Monday, January 19, 2015

Disney Travel and Making Memories that Last: Is it really that important?

    I know what you're thinking... You just read the title of this post and thought, "Duh."  Of course, making memories that last are important.  Trust me, no argument here.  I'm a big fan of memories that last.  I peruse my online photo albums repeatedly; I laugh, I cry, I cringe at the memories said photos provoke.  So, let me explain.  I come to this topic by way of numerous conversations I've had as a Disney specific travel agent.  You see, as a lover of all things Disney, I'm pretty much a walking advertisement for the brand.  Chances are, I'm wearing a Disney related article of clothing (Mickey Mouse thermal at the time of this writing).  I love talking about Disney.  If you're talking about Disney travel within earshot of me, I will butt in.  Not just to promote my free travel planning/booking services, but just because I genuinely love talking about Disney.  So, I cannot tell you the number of times I've heard someone say, "Oh, we'd love to go to Disney World but we're not going to go until Insert Child's Name Here is OLD ENOUGH TO REMEMBER IT."  I smile and nod, and my inner Disney geek sheds a little tear.

The Hurdle Family at Wilderness Lodge, Photo provided by Tracy Hurdle
My son will be 4 years old in a few short months and he's a very fortunate young man in that he has been to Disney World twice.  He was 2.5 years old when his feet hit Main St. USA for the first time. I am well aware that he will not remember what it was like to see that glorious Castle for the first time. So, why did we go?  Why spend that kind of money (typically the number one reason following the "they won't remember it" adage) for something with no lasting effect or apparent benefit to your child?  We'll get to that in a minute.  First, science.

Fire up your old Google search engine and enter "Toddlers and Memory" and you'll receive about 9,730,000 results in 0.24 seconds.  The first entry is from a website called Today's Parent and the article is entitled "Your toddler's memory: How much do toddlers remember and for how long?"  The following is an excerpt from this article:

In a study published in the journal Memory in 2005, researcher Carole Peterson, a professor of psychology at Memorial University of Newfoundland, found that six- to nine-year-olds have verbally accessible memories from toddlerhood that seem to disappear as they get older. A follow-up study published in Child Development in 2011, which tracked four- to 11-year-olds over a two-year period, found that “earliest memory” changed as the children aged, even if they were given cues about the original earliest memory from two years prior. It was infantile amnesia in action.
“We documented the fact that children were losing memories,” explains Peterson. Intrigued, she decided to find out why some memories stay and others go. This newest study, which is awaiting publication, found that memories “infused with emotion, either positive or negative,” were three times more likely to stick, says Peterson. The other factor was coherence — the memory needed to fit together as a whole, in narrative form, rather than just being a stand-alone snippet. In other words, if you want your toddler to remember something, talking about it with her helps, too. “Children acquire the habit of remembering life events because they talk about them,” says Peterson.
Did you catch what I did?  The part about memories that last are the ones associated with emotion?  I can't speak for anyone else's child but my own.  I assure you that my son experienced a multitude of emotions on his Disney trips.  Excitement, Happiness, Fear, Awe, and a myriad of others as he experienced his first roller coaster (The Barnstormer), his first Disney character meet (Minnie Mouse), his first haircut (Harmony Barber Shop on Main St.), his first parade, and so on.                                                                                                                  
The Hurdle Men with Minnie Mouse; photo provided by Tracy Hurdle
The second part of the above paragraph that is important is the concept of coherence.  Children may not remember certain activities but by golly, they remember stories.  Sometimes the elements may have a bit of fantasy about them, but they remember them.  To help my son remember his time in the House of Mouse, I created a large and very sturdy photo album with as much detail as I could muster about our trip.  We look at this photo album fairly regularly and talk about the memories associated with each page.  We tell stories about our experiences and watch YouTube videos of Disney rides (The Haunted Mansion is a favorite). Again, I understand that my son will likely not remember these trips when he is older, but he remembers enough now to exclaim, "I want to go back to Disney World" at random moments.

Back to the questions at hand: Why does my family go to Disney World now?  Why spend the time and money on something our children won't remember?  The answer is profoundly simple.  I'm actually going to let Neil Patrick Harris do the talking for me.

<Double Take>  What does Neil Patrick Harris have to do with this?  Fair question and I'll start with a little exposition.  Neil Patrick Harris is an outstanding entertainer of stage, screen, and film and is a long time Disney fan.  He hosted the Disney Christmas Day Parade in 2013 and for years has narrated the Candlelight Processional at Epcot.  He and his husband, David Burkta, are parents to two adorable twins, Gideon and Harper Burkta-Harris.

Photo provided by

I recently finished reading Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography, a charming and fun book that was published in 2014.  At the very end of the book, Mr. Harris talks briefly of his associations with Disney and perfectly relates the thoughts and feelings that I share about this magical place.  The following is an excerpt from page 287 of his book as he describes his children's first ride on one of my favorites, Peter Pan's Flight:

And now for your hundredth time and their very first, you are boarding Peter Pan's Flight in Fantasyland.  It's one of the few original Disney attractions still in operation, and of course you-savvy, sophisticated you-know all its secrets.  You're familiar with how Omnimovers work, you've seen how Audio-Animatronic figures are programmed, you've studied the circuitry, you know where the speakers are.  And knowing all this makes you greater appreciate the artistry, and you find yourself admiring the thousand little details that go into the ride.  But some of the wonder, you admit to yourself, is gone.

Until you gaze at your two-year-old son sitting on your lap, and his twin sister, sitting on the lap of the man you love so much, and this five-minute climate-controlled adventure that you've grown a little jaded about is once more a spellbinding enchantment, because you're seeing it anew through their eyes.  Gideon gapes at Captain Hook.  Harper gasps at Peter soaring through the sky.  They both squeal with delight as the crocodile does his dirty work.  You experience them experiencing pure magic, unadulterated by cynicism or irony or self-consciousness.  And as the ride makes its full circle, so do you, until Peter Pan has done it again, and you are once more a child, taking it all in, amazed, overwhelmed, and enchanted.  

Then it's over, and Gideon and Harper, these two little organic walking talking miracles that are somehow yours, are cheering at the end for the ride they called "Boat".  "More, more!" they shout.

And so you cry your eyes out.  And ride it again.

You see, gentle reader, the memories we make when our children are small, the memories that last, are our own.  I took my son to Disney World when he was 2.5 years old because I wanted those memories.  I will forever remember my son's face, his maniacal laugh, his genuine delight.  I will remember him facing his fears, trying new things, and interacting in a world unlike anything he'd ever seen.  I will remember watching my husband and my son stroll hand in hand down Main St. and the feeling that my heart would burst with gratitude and joy.  I promise you, it's worth every penny.

That is the face of a boy who just met his favorite character of all time.; Photo provided by Tracy Hurdle

Tracy Hurdle is a fellow agent and Family Destinations Specialist with the travel agency, Magical Vacations by Me. If you have any questions about Disney travel, feel free to contact her on her Facebook page, Magical Vacations by Tracy, or by her email address:

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