1. Mickey’s Philharmagic
When I was a kid, walking down Main Street USA in the middle of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom used to overwhelm me with such giddiness, to the point where I developed an unsightly waddle and wanted to laugh, cry, and vomit simultaneously. I’d like to say I’ve grown out of that, but for the generation who grew up with beloved Disney animation, I don’t think that feeling ever quite goes away. When the park unveiled their latest technologically-advanced attraction in October of 2003, it was the first of its kind (before Soarin’ came to Epcot in 2005) to boast an immersive 4D experience.
Mickey’s Philharmagic is a 12-minute theater show that starts with maestro Mickey intending to direct a grand orchestra (hence the wordplay). But Donald, ever the troublemaker, steals the magic hat and accidentally plunges himself into the vibrant and enchanting world of Walt’s classic films.
The first time I saw it, I cried. That’s not me trying to be hyperbolic and funny, a tear or two legitimately rolled down my cheeks because it was pure Disney brilliance and magic imagined and realized. How many of us Disney kids fell in love with those movies and wished we could dive right into them and join our childhood friends on their amazing adventures?
And they made it so real: 4D technology combines 3D images (projected onto a 150 foot-wide screen, in this case), plus effects that play with your other senses, momentarily helping you to forget that you’re simply sitting in a cushy chair somewhere in Orlando—a whiff of pie during the Beauty and the Beast sequence, a splash of water during The Little Mermaid, not to mention the songs we know every word to in booming surround sound. The creschendo of “Part of Your World” is probably when the chills started, but I was transfixed and grinning like an idiot all the way through The Lion King, Peter Pan, and Aladdin.
Suffice it to say, I highly recommend standing in line for this one the next time you find yourself strolling down Main Street USA. Just take the second star to the right and straight on ‘til Fantasyland.
2. Mermaid Merchandise
Wouldn’t you think my collection’s complete?
I fell head over fin for Ariel as a child and I’ve kept the obsession alive and well a little too far into adulthood, some might say. (Certainly not me. I would never say that.) As a kid, I had bedsheets and T-shirts and dolls. As a somewhat rational twentysomething, I’ve amassed a wide assortment of coffee mugs, snowglobes, tote bags, Christmas ornaments, and various trinkets. My house key has an Ariel wrap. I still have the plastic dish set I got for my fourth birthday, along with two other plates I’ve purchased just because. I have all her stuffed pals. A friend even cross-stitched me an Ariel head. I bought a truly beautiful Thomas Kinkade poster without really having anywhere to hang it. But who cares? No big deal. I want more.
3. The World of Disney Store
When we went back to Orlando for the first time since I was just four years old, so much had changed. In 2000, we did a combo vacation that included three days in the parks and four days aboard the Disney Magic, as part of the newly launched (as of 1998) Disney Cruise Line. One of the things that stood out from the trip—besides the cruise itself, which I’ll get to later—was the lavish retail store, World of Disney, which first opened its doors in 1996. The phrase “feast your eyes” never rang so true. It’s “the world’s largest Disney character store” with 12 different rooms overflowing with clothing, collectible pins, housewares, and more. We’ve been back a few times since and I always want to buy absolutely everything.
4. Disney Cruise Line
I believe the saying is, go hard or go home? When Disney first took to the seas in 1998, they did so in mind-blowing extravagant fashion. As I talked about above, we boarded the Disney Magic in 2000 which was only two years old at the time. I’d been on the Big Red Boat as a child, back when it was affiliated with Disney, but the Magic was double the size and I was finally old enough to appreciate what a truly carefree experience cruising can be. Disney’s latest pride and joy boasted massive size (it easily doubled the BRB) and had creativity oozing out the Mickey-shaped ears. From the moment you step on board, you’re plunged into a family-friendly atmosphere that automatically puts your mind at ease. You’ve entered your floating home-away-from-home.
A nice Disney touch that no other cruise line does? You’re personally welcomed, no, announced. I can still recall our cast member’s accent as she smiled into her microphone: “Say hello to the Tupper family from New Jer-see! Welcome aboard!” The décor of the ships combines art deco with classic characters; I lost track of the number of “Hidden Mickeys” I found. It combines all the imagination of any other Disney experience, but with all the wonderful experiences of cruising. I remember quite vividly that, during our night docked in the Bahamas, we were the only ship shooting fireworks into the sky as a raucous deck party raged on. You’re not just left to our own devices while aboard a Disney ship; they want you to have the most fun possible. The pools were shaped like Mickey’s head. Their private island, Castaway Cay (right) was an absolute oasis. The foghorn blasted “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes,” for crying out loud. Since 2000, I’ve been on four other cruises (and I’m about to enjoy my seventh total in just a week or so), but Disney is still my favorite. Now, with two new additions to the fleet (Dream and Fantasy) that are double the size of the Magic and Wonder (!), I know that another Disney cruise positively must be in my future.
5. Disney Flair
When you step into a Disney restaurant, store, theme park, or cruise ship, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’ve entered a magical place. Disney is a company that prides itself on finesse and attention to the finest detail. Their proclivity for fanfare makes even the most monotonous of experiences pop. I witnessed this firsthand in 2011 during my internship for Endless Vacation magazine/Story Worldwide in Manhattan. I was sent to a Disney Cruise Line press announcement in Chelsea. I rubbed elbows with fellow journalists, dined on watermelon goat cheese gateau (right), and watched with barely veiled enthusiasm as Captain Mickey and DCL’s President announced their new home port of New York City. My editor had rolled her eyes when she handed me the invitation, but I loved it. The tables were marked not by number but by nautical character (Nemo, Flounder, etc). Glitter and streamers exploded above the stage as the banners dropped. My eyes were probably as big as dancing dinner plates when I saw all the new innovations coming to the cruise line, which was expected given the incredible time I had in 2000, as mentioned above. (And yeah, I got my picture taken with Captain Mickey. What of it.) There was no fraction of the event left untouched by a little sprinkle of pixie dust and I had to shake my head at how surprised I wasn’t—after all, the devotion to creating such a charming experience is what makes Disney so magical.