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While we did not set out to do a long hike or traverse rugged terrain, my family did walk 44 miles in five days during our recent trip to Florida to celebrate my parents’ 50th anniversary. My parents generously treated the four of us and my sister and her husband and son to a fabulous tour of the Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center (which has such eclectic attractions we decided Epcot stands for Every Possible Combination of Things), Legoland, Universal Studios Orlando, and Disney Hollywood Studios. None of our kids had experienced Disney or the rest of the parks, and the grown-ups hadn’t been in years, so this was a monumental and thrilling vacation for the family. We decided to fit in as much fun as we could stand.

Turns out that was a lot of fun. Some of the highlights for me from our day at the Magic Kingdom:

Learning that Zoe loves roller coasters. Although she is almost 12, she had never ridden a real roller coaster before this trip. Now she is absolutely hooked. Although she still fretted and gripped my hand while we waited in every line, worrying that each ride would be too scary. None of the rides were too scary for her. The moment she lifted up the safety bar, she exclaimed how amazing the ride was and how she wanted to do it again. She never felt sick. She raised her hands in the air. She screamed. She soaked up every second of the ascents and the plummets and the twists and turned and loved it all.

Rocking out to the tunes of the birds and the flowers in the Enchanted Tiki Room, because apparently that is my sister’s happy place. I did not have the slightest memory of the Enchanted Tiki Room, but my sister remembered it fondly and grew up listening to the tiki song on a Disney tape we had (where was I during this part of her life? I do not know.) The Tiki Room is decidedly low-tech compared to a lot of the newer CGI and 3D-infused rides. It is old school and a classic. But those charming and chatty birds delighted my sister, which delighted me.

I don’t care what anyone says, I like It’s a Small World. I know the song is repetitive, and the subject of much mocking, but I think the ride is sweet, and it’s one of my mom’s favorites. It was a great one to start with when we arrived at the Magic Kingdom. And I enjoyed laughing at my husband’s and sister’s and brother-in-law’s running commentary as we drifted through the world being serenaded by all its peoples. Is that last part of the ride, where everyone is dressed in white, actually heaven? Quite possibly. And I like all the signs at the end that say goodbye in different languages. Farvel everyone!

Taking my mom to the County Bear Jamboree. After most of us had ridden Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (a great coaster and the only one that didn’t make Zeke feel sick), my mom spotted Country Bear Jamboree and wanted to go, but it wasn’t open yet. A little while later after the group had split up to try different rides, she asked whether it was time for some jamboree action. She and my dad had a special moment with one of the country bears early in the day, during which the bear greeted her like a long lost friend, so perhaps she was eager to reconnect with the other bears. Not unlike the Tiki Room, the Country Bear Jamboree is old school animatronics, but well-paced and funny. If the Tiki Room is my sister’s jam, Country Bear Jamboree may be my mom’s.

The unexpected amusement of the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. After my sister and her family had gone back to the hotel, and my husband and kids were taking another spin on the Astro-Orbiter, I accompanied my parents to the nearby Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. My expectations were not high, but my stomach was not feeling like another ride, so I was willing to give it a chance. My parents haven’t even seen Monsters Inc., but I have and enjoyed it, so why not? Turns out the Laugh Floor was hilarious. This attraction uses technology in which the animated characters on the screen are able to “see” and interact with the human audience. Screens on the side occasionally show members of the audience with funny–but never mean or mocking–captions and comments. Everyone is in on the joke. It was funny and it was air-conditioned. What’s not to love? As a bonus, in Tomorrowland where the Laugh Floor and Astro-Orbiter are located, we found a snack bar that sold delicious churros (with chocolate sauce on the side) and the Mickey Mouse-shaped soft pretzels (with cheese sauce on the side) that I came to know and love. The amusement park food lacked a certain diversity or nutritiousness, but I would have those churros and pretzels again anytime.

