Many of you have written about a single special memory that you hold very near to your heart: the first time you and your family visited a Disney Park. No two Disney Parks experiences are the same, but many of them share common threads. We’ve collected four different stories about that first time feeling, either experienced personally or witnessed within a loved one. Read on to see what our fans remember from that day.
A Lifetime Of Disney Memories
I remember my first trip to a Disney Park. In fact, it is one of the first childhood memories I can recall. I was in 2nd grade and my parents made a huge deal out of our upcoming trip that was to be spent at a brand new park in Florida. My great uncle had a hand in constructing the Magic Kingdom and just had to show it to us. After my first plane ride and an excitement I couldn’t contain, we walked through the front gates into a place that immediately won my heart for life.
Back then we held onto our precious ticket books and decided how to spend them wisely. My dad and I waited in line for hours for a futuristic ride called Space Mountain and he had no idea what he was getting himself into. Imagine holding a screaming little girl who was, in turn, holding onto her first Mickey doll flying through the dark. I still remember him lying down on the moving sidewalk after the ride thankful that he survived! I’m not sure if he’s ever been on another coaster, but I have…
Flash forward to 2010 with at least 8 trips under my belt (pretty good for a Wisconsin girl) and the first trip to Walt Disney World with our youngest daughter. Her 14 year old eyes were wide open and she was so excited to FINALLY see this magical place. Which ride did we head to first? Space Mountain of course! After that first ride she was hooked–a coaster junkie just like her mom. My turn of hanging onto a screaming child however came when we strapped in to the Rockin Roller Coaster and I had no idea. Walking into the gift shop after we’d survived I couldn’t tell if the look on her face was fear, nausea or joy. She turned to me and said, “I did it!!!”
We’ve been back twice since and are planning to visit again this year. When people ask why we only vacation at Walt Disney World, I shake my head and think, “You just don’t get it.” Every trip starts and ends with a monorail ride into the Magic Kingdom just as it did for a little girl over 40 years ago and takes us to truly the happiest place on Earth.
Thank you for making dreams come true and the most magical memories of my life!
– Amy Marx, Age 46, West Bend, WI
The Child Inside Rediscovered
I remember going to Disney World when I was fourteen; it was January of 1987. Family vacations had always been a disaster in my family. We were the kind of family that always seemed to be in turmoil, so our lives were often filled with arguments and strained relationships. So, naturally, vacations never really became a priority for us since they usually meant dealing with more turmoil since were were spending more time together. My little sister wanted a special vacation that winter… she wanted to go to Disney World. What my sister wanted, she usually got, so we packed up and headed south to that magical place. I remember spending time at Epcot and drinking in the exotic cultures from those far off countries I had never visited. I enjoyed myself, even though I wondered around alone. You see, I had become a loner because of our troubled family, so I really didn’t get to enjoy the closeness of family while on vacation. In fact, so many of my family’s attempts at travel and vacation had been ruined by the time I was fourteen that I couldn’t fully enjoy the vision Walt Disney shared with the world when he planned Disney World.
Fast forward to the summer of 2005. I had three children of my own, ages 9, 6, and 3. They begged me to plan a vacation to Walt Disney World. With my memories of vacations haunting me since childhood, I didn’t think it would be a good idea. “It seems like a waste of time and money,” I said. “I went as a child and there didn’t seem to be much to do.” I had become “grown-up” in the most serious way. However, my wife had loved going to Disney World when she was younger, so she joined the pleas of my children. What can a man do but cave in to such pressure?
We joined my in-laws in a family trip to Walt Disney World. It was not long after our arrival that I joined my children on a magical journey through the four parks. I was amazed at all that had changed since my visit in 1987! My children warmed my heart with their wide-eyed wonder, and somehow I was transformed into childhood again! From flying on Dumbo with my three-year-old to seeking pirate treasure with my nine-year-old and everything in between, the experience healed some of the old vacation wounds that I suffered from since childhood. I finally remembered what it meant to enjoy time with the family; no matter what turmoil or drama we had faced throughout the year, it all melted away in the wonder of Disney World.
I don’t know how it happened, but our family grew closer that year. In fact, we enjoyed ourselves so much that we have been back every year since, except for one when I was unemployed and unable to afford it. Disney World gave my children (and me) a great gift that continues today: the gift of childhood wonder. My son is 17 and about to graduate high school, and he still loves going to Disney World with his family! I am grateful for the vision Walt Disney had in creating a theme park experience where the whole family can enjoy spending time together. It gives hope to someone like me that families can grow stronger by playing together.
– David Noonan, Age 41, Salisbury, MD
Disney Made Me Believe in Dreams Again
The past few years have been rough for my family and I. Graduated college with an education degree and was looking forward to start a new chapter in my life. I wanted to make a difference and make everyone proud. After a couple of months I started to hit the pavement and really try to find a job in my field. Unfortunately I had no luck and I couldn’t find a place that would hire me. Three years after that I worked odd jobs here and there and started to become depressed that I wasn’t as successful as I thought I would be. I started to doubt myself and I gave up. I didn’t think my dreams would ever come true.
