The True Magic of Disney (It’s Not What You Think)

For six days, my family and I happily succumbed to the Walt Disney World brainwashing machine. Actually, the inculcation started well before we arrived at Disney – it began the day I booked, continued with email and snail mail missives in the weeks leading up to the trip and didn’t end until we stepped off the Magical Express bus (not to be confused with the Hogwarts Express train) at the Orlando airport to catch our flight home.

As fun as our voluntary subjugation was, however, the best part of the vacation for me had nothing to do with Disney or Goofy or Winnie the Pooh or princesses and everything to do with an impromptu self-imposed social media ban.  More on that later. First, some reflections on the land of Mickey.

Disney Castle
Cinderella’s Castle Viewed From Swiss Family Robinson Tree House

When we made our travel plans a few months ago, I told the girls that this would likely be our last family trip to Disney until we’re grandparents. A Disney vacation is not a relaxing vacation. Full appreciation of the place requires at least a couple of early mornings and late nights, miles of walking, lots of sweat in the humid Florida heat and reservoirs of patience that neither my kids nor I possess (my husband, happily, does not share that particular character flaw).

Disney Carousel
Magic Kingdom Carousel
Disney Small World
It’s a Small World

Going to Disney World is an out-of-body experience. It’s the Vatican of Americana – a city-state that attracts acolytes by the hundreds of thousands.  During our stay I often felt like I was under an immense dome, shielded from the real world by saccharine colors, dreadfully cloying music, manufactured happiness and fictional characters come to life. And let’s not forget the small Potemkin villages that characterize Animal Kingdom and the World Showcase in Epcot, erected to give the masses a sanitized nibble of what it would be like to visit exotic lands in Asia, North America, Africa and Europe (South America is mysteriously absent).

Disney Minnie Mickey

The parks and hotels are immaculate. The cast members are friendly and helpful. Our dining reservations were always honored on time.  Disney remains the undisputed master of minimizing the torture of line-waiting through the use of whimsical and clever displays in the rides’ labyrinthine pre-boarding zones. The topiaries at Epcot are charming. The fireworks and parades were just as impressive this trip as they were when we first took the girls six years ago.

Disney Epcot Fireworks
Epcot Fireworks
Disney Pete's Dragon
Pete the Dragon at Magic Kingdom’s Electrical Light Parade

Yet the Happiest Place on Earth is not without its faults. The souvenirs  – which are everywhere – are distressingly expensive. The food options, while plentiful for adults, are still extremely limited for children, particularly at the counter service restaurants.  We encountered more technical difficulties with the rides than I ever would have expected. And now that you need to reserve time slots for popular attractions weeks before you ever step foot in any of the parks (a development that most Disney aficionados seem to applaud since it enables visitors to spend less time waiting in line), much of the spontaneity that I remember from past Disney trips has been lost.

Disney Tower Terror
Chloe’s Favorite Disney Ride 6 Years Ago Remains Her Favorite Ride Today

As exhausting as our Disney stay was, the week was not without moments of relaxation. We managed to extricate ourselves from the parks on a few occasions, primarily to enjoy the excellent pool at our hotel.  I finally had time to dive into Wild by Cheryl Strayed and appreciated the irony of reading that particular book on this particular trip. For the first time while on vacation, the girls hardly argued. I loved seeing them grin from ear to ear and bond as they sat together on many of the rides.

Disney Chloe Hook
Chloe’s Favorite Villain

Best of all? I discovered that living under the Disney dome had one unanticipated advantage. I did not consciously intend to avoid social media during the vacation. In fact, I thought that at the very least I’d share some photos on Facebook and Twitter, and perhaps write a post for the blog.

But the pixie dust must have been more potent than usual. Once I arrived, I had no desire to stay connected to the outside world. And the longer I resisted posting status updates on Facebook, tweeting about our trip and writing a new blog entry, the easier it became. And the more relaxed I felt. After a couple of days, it was liberating. The vacation felt so retro and old-fashioned!

When I was still a cog in the corporate world, I used social media almost exclusively for fun. My new writing life, however, requires me engage in social media to a degree I never did before. My Facebook and Twitter communities have expanded beyond colleagues, friends and family to include groups of writers with whom I interact on a regular basis to seek and give advice, commiserate and share work.

All of this online activity is rewarding but also time-consuming and stressful. It’s part of my job. And I realized, in between moments of debating the merits of Space Mountain vs. Big Thunder Mountain vs. Splash Mountain with my girls, that since participation in social media is one of my professional responsibilities, I’m entitled to take a break from it every once in a while.

Disney Tinkerbell

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I didn’t realize how deeply entrenched in the virtual social web I’d become. Or maybe I knew it but was in denial.  Yet there I was, galavanting in the Happiest Place on Earth with my husband and my girls, while Facebook and Twitter existed in a land far, far away. I loved taking that break. And my family loved it, too.


Do you consciously take hiatuses from social media from time to time? What’s your strategy?


