We were not Disney People.
My husband and I grew up with Disney movies and characters always in the periphery, but Disney was never a passion. We both had Disney ornaments on our Christmas trees as kids (we still have them now), we had our favorite characters, and when our daughter was born, we even themed her room in a mixture of E.H. Shepard and Disney Winnie the Pooh decor. And yet, we were not Disney People. And then one person came into our lives to change all that… our tattoo artist.
I sat in Vinnie’s chair for hours on end as he worked on my full tattoo sleeve, and we talked of many things we had in common like books, music, movies, and artists. Eventually, we’d move into subjects of fanatical interest, and WDW was Vinn’s topic of choice. He spoke so highly of all aspects of the parks and resorts that I started to wonder if we were missing out. Neither my husband nor I had ever had the opportunity to visit, and that had always been kind of a bummer growing up. We didn’t want our daughter to grow up feeling the same way, but we also didn’t know if she could handle such a large number of parks with big crowds and hours of walking a day. So we decided on a compromise.
We had been planning a short trip to Tampa for my birthday, and when I realized WDW was only an hour drive from our hotel, I checked to see if we could book a character dinner at one of the resorts just to get a little taste of what Disney was all about. I managed to snag a late dinner reservation at 1900 Park Fare for Cinderella’s Happily Ever After dinner during our stay. That evening, we hopped in our rental and made our way to The Grand Floridian. I had received excellent directions and instructions from a CM when I called customer service the week prior, and we arrived just in time for our reservation. I’ll admit we were kind of blown away by the resort; it’s simply stunning. We had our picture taken while waiting for our table and were seated quickly thereafter. We spent the next hour or so having the time of our lives. We had never experienced anything like it before. Meeting all of the characters was so much fun. My 6-year-old absolutely loved it, but *I* may have been the person that had the most fun. Honestly, I was shocked.
We walked out of the hotel impressed and in awe. As we made our way to our car, we noticed how pretty and clean the grounds were. We had noticed the same on our drive in. This place was incredible. As we drove back to the highway, we were surprised and delighted to witness one of the fireworks shows starting. Talk about an end to a great evening. It was perfect.
We hit a pocket of traffic about 10 minutes before the exit for our hotel, and while sitting in the jam, we all became quiet. After a few minutes, I couldn’t keep quiet anymore. I had to ask. I turned to my husband and whispered, “Did you feel the magic?” to which he practically jumped out of his skin and vehemently answered with a resounding, “YES!” It was the sign, the Walt Disney World ~ Where Dreams Come True sign you drive under when entering WDW. We had heard about feeling a change when you drive under it, and we had always always always laughed it off. Well, the joke was on us. We jumped into a flurry of conversation about our magical evening and vowed we would be coming back very soon for a proper visit.
And we did just that. The day we got home from Tampa, I booked us a trip for my daughter’s 7th birthday later that same year. We spent 5 wonderful days visiting each park and Downtown Disney for a full day each. Per recommendations from Vinnie and his family, we booked one sit-down meal a day on our trip, most of which ended up being character meals. We stayed at Art of Animation and utilized both Disney’s Magical Express transportation to and from the airport and Disney’s Bus Transportation during our stay. It was the best vacation we had ever had as a family.
Since that trip in 2013, we have been back 4 more times, and we have another trip scheduled for Fall of 2015. We’re even annual passholders this year. We are crazy for all things Disney. It’s sometimes hard for us to believe the people we have become since that first fateful trip. Disney gets in your blood. It makes you live life fuller and laugh more. I can’t imagine my life without it.
~Alicia Banks (a former historical researcher, now stay-at-home-mom and elementary school library volunteer who lives in Connecticut)