My husband has always considered visiting Walt Disney World or Disneyland as one of those things that is a burden when you have kids. Something low-brow to be endured. I've always sort of agreed. It is like celebrating Valentine's Day, American commercialism shoved down your throat. When we told people we were going to Florida on vacation to visit the in-laws, it was always with a bit of an eye-roll that we added that of course we were going to hit Disney World while we were there.
But now my eyes are more likely to tear up at the mention of Disney World, because as corny as it sounds, the day I spent there with my 6-year-old son Cash was one of the best of my life. As we explored the park, he was literally skipping and clicking his heels in the air because he was so happy. We spent more than 12 hours there, and for us that day, it really was the "Happiest place on Earth."
Cash is a very sensitive child so he had very little interest, or really no interest, in the traditional rides. He made a list of the things he wanted to see and the most adventurous ride on it was Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. And he ended up being too scared to do that. The animatronic Buzz Lightyear was enough to make him sweat and the thought of a talking and moving Zurg sent him screaming out of the building. I tried once to coax (OK, carry) him back in but he was having none of it. After that, I decided that it was a day for him and I didn't care what we did. Whenever I called my husband, who stayed at the hotel pool with the baby, he asked whether we had gone on rides like the Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion or Splash Mountain. I know it drove him crazy that Cash refused to do any of that. He kept saying what a waste of money the day was. But I knew differently. I was there. And I was happy to give in to it completely. I giggled with Cash during our three visits to the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor even after we had heard the jokes repeated. My heart swelled with my love for my child as we sang along with the dancing dolls and shouted out the different countries on our two boat rides through "It's a Small World.". I gamely reached into the air with him to try to grab the characters flying at us in the 3D show of Mickey's Philharmagic.
I embraced the experience. We both got Mickey Ears and wore them the entire day. We walked around holding hands and singing "It's a Small World" in falsettos constantly. And we stood in countless lines to meet the characters. I didn't mind because we talked and joked and sprayed each other with our squirt bottle as we waited. And Cash was so thrilled to meet the members of the Disney gang live. He knows at some level that they aren't real but for this day at least he suspended disbelief. So he was on a mission to fill his new autograph book with the scratchings of the big mouse, the dog, the duck, and even a few random characters. I was so glad we didn't waste $20 a head (about $10 for kids) on the Disney Character breakfast at the hotel because all the same characters were available for meet and greets in the park. Although we had to wait in lines, most of them moved fairly quickly. Even Mickey took only about a half hour. And I was surprised at how much time the characters took with each child. They didn't rush them through. With every character, Cash handed over his autograph book and then stood for a few photos. And then the characters still were up for a little goofing around (Donald Duck kept trying to take of Cash's Mickey Mouse ears and others offered hugs or high fives) before saying goodbye. I was impressed that when we were looking for a particular character, almost any employee could tell us where he was. And if you go to "City Hall," the clerks can tell you the exact times that each character will appear and where to find them. Cash has been showing off his book to everyone who will take a look. He loves to talk about each signature -- that Mickey had huge hands, that Pluto made a funny squiggle at the end of his name, that Stitch wrote crazy and that Pluto put the book on his nose when he signed because that was where his eyes are, and it was a good platform for writing.
In general, I was amazed at how well the park ran despite the sheer number of people there every day. It was spotless. Every bathroom was clean. The streets were free of litter of any kind. Even at the end of the day, when there was a crush of people leaving, the lines for the Monorail were orderly and quick. And the workers were friendly beyond anything I had ever seen in a low-paying job. At one point, when we were waiting to get my funnel cake (my favorite amusement park treat!), Cash snapped the elastic on his mouse ears into his eye and started crying. But when the woman behind the counter asked him why he was crying, he sobbed, "I wanted chocolate ice cream." He had seen someone get vanilla ice cream and had just asked me if they had chocolate. I didn't know and we were past the ordering counter. The woman smiled and said, "Well, I can get you some chocolate ice cream!" and briskly went to the ice cream machine and handed Cash a towering bowl of swirled chocolate ice cream -- for free! She just wanted him to smile again. Because, as I said before, it IS the Happiest Place on Earth.
Although we had to get up the next morning at 4 a.m. to catch our flight home, I refused to listen to my husband when he said we should just tell Cash that we couldn't go to the SpectroMagic Parade at 9 p.m. We had looked at the Disney World website so Cash knew about the parade. I knew it would be a long time before we visit any Disney park again and I didn't want Cash to miss the incredible glowing floats. It did not disappoint. I had never put Cash on my shoulders before but that was the only way for him to get a good view of the parade at first, so had someone hoist him up. Sweat was literally pouring down my face and body as I struggled under his 42 pounds. But it was worth the effort as he pointed and shouted out descriptions of different floats. And as the crowd thinned, I let him down and we made our way to the front row. But the real thrill came when the last float went by and they opened up the street behind the parade. We quickly jumped into line behind the floats and marched in the parade as its tail past the hordes of people still lining the route to the castle. It was truly magical.
We then sat down on the street for a spectacular fireworks show over the castle. Cash has a special connection to the castle because it is modeled on Neuschwanstein, King Ludwig's castle in the small German town where his grandfather Jeff (my dad) lives. We spent two months there when Cash was four, living in an apartment with a view of the castle. Watching the brilliant display over the castle was the perfect way to end the day.
However cheese-ball it is, there is nothing more magical than seeing your child experience the wonder and delight that I saw on Cash's face the entire day.