A trip to the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’

BY VICTORIA GRANTHAM  |  We planned Victoria Grantham meticulously… or so we thought. When my husband and I decided to take our two kids to Disney for the first time this spring we did the requisite research, polled friends with kids the same age, mapped out the day-by-day agenda on the “My Experience” website, downloaded the app, posted to the HRPMamas board for advice from veteran park goers and more. I asked so many questions that one friend ordered me a book for Disney first timers and mailed it to our apartment. (A very nice gesture, but the subtle/not so subtle stop asking me so many darn questions message was received.)

We strategized about the best time of year to go and decided on mid-April — post-Easter and post-spring break— based on the number of Mickey ears on one obsessive fan’s website. The fewer ears (and people) the better.

Before we left I told my five-year-old that Walt Disney World’s alternate name is The Happiest Place on Earth. He promptly responded with, “How can that be? Does Disney control people’s feelings?” Hmmm. Astute question! After reading an article about Disney’s ubiquitous technology — big data via small wristbands — I was a little wary and a lot curious myself.

In spite of our collective low-grade skepticism, we were giddy with anticipation before we left. A whole week off! The Magic Kingdom! Epcot! Even our two-year-old got in on the action. “Mickey Mouf! Poofy!” he shouted excitedly on a loop. (Translation: “Mickey Mouse! Goofy! Get my butt on a plane already!”)

The night before we left I asked my husband — who’d booked the flights— which airport we were flying from. “Newark,” he responded without hesitation. I felt no need to fact check. Mistake number one. When we arrived at Newark an hour before our flight, the kind airline representative gave us a pity-filled look and informed us that we were about 35 miles off course since our plane was scheduled to depart from J.F.K. Huh. I heard there are people who do this, but never thought it would be us.

When we finally arrived in Orlando (8 hours later), we were exhausted and took what we thought would be the path of least resistance. We signed up for the luggage service so my husband could relinquish his bag hauling duties. We filed onto the Magical Express bus: a misnomer if there ever were one. It made seven stops before pulling up to our hotel and the luggage service took six hours instead of the promised three. We got our belongings after we were asleep.

Though we got off to a rocky start (and there was more rockiness, to be sure —  note to self: don’t take toddlers on the Pirates of the Caribbean unless you want to address the resulting P.T.S.D.), the story of our trip to the Happiest Place on Earth has a happy ending. Eventually we got in the groove and re-adjusted our plans that we’d apparently made for the Stepford version of our family rather than the actual version. For example, the fantasy of us arriving at the park the minute it opened and beating all the other slow pokes was never going to happen with a family full of late risers —  we just had to acknowledge and embrace reality.

For me the lesson learned is that the more idealized and anticipated a thing is – it’ll be so grand! The vacation to end all vacations! – the more it’s bound to disappoint. Ultimately we had a fantastic trip and my kids are lobbying for us to relocate to Orlando permanently. But for me the best moments were the small ones: when our two-year-old identified a duck as a pigeon. (Whoops.) When my older son took his brother’s hand and the two of them ran across the lush green grass in front of the hotel, linked together and laughing. When my baby said, “I did that!” proudly after riding his first junior rollercoaster. When the boys learned to jump into the pool together in tandem and celebrated with high fives and exaggerated dance moves afterward.

All this to say that I think I’m realizing that Kurt Vonnegut had it right when he wrote, “Enjoy the little things in life because one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.”

Victoria Grantham, a writer and communications professional, is raising her family in Tribeca.

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