Walt Disney World Vacation: Who Needs Kids?

By Todd Lewan, AP

Disney World can help parents bond with children and feel young again, but why is it that over-30s need kids to bring them back to Disney in the first place?

By Todd Lewan, AP
Adults I know who go to Disney World have this annoying tendency to describe how the theme park has helped them bond with their children, or how important it is to have the little ones teach them how to feel young again.

Now, although I'm a grown man with no spouse or little ones to snuggle, I can appreciate those sentiments. I just don't get one thing: why is it over-30s need kids to bring them back to Disney in the first place?

See, I'm one of those silly grown-ups who, on occasion, goes to Disney without kids—on my day off from work, or when another someone from out of town comes to visit the Sunshine State, or, say, on a holiday weekend.

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I suppose I could spend my free time more productively, more culturally, more exotically than getting nauseous from zooming in the pitch black on a high speed roller jet called Space Mountain, or dropping five stories into a wet briar patch aboard an artificial log flume, or dining at a restaurant that looks, smells and costs like some eatery on the Quai d'Orsay in Paris—when, in reality, it is only a replica within a world of replicas.

But there IS something about deciding to be childlike, silly, even for a few hours—without the circumstance of having to entertain a loving child or a pack of ornery brats—that is liberating, rekindling.

The last time I Disney-ed was on my latest birthday. A fair lady who makes her living at Schwab had flown in from the West Coast, and wanted to spend some quality time together. I said how about the Magic Kingdom. She asked me if I was kidding. I said not really.

She asked me how she should dress to meet Mickey.

We stopped first at City Hall, where a "Today is my Birthday" button was pinned to my shirt pocket, and continued on up Main Street, USA. Everyone—the boys selling balloons that look like cellophane, the men playing trombones and trumpets, the ladies in Mrs. Potts' Cupboard—all wished me a happy birthday.

"That button has made you pretty popular," my lady friend said. "Is everyone going to do that?"

"You're just jealous," I said.
Now, I'll confess: Inside the gift shops, where your vision gets quickly saturated with a kaleidoscope of colorful, tastefully crafted gobbledygook—from slip-on Minnie bedroom slippers, to Winnie the Pooh soap dispensers, to Tinker Bell crystal balls—the dour, cynical side of my being did rise up in a snit and whisper into my brain:

"Beware! Theme parks are mass-marketed, scripted experiences designed, quite sublimely, to lull the visitor into a consumeristic trance."

She picked up the beer bottle-top popper. The one with the chromed Mickey ears. "Oh, isn't this cute?"

"Uh - "

"Hey!" she said, and then plopped a tan golf cap with a blue, embroidered Mickey silhouette on my head. "Now, THAT looks really cute on you."

I looked in the mirror. "Hmm ... Think so?"

When it makes perfect sense to plunk down 20 sweat-and-blood dollars for a Mickey Mouse golf cap, and when you stroll about in public wearing such a thing free of embarrassment—that is a sign that you have abandoned all logic and are truly ready to let go.

We made our visit to Disney World during the fall, one of the park's least crowded seasons. But the sign at the entrance to Splash Mountain said we'd have to wait two hours on the regular line.

"Bummer," I said.

"Oh, be nice. Let's get our fastpasses to Splash Mountain."

So we did, using the free system of timed tickets that Disney has set up to cut down on lines for certain rides. We returned four hours later and zipped right to the front of the line, passing scores of people. There was, I'll admit, something childishly satisfying in noting their sallow expressions.

On Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, I almost lost my precious golf cap careering through canyons and rimrocks and tunnels at breakneck pace. But in the end it was all worth it. My face had gone pallid, and my companion felt a tinge of pity. "Poor baby. How about a kiss?"

"Well," I said.

I suppose I could have kept the momentum going with a drink at Cinderella's Royal Table, or a launch ride across the Seven Seas Lagoon to one of those posh hotels where adults can sip white wine on a terrace and listen to palm fronds crackle and waves lap on sugary sand.
Instead, I suggested a boat ride at Pirates of the Caribbean.

We took the last row (on purpose, I may add) in the boat, and began to float through a dark, chilly tunnel. She huddled close when the sounds of cannonball fire started BOOMING, and I didn't see much else of the ride, except, perhaps, the sailor or imprisoned pirate groaning from behind bars—but otherwise, it was smooth sailing.

"That was nice," she said. "Go again?"

"Better not," I said. "This is a family park, dear."

As it turned out, we turned back the clock on adulthood for another 10 hours.

Some golden moments: Mickey's PhilharMagic, a multidimensional movie where you not only feel like you're riding Aladdin's magic carpet through clouds but actually feel breaths of wind, smell the spices of pastries, and get squirted from popping champagne bottles (though probably not real bubbly); the plunging, bottoming out, stomach—scooping sensation of that first drop into blackness aboard the Space Mountain coaster (I will not comment on the second and third drops—they were wicked); watching the most spontaneous, childlike smile light up the face of my date as she gave Mickey a big hug while I snapped their picture in the Judge's Tent; seeing the glittery beams cast by the SpectroMagic light parade light up the eyes of an elderly woman in a wheelchair.

The end of the night found us beneath Cinderella's Castle. Up above, fireworks burned diamond-like streaks across the sky.

"So what's next on our list?" she asked. "Sea World?"

"Not so fast," I said. "There are three more Disney parks to do, my dear."

This article was originally published by Associated Press in December, 2004.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in February, 2006, but we suggest you confirm all details and prices as these can change at any time