It's a warm morning in March and I have just returned from an 8-day trip to Disneyland. I made the trip over from my home state of Arizona with my wife Linda and my youngest daughter's boyfriend Alan. My youngest daughter Sara flew out on Thursday with her nieces, Addy and Riley -- our granddaughters. This was not the first trip for any us by any means. Alan is the least experienced, with only a few visits. Sara has probably been in the park 20 or 30 times and it is the 9th trip for Addy and Riley who are now just 4 years old with close to 30 days of park visits under their belts. On this trip, I went into the park 8 consecutive days, a new record for me. I've lost count of the number of times I've been to Disneyland. It's probably upwards of 125 times or so. Linda is not far behind me.
And, as usual, I left feeling like I hadn't done everything I wanted. Another trip will be in my future.
How can this be? Is 8 days not enough to see pretty much all that Disneyland and California Adventure have to offer? And once you had “seen it all”, wouldn’t that be enough not to want to go back for a while? For me, the simple answer is “no”. I have meet many others who would answer the same way. You might call us Disneyland Addicts. We always need more of the Disneyland drug. Always.
For me, there is an unmistakably magical feeling when I am at Disneyland. The memories of going with my parents and siblings when I was growing up certainly brings up a feeling of nostalgia, but the intensity of the experience cannot be explained by mere childhood memories. Otherwise I would feel the same about visiting any of our other family vacation spots. We visited the beach and Knott’s Berry Farm. Why don’t I feel the same way about these places?
I remember my dad always being impressed with the quality of the park. He would remark about the cleanliness of the grounds and the friendliness of the employees. An engineer himself he often commented about the engineering of the rides. Once, upon close inspection, I remember him commenting on the meticulousness of the paint job on one of the Main Street buildings saying it was clear it wasn’t just painted over year after year, but stripped and repainted to maintain the look. It was clear he felt very comfortable taking his family for a day of wholesome, entertaining fun. He and my mother also felt safe enough to let me and my brother run unaccompanied through the park at the age of 12 or so.
Now we know the employees are called Cast Members because the Disney experience in the park is considered a Show. The engineers of the rides are called Imagineers. The buildings have all been stripped and repainted for almost sixty years now. And the quality of the experience follows the simple philosophy of Walt Disney who maintained that if you “keep it friendly, keep it clean” the people would come and have a good time.
Another aspect of the experience that Walt Disney wanted for Disneyland that may provide a clue on why people return time after time, is that he wanted it to be enjoyable for the entire family. An oft-repeated story of how the Disneyland Dream was born is when Walt used to take his daughters to a city park to ride a carousel and would simply sit on a park bench eating peanuts. He wondered why there wasn’t a park the whole family could enjoy. Then, he created one.
So, if Disneyland is as enjoyable to a child as it is to an adult, is there any wonder why one can truly grow up with Disneyland where the experience and the enjoyment of the ride evolves as you age? This is a place where you can enjoy a ride such as the Tea Cups as a child, relive those memories as a teenager and later share them with your children and grand children.
One quality of the Disneyland experience that I hear referred to frequently might give another clue to the why we return time after time. I refer to this quality as “A world apart from the real world.” It is the feeling that this place is a microcosm of fun and fantasy with it’s own unique and separate identity. It is a “land of lands”. It has its own City Hall and Main Street, places to eat, mountains, roads, vehicles, rivers, boats, and it’s own railroad. The place has it’s own residents (characters) and it’s own music.
This is all in addition to the rides but this quality of being a separate place is often even encapsulated by the rides themselves. You can actually go on a submarine ride with the illusion that you are going under one of Disneyland’s own seas. Some of the rides create their own “world within a world, apart from the world”. Rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion take you to a separate reality.
When leaving this world, one can only take away a few fleeting memories from photographs or souvenirs. The only way to stay in this state of mind is to be there – to be part of the experience.
My attempt to explain the desire to access the dream may fall a bit short for some, but it at least lays the groundwork for the motivation behind initial visits for some and returning like homing pigeons for other. With Walt Disney World being the most popular vacation spot in the world, the “Ultimate Dream Vacation” that includes a Disney park most assuredly ranks among many family’s choices.
However, the book I am now writing entitled: "Accessing the Dream: A Disabled Person's Journey and Guide to Disneyland" is about a generally different approach to accessing the dream. When the actual physical aspect of the experience is a barrier that must be overcome, what must people with these kinds of issues do to gain access? Is the experience noticeably different for us or is it very close to same as it is for others? These questions are different and constitute the focus of this book. Disabled people want access too and Disney has made an effort to make it so, though the way is not always crystal clear. This book will hopefully make it easier for many.