Welcome Home

My daughter was graduating from high school, in May 2015 and I wanted to travel somewhere special to celebrate. We’d never been to an amusement park and I thought it may be something she’d enjoy but wasn’t certain. I’d been to multiple parks during my youth, Fun Fair Park in Baton Rouge, La., Six Flags Over Texas, The Louisiana State Fair, the Jambalaya Festival Gonzales, La., Pontchartrain Beach in New Orleans, Disneyland, Marriott’s Great America California, and Disney World. I loved every second of my adventures into these imaginative fantastical festive worlds. So many layers to each experience from the variety of visitors, their reactions to their explorations and interactions with others, and the amusements themselves culminated into a unique unreplicable creation all its own. I liken it to a theatrical performance, no two shows are exactly the same, there’s a co-creative aspect which depends on the alchemy between everyone and everything present.

I wasn’t sure how receptive our daughter would be so I did my homework and narrowed it down to either Disney World or Universal Studios. Disney won because we’d watched and sung along to so many Disney animated movies, though Universal and Harry Potter were also high on the list. I researched, went down the rabbit hole signing up for special insider Disney websites like Undercover Tourist, Mousesavers and Disney Tourist Blog to get special discounts, and chose the accommodations after careful comparisons and multiple considerations. I wanted to be sure we could manage it before I mentioned it to her.

One afternoon I knocked on her bedroom door waiting for permission to enter. I hear, “Yeah,” and step in, closing the door swiftly behind me don’t want the rats, Cai and Eva, to escape. My toes sink into the groovy avocado green shag carpet as I scan the sky blue room for the little ratties so I don’t accidentally step on them. Aidan is snuggled in bed under her vivid orange, teal, and pink floral comforter reminiscent of patterns from the seventies. There are random nibbled patches where the white polyester stuffing protrudes, rats like to chew things, bunnies do too. Her pets have chewed through so many headphones and power adaptor wires I lost count, thankful for Amazon as a speedy and reliable replacement source. She looks up from her laptop, her clear blue eyes gazing at me inquisitively. I say, “How would you like to go to Disney World as a graduation present?”

Her eyes widen, her jaw drops, she inhales audibly as she leaps up exclaiming, “What?!” I am floored by her palpable excitement, I’m laughing by then as she says, “Disney World! I can’t believe it! OMG! Yes! Can we afford it?! Are you sure! We’re going to Disney World? OMG!, Yay!” I was delighted by her response and said, “I’m so happy! I never knew you wanted to go to Disney World!” She said, “Who doesn’t?” Lol, it was settled then, we were going on a Disney adventure!

When we arrived at The Wilderness Lodge Resort, we were bedraggled and exhausted from the long drive from Baton Rouge. As we parked and walked towards the entrance we were serenaded by a chorus of crickets. When we entered the amber lit lobby the scent of cedar and sandalwood washed over us and the glowing warmth of the fireplace, Native American carvings, rugs, totem, and symbols with towering majestic wood construction welcomed us in. It is modeled on the historic Old Faithful Lodge circa 1904 in Yellowstone National Park. At the desk, the clerk said, “Welcome home,” I was taken aback and thought how wonderful!

The kids raced to the room to be the first one to unlock the door with their magic wristbands that connected to all of the choices we made for our Disney experience. The room was immaculate and was efficiently designed to maximize the utility of the space. There were Disney themed decorative touches with particular attention to details. I was thankful for the kitchen and the bedroom, the kids slept on the fold-out couch, which was not ideal, you know how siblings can be, lol, “He’s hogging the bed!” There weren’t a lot of vegan choices at the park then so we made a bleary-eyed desperately tired late-night grocery run our first night so we’d have more options, plus save money.

I was the first one to awaken every morning, I think I was the most enthusiastic of us all, lol. The first morning we rode the pontoon to the park, it was faster than the bus and monorail it seemed. Our first visit was to The Magic Kingdom where we stopped and took the requisite pic with the castle behind us. It was sunny and hot being the end of May in the humid Orlando, Florida climate. I made certain we were sunscreened, sunglassed, and sun visored up. I’d done my homework and we also had waterproof covers for our phones for Splash Mountain or sudden afternoon thunderstorms. I could hear passing guests speaking a smorgasbord of languages, I realized we were at an international tourist destination how amazing! There were moms, dads pushing strollers, toddlers, and grade-schoolers scampering, with happy chatter, skips, and squeals. There were grandmas, grandpas, teens, affectionate couples, and retirees.

