Experiencing the Disney Magic

Disney World MagicWalt Disney World in the August heat. With my two girls, ages 6 and 2, and a wife who is seven months pregnant.

Friends questioned our sanity.

It was a blast.

Sure, it was hot, and rained almost every afternoon. And we had our (normal, everyday) challenges, including occasionally sluggish kids, disagreements over what to do next, and increasingly frequent tantrums from the younger one. But watching my normally reserved 6-year-old light up in excitement at her first glimpse of Cinderella’s castle and my 2-year-old give bear hugs to every character we encountered, there was no doubt we’d chosen wisely for our vacation.

I’d visited Disney several times as a child, but wow, has the place grown since I last went 20+ years ago! We stayed at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort—one of the newest and the biggest of Disney World’s now-25 hotels (up from the two or three that existed back then). We had a large one-bedroom suite, three swimming pools to choose from, and many fun movie-themed elements all around. It was a full 20-minute drive to the Magic Kingdom, but regular bus service made the comuting easy. (Full disclosure: Our trip was partly paid for by Disney, for which I am extremely grateful.)

My memories of visiting Disney World as a kid are all about rides, more rides, and the occasional parade or encounter with Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck.  And those are all still there, many of the rides virtually unchanged since then. But in four days, we went on only a handful of rides, instead spending our time with that newer Disney obsession: princesses!

Although I’d heard that the place was now thoroughly infused with princesses, I was still surprised at how much the, um, princess-industrial complex defined our experience. And thankfully so, considering my kids were not so excited about many of the rides. For my older one especially, finding ever-more princesses—even ones like Mulan, who she hardly knew of beforehand—was one of the most exciting parts of the trip. Despite the often-long lines, she’s wait her turn, collect their autographs, and take photos with them. We went to a couple of princess-themed meals, and she even had a “princess makeover” at, yes, the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.

Princess Makeiver at Disney WorldI was continually surprised and thrilled at my older daughter’s eagerness to buy into the fiction (what we called in high-school English “willing suspension of disbelief”). If you ask her, she will tell you outright that these are actresses dressing up as princesses, that Rapunzel’s flowing hair is a wig, and that the woman playing Cinderella sleeps in a regular home at night and not in that impressive castle at the end of Main Street USA in Disney World.

And yet, there she was, hugging them and posing for pictures, eager to find the next one and the next one. She, who is usually too shy to speak to adults, would ask them whether they remembered her from an earlier encounter, and at one point expressed hope that Cinderella would recognize her because she was wearing the same clothes as she was earlier in the day.

Between princesses, we did manage to catch some rides and encounter Disney more like the way I did as a kid. My little one loved “it’s a small world,” as you can see in the video below, while the older one took to the calm of the PeopleMover. I’d worried that Epcot would be too older-child focused for them, but they both loved the Journey Into Imagination ride, after which we visited different “countries” in Epcot’s World Showcase .

And me? I loved the Main Street Electrical Parade, the after-dark procession of brilliantly lit up floats and dancers, as brilliant and festive as I remember it. I took my older daughter twice, returning with her to the park after we put her younger sister to sleep to buy snacks and get a curbside seat.

With all the change coming up in our lives—new school year, new baby, even new sleeping arrangements at home—we felt our kids needed a period of extra attention and fun. At Disney, we let them call the shots (more or less!), and mission accomplished.

While there, the  cynic in me kept rolling my eyes at the inescapable, constant invocations of the “magic of Disney.” (When my wife called housekeeping after our younger daughter vomited all over the older one’s bed, the receptionist, following Disney protocol, wished her, “Have a magical evening.”) But seeing my kids’ reactions to all they experienced, it was hard not to use the “m” word.

Yes, it was magical.

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