We’ll fly above the clouds and across the starry sky once we’re snug inside our pint-sized pirate ship. But before we get to take our ride on Peter Pan’s Flight, we’re going to have to wait in line.
Not to worry, though, I tell my daughter. We’re at the end of the line now, but we’ll be at the beginning before we know it, thanks to Disney World’s people-moving magic. And that’s a good thing, because today is just another day in the Magic Kingdom, and I’m not sure how much more my feet can take.
Not that I didn’t come prepared. I’m the classic portrait of the dorky dad in my brand-new walking shoes, sensible hat, and goggle-sized Solar Shields (hey, they fit comfortably over my glasses). I also carry the backpack that holds the daily provisions for all four of us: sunscreen, bottled water, granola bars, disposable ponchos, and printed itineraries for each day at the parks, complete with color-coded maps.
Still, Disney is exhausting any way you cut it – one part fantasy adventure, one part family-bonding experience, one part forced march alongside whiny toddlers, dazed parents pushing double-wide strollers, and even grandparents for whom I am certain there must be a special place in heaven.
Lucky for us, our kids are beyond their prime tantrum years, though I have to admit that as an over-stimulated family on a theme-park vacation, we’re certainly having our dyspeptic moments. Imagine a formula modeled loosely on Snow White’s famous Seven Dwarfs: For every five minutes of Disney thrill and wonder, at least one of us will spend twenty minutes being cranky, surly, hungry, thirsty, grouchy, touchy, or pouty.
But what do you expect from a roller-coaster world where a Fastpass and some crafty scheduling allow you and Your 11-year-old son to roar around Big Thunder Mountain Railroad six times in a row or plummet into the black abyss of Space Mountain over and over?
Over in Epcot’s Future World, the Test Track ride takes you from zero to seventy miles per hour in just a few seconds – but only after waving off anyone with neck problems, motion sickness, or “other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure” (all of which I’m sure I have). Even Spaceship Earth, spiraling through time and technology from the caveman era to present day (“Is this the end, or just the beginning?” the narrator intones) warns those who might fear dark, enclosed spaces.
Stay at Disney longer than a day and you’ll risk losing what’s left of your sanity.But at least we’re losing it as a family, at the same time, in the same way, doing the same things and looking in the same direction. Just last night, at Epcot’s Via Napoli restaurant, we all laughed together at Marco, the dapper, twenty-something waiter, as he stormed about, banging plates, rattling silverware and shouting in Italian at the other servers. Lucy and Will watched him with wide eyes, fascinated by his peppery attitude and ability to balance multiple plates of pasta on his arm. Was his passion authentic or all part of the Disney show? Here in the World, you always have to wonder.
And wonder, too, about this magic time our family is sharing. Because even with all the fun we’re having together, I feel a light breeze ready to fill the sail of our little pirate ship and push us on to Tomorrow land. Will is ready to ride Mission: SPACE, but he’s bored by the sing-song message of “It’s A Small World” and the animatronic birds in the Enchanted Tiki Room. Happy girls in princess dress-up spill out of the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique in Cinderella’s Castle.Lucy laughs along with them, but she just turned thirteen; she’s too old for that now.
In the weeks to come, I will smile as this singular moment, as sleek and perfectly balanced as the famous Disney monorail, rumbles back to real life, a place Where nobody reminds you to “have a magical day”; where you must buy and prepare all of your own food; and where you have to pick up your own luggage at airport baggage claim.
I will pack the last homemade lunches for the children; both would rather buy in the cafeteria from now on. And I suppose it is also time we made a new chart to spell out household chores and responsibilities. After only a week away, Will is going to seem taller, more angular, not such a little boy anymore. Lucy will become even more obsessed with her hair.
And though I’ll smile tonight as she’ll decide to buy a tiara for herself in a Main Street shop and beg to ride Dumbo the Flying Elephant one last time, I will think again of Marco, and his brash Italian manner, and how she watched him with a look I’d never seen before, and what she said when I asked what she was thinking.
She gave me a bashful smile.
“He’s a very pretty man, Daddy.”
The line has moved quickly, and now it’s our turn to sail above the lights of London and look down upon Captain Hook, and Tick-Tock Crocodile, and Wendy just about to walk the plank, and the gentle, twinkling Neverland of the boy who was so sure he would never grow up.
Here in the brimming darkness, Lucy presses close against me as our ride takes flight, and I wrap my arm around her tiny shoulder and think of everything that has already been, and all that is yet to come, and how this moment is not the beginning, or the end, or even the beginning of the end.
But it is the end of the beginning.If only I could wish upon these magic stars, and sail our ship a little longer, and go round and round in this grand and spinning dream, again and again and again.