The $64 Question: Why?

by Debra Martin Koma, ALL EARS® Senior Editor

Feature Article

This article appeared in the
November 14, 2006, Issue #373 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

I bet you've all heard this question:

"Why do you keep going back to Walt Disney World?"

As someone who makes a pilgrimage to the House of the Mouse about a half-dozen times a year, you can imagine that I get asked that question a LOT. By family, friends, even some of you write and ask me. It's a topic that we address periodically in this newsletter -- why do you keep going back? Lately, I've even asked myself that question.

Because I'm starting to think that maybe folks are right. Maybe I do visit Walt Disney World too much.

The other night, for example, I was getting ready for bed. It was 11 o'clock, and my husband and son were already asleep, but I realized that I was feeling a little peckish -- I wanted a snack. No problemo, I thought to myself. I'll just run downstairs to the 24-hour buffeteria, Picabu, and get a bag of chips, or maybe some crackers, and a bottle of iced tea. Then I'll come back up here and sink into my Heavenly Bed. Maybe watch a few minutes of Stacey on the Walt Disney World "Top 7 Must-Sees" program that runs all day, every day.

Except that I wasn't staying at the Walt Disney World Dolphin that night. In fact, I wasn't at Walt Disney World at all. I was at home. In my own house. No Picabu downstairs. No snacks waiting for me. No Heavenly Bed. No Stacey on TV.

Darn it.

I was just having a flashback to my most recent visit to the World, during which my family and I had spent four nights at the Dolphin, enjoying the Food and Wine Festival, touring all four theme parks, getting a sneak peek of the new Nemo musical at Animal Kingdom, seeing a few friends... It had been a wonderful trip -- no wonder I wasn't ready to let it go yet.

So my flashback got me to thinking about all the "stuff" we had done on the trip, and how at home I felt when I was there in Walt Disney World. And I started to wonder exactly why I go back to Walt Disney World again and again. Unexpectedly, an answer came to me.

I think it's at least partially because when I'm in Walt Disney World, I become The Queen of Competence, reigning benevolently, and competently, over the Most Magical Place on Earth.

See, in my "real" life, I'm not sure how long that pot roast is going to take to cook properly. I'm not sure how to get from my home in the DC suburbs to Crystal City, and I get lost each and every time I try to make the trip. (Just ask my friend, Anita Answer, about our impromptu trip to Dumfries, VA.) And most recently, I'm not sure how to discipline my 14-year-old when I discover that he "forgot" to do his homework again. (Why oh why don't teenagers come with a how-to manual?)

But put me in just about any situation in Walt Disney World, and, as though I have been sprinkled with Pixie Dust, I know where to go, what to do, how to handle it.

That's a pretty good feeling.

Last week, we spent nearly one whole day at the Magic Kingdom, revisiting many attractions we hadn't seen in a while, despite the crowds. At no time did I feel lost, or wonder what I should do next, or where I should go.

When we were hungry, I knew where we could get a great hot dog, quick (Casey's Corner on Main Street). There were so many people with the same idea, there were no seats, but I knew where to go -- across the street and down by the water, where there were numerous empty tables. Later that day, we hit a pedestrian traffic snag caused by the imminent 3 o'clock parade. No problem, I told my hubby and son, here's a shortcut -- and we ducked into a throughway that took us almost magically from clogged Frontierland to nearly abandoned Adventureland. Around 4 o'clock, when the guys wanted a treat, I directed them down Main Street to the Confectionery where they found exactly what their sweet teeth were craving -- multi-colored M&M's. When my husband looked at our son and realized how shaggy he was, I pointed him in the direction of the Harmony Barber Shop, tucked away in a quiet corner off Town Square. "You're scary," my husband said to me, as marveled at the Competent Me. But that was thing -- I WAS in control. I felt at home.

One afternoon, I decided that I needed a haircut myself. I was over at the Beach Club when this notion struck me. And since I was there, I knew exactly where I should go -- to Periwig's, the salon located near the mini-water park, Stormalong Bay. I strolled over and asked if they could take a walk-in. Sure! And so I got a very nice new 'do. (Note to self: Next time, ask the price BEFORE getting the hair done. Ouch.)

That same evening, we had reservations for dinner at the Cape May Cafe. We were early, so we decided to have a drink in the lounge. "Oh no!" my husband exclaimed. The Rip Tide Lounge, next to the Cafe, was closed! (Turns out it was being used as additional seating for the Cape May Cafe.) What to do? Never fear -- I knew that right around the corner, and down the corridor, was Martha's Vineyard, another cozy spot to relax and have a drink while waiting for our reservation time. I knew just what to do and where to go.

When we were in Epcot one day, trying to ride the obscenely popular Soarin', we were disappointed to see the standby line wait time posted as 70 minutes, with all FastPasses distributed for the day. I knew that in the past I had seen a 70-minute line that had folks queuing up at the entrance. This line was nowhere near that long. "Come on," I told my family confidently, "this is a 20-minute wait at most." Thankfully, it turned out I was right, and we got to glide over the orange groves, pine trees and even Disneyland, in what has to be one of my very favorite attractions. "Mom," my son said afterward, looking at me rather warily, "how did you KNOW that? I think you've been here too much." Well, what could I say?

Time and again throughout the trip, questions about where to go and what to do came up, and every time, I knew the answer. Where's the nearest restroom? I'm getting a blister, where can I get a Band-Aid? How long is this ride? Will we be out in time to make the next show of Indiana Jones? Over there at the corner, at the First-Aid Station behind the Crystal Palace, about 17 minutes and yes. I never feel that capable and in control in my "real" life.

Don't get me wrong, though. It's not as though I don't like to get outside my comfort zone. I love to travel, and think it's extremely important to see the rest of the world, to know that there's more than the United States out there. I admit that there's a certain thrill to not being familiar with the lay of the land, or not fully understanding the language people are speaking. It's a real adventure. Before our son was born, my husband and I traveled fairly extensively, to the UK, Italy, Germany, France (hmmm... preparing for World Showcase?)... We even went to Egypt twice. This past summer, we went to Italy for a week and had a fabulous time. (OK, I couldn't resist comparing St. Mark's Square in Venice to Epcot's replica, but really, we enjoyed immersing ourselves in the Italian culture, and showing our teenage son something other than the "American experience.")

Then WHY do I keep going back to Walt Disney World?

Because despite the rides that close and the benefits that fall by the wayside, despite the cost, despite the perception by some that the value of a Walt Disney World trip has diminished over the years... despite all that, it's a place where I feel secure, a place where I know what's what and what's where. It IS my comfort zone, and in this crazy, post-9/11 world we live in, who doesn't want to feel that kind of safety and security, at least every now and then? When I'm in Disney World I feel, as Cranium Command's General Knowledge says, "calm, cool, collected, serene, balanced, centered, and relaxed." And, dare I say it again? At home.

Yep. That's why I keep going back to Walt Disney World.

So I guess maybe the real question is not, "Why do I keep going back to Walt Disney World?" That's pretty obvious by now.

No, I think maybe the real question is, "Why do I ever LEAVE?"

And I guess that's a discussion for a whole 'nother time and place...


About the Author: Senior Editor Debra Martin Koma, just back from a four-night stay in Walt Disney World, is already busily planning her next two trips for 2007, and thinking about maybe something in the spring... oh, and of course the Food and Wine Festival in the fall...


Related Links:

Other articles by Debra Martin Koma:

Pete Saroufim's Disneyfied:

Read our other columnists' thoughts on the Disney experience -- browse through our feature article archive here:


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.