“To all that come to this happy place: welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America… with hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.” – Walt Disney
“WHOAH!” – Every person in a Disney theme park
Disneyland, in Anaheim, California, opened its doors to an awe-struck public on July 17, 1955. The first Disney theme park, nothing like it had been seen before, earning the title of “The Happiest Place on Earth.” The quotation above (the first one, that is!) still greets visitors today. By 1971, the magic had spread to Orlando, Florida, when Walt Disney World opened.
Multiple generations have visited Disneyland and Walt Disney World and, like a living family heirloom, parents want their kids to experience Disney. People around the world having grown up with cherished memories of Disney.
Wait, did I say parents want their kids to experience Disney? That’s true, but I think they also wish to re-live their childhoods, and nope, there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s the power of Disney. Disneyland and Disney World make kids go wide-eyed and turn adults into wide-eyed kids. It’s a devolution, of the noblest kind.
Oh great, now I’m getting sentimental.
They say you always remember your first time. (And whoever ‘they” are, were talking about visiting Disney, right?) I was ten, my brother seven, and boy, were we excited to go to Ottawa! Especially since Ottawa was having a heat wave! My mother had to pack our lightest clothes (clearly Mum gave us too much credit; never once did it cross our minds to think we were going anywhere else but our nation’s capital.) Once we got to the airport however, I was onto those sneaky parents! “We’re flying to Ottawa!” I whispered to my brother. I blame excessive use of banana clips and hair scrunchies in those days for cutting of my brain’s blood supply, oblivious to the “Toronto to Orlando” board we were standing beneath. Before I could notice it, my parents broke the happy news: that we were going to Disney World for the first time! (Much more recently, Flight Centre customers gave a similar surprise to their kids, you can watch the video here.) Our jaws dropped to the floor. We were ecstatic and astounded, a theme that carried on during our days at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center and Hollywood Studios.
By “we”, I include my parents. For years, well, until our return trip there four years later, when new memories were made, Mum and Dad talked about the incredible things we saw– some nothing short of miraculous. The animatronics that were so lifelike, we had to question if they were real. The prehistoric jungle scent that was part of the full sensory experience of the dinosaur ride, vegetation we’d never smelled before, as we observed seemingly real dinosaurs. The delightful world of Figment, Pirates of the Caribbean and the eerie giant squid through the porthole of our submarine in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Thinking back to the wonderment on Mum and Dad’s faces, the joy was mutual.
Disney contributed to my love of travel. I remember trying new food and learning about different countries in Epcot’s World Showcase, where I tasted fettucine Alfredo for the first time at the acclaimed Italian restaurant. Similarly, my friend Julie vividly recalls, three decades later, eating her first ham and cheese croissant at the French pavilion. I could go on (and on and on!) but I’ll continue with my friends’ experiences at Disney, with their heartwarming memories:
“ I was 8. I ‘met’ Alice in Wonderland and we had a lovely chat and I had my picture taken with her. She asked if I’d be at the parade later in the day — I asked my parents and then said “yes” — she said “great, I’ll look for you and be sure to bring you a balloon” — and she did. I was thrilled! Of all the kids in the park — she looked for and found me and gave ME a balloon! A magical moment. (I was oblivious of course to the fact that she gave almost every kid a balloon).” – Lindsay A.
“We went to Disney World when I was a kid. It was 1979 or 1980, I can’t recall, but it was just after the Canadian embassy in Tehran snuck 4 American hostages out of Iran (a big deal at the time, and totally misrepresented in the film ‘Argo’.) Anyways, Disney told us as we were entering the park that, because of Canada’s contribution to the US, it was ‘Thank You Canada Day’, and we got special passes that allowed us to bypass all the lines and get VIP privileges all day. It felt pretty awesome to just show a pass and be able to jump the queues and go on as many rides as we liked all day long. The staff were all super nice to us too, if I recall, as though we’d personally helped out in Iran. We all felt it was a pretty class move on Disney‘s part. The pass was a cardboard cut-out with an elastic string to carry it around our necks, pretty flimsy by today’s standards but we carried them with pride and tried to be nice when jumping ahead of people. Thinking about it now, I wish I’d kept mine, but it’s a good memory regardless.” – Oliver M.
“When I was 20, my parents took me to Disneyland. I was obsessed with the mouse at that point. I was so excited to meet Mickey, and when I saw him nearly jumped out of my skin. But there were so many kids crowding around, and every parent pushing their kid in front of me as I politely waited. Finally, my dad gave ME a push and said, “GET IN THERE!” My dad rode all the rides with me, whatever I wanted without ever complaining or asserting which ones he wanted to ride, just like at every other park we’d been to all my life. And I just took my own son to Disneyland for the first time at his ripe old age of two and a half. If you can just suspend yourself in the design of the experience, it really is something else. And seeing it through his excited, thrilled, sleepy, loving eyes — as he stalked every character for more hugs — was truly magical. #callmesappy” – Tracy H.
“Upon arriving at the park I shouted “This is going to be the best day of my life!” My sister scowled at me and said “No when you get married will be the best day!!” She was wrong!” – Glen C.
“I cried when I met Mickey Mouse for the first time. I was 30 years old.“ – Lani V.
I have several friends who, without having children, visited Disney parks as adults. Some for the re-creation of childhood nostalgia, others for recreation, because they hadn’t gone as kids and felt they were missing out, citing that it was such an intergral part of so many people’s formative years.
Of course, not all children are as fortunate as we are, for financial or health reasons. Since 2003, Flight Centre has proudly supported the Make-A-Wish Foundation® as its chosen charity. Make-A-Wish Foundation® grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions, and visiting Disneyland and Disney World are among the top choices.
Even if you’re not a Disney fan now, all it takes is a little re-connecting to that good ol’ inner child, hard to do normally but easily done at Disney. As Tracy described, seeing it through the eyes of her young son brought her back to her own wide-eyed wonder. And in my humble opinion, I think we could all benefit from a break from our adult lives and enjoy that elusive childhood bliss, if only for a few days.