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One Woman's Obsession With Disney, America's Biggest Brand

I'm normal, I'm cool, I'm the fashion-loving New Yorker I've always been, but now I love mouse-eared fun, too.

If you told me six months ago that my happiest place on earth would be The Happiest Place on Earth, and not a Proenza Schouler sample sale, I would have laughed in your face. I’d never been a Disney person and couldn’t understand how anyone could be; by September, I will have visited five parks in eight months’ time.


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To understand my newfound obsession with Disney parks, maybe you first need to understand Duffy the Disney Bear. Born in Cape Cod, Duffy is a stuffed bear given to Mickey by Minnie for safe travels, named after the duffel bag he’d soon be kept in. (This, like naming your son "Crib", only scratches the surface of weird that surrounds him.) First introduced to Americans, who subsequently rejected him like the money grab he is, he was rejected and brought to Japan where girls quite literally went wild for him. So much so that he’s now got his own posse: he's in a relationship with another bear, Shellie Mae; his closest pal is a cat artist named Gelatoni whose origin story was created by someone who absolutely knows how to roll a joint and market a new character.

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Duffy, with Mickey, at Tokyo DisneySea. Image: Getty

At Tokyo DisneySea, these products—located, of course, in the park's Cape Cod section—fly off the shelves. Read this part slowly, because this is not an exaggeration: every single person in the park is carrying Duffy in some form. There are Duffy keychains, Duffy backpacks, enormous Duffy purses that resemble fuzzy pillowcases. There are photo spots for taking snaps of your Duffy enjoying his day at the park. People carry Duffy around all day, stuffing Duffy between their knees to fit below safety bars on roller coasters, pushing Duffy in a stroller like a cranky toddler, dining across from Duffy at Magellan’s, DisneySea’s fanciest restaurant.

I just never realized the bizarre intricacies, weird factoids and fun rides were everything that was missing from my fashion-obsessed, New York-dwelling, trend-focused life.

Growing up in the Midwest, our summer vacations weren’t spent in The Hamptons or Cape Cod—instead, we took a two-hour drive up to "Waterpark Capital of The World" Wisconsin Dells, a childhood wonderland filled with all of the wave pools, mini-golf and go-kart amusements one’s tiny, undeveloped brain could imagine. It was pure fun, complete with all-you-can-eat buffets of unhealthy foods and more innertubes than you could stuff your tush into. A tourist trap in the most glorious of ways, competing parks one-upping themselves meant there were never-ending discoveries and experiences and souvenirs, all worthy of winged money emojis, had they been invented back then.

Moving to a big city and becoming an adult means my summer months are no longer filled with sheer joy and a side of waterslides. Fun as a twentysomething New Yorker is, if Instagram is indicative of anything, a mash-up of avocado on seeded bread, perfect bodies in neon bikinis and Barbie-hued wine. But... that’s not the churro-filled, TYR swimsuit-clad, ice cream-packed summer I’d been raised on! When did smiles and thrills get swapped for swilling Coronas and tanning poolside? So, this never-ending void for sheer childhood joy—paired with Wisconsin’s inclimate wintertime weather—landed me smack in Orlando this past February for my bachelorette party.

Now, I love a cult mentality, but I wasn’t brainwashed by a perfect trip. The weekend was fun, but only because my poor friends were being good sports, powering through roller coaster fears, infrequent cigarette breaks and, oh, 14 straight hours of torrential downpour that soaked ponchos right through. (Not exactly the makings of a life-changing perspective, you know?)

Did you know that riding the Prince Charming Carousel when you’re margarita-tipsy is, like, crazy fun?!?

Everyone enjoyed it, but for some reason, I came back fully evangelized. Did you know Epcot is essentially a billion-dollar version of the drinking game Around The World? Did you know Magic Kingdom is open as late as 4 am on Saturday nights? Did you know that riding the Prince Charming Carousel when you’re margarita-tipsy is, like, crazy fun?!?

I was instantly transported to that giddy level of sugar highs and post-thrill smiles that had seemingly disappeared decades back. All of the joy that I thought adulthood had sucked dry came flooding back—and I wanted more of it, all the time.

