As a child, I always thought of Disneyland as a place of pure wonder. When I was knee-high to a grasshopper, as my dad described me, our family took a visit to the Magic Kingdom. And magical it was. Some of my earliest awestruck memories are of being surrounded by my favourite characters, there in the flesh.
As it happened, meeting them proved a bit too much for me and I refused to go near any of them, although I did manage a photo with Donald Duck after encouragement from my mum.
So, some 25 years later, I’ve finally returned with my mum. Would it hold the same charm, allure and fun? It turns out the answer is a resounding yes.
This time around, it’s all a little different. For a start, my mum and I are on the opposite US coast, at Florida’s Disneyworld.
The original Disneyland, in Anaheim, California, is now two arks, Disneyland and California Adventure Land, which are located side-by-side and relatively easy to walk between.
Florida’s equivalent is located in Buena Vista Lake, Orlando, and is so big that it gets its own zip code. There are six parks to navigate over an area roughly the size of San Francisco, or twice that of New York’s Manhattan. In other words, it’s massive. It’s the most-visited attraction in the US and after visiting, it’s easy to see why so few Americans leave their own nation for holidays.
We decide to spend a day at the traditional park, the Magic Kingdom, ahead of the tech-focused Epcot (we vow to return), Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and the two water parks. Entry tickets start at US$95 ($115) and when Mum – now used to flashing her senior citizens card at any opportunity – asks about a discount, she’s told, “No, ma’am, we’re all young at heart today.”
All those years ago, my mum got to see the park through my wide-eyed amazement. We stuck to the safe rides and when anything got a little too scary
or tiring, we were back for another spin on my favourite ride, Alice’s Teacups.
Exhausted every night, we were tucked up in bed by the time the fireworks started, so my mum would watch a sliver of them through the hotel window.
This time around, it feels like the roles are reversed and I’m getting to enjoy it through her new perspective. On this visit, we discover the best time to hit the main rides is late in the evening, when the crowds have subsided and kids are in bed.
The park stays open until midnight, and in these final hours, without strollers and motorised wheelchairs to dodge, it's a much more pleasant place to navigate.
We go on the musical boat ride It’s a Small World for old times’ sake and then Mum somehow blitzes me in a newer ride, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin – as if inside an arcade game, we slowly spin in our chairs, armed with laser guns fighting for a high score.
My favourite of all, though, ends up being Monsters, Inc Laugh Floor, a comedic stage show based on the characters of the Monsters, Inc film. It truly becomes interactive when the spotlight on the audience lands on my mum.
An onstage animated monster then asks her if she can pull a funny or scary face. Out of nowhere, Mum becomes a facial contortionist. The kids – and adults – in the audience burst into laughter and applause, especially as the monster on screen tries to mimic my mum. The show is clever and hilarious from beginning to end.
But the highlight of the day has to be when my mum finally gets to watch that fireworks display above Cinderella’s castle. Tinkerbell flies overhead as amagical Disney tale is told, set to an incredible display of fireworks.
Mum is amazed and thrilled that she finally got to see them right amongst the action. We’re just a couple of weeks shy of her 70th birthday, but the man at the ticket desk was right: we’re all children at heart when it comes to Disney.