Last year, I spent my 40th birthday at Disneyland. It. Was. Magical. This year, I spent my 41st birthday at Magic Kingdom. Once again, magical. My parents say I’m a kid at heart. They joke (although they’re mostly serious) that I love Disney more than my girls do. I do love it, and I hope to instill that same love for the magic of Disney in them.
We went to Disney as a family when I was 11, and it was probably the greatest vacation of my childhood. It helped that it came right after my Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis — it allowed for some excitement and fun in a time that was burdened with blood sugars, insulin, and figuring out what a pancreas actually was.
My love for Disney began long before our first trip. When I was very young, I had very dark hair and very pale skin, and I beamed whenever a stranger compared me to Snow White. She instantly became my favorite princess. I loved all Disney movies and begged to visit the park. Our first trip was a dream come true.
We went again when I was in middle school, this time with my best friend, my cousin, and my grandmother, making new memories and having new adventures. We even went on a Disney cruise with my aunt, uncle, and cousin. I went again when I was in college — this time with friends. Each time, there was something different that pulled me in — from characters, to rides, to pool fun, to park magic. I’ve always loved Disney in some shape or form.
Many people are disenchanted with the post-pandemic Disney visit. I see countless complaints on the Facebook travel pages I belong to: people complaining about housekeeping, cast members, costs, a lack of a dining plan, etc. Don’t get me wrong. Disney is definitely expensive, and I know I am privileged to visit as often as I do. (I also really wish they’d bring back that dining plan, because it was clutch.)
But the other stuff — the “loss of magic” that so many complain about? I don’t see it. I see cast members working as hard as they can to accommodate guests who aren’t always kind. I see college kids working internships, making magic however they can. I see characters hugging kids and signing autograph books. I see fireworks and light displays like no others in the world.
As an adult, I’ve actually grown to love Disney more — for what it is to my girls. There’s something about the way their eyes light up when they see a beloved character, whether it’s Pluto, Goofy, Cinderella, or the big guy himself, Mickey Mouse. They are always in awe. It’s a moment of pure love, excitement, and joy.
We’ve been to Disney in all its stages: pre-pandemic, in the middle of mask requirements for all indoor locations and rides, and now, during this post-mask “new normal.” Each visit has had its own magic. The masks didn’t prevent us from enjoying the moments. Greeting characters from a distance provided its own sense of wonder. But now that the hugs are back, the smiles are definitely broader.
The adventure of the parks is also a reason I will continue to return. Rides based on favorite movies and featuring characters, twists, turns, drops, and shocks create new excitement for me and my girls. My youngest loves “It’s a Small World” and “Dumbo” (which she lovingly calls Jumbo, since that was his original name in the film). My oldest loves “Soarin'” and the “Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor” — she even made her way onto the big screen of Monsters Inc. during our last trip!
My favorite thing about the rides is that they challenge my girls to try new, scary things and get out of their comfort zones (safely!). It’s so fun to see them conquer a fear like the Kali River Rapids or the Haunted Mansion. I use these opportunities to remind them that they are braver than they ever thought they could be.
My most favorite part of Disney, however, is the make believe. For me, it really is magic seeing my girls dress as their favorite characters. This year, my girls dressed as Princess Jasmine and Snow White for our fairy tale lunch at Cinderella’s Castle on my birthday. They were absolutely glowing as cast members greeted them by their princess names and complimented their outfits. On another day, we traveled around Epcot as the Madrigal sisters — my girls enjoyed our group costume as much as I did.
Yes, it’s hot. Yes, my kids throw tantrums. Yes, they want every item in every gift shop. (Rides often end and exit through a gift shop in order to promote those sales.) Yes, there is yelling. There is bickering. There is sweat. And there are tears. But to me, any vacation is what you make of it. I can complain about how expensive Disney is. I can complain that I have to wait in line. I can complain about the weather.
Or I can enjoy myself in a magical place. To take in what is around me. To watch my daughters revel in the fantasy and push their limits. And to create memories that will last a lifetime.