We had received an invitation from some friends of ours to join them in Orlando, Florida for a kind of “mini vacation”. The invitation was for two days of fun taking in the sights, sounds, and magic of Christmas at Disney World. Our friends were spending a week at Disney and Ann and I were to join them on the morning of their fourth day at the theme park. It had been a number of years since we last visited the “Land of Mickey” during the holiday season, so Ann and I decided to accept the invitation.
The morning of our departure was cloudy, cold, and foggy and we were hoping that wasn’t an omen of things to come. As we drew closer and closer to Disney World though, our fears were quickly replaced by excitement and we were soon reminiscing about the great time we had at Epcot on our last holiday visit. During that visit, we truly enjoyed ourselves and the more we saw of the make-believe world, the more the child in us came out from its dusty, web covered hiding place. We spent the whole time meandering around taking in the sights at our own pace, not the slightest bit worried if we didn’t get to see everything…after all, the idea was to relax and enjoy ourselves. The decorations were beyond words and we had a great time, far exceeding our expectations…a magical time in a world of make-believe.
Now, I have to be totally honest with you. During the trip over to Disney, there was this little gremlin in the back of my mind saying, “You can’t go back, it won’t be the same” and “You’re not going to have fun, you’ll be hanging out with three teenagers and their parents”. As we pulled our car under the portico of Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, I knew instantly the gremlin was right, it was not the same…it was better…it was awesome.
Before we went through the check-in process at the Inn, we took some time to wander around the lobby. It was amazing, all decorated for Christmas, absolutely breathtaking. I swear even Scrooge would have hummed along with the Christmas music…bah-eautiful! The child in us was once again stirring, wanting to get out.
Once we were settled in, we contacted our friends and they hopped on one of the many shuttle boats to make their way over to our hotel. As we were greeting each other, they mentioned that if we wanted to head out on our own they would not be upset, they just didn’t want us to feel as though we were being forced to hang around with them. I thought that was odd, but just wrote it off as a nice gesture.
We went through the process of securing our park entrance cards and once that was complete, we all headed off to Epcot, enjoying a friendly chat as we walked at a nice leisurely pace. In no time, we had traveled the short distance to the entrance gates. As we swiped our cards and walked through the turnstile, it may have been my imagination, but I thought I saw a flash of light and the whole demeanor of our friends seemed to change. The look on their faces reflected anticipation, a burning desire, a need to get going. My little gremlin was now saying, “I warned you, but no, you wouldn’t listen”.
The sights were amazing, but I noticed that each time I would stop to snap some pictures, our friends would get a pained look on their faces…humm, was this yet another omen. Hey, I’m a photographer, I take pictures, and I hope they understood that fact when they planned this trip and invited us along. I was beginning to feel as though we were slowing them down.
The sun finally made an appearance and as we ventured deeper into Epcot, our leisurely pace began to morph into a brisk walk. Now, every time I stopped for a Kodak moment I would have to run to catch up to the rest of the gang. It reminded me of some of the hectic vacations my family took during my growing-up years. Just before we headed for the car, dad would always say, “Go to the bathroom now because we’re not stopping ‘till we get there”. In spite of the rushed pace our friends had set, Ann and I were still enjoying ourselves and seeing a lot of sights, so we really didn’t mind.
Once again I made a stop to “capture the beauty” and when I turned to rejoin the gang, they were nowhere in sight. As I looked around, I caught a glimpse of Ann disappearing around a distant corner, traveling at a high rate of speed, with a teenager attached to each of her arms. I’m not sure if my eyes were playing tricks on me or not, but it appeared as though her feet were not touching the ground…and yet another mad dash to catch up with the gang. I was beginning to think we were seriously cutting into the teenagers “ride time”.
As the day wore on, we were beginning to feel more and more guilty about slowing them down. To compensate, I became very adept at shooting on the run. We were both to the point of dropping from sheer exhaustion. The only thing that kept us going was our ego. We sure didn’t want the teenagers and their parents to think the old fogies could not keep up. We also knew that it was getting close to the time we would be forced to stop because we had reservations for dinner followed by a Christmas concert. Our feet were sorely looking forward to that time when we could flop down and take a load off.
We had a terrific dinner, which was followed by a narrated Christmas story intermixed with music played by a large orchestra. Our feet were overjoyed that it was a long concert. When we finally left the amphitheater, I think even the teenagers and their parents had run out of steam, so we were back to a leisurely pace while we wandered around taking in the beauty of all the Christmas lights.
Finally, it was time to head back to our room. Our friends told us where to meet them in the morning and we all said our goodbyes. Once they were out of sight, Ann and I headed over to catch a shuttle boat back to our hotel…enough with the long, fast-paced walks, it was time to be lazy. Our excuse was that we needed to save our strength for tomorrow’s adventure since our friends seem to have a passion for walking…very brisk walking.
When we finally made it back to our hotel and were getting ready for bed, we spent some time discussing the day’s events. I was telling Ann, I didn’t feel the magic. Yes, we had an enjoyable day, but what happened to the magic, that awesome feeling that we experienced on our last Christmas visit to Disney. Were we finally getting to old for the magic? Was the child in us buried so deep that it could not find its way out? I think we both fell asleep dreaming about our last holiday visit and hoping that the magic would return in the morning.
