I’m one of those “lucky” people who have SAD (seasonal affective disorder for the uninitiated.) As summer gives way to fall, the shadows of the longer nights creep over me dragging depression like a film that coats everything in my life. I also start to crave the sun like a junkie craves a fix. To help combat the blues, I head for Florida for a week in the sun and running around one of the Happiest Places on Earth. (Or as my husband puts it, my annual pilgrimage to worship The Mouse…)
When people find out that I go to Disney World every year, and have for the past 20 years, they question whether I ever get bored with it. In a word, never. As much as Disney stays the same, there is always something new. I find a “hidden Mickey” that I never noticed before, or I try a new dish in one of the “countries” of Epcot, or I see one of the animals in Animal Kingdom that I haven’t seen before, or I talk to a Cast Member from another country and learn something about a different culture. Then there’s the joy of experiencing Walt Disney World through my children’s eyes.
I first started my “pilgrimages” when I was a single 20-something. My sister and I were sharing a house in the Museum district of Richmond and we were both getting depressed by the coming fall. A good friend of ours invited us to travel with him to Florida where he was going for the final round of interviews for a position at Disney World. His parents had exchanged a time share week so he could stay at a Marriott timeshare 5 minutes away from the parks. Some mutual friends who also worked at Disney were arranging for my sister and me to get into the parks, so all we had to come up with was gas and food money. He didn’t have to ask us twice.
What we also found was this one week of being outside – either park hopping or lying by a pool – seemed to give us an extra burst of light and happiness to fight the creeping depression and if not keep it at bay for a few more weeks, at least lessen its effect. We bought a time share together, and then a second one. The tradition started and for a long time it was the one place where she and I would reconnect after we’d gone our separate ways – her to a marriage and me to a career that involved a lot of travel and long hours. Like migrating birds, we’d meet up in Florida to touch base, chill out, and recharge or mental batteries. There is just something about walking into the world of Disney in the warm Florida sun that energizes me. Maybe it’s connecting to the sheer energy of the place. Maybe it’s being immersed in a place that is all about the imagination. Maybe it’s really Magic. All I can say is – it works for me.
During this trip, I’ve been rather nostalgic and feel as if I’m reliving the experiences of the younger versions of me who’ve made this trip. I remember that first trip. We drove straight through – me, Liz and Ross all crammed in a tiny hatchback. At one gas station, I will never forget how the cashier laughed at the sight of Ross unfolding his bleary-eyed, disheveled, 6’5” self out of the car. He’d crawled back into the luggage area and curled up like a cat while Liz and I sang to the Rocky Horror soundtrack and ate up the miles. When we pulled in to get gas, the cashier had seen the two of us get out of the car and come in to pay for the gas. “Omigod, how big is he and where was he?” she asked us.
I remember the year I came by myself to recharge myself after ending the most torrid and toxic relationship of my life. At first I planned to just lie by the pool and soak up the sun, but the call of the Magic Kingdom was more than I could resist. I experienced Disney in a whole new way going to the parks alone. It was liberating and I returned home whole and healed.
I remember the trip down to Disney with my husband the first year we were married. He’d never been before and I watched a 43-year-old man revert to a 12-year-old in the blink of an eye. I remember walking through the parks when I was pregnant with my first child, and the second, and vowing if there was a third time – someone was renting me a wheelchair or we were planning the pregnancy so that I wasn’t an expert on the restroom locations or dealing with cankles. I remember the one hideous trip when my oldest child was a baby and another couple went with us whose second child was a week older than mine. We drove together in the same mini-van: four adults, one toddler and two infants. Both babies had a series of – er – blowouts during the trip, so by the time we arrived, the kids were wearing only diapers having gone through all their accessible changes of clothes, the toddler was whiny, the adults were frazzled and my mini-van got a date with an auto detailer as soon as the concierge could arrange it. I remember when each of my children got their first view of Mickey Mouse.
As you can imagine, by now I have this trip down to a fine science. I know where we should stop for gas and bathroom breaks. I can tell the kids exactly when we will get there, where ever “there” is in the particular question: dinner, next gas station, hotel to sleep in, state lines, and Orlando. It’s familiar, yet, like Disney, there is always something new to see as the landscape changes from development, or in the current economic situation – abandonment. On this trip, I’ve seen subtle signs of the bad economy. The occasional home along the road that was previously kept up now falling into disrepair. Small businesses that now sport closed or for lease signs. Billboards with no messages.
I’ve come a long way from the girl who would drink her way around the world at Epcot and spend the night dancing til Pleasure Island closed only to get up the next day and do it all again. I wonder how much further I will go? The only thing that I can say with any certainty is that as long as I have problems with SAD, I’ll continue my annual migration to Florida for some sun and fun to counteract the coming winter blues.
Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead reviews books for Crystal Reviews (www.crystalreviews.com) and writes paranormal romance. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.