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Finally having the chance to love Walt Disney World

In celebration of Walt Disney World’s 45th Anniversary, the WDW Radio Blog Team members are sharing their Walt Disney World “love stories” about the moment they became lifelong fans.


 

Growing up, Walt Disney World was this mythical, magical place that only existed for me in the world of daydreams. Every summer, my friends and classmates would go to Disney World over summer break and would come back recounting their tales of how many times they went on Space Mountain or Splash Mountain. It always turned into a contest, one kid trying to outdo the other with their stories. Going to Disney World was something the “cool kids” did. I would hear their stories and just smile – secretly crying inside, because I knew going to this extraordinary place was just something I would only know in my dreams.

For me, going to Disney World was out of the question, no matter how many times I asked. I grew up with a single mom and lived in a house with my grandmother and aunt who needed constant medical attention. Living in a house with one income meant every penny had to go toward medical supplies, insurance bills, nurses coming to the house daily, household bills and food. There was no extra money – ever – and certainly no money to go to Disney World. As a child, you don’t understand the concept of money. Now, I understand; but back then, to me it was just a matter of “Why can’t I have what everyone else has?” Whenever I asked if we could go, my mom would always say “Maybe next year…” but what she really meant to say was “I wish I could take you, but I just can’t.” As an adult, I can only imagine how heartbreaking it must have been for her knowing she had to deny her only child the one thing she wanted most.

Because of that, my love of Disney grew. Since I couldn’t go, I felt like I had to keep up with all my friends, so I would watch Disney movies, watch Disney cartoons, read anything Disney-related (mostly the Disney Adventures Magazine; anyone remember that from the ’90s?). I was always into art, so I would draw Disney characters all the time; I had Disney posters in my room; and I remember thinking as a young kid that when I got my first job, I’d want to work at the Disney Store in my local mall. I would chat up the employees every time I went, get the Disney Store Catalog and would always start to make my Disney list for my birthday or Christmas. Getting that Disney Store Catalog was a big deal for me!

Fast-forward to college. I was still fascinated by Disney, but it had subsided quite a bit. It had actually become a place I started to become cynical of because being unable to go there had haunted me for so many years. After grad school, I met my husband, Sean, who – wouldn’t you know? – is a huge Disneyphile, just like me. His family would take trips there almost every year. He would tell me stories of what it was like when he was a kid (EPCOT Center opened on his birthday) and all the fond memories he had. I would always ask him, “Why do you go to Disney World all the time? I mean, there are so many other places to see – why keep going back?” He explained how great it was, and it was something you almost had to experience (way to rub salt into the wound, LOL!). But then he said something I thought I would never hear. He said “Why don’t we go?” I almost said, “I can’t” as a reflex, but then I took a minute to really think about it. I was working, making money, so I hesitantly agreed, only because I was so used to hearing and saying “no,” and now I was saying “yes.” It was so strange to me.

My first trip to WDW was in 2007, and that was the first time I fell in love with Walt Disney World. I wasn’t even at the park yet when I fell in love. The moment we landed at Orlando International Airport, we didn’t have to grab our luggage, and the Disney Magical Express picked us up – that’s all it took. At that moment, I got it. I got why people kept coming back. In all the months of planning, reading guide books and watching planning videos, nothing could have prepared me for that trip. I honestly couldn’t even grasp the enormity of the place, and I just had no idea what was in store for me. That trip was fun but overwhelming at the same time. I had waited my whole life to go there and had placed it on such a high pedestal that actually being there, seeing, touching, smelling, tasting this “thing” that had become somewhat of a myth was an overload for the senses. I also got overwhelmed because I had no idea if I’d be back, so I felt like I had to do everything, which we all know, you can’t do.

I fell in love with WDW three more times since then: the trip we got engaged, our honeymoon, but quite possibly, the trip that will forever go down in my mind as the best ever was this past May, when I got to take my mom! Talk about a full-circle moment.

As an adult, being able to take her – someone who has sacrificed so much for her family, often putting herself last – was an indescribable feeling. This was her first vacation in 15 years. Now, she’s dealing with mobility issues, and I knew that was a trip we had to take, now. I’m not quite sure I know how to explain what it was like to take a person whose heart broke every time she told me “Maybe next year…” and to be able to share in that magic with her. It’s hard to put into words.

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For her, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we have memories that will last a lifetime. She cried at everything! She cried when she got to the airport in New York, when we landed in Florida, when the Magical Express crossed under the entrance sign on the highway, when we met Mickey (of course – and I’ll never forget the expression on her face when she saw him for the first time). Every little thing brought on a flood of emotion. She was experiencing what I felt the first time I went, and to be able to witness that is something I will never forget as long as I live. We made a shirt for her to wear that read “I’ve waited 73 years for my first visit” (which, I know, is not exactly date accurate, but she was 73 and had never been). We bought her Mickey ears, got her a first-time pin, the whole nine yards. The Cast Members made every effort to make her feel special. Between stickers, certificates, making instant friends in all the queues – guests saw her shirt and that started the conversation going (which got her crying).

That is what I love about Walt Disney World – all the priceless memories that are always made there, and I can’t wait to see other lifetime memories we get to make in the years that come.

(Photo from the author’s personal collection.)

Felicia and Sean“New Yorkas” Felicia and Sean are avid Disney fans.  Their first vacation as a couple was in Walt Disney World.  They were engaged there, and also honeymooned there.  After a combined 30 trips to the World, they are self-professed Disney travel agents and enjoy helping family and friends plan magical Disney vacations.