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Three Generations,
One Magical Theme Park

By Stephen Kubiak
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Three Generations,
One Magical Theme Park

Celebrating family at Walt Disney World

By Stephen Kubiak

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Kissimmee, Florida, Walt Disney World, Magic Kingdom
Kissimmee, Florida, Walt Disney World, Magic Kingdom

Trips to Walt Disney World have been a family tradition for as long as I can remember. My memories of those vacations are sometimes as fuzzy as the VHS tapes that recorded our magical outings, but the thrill of strolling down Main Street, USA toward Cinderella Castle, the enticing scent of cinnamon-sugar wafting through the air from churros and the white-knuckle grip on a tea cup wheel that spins you faster and faster brings it all back.

Disney World makes you feel like a kid again, but what happens when you don’t follow Peter Pan’s advice and you grow up? With three kids, my wife, my parents, a minivan and a prayer, we set our sights on “The Most Magical Place on Earth” to find out.

Kissimmee, Florida, Walt Disney World, Magic Kingdom

I’m now the captain of the family trip—a 21st century Clark Griswold racing toward the Magic Kingdom parking lot with the gateway as my finish line.

“What do you see up ahead, kids?” I ask from behind the wheel.

In the rearview mirror, I see two toothy grins in the car seats behind me.

“Mickey’s House!” My 5- and 2-year-old sons, Tyler and Drew, exclaim. I think it’s cute they don’t call Disney World by the correct name. Our newest addition, Ava, is fast asleep in her car seat.

Kissimmee, Florida, Walt Disney World, Magic Kingdom

My folks love tagging along—getting to enjoy all the spoils of parenting without the mess of changing a single diaper. Age has its privileges, my father says. My parents have been going to Disney for years, even before the four of us would go tent camping at Fort Wilderness, even before Epcot opened back in 1982. It’s a special place for them and for my wife and me, and now it’s something special for my kids. It’s three generations sharing something they love while Walt Disney World celebrates its 45th anniversary. From the nostalgic to the new, we were about to take an adventure together.

Meeting a mouse

Kissimmee, Florida, Walt Disney World, Magic Kingdom

Photo Credit: Stephen Kubiak

We start the day visiting Mickey. My sister and I always went straight for the rides when we were kids so this was a new experience for all of us.

The boys wait patiently in line until they see Mickey standing there with other children. Their smiles cannot be contained and their little bodies are like racehorses waiting for the gates to go up. When it’s their moment and Mickey turns toward them with gloved hands outstretched, they bolt out of our arms like Olympic sprinters. Now we’re the ones smiling, watching the boys high-five, hug and play with Mickey.

Kissimmee, Florida, Walt Disney World, Magic Kingdom

"When it's their moment and Mickey turns toward them… they bolt out of our arms like Olympic sprinters"

Over in Tomorrowland, we all pile into a PeopleMover, which has always been a family favorite. It’s the first ride ever for Ava, now just under a year old. The wind whips through her baby-fine hair and she flashes us a broad smile with her two teeth.

It’s back to sprinting on Tom Sawyer’s Island as my boys explore the many mysterious caverns, run across the barrel bridge bobbing in the Rivers of America and chase each other around Fort Langhorn. Yes, there’s a lot of running for me as a father trying to catch up to them, but it’s also a chance for me to see them as my father saw me—the smiles and laughter that accompany exploration. I embrace seeing Disney through the eyes of my children. Together, my dad and I watch the boys as they run through the fort ramparts, content just watching the adventure unfold.

Courage on a runaway train

Kissimmee, Florida, Walt Disney World, Magic Kingdom

Photo Credit: Stephen Kubiak

Having reached 40 inches in height, my eldest son, Tyler, is ready to brave the “wildest train in the wilderness”: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad—a rite of passage into the world of Disney roller coasters. My folks stay back with baby Ava and Drew as my wife and I take hold of our son’s sweaty palms and walk him toward the line. Thankfully, we had reserved a FastPass+ time on the My Disney Experience mobile app and we walked right in. His face is stoic as he strides past the turnstile. Will he enjoy it?

Kissimmee, Florida, Walt Disney World, Magic Kingdom

"Tyler is ready to brave the 'wildest train in the wilderness'"

As we speed and twist through the mountain, I can tell by his high-pitched squeals that he is having the time of his life. I can’t help but grin and hug him as we chug to a stop at the end.

“You did it, buddy!”

“That was awesome,” he exclaimed as our train returned to the station.

As he ran back to my parents to describe in enthusiastic detail how he survived the runaway train, I found myself the proud papa bear, excited that Tyler tried something new, braving danger and facing the mountain with a cool gaze.

Winding down the magic

Kissimmee, Florida, Walt Disney World, Magic Kingdom

Photo Credit: Stephen Kubiak

Experience the magic of Kissimmee-area theme parks with your family.

The end of the evening has us dining at the Grand Floridian Cafe. For a full day of Disney, the boys are surprisingly spry considering the late hour. Our daughter on the other hand, has had enough Disney magic for one day. I quickly finish my shrimp and grits so my family can eat in peace, strap Ava to my chest with a baby carrier and walk outside with her.

She cries while I bounce her against my body. I walk over to the docks that overlooked the Seven Seas Lagoon, finally getting her to sleep with my rocking, and see the Electrical Water Pageant just starting. I hadn’t seen the show in years, not since we camped at Fort Wilderness as a family many years ago. I look on as I gently rock her—maybe one day she’d be standing in the same spot with her own child, lights twinkling in the night air and classical music echoing off the lake.

Walt Disney World is a special place for all of us. Each time we come back with tales told for months and years over family dinners and gatherings, about the time the boys first tried cotton candy outside the Dumbo attraction or how many points I scored on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. I wonder what sights, smells and feelings will bring back family memories for Tyler, Drew and Ava?

I may not have been able to control growing older (no magic fairy dust to fly me off to Neverland), but when we’re here together it’s not so bad. That’s the real Disney magic.

Kissimmee, Florida, Walt Disney World, Magic Kingdom

"Walt Disney World is a special place for all of us"

Experience the magic of Kissimmee-area theme parks with your family.