My friends were all ahead of me in their life and I felt left behind. My boyfriend decided that it would be a great idea if he took me to Disney World for my first time. He thought that the trip would take my mind off of what was going on and he thought it might cheer me up. I always dreamed about going to Disney World as a child and never thought I would actually ever go but I did! I was so excited but didn’t think I would expect what I experienced there.
From the moment I walked into the Magic Kingdom I felt relaxed and really happy! There was no way I could think of one negative thought while being there. It was the happiest place I ever saw! The music, the people everything was just perfect and when I saw that castle I couldn’t believe my eyes! Being from New York City nothing could impress me. I’ve seen beautiful skyscrapers and wonderful landmarks but that castle was the most beautiful thing I have ever saw! I felt like I walked into a Disney movie. It was more than I ever thought it could be! Instantly my innocent childhood carefree attitude was back! I felt like anything was possible and it lifted my spirits again!
When I saw wishes for the first time I couldn’t believe the message it teaches you…you don’t hear messages like that anymore. Following your heart and your dreams and hearing that anything is possible isn’t really a message you hear in this society today. There is too much negativity in this world but here you can get away from all of that when you are in Disney World.
After my first trip I returned twice and the most recent trip I got engaged! My boyfriend who took me the first time became my fiancé the third time! Disney World is a place that has created many memories and I can’t wait to make more!!!! Thank you for bringing “me” back!
– Christina Difinizio, Age 27, Staten Island, NY
My Happiest Place on Earth
This year when I took my son, even though he has been there twice, it was different. No longer was there just a baby’s smiles of contentment, he showed true anticipation. He was excitedly planning out his day while standing in line. On our first day there, we head to Magic Kingdom. As we wait at the bus stop, more and more people arrive and wait. They all talk about what their plans are. Bus after bus rolls by in the distance. A few buses arrive at the stop, but none are for the Magic Kingdom. My son gets more & more excited, finally the bus rolls up, and we get on and take a seat. Then for fifteen minutes, he chatters on about what he “gonna” do first. Without noticing, the Magic Kingdom arch sneaks up on us. “We’re almost there!!” he yells, and after a few more minutes, we pull into the bus terminal. It’s a long walk to the gate, but we wait in line, press our fingers, and walk in. We walk underneath the train station and there it is: Cinderella’s
Castle, just at the end of Main Street. My son points at Cinderella’s castle in amazement and yells “Mickey Mouse Castle!” I laugh and remembered my first view of Cinderella’s Castle.
The first time I saw Cinderella’s castle I thought it was huge and beautiful. It rose high into the sky, with soaring towers, ornate turrets, and blue rooftops; a real but magical castle. I knew I was truly someplace magical when I spied that beautiful castle looming large in the background as I gazed down Main Street. My son and I both stood in wonderment at our first glance at Cinderella castle, me on my first visit as a child and him on this visit.
My son was awestruck by all the Disney characters, not afraid at all. He ran up to Goofy give him a high five & shake hands with Donald. Then he saw Mickey, he ran up to him and hug him, he danced with him. My son took many picture with Mickey Mouse. All he talk about since we arrived at the park was how he was “gonna” hug Mickey when he saw him. The joy shining from his eyes when finally met Mickey, was infectious and I start smiling and giggling.
My son loves repetition and asked to go on his favorite rides again and again. The Barnstormer is one of his favorite, our roller-coaster car shaped like plane ascended to the top of a very small hill, then rapidly swooped down and rounded gentle bends, peeled past trees and soared up another little hill though the broken section of a nearby billboard before “landing” safely back inside the barn. He screams and holds his hands up like he has seen adults do on larger roller-coaster. “This is fun”, he yelled as we speeded down the tracks on our little coaster. “Let’s go again, I love roller- coasters” he said at the end of our one minute ride, I can’t say no, he looks so happy.
My yearly trips to Walt Disney World are unforgettable. I love going in the shops and hearing the familiar music playing. I love wearing my mickey ears hat for the week. I love waiting for the fireworks to start. I love the parks at night. It\’s like an entirely different experience; an entirely different park. The lights, the shows, the sounds, the people. I love going to sleep late and waking up the next morning with only four or five hours sleep.
This was one of the “magical moments” from my family’s last trip to Walt Disney World. “Goodnight Mickey,” my three year-old son genuinely replied to Mickey as we left Magic Kingdom heading for the hotel bus shuttle. My son clearly loves Disney World like I did as a child and still do. I am sure we will make magical moments together for a lifetime.
– Tracie Jackson, Age 34, Columbia, SC
Photos included within this article were taken as part of The Looking Glass, A Disney Parks Photography Project.