One of the many reasons my wife and I keep returning to the World is the simple fact we love those moments when the “magic” shines. Our giddiness finds a voice and it’s clearly written all over our faces. Some of these times are simple pleasures that are meaningful just to us, a snapshot of our personal lives when we first met at Disney. Others are likely applicable to millions who visit their own happy places at the Mouse. Below you’ll find our list of the top ten places that make the LOML (for those who don’t know, that would be “love of my life”) and me turn to each other and sigh contentedly, “we’re home.”
10. MagicBand arrival
The first amazing moment happens before we actually get to Florida. In fact, it usually happens weeks before we hurtle down I-95 wishing the exit to I-4 would hurry and appear. That first moment is when our MagicBands arrive in the mail signaling that our adventure is just around the bend. I’ve learned not to open the suspected package in which the MagicBands reside since my wife gets such a kick out of gleefully ripping the outer box to shreds in order to get at the bands.
9. Opening the door to your room
There are few more enjoyable sights than stepping into your home-away-from-home for the first time, i.e., your resort room. Sure, you know that literally tens of thousands have been there before you (that, in fact, someone was there just hours earlier), but when you walk through that doorway to your own personal space for the next week, it’s akin to greeting a dear friend.
8. Mickey waffles
Smells play a huge part in our memories, and few are more distinct than savoring (and seeing) fresh Mickey waffles for the first time on any given trip. We have a special place we frequent that is out of the way and serves fresh, made-to-order Mickey waffles. Dining there is one of the highlights of our Disney vacation. Of course, several places serve these scrumptious treats making them a joy to be enjoyed by all.
7. The first five seconds of Aerosmith’s Rock N’ Roller coaster
Each of us has our favorite rides, but virtually none can boast the sheer exultation of the launch provided by this Disney’s Hollywood Studios (or as the LOML still calls it, MGM—she refuses to acknowledge the park as DHS) icon. The anticipation ranks second to none as you are strapped into the seat, listening to the countdown, and then feeling the shrug of the coaster as it backs up slightly as though loading into a chamber. I laugh the laugh of a little boy when the coaster rockets forward, reaching 60 mph in under three seconds before immediately flying through a loop and more as Aerosmith tunes throb in your ear. When it comes to roller coaster nirvana, it’s tough to trump this thrill.
6. The smells on Soarin’
Continuing with the ride theme, who among us hasn’t longed for the smells and sights of Soarin’ Around The World? Through short or long lines and one major ride update this adventure stands as one of the most memorable moments of those who frequent Epcot. When we feel our feet begin to dangle as the ride vehicles lift into the air, we know the flying sensation and heady aromas are mere seconds away. It’s difficult to beat that anticipation.
5. Kali River Rapids (the moment you realize you will get soaked).
Nothing says Disney like the summer heat and humidity there, but one of the best answers to beating this figuratively dual punch in the gut is heading over to the Animal Kingdom and riding Kali River Rapids. It’s true that occasionally, you will only get a little wet, but I would never count on that happening. In fact, the opposite usually occurs, and when you see a huge wave about to come crashing down on you, it’s in that moment you understand what slow motion is all about. The hull of the giant inner tube dips down and smacks the opposing water; the wall of wetness reaches up like some giant, watery bear; then, simply, you get drenched. Within those few blinks of an eye lies one of the most enjoyable “ahhh!” moments of any vacation. Sit back and, ahem, soak it in.
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4. Driving through the Magic Kingdom Main Gate
How many millions (billions?) have taken World Drive and headed through the Magic Kingdom Main Gate en route to their magical destination? I’m certain nearly the same number have collectively drawn a quick breath, smiled as broadly as a barn door, then turned to others in the car and said, “We’re here!” My wife has a habit of pointing out all the highlights along the way (“It’s the monorail!” or “It’s the Tower of Terror!” and many others—I have them all on video), but none quite draw the visceral reaction of that main gate—“IT’S THE MAGIC KINGDOM!” I’m sure earthquake monitoring stations located states away pick up a slight vibration from her excitement. It’s true that seeing that sign absolutely signals the vacation game is on.
3. Main Street in the Magic Kingdom
Well, of course, this staple is going to make the list. Has anyone ever stepped through the portal under the Disney Railroad then not taken a huge sigh of satisfaction? The sights, sounds, and smells that greet first-time visitors and frequent travelers alike remain the foundation for memories that last a lifetime, especially when you stroll past the roundabout and come face-to-face with Cinderella Castle. I don’t care how many times I’ve made the journey—drinking in the milieu that is Main Street, Magic Kingdom, never gets boring or out-dated. There is something comforting about seeing the trolley tracks, watching CMs wave those giant Mickey hands, dodging humongous balloon collections, and smiling at families taking a multitude of pictures with the Castle in the background as kids (and their parents) giggle with excitement that cries “Disney!” Even the gob-smacked newbies who stop dead in their tracks without realizing they’re in the middle of a huge throng of people surging forward can’t ruin the moment—they become part of the canvas that is the Magic Kingdom.
2. Fireworks from Main Street
Want quintessential Disney? Then grab a spot on Main Street and wait for the nightly fireworks show. The crowds can be intimidating, and certainly there are other options for seeing Happily Ever After (atop California Grill or from resort beaches among others), but to get that full-bore Disney spirit, you have to experience the brilliance of Happily Ever After from Main Street. From there, you get the perspective of the show as the producers intended with the Castle as the backdrop and the explosions thumping you in sync to the inspiring music. The first time I saw them with my wife, we were standing on the corner of Main Street not far from Crystal Palace with a mail box as our support. Standing next to the love of my life, seeing Tinker Bell fly, and listening to the music brought me tears of elation. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
And the Grand Prize goes too. . .
1. Walking into the Wilderness Lodge lobby, especially at Christmas
Let me be upfront—this one is personal. While a case can be made that each of my earlier picks could be ranked ahead of this one, none of them quite reach the height of awesomeness (yes, I’m channeling a pre-teen) of stepping through those giant wooden doors as you are ushered into the achingly beautiful, high-ceilinged lobby of the Wilderness Lodge. A little bit of history might help you understand my choice. Years ago, I spent three days on the east coast of Florida in a less-than-inspiring hotel right on the beach. Though belonging to a major hotel chain and looking out over the ocean, the room was dreary, drab, worn, and with a barely functioning air-conditioner in the dead of summer. I checked out on that third day heading to WDW for my first trip there. My destination was the Wilderness Lodge (specifically the Villas), a resort with which I was totally unfamiliar. As I pulled up to the main Lodge, I was immediately smitten—it was majestic. Then, I stepped through those doors. In a word: wow. Okay, two words: Wow and stunning. Oh yeah, it was air-conditioned, too. Though most might claim I had merely improved my accommodations, for me that was my first true moment of Disney magic. Even more fulfilling than that experience was when my wife introduced me to Disney during the Christmas season a few years ago, and we walked into the lobby of the WL resplendent with its gorgeous and towering tree, garland bedecking the balconied walkways above, and holiday music floating down like imaginary snowflakes, serenading us with Christmas music. Up to that moment, I didn’t think anything could top the grandeur of the Lodge’s lobby I had witnessed on my first trip there; however, being decorated for the holidays definitely trumped that vision.
It’s for these two key reasons that I rank the Wilderness Lodge’s lobby as my top “amazing” moment. I realize it’s a personal choice, but isn’t that what the whole Disney experience should exemplify? A visit to Disney World should be a time when we savor our own personal choices, when we renew our bond to that happy place, and where we make memories that will last a lifetime.