Walt Disney World enthusiasts have been hearing this refrain from incredulous friends and family for some time now; our fantastic and nearly-quixotic desire to visit and revisit a place that is supposed to be for little kids. I couldn’t think of a better topic with which to launch a website about Walt Disney World than to discuss the answer to this question – just why in the heck do we feel so drawn to this place?
For me, it’s ineffable – but I’ll try anyway. Any time that I picture myself standing at the end of Main Street U.S.A. at the Magic Kingdom staring at Cinderella’s Castle, or sitting in the tram of the Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or hearing the screams of riders that just came face-to-face with a giant auto-animatronic Yeti on Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom, or sitting across a small table with my wife at Le Cellier steak-house awaiting the greatest steak of all time at the Canada Pavilion in EPCOT, I get goosebumps. I get a happy, gooey feeling inside, and this feeling is only strengthened when I submerge myself in one of the numerous Disney podcasts that are out there, or, yes – even when I listen to the theme song from “It’s a Small World”. There are few places I’d rather be sometimes than bouncing around the end-car on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, or flying over London on Peter Pan’s Flight, or joining the strangest dinner party [you'll] ever see while sitting in a Doom Buggy on the Haunted Mansion.
Truth be told, the people that get it simply get it. The best way I can describe the feeling, I suppose, is to elicit the feelings that others get when they embark on their dream vacations – whether it’s sitting on a beach in the Dominican, or sipping a latté in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. For Disney enthusiasts like me, a dream vacation means riding through the Contemporary Resort on a Monorail and getting a hug from Mickey Mouse. It may be odd, but hey, it’s me!
At the end of the day, the memories become indelible. I’m sure that the romanticism of Disney World is one of those things that pervades all aspects of a vacation there; certainly, there are frustrating facets to a Disney vacation as well, but the key is to not allow those moments to ruin what should be an amazing and unique experience. You’ll run into poor bus service from time to time, or lost reservations, or getting to a ride queue just seconds behind an obnoxious Brazilian tour group – but, what’s more important – those moments, or lighting up with glee when you get a perfect panoramic view of all of Magic Kingdom only a second before plummeting five storeys while aboard your log flume on Splash Mountain?
The romanticism of Disney World should wrap you up and not let you go for the duration of your trip, because it’s real. A trip to Walt Disney World is supposed to be a retreat into fantasy, magic and the surreal. Walt Disney designed it that way for a reason; he chose the swamplands of Orlando in order to seclude his great park. He didn’t want Disney World marred by highways and skyscrapers, cheap motels and chintzy souvenir shops. He wanted people to become lost in a world of wonder and whimsy, and he succeeded. Within the borders of Disney World, one can confront Heffalumps and Woozles, soar over California, enter the Twilight Zone and go back in time and capture a dinosaur. You can go to outer space on Mission Space, travel through history on Spaceship Earth, or go on safari in Animal Kingdom.
And heck, an adult doesn’t need to worry about being a grown-up at these places, either (well, aside from paying the bills, anyway). Where else can you take a picture with Mickey and Donald Duck, or Buzz and Woody from Toy Story, or Chip and Dale? Where else can you put on R2D2-Mickey ears and fly with Dumbo? Where else can you socialize with Grim Grinning Ghosts?
Very often, even the food is something that can only be experienced at WDW; Dole Whips at Magic Kingdom for example, or the Hawaiian feast of meat at O’hana at the Polynesian Resort. You can jump from lunching in the Beast’s Lair at the Be Our Guest Restaurant to having an authentic African buffet dinner at Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Head over to EPCOT’s World Showcase and you’ll have your choice of meal in places like Mexico, Morocco, Japan or Germany before grabbing a funnel cake at the American Pavilion. And, if you happen to swing by Universal Studios on your trip, shelling out for a cup of Butterbeer at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a must-do before jumping deep into a Shrimper’s Heaven platter at Bubba Gump Shrimp, where your server will test your Forrest Gump knowledge with some trivia questions (note: I aced the extra-hard questions!)
Even the souvenirs are a blast – mouse ears are nearly obligatory, as are the button-evidence of whatever event you are celebrating (birthday, anniversary, engagement, etc.) You can build your own droids – not to mention your own light saber – at the Tatooine Traders store, and happen upon some very Muppet-y merchandise at Hollywood Studios. It isn’t difficult to come away with more amazingly themed mugs than you’ll know what to do with, and pin-trading has developed its own frenzied subculture – someone walking through one of the parks wearing a trench-coat plastered in Disney pins becomes a spectacle. And of course, what child doesn’t love gripping a plush Mickey or Towmater from the World of Disney store?
Back-stories are another great part of the trip – finding Hidden Mickeys, or telling your travel group about how the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was almost a Mel Brooks-inspired ride based on Young Frankenstein. The history of Disney World, as well as the fact that Walt Disney’s imagination often outpaced the technology that existed at the time, have given the place a rich canon that has developed a community of fanatics and devotees that are awed and inspired by the magnitude of it all.
There will always be people that will walk through the gates of a Disney park and hate it all; the pomp, the frivolity, the draining affect the place has on the wallet. There are others that will beeline to Space Mountain and Toy Story Midway Mania and remember everything only as a blur, but will have a good time nonetheless. Then, there are those that will stop and smell the topiaries - err, roses – and do their best to experience it all as Walt Disney would have intended. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, or to have done everything properly while at Disney World, but to me the place will always have a quality that can never be easily defined or universally appreciated. There are certainly personality types more able to get into the spirit of all things Disney, and love the place for what it is – a home away from home.