My Disney experience began at a young age. In fact, I don’t even remember my first two trips to Disney. I went once before my brother was born, and again when my brother was 2 years old and I was 4 years old. From my second trip, I do know the stories that my mom has told me, and I’ve seen the photos of my brother and I wearing matching homemade outfits. Somewhere my parents may even still have the VHS of the Easter Parade from that year, because we just happened to be at the magic kingdom the day that they were filming part of it! You couldn’t see us, but you could see the balloons that we were holding! Those were the days where the Magic Kingdom was really all that was going on at Disney. Epcot had been built and opened, but didn’t draw as much of a crowd as it does today. Hollywood Studios (Back then MGM studios) would open later that year. Even though I don’t remember much of my early Disney encounters, I am very thankful for them- because of them I grew up loving Disney.
The first time that I remember going to Disney was when I was in 6th grade. My 6th grade teacher, a very generous woman, was retiring and wanted to go out with a bang. Now most 6th grade classes go to outdoor ed., our teacher decided she was going to take us to Disney. Now our very generous teacher had quite a bit of Disney Vacation Club Points accrued and decided to share her points with the class and essentially pay for our hotel stays. The rest of the expenses were up to us. Our teacher, being the amazing educator that she was, decided that we shouldn’t just fundraise to offset the cost. Fundraising has little educational value. We were to team up with other classmates and run businesses. The experience of running a business as a sixth grader was something that I will never forget. I valued that trip to Disney so much because I had worked so hard for it! Our business, “The Florida Bound Candy Co.,” sat at craft shows every weekend peddling our chocolates. We would get together in the middle of the week to dip chocolate pretzels, and make suckers. We worked very hard, but in the end, I had enough in my bank account to not only pay for my fees to Disney, but my mom’s as well.
The day came for us leave for Disney. Our entire 6th grade class loaded up onto an Amtrak train and made our way south. Our teacher took over an entire car train and made it into our mobile classroom, after all it was a school day and we were going to continue doing our schoolwork. 28 hours later we arrived in Sunny Florida where the learning continued. We followed our teacher around like a little flock of ducklings all through Disney (extra time spent at Epcot for its educational values) and made memories that I will never forget. We were able to spend time at the different resorts, and at the time all 3 theme parks (Animal Kingdom was not yet opened). I would never trade that experience for the traditional sixth grade field trip in a million years. We learned the importance of earning money (which made us all less frivolous when spending it) but more importantly to me, it deepened my love of Disney.
Fast forward 3 years to my freshman year of high school. I was now in marching band, and you guessed it, the band trip was to Disney world! This trip, while still a little hazy in my mind, was a lot more special to me because I got to spend the trip with some of my closest friends. In fact, the friends that I hung out with in high school I am still close friends with today, and we reminisce on occasion about that trip. We marched in a parade, and for the first time I had the rare privilege of seeing a “backstage” area at Disney. We also got to work with the Disney staff and play “A Whole New World” and have it synced up with the movie. We learned a lot that day about how music for films is produced and used. When we arrived in April of 1999, the newest park at Disney had just opened- The Animal Kingdom. We were some of the first people to ever visit this park. While animal kingdom is not my favorite park at WDW, it is still neat to think that we were there during it’s first week of being opened. This trip not only deepened my love of Disney, but taught me that Disney is even more special when you share it with people that you care about, and are able to do something you love.
After this trip it would be 8 more years before I would have the opportunity to return to Disney. This time was with the band again, but I was on the other side of the fence. I had such a passion for music in school that I decided it would be my career choice. After graduation in 2006 with a degree in Music Education, I was fortunate enough to gain employment at my alma mater. The band trip was once again to Disney. I for the first time saw Disney through the eyes of an adult rather than a child. However, I soon realized that when you’re at Disney, it is the attitude that you choose to have that can change your experience. When I am at Disney I am just a big kid. It’s a magical place, where dreams come true. Once again I fell more in love with Disney world, and learned that you don’t have to be a child to love Disney. My next goal was to bring my soon to be husband to the Disney parks!
My husband and I were married about 3 months after that last Disney trip. We were newly married, and had gone through job changes. A full Disney vacation was certainly not in our price range, however, my best friend was getting married in Florida and I was NOT about to miss her wedding. When checking flights I noticed that flying into Orlando was much less expensive than flying into Sarasota. This became exactly the excuse that I needed to get my husband to go to Disney for the first time. He was a little skeptical, so I made sure that I picked my favorite Disney park- Epcot. While I love all the Disney parks, Epcot is by far my favorite, and I knew if I wanted to hook him that Epcot was the place to do it. We only had one day in the park, but that was all it took. By the time we drove to Siesta Key, my husband was already trying to figure out when we could potentially go back to Disney!
We were able to go back to Disney the following year for two days as a pitstop on our way to the beach. We went to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. The following year Disney offered a promotion where if you did 8 hours of volunteer work you could earn a free Disney ticket. For us that was a no brainer! We volunteered at the Habitat for Humanity restore, and bam, free ticket to Disney. We decided that year to share a condo with our friends at the beach, so once again we were looking at one day at Disney. I tried to convince my husband that we should check out Magic Kingdom because he had never been there, but his love of Epcot and the World Showcase brought us back to Epcot once more.
In 2011 I finally got my husband to the Magic Kingdom. I ran my first marathon ever in January of 2011 and they ran a special promotion for “Marathon Monday” where anyone who had completed the marathon would receive a free park entrance. This time it was my accomplishment and my choice- we were going to the Magic Kingdom. My husband for the first time was able to experience the magic of Disney. Epcot and Hollywood Studios are special in their own way, but the Magic Kingdom is the magical place where you truly become a kid again. I then had a full blown Disney fan on my hands. We were laying by the pool after our day at the magic kingdom, and my husband and I were already planning a trip to come back that summer. This and our summer trip to Disney (where we were able to not only visit all of the parks and spend some time at the water park) solidified that we were a Disney Family.
We have since traveled to Disney an additional two times, and made the trip out to Disneyland once. We will return to Disney in two weeks, where I know the magic will continue.
Many people will say that Disney is a people trap set by a mouse. To me it’s not a trap, it’s a way of life. Disney is a magical place, where dreams come true. Disney is not just a park, it is the reality of Walt’s dream. When you step into Disney World, you are stepping into the reality of one man’s vision, a vision where families can come together. If everyone had a little bit of magic in their life every day, I think the world would be a happier place.