Watch the faces of people walking through the gates of a Disney park, and you’ll realize there is a universal trait. Everyone is smiling. I tend to believe it’s because you know what kind of day you’re in for.
For the young, they’ll see their favourite characters come to life and (if they’re patient) even give them a hug or an autograph. For the young at heart, it’s a chance to relive the simplicity of childhood – where, if for a daythey can worry about nothing.
On Friday, March 4, as I walked through the entrance of Hong Kong Disneyland, a smile spread across my face. But that smile was not for the same reason as so many of the other visitors that day. I was finally able to cross an item off my bucket list.
Anaheim, Florida, Paris, Tokyo and now, Hong Kong. I was able to say I had been to every Disney theme park in the world.
Be certain, I know the achievement of “visiting every Disney park in the world” is not akin to finding a cure for cancer or winning a Nobel prize. In fact, the goal didn’t even come in to sight until six years ago.
In 2010, Chris and I travelled to Florida to visit Walt Disney World. It was my third trip to the Florida parks, and his first. As we sat one night having dinner, we talked about how much we were enjoying the experience, and that’s when we started to dream a bit.
“Wouldn’t it be cool,” Chris said, “if we were to visit every Disney park in the world?”
The world. That was a big, almost unattainable idea at the time on a number of levels. Travel was just starting to become a priority in my life. Until the year before, most of my recreational travel had been around Canada – Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary… the usual places. In fact, my 2009 trip to Walt Disney World with my sister and her family was my first trip to the United States in years – never mind the fact that I had never left the continent.
At the time, we laughed about the idea of visiting all the parks, but didn’t take it too seriously.
But then, slowly but surely, we chipped away at crossing them off the list – one by one.
Later in 2010, as I visited southern California for a work trip, I spent one day of my weekend at the original Disneyland in Anaheim. A month later, Chris went with a friend to check out the parks. In 2011, we’d go together to the California park.
In 2012, Chris and I explored London and Paris – and made a point of spending a few days at the Paris parks.
In 2013 when Chris moved to Tokyo, he became an annual passholder for the Japanese resort and when I came to visit, we spent a few days in the parks.
All that was left was Hong Kong. Elusive Hong Kong.
Aside from visiting Disneyland, I had never had a yearning to go to Hong Kong. It’s a fairly expensive city, and to seemed to lack the allure of other Asian destinations for me. But once I committed to travelling through Asia in fall 2015, it became evident that even if only for crossing the Hong Kong park off the list, the cost of getting to the city would be as inexpensive as it would ever be (I paid about C$150 for a flight from Hanoi to Hong Kong with Jetstar Pacific). With a calendar open on our computers, Chris and I picked the day and made the decision to go to the park.
A friend of mine in Canada asked tongue in cheek if streamers and confetti exploded as we walked through the gate. They didn’t. But, as the turnstile made that click-click-click-click sound we all know, a smile grew across my face and a tear crept out of the corner of my eye. We had done it. We joined a small, but passionate, group of Disney fans.
The biggest reward of visiting all five Disney resorts is an affirmation that I am passionate about the parks. I’m not terribly passionate about many things in life. I mean, I waited 20 minutes for an espresso at Starbucks store number 1, and I have lined up for an iPhone in the past. But I had never understood people who would criss-cross the continent to follow their favourite band or sports team. I couldn’t comprehend why some people would go to extreme lengths to take photos of a stuffed animal at every major tourist site they visit. But now, I get it. I actually understand what it’s about.
I proudly wear my “every park” badge – for now.
In June, Disney Parks opens its resort in Shanghai, China – pushing me out of the “every park” club once again, and leaving me with a new challenge to complete.