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On Pixie Dust and Magical Moments (Part 1): Expectation vs. Reality

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Hang around the Disney social media long enough, and you’ll run into complaints from people after a Disney trip exasperated that their trip wasn’t magical enough.

I wore my Happy Birthday button ALL TRIP and no one gave me anything for free.

My child dressed up in the most amazing costume, and was NEVER called on to be part of a show.

I went to this restaurant where certain special things were supposed to happen, but they didn’t do it at my table/often enough.

I followed this tip on the internet about how to have this particular interaction with a character (such as having a character ride on a ride with you), and it didn’t happen.

You’ll also see many people with a similar question:

I’m going to Disney World/Disneyland/on a Disney Cruise — how do I make it more magical?

I’m here to share the biggest secrets of all.

You’re going on vacation–that’s magical.

You’re spending time with people you (hopefully) like or love–that’s magical.

You’re spending time at Disney–that’s magical.

What are magical moments and pixie dust?

A magical moment is a spontaneous event that happens that creates a lifetime memory.

Pixie dust is when an individual, without expectation from the receiver, goes one step beyond to help “plus” your experience or to provide a noteworthy resolution to a problem.

The key takeaway for both pixie dust and magical moments is that you don’t plan to have them happen to you. They just happen, and that’s what makes the magic.

A good example–I was on Castaway Cay, and it was after the end of Capt. Jack Sparrow’s meet and greet on the island, so he was headed back to the ship. Because it is a long walk and a hot day, Disney was kind enough to provide a golf cart to take him back. Ever in character, the entire way he was shouting at the top of his lungs from the golf cart with his typical manners of speech how he had “commandeered this here vessel and was going to sail it into the ocean where he was almost positive that it would most certainly have a chance to float”. Spontaneous. Something I’ll remember for years to come. Magical. (And I’m pleased to report that he didn’t end up sinking into the ocean after all and is still around causing mayhem for all.)

Another example–recently, I was out in Disneyland to visit Galaxy’s Edge. While I was sending some messages, I realized that someone had come up from the other side of a wall and was talking to my daughter. All of a sudden, Vi Modari (one of Leia’s top spies for the Rebellion) poked her head over the wall to help make sure that we were loyal to the Rebellion and would help keep a lookout for Stormtroopers. Magical in its own right. Later on when we were leaving Galaxy’s Edge, we got stopped by Stormtroopers and asked if we had seen any rebel spies that day. Spontaneous. Something that we’ll be talking about for years to come. Magical.

For an example of pixie dust, my daughter lost a tooth on a Disney trip. She was proud and had mentioned it to a cast member who asked us if anything exciting happened that day while we were headed to our hotel room. Upon hearing this, the cast member had us wait for a moment while she got a “I lost my tooth” button.

While waiting for one of the final showings of the Main Street Electrical Parade, my daughter was sitting on the curb when another child, maybe eight or nine years old, came up to me and said “Excuse me. Can I give your daughter a glow bracelet?” They brought extra with them for the express purpose of sharing joy with total strangers while waiting for the parade.

Tinker Bell in the Main Street Electrical Parade

Why do people expect magical moments and pixie dust?

There are two main reasons that people expect magical moments and pixie dust for their vacations. The first is Disney’s advertising. Watch commercials over the past decades and you’ll expect that Mickey will run up to your child the moment you walk towards the castle, that Captain Hook will take your child on a private tour of Castaway Cay, that Goofy will ride with your child on the Barnstormer, and more. And these types of things DO happen often enough that you can’t say it is false advertising.

But with millions upon millions of people taking Disney vacations, it is wholly impossible for every one of these moments to happen to every person.

The greater reason (and problem, to be truthful) is what I call the internet influence. Someone has a magical moment–let’s say they happened into a shop one morning and their child was asked to wake up Tinker Bell. It was an experience that gave the parents goosebumps and gave the child a memory they won’t forget. Parent comes home to share the joy of that experience. Soon, everyone wants to make that moment happen for their child, and you have a morning “running of the ballgowns” as parents drag their children at almost a run to be the first there so their child can be the one who wakes up Tinker Bell. Many kids arrive, but only one gets the chance to wake up Tinker Bell. The other parents are angry. The other kids think their parents are angry with them and start crying. It ends up being a very un-magical moment all around.

