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Surrendering to the magic of Walt Disney World

Updated: Jun 14

A view of Cinderella's castle.

I was not expecting Magic to be part of my marriage.

I knew I loved my husband. I knew he was who I wanted to share a life with. We didn’t have a fairy tale wedding, opting instead to marry at the courthouse like a couple out of an old movie – or later copied by Carrie and Big in the Sex and the City Movie.

But marriage became a space where I learned who I had really committed myself to, a practical man who is a sucker for the magic of Walt Disney World.

I was not prepared.

He was a city reporter and studied economics in his spare time. He was an obsessive sports person. But in the first few months of married bliss, he started planning our first trip to Walt Disney World.

I had never been. I had considered my Disney window closed. I mean, I grew up deep in the country. We were from farming stock. Taking long vacations was not a habit our family practiced. When I was in college, I met young women who loved Disney, still watched Disney movies, and had Winnie the Pooh T-shirts that they slept in. They believed in fairy tale weddings and prince charming, watched romantic comedies, read romance books, and eventually got magical proposals in magical places from their soon-to-be husbands, which half would become ex-husbands.

Also, and let’s be perfectly honest, the whole princess thing seemed a little frivolous to me at the time. I was not a princess. I was too old to have obsessed over Ariel and Belle. I liked Cinderella, but the glass slippers sounded painful. But I was also a kid who watched Wonderful World of Disney, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and watched all the Disney movies with my sister, baby cousin, nephews, and more. I wasn’t completely jaded; I just thought it was a moment that had passed for me.

But low and behold, the man started whirling his big brain, and he’s telling me – not asking – but telling me to put in a week of leave because we are going to Disney. And added the guilt trip of “it’ll be our honeymoon.” Fine. Off we went.

The ladies I worked with at the local coffee shop were more excited than me. One told me that she was certain that I would cry the second I laid eyes on Mickey. I told her to go on believing that if she pleased, however, I would not be brought to tears over anything as trite as Mickey Mouse. I am glad I didn’t bet any money.

We stood there at the rope drop and a trail pulled out in front of the Magic Kingdom. Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Donald welcomed us to the park. Then they played, “Main Street USA” on the loudspeaker and I sobbed like a fool.

I decided it was a fluke, but I embraced the experience. We took many photos. We asked characters for autographs. We purchased merchandise. At Epcot, we drank around the World. At Animal Kingdom we watched the Festival of the Lion King, and again I wept. We stayed at Port Orleans Riverside resort and used Disney transportation for everything.

The cynic in me wanted to say it was something in the water, something piped into the auditoriums, something nefarious had taken hold of me. Nope. I was just having a childhood experience as an adult. I embraced the magic.

My take has always been, Disney is great, but I am not going to be those people who wear matching shirts.

On the next trip, we wore slightly coordinated T-shirts.

The trip after that, I started collecting stuffed Mickey and Minnies.

The trip after that Minnie ears.

The one after that, we started pin trading.

The author in shades and Minnie ears

Somewhere along the line, on one of our many trips, I wandered away from our group and sat alone outside of Stitch’s Great Escape in Magic Kingdom, and I watched the groups of people passing by. I contemplated writing a story about a couple getting a divorce in the middle of the Magic Kingdom. I wasn’t mad as much as I was hot. And I noticed a group of teens dressed like pirates. All the things they wore, they had assembled from home. They were a little goth, all purple and black clothes. And they were happy. Possibly the happiest little teen pirate goths in the world. At an age when most teens are surly, angry, depressed, anxious, sexually active, and possibly drug-addled, they were happily traipsing across Tomorrowland.

It is literally the happiest place on earth. How is that not magic?

And every year when my husband asked, “Where do you want to go on vacation?”, my response is “Disney.”

The magic of Disney is not the rides or the animatronics – honestly, I find them creepy – but the fact that for the duration of our stay, I am not thinking about anything outside of Disney. It is one of the few places where I am completely surrendered to the vacation.

I’m an overthinker. And a worrier. And a planner. I manage many things. The fact that W. is on the spectrum means that I am watching to make sure he doesn’t get too stimulated. Behr derives pleasure from pushing W.’s buttons, which means I have to manage his little brother's shenanigans. I am often the person in charge of driving the family vehicle– navigating traffic in Atlanta is my thing. And I am also checking in on my students who are often needy or confused. I sit on committees. I am managing my social media. I meal plan. I’m checking in on friends who have their own nonsense they’re dealing with. And also, I am a writer who plots and plans entire worlds and dramatic scenarios for fun. I always have a lot on my mind.

We just went back to Disney this past weekend, and when we were there, I put my iPhone in Vacation Mode. I set up a Focus specifically for the trip which kept me from getting any messages, phone calls, or alerts from anyone who was not in my traveling party. Everyone else was on mute.

I also surrendered to the person who planned the trip – my husband. I spend my whole life planning and managing. He loves planning vacations – especially Disney vacations – so why not just let him? He made all the restaurant reservations and I found something to eat there. He planned the order for all the rides. I rode the rides. He made time for shopping and pin trading. I did that, too. People in our group would ask me, “What are we doing next?” and I would reply, “I don’t know. You gotta ask CD.”

And if that’s not magic, I don’t know what is. For me to turn off my brain for multiple days is a feat in and of itself. I am too dazzled, distracted, and enthralled to worry about anything.

Two Shakey Jamaicey Iced Coffees

Naysayers will say: Disney is expensive, and hot, and crowded. Yes. Nothing but facts. There were screaming children. I paid $10 for an iced coffee. A woman walked past me pushing a stroller, leading her crew to the restroom, and through tears, I heard her tell them all, “No! It’s not okay!”

But there were also girl gangs in matching Minnie ears. I spotted big familys wearing matching T-shirts for someone’s birthday celebration. There were other Disney World nerds talking trivia on the monorail. Tiny princesses in full regalia – tiaras, gowns, gloves, and tight hairdos – sashayed around the park. People held open doors and stopped runaway strollers. Crowds cheered for daytime fireworks. And people held their Disney snack of choice up in the air to get the perfect Instagram shot with the castle in the background. I overheard two senior gentlemen swapping stories about bringing their daughters to Disney and now coming with them for their grandchildren’s first trip.

How can you not be romantic about Disney?


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