We will do anything for our kids, right? And when they reach the age when they start to break away from us, when they would much rather be with their friends than at home with their boring parents, when they go from thinking you are the sun and the moon to thinking you are kind of embarrassing, actually – we will do anything to remain close to them.
One way to do that, the parenting experts say, is to engage in their interests. What are they into? Can you connect on that level?
And so I watch The Mandalorian with my son, who is now 14; I listen to lengthy descriptions about video games and various pop-culture universes, including Star Wars and the Marvel movies (which I actually enjoy a lot, although they tend to blend together in my aging brain).
My son is also really into roller coasters. He builds ride models and designs theme parks on his computer, reads lengthy threads about them, knows all the lingo. And, of course, loves to ride them IRL.
I used to love them; a much younger version of myself was a Canada’s Wonderland season’s pass holder. But now, I could easily list about 8,000 things I would rather do than go on one. As we age, our tolerance for thrill rides diminishes, and our motion sickness can increase as our vestibular system becomes less efficient. Why pay to put myself through an experience that will lead to nausea and terror when I can easily do that from the comfort of my couch, reading the news on my phone?
So when Walt Disney World invited me to be among the first to ride its new Tron Lightcycle/Run ride (“one of the fastest coasters at any Disney theme park in the world as you race across the Grid through a dark, digitized realm”), my immediate automatic response was no, thank you.
But my kid has been begging me to take him to Disney. He has wanted to visit the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel since it opened last year. The approximately US$5,000 two-night stay is far, far out of the realm of possibility for our single-income household budget. But I could take him to ride Tron – and we could visit Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios park while we were there.
How much longer would I be his preferred companion to do this stuff anyway?
And so, armed with a YOLO mantra and a container of Dramamine (purchased on our last U.S. roller coaster vacation), I flew with him to Orlando for spring break. I was nervous about the thrill rides and skeptical about the Disney experience.
It turned out to be a trip of a lifetime.
We hadn’t even entered the park when I started hearing new (to me) stories about his life. On our first day, over an adequate lunch of a burger (him) and falafel platter (me) at Animal Kingdom Lodge, I learned about friends I had never heard of, details of classroom assignments, and a lot about the puppy my son and his dad were about to adopt at his other house.
The bonding was happening! And I hadn’t had to go on a single ride.
Cut to a couple of hours later. I was in line with him for Test Track at Epcot (a “thrilling, high-octane attraction”), anxious about motion sickness. (And slightly irritated at the branding; after you get off the ride, “presented by Chevrolet,” you don’t exit through the gift shop, but through a car showroom.) But, surprise, it was fun. Exhilarating, even. My son and I high-fived at the end of it. I could do this!
And then came Tron.
Located in Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom Park, the ride (“big drops, thrill ride, dark”) is based on the Tron franchise that started with a film and exploded into video games, a TV series and cult fandom.
I think I saw the first Tron film when it came out in 1982, but I couldn’t tell you a single thing about it. I definitely did not see the 2010 instalment Tron: Legacy and I have no intention of seeing Tron: Ares when it comes out, reportedly in 2025.
But, for parental reasons, I was going to ride that ride.
We sat motorcycle-style and were launched at roughly 100 kilometres an hour, riding on a narrow track into the sky, then raced indoors with lights flashing and things exploding and a robotic voice saying something about “Team Blue” that I could not properly decipher through my screams of terror.
But it was fun.
Reader, on a single day, I rode Tron three times. And I did not barf.
My son’s delight was palpable. He laughed and raised his fist in joyous victory; I screamed and cried a little. (There is video evidence.) But we had a blast.
Feeling courageous, I also rode Space Mountain with him that night (he rode it twice more subsequently without me) and, the next day, Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom Park. Both utterly terrifying.
A lot of things have changed at Disney World since my last trip there in, uh, 1979. There are the obvious developments – several more parks; even Epcot didn’t exist then. But the popular-culture elements have also grown, and grown up. Mickey and Minnie Mouse may remain the stars of the place (even I, drawn into the Disney vibe, posed for photos with the people dressed up as them), but these days, the pop-culture tie-ins do not just target little kids.
Star Wars is the big one, with its Galaxy’s Edge – where we rode the amazing Rise of the Resistance. We also visited Oga’s Cantina, with its cool Star Wars-themed drinks and animatronic-droid DJ spinning tunes, including the famous John Williams composition from the 1977 film’s Cantina scene. The Hollywood Studios park also has a large kiddie area based on the Toy Story franchise – the design of which is spectacular even for accompanying adults (I loved seeing “restrooms” spelled out in Scrabble tiles).
We also went on an Avatar ride called Flight of Passage (a gorgeous 3-D experience, but keep that Dramamine handy) at Animal Kingdom, and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at Epcot.
In between, we endlessly discussed the details of the various rides and debated our top experiences. Rise of the Resistance briefly battled with Tron (which officially opened on April 4) for top spot. But everything changed with Cosmic Rewind. The ride features your favourite Guardians in a galactic pickle, set to a nostalgic tune from one of Peter Quill’s mixtapes. The tune changes depending on when you ride, cycling through a list of different songs. Some hardcore fans return repeatedly, hoping to maybe become a Cosmic Rewind completist. We got the 1985 hit Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears.
Welcome to your life. There’s no turning back.
I was a teenager again. I was the mom of a teenager. I was a little nauseous. But I was having the time of my life (the distractions of the story and the music helped) sitting next to my son who was having the time of his.
On our penultimate afternoon, he was able to build a custom lightsaber. In a cave-like room branded as Savi’s Workshop, the recruits (each paying US$250 for the privilege) chose their lightsaber elements. When the workshop leader, in full Star Wars mode, spoke dramatically about the connection between the maker and his weapon, and the Star Wars theme quietly filled the room, I was transported. I was a kid too, just a little younger than my son is now, when I first saw what we now call A New Hope in the theatre and had my mind blown by the adventures of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia.
The previous day, we had ridden It’s a Small World – not exactly the top ride on my kid’s priority list, but I had gone on it when I visited Disney World at 13 with my mom and wanted to experience it again. As my son and I boated through the ride’s interpretations of different world cultures, it occurred to me that I was exactly the age my mother had been when we visited the park together. Had she hoped to bond with me then too?
We think of the Disney experience as being great for young children – and, judging by the princess-dress contingent and the gleeful shouts at any Mickey or Minnie – or Anna or Elsa – sighting, it absolutely is. (Until a certain part of the day when the peals of over-tired wails threaten to overtake the delighted thrill-ride screams, creating a very particular aural experience.)
But for a teenager, it can be magical too. And for his mom.
Help me make the most of freedom and of pleasure; nothing ever lasts forever.
Prior to our trip, I called the Disney helpline, trying to book a spot for my son at that lightsaber workshop, which was completely sold out. I was annoyed by the customer service rep’s comment when she recommended I inquire again once we were there, in case a spot opened up. At Disney World, she told me, “magic does happen.”
I laughed out loud and rolled my eyes.
Turns out, she wasn’t wrong.
Marsha Lederman was a guest of Disney World. It did not review or approve this article.