We could hear loud speaking and music, then singing it was a live performance at the castle. There were princesses and princes in costume, plus Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy performing on a stage. There was gorgeous landscaping, water features, and flowers everywhere, it was truly magical.

Our first ride was Space Mountain. We waited in a packed line in the neon-lit darkness, the air stale and heavy. It was a relief to finally reach the metal roller coaster train and have a seat. It took off quickly and swooshed in the darkness with some clacking and abrupt, jerky motions and we quickly reached the end, yay! Fun!. The kids liked it but it maybe wasn’t as impressive as expected, that would come in the next few days with The Twilight Zone of Terror, Splash Mountain, Expedition Everest, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the best of all Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster! I adore the photos they took of us on the rides and purchased them all. I have them digitally saved in my files, though I haven’t looked at them lately. I know what I’m doing after I finish writing this!

We also had fun spinning the teacups and the Haunted Mansion was super cool with the special holographic effects and The Pirate’s of the Caribbean was uber-creepy with the animatronics. The Dinosaur jeep ride was kinda lame, lol. I loved Hollywood Studios where they would have actors in the street doing chase scenes and stormtroopers were wandering about, how cool is that? Animal Kingdom was so lush and the food there was the best by far. Epcot was nice too with the international areas. We spent a long time in the Japan gift shop, so much cool stuff, we’re big Hello Kitty, Anime and Studio Ghibli fans. Of course, I had to have a pastry in France, a handsome waiter flirtatiously served me a delicious chocolate mousse delight, ooh la la!

We only had four days but managed to hit the highlights of all the parks, as I said I researched diligently and planned our agenda to a tee. The fireworks were amazing I got all verklempt when Jiminy Cricket sang When You Wish Upon a Star at the end. We were sitting on a concrete ledge against a backdrop of bushes, it had cooled off and it was a relief to sit after our long ambling treks. Everyone was still, quiet and mesmerized, the sun had just vanished, night fell, an awed hush fell over the park as everything stopped while the sky blossomed with sparkles and shooting stars. Oohs and ahhhs swelled in rhythm with the electric sky show. Every so often I’d catch everyone’s eyes so we could share and revel in the moments as a family. We’d connect in knowing appreciative googly eyes of loving life in this spectacular moment.

The electric parade was also fantastic! How cute and clever! I can’t wait until we can go back to Disney one day. We’re closer to Disneyland now. Maybe we can go as a family again after the world settles back into a new configuration of normalcy.

We didn’t go go go constantly but rested at midday. I learned about this tip from reading blogs and thought it was an excellent idea, to pace ourselves. We went swimming at the Wilderness Lodge’s pool which had a fun slide and hot tubs too. I would cook us lunch in our room after and then we’d head back out in the later afternoon, so it saved us from the hottest parts of the day.

We would go to the boardwalk after the park closed and get a bite, browse the stores and one time the boys went and played arcade games while we girls went to Hollywood Studios to ride Rock ‘n’ Roller coaster repeatedly, the lines were short it was almost closing time, exhilarating! I began to believe we were becoming roller coaster junkies! Aidan was so pumped, she got a Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster tee, a special souvenir that would bring back happy memories every time she wore it, for me too. I’d relive that magical time every time I saw her in that shirt. I wish we were back there now. I miss those full nest times so much. Wistful.

It came time to check out and surprisingly we were ready. We’d had our fill, it’s a lot of work along with the fun and excitement! The walking, standing in lines, deciding, all of the energy absorbed in all of the sights, sounds, emotions, physical sensations, the novelty, adventure, and stimulation taxes your whole being, but in a good and unforgettable way.

You’re transported into a liminal time and space that won’t ever be created again, it’s encapsulated in your body, memory, and soul, like magic. In between activities while we were waiting, or riding on the transports, I’d appraise the kids, etching their faces and presence in my heart, making sure they were okay, were they having fun, did they need a break, were they hungry, I hope they’re enjoying this just as much as I, I hope this is a memory that we all carry in our hearts that brings comfort, joy, and connection through whatever lies in wait when we return to our all too real journeys ahead. Where we hear, “Welcome home,” from our magical Disney dream we carry in our hearts, a comforting, heartwarming gift to last a lifetime.

Love and hugs

Michelle Miyagi
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