Every year of my childhood included Disney World. My grandparents' annual Christmas gift to me and my brother was a trip to Disney World. We often came again at Spring Break or during the summertime. (My grandparents had annual passes at the time, so this was not the astronomical expense it is today.)
I don't know how to talk about Disney World like it's an unfamiliar place. It would be like trying to explain to someone who didn't grow up with dirt or monkey bars or basketball courts. I'm not trying to sound like a spoiled brat; I'm simply stating facts. The place is ingrained in the recess of my soul. When I had nightmares as a little girl, my mother would tell me to think about the happiest I'd ever been, and I would always think about my time spent tucked away in this magical place.
At some point, we started staying at the Swan (warning: *terrible* music on that website). My grandparents earned Westin points, and, over the years, they earned super VIP status. We got upgraded to the penthouse one Christmas, where they had a tree decorated and set up for us. There was a baby grand piano and a full kitchen. My grandparents paid $99/night.
When I found out this Spring that a conference I needed to attend was not only in Orlando but at the Swan, my heart soared. I knew my grandparents would come with me. I invited my beau. I thought that nothing could be more perfect than to share this sacred place with them, to reminisce about all of the memories we share, to create new magic.
Something you also have to understand about my grandparents is that they're the nicest people in the universe. Every time they visited, they brought gifts for the bellmen, valets, concierges. And because of whatever circumstance, the employees here remained the same, for the 15+ years we visited.
Many of the employees are still the same. I recognized them immediately. We exchanged long hugs. They asked all about my grandparents, then gave me the royal treatment.
After I checked in, I sat in my hotel room and cried for an hour. My mom "forgot" I invited her and my grandparents. My beau wavered for too long, so I told him not to bother. Spending time in Disney World alone is the opposite of any reality I've ever known. I simply don't know how to be here by myself, in this hotel I spent much of my childhood in, Eloise-style.
Today, after a particularly spectacular lunch conversation that led to new doors/possibilities/opportunities, I stopped by the concierge desk to talk to Leo, a beloved member of the Swan team. After filling him in on myself and my grandparents, he offered to pay for my--and my colleagues'--dinner tonight. The generosity of my grandparents was returned to me.
I joined my colleagues poolside, where I tried to explain to them about how much time my brother and I had spent in the water here. We had long conversations about our siblings: how we shaped them, and how they shaped us. We laughed at my brother's refusal to learn his alphabet or to become literate, because he didn't see the point, because I always read anything he needed. "Mimi do it," he'd say, his toddler mouth unable to pronounce the three syllables of "Emily."
Tonight, over cocktails, I proposed a toast to Leo.
One of my colleagues said, "And to Mimi!"
In that moment, I knew I was no longer alone. I'm sharing this place with the people I love the most, through their memories, the laughter that remains, the hope of what may come.
And that’s exactly the kind of moment that makes this place so magical.