A GROWN-UP AT DIS­NEY

TWO DECADES AF­TER HER LAST VISIT, A THIR­TYSOME­THING RE­TURNS, PAR­ENTS IN TOW, TO THE HAP­PI­EST PLACE ON EARTH.

Air Canada enRoute - - CONTRIBUTORS / COLLABORATEURS - EMILY LAN­DAU

I live in Toronto. Big­gest chal­lenge while writ­ing this story Try­ing to en­cap­su­late 30 years of fam­ily travel his­tory in 1,200 words. First travel mem­ory The ride It’s a Small World at Dis­ney World might be my first mem­ory ever. Best travel tip Google Maps is your friend. I star every­thing I want to visit, so I can see when they’re close by. Last hol­i­day New York, af­ter im­pulse-buy­ing tick­ets to see Billy Joel. When not col­lab­o­rat­ing with Air Canada enRoute, I’m a se­nior ed­i­tor at Toronto Life.

IT WAS MARCH BREAK, 1993, AND MY FAM­ILY WAS on hour 19 of our an­nual 20-hour drive from Toronto to Or­lando. In the back of our mini­van, my six-year-old brother kicked my seat and threw travel check­ers at my head. I ig­nored him and qui­etly pan­icked about some­thing – my home­work, if the dog was hav­ing fun at his ken­nel, the in­trud­ers that would al­most cer­tainly bur­gle our house. As our wig­gly rest­less­ness in­ten­si­fied, we nagged our par­ents (shrilly, in­ces­santly) about when we’d get there. My mom strug­gled with the mas­sive fold­able map on her lap, while my dad’s ex­as­per­ated voice joined the cho­rus. “Is it this exit or the next? Do I need to get left?”

Then we saw it: the road sign di­rect­ing us to our des­ti­na­tion. We’d taken this trip for as long as I could re­mem­ber, and ev­ery year, this was the mo­ment the car fell silent. We breezed down the road lead­ing up to the grand en­trance, a Florid­ian

Arc de Tri­om­phe that read WALT DIS­NEY WORLD in mas­sive, candy-coloured print. As we ap­proached, my brother and I chanted “Flor­ida, Flor­ida, Flor­ida,” and then, pass­ing through the arch, “Dis­ney World!!!”

The next five days were both an ex­haust­ingly rit­u­al­ized check­list of fam­ily tra­di­tions and a balm for our prickly dy­nam­ics. Walt Dis­ney World was a place out­side of our reg­u­lar lives where my lit­tle brother and I – glee­fully ig­no­rant of the sweaty teens in­side the Chip and Dale cos­tumes, or the in­dig­nity of wait­ing two hours for an eight-minute cruise through an er­satz Caribbean port town – would stop our squab­bling and unite over a shared de­ter­mi­na­tion to hit ev­ery at­trac­tion. My par­ents, tem­po­rar­ily re­lieved of their obli­ga­tion to keep us en­ter­tained and peace­ful, were re­laxed and care­free. Our fam­ily was never cheerier than when we were walk­ing down one of those fake Main Street side­walks.

But as my brother and I en­tered our surly teens, we weaned our­selves off the Dis­ney habit, choos­ing to stay home while our par­ents traipsed off to el­e­gant des­ti­na­tions in Europe and Cal­i­for­nia. By the time we moved out a few years later, we’d vir­tu­ally stopped spend­ing time to­gether as a fam­ily: Jobs, friends and gen­eral twen­tysome­thing self-ab­sorp­tion kept my brother and me from vis­it­ing home too of­ten, and hardly ever at the same time. Then, last year, our par­ents had an idea. They were in their mid-six­ties, oc­cu­py­ing that glo­ri­ous limbo be­tween re­tire­ment and senes­cence. My brother and I were in our early thir­ties, sin­gle and steady in our ca­reers. They fig­ured there was no bet­ter time to re­cap­ture the magic – and in­vited us on an all­ex­penses-paid trip back to the Hap­pi­est Place on Earth.

This time around, we ad­justed our rit­u­als to make the trip eas­ier on my par­ents’ ag­ing bod­ies. In­stead of book­ing a cramped mo­tel room, we found a sprawl­ing three-bed­room Airbnb with a full kitchen and ter­race. In­stead of con­sult­ing

The Un­of­fi­cial Guide to Walt Dis­ney World, we planned the most ef­fi­cient routes on Google Maps. The park­ing lots there are as big as some small Amer­i­can towns, and in the old days, when my par­ents had good knees and my brother and I had bound­less en­ergy, we’d walk a kilo­me­tre to a tram that drove us to a mono­rail that zipped us to the gates of the park. This time, they sprang for pre­ferred park­ing.

