From Mouse Ears to Magic Tears: How Disney World Became My Adult Happy Place

Disney World can be a transformative experience, whether you’re with kids or riding solo. This is one woman's journey to rediscover joy, heal from loss, and embrace her inner child at “The Most Magical Place On Earth."

“When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are. Anything your heart desires, will come to you.” 

Each year, as I step up to the pine green turnstiles at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, the lyrics to this timeless classic (“When You Wish Upon a Star”) dance in my head, letting me know that it’s time to tap into my inner child and let all my adult worries go. 

Once inside, the sights, sounds, and smells that permeate Main Street—the central walkway leading to Cinderella’s Castle—work together to sprinkle pixie dust on me, instantly transforming my thoughts from “Did I respond to that last email?” to “Take me to the spinning teacups, now!” There’s a set of Minnie Mouse ears from my rotating assortment sitting perfectly atop my head, and a giant smile spreading across my face. I let the magic of the park guide me. 

For context, I’m a 39-year-old woman without children. Yet, I find myself longing to get to “The Most Magical Place On Earth” at least once a year, and I always make it happen. It’s the one place that allows me to reconnect with my inner child without fear of judgment. Because, let’s be honest, as adults, “life be life-ing.” Sometimes you just need a break from the grind. 

I’ve come to realize that a reset of the nervous system is good for us as we get older, and my reset of choice happens to be going to Disney World. I can forget about all the demands placed on me at that moment and reconnect with my inner child without distraction—hence why I’m usually alone, or with a very small group of friends who share similar perspectives.

Growing up, travel beyond the borders of North or South Carolina wasn’t in the cards for me and my single mother. Not necessarily due to financial constraints, but because she suffered from mental health issues that prevented her from flying, or being away from her comfort zone for long periods. Therefore, I never got to experience Walt Disney World as a child. 

My first official visit happened in August 2011 at age 26. We traveled there as a larger family—my mom, aunts and cousins—two months after my maternal grandmother’s passing, and to celebrate my younger cousin’s birthday. It was meant to be a bonding experience for us, and while it was, it also sparked my deep love for the theme park. 

I vividly remember the way my heartfelt watching young kids get excited, and my own thrill seeing Mickey and Minnie in person, riding the famed “It’s a Small World” attraction, and indulging in a mouse-shaped ice cream bar. 

I would find myself randomly dreaming about the next time I could step foot back in the park. I also enjoyed scrolling Instagram and seeing other adult Disney fanatics share the fun they have on their visits. It made the anticipation that much greater. 

Fast-forward to 2020, and I was presented with the opportunity to visit the park again—this time as a VIP. While this experience was personally curated for me based on an editorial assignment, the happiness that filled my body being back nearly a decade later was indescribable. Since that visit, I’ve had the privilege of going to Walt Disney World at least once a year—with most years bringing at least two visits. 

Although the past visits solidified my love for the park, it was the 50th-anniversary celebration in 2021 that truly revealed that this is something my soul needs annually. A few months after my mom passed away, I was in Magic Kingdom, gearing up to watch the special Disney Enchantment fireworks show. As Angela Bassett narrated the words to “You Are the Magic,” my eyes welled up. Tears of elation streamed down my cheeks as I watched the digital display of scenes from nostalgic Disney movies play on the facade of Cinderella’s Castle. It was a much-needed flashback to being a kid. 

Those scenes, coupled with Bassett’s soothing, motherly voice, hit me hard. “Now the magic of dreams come true is calling out to you…Inspiring each of you to wish upon a star, follow your hearts, and discover a world full of wonder,” she says. 

The tears served as a reminder that no matter how old I get, it’s always important to dream. As busy adults, the ebbs and flows of life can cause us to forget this, and I appreciate that comforting nudge during my annual Disney drop-in. After that initial watch of the anniversary fireworks show, I saw it five more times during subsequent visits to the park—each time, the tears flowed. 

Beyond the powerful messaging in that show (which has since closed), there are more park spectacles that spark joy for the little girl inside me, like my annual photo with Mickey Mouse; riding Space Mountain and the spinning teacups in Magic Kingdom; and indulging in as much ice cream as my kiddie heart desires. While I love seeing young kids take in the magic of the parks, much like that time I went with my younger cousins, I prefer going without them. It allows me to spend more time truly letting my inner child be free. I mostly roll solo, but anyone who joins me knows that they, too, must let their inner child run wild. 

My fondness for that feeling runs so deep that I’m seriously considering making the trip from Charlotte to celebrate my 40th birthday at the park. The recent opening of the Tiana’s Bayou Adventure attraction, featuring my favorite Disney princess, Princess Tiana, only adds to the allure. 

I’ve never received any direct backlash for my choice to visit Disney World so often. Folks ask questions, and I’m very transparent about my why. It has even inspired some of my friends and followers to try to sneak in a visit themselves. But for the ones who still don’t get it, I simply tell them that it brings me joy. Angela Bassett’s enchanting words come to mind: 

“Like those who have answered the call, if you allow your dream to be your guide, you may be surprised by what you discover. So long as you simply believe.”


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