Disney is always a good idea.


For those who know me, you know that Disney Parks hold a special place in my heart. I don't mean that I'm obsessed with the movies and think I'm a princess. I mean, those things are also true, but, focusing on the point....I'm a bit of a theme park expert.

You see, I have been going to the Walt Disney World theme parks every year for the past 25 years. No, seriously, I spent my first birthday at Disney and it's been downhill (uphill?) ever since. Shout out to my parents for that magical privilege, and for faithfully putting me in child swap until I finally hit 54 inches.


My current Disney Park visit quota is up to 27 and counting.

(Go ahead and scoff Floridians, but I reached that total as a Massachusetts resident, so, it's kind of a big deal. I get it, you get special discounts, free tickets and you know all the secrets, blah blah blah. Well, I don't ask you to compete for the most visits to Dunkin' Donuts hungover so, let's not let our regional bias get the best of us.)

This year, as you know, I embarked on a journey around the globe. I can live in virtually any city of the world, and explore hidden corners and Instagram worthy viewpoints full-time.  And yet....I still made time to plan a trip to Disney. Three, actually. For my 25th anniversary of Disney visits, I was able to visit all THREE western Disney Parks in 6 months: Disneyland (Sept 2017), Walt Disney World (January 2018) and Disneyland Paris (March 2018). Note: There are three fabulous parks in Asia I have yet to cross off my list.

Recently I asked myself - why *do* I keep coming back?  

I mean, Disney isn't cheap! My friends always ask me to plan their trips, and their eyes start bulging as I rattle off the memorized prices and expected budget. My trips to Disney the past 6 months have cost me double my entire two week vacation in Iceland. Iceland, where breakfast is $30 and you have to pay $5 to use the bathroom. 

So....why do I still pull up the Disney app to show my international friends how long the line currently is for the new Avatar ride?

Why is it that when I'm in ACTUAL PARIS, I still find myself wishing I was drinking around the World Showcase in Epcot instead?

(Left to Right) Disneyland in September, Walt Disney World in January, Disneyland Paris in March This montage is also known as "Watch my highlights grow out!" 

(Left to Right) Disneyland in September, Walt Disney World in January, Disneyland Paris in March
This montage is also known as "Watch my highlights grow out!" 

You know the saying "Paris is always a good idea"? Well, that's how I feel about Disney.

Disclaimer: Unless you are a sociopath and go in the summer, because then I am more concerned about your satisfaction level with human torture. 

I have honestly never had a bad day visiting a theme park (Universal included, but we are focusing on the mouse right now). I'm pretty sure a day at Disney is the memory of pure happiness I would focus on to conjure my Patronus. I mean, if you've been, you know what I mean. But you'd think that with the chance to travel the world, I'd probably save the Disney trips for next year. After some unnecessary but enjoyable over-analysis (read: my usual thought process), here are my reasons why no matter how many countries I visit, I'll keep telling people I want to go to Disney World. 

1. Child-like wonder is therapeutic. 

When you're little, things like "rational fear" and "insecurity" simply do not exist. Instead, they are replaced with joy, imagination, and a view of the world that is always important to remind yourself of. Only when you are 11 years old do you race back into line after getting off the Tower of Terror (may she RIP) to feel the thrill of being thrown up and down in a hunk of metal again. Walking around a theme park, you forget about the drama going on in your life back home, as you surrender yourself to the child within. In 2011, I forgot all about my college applications as I raced to show my best friends the World Showcase, giggling at learning to say "Hag un magish dag" in Norwegian. In 2005, I didn't think once about whether my 6th grade boyfriend liked my best friend more than me as Stitch bounced across my shoulders and burped his lunch in my face. (This ride is a little tired now, but, the memory stands.) And in January, I forgot all about my anxieties of traveling the world alone as shouted the words to "Let It Go" with Elsa, shooting suddenly backwards through the animatronic magic of Arendelle. 


No matter what age you are, acting like a kid is freeing. In the real world, traveling can be suffocating. You have to learn new languages and customs, watch for pickpockets in train stations, be okay with getting lost on a regular basis....and the lines for museums do not come with colorful decorations and expected wait times. Disney is purposefully designed to make you breathe for a minute, giving you permission to stop thinking and just enjoy. 

Also, tell me your heart *doesn't* melt when you see a toddler get star-struck meeting Cinderella for the first time. Or your best friend meeting Pooh (sry Archie). If not, you probably don't have a soul and you visit Disney in August. See above disclaimer. 

