Note: I went on vacation this week, so instead of the usual sports content, you’re getting Dad Content.

It wasn’t until I told people that I was going to Disney World that I found out just how little I knew about Disney World.

I knew that Disneyland is in California, and Disney World is in Florida. I also knew that I grew up thinking of Disney World as the most remote, unachievable vacation destination known to man. I think I knew one person who went, out of all of my friends, and it was like he went to the moon. When he came back, he had to do a special show-and-tell in class at school.

(To give you some idea of how common exotic vacations were, in western Minnesota, in the 1990s: I remember another friend having to do this in junior high, after he went on a cruise with his family.)

Anyway, we planned a winter getaway to Orlando with my family and my parents, and so my wife and I had about eight conversations that went something like this:

WIFE: And of course, while we’re down there, we have to take the kids to Disney World.
ME: Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t notice - did the money tree you planted in the backyard finally start producing hundreds?

Eventually, of course, I broke down. We were going to be in Orlando, regardless, so this seemed like it might be our only chance to go. And that’s when I started finding out how little I knew about Disney World.

For example: I did not know that there are four separate parks at Disney World: Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. I vaguely knew that all of these things existed, but I suppose I assumed that they were all next door to each other, that the EPCOT golf ball was next door to Cinderella’s castle, and that if you walked too far you’d end up in a safari area of Animal Kingdom. (I thought Hollywood Studios was Universal Studios.)

It wasn’t until I looked at a map that I understood just how ridiculous this is. The entrance to Magic Kingdom is three and a half miles from EPCOT, and Animal Kingdom is even farther. We stayed at a resort that was just on the other side of the highway from the Disney property, and yet it was a 17-minute, ten-mile drive just to get to the Magic Kingdom parking lot; it required nearly an hour, and three forms of transportation (car, tram, monorail) to merely get to the entrance gate.

Ol’ Walt Disney was no fool, when it came to building amusement parks. Disneyland, the original, had opened in California in 1955; it was so immediately popular that, even though the park had no working drinking fountains, people had swarmed the opening day (because of a plumber’s strike, Disney had been given the choice of either having working fountains or working toilets, and I think we all can agree he chose properly).

The original, though, was smack in the middle of the L.A. suburbs, without much room to breathe. Disneyland occupies less than a square mile, even including all of the parking lots, and the surrounding areas quickly filled in with businesses and homes, none of which were making anything for Disney. So, in secret, Walt arranged to buy up an enormous quantity of land, southwest of Orlando, Florida, where he could build anything and everything he’d ever want.

Disneyland is 100 acres; Walt Disney World is 25,000 acres. From north to south, Disneyland spans almost exactly one mile; it was also almost exactly one mile just from our parking spot at Disney World to the entrance of the Magic Kingdom.

I did not understand how comprehensively enormous the place is. WDW includes not only the four parks, but two water parks, four golf courses, and 21 - twenty-one! - separate resorts, as well as two shopping areas and the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, your home for all pandemic-bubble professional sports.

Walt’s original plan had called for the amusement park, and for EPCOT to be an actual, futuristic city (hence the acronym, the Experimental Planned Community of Tomorrow), complete with all of his ideas for mid-century city life. (No good 1950s industrialist could have lived with himself without thinking up his own ideas for space-age living.)

Disney died long before the park was built, though, and his brother Roy - and the company’s board - eventually decided to scrap that plan. The aesthetic lives on in any number of Disney World features, like the Contemporary Resort, the PeopleMover, or the monorail that’s an integral part of the whole shebang.

I didn’t know any of that, and didn’t begin to research, until I found out about an entire segment of the population, who I have come to think of as the “Disney People.”

You probably know some Disney People in your own life. My friend who went to Disney World in the third grade? I think his family were Disney People. I knew that there were people who went every single year, and would go for multiple days at a time, even people who did not have the one billion dollars I assumed that this would cost.

Ultimately, I assumed that these were just people who were part of one of those sub-cultures that I can never quite understand. Like State Fair people, who go to the Minnesota State Fair multiple times per year, even though almost nothing ever changes. Or camping people, who willingly - and indeed enthusiastically - sleep on the ground in makeshift outdoor structures, where there are severe storms, and probably bears.

When you buy tickets for Disney World, the first thing you have to answer is how many days you want to go for, from 1 day (this option is offered semi-snootily), up to 10 days. What I remember thinking is this: what could possibly be at Disney World that would require more than one day? (And remember, this is when I thought that Disney World was one amusement park, not a collection of four separate parks.)