Walt Disney World is a dream vacation for adults, because let’s discuss it: most vacations as an adult are horrible. All I ever do in a different city is find cold brew, eat cute sandwiches, go to a minimalist home store and sip craft cocktails on repeat until I eventually board a plane and go home. As someone with a low tolerance for liquor and one even less for sunshine and relaxation, there aren’t many options out there that won’t bore me to death—besides a themed carnival that’s open 365 days a year.

If we’re being really honest, though, that’s not even the half of it. I like being a Disney fan because I'm not traditionally smart. And, when you’re not smart, there aren’t a lot of hobbies you can take up that are learning-based and won't bore you to mascara tears. I’m not wasting an Adderall on reading a draft version of To Kill A Mockingbird when there are no five-paragraph essays at stake, nor am I going to pay $14.50 to sit through an art house film because The New Yorker suggested I should. I buy comedy books and essay collections constantly; the last paperback I read cover-to-cover without pause was about how to have sex, game the system, and sneak into the underground utilidors of Walt Disney World. (It is called Dark Side of Disney and I will never do any of these things because I live in fear of being blacklisted.)

All I ever do in a different city is find cold brew, eat cute sandwiches, go to a minimalist home store and sip craft cocktails on repeat until I eventually board a plane and go home.

The entirety of Disney parks knowledge is a fascinating hobby because there is always something new to learn. The community is endlessly interesting. The people are wild. The Disney Weddings Podcast has the most eye-opening cross-section of people who get married at the parks, and no, it’s not as princess-y as it sounds. A high school friend got married in Animal Kingdom, in a ceremony that was surrounded by tigers and they partied below the park’s massive replica of Mount Everest. A hotel ballroom or lightbulb-lined barn, quite frankly, does not hold a candle.

It’s not a day filled with never-ending lines like you remember, either. With the introduction of FastPass+ and Magic Bands—essentially, a wristband that operates as a room key, wallet and park ticket—you’re likely to wait in less lines at Disney than at a summer music festival.

If you thought keeping up with the New York food scene was major, just try knowing which stands sell Dole Whip in every corner of the park. Hard to get a reservation two weeks out at a hot spot on the Bowery? Cool, at Walt Disney World, dining reservations open 180 days in advance. Have you ever known where you were going to eat breakfast—breakfast—six months down the road? We do. (Chef Mickey’s, duh).

It’s the most fascinating type of stress that tickles my Type A button like nothing else. But, I see you, shaking your head at me, wondering about my secret freak life that doesn’t exist. I want to swing from a turret of Cinderella’s Castle and shout "I’m normal! I’m normal!!!" I’m not waiting in line for an hour to meet Elsa or attending local meet-ups with fellow Disers, even if I don’t think there’s anything wrong with either one of those.

As I continue to tell my mother as she texts me photos of Snow White t-shirts from Nordstrom Rack with the caption "U want?", I’m obsessed with having fun, not Mickey. I’ll watch an Epcot documentary ten times before I’ll google Steamboat Willieor book a trip to whatever the hell Aulani is or get a Lilo & Stitch tattoo. I’ve never even seen Lilo & Stitch! Or been on their ride! What are they, like Hawaiian stuffed animal monsters? Dustbunnies with Maui flair? To me it’s just an obstacle en route to Space Mountain which, if you haven’t been there lately, totally lives up to your memory of it—especially when you get to ride it, completely empty, at 3am.

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Epcot Center. Image: Getty

Disney parks are significant too, because in the next few years, they’re only gonna get cooler. Shanghai Disneyland is nothing short of goddamn bonkers. Coming down the pipe in the states is an entire James Cameron-helmed Avatar Land, enough Star Wars stuff to make your inner nerd cry, and probably the most exciting Inside Out-themed ride you could ever dream up, considering the movie was inspired by an Epcot ride that was once narrated by Jon Lovitz, Bobcat Goldwaith and Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon as SNL’s Hanz and Franz. (See? This stuff is crazy interesting!)

Soon, I’m going from that weird girl in your feed grinning in front of Alice’s Tea Party at Disneyland Tokyo to the person you e-mail last-minute begging for FastPass+ advice. And you know what? I don’t care if you think I’m weird. I’ll still help you out.

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