Area families bond over Disney dreams

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 28, 2010

Natchez resident Dana Kimbrell isn’t exactly a Disney World rookie.

Kimbrell, who describes her family as a Disney family, said the tradition of traveling down to Orlando, Fla., and experiencing “The Most Magical Place on Earth” began two years before she was even born.

“It opened in 1971, and my parents took my older brother, Carl, with them,” Kimbrell said. “I was born in ’73, and my parents brought me for the first time when I was 18 months old. Ever since then, we’ve gone every two to three years on average. I’ve gone four times in the last two years, which is a lot for me.”

And no matter how many times she goes, Kimbrell said the sensation she gets from the experience hasn’t worn out on her.

“The feeling you get, going down Main Street and seeing Cinderella’s Castle, no matter how old you are, you feel like a kid,” Kimbrell said. “It’s a great feeling.”

And the feeling is not just a personal one, Kimbrell said.

The bonding experience that Disney World brings for her entire family is something that brings them all closer together, she said.

“You do feel closer as family when you go, because you experience something so magical. Carl and I fought all the time as kids, but I don’t think we ever fought when we went to Disney World.”

Disney bonds aren’t merely family bonds, however. If two people have shared the experience, they don’t even have to be close friends in order to relate to one another. Kimbrell, a dental hygienist, is always quick to use Disney experiences as a conversation piece with her patients.

“I have patients that I can just talk and talk and talk about Disney World with,” Kimbrell said. “Really, any shared experience is something you can talk about with someone. We can ask questions like, ‘How was this show?’ ‘What did you think of this ride?’

“Until you go there, you can’t really understand, because it’s larger than life. It’s like the first time you go to New York City and stand in Times Square.”

The same can be said for the various Disney cruises, according to a co-worker of Kimbrell. Penny Sewell, a dental assistant, said she’s been taking her son Jesse, 11, on the Disney cruises for the past few years.

“I’m originally from Pompano Beach, in South Florida, and when you’re young and poor, and Orlando is only two-and-a-half hours away if you’re driving fast, Disney World is an ideal spot. I’ve been taking Jesse to Disney World since he was 4, and for the past four years, we’ve gone on the Disney cruises.”

The idea to try out the Disney cruises was Jesse’s idea, Sewell said, and the story behind it has a bit of a local twist.

“One day, we were at balloon fest, and they were doing cruises on the Mississippi River. Jesse turns to me and says, ‘Momma, why don’t we go on a Disney cruise?’”

And once they started, they haven’t been able to stop, Sewell said.

“I thought they would be more expensive than the park,” she said. “I couldn’t have been more wrong. At parks, money flows right out of your pockets. On the cruises, outside of alcoholic beverages, tips for services and excursions, everything is free (after your cruise fee is paid).

“The value you get for your money is great. Until Jesse tells me he doesn’t want to go on a Disney cruise, we’ll keep going.”

Not everyone signs up for a cruise, but for most folks a trip to Disney World is either on the to-do list or the to-dream list.

Natchez resident Tabitha Wroten took her son Christian, 13, to the World in January for seven nights and eight days.

“My first time was when I was in high school,” Wroten said. “I took Christian when he was little, when he was 10 and in 2008, when he was 11. This will be his fourth time, and my fifth time.”

Another trip for Wroten meant new experiences, and she was very excited about the dinner reservation she made to Cinderella’s Castle.

“We’d never been there, but I (was) really excited,” Wroten said. “Cinderella gets to come to your table while your eating.”

Those encounters with the characters are what made Disney World special for Clayton residents Michelle Watkins and Lisa Barber who took their clan as a Christmas present this year.

The sisters and their five children posed with Mickey and Minnie, saw the shows and took in all their favorite rides, Watkins said.

“The kids watch the Disney Channel on TV and see the different cartoon characters,” Watkins said. “And when you go, they are able to hug and touch the characters.”

The trip was the second one for the family, and it was sort of a do-over, Watkins said.

“We went on a church trip in the summer and it was hot,” she said. “We didn’t really get to enjoy it.”

They promised the kids a winter-trip would come, and Disney soon became the only thing under the Christmas tree.

“We didn’t buy any toys at home,” Barber said. “We told them we are going to put the tree up, but there is not going to be any presents under it. We put Florida under the tree.

“I think we spent less this year, and we didn’t have to cook or wrap gifts.”

And now they are already looking forward to a trip back next December.

Holiday Disney can make extra special memories, Keri Gore of Natchez said.

“We were there for New Year’s Eve,” Gore said. “Since we were there at the end of December, they still had the Christmas decorations up.

“This time, they had the castle lit up, and they had a presentation of lighting the clear crystal lights. The Fairy Godmother came out and lit up the castle. It was like Disney magic.”

In general, the park is different on holidays, Gore said, and she recommended that prospective visitors plan to go to Disney on a holiday at least once.

“On holidays, they have themed fireworks,” she said. “It’s just a different experience. Because we went on New Year’s Eve, it was like the first time we ever went because of the fireworks. It’s almost like they one-up themselves each time.”

The Gore family is relatively new to the Disney World experience, Gore said, but now going there is part of being in her family.

“We went there the last three summers, 2007, 2008 and 2009, and for New Year’s Eve. We are going in May for the fifth time. It took my husband, Wes, awhile (to get on board), but he finally went, and he loved it, so that’s become our family vacation now.”

Disney vacation photos are a part of many local scrapbooks for a reason, Wroten said.

“To me, it really is just magical,” Wroten said. “It makes you feel like a kid, and you can see the enjoyment on people’s faces, whether it’s riding a ride or touring some place in Epcot.”