It has been seven days now since the Walt Disney World Resort closed its theme parks, and I cannot wait until the day I get to go back.
Now, I’ve had the privilege, in my young life, to travel all over the world. I’ve gone as far east as Ephesus, Turkey, as far south as Aruba, as far west as Maui, and as far north as the Arctic Circle. I’ve seen Phantom of the Opera on WestEnd, celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, gambled in the Casino de Monte Carlo, climbed the Rock of Gibraltar, witnessed the start of the Iditarod, and jetskied through the Bermuda Triangle to name a few.
So far, I’ve visited over 25 nations and territories, over 30 U.S. states, and three Canadian Provinces, and I’m in the midst of planning trips to the Arctic, South America, and Africa over the next five years.
But no matter where I go or where I plan to go, I always have to come back to Walt Disney World. And out of everywhere else in the world, it’s the one place I miss the most and the one place I wish I could be right now.
I get there is more to life and more to travel beyond going back to Disney World, and my friends ridicule me constantly for choosing a fabricated world over “something real.” And I understand why they view Disney in such a negative light. But to me, a trip to Disney World is not the same as the other adventures. I’m not choosing one vacation over like they see it. I’m deciding between going somewhere new and going home.
A Home (Slightly) Away From Home
I was born and raised in Tampa, Florida, about 60-90 minutes of I-4 driving from Walt Disney World. My parents gave me the Disney bug by taking me there before I could walk. We were annual passholders since before I can remember, packing our own lunches and taking countless day and half-day trips on the weekends or whenever I was out of school.
Disney World became the setting for several birthdays, family vacations, and holiday celebrations. (Nothing beats EPCOT’s New Year’s Eve Celebration.) I went with friends and made friends with Cast Members. Even some of my relationships began and ended in front of Cinderella Castle.
But I took it all for granted, as most regulars do. I skipped out on fireworks and parades to take advantage of short wait times, and skipped out on now-extinct attractions thinking “ehh, I’ll ride it next time.” When I left for college in 2012, I spent seven years away from the magic. Four years in Mobile, Alabama then three more years working in Ft. Myers, Phoenix, and Miami.
Sure, being back in Florida offered some opportunity, but work kept me away most of the time. And the distance did take its toll on me. So, whenever I got a chance to go back, I saw it as what Walt intended an escape from today to a world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.
Escape and Inspiration
School, work, and the distance did take its toll on me. Like being separated from Neverland, this lost boy began to grow up and not in a good way. I became more serious, more jaded, and the ridicule for liking Disney made me hide it.
Each trip to Disney became an escape. And it still is an escape to this day. I can let my guard down and be my goofy self again. Don’t get me wrong, jamming out to country music on the way to a dive site or a fishing trip will always make me happy. But nothing beats Disney karaoke while you’re heading east on I-4.
That hour-long drive acts like a filter where I can let go of the work, drama, and trouble of real life. I get to ease into Hakuna Matata and by the time I board the monorail at the Transportation and Ticket Center, I am able to say “I had strings, but now I’m free. There are no strings on me.” At least, for those few hours.
Now that I am back in Tampa and have an annual pass once again, I still turn to Disney for that escape. Sometimes I don’t even do anything. I’ll hop a few rides, grab a few drinks and just relax in the moment with my family and friends.
Days at Disney World also became a source of inspiration for real life. I wanted–and still want–these makeshift adventures that I experience there to inspire the real adventures I’m going to take in my life. Each experience at Disney World is the ultimate call to action. Every time I visit Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, I’m reminded of my dream to one day visit Tonga to freedive with humpback whales. Every time I ride Expedition Everest, I’m pushed to keep planning my own expedition into the Arctic.
I’m that guy who practices his French with the Cast Members at EPCOT’s France Pavilion. I don’t buy the fake mission patches in the gift shops because I want to go earn a real one. I need the ambiance of the Magic Kingdom — from the smells of Main Street U.S.A. to the Happily Ever After Fireworks — to remind myself that I can achieve my dreams and I can beat the challenges in my way.
The Best Resort Complex Ever Built
But romanticism aside, there does come a point where you have to decide between vacations and while I can see people going around the world to exotic destinations instead, I can also see why they choose Disney. Because there is no better resort complex on the planet. One company bought a landmass the size of San Francisco. It had the foresight to create its own cities, and state districts in order to control what gets built on and around the property, and provide some of the best public transportation systems in the country.
Walt Disney World boasts incredible restaurants, some of the most technologically advanced attractions, and some of the most immersive experiences in theme parks today. And they have so many experiences that I’m still finding new things to try for the first time! Its cleanliness is unmatched. Its customer service considering how many guests it takes per year is astounding. I look at Universal, Busch Gardens, and others. While they have some cool rides, there is a lot missing. They still fall extremely short from the Disney Standard.
Disney World actually offers an escape from reality and a return to what it was like to be a child. And there is a certain level of magic that you just can’t deny that hits you as soon as you cross underneath the entryway.
I can say, without a doubt, that Disney has helped shape me into the man I am today. I will be ready to get lost in that magic once again as soon as they open.