Thanks to my often whimsical father and the excuse of traveling to an aunt who lived in Tampa, I grew up visiting Walt Disney World Resort more often than most of my peers. I always assumed that when I had a family of my own we would do the same, family members in Florida or not. When my son was 2 and my daughter was 4, I set out to plan the perfect first trip the Happiest Place on Earth. I looked at photos from my own childhood when we stayed at the Disney’s Polynesian and Contemporary Resorts, scoured through guidebooks, and printed out maps. I was going to make every moment perfect.
It was while planning our route through the Magic Kingdom for that first day in the parks that my dad reminded me of a tradition from my childhood visits. He pointed out that we always rode It’s a Small World first because it was our favorite. It had been years since I last visited the Magic Kingdom, but I somehow knew exactly where the attraction was located and how to get there. That first day in the World with my own children was kicked off with a ride through the rooms of It’s a Small World on the happiest cruise that ever sailed.
As much as I love my childhood memories of days spent in Disney Parks and have enjoyed making new memories with my own children, there was always a nagging sense that we had never been to the real Disney park. Disney Park fans tend to fall very clearly on one side or the other: Disneyland Resort or Walt Disney World Resort. There is no gray area, everyone choosing a side like the Jets and the Sharks, the Capulets and the Montagues. My family was, is, and always will be Team World, but we needed to satisfy our curiosity and dip our toes into the Land.
Last month I had the chance to visit Disneyland Resort for the 50th anniversary of the it’s a small world attraction, and I couldn’t help but sit in awe as I rode the small world boat with my children, like a trip home to the Disney motherland, an opportunity to ride the original ride that started it all for my family thousands of miles away in a different park. I was mesmerized by the obvious differences: the outdoor boarding area, the giant topiaries welcoming us, the thematic areas that don’t exist in Florida, the Disney characters sprinkled throughout the ride. But the intangible differences also moved me, the realization that this attraction meant so very much to Walt himself, containing 50 years of history including legends from the Sherman brothers to Mary Blair.
I’ll probably always be Team World, but will never forget the magic I felt experiencing it’s a small World in Disneyland Resort during such an amazingly important week. And who knows — maybe we’ll make the journey back to California someday. It IS a small world after all.
Thank you to Disneyland Resort for providing accommodations for my family for this event.