The next day, we were both a wee bit achy and somewhat slow getting out of bed. It was then that Ann remembered we had brought along a bottle of aspirin and we both ingested the prescribed dose listed on the bottle label. By the time we had both showered and dressed, the aspirin had kicked-in and we were raring to go…well, “raring to go” may not have been the best choice of words, let’s just say we “meandered out the door”. We had a pleasant breakfast at the Inn’s cafe and spent our time discussing how we were going to handle today’s “marathon”. We decided that if the pace became too hectic, we would just find out where everyone was headed and we would meet them there…kind of “Don’t wait on us, we’ll get there when we get there”.
We finished our breakfast and headed out to catch a bus to Animal Kingdom. The trip was longer than expected so we were running a little late. Ugh, we were already slowing our friends down…not a good way to start the day. However, when we arrived at the designated meeting place our friends were nowhere in sight. Ann and I were now beginning to worry that they left without us. Just as we were about to head-out on our own, the gang arrived walking at a pace slightly faster than your average garden snail and looking somewhat sleepy. I chuckled and fought the urge to make some snide remarks.
After we entered Animal Kingdom, I was pleasantly surprised that no one seemed to be in a great hurry. We were asked if we wanted to ride on Expedition Everest…our answer was a resounding no, no, and heck no. I was a big fan of riding Space Mountain, but Expedition Everest makes it look like molasses on a cold winters day…there wasn’t enough courage between the two of us to even walk anywhere near Expedition Everest. With that resolved, the “kids” took off running to get Fastpasses for a ride that we felt was going to scare the bejeebers out of them.
The rest of us continued on to a real daring ride, Kali River Rapids. Hey, it sounded like fun and how bad could it be? The “kids”, with their Fastpasses in hand, finally caught up to us just as we were approaching the ride entrance. Our friends kept snickering and giving each other “knowing looks”. Humm, I wonder what that’s all about? Just in case there was something behind those looks, I decided to stow my camera in one of the kid’s backpacks. Water and a camera, nah, they just do not mix well…I’ll play it safe.
When our turn came to load up, our friends quickly jumped in the raft ahead of us, pointed at the two remaining seats, and said, sit there…duh…once again, I wondered what that was all about. As we were slowly floating down the river, our friends were telling us about their uncle and how he got drenched when they took him on this very ride. Suddenly alarm bells went off in my head and before I could warn Ann we were plunging down a waterfall…you guessed it, we were both soaked. Our friends were high and dry, well, except for the tears streaming down their cheeks from laughing so hard. To say we looked like drowned water rats would have been an understatement. After experiencing our near drowning, the rest of the ride was like tiptoeing through a tulip patch…boring. As we were exiting the ride I noticed a tall, strong fence, between the water and us…darn, no paybacks, I guess our friends won’t be “accidentally” falling in the water…my revenge will have to wait.
It was easy to find our way back to the Kingdom, all we had to do was just follow all the wet footprints. We were now slipping and sliding our way to the infamous Expedition Everest. No, we hadn’t changed our minds, but the “kids” were still intent on committing suicide. The gang took off running as Ann and I meandered in the direction of all the distant, panicked screams…“Help, help me”, and “I want my mommy”. There also were a few people on the ride that kept calling for someone named ralph…not sure what that was about.
As we wandered along, we were in awe of the beauty around us. Yes, it was all make believe, but wow. Even though it was impressive, I was still asking the same question, “What happened to the magic?” We were indeed enjoying ourselves, but maybe we have just gotten too old to find the magic, maybe it is lost forever in the cobweb covered hollows of our minds.
We arrived at Expedition Everest just in time to see the gang exiting the ride. They were all trying to act as if it was no big deal, but their ashen faces and shaky hands told a different story. Once again, I stifled the urge to make some snide remarks. Maybe along with getting old, I’m also getting soft. In the past, I would never have missed an opportunity to hurl a few zingers.
Our next destination was Kilimanjaro Safari, which was clear on the other side of the park. I was dreading that long, rushed walk until I discovered our lunch destination was at the halfway point of our trek. Apparently the dreaded Expedition Everest had taken its toll on the gang since we were back to traveling at a slow, relaxed pace. The “kids” were even encouraging me by pointing out photo ops. The morning haze had finally cleared and as is my custom, I snapped a gazillion pictures.
As you can imagine, lunch with three teenagers was interesting. One of the boys kept trying to build a tower of condiments while his brother kept destroying the leaning tower of condiments. Their sister kept egging both of them on, and in no time, the parents were upset with all of them.
Experience had taught Ann and me to “clam up” since trying to defuse this type of situation would more than likely put us right in the middle of the “family discussion”. We just gave each other a knowing look, sat back, and waited for the smoke to clear. Since our friends were all mad at each other, the rest of our “dining experience” was conducted in complete silence. Did I mention the food was great?
