Visiting Disney World is the Modern Version of Making a Medieval Pilgrimage

The religious pilgrimage, whether a medieval hike to a site of a miracle, service in the Crusades, or a required journey to Mecca, is a life-changing, transformative experience. The trouble and expense of such a journey makes it a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many. Does this sound a bit familiar? People say that every family should take their kids to Walt Disney World in Orlando at least once, even if you must save for years to do it. Scholarly studies have been done in 1980 and again in 1989 about how WDW resembles medieval pilgrimage sites, whether that was planned or not.

Pilgrims to Disney World do not have to spend months trekking to Orlando, but the approach to Disney sets the park apart from the space of normal life. To reach the Magic Kingdom requires a journey of many stages. Travelers must pass through private land, on highways owned by Disney, where all signs of the normal world are replaced by signs from Disney World. After parking, visitors make their way, perhaps by tram, across the vast expanse of asphalt to the ticket gates, where they gain entrance to the park. Even after that, though, their journey has one more step: they must take a special form of transportation, either ferry boat or monorail, to the entrance of the Magic Kingdom.

That's just getting there. Read about other features of the park that correspond to religious pilgrimage sites at Atlas Obscura. I've been to Walt Disney World three times, but the one trip with two young children was both transformative and something I never need to do again.

(Image credit: Flickr user Anthony Quintano)

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