Keeping the Magic Alive…When it Lives in Your Backyard

As I discussed in my history of Disney obsession, I came to love Walt Disney World the way most kids do, on a family vacation.

Display of plush at Magic Kingdom
Display of plush at Magic Kingdom

Part of what makes it so magical is that you are leaving your comfortable surroundings; you are venturing into another world, and when it’s over, you go home and pine away for a time when you can do it all over again. But what happens when you are raised in an environment where you can go to Disney World every weekend, or if you really felt like it (and gas prices didn’t cost an appendage or two), every day? Does it become less magical? Do you become spoiled by what is no longer in a kingdom far far away, but happens as often as “we’re going to the mall, kids“?

After we all retired our Cast Member name tags, we purchased annual passes and still went pretty much every weekend. Sometimes we’d just go for lunch or dinner and not even go on a single ride. When my first son was born in 1999, we had been living in the Orlando area and been park regulars for the past 4 years. It seemed only natural to head to the opening of the Asia section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom when he was 3 weeks old. We got several stink-eye looks from wizened old grannies that always have advice to offer new parents “He needs a hat!” “He needs booties!” “He needs more blankets!” (yes, even in Florida, you get told to add layers!). Many asked “How OLD is he?!” and when I answered “3 weeks” I did so with the disclaimer, “Oh, we just live down the street, it’s not like we’re here for a 10 day vacation.” That seemed to satisfy them a bit, although I’m not sure why I cared to explain myself – we were at Tower of Terror one time when a mother was getting quite irate with Cast Members for not being allowed to bring her six week old infant on the ride. Yes, really.

So our firstborn grew up getting wheeled around Disney World until we sold our house and moved back to Massachusetts (a long story, but basically, we had a child and both exclaimed – “We can’t possibly raise a child in FLORIDA! We must return to Boston, to history and culture!” – We were back in FL within 6 months). At that time, I was pregnant with our daughter. She was born in Massachusetts, and we did indeed return to Florida 6 months later. She too, was wheeled around Disney World like her brother had been. Of course at 2 years old and 6 months old, they were too young to remember what they experienced anyway, but we had fun. Cue a few more moves, and we didn’t really return to Florida to live until 2003.

Before that, back in 2002 we had one wonderful, crazed visit where my husband’s parents, brother and his girlfriend, and the 4 of us in our mini-van all drove down to Orlando from Boston. The kids were then 3 and almost-2 at the time. Just the right age to enjoy most everything and be get that wonderful look of awe on their faces that Disney inspires. Of course they were also amazed by South of the Border on the trip back home, but…we’ll let that slide. It was the perfect little vacation so we could all experience what it was like to be a tourist at Disney again, rather than a local. The crazed part came with the super-cold front that rolled in, forcing us to seek out sweatpants and sweatshirts for the kids. My father-in-law got sick so their group went home a day early, and our son got sick as well – he decided to create a whole new appetizer at Canada’s Le Cellier while we waited to order. Ew. Just because that needed to be topped, I got the brilliant idea to adopt a pair of kittens from someone I had met online, so we met them in a Super Wal-Mart parking lot, picked up 2 tiny mewing kittens, supplies for them, and proceeded to drive back home in the now renamed Bodily Function Central mini-van. Despite those setbacks, it was nice to make a whole journey out of the trip and enjoy lots of things we’d missed for years by taking quick day trips.

Fast forward to 2003 when we took up residence again, we went back to weekend visits and trying out new lunch or dinner spots. The kids did not, in fact, lose their wonderment of the Happiest Place on Earth. They both got into pin collecting, and we got excited about what had become our family traditions – Mother’s Day at the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival, October at the Not-So-Scary Halloween Party followed by, ending with of course the amazing decorations for the holidays,

the kids exiting the Wedway People Mover (TTA) in December of 2005
the kids exiting the Wedway People Mover (TTA) in December of 2005

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party with its snow on Main Street, USA, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights (which make me cry each time), and the gorgeous trees in the resorts. We just shared our traditions with several hundred thousand other visitors to The World.

When we moved outside of Tampa in 2005, we visited a little less frequently. It certainly wasn’t every weekend, but we kept the family traditions alive. There was always something new to see, some refurbished ride or restaurant or resort to explore – it never got old. Then last year, I had our 2nd son, our 3rd child.

the newest Disney baby, December 2008
the newest Disney baby, December 2008

We waited a whole 10 weeks before bringing him to Disney for the first time, for the holiday celebrations mentioned above. He did pretty well at the Very Merry Christmas Party, it was me that was pretty much over breastfeeding with throngs of people getting their free hot chocolate and cookies around the park (but I still had fun!). He made it through the special nighttime Christmas parade, and we walked out as the Wishes fireworks were going on.

