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Jessie Veeder, Published December 14 2013

Coming Home: Happiest Place on Earth doesn't always mean Disney

They call it the happiest place on Earth, and a few weeks ago we went there.

Gramma and grampa, aunts and uncles, nieces, grandkids, in-laws and out-laws, we all had our suitcases packed for 75 and sunny, ready to celebrate family and my youngest niece finally turning 5, an age we had long ago told her she must reach in order to take a trip to Disney World.

And so she had, and there we were standing at the entrance of the Magic Kingdom making plans to get the much-anticipated autograph from Mickey Mouse himself.

I had my map in tow, ready to plan it all out. First Mickey, then the princesses. From there we would hit the teacups, where we would laugh and spin frantically. Then we would ride a giant clamshell under the sea, climb the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse, brave a roller coaster through a dark canyon, grab a cheeseburger and maneuver our way through the Thanksgiving holiday crowds so we could get a good view of Tinkerbell dangling from a pretty inconspicuous zipline over a castle lit up with about a bazillion Christmas lights.

So that’s what we did. We held hands through the masses, stopping only to make plans for the next adventure or to maybe eat a funnel cake.

All around us, thousands of families were doing the same, walking around in little family bubbles, checking off lists, laughing at jokes, bumping into strangers’ ankles with their giant strollers and then, well, every once in a while, sort of losing it.

Because, turns out, people still lose it in the Happiest Place on Earth.

It could be due to the fact that the Magic Kingdom is short on margaritas.

I’m just saying.

But it was a wonderful time – it really was. Because there’s a certain kind of bonding that comes with a common mission to cram as much fun in a day as possible.

And that’s what these places are designed for. Although you start to question the definition of fun a bit when you realize you’ve just taken your motion-sickness-prone mother-in-law on a ride that simulates space travel.

Oops.

But here’s the thing: I wanted to do it all. I was sort of frantic about “We’ll see the whales at Sea World, then run to the roller coaster, hit up the dolphins on our way to the seals. Oh, and we need to feed the sharks and catch a glimpse of a crocodile…”

I wanted to give those kids memories they could pull from when they got older and the magic in their lives was wearing thin. We all wanted this for them. We wanted them to meet every princess while they still believed a little and to taste what ice cream is like in a place so full of magic.

And so I toted that map around and checked my agenda, and we wandered with a purpose through the Magic Kingdom and beyond.

And at the end of the week when we were packed up and tucked in to the airplane that was set to take us home, do you know what those kids said was their favorite part of the whole big adventure?

Swimming.

Swimming together in that small pool outside our rented house on a sort-of chilly day in the great state of Florida.

Oh. I remember now.

You can create as much magic as your wand will allow, but at the end of the day, kids would much rather create their own.

Give a kid a stick, and he’ll turn himself into a pirate or wizard or Davy Crocket. Give her a box of crayons, and she’ll draw you a colorful world.

When do we lose this sort of magic in ourselves that we might be compelled to find someone, somewhere, to create it for us?

This whole Happiest Place on Earth gig they’ve got going there? I’m not so sure.

I have a feeling with a little love and a little room to stretch and grow, those kids could create their own Happiest Place on Earth anywhere.

Because when it comes down to it, it seems imagination might be the only true magic there is.

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.