let_the_memories_beginIn the end, it was a Disney princess that changed my mind.

You see, I didn’t think I was a Disney World kinda girl.

When it comes to family travel, I loathe the idea of huge crowds, overpriced concession food and long lines, especially when the payoff is just a 2-minute ride or a cheesy photo-op. I don’t even like Mickey Mouse. (Come on, that voice…)

Yet every parent I know — even the hipster ones — gave Disney a big thumbs up. I never understood why.

So when Disney World hosted the TravelingMoms for a weekend in February, I arrived with my nose in the air, ready to critique everything I saw and did. Within hours, I found myself thinking, “Hey, this place is kinda awesome.”

What sold me?

* The rides are nothing like you’d find at your run-of-the-mill amusement park. They’re high-tech, creative and memorable. 

* There’s a certain childhood nostalgia to most of what you’re seeing. Example: the “It’s a Small World” boat ride.

* The attention to detail is stunning. If not for all of the Bugaboo strollers, walking through the Himalayas in Animal Kingdom actually felt pretty Himalayan-ish.

* The cultural offerings. Many restaurants serve gourmet food. And at Disney Animal Kingdom Lodge, there were people from Africa who walked around and shared facts about the zebras, giraffes and birds they were seeing. And this was just in the HOTEL.

* Everything’s clean, well maintained, and really organized. I love organization. And it’s so easy to get around.

* They successfully keep massive amounts of people moving, at the airport, hotels and parks. That’s a big deal, because no parent wants to wait in a non-moving line with kids. When there are lines, they move. It took us 40 minutes to get on “It’s a Small World,” but I don’t think we stood still for more than a minute or two. And, with the Fast Passes Disney gave us, I waited exactly 1 minute to ride one of the most popular roller coasters, Exhibition Everest (see future blog about the awesomeness of that ride).

* The staff everywhere — even the people cleaning the bathroom — are extremely pleasant. It’s off-putting.

* Disney movies play on the bus ride between the airport and the resorts. Good call, Disney.

The point where I drank the Kool-Aid

What really sold me on Disney World was a scene I witnessed in Epcot.

An adorable little girl, probably about 3 years old, patiently waited in line to meet Princess Tiana from “Princess and the Frog.” When it was her turn to go up, her little eyes lit up. In her mind, she was meeting the real princess. She believed in princesses. She shyly and innocently held out her arms for a hug, as Princess T beautifully played the part, and I just about started boo-hooing right there it was so cute. All of those “magical” feelings they hype? This, I must admit, was a pretty magical sight.

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I’m not saying Disney’s flawless. It’s crowded. With a family of four, I can picture money pouring through my hands, and my kids whining with exhaustion after a day walking through these enormous theme parks. The shuttle buses can be crowded, annoying-long rides.

But I’ll tell you what: Disney World is now on our family’s Places-To-Go list.