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Like many gay men enchanted by The Sound of Music, I had always dreamed of going to Salzburg, Austria, to walk in the footsteps of Maria Von Trapp and her brood, to sing freely under the glory of the Alps and the specter of the Nazis. But did I really want to do it as an adult trapped on a bus-full of kids and hetero families?
It all started as a wish to take my ten year-old niece Angelica traveling with me to Europe. I knew how much international trips with my family meant to me at that age, how they changed my perceptions of what was "normal" outside of my immediate environment and perhaps made me the travel writer I am today. I wanted to take a trip that would perhaps have the same impact of Angelica's memory as well.
But as a single gay man, I knew how to get to a clothing-optional resort in Palm Springs or Key West, but a kid's vacation in Europe? That would take experts.
That's where Adventures by Disney (877-728-7282) came in. These relatively new worldwide trips take families on flawless tours, with everything included: professional tour guides (aka built-in babysitters), lodging, meals, kid-friendly activities like dressing up in 19th Century garb, carriage rides, learning how to make strudel, fencing demonstrations, and visits to royal zoos -- all while the adults do things like visit galleries and taste wine.
The "Storybook Kingdoms" trip to Vienna, Salzburg, and Prague I chose was ideal for me and my niece. Angelica played violin at school and was similarly obsessed with The Sound of Music, so visiting the birthplace of Mozart and taking in a classical concert with alpenhorn and lederhosen all made sense. But what's great about the Adventures by Disney is that they have nothing to do with Mickey Mouse: No random Disney character pops up out of nowhere for a mute photograph op, and a crowded visit to EuroDisney is not on the itinerary. If not for the tell-tale name badges on our guides and the occasional Disney movie screening at night, it simply felt like a well-organized, professional, and yes, uncheesy family trip.
Well, there was a little cheese. The adults grabbed the kids' hands and forced them to sing Do Re Mi in the Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg, where the famous number was filmed. We anxiously waited in line at every stop for our decorative pins with Daisy Duck or Cinderella on them to add to our collection. We laughed during our drawing contests, and hung up our doodles all over the bus with Scotch tape.
The "we" were the adults, who seemed to be having more fun than the eye-rolling kids half the time. I guess that's the dirty little secret of an Adventure by Disney. It's really about adults taking their inner child on vacation -- the kids themselves are just along for the ride. I think next time I'll just take my gay friends with me, the ones who plan with breathless anticipation Gay Days at Disney every year and can recite The Little Mermaid by heart. Just don?t tell my niece.