Although I always thought that Disney’s Magic Kingdom was the quintessential theme park for kids, I could never quite comprehend why adults that didn’t have little ones in tow found it so fascinating. Then last month my wife and I brought our young daughters to the place where dreams come true and finally understood a little better why so many grown ups get hooked.
As we expected, seeing Disney through the eyes of our children gave us a completely renewed appreciation for everything that old Walt and his disciples have created over the years. Although lining up for autographs from the various “cast members” got the girls engaged right away, my wife and I were most enthralled by an overall sense of nostalgia for historical eras that we didn’t even live through.
First came Main Street USA, where we were serenaded by a barbershop quartet and surrounded by shops that looked like a time that probably never really existed. Then there was the iconic image of a classic river boat rounding the bend in Frontierland and a Jungle Cruise that took me right back to my first visit in 1977 (but I do miss you “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea…”)
Just like the entertainment environments that you design in your clients’ homes, Disney theme parks are about creating magical experiences and a sense of escapism. We were there for our daughters, of course, but soon my wife and I found ourselves retracing our childhood memories, introducing the girls to the strangely satisfying “it’s a small world” ride (for the life of me I can’t explain why we all liked it so much), Peter Pan’s Flight (the pinnacle of nostalgia for my wife), Pirates of the Caribbean (still inappropriate after all these years), and the Haunted Mansion (after dark, which was by far our worst idea of the day).
My five-year-old’s best experience was actually my least favorite. Mickey’s PhilharMagic is a large movie palace that shows a “4D” film highlighting some of the greatest hits from Disney, with “environmental elements” such as wind and mists of water thrown in to heighten the three-dimensionality further. The convergence of the images on the screen was so bad that I risked a headache of migraine proportions if I kept watching, so instead I focused on my daughter’s mesmerized expression as she sang along with her Disney favorites. Her response was clearly more about the emotional connection to the content of the movie, rather than its production value, and it was worth the price of admission to see the wonder in her eyes.
With the requisite Electric Parade, amazing castle light show, and a fireworks display to close out the day, the deal was sealed that we would be back again. The next morning at breakfast, I thought to myself: “I had such a great time; I really want to go back!” I know I didn’t have that much fun, but there’s something about the Disney experience that keeps you coming back for more, even as an adult.