I’ve never considered myself to be much of a Disney person. The last time I went to the Magic Kingdom I was 12 years old and, although I had a good time, returning to the park has never been at the top of my list. Disney and their empire seemed a bit artificial to me: fake characters, amusement rides, and more chicken nuggets and French fry meals than I cared to pay for. For the past several years we’ve chosen to take lake or beach vacations with good books in hand and perhaps the occasional paddling of a canoe.
Despite my ambivalent feelings about Disney we decided to plan a trip there. Our kids are at a good age and no naps, diapers, or strollers would be required allowing us the freedom to enjoy the parks without the schedule of a young child. When I mentioned our plans to friends everyone who had traveled there shared tidbits of Disney wisdom from their trip. After the wisdom most said, “You’ll love it there. There’s no place in the world like Disney World.”
To accommodate our trip we saved frequent flyer miles, budgeted our money, and when the big morning arrived we boarded a flight to Orlando. Upon our arrival at the Polynesian Resort hotel staff threw yellow and pink leis around our necks. We checked into our room, changed into cooler clothes, and hit the ground running. For five days we traveled by boat, monorail, and bus between our resort and the main theme parks. In the afternoons we cooled off in the pool and then after a delicious meal headed back to watch fireworks, or the famous Electric Parade, at the Magic Kingdom.
The kids browsed in gift shops without once being told to put something down or not to touch something. The grounds were clean, the floors swept, gift shops stocked, and garbage cans empty. The food was hot, the drinks were cold, and no matter where we visited the Disney staff treated us, and other guests, with kindness and respect. I never once heard an employee say, “That’s not my job”, or “No, I can’t help you with that.” A kind lady at the resort gift shop even put the stamps on my postcards while we stood chatting. In short, the trip was truly, for lack of a better word, “magical”. Disney magic some call it – a place almost too good to be true.
A few short hours after we left Walt Disney World I stood in line to buy tickets to the Kennedy Space Center. In just a few short minutes the gift shop attendant told me that it wasn’t her job to sell me tickets to the space center and she couldn’t understand why she had to do the work of the concierge. At breakfast the next morning the waitress tapped her French manicured fingernails on the table while I decided what to order. To top it off, our room overlooked the roof and air conditioning systems of the hotel. “Where’s the Disney Magic?” my daughter asked. “I think we left it behind”, I replied.
Ask me now and I’ll be the first to admit that this naysayer was wrong about Disney. It wasn’t just the creative way the parks were designed, the speed of the rides, or the choice of food. It wasn’t just the clever goodies in the gift shops or the Disney characters roaming the parks. In addition to these achievements what created the magic were the Disney employees. They staffed our hotel, cleaned the parks, and worked in the gift shops. They cooked our food, waited on tables, and drove the buses. They were all filled with virtues of patience and kindness and they displayed a genuine interest in doing their jobs well and making us, and other guests, feel welcome.
We’ve been home for just a few days now and I can’t quit thinking about our trip. Sure, it was a great time to spend together as a family. We made terrific memories riding the rides and floating in the pool, but what keeps coming back is the way we were treated with basic human kindness. As I embark on our first full week of summer vacation I have a heart swelling with “Disney magic”. My hope is that outside the theme parks I can return some magic to people around me. The Disney employees made it seem easy. All it takes is a touch of human kindness, genuine interest in the comfort and well being of others, and the desire to make others happy in a magical sort of way.