A side note about the food. Some of us ate lunch at a baseball-themed hot dog restaurant, where I enjoyed a ridiculous meal that featured a hot dog topped with mac and cheese and bacon. Not something I should repeat, but it’s always good to try new things. Anyway, while I was ordering food for everyone, one of the cast members (Charlotte, from Melbourne, Australia, according to her name tag) behind the counter noticed my button that said “I’m celebrating my parents’ 50th anniversary” (my sister had arranged for all of us to have these buttons) and she congratulated me and gave me two little cakes to bring to my parents with her best wishes. Charlotte was training an older woman who was operating the cash register with careful deliberation. Although I ordered six meals, after I paid I realized that only four were listed on my receipt. I returned to ask Charlotte to correct the mistake, and got out my wallet to pay for the missing meals, but she waved me away, saying she would take care of it. Thank you for your kindness, Charlotte from Melbourne.

Next up–reflections from our day at Epcot, or Every Possible Combination of Things.

Never in my life have I imagined that so many people besides my mother love matching shirts. Growing up, I thought my mom’s penchant for buying matching dresses for my sister and me, or matching sweaters for her and me, or custom-made matching sweatshirts that say “Hugging is My Favorite Exercise” was excessive. I must now apologize to her because I have seen first-hand thousands of families demonstrating a much more extreme degree of matchiness.

Before you stop me and say, “Wait, didn’t your whole family wear matching t-shirts to the Magic Kingdom last week?” I will acknowledge that yes, of course we did, in honor of my mom and in celebration of my parents’ 50th anniversary, which was the occasion for our trip. My friend Annie designed the shirts and my sister and I gave them to everyone for Christmas. So I am not trying to be hypocritical here, just expressing amazement at the level of matching we witnessed on our trip.

We spent five days at five parks in and around Orlando, and every day in every park we saw hundreds or maybe thousands of groups sporting matching or coordinated shirts. Some were parents with kids, some were couples, some were groups of girlfriends. These families were white, Black, Latinx, and Asian. Most shirts were t-shirts, but some were tank tops. Most shirts featured the iconic Mickey Mouse ears, but many had slogans like “My real home is Fantasyland” or “I’m here for the snacks” or “Best Day Ever.” (Although I also saw a cynical shirt that said “Most Expensive Day Ever.”) There were also plenty of Harry Potter shirts, particularly in Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure where the Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter live. People were representing their Hogwarts houses and favorite Quidditch teams or displaying the Deathly Hallows. In Legoland we saw a large group wearing white and yellow baseball style shirts that said, somewhat meanly in my opinion, “I hope you step on a Lego.” A kinder, gentler shirt sported by an older gentleman read, “I would walk across Legos for them,” meaning his kids or grandkids I assume.

In both the Disney parks and Legoland, many families had shirts that identified each member, not necessarily by name, but by their role in the family. Like “Husband” and “Wifey” (ew). Or “Daddy” and “Mommy” and the names of each kid, like “Isabelle” or “Ryan.” I didn’t see shirts that said “Son” or “Daughter” but I did see “Sister” and “Brother.” I also saw “Birthday Girl” and “Uncle of the Birthday Girl,” etc.

Somehow these shirts that reduced their wearers to their familial role only in relation to the other people present rubbed me the wrong way. I might wear a shirt that said “Betsy” but I would feel weird wearing a shirt that said “Mommy” even though I am very proud and honored to be the mom of both my kids.

Similarly, I am not a fan of the shirts that say, “I’m with her” or “I’m with him” with many Disney-themed variations.

The only shirts in that vein that I liked were from the Star Wars shops in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

I also liked this one. I liked it because not everyone in the family has to wear it for it to make sense. It’s relevant and positive but it doesn’t only work if you’re in Hollywood Studios while you’re wearing it. The shirt demonstrates a sense of familial unity without being cutesy.

I love our shirts and I’m delighted that we wore them to Disney World. I just had no idea that everyone else was going to wear theirs too.

My dad and me in our shirts on the first day of our trip.

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