By Margaret Bishop
Through a fortuitous combination of luck, career and generous grandparents, our family has now made the pilgrimage to Walt Disney World seven times in the last eight years. Now, I know that some of you may view this feat as anything but lucky, but in our little family unit, this accomplishment is one of the few things lending us parents any semblance of rock star status.
As we excitedly made our way down to Orlando for what would mark our fifth Disney vacation, my husband chatted with a coworker that lived in the area, informing him that we would once again be in the neighborhood. “Oh, that’s right,” he replied with understanding. “I forgot that you guys are those Disney freak kind of people.” “No, that’s not why we come,” my husband answered in righteous indignation, but oh yeah, maybe we are those kind of people.
You see the thing that we love about Disney World is that when you visit with your kids, there is absolutely no question that you are on a FAMILY vacation. Everything is designed to lure little eyes to open wide and chubby little hands to clap in excitement, anticipation or, let’s be honest, downright fear. The characters, the music, the crowds…even as we complain down Main Street, wielding our double stroller as a battering ram, we still find ourselves caught up in the “magic.” There is simply no time to type away on a Blackberry when you’re elbowing your way into the Fast Pass line, and who has time for the worries of life when you are booking it double time to make it to the next showing of the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular. There’s so much to do, so much to see, and we’re doing it all together. Even eating meals is an event in and of itself. When you finally secure a table after pounding the pavement in whatever park you’re visiting, there is no way that you are going to rush through your meal. Even more, once you see what you are paying for the hot dog and fries, you will gladly remain patient as your toddler dunks each fry into ketchup with surgical precision because, guess what, that meal had better last!
Even when Disney is bad, it somehow resurrects itself as good in the annals of family history. On one of our first trips to Disney World with grandparents, our timid and reserved toddler would literally ride only the monorail and It’s a Small World. We logged more miles in all four of the Disney Parks simply looking, in the vain hope that there was some attraction that we might board without that look of heart-wrenching panic. And while, at the time, we were doing more cussing than laughing, we have now thanked our lucky stars on every subsequent visit because we are never, ever lost in the behemoth Disney kingdom. We know every shortcut, every ride and every place to go to the bathroom. In fact, I’m not sure that Mickey himself can navigate the parks with the ease in which we travel.
And speaking of Mickey, both of our older two children suffered from the temporary condition of “character terror.” Not only did they not want to be photographed with anyone resembling a life size animal, but they did not even want to be within a 10 foot radius of such creatures. As we all know, this is not a good condition to suffer from when visiting the happiest place on earth. Those wily characters are likely to pop up at restaurants, park gates and even as you wait in line. While “character terror” hit my older son with a force, he had too many other fears, like automatically flushing toilets, to concentrate all his energy on character avoidance. Our daughter, however, had no such other fear distractions.
Around trip number three or four, our previously fearless princess turned into a quivering mass of Jell-O in the presence of ANY character. Good, evil, Minnie or Pluto, Olivia wanted nothing to do with anyone not in civilian clothing. As it happened, we were just celebrating the fact that our older child had started to “enjoy” all that is Disney and, as such, had booked a character lunch at a restaurant in Epcot. Our pictures from that day tell a tale of two diners. Our son is spied happily posing with Mickey, Donald, Pluto and Goofy. Our daughter is sitting on my lap, fists clenched, with a napkin on top of her head. It was not enough if the characters simply ignored Olivia. It was not enough when the waitress stopped them from coming directly to our table and, instead, had my son meet them off to the side. Rather, we had an entire wait staff shouting “NAPKIN” as any character rounded the dreaded corner, so that Olivia could be completely and totally shielded from any unintended eye contact by the placement of a large napkin over her head. Strangely, this tactic worked, and she spent the rest of her meal alternately eating and sitting underneath a napkin much like those early photos of Michael Jackson’s son, Blanket.
I literally could type pages of our various Disney vacation memories, and every single one would bring a smile to my face. I won’t lie and tell you that there have not been moments of Disney travel when my husband and I have bemoaned the impending doom of civilization as our little ones were nearly trampled by a group of turkey-leg-eating, scooter riding, Goofy-hat-wearing visitors from what could have been another planet. But hey, as I wrote that very sentence, I can’t wipe the grin from my face. It’s just another legend to tuck away into what I hope will be our continuing family memoir of travel to the happiest place on earth.
About this writer
- Margaret Bishop and her husband, Matt, reside in Camden, South Carolina, with their three wonderful children (David, Olivia and Thomas) and always entertaining dog, Sugar. In between carpools, Margaret enjoys reading and writing as much as possible.