“We did it,” I said. “We visited all the Disney parks in Florida and California.”
My daughter nodded, as we walked toward the bus that would take us back to the hotel and our final night of spring break. This was our third consecutive Disney spring break in as many years, this year to visit the California parks.
“So what’s your favorite Disney ride, from all the parks?”
She pondered before answering. “I don’t know. Maybe — Expedition Everest.” The thrilling roller coaster with a guest appearance from a yeti. Our favorite ride at Animal Kingdom, the one park we visited twice.
The first time she was 8, when she was in third grade. It was her school Spring Break in March, and her first trip to the Magic Kingdom, in Florida. Though she was never a huge fan of classic Disney movies or characters, she was thrilled at the idea of leaving still cold Western New York and going to Disneyworld in warm Florida, and was feeling the magic as we walked through the gates of Magic Kingdom. About a million other families had the same idea and it was crowded and we were just learning the ways of FastPasses, standby lines, and the art of taking photos with Mickey, Minnie, and Chewbacca. But it didn’t matter. 8 is the age when the magic is strong, right in the center of that long, winding afternoon of childhood.
The attractions were pretty magical too. Splash Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Tower of Terror, Dinosaur, Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Expedition Everest, Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster, Star Tours, and Kilimanjaro Safari were some of our favorites. We enjoyed them and the vacation so much we knew we wanted to go back — and we would, the following year.
The second time she was 9 and this time we decided to combine a 2 park Disney vacation with time spent in St. Petersburg and Tampa. We knew we wanted to see Epcot — the one Florida park we didn’t get to our first year — and decided to go back to Animal Kingdom for a second time and also spend a leisurely extra day shopping at Disney Springs, an outdoor shopping and dining complex adjacent to Walt Disney World. At Epcot, we experienced the (at the time) brand new Frozen Ever After, and were blown away by Mission: Earth and Soarin’ Around the World. We also loved the long walk where each section of Epcot represents a different country. Another great Disney vacation: 2 for 2!
A few months later, after school ended and during that summer, we talked about going to Disney once more, this time to Disneyland in California, to see the other two parks. It felt right, and I stored the selection away for future planning.
In the meantime, my daughter was preparing to start middle school, which at her school starts with fifth grade. And middle school was different, with more responsibilities and freedom, and a little less magic. I noticed this early that school year at her September birthday party, which we themed as a Marvel Avengers Superhero party at the zoo. To add to the party, I dressed up as Captain America, one of the Avengers, and made an in character appearance. Two years previously, for her 8th birthday, I had dressed up similarly as Darth Vader to align with the Star Wars theme, and the kids loved it. This time though, while many of the kids enjoyed the superhero gesture and liked playing with Cap’s shield, I couldn’t help but notice some rolling eyes and looks of boredom.
6 months later, we were in California for spring break to visit the two west coast Disneyland parks. Walking through the gates, I saw my daughter’s excitement grow and felt the magic rise.
“Daddy, Daddy!” she said.
But as our California Disneyland vacation continued, I noticed the magic in my daughter not exactly give way, but share time, with primary concerns about her friends, iPod games, favorite songs and shows, and the simple enjoyment of leaving the park early to go swimming under the Southern California sun. The old magic swirled and rose when we were on the attractions, especially Space Mountain (which was closed when we first visited Magic Kingdom in Florida and we rode twice this time), Indiana Jones, the Guardians of the Galaxy tower ride and Soarin’ Around the World, but it ebbed as we navigated the crowds and waited in lines.
“$50? For a sweatshirt? Daddy, this is so expensive.” At 8, my daughter didn’t have as much awareness of money and the cost of goods, but as her interest in clothing and other personal accessories has evolved, so has her sense of value and money. I was happy and sad in the same moment.
On our final day, at Disney California Adventure Park, as we were waiting and basically killing time before we could use a FastPass for the Guardians of the Galaxy ride, I looked over at my daughter and saw an unfiltered face of boredom. And I realized this would be our final Disney visit, probably for some time.
“Daddy, it’s Groot!”
In front of the Guardians of the Galaxy ride, an actor dressed impeccably as the sentient, tree-like creature was posing for pictures with park visitors.
“I am Groot,” my daughter said, mimicking the voice.
“That it will never come again
Is what makes life so sweet.”
— Emily Dickinson