After an interesting lunch, and yet another long walk, we arrived at Kilimanjaro Safari. We navigated the famous Disney queuing system and eventually were allowed to climb aboard one of the open-sided safari vehicles. I have to admit, the design of the vehicle and the drivers “canned” speech seemed a wee bit corny at first, but we “went with the flow” and were soon caught-up in the chase to catch poachers who had taken a baby elephant away from its mother…yeah, I know, how could we be so gullible?
We did get to see a lot of animals as we “bounced” along, and I do mean “bounced. If it wasn’t for the “bounce”, I probably would have nodded off listening to the drone of the driver’s monologue…hmmm, you don’t suppose it was planned that way do you? All in all, it was still an enjoyable experience and I was impressed with the design of the animal habitats, but the magic was still missing.
We then raced over to the “It’s Tough to be a Bug” theater and once again the gang started snickering while sharing conspiratorial looks and smiles…I warned Ann that another surprise was just around the corner. The presentation was your stereotypical Disney 3D movie complete with us getting sprayed in the face with what I had hoped was just water and then getting our butts “bumped” as the bugs supposedly vacated the theater by crawling under our seats. After leaving the bug basement, it was back out in the sunshine and a leisurely stroll through some Florida native wildlife exhibits and then a visit with some dinosaurs.
It was getting late in the day and I was ready to call it quits and head home, but I was informed we had one more stop to make, this time it was in the Hollywood Studios theme park. I was mumbling to Ann about the long walk ahead of us when it was announced by our friends that we would be taking one of the shuttle boats…all I said was “We’re not w a l k i n g,?” and suddenly I had a sharp pain in my side as Ann’s elbow sunk my floating rib. That was closely followed by a loud wheezing sound as all the air left my lungs.
I found out our final destination was to see the Osborne Family Christmas Lights. I didn’t have enough lung capacity back to make another snide remark, but I was thinking “Oh joy, more Christmas lights. Where’s the magic in that?” So once our shuttle boat docked, we made yet another hectic trek through the land of make believe, this time to see some family’s Christmas lights…joy to the world…bah humbug.
I was a little confused when we finally arrived at our destination. It looked just like an ordinary city street complete with tall buildings. The family’s Christmas lights that we were supposed to look at, were nowhere in sight. As I was looking around for the Osborne family and their Christmas lights, I spied several large benches and decided that sitting my butt down and resting was far more important than worrying about some old Christmas lights…I was tired…I was getting grumpy…I wanted to go home…and the only magic I wanted to see was the lights of Orlando in the rearview mirror of our car.
Shortly after we sat down, we heard a racket coming from the far end of the street and as we looked in that direction, we could see a small impromptu parade headed our way. Just a few vehicles and some people dressed in costumes, you know, typical Disney, but it held our interest for all of ten minutes. Then it was back to people watching and wondering what happened to that family’s lights.
As the sun started to set, I was beginning to think the Osborne’s had made a wrong turn in Tampa because they were definitely a no show and their Christmas lights never made it either. Well, at least it will give us an early start for our three hour trip home. Just as I was about to tell Ann this must have been another one of our friends jokes, I heard Christmas music. It was faint at first, but gradually got louder and louder as the sun finally dropped off the edge of the earth.
Looking down the street, I could see Christmas lights blinking on. Slowly, building by building the Christmas lights began to glow. When it finally reached our end of the street, the music was at full intensity and the lights began to pulse to the beat of the music. Oh, it was truly awesome, it was beyond belief, amazing, like being five years old and waking up on Christmas morning. The child in me had not only come out, but was dancing in the street. I glanced over at Ann and saw the twinkle in her eyes, she knew, she felt the same way…it was magic…it was indeed the magic, that awesome feeling when you’re a kid and everything is right in your little world.
Before we even realized what happened, we found ourselves out in the street joining the festivities with the rest of the crowd, bathing in the magic. Not a soul was sitting on the sidelines, not a soul cared about yesterday or tomorrow, not a soul wanted it to end. We were all children again. It was hearing reindeer on the roof and Santa coming down the chimney, it was all you could ask for and more…then it began to snow.
As the music faded and the lights slowly dimmed and finally blinked out, we all realized it was over. It was time for the child to retreat to its dusty, web covered hiding place and for us to rejoin the adult world. The magic was over and with each passing year it was becoming harder and harder to find.
We were closer to our hotel room than our friends were to theirs, so we were on the road long before they were even ready to leave Disney. With the cruise control on and Christmas music coming from the radio, we settled back in our seats for the long ride home.
We thought of the magic that was reborn, but were brought back to earth by the sound of a horn. As we looked out the window what should appear, our friends in a van with all of their gear. They seemed once again to be in a hurry, traveling so fast and causing us worry.
I heard Ann say as they drove out of sight, “Happy Christmas to all and to all a good-night. Oh, and don’t wait on us, we’ll get there when we get there!”
Another great adventure comes to an end. It doesn’t get any better than this…well, unless you’re talking about eating out with friends at an Oyster House and being the only one to find a pearl. That might just be a step up from this story.
I guess as we travel the road of life, we can never be really sure which way the road will turn…one thing’s for certain though, if teenagers invite you on a trip make sure you bring along your roller skates.
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