People let on about this “little secret thing”, and then it gets shared. Suddenly, everyone wants to do it. People ask for tips how to make sure that the magical thing happens to their family. It becomes a lot of work to try and get that chance to have this thing happen–and in the end, all that work takes away from the magical part of the moment, which relies on surprise and spontaneity.

Whispering Canyon became a source of many forced magical moments when its secrets were shared online.

When people complain about how this special thing hasn’t happened to them, the end result won’t be that Disney will go out of their way to make it happen for everyone. (That simply isn’t possible.) What is more likely is that it won’t be done for anyone–and we all lose when that happens.

The good news is that it is absolutely impossible for pixie dust and magical moments to completely go away. Even in today’s cynical and scripted world, as long as child-like wonder exists, these kind of magical events can happen. There are even ways that you can create a space for magic to happen–without stress, drama, or force.

In part 2, I’ll cover ways that you can help create your own kind of magic on a Disney vacation as well as some do’s and don’ts about pixie dust and magical moments.

What are your thoughts on pixie dust and magical moments? Is it something that people expect too much of? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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Julia Mascardo

Former writer, editor, and social media manager of TouringPlans. Embarking on new adventures with husband, kid, and cats.

28 thoughts on “On Pixie Dust and Magical Moments (Part 1): Expectation vs. Reality

  • Moments just happen. When my daughter was young we were at the tapstiles at HS then MGM and she was allowed to be 1st through and was the only guest in the park. Later she met Meg and Hercules and chatted away with Meg. Next day in MK whist meeting Cinderella who asked her name replied oh my friend Meg was telling me all about you yesterday. My daughter’s face (Paris) was a picture, she believed the princesses had been talking about her. It had in fact been the same CM but I never told her. Even now she’s grown she got very excited meeting a stormtrooper, that he told her that she needed to calm down. Whilst deliberating what we wanted to eat in Backlot Express because we were having dinner later at Sci-Fi we ended up with a free dessert. When asked why they said because you have a red tray.my friend’s daughter wasn’t happy she hadn’t got one. We never go looking for these moments, it’s the unexpected magic when they just happen

  • Magic has to “Happen”, if you go looking for it I can almost guarantee you wont find it. I have a great memory from DCL… My mom had a very bad stroke… but she was determined ti live her life. We had boarded, gone to lunch and were taking the elevator to our room (she was in a wheelchair), and I was struggling with her and the carry- ons – the elevator stops – and goofy gets on with his handler – and gets off with us… and grabs the luggage! and marches us to our stateroom… My Mom lit up like a candle with the interaction…

  • We have taken our daughter to Disneyland six times and our last trip was the best magic moment!! We had just walked into the Paradise Pier hotel and she was greeted by Stitch!! It’s fun to watch a teenager melt! The fact that she was wearing a Stitch t-shirt might have had something to do with it 😉

  • Great article! We have had our fair share of magic, but we never went looking for it. My most memorable was our last trip to WDW, and my kids were still pretty young, and Alice rode the teacups with us! Never saw it coming and wouldn’t expect it to happen again, but my kids still talk about that!

  • You can pay for magical memories through character dining and dessert parties, but those unplanned ones are really special. We’ve only had a couple: my son was picked as ski patrol captain at Blizzard Beach and got the first slide down Summit Plummet. We were only at the gates so early because this was before everyone had GPS, we weren’t sure exactly where the park was and left our condo super early. Then last year we were the special royal family at the Beauty and the Beast stage show at Hollywood Studios. We showed up very late and expected to be sitting in the back, but we were lead up to the third row center and my daughter was given a stuffed red rose, and one that remains visible to this day in her bedroom.