11 thoughts on “The True Magic of Disney (It’s Not What You Think)”

  1. We just missed you – we were in the Land of Disney the second week of April. They do know how to take care of their guests! But it does make you crave a trip to real Europe, Africa, Asia, anywhere. I thought the food was obscenely expensive, and a few of our meals were actually bad. Only a couple were really good. All in all, though, it’s magical to be there, especially with your family. Hopefully you’ll still be spry by the time you take your grandkids! Not much hope for us on that front!

    1. Hi there! I thought of you all while we were there, wondering if perhaps you’d visited the parks, too. The girls loved being there, especially Chloe. She particularly appreciated the details at the attractions (e.g., the Tower of Terror “back story”) that she was too young to appreciate when we went 6 years ago. Hope all is well with you!

  2. Thank you for posting this! I agree about a social media break. I don’t even have Internet access on my phone, which works for right now, at least. Getting away from computers and phones is a definite vacation plus. Our family went to Disney when the kids were quite young. It is a challenging, fun trip, but there are lots of ways to make it more fun and less expensive. We stayed in an economy hotel, because we didn’t care about having a fancy lobby and fancy room we were hardly ever in. We saw the fancy hotels by booking a couple of dinners at some of them.

    Each time we came back to our room, which was up a staircase with an outdoor entrance like a motel, the kids’ stuffed animals were waiting in our window looking out and the hotel staff would fold the washcloths in cute ways.

    My favorite Disney memory was being at Chef Mickey’s for a character dinner (which was so cute and fun!) and there was a big thunderstorm and we didn’t want to wait outside for the shuttle in the lightning, so we cabbed it back. The rain didn’t let up all night and I loved the adventure of trying to get back to our room and I’ll always remember it.

    My children saved their own money to spend on souvenirs. The shops do have a wide variety of offerings and lots of cute things that are hard to find anywhere else, but we stuck to our limit and bought less expensive items. I bought fancy, heavy snowglobes and stuffed animals on sale online and gave them to the kids when we returned home–less to carry on the plane ride home.

    We loved the food, including the African buffet at Animal Kingdom, which featured unusual foods with exotic spices. The kids weren’t as impressed, but my husband and I loved it. Other highlights were sitting on the floor level (highest price level, but I saw it when I was there at age 9 and wanted my kids and hubby to experience it) at the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue and having the show go on right around us. The food there is excellent, too.

    We requested a table in the front by the aquarium at a restaurant at Epcot and my kids were able to have lunch with a sea turtle. So funny! We had breakfast in the castle with Cinderella and the other princesses, which was so special and I had to book that months and months in advance, but I thought it was worth it. We paid for the food plan, which was mostly good for budgeting purposes. We even wound up not using some of our points, because the kids didn’t need that many snacks.

    The weather can be tough to handle with young kids if you go in summer–even the beginning of June it is sweltering and hardly worth showering in the morning. We would go out early and come back to the hotel and swim, then go out again later. Disney does do a great job of making waiting in line more bearable, even in the sun, by using fans, music and mostly shaded or air conditioned waiting.

    The last day at Disney can be trying, because you check out and then have your luggage with you and several hours before your flight home. By that time, you’re tired of shopping. We put our larger suitcases in storage at our hotel, I believe. I think they have lockers at downtown Disney, as well. On a whim, we spent the day “downtown” and we saw the movie “Up” in air conditioned comfort, which was a relaxing way to end our trip and put our feet up. I had never seen the movie and I loved it.

    I loved that my son was young enough to be willing to wear the ears the entire time–a cute Pirates of the Caribbean Mickey ears hat. We bought my daughter a light-up Mickey headband at the fireworks and parade. That was our latest night and the only night we stayed until the park closed. I had so many cute pictures that I printed lots of them and made albums for the kids right after we arrived home, so they would always remember our trip.

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to share these great memories! It’s definitely a magical place for the very reason that children of all ages (and adults, too) grew up with so many Disney characters. My 9yo is no longer into princesses, but she still has a soft spot for Belle. When she “met” her at one of the attractions and saw her in the parade at Magic Kingdom, her smile was as wide as the sky is bright.

  3. Aww, that’s so sweet! What a nice memory of your daughter and Belle. I loved Disney World when I was little and I’m so, so glad we went with our kids, too. I wish and pray that all kids will get there one day if they want to go, at some point in childhood or later in life, because it brings out the kid in all of us, I feel. Thank you for reminding me of all of that!

  4. So glad you enjoyed the trip! I got it when you wrote that once you arrived, you no longer had a desire to be connected to the outside world. I bet you’re memories are more vivid and more meaningful because you did just that. Thanks for sharing your memories.

    1. Thanks so much, Kate. It was such a silly epiphany in a way – kind of a “of course, duh!” moment. But the social media stuff can be a pressure-cooker, you know? I was glad to leave it behind for a week and my family was glad I left it behind, too!

  5. I love this! I’ve been trying valiantly to cut down on social media. You’re so right, though, it’s become my job. But being away from it is so freeing! I imagine being away from it while at Disney is even better. 😉

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Heather. I find it’s so easy for me to get sucked down the rabbit hole – and a change of scenery was exactly what was needed for the temporary hiatus to work. It was truly awesome.

  6. “The Vatican of Americana”–Brilliant phrase! I have been trying to cut down on social media time while aiming for more quality, but sometimes I get sucked into *all the threads.* So hard!

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