1. The Car Ride
When You’re 8: You spend the majority of the time pestering the other passengers. You ask multiple times within the hour if you “are there yet?” and are in a complete disarray every time the answer is no. It doesn’t feel like you’ll ever get there, but when you do, the excitement fills your little body to the peak of explosion. After this peak, your parents can forget about you getting any kind of sleep any time soon.
When You’re 20: You designate one or two drivers, depending on the length of the car ride, to take one for the team. These people drive the whole way while you and the other passengers sleep the entire way. If you called shotgun, good for you, but your job for the next four to eight hours is to keep the one driving from falling asleep at the wheel. This means singing, racing with cars on the highway beside you, and eating Sun Chips the whole way. By the time you reach your destination, you’re almost too tired to function, but you have to keep going because hey, you’re in Disney.
2. The Food
When You’re 8: It doesn’t occur to you that you're hungry until your parents tell you it’s time to eat. You’re too busy running around like a chicken with its head cut off to even think about nourishment. As soon as your parents point out to you that you need to eat, the only thing that will get you to shut up is chicken nuggets or other varieties of foods in the shape of Mickey’s face.
When You’re 20: It doesn’t occur to you until you’re about to pass out from malnutrition that you should probably eat. All you’ve cared about up until now is making sure you are on time for your fast passes. But as you stroll up to the fine park eateries, you notice something. Those chicken nuggets might as well be forty dollars, but you have to pay it; what are you going to do, starve? But let’s be honest: the food is so good you would probably eat it off the ground.
3. Buying Ears
When You’re 8: If you get them at all, you wear them around the park, mostly because you’re parents wanted you to, the whole time wishing you had them off because they’re hot, uncomfortable and pinch your head. Remember, you’re eight and in Florida where it’s a thousand degrees: everything is irritating.
When You’re 20: It’s the very first thing you do as soon as you arrive. They are a staple of not only your visit, but the mouse who started it all. You only take them off to shower and parade around all of the parks with them nailed to your skull. At some point though, it occurs to you that you are in fact wearing the ears of a mascot and it starts to become weird. But you don’t think about it too much because you’re probably going to continue to wear them when you get back to classes the next semester anyway.
4. Meeting the Characters
When You’re 8: You wait in long lines – as you do for everything in Disney if you do not have a fast pass – just to see that one character that makes your whole visit worthwhile. The characters that have touched your heart with their spunk, their light, and their spirit you see in all their movies. You meet them, give them a great big hug, and then run off to the next character. The special event lasts for about three minutes.
When You’re 20: You still wait in the same long lines, but you are almost just as anxious – if not more so – than the six year old standing in front of you, who doesn’t understand why you’re so pumped to meet Tinkerbell. You practically drop kick the child in front of you out of the way when it gets to be your turn and spend twenty minutes talking to Merida about how you’re basically twins, or telling Tigger he’s your spirit animal. It is an intense, life changing experience that can bring any adult to tears.
5. Seeing the Castle in Magic Kingdom
When You’re 8: You stare at it for about five minutes after your parents take a picture of you in front of it for posterity, wondering the whole time why you cannot go inside. You eventually get bored with it – once again, because you’re eight – and are ready to move on to the next event.
When You’re 20: You have to get at least twenty photos with it in the background because this will be the shining star of your Instagram for the next three months, and everyone has to be fully aware and jealous that you were in Disney World. You gaze at it in awe, wondering what it’s made of (PS: it’s fiberglass and plaster, not stone), and why you don’t live in a castle yourself. Seeing the iconic structure makes all of it real. You see how it can inspire people to follow their dreams. For just an enchanted moment, the stresses of real life fade away.
6. The Rides
When You’re 8: Attractions such as Tower of Terror and Mission: Space seem almost too daunting to handle. You stick to the tea cups and the Seven Dwarves Mine Train, and keep telling yourself that one day – when you’re older – you’ll be able to do all kinds of ‘big kid’ rides.
When You’re 20: Tower of Terror is still just as intimidating as it was when you were a child. At this age, you’re suddenly much more aware of your mortality and the last thing you want is to be decapitated on Space Mountain. But, you also convince yourself that if you do perish, at least you will die in the happiest place on earth, and you plan to have that written on your tombstone.
7. Seeing the Shows
When You’re 8: You were basically brought in to see Finding Nemo the Musical and the live Beauty and the Beast show because your parents were worn out after chasing you and your siblings around for five hours and they needed to rest their legs. It’s a good chance for them to nap and good chance for you to be quiet for the first time in a whole week.
When You’re 20: You go to see the shows because the artistry behind it, the beautiful costumes, acrobats, and animatronics. You can hardly believe that someone can perform the ways the actors in the shows do. There’s just something about watching your favorite movies and musical numbers being brought to life before your very eyes. Warning: the Festival of the Lion King may cause you and your whole party to burst into tears.
8. Taking Pictures
When You’re 8: You pose for pictures simply because your mother bought a new camera and wants to commemorate the trip, not because you will actually go back and look at the pictures; at least not until you’re in your teens or early adulthood.
When You’re 20: You and your friends take turns snapping photos on your phones, posting on Snapchat, Facebook, and all other forms of social media. You are also looking to commemorate the excursion, but also, deep down, you are doing it for the gloating, and rubbing your other friends’ noses in it, all while hoping they understand the Chicken Little reference.
9. The Princes
When You’re 8: You care more about the princesses - their beauty, and ability to sing songs and act the way they did in the movies you love so dearly - than you do their male counterparts. You seek out your favorite princesses to get pictures with them and have them sign their names in your autograph book.When You’re 20: Yes, you still love your princesses, just as much as you did when you were a child. But, you have to admit, when you see Flynn Rider’s smolder during the parades, you understand why Rapunzel would go weak at the knees. You fight with your girlfriends over who Prince Charming winked at, and every time one waves at you during a show or parade you convince yourself it was a marriage proposal. You yourself could be a princess.
10. The fireworks
When You’re 8: It’s the end of the day; you’re hot, tired, your feet hurt, and all you want to do is go home. Then, the sky lights up with bright, sparkling flames in all the colors of the rainbow as ‘A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes’ plays heavenly in the background. You are mesmerized, though you are unsure why. You aren’t truly able to appreciate it just yet.
When You’re 20: It’s the end of the day; you’re hot, tired, your feet hurt, and all you want to do is go home. But, you stay, just a little longer, just to watch those brilliant explosions. Then it hits you: How many times do children of all ages get to relive their fantasies played out on the silver screen? Or be touched – in real life – by the stories, characters, and themes they hold so near and dear to their hearts. You realize and appreciate for the first time, the true magic and whimsy behind it all, that can make anyone feel like a kid again without a care in the world.
When You’re 8 & When You’re 20: Leaving is the hardest part. With all the fun you had and the memories you made, Disney World has become like a second home, where dreams come true, and magic happens. It’s enough to make you want to throw your body on the ground and thrash like a two year old having a temper tantrum. Returning to reality seems practically unbearable, however, the memories will last a lifetime, even if the trip doesn’t. And you can always return home, where dreams come true.