2. Walt Disney is a high-key inspiration

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Before my trip to Disneyland in September, I did some in-depth research on Walt Disney's story. And no, I don't mean his political story or the reason behind why he froze himself, let's just talk about the founder of a start-up here for a second. This film animator literally sounded *insane* when he brought up the idea of Disneyland to his investors. His pitch was an amusement park with a boardwalk, princess castle, and "themed," slow-moving attractions that was going to cost millions of dollars to build, and all he had on his resume were a few hit animated kid's movies. That boy would have gotten eaten alive on Shark Tank. And yet, he managed to convince this fledging cable studio called ABC to invest in him, in exchange for rights to a Walt Disney TV show. 

Disneyland opened in Anaheim, CA on July 17th, 1955, and of course it was a hit! Oh wait, just kidding. On Opening Day, half the rides shut down, the park ran out of food and water, and it was so damn hot, cute 50's moms got their pastel heels stuck in the hot asphalt. It's lovingly known as "Black Sunday."

The story, as we know, has a happy ending. After weeks of rides flipping over mid-flight, animal escapes, and car crashes in Autotopia, Disneyland worked out the kinks, and welcomed over 1 million visitors in Year One. 

It's kind of fun to do the impossible - Walt Disney

Have you ever had a dream you fought for that hard? Personally, there are few things I've believe in so much that I could survive half the fires Disney dealt with in his first 7 weeks as a theme park owner. He never got to see the other 5 parks that now exist around the world, but damn, that's quite the legacy. No matter what industry you're in, you can learn something from Disney - both the man, and the institution. Their attention to detail, care for their guests, and ceaseless optimism are able to re-invigorate me every time I come around for a visit. 

3. Visiting a Theme Park Tests Relationships 

There are many ways you can test your friendships/relationships in life. Living together. Sharing a pet, Eating the other's leftovers. But true friends and soulmates are discovered in the biggest trial of all: surviving a crowded day at Disney World. I have been to Disney with parents, extended family, best friends, a significant other, and roommates, and we've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly together. I mean, Disney is magical, but they sure throw you some trials and tribulations. Hangry waits for lunch next to screaming children in 2 hour fast-food lines. Sudden, torrential downpours in between sunshine. Chafing from your shorts after Splash Mountain. Realizing all the restaurants are closed until 10 AM after skipping breakfast to get to the park at 8AM for extra magic hours. If we can survive a three-hour line together, we're friends for life. Disney forces you to let go of the little things, and despite the hardships, leaves you smiling at the end of the day as you cattle march out of the parks post-fireworks. 

4. It's a Small World After All 

Following in that same vein - trips to Disney remind me a bit of the common ties we all have. You're all enjoying the same experiences, and trying to be a little more relaxed than usual. Hi, mother in front of me. No, don't worry, I am also pissed this line is so long, and I am 100% not judging you - I want to join your child taking a nap on the floor.

In Disney world, people hold your place in line so you can get alcohol at the stand next door, every child in a dress is referred to exclusively as "princess." and even though I do not speak Portugese, I am equally excited to be going to Infinity and Beyond so I have no problem taking a giant tour group's picture with Buzz. I think it's embodied best in the kids who bond with each other at the end of an exhausting day, swapping highlights as their parents smile sleepily at one another from across the aisles of the parking trams. We're all just nerds here to have a good time, outside world be damned. 

Now that I've been to three different parks, the question everyone keeps asking me is "Well, which one's the best?" 

Believe it or not, this post is completely unsponsored. I'm just this weird, so you can probably trust that I know what I'm talking about. Also, I'm from the a cappella world, so Spring ICCA results have me in a competitive mood.

Here are the winners of my Disney Theme Park Semifinal:

1st Place: Walt Disney World, 410 points


2nd Place: Disneyland, 392 points


3rd Place: Disneyland Paris, 297 points


Ah yes, unsurprising that the biggest park in good ol' Orlando wins the top spot. But this was actually a tough call! Disney World has the best overall experience - you can straight up get lost in there for days and still be dying to go back. Disneyland, on the other hand, is far more endearing than WDW. The rides are longer, the people are nicer, and the food tastes better. Great for those just trying to wander and soak in the magic. Disneyland Paris is....well....I think they're working on it. I will applaud them for their roller coasters and the worldly improvements to It's a Small World, but, I think the outrageous display of American patriotism at the end sums it up best - this park is try-hard and needs to pick a nationality ASAP. 

Special Awards 

Best "OMG It's DISNEY" Moment

Walt Disney World 

Best Atmosphere


Best Food


Best Characters/Cast Members

Walt Disney World

Best Classic Ride

Disneyland - (Tie) Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean 

Best Roller Coaster

Disneyland Paris - Hyperspace Mountain

Best Ride

Walt Disney World - Flight of Passage (aka the new EPIC Avatar™ride) 

Best "It's a Small World" 

Disneyland Paris

Don't forget to Subscribe! A short story about my two months in Paris is coming up next ;) 

AJ MarinoNomad Life