  • As a single, female, 59 year old (on paper), 8 year old (at heart) I travel to DL and WDW by myself. Just being at Disney away from my job (law enforcement) and out of my routine is magical. Seeing others enjoying themselves is pixie dust. I love my Touring Plans but living in the moment is just as important. Waiting for a magical moment or Pixie Dust is a distraction.

  • My wife and I have had a handful of magical moments over the last few trips. We went to WDW on our honeymoon and have traveled a couple of times since for our anniversary. While we’ve gotten a few free desserts and whatnot over the years, my favorite was a few years ago at EPCOT. We were heading into the American Adventure when an older gentleman noticed our buttons and grabbed our attention on the way in. He told us there was a phone call for us and led us over to a phone. He dialed a number and handed us the receiver, Mickey and Minnie sang and wished us a happy anniversary. We were both blown away by this simple little gesture. I agree that if you try and plan for the magic it’s less likely to happen and the spontaneity is lost.

  • Excellent article. Unfortunately, the people that try to make the “magic” are the ones least likely to heed the article or comments. Having been to WDW many times, I always plan my trips to the minute (thanks TouringPlans!), so I have my base expectations of going to these parks and doing these rides. But it is always that unplanned spontaneity, whether by me, a cast member, or another visitor, that makes up the special moments.

  • A year and a half ago cast members threw so much magic and pixie dust at us on what could have easily been the worst day ever. My son (2 at the time) had been refusing to drink water and got a bit dehydrated and vomited all over himself and his stroller. We were watching the pirate show over by pirates of the Caribbean and my husband popped into the restaurant to see if he could get some paper towels and something to clean the stroller up. The cast member told him that we weren’t allowed to clean on vacation and despite our objections scrubbed the stroller clean as best he could. But this was only the start of it. We went over to the child care room to clean up my son. We couldn’t find any 2 or 3T clothing in the shops and of course I had forgotten to bring a change of clothes for him. The cast members gave us tons of stuff to clean up and then the manager came in with a pair of pajamas she had found in one of the stores that she insisted we take for no charge. I was practically in tears at this point from all the kindness and generosity but it doesn’t even stop there!!
    We had reservations at Ohana for a birthday dinner so we figured we’d go over to the Polynesian to see if we could toss his clothes in the wash before dinner. We were told that the laundry facilities were only for DVC members but the manager personally walked us over to the laundry room, gave us laundry soap and made sure our dinner reservations were on hold for when we were finished. BUT WAIT… THERES MORE!!! She came back 20 minutes later with a sorcerer Mickey for my son. I literally burst into tears on the spot because everyone had just been so enormously kind and had made what could have been the worst day into the best experience ever. We were hooked from there on. Disney Family for life (been back 2 times since and another trip planned for October).
    Btw we also received voice messages back in our room checking on our son from both the Polynesian manager and another cast member in the child care room. I made sure to get everyone’s name and wrote a lengthy thank you note to Disney corporate.

  • The fact that nearly everyone has responded with their magical moments (not to mention the four the author described) are exactly why people think these moments are happening constantly and get frustrated when they don’t happen to them.
    I could list mine here but instead, here’s my advice: try to be a bright moment in someone else’s vacation. Note the button they’re wearing and congratulate them; chat them up, smile, say “good morning”, open doors for people, be nice to cast members. Try to bring the magic yourself and let karma do the rest

    • This is a great approach.

    • This. THIS. Be the magic moment for someone else. Wow. Wonderful insight

  • We have been to WDW many times and on quite a few DCL cruises. Sometimes nothing extra special happens and sometimes it does. We always have a great time regardless. What makes magic moments magical is that they are unexpected. If you expect them, the magic is taken away. I love the idea of the Milo about the core memories. That is what they should be.

  • Not long after “Inside Out” was all the rage, after experiencing a Cast Member initiated magical experience, the wise Cast Member told me and my family, “I can see this magical experience means a lot to you. Let it become a core memory. That means it is yours to share with each other, and will have a special place in your family. It should only be shared with those that are close to you. That is how you keep a core memory special.”

    I agree. A core memory should not be posted on social media. Keep it special.

