People-watching in Disney’s magical kingdoms

Vacation Offers time for Personal Reflection

Since my brother, Jeremy, and I were old enough to be gainfully employed following college, we have been taking somewhat regular trips to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. and Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.

When we first visited the Florida resort complex in the 1980s as preteens with our parents, we knew it was a place we wanted to visit again (and again and again). Over the past 20 years, I’ve come to understand a Disney World vacation is a “vacation” in name only. It’s actually a lot of work. There are early wake-up calls and miles and miles of walking. As well as paying a premium for hamburgers and Mickey Mouse ice cream bars.

Of course, there are a lot of pluses. It’s a heck of a lot of fun riding Peter Pan’s Flight and Splash Mountain, watching the Main Street Electrical Parade and eating as many chocolate chip cookies my blood sugar count can handle. A lot of the attraction is being totally immersed in another world.

A world where no garbage is found on walkways and grassy areas and everyone, from Disney cast members to fellow vacationers, is courteous no matter the situation. It’s kind of impossible not to get caught up in it since the experience is often 180 degrees opposite to life in the “real world.” One of my favorite activities there is simply people-watching. Specifically, watching children (and adults) take photos with the multitudes of costumed characters which populate each of Disney’s four theme parks.

There’s Donald Duck and Goofy, Princess Elsa and Anna from “Frozen,” and the main objective of any Walt Disney World guest: a photo with Mickey Mouse. When Chip and Dale playfully touch your Pittsburgh Penguins ballcap or Buzz Lightyear gives you a big handshake and pat on the back, it’s hard to resist having a smile cross your face. As I said, you get caught up in it.

I started thinking about what makes the expereince so special, especially when a child meets their furry cartoon idol in the flesh, and concluded it’s all about unconditional love. Disney characters don’t judge children who may be shy or have a physical disability and that has to be a major reason why they are so beloved. It’s always a special moment to witness.

Everyone is looking for someone who loves them for who they are. I hope these children get to experience it again after they return home from a magical vacation. Instead of searching out others to hug, I hope they’re on the receiving end.