The important thing is the family. If you can keep the family together–and that’s the backbone of our whole business, catering to families–that’s what we hope to do. ~ Walter Elias Disney
Over the Labor Day weekend, I talked to a few friends who are traveling to the “Happiest PLace on Earth” in the coming weeks. The conversation reminded me of some of the best family times we’ve ever experienced there at the house the Mouse built.
Walt’s dream for Disney parks was inspired by his desire to share the fun with his children instead of simply sitting on a bench and just watching with other parents. His vision of creating a safe place for families remains mostly true today, especially at Walt Disney World (WDW) near Orlando, Florida. Our family visits Disney World as often as we can because it’s a place where our family can just be a family. And that’s rather rare these days.
Our Mayberrys are fading, unfortunately. We don’t find many safe places for families to relax and have fun together anymore. Instead, most entertainment seems designed to appeal to one age group or another. Even church often splits us into factions. That can’t be good when we feel closer as a family at Disney World than at most Sunday morning worship services. [ See my post Where Have All the Children Gone in Your Church? ]
For our family, WDW gives us a protected place to have fun together without worrying about constantly censoring most the stuff our current culture throws at us. Profanity is rare, manners are almost always polite, and a spirit of generosity pervades the entire resort (well, maybe not at Downtown Disney on Christmas Eve). Our favorite time of year to be at WDW is during the early Christmas season when “strangers we meet all seem like friends” and greet one another with a hearty “Merry Christmas!” It’s hard to teach that to kids anywhere else — well, except maybe some places here in the South.
Most importantly, we adults can relax, unplug from other responsibilities, and be encouraged to dream big — a dangerous combination indeed.
Safety is the highest of priorities at Disney which allows us as parents of six kids to take a deep, cleansing breath. We still keep an eye out, of course, but we know that if one child gets separated, Disney is ready for that. We’ve lost most of them at one time or another. Disney casts members have always exceeded our expectations to WOW us with their care for our kids. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s because we paid to get in, but it still doesn’t happen in most other places.
The Art of Disney WOW
We’ve experienced their WOW guest service many times, but here are a few occasions:
- On our first night of an extended stay in 2006, we were strolling through Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom just as it was beginning to get dark. As we stopped to plan our next move,our six-year-old son kept walking. By the time we noticed, he was gone. We alerted a cast member immediately who put the word out across the park that a child was missing. Disney watches exits closely for a child fitting the description of any missing kids. A little searching and a lot of prayer later, a cast member found my son by the Tomorrowland Speedway. Not only was he returned safe and sound, but they gave him a Buzz Lightyear spin-toy that lights up. Then all the kids wanted to get lost at Disney.
- On another stay during an especially busy morning at the Magic Kingdom, we were headed toward the Jungle Cruise dock from Frontierland. Suddenly, our three-year-old son started bleeding profusely from his nose. Gushing — more like it. I lifted and quickly carried him into the shade right by the fastpass entrance to the cruise — a trail of splattered blood behind us. Once again a cast member came to our aid. After a few minutes of being unable to stop the bleeding, she called the park paramedics who arrived promptly and administered first-aid. Eventually, they got the bleeding to stop on our brave but terrified son. Unfortunately, his shirt was ruined by the blood. Not to worry. The cast member gave us a voucher for a new Disney shirt of our choice (!!) AND a Safari Mickey toy for our son. He still speaks fondly of that day when his nose bled and he got a stuffed Mickey.
- Lest you think that moms always have fun at Disney, we enjoyed their guest service one day when my wife experienced a very rare but debilitating migraine at Hollywood Studios. It was the busy Christmas season, so the park was packed. (Hollywood Studios is the least well-designed park at WDW, perhaps reflective of Michael Eisner’s confusing term as CEO when it was built.) It was hot. It was crowded. They helped her to the first aid station and cared for her while I took the kids to various character greetings around the park. We only had five then — kids not characters — and she kept the infant with her, so it was no big deal. Finally, they gave her a ride in a Disney van directly back to our cabin at Fort Wilderness. I got to take the other four kids, stroller, and multiple bags back by bus. But I got lots of offers for help along the way. Pretty sure it wasn’t her favorite day and — worse — she didn’t get a stuffed toy! But she did get excellent care.
I could go on, of course, but you get the idea. We visit WDW as often as we can to invest in family memories. We’ve had to get creative on funding the trips and partnering with extended family and friends to make it happen, but we choose to invest in visiting a place where our family can be a family. We try to be intentional about developing a close-knit culture that we hope will define our family for generations to come.
Tomorrow, I’ll share a few of our favorite things at WDW that help make those family memories special.
Have you been to the “Happiest Place on Earth” and how often? What’s your favorite family memory there ? Share your story with a comment.