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Introducing Walt Disney World

'Here in Florida, we have something special we never enjoyed at Disneyland…the blessing of size. There's enough land here to hold all the ideas and plans we can possibly imagine'.

Walt Disney

Minutes before the Magic Kingdom opens, Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Donald Duck and others stand where all can see them, sing 'Zippidee Doo Dah' and throw sparkly Mickey Mouse confetti into the crowds. They dash off on an open-windowed train, the gates open, and children, adults, honeymooners, grandparents and everyone in between enter the park, some strolling, others dashing down the impeccably clean Main Street toward Cinderella's Castle. That iconic image is as American as the Grand Canyon, a place as loaded with myth and promises of hope as the Statue of Liberty. If only for these few minutes, this is indeed the Happiest Place on Earth.

Yes, there will be lines with seemingly endless waiting and sure, you'll spend more money than you intended on a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt that you wouldn't have dreamed of buying before you came. That Pirates of the Caribbean ride may not be everything everyone said it'd be, and you may get stuck behind the guy who spreads his shopping bags and empty stroller parallel to the curb so your kids can't sit down to see the parade ('I got here first,' he growls). You'll return to the hotel exhausted and aching, vaguely dissatisfied with the day's meals, carrying your sleeping Belle, her face painted with now-smudging sparkles and her poofy yellow dress stained with ice cream, cotton candy and that green punch so tantalizingly named Tinker Bell and Friends. You swear that next time you'll take a real vacation… Until those last minutes before you fall asleep, when everything you need to do is done and you're finally relaxing in bed, your eyes closed. You see your child's face staring adoringly at Winnie the Pooh as he gives a big ol' bear hug, or your child's arms reaching out to grab the Donald Duck that pops out from the 3-D movie. And it's OK. That beach vacation can wait.

Walt Disney World itself is like a child. One minute, you think you can't take another cafeteria-style restaurant serving fried food and bad coffee or another second in an overstuffed shuttle bus. And the next, it does something right – maybe it's the fireworks, maybe it's a particular turn in a particular ride, maybe it's the corny joke of the guy who drives the horse-drawn carriage down Main Street.

And all is forgiven.