On my office desk sits one of my most-treasured Disney photos: My son in a fit of laughter, in front of Disneyland Paris’ Sleeping Beauty Castle on an overcast day. I have no recollection of why he’s laughing, except the fact that it’s absolutely not posed; we were having a fit of giggles.
We hadn’t traveled across the Atlantic just for Disneyland Paris, though I can understand why some would. In our case, we’d come to Paris with my husband and my parents, as most of us had fallen in love with Paris on earlier trips, and one happy afternoon had realized we were all free the same week of August 2005. We spent that week in Paris, with my son and I taking a 2-day trip mid-week to Disneyland Paris, staying on site at Hotel Cheyenne (I still have the on-site ID card tacked to the bulletin board in my office, with my Carte Orange, just above the picture of my son).
So today, just 44 days before departure for my next trip to Paris, as I pore over restaurant reviews and debate my decision to remain based out of our loaned apartment in the Marais rather than reserving a hotel closer to the parks, I look at this picture and try to remember what went into making such a joyful moment. Was it because we knew we’d enjoyed our evening at the Hotel Cheyenne? No, as much as I enjoyed staying there I don’t think it was on either of our minds. Were we looking forward to the dining reservation for dinner that evening? No, the only table-service meal we had (Annette’s Diner) wasn’t reserved in advance, and quite frankly wasn’t even that special once we got there. Our happiest meals turned out to be at the Discoveryland burger joint, Café Hyperion.
There are times that I think we were laughing so hard out of joy that we’d stepped down every Magic Kingdom’s Main Street USA, that we’d earned some special Disney Geek merit badge. Certainly when I’d taken him on a lark to Tokyo Disneyland (again, during an extended family vacation) it hadn’t occurred to me that someday we might try for every Magic Kingdom on earth. I just knew I wanted to make my kid smile, and that I loved Disneyland too. (And nope, we haven’t been to Hong Kong yet)
But what I’ve come to believe is this: We were laughing because that is simply what we do. We go to the Parks and we laugh, we ride the rides, we grab some popcorn and watch the parade. We giggle over how sentimental I am about the fireworks, the castle, riding Dumbo and Peter Pan. And we try to bring this spirit of fun and love back home with us when it’s over. Every day can’t be a walk in the Park, but every day can be touched by that spirit of love and fun.
A bittersweet post-script now, about that picture. Just a few weeks after that picture was taken, my son began to show puzzling symptoms, which led us through a labyrinth of specialists and diagnostics, and which I sometimes feared might take him from me. For a couple years there, I would look at that picture and think, “That was all before.” There were times when looking at that picture was almost painful. Today, though, he has a stable and treatable diagnosis, and a manageable number of doctors. He might even be outgrowing the whole thing. But I was changed by the experience, and emerged knowing more than ever that all we ever truly have is this one day, this one moment.
So, as I make my plans for this August 2009 trip, I remember this: The best moments, the best future memories, don’t take advanced reservations. You just have to show up and take your chances. And maybe bring a camera.