December 17, 2007

From Dawn until Dancing

In November of 2003, my wife and I took our two children to Disney World in Florida. This vacation was planned well in advance, and my children were allowed to make up the school work they missed while they were away when they returned from our dream vacation. My son was almost five years old and my daughter was eight years of age. The anticipation they felt was almost unbearable, and when we left to drive down to Orlando from Long Island, New York (a drive I will never make again) we felt that something wonderful was going to happen.

My wife is the most organized person I know. She did more research on Walt Disney World than I anyone I ever knew who planned a trip there. There are countless websites on Disney, each with a treasure trove of information from obscure trivia, to where the best places to find the characters hanging around are. With our itinerary in hand, it took us a little over a day to get to the park and check into our hotel, in spite of a tire blow-out we had in Baltimore on the way. Not letting that mishap ruin the mood, we settled into our All Star Movies Resort hotel room and unpacked in a hurry.

The entire week we were there we got to experience all of the rides, meet the characters for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and visit all of the parks and swim in the pools. On the last full day before we were to leave for home the next morning, we decided to toss our plans aside and just do whatever came naturally. That meant no rushing to get to restaurants, or standing on the curb for an hour or more to see a parade, or hopping the monorail to make it to some event by a certain hour. We were free, and very relaxed. By late afternoon, my wife mentioned that we should go to the Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom because her brother told her about it and he thought the food was good. We mentioned it to the kids and they didn’t care, so we went off down Main Street to find the restaurant which is across from the Hall of Presidents.

Inside, it wasn’t crowded, but we still had to wait a short while. Since we were under no time constraints, my wife and I were happy to sit on the benches and chat and look around at the d├ęcor. Then, we noticed that our daughter was crying. ‘What’s the matter sweety?” my wife asked.

My daughter continued to cry, not loud, and my wife asked again. “Sweetheart, what’s the matter?” My daughter looked up at her.
It’s just that tomorrow we’re going to leave, and this is our last day here, and we’re not going to come back for a really long time.” She spoke in that hiccup-like voice kids have when they sob and talk at the same time. At that moment, one of the waiters came over and spoke to her.

Why are you crying little girl?” he asked. “There’s no crying in the Magic Kingdom. This is the happiest place on Earth.” There’s a reason why Disney calls their employees “cast members.” This guy was doing a great job of acting he and came to our rescue.

You come with me,” he said “Sit down and have a great, big dinner with your mommy and daddy and your little brother.” Like a scout leader, he turned and led the way as my befuddled daughter and my son trekked behind him obediently to a room off to the side. My wife and I shrugged and followed along. He seated us at a table by a railing which overlooked another dining area a step or two lower than we were, offering a nice vantage point.

Are you still crying dear? This is the Magic Kingdom, and there is magic everywhere…” he said, and then he sprinkled “magic pixie dust” as he called it all over out table with his hand held high above his head, smiling triumphantly. On our plates and cutlery were hundreds of tiny, multicolored Mickey heads. That gesture got the children laughing. He leaned over to me as my children were playing with the pixie dust and asked me my daughter’s name and for the correct spelling.

Then, he left the table, and moments later he returned with a special certificate for our daughter. “This is an official ‘Magical Moment’ just for you.” he announced as he handed our wide eyed girl the placard. It was the size of college diploma, and printed on heavy, stock paper. “This is a magical moment you keep for the rest of your life.” After the presentation, he smiled and walked away.

The magical man left us for good and in the capable hands of a fellow server who hailed from Long Island where we live. He took excellent care of us, and we were visited by all of the characters. I took so many photos and video, that we ran out of film and my video camera’s batteries were almost spent. After our meal and dessert, one of the characters, Meeko, the raccoon from Pocahontas, escorted us from our table all the way outside and bid us adieu.

Before we left, the waiter pulled me aside gave me two birthday cards, each signed by every character we met that evening: Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Meeko, Chip and Dale, Pluto, and “all of the folks at the Liberty Tree Tavern” and he told me to give them to the kids on their birthdays and tell them that the cards were from them. What a guy. Needless to say, both he and the other “magic” server both received generous tips.

Outside, we could barely contain ourselves and our good fortune. Our daughter not only wasn’t crying, but both she and my son couldn’t stop laughing.

My wife noted that the fireworks display was set to go off in front of Cinderella’s Castle within the next hour or so. We decided just to walk over and hang out until the show. The sun was low in the sky and we sat near the front of the castle with other families who were taking in the scenery and relaxing after a day of running around. Soon, the area was full of hundreds of others vying for a good view of the fireworks. Music was playing over those mysterious, hidden speakers which Disney hides in the shrubbery, and it was cool outside. My wife and I sat back on our hands feeling satisfied.

Look at them;” she said “they’re so happy.” There they were, our two kids dancing to the music without a care in the world. They laughed and sang, and rocked out to the tunes. I reached for the video camera and my wife took my arm.

No, no, just watch them.” She said. And, we did. Hand in hand the two of us laughed along with them as the sunlight faded and their shadows grew longer and splayed across the brick sidewalk. There was no need for video. That scene plays out in my head whenever I need to remember what it’s like to be happy. For my wife and I, that was our magical moment.

Happy Holidays from Mr. Grudge & family!

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