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Thursday Treasures

August 9, 2012

Thursday Treasures: A 30 Year Dream Come True At Walt Disney World

By Pedro 'Pap' Hernandez

What do Cinderella, Aladdin, and Rapunzel have in common? Their dreams lied in a magical castle in the distance, close enough for them to experience, yet too far away from their reach. For over 30 years, this is how I've been feeling. My castle was Cinderella Castle, far away in Walt Disney World. You might think it is weird that someone as passionate about Disney as I am had yet to do a Disney vacation, but it's true. From the moment I learned of Walt Disney World's existence as a kid, I knew it was a place I needed to visit at least once in my lifetime. But sometimes life can be rough on even its youngest dreamers. I grew up watching other kids at school and relatives talk about their trips, and a teacher even told me once to stop believing in my Walt Disney World dream. The worst part? I actually believed what she said for the longest time in my life! I felt that Walt Disney World was the impossible dream everyone has in life, and in several moments of frustration I declared the park to be shallow and overrated.

But then some amazing friends of mine made me realize something... just because a dream has yet to become a reality it doesn't mean that it will NEVER happen, and they were right! All my life I've seen many dreams come true, and all of them have taken their time to become a reality. Cinderella's Fairy Godmother once said, 'Even miracles take a little time.' That is because fate sometimes works really hard for a dream to happen at the right time. And once it does, the wait will have been worth it. The right people are with you, and the stage has been perfectly set for you to shine. With this new and meaningful piece of knowledge in my heart, I decided to keep the dream of going to Walt Disney World alive, knowing that even if it doesn't come true soon enough it WILL happen, and when it does, it will be a poignant moment in my life.

As Princess Tiana would say, making a dream come true also takes a lot of hard work and courage. At the start of the year I was offered a teaching job that paid me really well. I realized that this is the opportunity I have been waiting for, I could take my earnings and use them to make my Walt Disney World dreams come true. So with that in my mind, I worked really, really hard, made plenty of sacrifices, and made sure I had everything set.

By the end of May, the miracle had happened... My Disney Resort reservations were all paid off and I had bought a plane ticket to Orlando! I was going to Walt Disney World! In the days prior to the trip, there was a lot of excitement in the air, but also a lot of doubt. I have been waiting 30 years for this to become a reality. In that time, I've learned how Disney works, seen some of the attractions online, read about the urban myths and legends among many other things. I kept wondering... 'Will the magic still be there for someone that perhaps may have become too jaded to its legacy?' As the weeks turned into days, and the days later turned into hours, the excitement grew larger in scope, as well as the anxiety it all caused.

On July 15, 2012, I was at the Orlando International Airport, riding the Magic Express bus to my resort. When we entered Disney property, all the anxiety was gone. I knew that I was in for the time of my life. From this point on, I would be experiencing different moments, moments that have defined this vacation for the rest of my days on Earth.

These moments are as follow...

 Moments for the senses: Life is always worth experiencing, no matter what. There is a reason we have been gifted with the power of the senses: it is to make life that much more significant. The warmth of someone's hug, the tender touch of a kiss, the solidarity of a handshake, our senses can make our lives much more enthralling. No other place in the world knows this better than Disney. You could take high definition videos of a show or attraction. You can have the best pictures of Cinderella's castle. Heck, you could even imitate some of the Disney food dishes at home. But nothing, NOTHING compares to actually being there experiencing it all for yourself. Rides that seemed very slow and basic became enjoyable once you were there. Whether it is something big like a spray of water during Toy Story Midway Mania or a hug from Mickey Mouse, the senses can make the vacation even better.

Moments of fear: In all the greatest Disney stories, one of the things the characters must face are their fears. Like Simba's fear of being accused of being Mufasa's killer and Belle's fears as she sees Beast's castle for the first time, later to become its prisoner. In my case, some of these small fears involved going on the big thrill rides. Those that rode with me know that in some cases I had a deep look of concern and worry. I am not a big amusement park attraction rider (they are very rare around these parts), so I worried about the 'dangers' we could experience. Yet, I still braved on because this was a 30 year dream in the making, I wasn't going to let my fears put a damper on my trip. Doing this was worth it as my looks of concern quickly became ones of joy and happiness. Yes, going backwards on Expedition Everest was intense, rushing in the dark on Dinosaur was scary, and even going down the drop on Splash Mountain gave me chills, but once they were all over, I was happy to know that I faced and conquered my fears at Disney, and made me go 'LET'S GO ON IT AGAIN!'

Moments of silliness: It is a guarantee that once you are at Disney, you will be smiling and laughing your day through. This is all thanks to these moments of silliness you will encounter in many ways, shapes, and forms. In my case, one of these was by taking silly pictures in the rides, making fun of my friends as we waited in line, and even making fun of some of the attractions! One of my favorite moments of silliness was with Mr. Incredible and Frozone on Hollywood Studios. Prior to my meeting with them, Frozone was making fun of Mr. Incredible's belly as he lacked the abs Frozone has. When I met with Mr. Incredible I told him that I had muscles too, just that they were more round that usual, which sent everyone into hysterics. Mr. Incredible was more than happy that day, I think.