  • I think people need to understand that magic moments or pixie dust are as much about how you react to something as anything Disney can do. My magic moment on my last trip in August was at Flight of Passage, my boys and I got to the front of the FastPass queue and the cast member took one look at my face and realised how overheated I was after a long day in Animal Kingdom. She asked me if I was okay and asked if I would like to go into one of the rooms that had stronger air conditioning. She asked if I was okay to wait a few minutes whilst that room was cleared out, we were more than happy to wait and the cast members carried on filling the other rooms. It wasn’t a long wait and the cast member sent us through to the colder room. We didn’t skip any queues or get any particularly special treatment. But the compassion and kindness shown by that cast member was a magical moment for me.

  • The magic of Disney is everywhere people who expect special treatment don’t get it. Go because you want to have joy and magic with the people you love, anything more is a bonus

    Our magical moment happened at the California grill, I managed to get a reservation and to us that was enough. We were all so excited to have dinner and see the fire works. The cast members were amazing and helpful. We were having our dinner when a cast member came over and asked if my children would like to set off the fire works. I can not tell you the joy this brought to all of us, there little faces pressing the button and then receiving certificates, is something we will never forget and I can honestly say was a totally magical special evening. Writing this has brought the biggest smile to my face again. Thank you Disney!

  • “When there’s a smile in your heart, there’s no better place to start”. Bring your pixie dust with you and you’ll find it’s all around.

  • We’ve been to Disneyland many times, but I knew from research WDW is a completely diff. animal. (We chose WDW bc the grandson we were taking lives on east coast.)
    I didn’t go into this expecting *any* magic moments or pixie dust. I did, however, expect to be treated with courtesy, respect, & COMPETENCE. None of those happened either. Oh, we didn’t have any flat-out rude interactions (except one), but most cast members were unengaged and bored. The attitude seemed to be, “We don’t care, we don’t have to… we’re DISNEY!” And no, I’m not one of those sour ppl that never smiles, is never satisfied, or finds fault with everything. We were totally on board for making grandson’s visit a time he’ll always remember! And I think we succeeded; we didn’t frown or grumble.
    From check-in to leaving, the further the trip progressed, the more convinced hubby & I became this was not only our 1st, but last trip here. A huge bunch of $$$ handed over to mediocrity.

    • I think this is an unfortunately new phenomenon because the current administration isn’t as interested in keeping the cast members happy and the cast members are therefore not as interested in creating a “magical environment.” I used to look forward to our WDW trips because you were guaranteed that the cast members would be kind to you (not special treatment, just kindness). This is still true of the cast members who have been around for a long time, but it’s slowing dying I’m afraid. If you believe Abigail Disney, it’s happening on both coasts. I still love Disney and have 3 trips planned in the next year, but I’m quite sad that the guarantee of a pleasant cast member interaction seems to be gone. I’ve had a few bad experiences recently where this kind of thing used to never happen.

  • I love hearing other people’s magical moments!!! It’s what makes Disney, Disney. And it’s why we go there, it’s magic, and it’s magic whether we have a magical moment gifted from Mickey or not. We are just on vacation in place far removed from our day to day unmagical life and that’s magic enough for me! And I think making your own magic or gifting some magic to other guests and cast members is just as special because there is always “more happiness in giving then receiving”. #CelebrateLife

    PS I also agree with the other commenter for us data geeks to have a tool and resource like Touring Plans, the forum, these blogs is the best start to a magical trip! I’m much more confident of my plan when there is “data” behind it. I’m an analyst in my day job and I live and breathe it!

  • Great article. I think sharing magical moments online has caused the most trouble with people’s expectations. Someone posts something to a Facebook group and then everyone else needs to know how to make it happed for them… who should they ask, what should they do, etc. That’s how the Disney ships lost the ability to leave items at Guest Services to be signed by characters.

  • Great article and I totally agree with you – just being at Disney with your family is the most magical part! Let go of the expectations and just enjoy the moment!

    Looking forward to reading part 2!

