Michael Diaz was emotional the first time he walked through the tunnel at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom at age 25.
“You tend to lose the sense of reality when you walk through Magic Kingdom’s tunnel,” he said in a January interview.
A few years after that first trip, Diaz went on his honeymoon to Disneyland Paris and then found himself asking to go to the parks for birthday trips. He’s now an avid Disney park-goer, collector, and accidental Instagram influencer under the handle @hodgepodgedisney. According to his bio he’s a “Self-Proclaimed Dole Whip Daddy” and he also has over 15,000 followers.
Diaz is a part of a growing community of Disney Adults worldwide. Though the term Disney Adult has a polarizing reputation due to misconceptions of their maturity levels, the community is composed of passionate individuals and collectors who maintain a love of Disney characters, parks, and brands through adulthood. Many were brought up with Disney as a major part of their childhood, while others are attracted to the escape the brand offers from reality.
There is no set progression from Disney kid to Disney Adult. What it means to be a Disney Adult looks different from person to person.
Disney was destined to be a part of Tracey Boyd’s life. She is the same age as Disneyland and her dad was there on opening day in Anaheim, California — July 17, 1955. Growing up in Fullerton, she lived 15 minutes from the park and worked on the whale ride and at souvenir shops during high school. She said that proximity to the parks made them a huge part of her upbringing.
“They’re accepting of everybody, it doesn’t matter where you came from,” said Tracey Boyd. “They’re very diverse, it’s a place you can go and you can escape from the junk in the world.”
Now as a grandmother, her love of Disney has become a lifelong passion. She passed this love down to her son, Dan Boyd, who also grew up invested in Disney magic. Much like his mother’s childhood, it was a regular part of his upbringing living so close to Disneyland in California. He participated in the Disney College Program and worked in the parks in California and Orlando.
“It’s euphoric when we go to Disneyland,” Dan Boyd said of visiting the parks with his mom. The Boyds have not visited the parks since the pandemic began. Tracey Boyd works as a nurse, and said she is putting the babies she works with first.
Dan Boyd said his mom turns into a different person at the parks, “The first time we take my wife and kid, they’ll see a new side of her.”
Vikki Leavitt, a passionate Disney Adult and Disney Instagram content creator under the handle @fantasvik, grew up in a military family that often relocated around the globe. “Sometimes I get emotional talking about it, being in a military community, the only constant thing in my life was Disney,” said Leavitt.
The first theme park she visited as a child was Disneyland Paris. It was a rainy day and her family was feeling down about the weather. Then she got her first taste of Disney magic.
“Mickey and Minnie came out in the rain and they started dancing with us. It lifted both of our spirits and my dad caught that on video,” she said. “That’s something that will always resonate with me.”
On a day to day basis Leavitt only saw her parents in a military setting, but said “at the parks we would all act like kids.”
Leavitt’s mother is Japanese and her father is American. She said that in Japanese culture it is not culturally acceptable to show public displays of affection, but “as a teenager we went to Disney and they were holding hands and kissing, my family was complete.”
Jessica Tagle, a New York based data analyst and Disney Adult, was introduced to Disney parks as a high school graduation gift with a group of friends.
“I was just so immersed in the kind of childlike wonder,” she said. The same group convened again for another trip after college and Disney had the same effect on her, especially as she now faced more adult responsibilities after graduating.
“I have to worry about bills now and moving out, but I can still go to this place where I can just forget everything and relax and destress,” she said. She may have come late to the Disney community, but it has only fueled her desire to show more of her friends and family the parks. She also began her Instagram, @givealittledisney, for that reason.
“I do remember my first experience and a Disney adult showing me the ropes,” she said. “And I feel like that kind of is what pushed me to make an Instagram because I was like I want to be this for other people.”
Tagle’s favorite moment is during the Magic Kingdom fireworks.
“Every time Tinkerbell flies down I cry. Oh, I cannot tell you why,” Tagle said. Even the rumor that Tinkerbell’s stunt stand-in is a fully grown man couldn’t take away from the Disney magic.
Over the years Tagle has developed a routine for when she visits the parks as many Disney Adults do. A big part of her routine is balancing her social media content creation with being present during her experience.
Tagle said she is referred to as a “live in the moment influencer.” She likes to enjoy her experiences at the park instead of on social media. While she’s in the park she won’t post too many stories, but once she’s back she talks about it as much as possible.
