They Call it “Magic Kingdom” for a Reason

When I was a kid, my Sunday night ritual was to watch The Wonderful World of Disney. I begged to go to Disneyland, but for my family, going to California was the equivalent of interplanetary travel. I didn’t get to Disneyland until I was an adult in the mid-1970’s, and, boy, I took advantage of being at a conference in Anaheim. Back then you had tiers of tickets, and each tier would let you into progressively more rides. I went all out and got a ticket for every ride. And there I was, the only adult without a small child on all the rides (even the tea cup one), but, damn, I had the best time of my life.

Disneyland was, and is, compacted into a relatively small space compared to the sprawling Disney World complex outside Orlando, FL. In that way, Disneyland is cozier and doable in a day. Disney World is almost crass in comparison, reachable only by bus or other transportation if you stay at one of their “resorts” (Disney doesn’t use the word “hotel.”), and even taking one park a day, you can’t do it all. I know. I just spent the better part of six days there.

Disney World, to me, has always represented commercialism, tacky souvenirs, and overpriced everything, not to mention a Pollyanna-ish view of the world that’s stuck in the 1950’s. When Disney bought up a bunch of land near my hometown with the plan to build an American History park (complete with slave auctions in the 19th Century section), I was among those who lobbied against it. Of course, the Disney company had the last laugh. After abandoning the project, they sold the land to developers, and now about a gazillion cookie-cutter houses occupy the space, and the traffic we worried about is 10 times worse.

My previous experience with Disney World consisted of brief visits on weekends while I attended my agency’s management school in Palm Coast, FL. My training schedule put me there each year usually in mid-December or early January. (I know. The sacrifices.) That meant no lines. At all. So, when I decided to accompany the “grandkids” and friends to Disney World the week before the July 4 holiday, I had pretty much decided the time in Disney World was penance to make me appreciate St. Augustine Beach more.

But watching two-point-five year olds’ faces in the “It’s a Small World Ride” or seeing them hug the characters (sorry, “cast members”) with abandon, all my disdain fell away. (Me to Ollie: “Do you think we’ll see Mickey Mouse today?” Ollie: “Mickey is ebrywhere!” I mean, how freaking adorable is that?)

Oh, I hated the crowds. I hated the heat. I hated, detested, abhorred the lines. Maybe Disney pumps psychotropic drugs into the air you breathe to make you conform, but I had a good time. I had a great time. I spent too much money (Disney brainwashing), but it was a once in a lifetime occasion because those three kids will only be two-and-a-half and five months old (respectively) once; this was their one and only “first visit.” I know they’ll be back, probably multiple times, but the first time was, well, magical.

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