Since then, we’ve visited a lot more frequently, but I realized something when we had our good friends visiting from California. We had become dependent on the phrase “don’t worry, we can come back anytime”. Any time there was more than a 20 minute wait, or we didn’t want to deal with the baby getting in and out of the stroller, we said “catch ya next time” to a LOT of attractions. We, as parents, were still having fun people watching and having a Disney-quality lunch or dinner somewhere, but as parents know there’s only so much “walking around” kids can do (especially as they approach that fun tween age) before they start to formulate plans for mutiny involving the release of the Sword in the Stone from its imprisonment, on the back of a Disney World napkin as we stop for lunch.

My oldest son is also getting to the point (10 ½) where he doesn’t want to go on ANY rides. Don’t get me wrong, he still loves Disney and loves even more when we take mini-vacations and stay in a condo for a couple of nights. He seems to love the experience of the park, but just doesn’t want to bother going on the rides right now. I’m not worried, I know this too shall pass. I went through a phase when I was that age where I was completely PETRIFIED of the Haunted Mansion. I’d been on it a billion times, I knew it wasn’t “scary” but I still did NOT want to go on that ride and no amount of begging could convince me. Pirates wasn’t much better with all the skeletons. I’m not sure if he’s inherited a bit of that or not, but he’s a kid that begs to see every new horror film that comes out, so I’m thinking no. That is another part of living slow close to the parks – you can, but don’t have to go all the time. I’m sure with a break, he’ll be extra excited to ride all his old favorites.

During that visit with our Californian friends, I made a promise to my daughter that we would go on Splash Mountain next time we came to Disney no matter what. That next time was when we saw the Hall of Presidents preview. We were lucky enough to be gifted some Fast Passes when we were waiting in line, so we walked right on. It was her first time, and she LOVED it. So I decided then and there that we were going to have a Girls Day Out at Disney World. When we got home, I got out our customized Disney maps I’d ordered a year ago when we stayed at Dixie Landings (oops, I mean Port Orleans Riverside), and told her to make a list of all the rides she wanted to go on when we went. She was quite excited about that. Our itinerary is going to involve 3 parks. We’re starting out in Animal Kingdom, heading to Epcot and ending up in Magic Kingdom to go on all the rides there at night. It’ll just be us so there won’t be anyone complaining that they don’t want to go on this ride or that, and the baby will be at home so it’ll be that much easier to get around.

S. at Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique for her birthday, August 2006
S. at Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique for her birthday, August 2006

I think that proves that after all these years and after countless visits, my kids still get excited for the magic that exists only within Walt’s World. Sure, my oldest may be more interested in X-box 360 right now, but I have no doubt he’ll want to get back to Disney soon enough. Living here as given us the opportunities to truly experience all The World has to offer, that we might not otherwise be able to squeeze into a traditional vacation. We’ve been able to see Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba, the boys have rented the watercraft at Downtown Disney while our princess was turned into a princess at Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique. We’ve been able to stroll around Downtown Disney and see the ins and outs of each shop, try new restaurants when they open, go to both miniature golf courses, resort hop and look in the shops or try the restaurants, and do tours at Magic Kingdom. Disney has become like a second home for my children, as it is for the adults in the family as well. Sure, I’d love to be able to take a 10 day vacation on property with the dining plan, but I love being able to pop over for special events or just because I’m in the mood for Dole Whip. That, is magic.

Peter and Wendy playing with our kids on the Magic Kingdom Family Magic Tour, 2006
Peter and Wendy playing with our kids on the Magic Kingdom Family Magic Tour, 2006

And despite the loud parties many nights, I have to say Disney is a pretty good neighbor. Can’t really complain too much. They’re clean, always keep their lawn mowed, and they do have the best fireworks on the block.

  • miah

    Love this!
    I know who i am going to next time I want to Roam Disney.
    Last year when we went, our airline went out of business and we drove home… Yes an 11yr, 8yr and twin 3 yr olds
    The drive was the best family thing we had done in a long time. My kids behaved better on the ride then they did in the hot park…
    My choice is always to hit Disney in the cooler months.. with frost on the ground and heavy fleece sweatshirts by night!
    Glad your kids are Disney Fans! I am and hope mine will be too.
    Never went there as a kid but was amazed at how it was when I looked at Disney through the eyes of my own kids!

  • This is a great article, Zanna! I have seen folks come into the parks with the tiniest of babies, but I always assumed they lived close by. They often have those humongo strollers that no one would ever try to take on a plane or cram into the back of a van packed for a week-long trip. The colors, lights, sounds, smells… all are great for the wee ones, as long as mom and dad are up to it (and don’t have some false illusion that their infant can and should ride TOT! Sheesh!)

    At first, we said we wouldn’t take our kids until they were ambulatory. We ended up taking our eldest at five months. Ambulation is overrated. 🙂

    • I remember before we HAD kids, I always thought “I’m not bringing them till they’re FIVE! That way they can remember everything and go on all the rides!” Well, obviously that didn’t happen. =P There is of course, something to be said for the anticipation and build up of a surprise trip to Disney World that doesn’t exist when it’s an hour away, but I think we make up for it in other ways. 🙂

  • I’m hoping the fam and I can take a trip back to Orlando in a year or two. 🙂