When you take a trip to the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, you do so for several reasons. You love the rides, but that’s not all. You love the shows and live entertainment, but that isn’t it. You love seeing the nighttime spectaculars. But still—that’s not the only reason you go. In fact, while no other entertainment company on earth rivals Disney, many other theme parks offer rides, shows and nighttime fireworks displays. So what is it about Disney? In a word—experience. Disney World offers a unique experience for every Guest who walks through the gates. And then there is a sense of magic and wonder that takes over and leads Guests to more and more of those magical, memorable experiences—ones they’ll remember for years to come. What kinds of experiences? Ask any Disney World fan, and she will no doubt have memories of various amazing Disney experiences. Here are some that I remember.
10. A miracle on an escalator
My oldest son has autism, which often means that we celebrate things that others might see as trivial, everyday parts of life. Like for instance, riding up and down an escalator. The magic of Disney was at work about three years ago at EPCOT inside The Seas with Nemo and Friends pavilion. My son loves the aquarium and the Nemo ride. And he loved escalators—the ones he watched on YouTube. But he had an almost paralyzing fear of riding on one. But that one afternoon inside Nemo’s house changed it all. He began asking his brother and sisters to ride with him. They would get on the escalator, but he would stay behind. So they’d ride back down and try again. The same thing happened with other family members—until all at once, he grabbed onto the handrail and stepped onto the elevating step in front of him. He did it! For the first time ever, he did it! We were chanting and cheering and celebrating. And he continued to ride up one side and down the other for the next 25 minutes. It was a miracle! Even the Cast Members were riding with him up and down. It was something I’ll never forget. (I love Cast Members!)
9. Two Cast Members with no trading pins
In January of 2018, Disney World was experiencing one of the coldest winters on record, and we Lone Star-staters were there to enjoy it. (Keep in mind that in Texas, we break out the winter coats when it gets below 60 degrees.) The parks were uncharacteristically easy to navigate—many Guests were too cold to stay all day. But two very special Cast Members were not going to let the cold drain their spirits. Kelly and Nicole were assisting Snow White in meeting Guests just inside the gates of Magic Kingdom in the courtyard between City Hall and the Chamber of Commerce. We stood in line waiting to see Snow White, and we got to visit with the Cast Members, who noticed our lanyards and trading pins. They were both new to Disney World and new to pin trading. But since we always carry over 100 traders into the parks we invited them to sort through our pins and take whichever ones they wanted, which they did very graciously. We said our goodbyes and my daughters reminded me that Kelly and Nicole didn’t have lanyards, so they ran to the Emporium and picked out two lanyards, bought them and returned to City Hall to find the girls and give them the lanyards. It was truly a magical experience for us because of the Cast Members’ cheerfulness and joy, and it did this Mommy’s heart good to see such giving spirits in my own girls.
8. Christmastime at Oktoberfest
It was our first ever trip to Disney World in December, and we had no idea what to expect. We had booked dinner at Biergarten restaurant inside the Germany pavilion at EPCOT—my husband is part German and I suppose he wanted to get back to his roots. The food was excellent, but the atmosphere and entertainment were even better. The restaurant is set up to look like Guests are seated outside under the moon and stars. There’s a huge water wheel toward the stage, and a polka band plays music and sings. There’s even a dance floor. Now you might not think of “Silent Night” as a song best sung by a polka band, but they gave a beautiful performance of the Christmas hymn and even invited children in the audience to sit down with one of the bandmembers while she sang. It was very moving—and very memorable.
7. A fear overcome
My oldest daughter has been picketing for riding rights of those under 48 inches tall since she was about 44 inches tall (more about that later), but my youngest daughter has always had an aversion to coasters of any kind. But thanks to the Seven Dwarfs, the girl who was once anti-coaster is now a coaster junkie—and it all began at the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. She took a chance as Daddy took her hand—and she’s never been the same since. In fact, that day, she rode the Mine Train five times, and she went on to ride them all—including Primeval Whirl at Animal Kingdom, Test Track at EPCOT (though not a coaster) and Big Thunder, Splash and Space Mountains at Magic Kingdom. Disney World is the perfect place to fall in love with something new!
6. A castle covered in ice
From the moment I first saw a picture of Cinderella Castle draped in its holiday best, I knew I had to see it in person. I had yet to visit the parks at Christmastime at that point, so there was no way I could imagine all that was in store! That year, we went to Disney World the day after Christmas, but our FastPasses were for attractions at EPCOT. The second day we were there, we visited Magic Kingdom, but Main Street was so crowded that we opted for the train around to Frontierland. All day long, I could only see the spires of the castle from where I was. We didn’t come back to Magic Kingdom until January 2, and I was so afraid the “ice” would be gone. But alas, it was there—to me, more perfect and beautiful than any picture I had seen. It took my breath away—it was one of my Disney firsts, and it will be one of my forever Disney memories.
