Despite my to-do list, calendar invites and collection of blazers, I’m very much a child.
I’ve loved musicals since I saw Beauty and the Beast as a toddler with my mom. I still go to every Disney movie opening weekend, and I find myself the most focused at work when I listen to the Pocahontas soundtrack. And the latest Beauty and the Beast movie? I saw it five times in the theatre this spring.
But due a variety of circumstances growing up, I didn’t ever get a chance to have the typical Disney World experience. I desperately wanted to go, but it was impossible for our family. So I buried my childhood longing for the magic of Disney World in Disney movies played on repeat to make me smile on tough days.
And when I was 11, I found myself swallowed up in a world of magic again, this time with Harry Potter. The awkward discomfort of my teenage years had a bright light at Hogwarts. I would read the books over and over again. I’d win trivia contests at midnight release parties of the books, and I wept when the series ended the summer before my eighteenth birthday. I, for a moment, thought about skipping college all together to work at Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando.
And then I became a driven, Slytherin adult: focused on college, then a career, then a business, then a marriage. And the magic got a bit dimmer. I’d travel, but somehow, Disney World dropped further and further down my list. I’d tell myself:
I’m too old to go to Disney World for fun. I don’t have children. And children go to Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Universal Studios. Orlando is hot. Kevin doesn’t care about going to Disney World. It’s too much money to just live out a fantasy.
But then last January, Kevin and I were daydreaming and looking up deals for a summer vacation. I was looking at booking an Airbnb in Destin, a week on the beach. I wanted a beach vacation, with books and cocktails and sand, but Kevin wanted to do something fun. So we started looking into Orlando, and I emailed my amazing travel agent.
Two days later on a cold day in January, we booked the trip on a whim for six days in July.
We spent three amazing days at Universal Studios. And the first time I walked into Diagon Alley, my jaw dropped. I didn’t speak for almost 20 minutes, in awe. I squeezed Kevin’s hand hard when we rode the Hogwarts Express. I slurped butter beer. I felt my eyes well up with tears when I saw the Hogwarts castle for the first time. And I cried during the wand choosing ceremony at Ollivander’s, because I felt that same magic of reading Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time.
I had the best time wandering through Universal Studios, soaking up every bit of magic in the park. I cast spells with my wand and wore my Slytherin hat with pride. I didn’t think it could get any better.
And on a hot Tuesday, I wore a Minnie Mouse shirt and headed to Disney World for the last day of our trip. We walked through the gates at Magic Kingdom, and I was giddy when I saw Cinderella’s castle, finally, in person.
And then the crowds. And then the heat. And then the lines and the children screaming and the overpriced food.
It wasn’t that Disney World wasn’t magical. It just wasn’t perfect.
But at the end of a down pour in the afternoon, a dinner with a spilled beer and the inability to find the perfect souvenir, we did get 15 perfect minutes. The Happily Ever After Fireworks Show was everything I wanted Disney to be: music and singing and a beautiful, sparkling experience.
The tears that I cried were mixed with sweat, and I spent most of those magical moments rubbing my eyes, trying to see what I had waited my whole life to see.
But the real magic at Wizarding and Disney Worlds wasn’t in the lights and the sounds and the parks. It was in the Mickey Mouse sugar cookie I split with my husband on the steps of Main Street. It was the smile he sent my way in the line in the Forbidden Journey ride at Islands of Adventure. It was not wearing make-up for six days — the first time I’d done that since high school.
The real magic of Orlando isn’t at the theme parks. It’s the out of office message on your email. It’s the sun on your face for days. It’s the beautiful, humid distraction from real life.
And every child loves a good distraction.