Mmpele-OrlandoTMOMMmpele (shown here on the right with me on the left) relishes her job as a cultural representative for Disney. She, along with others from South Africa and other countries throughout Africa, engage with guests at the Animal Kingdom Lodge in Orlando, Florida. She’s been in the U.S. for 4 months and will be finishing her university studies later this year when she returns to South Africa.While at the Resort, she shares stories about the types of animals the guests were seeing on the resort grounds, like the giraffes and zebras, as well as birds like the guinea fowl (and, yes, you can see them roaming from your hotel room if your hotel overlooks the grounds!). She answers questions about how it is to live in South Africa and what she’s learned in the short amount of time she’s been in the U.S.

Earlier, inside the lodge, a gentleman from Mpumalanga was showing animal skulls and asking children if they could identify the animals based on the skull shapes and sizes. From lions and leopards to meerkats, the kids enjoyed the guessing game and learning more about the countries they inhabit.

This type of cultural exchange was not what I was expecting when I visited Disney World last month. As someone who would prefer my children have a more global family vacation experience and make use of their passports, visiting the home of Micky and Minnie Mouse is not exactly on my radar. Images like long lines waiting for roller coasters and baking under the hot sun all day at the parks are what come to mind when someone brings up Walt Disney World.

Instead, I learned how much Disney incorporates a global perspective in its family experiences. We heard Diego, a Walt Disney AnimalKingdomLodgeTMimagineer, tell us how they often consult with various country experts and visit countries to create authentic stories for Epcot theme park’s World Showcase Pavilions rollercoasters and attractions.

The World Showcase Pavilions also feature shops and restaurants that represent the culture and cuisine of each of its 11 countries which is a great way to introduce children, young and old, how different yet similar, we are in the world.It was quite a pleasant surprise to see cultural sensitivity considered and weaved into the Disney magical experience. As I walked through the parks, I kept thinking how much my kids would enjoy learning more about the places and seeing the attractions as well as riding the roller coasters.

So my take-away from my Disney experience: be open-minded and enjoy the magic of Disney. Although it’s been decades since I had visited Orlando and I wasn’t sure it ever would be a stop for my own family vacation, it’s now on my radar. I plan to keep abreast on what’s happening at Disney through its regularly-updated Disney Parks blog (which I highly recommend so you can read what’s going on prior to your trip).
Is there a special place you like to visit when you go to Disney World or would recommend to families with two young kids? If so, please share. It might make it on our itinerary!-Megy

Megy Karydes is founder of World Shoppe and works with artisans in South Africa and Pakistan as a wholesale importer of fair trade and handmade products. When she’s not traveling internationally, you can find her, with or without her kids, traveling to visit her retail customers or speaking at conferences about fair trade.

Disclosure: My visit to Walt Disney World was sponsored in part by Disney.