I’ve been down in Orlando since Wednesday for a trip to Disney World with a few friends, and I just got back an hour or so ago. I haven’t been able to watch the Olympics like I wanted to, but now that I’m back I expect to watch it whenever it’s on.

I went into this trip expecting to have fun but also expecting to be kind of horrified by the excess, mindlessness, and terrible architecture I assumed I would find in the Disney parks. My only frame of reference was to think of it as a really big Kings Island or Carowinds. Something fun, but very American and kind of disheartening when you think about it.

But it’s not like that at all. It’s impossible not to like the place. It’s just so completely on another level from any other amusement park… it’s tough to imagine unless you’ve been there. It’s all so… genuine is the right word I guess. Everything is run and timed perfectly, everything from the most minute detail to the largest part is planned out brilliantly; the architecture is real and valid and so completely not what I was expecting. I’m reading this book right now called The Architecture of Happiness and part of it talks about how the best art and architecture shows us the best possible part of ourselves and what we should strive for. And that’s what the Disney parks seemed like to me, at least the Magic Kingdom and Epcot (Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom are fun but overall just not up to the same level of the two main parks). They romanticize the past, present, and future, but that’s part of what makes it “the happiest place on earth.” It’s a place where you can go and gain some appreciation for the past and hope for the future.

It’s not that there are no hokey parts of the parks, but even when those parts come along it seems like the Disney people are in on it and they say “we know this is cheesy but it’s not to a kid, and we think if you can be not so cynical for a little bit you’ll have a lot of fun.” And they’re right. It’s so much easier to have a genuinely good time there than any other amusement park I’ve ever been to. It’s not because of great roller coasters, you can find more thrilling rides a lot of places, but even the calmer rides and attractions are so much fun. And there are so many parts about hope and the world and the future and happiness… It’s all very inspiring. And I’ll admit, it didn’t all really hit me the whole first day of the trip (we spent the day at the Magic Kingdom) until we were watching the fireworks at night over Cinderella’s Castle. And when the spotlights went up on the castle and the fireworks went off and the Disney theme music is playing, I started to realize that I was experiencing this thing that I’d only seen on television before, and I had had so much fun that whole day and spent the whole time with thousands of people from America and tons of foreign countries (by the way, I saw far more British than any Asians or other Europeans; must be nice to have a currency that’s worth twice what the dollar is) who were also having a purely enjoyable time… it was a little overwhelming in a good way.

It’s not to say it’s a Utopia, I mean there’s still gift shops at the exit of every ride that you have to walk through and a vacation there can get expensive, but it’s something you really have to experience to know what it’s like. It’s very different from what I expected, and it’s a place worth going to once in your life even if you have to save up for years to get there.

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