I’m enough of a cynic to know that the Disney image is a carefully crafted one. There’s not a thing that goes on in those parks that isn’t designed to evoke a specific response, be it the happy glow of nostalgia or the desire to part with large sums of cash. You set foot through those turnstiles, and you’re part of a machine, with every last bit of magic shot through with more than its fair share of calculation.
I’m enough of a romantic to admit that I really don’t care. I see that sign across the toll plaza and my feet start tapping. I walk up the ramp to the monorail and I start humming. I walked through hallway underneath the train station and emerge onto Main Street and while my brain is telling me I’m being made to miss an era I never experienced, my heart is telling me “OH MY GOD LOOK IT’S STITCH.”
I never fail to get a rush of excitement taking those first steps in the Magic Kingdom. I must have been there nearly a hundred times by now — we were the official host family for the Dickson clan back in the ’70s, as it seemed every long lost aunt, uncle and cousin showed up to stay with us and take us along with them to Disney as a thank you — and I always leave feeling like I should have stayed just a few minutes more. Gone on one more ride. Seen one more show. Just done one more lap around the place.
And yes, it’s different now than when the place imprinted on me. You’re FastPassed and scheduled because a guest in line is a guest not spending money. You’re charged eight dollars for a beer and four dollars for a soda because where else are you going to go? I get that.
But dammit, I looked up at the restaurant windows as we made our turn into the ride proper on It’s a Small World and I was six years old again. I was reciting the narration in the Haunted Mansion as if I lived in the place (and there was a time when I would have given anything to have done just that). I rode the Peoplemover because I’m a Floridian and I’m all about pointless slow-moving traffic. And I stood with a touch of sadness at what had been the halfway point between Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and it felt like remembering old friends.
Granted, I’m lucky. I have an annual pass and live twenty minutes away. My trips aren’t the grim summer death marches of the sunburned Northerners who have to see everything because they may not make it down here again. I don’t have to figure out how to pay for five nights and four parks for four people and still pay the mortgage next month. I get that I have a luxury a lot of people don’t, and if I was out there dropping two grand on pixie dust, the cynic in me might just win out in the end.
Then again, I saw Mickey for the first time in decades, and I grinned and babbled like it was the first. And you can’t put a price on that.