We spend months planning and thousands of dollars to get here.
Countless hours disappear while we comb over websites hoping to find the very best information so we can make our trips as close to perfect as possible. We study books. We install apps. We join discussion boards. We forego Hawaii and the Bahamas.
What is it about this place that makes us all a little crazy?
The Griswolds made this pilgrimage famous years ago in National Lampoon’s Vacation. They set out in search of
Mickey Mouse Marty Moose with high hopes of achieving the picture perfect family vacation. Catastrophes happened, lessons were learned and a great Aunt perished en route. Was it worth it? Clark would agree that it was.
In today’s world, we are challenged to preserve innocence and to find goodness. Simply put, Disneyland provides exactly that. The original Magic Kingdom allows us to escape real life and for one brief pause in our busy over-scheduled routines, we get to live in the moment with our children.
We spin in a teacup, ride gentle boats through small worlds, dip down in the sea to find Nemo and brave thunder mountains.
And, we return to do it again and again.
I often read (and surprisingly enjoy) entertaining posts that poke fun at Disneyland and people like us who return to Disney parks seeking the magic. I don’t understand the need to criticize us for our storybook obsession, but I do enjoy a snarky commentary. So, carry on haters. You’re just less people I have to worry about getting the last Matterhorn Macaroon in the park when I visit.
I watched Saving Mr. Banks recently and enjoyed it a second (or third?) time. It got me thinking. What if Walt had not kept that 20 year promise to his daughters? What if the story of Mary Poppins had not been told? What about all of the other stories?
Would the world be alright? Probably. But, it wouldn’t be quite as colorful.
I sit in the park now once a week watching people walk up and down Main Street in the morning. It’s such a joy to witness these tiny fragments of peoples’ lives spent in what will likely be a place they will remember forever. I watch them walk in and out of the Market House for coffee, starting their day with such noble ambition. We’re all Clark Griswold during that initial walk down Main Street toward the best day ever.
Morning moves on and the crowds thicken a bit. I see tiara-clad little girls adoring princesses, offering up autograph books with hopeful eyes. Little boys look to super heroes for power, strength and courage. Teenagers fumble with their phones, posting to Instagram and occasionally even put the devices away to join their families.
Meanwhile, a family poses with Mickey Mouse on their first vacation. Space Mountain lines build. (You can’t not ride Space Mountain.) The Matterhorn whisks people through an icy mountain, giddy with laughter. Little ones fight Zurg with the help of Buzz Lightyear.
A thousand smiles all at once arrive when the parade starts. Popcorn kernels burst furiously, filling the air with that salty aroma, as we wait in anticipation for our favorite characters. The music is just loud enough. Anna and Elsa appear and it’s almost too much for our little daughters to take in. Fathers look down to see their joy and everything all at once clicks – this is why we do this.
This is why we come to Disney parks.
Finally, my favorite time of the day arrives. Sun sets over Tom Sawyer Island and I watch it from a park bench while people decide on dinner. There’s a fresh hope that arrives with nightfall. It’s an entirely new park as the lights come on slowly warming the lands through the eventual Southern California chill that creeps in with the dark.
Break out the glow sticks! Everyone needs a necklace. Fantasmic! will arrive soon. Let’s make one more trip to Fantasyland for the dark rides. We can’t miss Snow White.
Fantasmic! thrills everyone and Mickey wins the battle over evil. With tired feet and now sleeping children in strollers everywhere, I wander through a more empty park now and notice small details that I haven’t in previous visits. Where is the Halloween tree again? I wonder when the cats will emerge to keep the rodents at bay, in the house a mouse built.
I walk back down Main Street now, noticing someone in the chair I sat in 12 hours before. I hope she’s had a good day. I wander through the candy store and into the Emporium because I have to each time I visit. No purchases for me today, but I see people buying coffee mugs, t-shirts and refrigerator magnets. They’ll take them home to Connecticut, Alabama and Australia because holding a small piece of the park makes the visit last a little bit longer.
Life is all about grand gestures. And, while Disneyland is not for everyone, I encourage those who have the means to take kids – young and old – to see the magic firsthand. Don’t wait until your children are “old enough”. Go now. I encourage you to go without children if you’re able. I encourage you to get to Main Street as fast as you possibly can. Start planning today.
The years go by quickly, friends. I’ve found they’re much better spent with a churro in hand.