As we en­tered the Magic King­dom, I took in Cin­derella’s tur­reted cas­tle, the mono­rail whoosh­ing over­head, a march­ing band in Mu­sic Man cos­play toot­ing “Be Our Guest.” We seemed to be the only peo­ple not wear­ing Mickey ears, which now came in an in­fi­nite num­ber of styles: ears dec­o­rated like flower crowns, like bridal tiaras, like Stormtrooper hel­mets. Some at­trac­tions had been sprin­kled with tech­no­log­i­cal fairy dust – the Haunted Man­sion had up­graded its ghost holo­grams; Ep­cot had a fancy new Frozen ride – but oth­er­wise, lit­tle had changed. For the next few days, I was ut­terly drunk on Dis­ney.

The best parts ended up be­ing the hours spent wait­ing in line, where we took the op­por­tu­nity to spackle our fam­ily foun­da­tion. We dis­cussed pol­i­tics (Trump’s mo­tor­cade had passed us on the high­way), my dad and I quizzed each other on Pres­i­den­tial trivia (a niche Lan­dau sport) and I talked to my brother about his ad­ven­tures as a pho­tog­ra­pher. Though we still bick­ered – I al­ways have to re­mem­ber to curb my sar­casm – I saw he was no longer the nat­ter­ing, de­struc­tive lit­tle hel­lion I tried to avoid as a kid, but a thought­ful and in­dus­tri­ous grown-up.

The four of us also lux­u­ri­ated in nos­tal­gia, tour­ing through our ul­tra-spe­cific fam­ily mem­o­ries. My mom pointed out the foun­tain where they’d taken a pho­to­graph of me (five years old, lop­sided hair­cut) that hangs in their liv­ing room. They teased me about Big Thun­der Moun­tain, the chil­dren’s roller coaster that scared me so much as a kid that I tried to jump off. At Ep­cot, we lined up three times for Space­ship Earth, set in­side the iconic

I kept my arms and legs in­side the ve­hi­cle and felt like I was eight years old again.

ge­o­desic golf ball at the en­trance to the park. It’s the dorki­est at­trac­tion at Dis­ney, and my all-time favourite: a leisurely trip through an­i­ma­tronic tableaux that il­lus­trate the his­tory of hu­man com­mu­ni­ca­tion. I gid­dily watched the scenes pass by, kept my arms and legs in­side the ve­hi­cle and felt like I was eight years old again.

My par­ents seemed to be liv­ing out their YOLO re­tire­ment fan­tasies, blithely shelling out for ev­ery ridicu­lously over­priced in­dul­gence they used to shun when we were kids. At Ep­cot World Show­case, we had din­ner at the restau­rant in­side the Mex­ico pav­il­ion, where the out­side looks like a Mayan pyra­mid and the in­side like a starlit town over­look­ing a river. There are ven­dors sell­ing piñatas and som­breros, and a boat ride that takes you past a prop vol­cano. His­tor­i­cally, our par­ents never let us eat there, but this time they went for it, and the ex­pe­ri­ence was pure mari­achi magic.

At one point, my dad even pulled a $20 bill out of his shirt pocket and of­fered it to me. “For spend­ing money,” he said sweetly, mo­men­tar­ily for­get­ting that I was a grown woman. There were many times on that trip when I for­got too, re­ly­ing on my fam­ily for the kind of com­fort I used to take for granted. Once, we were in line for a faux-paragliding ride, sit­ting on the floor of a load­ing area while wait­ing for the end­less horde of peo­ple to inch for­ward. My dad no­ticed me ob­ses­sively check­ing my work e-mail to make sure I hadn’t screwed some­thing up be­fore I left. He slumped down be­side me. “When I was your age, I used to get just as anx­ious about miss­ing work,” he told me. “It’ll be there when you get back.”

My mom, un­prompted, gave me a hug and my mus­cles in­stantly re­laxed. There was some­thing won­der­ful about re­lin­quish­ing my adult­hood for a few days, about act­ing like a kid and let­ting my par­ents dote on me. Walt Dis­ney World it­self may be a shim­mer­ing sim­u­lacrum, but our hap­pi­ness was real. So in the fall, we’re tak­ing an­other va­ca­tion to­gether, this time to Paris and Am­s­ter­dam. I’m push­ing for a day trip to Euro Dis­ney.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.