It's midnight the night before we are taking our three young boys, ages five, three and ten months to Orlando. I should be in bed. Instead, I'm standing in my closet, staring at my empty Tumi suitcase. I was supposed to be packing, but somehow my mind wandered and I am thinking about how I can get out of going on this trip. I know I sound ungrateful (please don't judge me for it). Traveling is a luxury and I am usually a happy-ish traveler. But, the whole Disney World itinerary in 90 degree heat and 100 percent humidity with three young children does not excite me. I catch a glimpse of the duffle bags, backpacks and lunchboxes my two older children have packed and I smile. Their good efforts do not go unnoticed. They have each selected three or four pairs of shoes, approximately nine or ten bathing suits and a few pairs of underpants. The rest of the stuff is just a huge mess: Legos, Hot Wheels, books and nerf guns. I'm secretly envious of how easy it is to be young and carefree. The boys know they will be swimming and playing. That's all they care about, and that's all they pack for. I shuffle back to my closet and throw in the most casual, lightweight clothing I can find. My vacation wardrobe is limited to capri pants, bathing suits, tank tops, shorts and sandals. I get in bed and don't allow myself to have any anxiety-provoking thoughts. I remind myself that Disney World is supposed to be the happiest place on earth.
Upon arrival at Disney World we are greeted by (a very loud) Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. (Can anyone even understand Donald Duck?) Too bad my oldest son is petrified of dressed-up characters. We decline the photo opportunity and head straight to the lobby. Immediately, I am struck by the energy and movement in the lobby. There's a din of various languages, and many scents waft about (not all pleasant). The visitors are excited and their eagerness to check in and get to the park of their choice is almost contagious. Many are dressed in head-to-toe Disney gear. I can appreciate a child who loves a character and wants to dress accordingly, but what I will never understand is the adult couple who is dressed in matching Disney attire. Nevermind that they are here alone, sans children! I nod and give a friendly smile to a lady who wears a large pin on her shirt. The pin reads, "It's my first time at Disney World, and it's my birthday." She is proud of her button and her Minnie Mouse headband. Her male friend is also pleased -- he clicks away and takes one picture after another of the birthday girl in all her glory. I am pulled away from the scene, as my middle and youngest son want Winnie the Pooh's autograph. (Ironically enough, my boys will not get near Pooh or Tigger. Instead, I have to stand in line, ask for the autograph and hug the furry friends).
We are finally in the Magic Kingdom, and before we even get our hands stamped or sunscreen on, my boys are begging for a popsicle and a balloon. I remember how magical this kingdom was for me, and I smile and get in yet another long, hot line. The boys stare in awe at the many people, characters and nearby attractions. They can't wait to get a map and to walk all over the park. (This is highly unlikely, as they refused to rent a stroller for the day.) As the heat index rises, I retire to the shade with my sleeping 10-month-old baby. I love to people watch and can't think of a better place to do so. Many women, of all ages and sizes, have used the heat as the perfect excuse to dress as scantily as possible. T-shirts and tank tops are tucked, folded and knotted in more creative ways than I have ever seen. I am equally as intrigued by the sheer amount of tattoos. Every language, design and color is on display. Bikini tops and bottoms are the uniform of choice, and I suddenly feel very overdressed in my Banana Republic tank-and-shorts combo. I watch as whole families play in the water attractions. Kids, mostly barefoot, are happily running and splashing around. As long as my son isn't woken up, I am happy to quietly watch and play along. The shrunken tie-dye shirt and neon pink visor on grown women (and the Chipmunks' grating voices), all seem to go away and blend in to the bigger scene.
In that moment, I realize just what people mean when they say "don't sweat the small stuff." Maybe Disney World actually is a magical place, not for the attractions and the entertainment, and certainly not for the fashion and style on display. Maybe, just maybe, days at Disney take on a magical quality because of the carefree attitude we must embrace when there. Lines, heat, unpleasant odors and even grown women in princess attire can't spoil the real treat. Disney World is the perfect excuse many of us need to engage in behaviors that might otherwise be seen as childish or inappropriate. Now, you won't ever see us in matching Disney World hats and t-shirts. I've realized that going to the Disney parks is not about judging others. Rather, it's about having your own agenda, and enjoying the moments you and your family create and letting all style rules fall to the wayside while you enjoy the rides.
Follow Elizabeth Dosoretz on Twitter @lizydna