Bryon and I first visited Disney in 1996. It was, coincidentally, the year I also went to Japan on a scholarship tour, so it was a good travel year all around. We decided we were going about six months in advance, and in order to count down, I drew little Mickey heads on each day of my calendar.

The Wonderful World of Disney had been a staple of both of our childhoods. Most likely hokey by today’s standards, and to some extent a prolonged infomercial, Disney showed us theme parks and creative, magic vision.

Now, I know. I know that many people dislike Disney. They see Disney as sort of a sell-out, or not so visionary, or corporately evil. It’s not my intent to step up and defend Disney. Disney does questionable things regarding copyright. While they have had low creative ebbs, they’ve also been incredibly innovative at other times. I can see the pluses and minuses to the company.

All that said, no one does theme parks like Disney. I’ve been to a few, and there’s no other experience like it.

When we went in 1996, we did the grand tour. We stayed on property at Caribbean Beach (Disney has moderately priced and value priced resorts, as well as the more expensive and traditional ones).

Because I’m the kind of person who saves what I like best for dinner to eat last, I methodically planned the trip so that the Magic Kingdom was at the end. I also figured that as an adult, I would no longer be as interested in the Magic Kingdom as the child in me was.

We visited Disney Studios first. It was a small park with a few interesting attractions, most obviously the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The evening we arrived, we were hit with a furious thunderstorm. We stood under an umbrella together and watched fireworks. It was really something.

The other park to visit was Epcot. Epcot was very interesting. As someone who enjoys travel, I knew I’d like the World Pavilions. The other features were a little dated, but they were fine.

Coupled with visits to shops and restaurants, Disney was a fine vacation. Before the Magic Kingdom piece, I have to admit I wasn’t finding what four-year old me was looking for.

We should have gone to the Magic Kingdom first.

Both Bryon and I had been waiting all our lives for the Magic Kingdom. We wandered in their during the evening. There was the Disney we’d seen on television!

With childlike glee, we raced across the park to the Haunted Mansion. We rode it three times, giggling that we’d finally made it to one of the top destinations of both our childhoods. For him, it was the horror factor. For me, it was the Gothic and melodramatic overtones.

The rest of it was the blur of dream realized. I wandered through Cinderella’s castle, looking at tiled photos. I took pictures of the castle at night in its lighted glory. We visited Pirates, Space Mountain, Fantasyland. We watched the parade from the railway platform. The next morning we had breakfast with princesses at Cinderella’s Castle, and before I could stop myself, the four-year old blurted out to Sleeping Beauty that she’d waited all her life to meet her.

Yes, there were people having a bad time at Disney too. They were fighting, or crying, or stressing. Your mileage will also vary. For Bryon and myself, we’d found a special place that we’d imagined as kids. And yes, we were, to some extent, culturally conditioned to value that experience. I’m okay with that too.

It’s interesting to me to see what inspires people to create. What I understood about Disney at an early age is that there were places in the world where imagination existed and could be brought to life.

Part of the reason I write is I’m trying to get there from where I am. I know there’s a business component to putting words on paper. I know you have to be savvy about that.

That initial escape, when I’m falling into a book, that’s what I hope for, whether I’m reading or writing. I owe that to the inspiration of several things in my life. I owe part of it to Walt, just like I owe part of it to the Brothers Grimm, or to P.J. Travers, George MacDonald, or C. S. Lewis.

The thing is, it might not be as intellectually prudent for me to say that I think Disney inspired my writing. It’s okay. I have Neil Diamond on my iPod Nano too. I can live with myself.

Bryon and I have been back to Disney World 4 times, and we’ve been to Disneyland once. The final installment in the theme park series will be a comparison of Disney World and other parks, including Disneyland and Universal, and why Disney works so well. This actually has relevance to less of the magic, and more of the details of a good work of art.


Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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