By Kevin J. Kessler
When people hear that I host a weekly Disney World podcast, one of the first questions I’m always asked is “what park do you go to first?” Truly, in Walt Disney World, this is SUCH an important question. With four parks to choose from, the question of what comes first is an important one, and one that seems to speak volumes about a person.
As documented on 2 Men and the Mouse many times, my favorite park is the Magic Kingdom. It is, in my opinion, the park that just screams DISNEY to me. The magic is implied right in the name. This is a kingdom of wonders, and of dreams. This is a land of spectacle and enchantment, a place for you to lose yourself and become immersed in a massive sprawling story that can encompass an entire day of your vacation.
But someone’s favorite park is not always the park they go to first. My wife, ever the world traveler and lover of all things educational, is a HUGE EPCOT fan; It is far and away her favorite park. But, when the subject of our first park of the trip comes up, she is always in perfect agreement with me. It’s the Magic Kingdom, all the way! Our choice of first park however is not dictated by any one attraction, shop, restaurant, or even land. What ties it all together for us, is the sight of Cinderella Castle.
One of four landmark “weenies” found in Walt Disney World, Cinderella castle is the quintessential Disney landmark. It is one of the most photographed buildings on planet earth, it is the symbol of Walt Disney World as a whole, and is also the symbol of the Walt Disney company as much as Mickey Mouse or any other character. Think about it, when you go to a Disney movie, what is the first image you see on the screen? That hauntingly striking image of Cinderella Castle, alight with fireworks. Cinderella Castle IS Disney.
I’ve often heard my wife repeating what I once told her prior to her first trip to Walt Disney World. “Magic Kingdom is the gateway park.” But I think that statement can be narrowed down to more specifically state that Cinderella Castle is the gateway, in-and-of itself. I don’t feel as though I’m actually IN Walt Disney World until I’ve seen that majestic sight of Cinderella Castle waiting for me at the end of Main Street USA.
But to me, Cinderella Castle is more than just a building. This grand structure of fiberglass and steel is a storehouse of treasured memories. It feels as though with every trip I leave a little bit of myself behind within its walls, and when I return the memories and feelings that I’ve experienced come flying back to me. I look upon it’s great blue spires and I remember:
-Standing with my father as we looked up at the castle, decorated as a giant pink birthday cake for the park’s 25th anniversary. He smiled at me and said “This is what we’ve been waiting for.” I think those words every time I see it!
-Running up the stairs of Disney’s Polynesian Resort’s Great Ceremonial House along with my brothers to steal a glance at the top of the castle poking into the sky beyond the Seven Seas Lagoon. I remember thinking to myself, “I can’t believe it’s so close! And I get the SLEEP here?!?”
-Staring up at the castle right at the base, shoulder to shoulder with other people along with my wife at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. My back, legs, and feet were KILLING me, but I was in a Halloween costume with the woman I love awaiting what I had heard to be a truly magical fireworks show. As Happy Hallowishes finished, I remember staring open mouthed in awe at the spectacle I had just witnessed. It was glorious, and unlike any fireworks show I had ever seen. I had a new favorite in the Magic Kingdom!
-Most importantly, I remember the feeling of butterflies running through my stomach as I approached Cinderella Castle with my wife, then girlfriend, for the first time, with an engagement ring burning a hole through my pocket. I remember trying to maneuver her to JUST the right spot, which I had picked out months before. I had to keep her attention on me as her photographer mind was busy framing up just the right shot for her next photo (She took over 900 that trip!). As I looked into her eyes with clear intent and started talking with her, I felt her attention fully on me. That moment I dropped to one knee, in the shadow of Cinderella Castle, my life changed forever. It is my favorite memory.
So what do you folks think? Is Cinderella Castle as special to you as it is to me? Please comment below, or send me an e-mail at email@example.com. Also, please share your own photos and stories in our new facebook discussion group facebook.com/groups/2menandthemouse.