curtains and wrap the audience in their favorite songs, stories, and fantasies of the Disney "universe".

I get it. I get that whatever Walt Disney's original intents of the experience provided to his customers were may or may not still be there. I get that Disney overcharges you for waters (but let you bring your own into the parks) and the price of park admission is incredibly high and that you can get Disney t-shirts so much cheaper at Walmart, Target, or JCPenney. I get that they seem to be taking over all of the things with their hands in ABC, ESPN, Star Wars, Marvel... etc.

And I honestly don't care. 

THIS IS MAGIC! Pure magic!
This last trip, my kids who normally either get incredibly excited for or politely decline with an air-high-five interactions with characters both physically recoiled at the sight of the boisterous Drizella (one of Cinderella's wicked stepsisters) bounding around the room. "Mom! I don't like her! She's MEAN!" my son declared - loudly. When she reached our table, I ran interference and quietly said to the actress "The kids are nervous". She nodded, looked at the kids, put her hands on her hips, and declared "Well! It's a good thing I'm good at this!". She toned down her volume, gently approached the kids, gave me a hug, and went on her way.

Normally when this has happened at a breakfast - usually with Evie with a character that has come up behind her - the character actor/actress has given the child space and does not return to the table.

Not Drizella. She kept making sure she stopped at our table every time she walked by. She talked with the kids, checked in with them, asked if they'd seen Cinderella, made sure she was near us when the Prince walked into the room, and by the time we were ready to leave she had Will out of his chair on the floor with her checking out the knee-length bloomers she wears as part of her costume, comparing them to his shorts. Evie was even willing to give her a real high-five by the end of the meal.

Disney Magic.

I subscribe to it, I believe in it. On small levels like imagining at home in princess dress or watching movies with microwave popcorn to large levels like watching your kid melt into Cinderella's eyes when she asks if he will give her a kiss (then yelling at his 4-year-old self for the missed opportunity when he doesn't).

Disney... please... take my money. Thank you for using it remind me of the childlike parts of myself. Thank you for creating nostalgia and joy in the heart of my husband. And thank you for helping my kids uncover and grow parts of themselves with every interaction.

Here's another $20. Just take it for existing. Seriously.

(Disclaimer: No, Disney did not pay me to write this post. They didn't ask me to - I'm not a famous blogger, I have an average audience of 80-100 reads per post - and they don't need to. Enough people buy into what they're selling on a daily basis that people like me write about it anyways. Would it be nice if they saw this and invited me to a Disney Bloggers or Social  Media event - sure - but it's not likely to happen. Let's be honest. Maybe they'll send me a coupon for a free Tsum Tsum or something though... nah, that won't happen either. Free Dole Whip? Churro? Mickey ice cream bar? No? Ok, I'll stop now.)