More than a million Texans head to Orlando, Florida, each year – and many of them visit Disney World.
I just survived my own version of March Madness with my wife and our two young kids – a spring break week at the Magic Kingdom.
Our daughter Claire is in Kindergarten, so she’s in the prime Disney demographic.
She knows her Disney princesses: “Aurora, Jasmine, Ariel, Cinderella …”
And she knows her Disney rides: “Peter Pan, It’s a Small World, Dumbo …”
In fact, Claire is a seasoned Disney veteran. She and her brother, Matthew, just made a pilgrimage to Mickey’s Mecca. This was her fourth.
She’s only 6.
Yeah, you can call us Disney freaks.
It’s true: Disney World can be corny, commercialized and costly.
But a week with Mickey is a week filled with joy. I see that in Claire’s sparkling eyes and Matthew’s goofy grin.
"I'm late! I'm late! I'm late!"
At Disney World, there’s so much to do. So when Magic Kingdom opens at 8 a.m., I’m there, along with my wife Kim and the kids.
We aren’t alone.
Hundreds have gathered in the Florida sunshine.
Mickey and friends show up to open the gates. We count down:
“Five … four … three … two … one!”
Hundreds of people storm through.
To the grandma, to the mother holding her toddler and to the blind woman -- I am truly sorry for nearly running you over.
I feel like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.
“I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date. No time to stay. Hello, goodbye! I’m late! I’m late! I’m late!”
Mickey's so expensive, you can't help but scream
So it’s only appropriate we start our day with Alice and the Mad Tea Party – the teacup ride where you spin round and round.
We all climb into a pink cup.
“Whoa! Wee!” my kids yell.
“We’re one of three families on this ride!” I shout.
Hopping on these rides is pricey: Just one day at Magic Kingdom costs about $400 for a family of four. Stay for several days at the various parks, add in hotel and airfare, and it costs … well … I don’t want to think about it.
Instead, I’d rather head to Hollywood Studios and tour the Tower of Terror – the haunted hotel where your vehicle suddenly plunges from the 13th floor.
The spooky “Twilight Zone” theme music blares. Then, visitors scream as we fall.
And you can’t miss “It’s a Small World,” which marks its 50th anniversary this month. You travel on a boat and visit whimsical scenes from around the world as kids sing a catchy tune: “It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears, it’s a world of hopes, and a world of fears.”
My kids love this ride. My wife and I love this ride. Who doesn’t love this ride?
Disney critics? There are plenty of them
Well, there are plenty of people who don’t love Disney.
Critics blast the way Disney markets itself to children and its emphasis on Cinderella and her princess gal pals. Then there’s “Escape from Tomorrow,” an unauthorized documentary that portrays Disney World as a nightmare.
Even I know this isn’t always the happiest place on earth. During our trip, there was a meltdown or two.
One afternoon, Claire whined.
“I wanna go in the stroller,” she complained.
Then she wailed. “I’m getting tired.”
In the Magic Kingdom, a magical moment
Even Disney’s biggest fans need a break from the rides -- and it’s the moments off the rides that mean the most.
One night, in the Magic Kingdom, Kim, Claire, Matthew and I ate dinner under the stars as a train whizzed by.
Claire stopped eating and looked up.
“Is that a wish star?” she asked.
“It can be if you want it to be,” I told her.
“OK. It is,” Claire declared.
I leaned in: “Make a wish.”
She paused for a moment.
“I wish I have a good time with my family at Disney World.”
Why? I asked her.
“Because I love my family so much,” she said, smiling.
As a parent, it’s one of those moments where you simply want to hit the pause button, and savor.
That’s just one of the reasons we go to Disney World.
And it’s why I hope my little Texans get to see Mickey again real soon.