I know I don’t usually post on Thursday but today I’m making an exception because I’m saying goodbye to an old friend.
Tonight marks the final performance of Walt Disney World’s Wishes: A Nighttime Spectacular. The show debuted in October of 2003, a few months before I would take my first trip to the most magical place on earth. Back then, I had no idea that Walt Disney World would become so important to me; it was just a trip I had always wanted to go on but my mom had decided to wait until I was old enough to remember. At this point, I don’t remember every detail of every trip but that’s only because we’ve been fifteen times.
Amongst all the Disney magic you get while visiting Walt Disney World, Wishes has always held a special place in my heart, not only because it was the first Disney fireworks show I ever experienced but because it’s become a symbol of much more than that over the years. Our first Disney trip was taken shortly after my grandmother passed away. The trip was something we were planning to do with her but unfortunately, as is the case with many cancer stories, the timeline we were given was far too generous. I never got to walk through the gates of the Magic Kingdom with my grandmother but she was always there in my heart. Still, my biggest wish was always that she could have been right there beside me.
Over the next fourteen years my family made Disney World our second home. Trips were taken almost annually, if not more often. We tried different restaurants, we stayed in different hotels, but we always made sure to catch at least one showing of Wishes. At this point I’ve seen the show from all angles: the front and the back of the castle, the beach at the Polynesian Resort, through the twists and turns of the Tomorrowland PeopleMover, and even while working at a little ice cream cart in Frontierland. I’ve never got bored of it, and to be quite honest I wouldn’t have minded if they had kept this show around for another ten or twenty years.
Wishes to me really captures the spirit of Disney. It’s a show that tied so many classic Disney elements together to inspire the audience to dream, to wish. It empowers you to face adversity with courage, and to always let your conscience be your guide. I think it’s message is relevant to everyone from the smallest kid in their oversized Mickey ears to the eldest guest standing on Main Street.
And for a twenty something year old girl who sometimes loses hope, the message is everything.
In 2012, after a hard battle with mental health, Wishes became something different for me, it became more than just a fireworks show. We had taken off on yet another trip just a week after my first year exams ended. I was so happy to be out of there, to have made it to May; there were many times when I worried I wouldn’t. I can still remember standing in the hub of the Magic Kingdom, the sky lighting up with one of my favourite shows Disney has to offer. The usual smile was plastered on my lips as Tinker Bell flew down across the skyline, prompting shouts of excitement from the young and old alike. The display moved onward, different characters announcing their presence, making their wishes, bolts of light shot behind Cinderella’s castle in the same order they had the year before and the year before that. I’d seen this same show so many times that I had it all committed to memory, and I thought for sure there would be no surprises.
But then, something different happened.
The difference was not with the show but with me. As the familiar triumphing cords of I Can Go the Distance from Disney’s Hercules began to flow through the air around us I found myself crying. My throat closed up and tears ran down my cheeks but that smile on my lips remained. Jiminy Cricket’s words came in over the music with a reminder that felt like it was made just for me: “Any wish is possible, all it takes it a little courage to set it free.” All I could think about was how if hadn’t been for the courage of my friends and my family, and of course the courage I found in myself, I might’ve not been standing there that night. But I had wished for things to be better and while the hard days were far from over, I had still made it.
In the five or six trips we’ve taken since that one in 2012 I have found that it doesn’t matter how many times I watch the show the moment those notes start playing I choke right up. In fact, I don’t even have to be there in person, listening to the music is more than enough. People often wonder what brings us back to Walt Disney World year after year when we could be trying new adventures; it is moments like this that make that big ole theme park in Florida our home. Wishes will always be a part of my Disney experience but more than that it’s been a part of my recovery, and nothing can take that from me.
Thank you Disney for this beautiful show, and for almost fourteen years that it helped make wishes come true.