How I Finally Learned How to Relax at Walt Disney World

Every so often, I throw off the shackles of Midwestern living so I may journey to Central Florida in search of my old familiar friend: Mickey Mouse.  To borrow a phrase from Jimmy Buffett: Walt Disney World is my ‘one particular harbor’.  It is the place I go to relax, have fun, and escape everyday life and the hectic pressure that is the American workplace. From as short as a weekend to as long as a week and a half, those 43 square miles of happiness provides me a time in which I have no schedule, no set alarm, and at least one breakfast meeting with a few giraffes (and maybe a zebra or two).

This type of relaxation, however, did not come easy.  I had to teach myself to relax.  From the time I was little, family vacations were full throttle.  As soon as we pulled out of the driveway, vacation would start, and each minute would bring us one day closer to vacation’s end.  We ran from place to place, accomplishing as much as possible in the time allowed.  Starting at age 8, I learned and slowly became a veteran of the 15-hour theme park day.  One day at the Magic Kingdom, the next at Epcot, then we would move along on our annual tour of Florida.  Looking back, it was absolutely hectic, but I wouldn’t change a thing.  I cherish those trips for which my parents sacrificed so much that a working class family from Illinois could make a yearly trek to a place many kids only saw on TV or in books.

Fast forward to 2005; my wife and I had already been married a year, and with her, my love for WDW was back with a vengeance.  We took our first trip together in 2001, returned in ’02, made our first on-property visit together to the Animal Kingdom Lodge in ’03, and stayed at the Grand Floridian for our honeymoon in 2004.  Each of these trips were met with the same kind of hustle and bustle I had learned as a child, rope-dropping park after park and spending as much time in them as possible.  When I returned home from these trips, however, I felt like I had not been on a vacation.  I largely chalked it up to false stress, though, and had no real plans to change my plans.  We made our reservations for the Caribbean Beach Resort for our 1-year anniversary and started walking extra each night to prep for the trip that lay ahead.

I should’ve known the 2005 journey was doomed when I got a flat tire on the way to get the oil changed the morning of the trip.  I simply thanked my stars it didn’t happen on the road and continued on with the day.  The first two-thirds of the drive were uneventful, until 10 miles before the Florida line, we blew a tire, the SAME tire, at 5 in the morning!  Luckily, I was able to change the tire rather quickly, and we limped off the highway in search of a service station.  As luck would have it, a large box store’s tire center was open early and we were able to get a new tire free of charge since it was under warranty.  I commented to the technician we had already blown the same tire, and asked if he would please check out the area to make sure nothing was causing the flats.   At this point, I was not over the top mad, but I was getting close.  Two flats had turned a 16-hour trip into almost 22.  I shook off the anger and got back on the road.

Then it happened.  I had almost reached the Florida turnpike, when I heard the pop.  It was that same infernal tire, and I just lost it!!  I unloaded the back of the car in record time (all while laughing maniacally and seriously disturbing my wife) and proceeded to change my third tire in less than 24 hours.  I finished the job, loaded our luggage back in, and I powered through the final hour of the trip on a donut tire and crawled into the Walt Disney World Resort.  I must’ve looked a sad sight, because when I approached the check-in desk, the lady gasped and said, “Oh, honey!  You have had a long trip.”  I decided, since we were on-grounds for a week, I was going to park the car and deal with the tire after the stay was through.  We grabbed a quick nap, showered up, and headed to Epcot for the Food and Wine Festival.

On the way to the bus stop, something just clicked.  I told myself there was no way I was rushing through that week just so I could deal with that infernal car and the forsaken tire yet again.  Throughout the week, my wife and I took it at our own pace.  We explored new spots, stopped to grab a snack or drink more often, and just enjoyed our time in such a magical place.  I couldn’t believe all of the cool, new, and different things I discovered when I finally stopped to smell the roses.  We cancelled numerous ADRs that week just because we didn’t want to stop our fun, and ended up trying all new places that have ended up being favorite spots.  I struck up conversations with strangers, talked to many cast members, and read more signs on this one trip than I had in my 20 previous visits.

Like all trips, this one came to an end.  Long story short on the tire: a sharp piece of hard plastic in the wheel well was discovered by a technician.  He removed the sharp piece, replaced yet another tire, and we had a worry-free journey home.  I do regret one thing, however; I wish I had asked to keep the sharp piece of plastic.  That little piece inadvertently caused me to realize I shouldn’t rush life, especially vacation.  That trip caused me to look at WDW with different eyes, and for the first time since my inaugural visit, I looked upon the parks with magic and wonder.  Just as I commented earlier on my childhood trips; this trip, too, was absolutely hectic.  However, I would not trade it for the world.

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