5. Fireworks in the morning
I had heard the term “rope drop” for years, but thought it was just hype. And the couple of times we tried to get everyone up and moving so we could try to get to Magic Kingdom before opening, something always made us late. But this summer, for the first time, we went to rope drop—I should say we experienced rope drop, and what an experience indeed! I was standing at the foot of Cinderella Castle with my husband, my daughter and her friend, and as Mickey and Minnie and the gang came out to welcome us to the park, I started crying! Yes, actual tears! It is a moving opening ceremony, especially for Disney fanatics who’ve never seen it before. If you haven’t had this experience yet, add it to your bucket list and be sure to check it off on your next visit.
4. Kindness in the midst of something scary
A few years ago, we were visiting the parks. It was our usual yearly pilgrimage from the Lone Star State to Mickey’s house—a cool 2,200 miles round-trip. Because we were such a large group, we had rented a vacation home only 4 miles from the parks. We spent the first day at Magic Kingdom and had a blast! On our second day at Disney, we visited Hollywood Studios, and we were having a great time. We had FastPasses for the 5:00 p.m. Indiana Jones show. We were enjoying the show, but I kept getting phone calls from our nanny, which was strange because she’s a texter by heart. I stepped out of the attraction area and called her back—“We’ve been robbed!” I still remember her shouting. And we had been. A young man had entered our home (and several other homes) and had stolen several things, including 2 big screen TVs, a pair of custom Woody and Buzz ears, a Disney Dooney bag and my husband’s laptop and everything that went with it. But leave it to Disney to add some magic to the situation. The next day, we learned that because we had to leave the park early due to the burglary, Disney was going to comp a day for each of us on our park tickets, which meant that we all got an extra day added to our entitlements. How very generous of Guest Relations! That little dose of magic helped to soften the blow of the events of the previous day.
3. All-we-could-eat cupcakes
We finally did a “cupcake crawl” this year on our trip to Disney World. My two daughters, my best friend, my daughters’ best friends and I set out to eat 10 cupcakes during our time in the parks—except that my friend is gluten-sensitive, so she just took a lot of the pictures. My husband even got into the fun! We started with a Belle cupcake from the Main Street Confectionery. Then it was on a strawberry cheesecake cupcake from Be Our Guest restaurant after dinner. The next few days in the parks brought to our mouths and our waistlines a PIXAR Ball cupcake from the Roaring Fork at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, an Incredibles 2 cupcake from the Trolley Car Café at Hollywood Studios, a Rose Gold Minnie Ears cupcake at EPCOT and a BB-E9 cupcake from the Backlot Café, among others. By Disney’s standards, it was a cheap thrill—10 cupcakes at $5 a throw only set us back $50. (I know, $50 in cupcakes—and that’s if you don’t factor in that I bought every PIXAR Ball cupcake the Roaring Fork had, including the display. After all, it was only two days until the opening of Toy Story Land). But all of us enjoyed the hunt, the pictures and of course, the cupcakes!
2. My six-year-old bargaining with a Cast Member
Once upon a time when my now high-schoolers were but graduated Kindergartners, we took our four children to Disney World for the first time. They are polite, they are kind, they are big-hearted and sweet—even to this day. And one of my daughter Grace’s character traits today was ever present in her back then too—at the young age of 6, and that was her outspokenness. She has always loved roller coasters and fast rides of all kinds. But she could never have imagined a ride like Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith. She was intrigued by the signage outside the attraction—including the upside-down limousine. There was only one problem—at just six years old, she was closer to 44 inches tall—four inches shy of the minimum height requirement. But she didn’t care too much for the verdict from the Cast Member’s measuring stick and therefore proceeded to plead her case with such enthusiasm, you could see the Cast Member’s wish that he could just let her ride. I can still close my eyes and hear her tell the Cast Member, “Look, I just graduated from Kindergarten, so I’m old enough to ride this ride.”
1. Mail from an Imagineer
My husband and I have always been fans of Walt Disney—even though his passing was years before our births. And we are very interested in all things Imagineering. “Imagineers” is a term Walt coined to describe his staff who worked tirelessly—first imagining everything for the parks and then working on the engineering side of bringing those imaginations to dazzling life. In May of 2017, Pandora—The World of Avatar opened at Animal Kingdom and was an instant hit with Guests. The Imagineer largely responsible for leading the team who designed Pandora, as well as the team who designed and created Animal Kingdom, is a man named Joe Rohde. Joe is known for his work at Disneyland, as well as his undertakings with Animal Kingdom at Disney World and the Guardians of the Galaxy attractions at the parks as well. After speaking with Joe’s assistant, my husband was finally going to fly to California to meet Joe in person. We were thrilled—Joe is one of our favorites, along with Tony Baxter, Marty Sklar, Marc Davis and others. Sadly, at the last minute, Joe was called away to one of the Disney Parks abroad and had to cancel. Two weeks later, a package from California was delivered to my husband. Inside the package was a copy of Avatar, signed by Joe, along with a hand-written letter from Joe to my husband, apologizing for canceling and encouraging him to look him up the next time he’s in California. That was a very unique Disney experience indeed.