Her routine includes getting a turkey leg, which she said is “a very controversial opinion because people hate them.” While she used to just order the turkey leg out of tradition she said now, “Part of me feels like I’m doing it out of spite. I’m just like, did you not like this turkey leg picture? Here’s another one.”
Food is also a big part of Michael Diaz’s routine. Besides the iconic Dole Whip, he has become a huge fan of the cheeseburger spring rolls that come with a “very tangy and savory dipping sauce.” Now that he has become an influencer in this community, he works on content creation first. “Business first then pleasure after,” he says. “Get that stuff done.”
After smelling the special fumes from the Magic Kingdom tunnel that he loves, Diaz usually hits the shops on Main Street and works his way counter-clockwise. Collecting is a huge part of the Disney Adult community and the most passionate collectors know where they can get the most exclusive pins and merchandise both inside and out of the parks.
Michael Diaz estimates he has, “less than 2,000 but more than 1,500 pins.” His favorite set currently is “an adorbz Alice in Wonderland set.”
The set is hard to find, but he only needs one more pin to complete the set.
Dan Boyd also collects pins, and has acquired five small Thomas Kinkade paintings. Kinkade passed away in 2012, but was known for creating narrative panoramas that tell an entire Disney tale in one image.
Since getting married, the paintings are some of the only pieces of Disney that remain on his walls. He said his wife had to set some boundaries on his contribution to decor, “The room was strictly me, it needed to change.”
Jayne Robinson, a Disney Adult from Michigan, said she has a small closet dedicated to her Disney memorabilia. She has everything from pins to art to Mickey Mouse ears.
Tagle’s favorite piece of memorabilia is her “burger bag”; a plush purse that looks like a soft hamburger but in the shape of the iconic Mickey Mouse silhouette. Her Disney Adult community friends pitched in to get it for her birthday.
Visiting the parks and collecting merchandise from around the world doesn’t come without a price tag, especially for a super fan.
Tracey Boyd’s best friend is a member of Disney’s Elite Club 33, which offers exclusive access to different areas of the parks. She said her friend used an inheritance to pay the initial membership and yearly fees. The price of this membership is not listed on the Disney website, an individual has to inquire for the specifics.
Though she loves taking advantage of her best friend’s exclusive access, Tracey Boyd acknowledged that the price tag of visiting the parks has become too inflated for families to be able to afford a Disney trip. She said, “Walt Disney didn’t want that, it was about family.” When she became an annual pass holder it was $200 for the year. Now it’s closer to $1,400 with taxes.
Tagle saves up for her Disney trips ahead of time and had enough trips planned this year that her annual pass has already paid for itself.
“I think not having kids and not having any of that makes it easier for me to afford it. But I think, for a lot of families unfortunately, it is like a once in a lifetime thing. Especially now,” said Tagle.
Diaz and his wife also do not have any children, and said money is less of an issue when it comes to visiting the parks. When asked if he thought Disney was becoming out of reach for families he said, “My initial answer was the price doesn’t phase me, however the kid inside me that grew up in the way that I did would be irked.”
The Disney Adult community has seen pushback, and many of the influencers have faced negative comments and trolling due to misconceptions and stereotypes around their community.
Recently, Disney influencers have come under fire on Tik Tok for trying to coax theme park cast members out of character for their followers. But that isn’t representative of the Disney Adult community.
Diaz gained new Instagram followers overnight when a reel he made went viral. “It brought a lot of comments about pedophilia,” as well as his masculinity, he said. “It sucks to hear so many times. It really affects you, and ultimately I know I shouldn’t listen to toxic males say, ‘be a man’.”
“People who don’t know much about Disney, they think that we’re children or they think that we’re childish,” said Leavitt.
Leavitt said she thinks being a Disney Adult isn’t a matter of immaturity, it’s about creating a sense of hope that one may lose as they grow up. “It reignites your childhood but also reignites your belief that things will get better, that anything can happen,” said Leavitt; “I associate that with being a Disney Adult, they’re a believer and dreamer.”
While Disney Adults have been subject to trolls’ cruelty, and unfair stereotypes, it has also helped to connect adults who love Disney from around the world. Tagle said, “I follow accounts of people that I want to go to the parks that I’d love to explore the day with.”
Tagle will soon get the chance to explore with some of her Disney Adult community friends. Diaz, Leavitt and Tagle met on Instagram. They’re planning a trip together with their significant others for a Stars Wars event in May where they’ll meet in person for the first time.