Not just Disneyland (DL) or Walt Disney World (WDW) but the whole Disney corporation. From their production company and affiliates, to their vast array of merchandise, their cruise line company, and everything else in between! Put everything together and Disney is sure a capitalistic force to be reckoned with. But aside from their obvious monetary success, Disney is so much more. Disney is a feeling, a state of being, a warping, ever-changing dream-come-true for its truest fans, or Disneyphiles as we are so lovingly referred to (aside from the fact that it makes us sound like a bunch of fantasy-loving pedo[phile]s).
Most peoples' love of Disney starts in childhood with the release of the new female protagonist of a generation. For me, this was Ariel in The Little Mermaid quickly followed by Belle in Beauty and the Beast (as well as all of the obvious classics). We might be one of the most criticized generations in modern history but we were also blessed with the some of the best (and most underrated) animated films Disney has produced. I recall closely identifying with Ariel's frustration with her father [parents], and I would run around my living room pretending to be swimming everywhere. I even have an original Ariel doll packed away somewhere that is no doubt worth $$.
(Un)fortunately I was only blessed with visiting Disneyland twice during my childhood (There was a third visit, or rather first, when I was around 3 years old, but I literally have no memory of it.) so my love of Disney didn't begin to grow outside of my beloved Princesses until I became an adult. But, really, there is nothing tragic about that because you can't really start appreciating everything that Disney is until you are an adult. Although I really, really, really wish they had a Bibbiti Bobbity Boutique for adults where you could get pampered, have a glass of champagne or wine, get a mini make-over and come out looking like a princess or twin Disneybounding with their kid! They could call it something like Fairy Godmother's Boudoir or something like that, and if they were smart it would adjoin the BBB!
But I digress, the point is that Disney is not just a movie house or a destination, it is an experience; sometimes even a once-in-a-lifetime experience. My love of the experience, ironically, didn't start on my first adult trip to Disneyland. Which, I have to add, is the trip in which my then-boyfriend proposed marriage to me in front of the Frontier Tower grotto. This experience would lead into my oialt (once-in-a-lifetime), however, it wasn't until my introduction to Disney Cruise Line did I become acutely aware of the "Disney Experience". My boyfriend-turned-fiancé planned an amazing birthday trip for me which included sailing to Nassau, Bahamas, followed by a layover at Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, and then culminating with 3 days at WDW!
From the moment you step foot onto one of Disney Cruise Line's (DCL) ships you are transported to a universe of luxury and magic. I would hate to ruin the experience for anyone else, but they frigging announce your arrival and the whole crew greets you! It's hard not to feel like a bona fide celebrity! The ships are filled with wonderful Disney tidbits around every corner such as cells from various animations, original artwork inspired by Disney films, portraits of Walt, amazing sculptures, murals, tchotchkes, and "hidden" Mickeys from floor to ceiling (or deck to deck)! You can literally spend an entire day at sea exploring. That's not considering the plethora of activities, pools, shops, cafés, and restaurants, including both kid and adult specific areas! All with more than a little touch of that Disney magic.
But aside from feeling like Art Deco ate Walt Disney and threw up (which I love by the way), it's the crew who really make all of the magic happen. Where in the Parks it can be easy to miss the nuances, which make up the core of the "Disney Experience", namely the cast members. Depending on crowd numbers or just how fast you're heading out of your room to get to your favorite ride, you may not even notice cast members in the Parks or Hotels. But on the ships, perhaps it's because you're in much closer quarters than you are in one of their hotels, but you definitely notice that everyone on the crew seems to be constantly smiling and it feels genuine, not just like they smile when you approach and curse you as you pass. Everyone asks how you are and if there is anything you need, even if they are not assigned to your room. I have never felt more at home in a strange place.
