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Honoring a Loved One at Disney World

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Disney World is seen by many visitors as their “happy place.” Frequent guests may find that their visits are filled with ritual, memory, and meaning, taking on an almost spiritual aura. For guests who move often, Disney may well be a faithful constant, a touchstone to which they can return no matter where they reside. It is not hyperbole when guests call Disney World their home. Not surprisingly, some people want to use this joyful and, for them, near scared space as a place to commemorate the passing or honor the memory of a loved one.

You may find the Magic Kingdom wishing well to be a place of comfort.
You may find the Magic Kingdom wishing well to be a place of comfort.

Before I offer suggestions on ways that you might use a visit to Disney World to commemorate the passing of a friend or family member, I must state up front that Disney World is unequivocally not a place to deposit you loved one’s cremains. Scattering ashes at Disney World is illegal and unsanitary, even in small amounts. No matter how much grandma adored It’s a Small World, its waterways are not the place for her to spend eternity. Indeed, if Disney discovers any covert dispersal of ashes on an attraction, it will be closed and cleaned, and you may face charges. Please do not attempt this.

Another memorial which will not be possible is the placement of a permanent commemorative marker. There is currently no way to place a enduring symbol at the parks. Sales of the Walk Around the World bricks found at the Transportation and Ticket Center and near the entrance to the Magic Kingdom were discontinued in 2000. The Leave a Legacy engraved markers at Epcot were discontinued in 2007. I don’t know of any plans to revive these programs or anything similar.

Now let’s move on to the things you can do at Disney World to mark a passing in a positive way.

Volunteer or Donate

In my opinion, one of the nicest ways to honor a loved one is by creating positive energy in their memory in the form of volunteering. Disney itself does not have volunteer opportunities for guests, but there are a few ways to volunteer that are part of the Disney spirit:

Run your Disney race in support of your loved one's favorite charity.
Run your Disney race in support of your loved one’s favorite charity.
  • Give Kids the World. This is a wonderful organization that brings joy into the lives of children with life-threatening illnesses, providing support and respite for their families, and allowing them an escape from the burdens of everyday life. Give Kids the World has countless opportunities to volunteer and accepts donations in the names of loved ones. You can buy a permanent paving stone here to serve as a marker of your service.
  • Support a charity through runDinsey. Several Charity Teams have affiliations with runDisney. By running for charity, you can simultaneously support a favored cause, bring attention to a worthy endeavor, and get some exercise yourself – perhaps ameliorating a portion of your grief or stress.
  • Create Random Acts of Kindness. Spend your day at Disney World spreading kindness. Offer your place in line to another family; covertly buy dinner for another guest at your restaurant; buy a stuffed animal for a crying child (with the parents’ permission, of course). Sometimes the best way to honor someone is by thinking of them while you all love to the universe.
  • Support the Wildlife Fund. The Animal Kingdom offers numerous ways to donate to their Conservation Fund. This is a nice way to honor an animal lover.
  • Give a balloon. In the past, balloon releases have been a popular way of sending love into the heavens. Lovely balloons are available in many Disney locations. However, given the proximity of the Animal Kingdom and the dangers involved in releasing a non-biodegradable object near a wildlife preserve in imprudent. A more positive version of this would be to buy a balloon and give it to another guest as an act of kindness.

Say Something Special

Bring kindness into the world by thanking a service member.
Bring kindness into the world by thanking a service member.

Privately say a few words about your missing loved one. You can do this on your own, or with a small family group. A few ways to do this include:

  • Make a wish at the wishing well. Located in a quiet spot in the shadow of Cinderella Castle, the wishing well can be an apt spot for a brief memorial word. Any coins tossed into the well are later donated to children’s charities.
  • Raise a glass at special meal. Gather friends to dine at the departed’s favorite restaurant and toast to his or her memory. Some guests will find it meaningful to leave an empty seat at the table as a symbol of their missing friend.
  • If the departed had a military connection, honor them by thanking a fellow service member. There is a nightly flag retreat at the Magic Kingdom in which a veteran or service member participates. Add meaning to their experience by thanking them for their work.

Show Your Spirit

Plant a tree in your loved one's memory.
Plant a tree in your loved one’s memory.

If your departed loved one was a big Disney fan, perhaps the best way to honor their memory is to live the Disney spirit.

  • Go on all their favorite rides.
  • Wear custom tee shirts with the departed favorite phrase.
  • Purchase a meaningful holiday ornament which will remind you of your loved one as you hang it each year.
  • Honor your loved one’s bravery by being brave enough to experience the scary attractions.
  • Bring a photo of your loved one and ask his or her favorite character to pose with it.

Start a Living Monument

The Land pavilion at Epcot sells seedlings of many tree and shrub species. Purchase one and plant it at home. As it grows you will be reminded of the continuing Circle of Life and the departed’s place in that circle.

Have you found solace at Disney World following the passing of a friend or family member? Did you find a meaningful to celebrate their life or honor their memory while at Disney World. Please share your thoughts.

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Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel (now PlanDisney), a regular contributor to TouringPlans.com, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obsession - Broadway theater.

7 thoughts on “Honoring a Loved One at Disney World

  • I just had a friend pass away. Her name is Tokina Swinton she was only 23 yrs old. She loved Disneyland and was even planning on getting married there in 2023. It would mean the world to her family and friends if we could do something in her memory. Do you do picture boards or anything along those lines?

  • My mom passed away last summer. She loved Disneyland and when we went when i was a child she would bring soap bubbles to keep us occupied in line. When I went to Disneyland after her death, I ordered a bunch of party favor sized bottles of soap bubbles and had them shipped to my hotel. I brought a ziplock bag full of them to the park in my purse every day and gave them away to children in the park (asking their parent’s permission first) if the parents asked, I explained to them (not the kids) that it was in honor of my mom, who loved Disney, kids and giving gifts. One night at the hub while I was waiting for the fireworks I gave some to a developmentally challenged man who was there with his dad, who looked super tired. When the dad asked about the bubbles I explained about my mom and he teared up and said his wife had passed away- turns out the same week as my mom. We watched the fireworks together and when Dumbo flew over and “Baby of Mine” played we cried together. It was a really special moment that I will remember forever. I had many other sweet connections with people who offered sympathy and/or stories of their moms. It was a really nice way to connect with people and I know my mom would have loved it.

    • I’m sorry for your loss and thank you for sharing your story. I’m glad you were able to find a measure of comfort in the parks.

    • LauraTD, beautiful post and a beautiful way to honor your mom.

  • I wish I had read this five years ago when we went on a Disney trip a month after my father passed.

  • Thank you for dealing with the weird part first, honestly and forcefully. And then offering many excellent ideas to respect the mix of grief and joy we feel when loved ones die.

  • Another thing Disney will not let you do is have a custom shirt printed with date ranges on it, because this “reminds guests of death”, as if The Lion King doesn’t. 😛


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