“I’ve never taken you for much of a Disney person.”
This is what my husband said to me tonight as I was explaining how sad I was that today’s visit to the Magic Kingdom was probably the last one I will be able to take before my annual pass expires on November 29.
It’s not that I’ve always been “much of a Disney person” and it’s not that I’ll ever be someone who visits monthly, nor will I ever have the expertise or sufficient passion to be a Disney-centered blogger like A Disney Mom’s Thoughts.
But my relationship with Disney has deepened over this year, and here are a few thoughts on why:
Candlelight Processional, November 2015
Last November, Tenley was planning to visit Disney with friends. On a quick whim, she said, “why don’t you come down for the Candlelight Processional for your birthday?” It was the need to purchase admission to EPCOT for the processional that led to my first ever Annual Pass purchase. (I knew Tenley would be living in Orlando during her College Program January – May of 2016, so it was a pretty safe bet I would be back down.)
There were many great firsts (to me) that trip. First stay at the Beach Club. First Candlelight Processional (with a phenomenal Gary Sinise). First time wearing a “Happy Birthday” button through the parks and being treated like royalty just because I had survived another year on Earth.
Becoming a Disney College Program Parent
What really drove my newfound interest in and love of Disney was the fact that I dug deeper into all things Disney as Tenley prepared to begin her tenure as a participant in the Disney College Program. I’ve never pretended Disney is my happy place the same way it is for her (for the record, New York City is my happy place), but it’s just my nature to try to understand a place that means that much to my child (well, okay, maybe it’s stalkerish but moms just want to know right?!).
When I went to Disney in January to help Tenley move in, I had more firsts. First stay at a Value Resort (Pop Century). First visit to Animal Kingdom. First of the “bigger” kid good-byes (I knew I wouldn’t be seeing her until April).
Customer Service Matters
One thing that has really grown on me over this year is the Disney attention to guest services. It’s certainly not always perfect, but having seen Tenley go through Disney training, having read a lot more about Disney’s 4 C’s of great guest experiences, and having had the opportunity to be treated to magical moments myself, my customer-service heart is just pleased that a company still cares and places a value on excellent service.
I always try to single out at least one cast member who provided fantastic guest service and let Disney know so that the cast member can be recognized. This doesn’t happen every trip (it didn’t happen on the trip I just completed, for example). But it’s a reminder that you should have to work hard and be exceptional to earn recognition.
Having had a loved one work as a cast member, I am exponentially more sensitive to the need to be kind to cast members. I don’t know what percentage of them are College Program participants, but in the back of my mind is always the idea that this cast member, especially if they are a college program participant, may be far from home, may be doing their first real “big” job, probably dreamed of working at Disney all their life. I know the magical awesome guest moments outweigh the bad, but I’ve heard enough stories of guests who are unreasonable and downright abusive that I want to do my small part to outweigh some of that.
By the time our April family visit rolled around, we were all excited to be together. This was my first stay at Riverside, a lovely moderate Disney resort.
We ate, we enjoyed the Flower and Garden Festival (despite the rain!). Together we experienced the final “Dream Along With Mickey” show (if you want to see a Disney character look “sad,” watch them try to work through their nostalgia as they perform the last rendition of a beloved show).
Joy, Sadness, and May’s Visit
Right before Tenley’s College Program ended, she suggested I visit one more time (twist. my. arm!). This was a quick visit, but it gave us an opportunity to experience a little more park time and catch up with some friends who were visiting from various areas of Florida. This was a shoestring visit, but Tenley and I agreed it was more important to be frugal with lodgings, so I stayed at the Clarion Lake Buena Vista which was definitely suitable and offered a generous cast member discount.
Although this visit was almost an afterthought planning-wise, it ended up having a special place in my heart because of the loss of Will, a College Program participant, and the way the College Program parents came together in shared sadness, reminded of what matters most.
Being Able to Come and Go Without Having to Pack All the Magic Into One Day
The best perk of having an Annual Pass was, to me, being able to just “drop in” on a park. When I see guests trying to squeeze an entire day’s worth of attractions, food, photos, and memories into one single trip, I feel sorry for them. I have been able to take in the parks in bite-sized pieces. That first visit, when I went to the Candlelight Processional, my pass paid for itself by the time I stopped by Hollywood Studios later that evening (and saw the Osborne Family Lights for their last year), and Magic Kingdom the next morning.
Bite-sized magic tastes just as sweet on memory’s taste buds as do super-sized helpings. Sometimes even better.
Among the Disney-isms I have discovered, including the Hubgrass (my favorite!), the Hidden Mickeys, and all kinds of little traditions, I realized that I had never been to the Park Opening Ceremony at the Magic Kingdom (also known as Rope Drop).
When I participated in the Type A Parent conference at Disney World this past week, I arranged my arrival so that I would be at the park in time for Rope Drop on the first day. It helped that the conference was at the Contemporary so I could easily walk to the Magic Kingdom.
I am not sure what it is about Rope Drop, a happy start-of-day ceremony, that brings tears to my eyes, but I was fighting back sentimental tears as the train pulled into the station with Mickey and the family of the day. I loved the final line of the ceremony:
LET THE MEMORIES BEGIN!
I realize that when I walked away from the Magic Kingdom today, it probably wasn’t the last time ever. I know I should just be grateful for all of the memories I have made this year and the time with family, friends, and pixie-dusted adventures.
I guess the memories which began last November will never really leave me.
Like this sweet little girl I saw Wednesday, when I need a break from reality, I’ll just get up on my tiptoes, think about a distant castle, and allow my heart to smile while expecting something happy to be on its way.
Thanks, Disney. It’s been a great year.