I never had the typical family vacation growing up. Where most families went to theme parks, historical sites, or tourist attractions, mine went to remote locations like the North Carolina hills and towns deep in the heart of Mississippi.
I don’t fault my parents. Having two kids that are five years apart in age must be hard. That said, every trip and tour I took as a kid centered around what mom and dad wanted to do.
I spent a lot of time at NASCAR tracks, ski resorts, and beach towns. I never told them, but the only thing I ever wanted was to go to Disney World.
It’s not really the kind of reasonable request for a child to make, so I pushed it down deep inside, figuring I’d never get to see the Magic Kingdom.
I was given a designated wedding job by my wife, shortly after getting engaged in 2011. For the most part she handled the ins and outs of the ceremony and after-party. The only thing she asked of me was to plan the honeymoon.
The first and immediate pick was San Francisco. We had acquaintances from the city that recommended the bay area, which helped reinforce the lifelong dream Rachel and I both had of visiting the west coast.
One day while at work I took a peek at Disney World prices, compared them to a potential California sojourn, and changed our plans in an instant.
Maybe I was being selfish, but I was determined to experience some freaking Disney magic. After all, I felt like I deserved it. Just about every Disney film makes me cry, but more importantly I felt like I was rectifying a major error from my youth.
Our wedding was the first weekend of November. That Monday, I hopped on a plane for the first time in my life, full of screaming kids and disappointing in-flight snacks, touching down in Orlando and stepping into what was the best vacation of my life.
There was just something about the atmosphere and energy of Disney that not only caused me to finally relax after months of stress, but also made me ridiculously happy. The smells, sounds, and sights of The World were everything I had hoped for.
Then, it was over. Back to the real world to start life as a married man, I went. I spent a week in a post-Disney funk, even going as far as keeping the tourist maps and my Disney Magic Band in my work bag.
I’m a sentimental fool, what can I say?
To be honest, I was desperate for anything that would provide just a little bit more of the Disney Magic. After the honeymoon I went on a Disney film tear, watching just about every animated film I could get my hands on. Even worse, I went down a somewhat crazy YouTube hole filled with channels that had the Disney Resorts information boards, recorded sounds of the parks, and even the automated messages played on the Disney World bus systems.
Not too long after our trip I got a hold of the starter set for Disney Infinity 1.0. The game hadn’t caught my eye before this point, as game purchasing were put on hold while trying to figure out the financial end of wedding planning.
I had tears in my eyes mere moments after the introduction tutorial began. The combination of music, atmosphere, and Disney visuals were all it took to hit me in that Disney-shaped hole in my heart.
And that, in my opinion, was always the greatest strength of the Infinity series: The games capture the wonder and whimsy of what Disney is. Hearing a certain music stinger is more than enough to make me feel like I’m back at EPCOT, filled with sushi and alcohol with my favorite person in the world, in the happiest place on earth.
While Infinity has it’s faults as a videogame — old game engine, the toys-to-life scheme of locked content, an inability to use any character in any mode — developer Avalanche managed to inject the series with the playfulness, nostalgia, and relaxed enjoyment that makes me happy.
Once I use the sky changer tool in the toy box to bring up the purple-hued river town featuring The Kingdom in the background, I immediately sigh in this weird combination of happiness and nostalgic sadness.
Even if I can’t go back to that magical trip or recreate it the same as it was, I’ll always have Disney Infinity to remind me of that feeling.
Will Harrison is a journalist in Toledo, Ohio who writes about the video game industry. Find him on Twitter, at The Toledo Blade, on YouTube, or on Twitch.