Guest Post by Janice Nicol
Hello, Grateful Lifers. Trish recently joined me for happy hour cocktails at an SF bar to celebrate my 30th birthday, a few hours before my second celebration destination: Disney World. As I was dashing out to catch a red-eye to Orlando, she left me with a pointed question: what’s it like to kick off a very adult decade in the land of children’s dreams?
I’m reporting back for y’all here. First, know that although I would love to feel the lifelong magic and excitement for Disney’s grand imagination that others do, I just don’t. I haven’t seen a Disney movie since Aladdin, circa 1992. I also don’t have kids. I’m not married, honeymooning, or being proposed to any time soon. Essentially, I’m the Magic Kingdom’s least likely customer. But when my kid-at-heart partner sprung the idea on me a few months back, the destination met my criteria of 1. warm (too much San Francisco fog!), 2. cheap airfare, and 3. somewhere I’ve never been. So, I bought some white cutoffs, borrowed a friend’s metallic gold fanny pack, packed five types of sunscreen, and ventured east.
My boyfriend and I arrived at our Port Orleans Riverside room armed with a park hopper pass and detailed Google Calendar breakdown of our strategy for conquering all five parks in our four Florida days. This plan was bolstered by three apps that algorithmically optimize a park’s itinerary based on live open-sourced wait times. We were ready to conquer the Kingdom in a way no child could. That said, the cast member who checked us in gave me a ‘Happy Birthday’ button -- the ‘i’ in Janice dotted with Mickey’s visage -- which meant that every Disney employee we encountered wished me some variation of “Happy Birthday Princess!.” The ever-supportive BF stood by me as I sported that button for four straight days.
From our first destination, a lazy river loop at Typhoon Lagoon, to the last, one more Space Mountain ride as the clock struck midnight, I loved relinquishing control of my happiness over to Disney. Sure, they couldn’t quite accept my life choices -- I was frequently welcomed as Mrs., despite two last names on the res and visible lack of ring, and I was impelled to open a pretend engagement ring on-screen for four hundred Monsters Inc comedy show attendees -- but the illusion of a simpler world was too lucrative. Life could be sensory, playful, gravity-free.
Still, I realized amusement parks have this way of magnifying your emotional vulnerabilities. While in line for Space Mountain, we watched as a 10-year old boy was belted into the front seat of the “shuttle,” seconds from launching into the starry darkness after hours, perhaps months, of anticipation, then told the ride was closing for unforeseen maintenance. His face melted. Passing through a range of shock, anger, and agony, he finally settled with his hands over ears, his t-shirt pulled up over head, hiding his teary eyes.
For me, this emotional spectrum was all about fear. Adult life is filled with fear in crazy doses, and the stakes are always so high -- Can I someday trade rent for a mortgage? Will this professional decision leverage me into managerial role? Am I late for this bus/train/meeting/appointment/social event/lecture/deadline? Even when the obstacle is overcome or the accomplishment reached, I’m usually still so reeling from stress that I miss the sense of empowerment that drove me in the first place.
Not so in the Happiest Place on Earth. The fear is visceral, short-lived, and you’re guaranteed success. It’s awesome. In one such poignant moment, I stood on the brink of Blizzard Beach’s Summit Plummet -- a water-slide that tips over a 120’ vertical drop to plunge 12 stories down into a crowd of onlookers. I slowly snaked up in line to the top of platform, with each step the wind picking up, the view expanding to all of central Florida, and the slide’s spine growing taller and straighter. My nerves were rattled. Sweaty palms, stomach in knots. Once I had stepped in the little puddle of water at the start of the ride, I hesitated. Down in the park I could make out the speck of a little girl who was waiting to ride what must have been her first water park ride. She stood on the crest of wavy slide with a gradual six-foot drop, but she, like me, was shivering under arms clutched across her chest. Our fear was the same. After I watched her little head pop up from a fizzy white splash seconds later, I crossed my arms and ankles and pushed myself over the edge into an exhilarating free fall.
Sure, the Haunted Mansion is no longer haunted, but the Pepper’s Ghost Illusion is pretty cool. The Beast isn’t real, but I get to delight in the giddy little Belles who are dressed to the nines, waiting patiently to meet their larger, mirrored idols. I’ve traded my childhood ability to suspend reality for the capacity to marvel at innovation and share in the joy of others. This makes being an outlier adult in Disney’s world pretty great -- which is good, since, as long as I’ve got my button, I’ll never age a day over 30.
Editor's Note: My sweet friend Jan is a supremely kind and genuine, creative and playful woman who is impossible not to love within a few moments of meeting her...even Brandon was smitten from day one! She deserved every ounce of joy Disney World could provide. Thank you for sharing with TGL, darling! This was my a-ha moment from your super piece: "Even when the obstacle is overcome or the accomplishment reached, I’m usually still so reeling from stress that I miss the sense of empowerment that drove me in the first place." Spot on, honey. Definite food for thought for me...