THE MAGIC Kingdom truly lives up to its lofty billing when children are involved. Lining up with partners to get a photo with Mickey and Minnie is fun, but getting a happy snap with a little one is unforgettable. Having said that, watching grown single men pose for shots with Goofy is disturbing.
But my first visit to Disney World with my daughter has been a revelation, offering up an easy epiphany. Great vacations with kids are a two-for-one special – one holiday, two dreams realised. The dreams we have as children become reality at the same time. The sense of sharing is exhilarating.
Before my daughter came along, trips to Disneyland and Universal Studios were still spiritual journeys for this self-confessed movie geek. Coming face to face with a rubber, mechanical shark might as well have been a visit to the Sistine Chapel. Jaws overwhelmed me.
But Star Wars attractions were always the Holy Grail. At Disneyland in Paris, I stood beneath a life-sized model of an X-Wing Fighter spaceship and practically wept. By the time I was shouting “use the force, Luke, let go, Luke” at passing strangers, my wife was steering me towards the exit.
So I fully expected a sense of anti-climax to creep in to my recent tour along the East Coast of America. Theme parks and pop culture pilgrimages to iconic TV and movie locations in New York had all been meticulously pencilled into the itinerary. But I had a five-year-old little girl in tow this time. I anticipated sulking, whining, complaining and constant cries of “are we there yet”? And that was just me.
But the opposite happened. Our childlike enthusiasm and persistent curiosity served to fuel the sense of wonder in each other.
She met “the real” Ariel, from The Little Mermaid, and floated away on a cloud of euphoria for the rest of the day. I met a stunt guy dressed as Indiana Jones and giggled like a giddy schoolboy for the rest of the day. And I was fully aware that it’s just a regular guy in a costume.
To brush logic aside completely, I’ve actually met and interviewed Harrison Ford and felt nothing. He wasn’t dressed as Indiana Jones.
But Daddy and daughter encouraged each other. Our commitment to realising a childhood dream was matched by our eagerness to make each other’s dream a reality.
Long forgotten hopes, ideals and ambitions returned, resurrected by her infectious excitement. For weeks, I trailed a mirror from one theme park to another. Every time I saw her chasing Disney princesses, I saw a five-year-old boy back in 1979 desperately wishing he would bump into The Incredible Hulk.
Incidentally, I never did bump into The Incredible Hulk – or meet the man who portrayed him Lou Ferrigno. Dreams stayed dreams when we were young. Today, my daughter watches Cinderella and is posing beside her for photographs a year later.
But I recognised the confused combination of shock and awe at meeting a celluloid icon and the unexpected coming together of childhood dream and reality.
She is proving to be an elixir of youth. She makes me a child again (to be honest, I’ve never required much encouragement to regress).
Theme park holidays and long, overseas trips with little ones are often portrayed as a headlong tumble into a bottomless pit of misery and eternal frustration. That simply hasn’t being true of my family vacation, just the queues at Disney World (I now believe that hell isn’t a fiery dungeon of red-headed monsters stabbing miscreants with pitchforks, it’s lining up for the carousel at an American theme park).
My daughter and I have become firm travel buddies. We swapped notes on Disney princesses and Star Wars villains. We agreed that Belle had the most beautiful dress, Darth Vader was the most intimidating force for evil and Jar Jar Binks had an irritating voice.
So the trip was educational too.
More than that, the holiday was a chance for us to be there for each other, all day and every day.
Her joy at meeting Cinderella can’t be replicated in a second-hand storytelling. I had to be there.
My wife’s mimed re-enactment of our daughter’s disco dancing with Chip and Dale to Will Smith’s Boom! Shake the Room could never do the routine justice. I had to be there.
Her gleeful skipping and singing along to The Lion King’s I Just Can’t Wait to be King can’t be accurately captured on a small iPhone screen. I had to be there.
And when she collapsed exhausted into my arms at the end of the fireworks display, still smiling, I was there.
So I am a tad surprised when parents say they are planning a short break to recharge batteries by getting away from their children.
I’ve just had the best holiday of my life, because it was spent with my daughter.
About the Author: Neil Humphreys is one of Singapore’s best-selling authors. His works include Notes from an Even Smaller Island (2001), Scribbles from the Same Island (2003), and Final Notes from a Great Island: A Farewell Tour of Singapore (2006). Be My Baby (2008) chronicled his journey to parenthood and was his first international best-seller. His latest Singapore book, Return to a Sexy Island, is a No.1 national best-seller. Humphreys has written extensively for The Straits Times, TODAY, The New Paper, Men’s Health and Young Parents in Singapore. He currently lives in Bedok with his family and hopes his daughter will learn conversational Mandarin so she can teach her Dad.
First published in 18-07-2013.