Anyway, I texted a known Disney Person, Mark, whose wife and mine are cousins. I asked him for his best advice about going to Disney World. What I said was this: “We are going to Disney World in a few weeks. Do you have any advice for me? I know nothing about anything except that Mickey Mouse will probably be there.”

(That wasn’t totally true; in our texts, I went on to reference the time that USWNT legend Alex Morgan got thrown out of EPCOT for getting hammered and getting in an argument, so I knew that it was at least an option to get drunk and disorderly in an Experimental and Planned manner.)

After some brief interrogation, Mark told me this: “With just one day at Magic Kingdom, there is no way you’ll probably even get to 50% of the park.”

And then he rushed off. Two hours later, he sent me a 1,700-word email - written entirely off the top of his head - detailing all of the attractions at Magic Kingdom, which ones my family would want to see, which ones were skippable, and what time I’d have to leave my hotel to have any hope of seeing anything at all.

What I learned, besides the fact that Mark may be in the wrong job and should look at becoming a travel blogger, is that Disney People know more about Disney than I know about anything. Compared to Disney People, I would describe myself as a “mild enthusiast” for sports.

Mark sent me this blog, which is only one of the many websites or blogs that Disney People sent to me or my wife, in advance of our trip. To me, a novice, they contained so much information that reading them was the approximate recreation of the experience of “what if, the same day you learned about the existence of the game of baseball, someone handed you the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract and told you that you needed to memorize the entire thing.”

We finally got our plan together, and got the kids to pick out a few potential favorite attractions that they wanted to see. Despite not knowing that Disney World existed until Christmas this year, the kids had immediately become fervent, die-hard Disney People. My daughter had to do an “about me” assignment for first grade, and listed Disney World as her favorite place on earth, despite never having been there and only having learned of its existence approximately three weeks previously.

If you, reader, are also not a Disney person, by far my best recommendation for you is this: when you go, take along a seven-year-old girl who is into Disney princesses. The reason we chose Magic Kingdom over the other park options is that it offered the most bang for the buck, princess-wise, and we were not disappointed; within the first few hours, she’d met Tiana and Rapunzel and Ariel, and had not only met Belle but played the role of Mrs. Potts in the Belle story. (I also got to play a suit of armor in the story; my four-year-old son politely but firmly declined the chance to act his own part.)

The only issue I have with Disney is that they have made the cruel, calculating business decision to split up the princesses (and all their other intellectual properties) among their parks. For example, the main “Frozen” attraction is at EPCOT, while the main “Cars” one is at Hollywood Studios; we had to explain to the kids (repeatedly) that they would not see much of Anna, Elsa, and Lightning McQueen. Which may be fine, in the end, as they might have expired on the spot anyway.

My daughter did get to wave at Anna and Elsa in the afternoon parade at Magic Kingdom, though she insists - against my attempts to convince her - that they did not wave specifically to her. And my son got to go to the Tomorrowland Speedway, which is a great chance to crash a car at low speeds into the person in front of you, which of course is all he’s ever wanted; two of his first twenty or so words were “boom” and “bash”.

Seeing Disney World through their eyes was the true magic of the Magic Kingdom. They don’t care about the rides, or whether the food is any good. They don’t notice that everything’s clean, or that you could look all day without finding peeling paint. They don’t remark on the inveterate friendliness of the staff - sorry, “cast members” - who, to a person, seem first and foremost to be true-blue Disney People. They don’t spend all day staring at the wait times on an app on their phones, saying things like, “You would have to pay me five hundred American dollars to wait for two hours to get on something called the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.”

Sure, it’s expensive as heck, but so is everything that’s fun; a ticket to Disney is the same price as a lower-deck ticket to a Wild game, and we’re talking a seat on the end of the rink, not at center ice. And you can bet the kids will remember Disney a heck of a lot more than they would remember the time that Freddy Gaudreau turned the puck over in his own end eight times in a period.

People always say they want to wait to go to Disney until their kids are old enough to remember it. I always thought that this was a cost-benefit thing, that if you were going to pay the money, you wanted the memories you’d paid for. What I understand now is that the memories are not the souvenir you take home; they’re the entire experience. You want the kids to remember because YOU remember, like any other special place - like a family cabin, or a favorite restaurant.

I got to see my daughter’s face after she hugged Rapunzel, and see the smile she had on her face when she was hopping around like Mrs. Potts. Above all else, Disney is designed to be memorable; expensive and insanely crowded and variously exciting, sure, but definitely and inarguably memorable.

At any rate, I don’t think I’m one of the Disney People yet… but least now, I feel like I understand.