Not to mention this was my first time travelling outside of the country so I was a little nervous about all of the logistics which are required when you travel abroad. But DCL literally takes care of everything for you! Every night you come back from dinner and your bed is turned down and often your amazing housekeeper has left more than one surprise for you to find, just to make sure you have a little pixie dust to turn in with.
Oh, and the food is always great (on par with any of the Disney Parks) and your waiter at dinner is always there with suggestions and recommendations. I swear they even take notes on you because, get this, each night you eat at a different restaurant on the ship, but you have the same waiter! So, over time they really learn what you like and don't like, especially any allergies you may have. The dining experience is really second-to-none in the cruising industry! Oh, and did I mention that all you pay for is gratuity and alcohol (and souvenirs, of course)? There are a couple of reservations-only restaurants in which you actually pay extra for. But all of the rest of your food and beverages are covered on your cruise!
I best move on, lest this become a post about how awesome DCL is! It was during this cruise and my first trip to WDW I decided that I must have a Disney wedding. Any woman who gets married is familiar with the ins and outs, arms and legs which often accompany the mountains of work, and oceans of blood, sweat, and tears that is wedding planning. I knew with how at home I felt sailing with DCL, how safe and comfortable I was, that Disney would be the only company that could give me the wedding of my dreams, my oialt.
Once again, the cast over at Disney Fairytale Weddings (DFW) is all about the experience. They are pretty much a one-stop-shop, from ceremony to reception, food to flowers; and whatever they don't take care of in-house, your personal event planner has a list of businesses that are Disney certified to give you an amazing experience. Even Alfred Angelo has a licensed Disney line of bridal gowns and bridal party apparel, so you can truly have an all-Disney wedding if you desire! While DFW doesn't completely alleviate the stress of planning a wedding, they certainly make the experience more enjoyable! And with the different packages they offer you can have as simple or as elaborate of an event as your budget or imagination will allow. Thanks to DFW I felt like the proverbial princess-bride on my wedding day and even had several little girls point at me shouting various Disney princess names. Thanks to DFW my wedding day turned out perfectly and I now have warm, fuzzy memories which still reduce me to tears of joy when I hear certain Disney songs (specifically A Dream Is A Wish, When You Wish Upon A Star, and Beauty and the Beast/Tale As Old As Time) or visit Disneyland.
Which brings me to another division of Disney which few park-goers are aware of: Adventures by Disney (ABD). Honeymoons are undisputedly one of the best opportunities to take a trip that you would, normally, never be able to embark on under normal circumstances. For my fiancé and I, that was Europe and after my amazing experience with DCL going to the Bahamas, I knew there was only one company I would trust to travel abroad. After some research I discovered ABD, basically a tour company on steroids! ABD has "adventures" all over the world (including the U.S.) where a small group of travelers (usually about 20 people) and 2 dedicated tour guides dive, head first, into a destination and give you a first-hand look at the culture, history, food scene, and everyday life that makes up the life-blood of that city. In addition to your 2 dedicated Disney tour guides, you also join a local tour guide so you always have the most authentic experience possible. Travel, accommodations, and food are all included in the ABD package, so all you have to worry about is enjoying yourself and soaking up as much local color as you can handle!No matter what your goal, Disney has an option for nearly every major aspect and stage of life. Whether you are young, old, male, female, and everything in between, it is difficult (if not near impossible) to immunize yourself from the joy that is Disney. And the scary part about the whole thing: Walt engineered it to be this way. He wanted Disneyland and Walt Disney World to be more than just a glorified playground, he wanted visitors to truly feel what it is like to live in those moments. Whether Walt knew it or not, Disney is engineered to be a whole lifestyle, a state of being. That is why I love Disney, because it makes you feel like your life is just a little more extraordinary than the average one. Because it encourages you to believe in magic, to see the good in the world, and to believe that happy endings are always possible. Because I would not want to live in a world where elephants don't fly, fairies don't exist, where grim, grinning ghosts don't come out to socialize, there is no galaxy far, far away, and dead men tell their tales.