NEW YORK, July 28, 2011—I’m a Disney girl; always have been. I wore my Cinderella and Snow White books ragged as a little girl. The first words I remember being able to recognize when reading were “fairy godmother,” and my rubber seven dwarf dolls were among my favorite toys. I saw the movies in the theater as a child (I came of age before the dawning of the VCR, DVD and on-demand), and I eagerly anticipated our annual family vacation to Walt Disney World in Florida.
So I was delighted when runDisney invited me to be their guest for the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon at Disney World. On Saturday, October 1, I’ll be lining up in the dark for the 10 p.m. start of my first Disney race. I couldn’t be more excited.
Every year, from the time I was born until I was 11 years old, my dad would take my sister and me to Florida, where he grew up. We’d drive from the small town outside of Gainesville where my uncle and his family lived, down to Disney World near Orlando, and then on to Sarasota where my grandmother lived.
Our annual stopover at Disney World was one of the highlights of my year. I loved riding the monorail, which I thought was called a “MammaRail” until I asked why there wasn’t a “PappaRail.” We rode the now extinct Skyway and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. I loved Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and played on Tom Sawyer Island and the Swiss Family Tree House—when we did get a VCR, Swiss Family Robinson was one of my favorite movies to watch. We marveled at It’s a Small World—over and over—and I’d dream of some day getting to peek into Cinderella’s castle. When I got older, we added Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios to the itinerary.
But 1989 was our last family trip to the park. I had to wait 21 years to return—this time with my sister, brother-in-law and their two kids—in 2010. For my sister and me, it was like reliving our childhoods. As we traipsed through our favorite old haunts in the Magic Kingdom, we shared memories of our dad, who passed away in 2003. He was a complicated man, and we had a complicated relationship; he was an alcoholic and it got the best of him. But our time at Disney was simple: it was fun.
And it was fun to revisit those times with him. We marveled at the fact that he’d buy us anything we wanted, including an endless supply of giant multi-colored lollipops and Mickey Mouse ice creams, and how he managed to wrangle five kids—us and our three cousins—often on his own.
As we waited in line for Pirates of the Caribbean, we laughed how it was his favorite ride and we’d hated it so much. It was the one thing he really wanted to see at Disney. I imagine it captured a bit of childish wonder for him, but we grumbled and groaned that we had to ride it too. My sister and I had a bittersweet moment standing in line for that ride, and I realized how much of my own childhood is inextricably attached to Disney, for better or worse. Like so many generations of kids, we came of age to a Disney soundtrack.
So the most enchanting part of the trip was watching my niece and nephew experience the Disney magic themselves. They both suffer from “princess mania” and squealed with glee when they met Cinderella for the first time.
“Cinderelli!” my niece shouted. “I have a dress just like yours, only mine’s a costume.”
“You’re so beautiful!” my nephew blushed.
They spent the rest of the year talking about Disney World. They’d beg my sister to let them call princesses on the phone. She’d call me and say, “Hi, is Snow White available to talk?” I’d put on my best high-pitched voice and chat with them as whatever princess they were calling for and sing a bit of each princess’s signature song—thank goodness for being a singer. My repertoire now includes Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel from The Little Mermaid, Jasmine from Aladdin, and Belle from Beauty and the Beast.
We returned to Disney World again with the kids this year, and the magic was still there. My nephew, now 4, ran to give Buzz Lightyear a big hug, and my niece, now 2 and a half, dazzled Sleeping Beauty with her knowledge of the story.
“Do you know my prince’s name?” Sleeping Beauty asked her.
“Phillip!” my niece said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“And what about my three fairy godmothers?”
“Flora, Fauna,” my niece paused, putting her finger to her lips, “and Merryweather!”
My sister and me? Well, we voraciously read the plans for the new Fantasyland, giggled on Space Mountain like we were still 9 years old, and discovered a few new favorites of our own, like Mickey’s PhilharMagic. And we convinced our mother, aunt and uncle to come along and make a family vacation out of it.
Shortly after the trip, I adopted a rescue dog from Tennessee. She’d been a stray living in the woods who found her way to me with the help of a kind doggy godmother. The dog was gentle and sweet and hadn’t let her harsh circumstances change her pleasant demeanor. So I couldn’t think of a better name for her than Cinderella.
Now with a Cinderella of my own, I’m starting up my training for the Disney Wine & Dine Half-Marathon.
Every week, I’ll detail my trials and travails as I set out to conquer the course that runs through Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and finishes at Epcot with a special late night Finish Line Party at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. It’s appropriate; my dad was a true gourmand, and he loved to sample food from Epcot’s World Showcase pavillions. Germany was his favorite, and bratwurst always make me think of him.
But in the process, I hope to make some new memories of my own. I’ve never been to Animal Kingdom and I haven’t visited the Hollywood Studios since 1989, the year it opened; Magic Kingdom was our main playground on my most recent visits. I’ll probably visit the parks during the day, but I’m most excited to run them at night.
So stay tuned. There’s plenty of magic and memories yet to come.
Karla Bruning is an award-winning journalist and running nerd. She has completed four marathons, trains with the New York Harriers and is a member of New York Road Runners. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at RunKarlaRun.com, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.
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