  • We had 2 magical moments in 2017.
    We are from Germany and were there for 3 weeks. I talk a lot and my family makes fun of me for that.
    First our daughter lost her magic band and the next day, it was her birthday, she was asked by a photopass photographer at Disney Hollywood Studios if she wants to tap the device to store the picture to your account. We told him, that she lost the magic band and he asked if we would have a few minutes. I learned here, that if that question comes up, you HAVE time. He went backstage and came back 5 minutes later with a supervisor. He brought us to the camera shop at the front of the park, talked to the staff there and told our daughter: “Happy Birthday, you can select one of the Magic Bands you like”. She was so surprised and happy. (Our so, wo didn’t lost his band wasn’t happy and we ended up buying on for him, too). On our last evening we were at the Hollywood Studios as well. That day we had been to one of the waterparks and our daughter must have touched some poisen ivy or something like that. We went to the first aid station and got some fluid for it. My husband wanted a Tie fighter Popcorn bucket and went back to the popcorn cart, while mthe kids and I waited on a bench near First Aid and Guest service. Somebody from guest service came out and asked, if we have time for a short survey. Of course we had the time. We tlaked for about 20 minutes, about our vacation and she asked, if the kids did want some ice cream or popcorn, but we all were full, than she asked, if we would need additional fast passes for the next day. We told here, that we would fly back the next day and we had only one thing to do. To drive to Disney Springs, because the kids saved money to buy some of the special parts for Mr. Potatoe head. She asked if we have a few more minutes (that question again). Of course. When she came back, she gave each of the kids a voucher for $50 to be spend at Disney springs. I had tears in my eyes. The kids were speechless. We thanked here a lot and she thanked us for coming to Disney World and sharing, that we had a wondefull time. We drove to Disney Springs and the kids selected the small bucket of parts. When we got to the register the cast member told us, that the coupon was for $50 and we should get the big Mr. Potatoe head with the parts instead, because we should use all of the money and she even helped us to fit more into it. Our son got the BB8 he had set his heart on.
    I know Disney doesn’t have to do things like that and don’t expect something like that to happen, but I thing, if you are nice to people they will be nice to you.
    We had matching shirts. One set was Wilderness Explorers and when we stand in line for Dug and Russel they should go on a break, but they told their handler, that the wanted to take the break after they met us. We had made special badgets for them with a German and an American Flag on it and Friendship written beneath the flag. We gave the handler, the photographer, Dug and Russel, each one and they were surprised and thanked us a lot. Another thing we made in advanced were “Unbirthday” buttons. We know, that you could get Birthday buttons, but how about “Unbirthday”?. We gave them away to cast members, people in line in front of us and of course to Alice and Mr. Rabbit. It was fun to see the surprised faces of the people, when you asked them, if the wanted one of our buttons.

    • I love unbrithday! What a clever idea!!!

      My mom and I are going in October and asking for Celebration buttons and putting “Life” on them, just to take the iconic picture of it in front of the castle and remember that life is short and you should celebrate it!

    • You and your family embody the spirit of Disney. What wonderful stories. Thank you for sharing!

  • Due to my uber-organized personality, the touring plans and Lines app were the most magical part of my trip! Give me all the data! LOL

    Although, we did have a couple of unexpected surprises that were nice and did add to the magic.

  • Magical Moments are not made to order. We’ve had many Magical Moments over the years at both DL and WDW, much to our surprise and delight. Just being at a Disney park is magical, every time. Don’t despair, your Moment will happen when you least expect it.

  • I love this! It took us 12 years of faithfully riding the Mark Twain, my husband’s FAVORITE ride, until we were invited to pilot the ship. That surprise made the experience so much more special. We also tried to time fireworks on the Storybookland Canal boats several times to no avail. Once we stopped trying and just waited in line one night because we wanted to ride, that’s when we were surprised with the coveted “this boat while stop for a bit for fireworks “. I know that is a hard reality if you can only visit Disneyland once every few years, but magic really can’t be planned or achieved, it just… happens sometimes!

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