Do you remember that famous line from Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates?” Well, on a recent trip to Epcot, I had a similar thought that felt a little more relatable to our audience of Disney lovers. Life is like Mission Space. Sometimes the Green Experience, other times the more turbulent Orange Experience, and everyone in your circle has their role to play.
Each person in your Disney vacation party has a different position and purpose, and a well-functioning group will delegate duties depending on the strengths of those involved. Much like in real life, some of us are natural-born leaders, others are better planning ahead, some even find their most peaceful days in following along happily until something needs fixing and their natural abilities to problem solve are unleashed.
If you aren’t familiar with the roles available or unsure how they relate to everyday life in this Mission Space analogy, they are as follows:
Commander: The Commander takes all of the pieces and puts them in place to keep things running while you are on the go. The Commander is usually based on seniority when it comes to experience and wisdom, and will often be the most qualified or passionate member of your party.
Pilot: The Pilot is responsible for the craft and all of its passengers, in other words, the safety, and wellbeing of everyone in your group. The Pilot can often see problems before they arise, and is always prepared with the proper know-how to keep everyone and everything running smoothly.
Navigator: The Navigator has everything planned out. They know where you are going and when you will be there. They always have quick access to all of your FastPasses and parade times (under normal conditions) and they never leave home without their watch on one wrist and their MagicBand, pre-loaded with every detail, on the other.
Engineer: The Engineer is like the stage crew, the person that whisks around behind the scenes ready to fix problems as they come up. Your engineer is usually the one that steps in when your reservation isn’t correct or a stronger word might need to be had with management. They often sit quietly when in standby mode but are always ready to solve whatever unexpected situations are thrown at your traveling party.
Standing in the queue for Mission Space that day, I started to think about the adults in my family and the roles we usually play when traveling together. As it was only my little family of four on this particular trip, I thought about how we have functioned over the years and realized that we each fell into one of these categories in one way or another. Sometimes more than one, sometimes taking turns being in the lead, but always covering the bases as needed.
For example, my sister (you all know her by now), Casey, is usually our Pilot. Only two years ahead of me in life, she has always been the smart one, the nice one, and usually the better-prepared one for any given situation. Needless to say, with all her oils and supplements, and a general bag of tricks, she is pretty good at swooping in to save the moment from allergies, stress, or my usual vacation downfall: travel sickness. Casey will often know what you need before you even need it, and although I hate to say it, and let’s just keep this between you and me, she has saved my backside more times than I care to let her remember. One too many inversions on the Incredicoaster? She’s got you covered, patched up, and ready to swirl around in Toy Story Midway Mania just minutes later. Then there was that time I collapsed in the Magic Kingdom from dehydration and she caught my head before it slammed into the concrete, or the time that we were stuck on a ski field in Canada in a whiteout-blizzard and she talked me down from the top with just enough swear words to keep me motivated and giggling.
I’m the scrappy, tell-you-how-it-is, don’t-mess-with-my-family, I’m-sure-we-can-find-a-way-for-you-to-get-me-the-room-I-actually-paid-for kinda one, but that’s an article for another time. In Mission Space terms, I favor a mixture of the Navigator and the Engineer. When it comes to our Disney travels in particular, my family lets my Dis-Nerd flag fly as I take the reins and make the plans. On the flip side, I’m also inclined to be the scary one that appears from the back when things don’t go as planned and we need to have a strong yet quiet word with someone further up the ladder. If it’s a really bad situation, Casey comes up with me, and believe me, that ain’t good news for anyone!
Our husbands tend to take on the roles of Commander, and, when needed, a more general Engineer, fixing problems here and there that don’t require resting Maleficent face or my monotone Miranda Priestly voice that my kids tell me is terrifying. They take everything we have put in place and do whatever needs to be done along the way. Pushing the stroller, taking an overwhelmed child outside the restaurant for a break, driving the cars after a 14-hour or 21-hour transit from Sydney (depending on which coast) with little or no sleep. Always keeping the show on the road, so to speak. These guys are multi-talented and play a very understated, yet integral role in making sure that everyone gets where they need to go.
I then realized that over the years, I have started to see which roles my children are growing into. They have been traveling all their lives, and one of my favorite things about exploring the world with them is watching them grow as individuals. Even a seemingly simple trip to Disney can teach them more lessons than they will learn in the same time spent at school. Life skills like patience, empathy, and time management. Instead of being oblivious at home, they become more involved when you are traveling together, picking up on problem-solving, budgeting, and negotiations.
As they grow, I see the parts they are starting to settle into as young adults within our traveling family, contributing to our common goal of safe, enjoyable vacations with the skills they have learned right before our very eyes. One, a young Navigator in the making, crossing off every detail and scheduling her days like a champion. The other prefers to go with the flow, ready to come to the rescue with a fix for the broken backpack or a motivational pep-talk, clearly headed for Engineer status before too long.
The problem is, in real life, we don’t always get to choose between the spinning, vomit-inducing, hectic version of reality and the milder, softer one that seems to weave in and out of our existence. In these turbulent times, when we are challenged with unexpected circumstances, I find it important to reflect on the positive aspects of the things we love. Take a moment to think about this concept: which role do you play in your traveling party? What personality traits do you appreciate from those around you when on vacation? And, how does the dynamic of the people you go with effect your time in the parks?
Life is like Mission Space: sometimes you enjoy the ride, and sometimes it makes you throw up.
Maybe your interpretation is different, or perhaps you serve a completely different purpose to your group not covered in the list above. Let me know where you stand in the Commander, Pilot, Navigator, or Engineer roles of Mission Space.
Zoë Wood is a travel writer from Sydney, Australia. Since her first visit to Disneyland at the age of 6, she has spent her years frequently visiting Disney Parks and traveling around the world.
Join Zoë as she lets you in on all the tips, tricks, anecdotes, and embarrassments that arise from her family adventures.