Moments of friendship: My philosophy has always been this: no matter where you are and where you go in life, the journey will ALWAYS be better with friends. I have tested this philosophy in the past, and I can assure you that it still stands today. One of the best things I got to do at Disney was meet up with some of the most amazing friends a guy could ever have. It is even better when those friends are as passionate about Disney as you are. It tends to make attractions more interesting as you share facts back and forth and make fun of said attractions. Yes, I had a blast exploring some of the parks by myself, but with friends it all became much more magical. And speaking of which...

Moments of magic: It wouldn't be a Disney vacation without magical moments happening throughout, and on this trip, there were a ton of them. For example, winning the animator's drawing of Pluto at the Animation Academy on Hollywood Studios gave me a lot of joy. Meeting Cinderella for the first time sent my heart a flutter thanks for her beauty and charm. Meeting Mickey Mouse for the very first time in my life was also something that filled me with joy. Seeing Fantasmic!, especially its finale, was so moving I actually ended up in tears by the end of it all. Which leads me to the greatest moment of magic on this trip...

On July 17, 2012, I decided to make this the day I visited the Magic Kingdom for the first time. After the great opening show, my best friend Kelvin Cedeno and Sunday Brunch article writer Reuben Gutierrez met up and decided to make an event out of my first time seeing the castle. We boarded a Main Street vehicle, making sure I had my face down the whole time. When the time came, I looked and watched the castle for the first time ever. In that moment, all 30 years of my life went flashing through my life. All the laughter, tears, anger, the hard work, patience, EVERYTHING that led up to this moment, and it all materialized into a beautiful castle off in the distance.

For some, this might seem like a silly thing: tearing up over a fairy tale castle, but let's us go back to what I said earlier about Cinderella, Aladdin, and Rapunzel. Cinderella went to the ball and her life changed for the better. Aladdin visited the castle and not only did he find love, he learned to appreciate himself for who he is. When Rapunzel visited the kingdom, she found the true home she didn't know existed. In my case, when I visited the kingdom I learned that ANY dream can come true if you have the will and courage to pursue it. It may take days, months, years, decades even. Yet, life can be so kind that it WILL let you experience a dream made real.

Not a moment of good bye, but of farewell: My last day at Disney was on July 19, 2012. I did feel very bittersweet about it, but I decided to enjoy my last day at the Magic Kingdom, which turned out to be one of the absolute best. I got to meet the characters I missed on my first day, see some shows and parades, and most importantly, hang out with my best friends. When the time came to say our good byes, something amazing happened. As I was walking my way down Main Street to catch my bus back home, the 'Move it, Shake it, Celebrate It' street party was ending its day down on Main Street. While it made its way back, the song said the following:

'It's the time of your life! So many reasons why, you don't want to stop! It's your chance, live it up! Everything you do, celebrate you! Come on, make the party last! Forever, and ever, have the best time you ever had, and go break free!

This song struck me really hard. It truly did capture everything I enjoyed about this trip. I had the time of my life making my dreams come true and hanging out with some of the best friends ever. And the song is right, everything I did celebrated me, who I was, who I am, and who I might become in the near future. When the parade kept moving down Main Street, I couldn't help but wave good bye to all the characters and performers. I felt that it was no coincidence that the parade was happening just as I was returning home: it was Disney's way of letting me know that I had a home in Disney, and that no matter what happened in my life I should never stop believing, and to always keep celebrating, because life is one big celebration worth attending.

I want to thank EVERYONE who I encountered, not just in my trip, but in my whole life. I want to thank my family who believed in my dream alongside me and supported me before, during and after the trip. I want to thank everyone I met during this visit. Your presence made my trip even more memorable. I want to thank the friends I have encountered online through various Disney forums who supported me and my dream, and always offered words and advice of friendship before and during my trip. I want to thank my travel agent, whose patience, wisdom and kindness made this trip one of the smoothest ever. I want to thank Brent Dodge, owner and author of From Screen to Theme, for inspiring a spark of imagination that was once dormant in me. Most importantly, I want to thank Walter Elias Disney for dreaming up some of the most incredible places in the world, and his older brother Roy Disney, for being an incredible brother and completing Walt's dream.

All of these people helped make a 30 year dream come true, not an easy journey but a journey filled with many lessons and magic. And the greatest lesson of all... Walt Disney World is not a shallow, overrated place. It is a labor of love for Walt Disney by and for Disney fans all over the world.



Kelvin Cedeno edited two videos of my trip. The first video is that of a handful of meet and greets at Disney (specifically Disney's Hollywood Studios and the Magic Kingdom):


The second video includes several moments from my trip, including the biggest one of all: the reveal of Cinderella's Castle at 33:41 (though if you have the time, watch the 45 minute video to get a better feel of the whole journey):



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