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Reading, Theme Parks, and Me: How Florida Theme Parks Kindle Memories of a Bookish Childhood

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Aurora Lydia Dominguez

Staff Writer

Aurora Lydia Dominguez is a journalist, high school teacher and college professor based in Hollywood, Florida. A journalist at heart, she worked for places like The Miami Herald and J-14 Magazine as a reporter and editor before going from the newsroom to the classroom. Aurora's passions include reading a book on Saturday mornings with her cat Luna, time with her husband Seb and pop rock shows. You can email her at aurily50@hotmail.com.

I am an avid book lover and spend lots of time between the pages of books that I love. From YA stories and new adult romances, to comic books and graphic novels, nothing makes me more happy than diving into a great story and immersing myself in the characters and their fictional lives. Books represented an escape during the toughest of times growing up, allowing me to ignore struggles and anything happening beyond that moment spent with a good book.

Growing up in Puerto Rico, I came from a hard-working family that hustled to keep food on the table and to keep us happy and taken care of, no matter what the sacrifice entailed. My parents worked hard to keep my brother and I studying in one of the best bilingual high schools on the island. Things like books were a treat to always appreciate, especially if they were bought and not borrowed from the school library. When they could afford it, my parents would take us to Orlando in the summer for a fun time together. I loved seeing the worlds and experiences in my head play out at the theme parks. The parks represented a snapshot of how a book or story could literally come to life with an attraction. My always buzzing and creative mind was blown away.

This is a tradition I still keep alive with my husband and friends. It’s always a fun escape to make the over two-hour drive to Orlando now that I live closer. The parks as an adult represent pure bookish nostalgia, in addition to tradition.

Let’s begin with Universal Orlando Resort, where my husband and I love to go when we can. First, there’s the Michael Chrichton novel Jurassic Park. In 10th grade, I felt like the best assigned reading ever. While other students complained about the book, I never did and was so happy to get a chance to study it at the time. I love walking through the area inspired by this book and story. It brings me back to being floored by that tale as a teen, as well as reminds me of how my brother loved dinosaurs as a kid. There are adventures at this Universal park that serve as a true flashback to the pages of that book.

Then there is the colorful Dr. Seuss area, which sparks memories of my childhood. I would always eagerly read picture books like The Cat in the Hat, and it became a personal ritual to read them in bed before sleep. The Cat in the Hat ride spins you around the different scenes of the story, where I literally flash back to those reading memories. Rides like this give these stories life for other generations to enjoy and relate to.

Some of my favorite memories at Universal also include the comic book–based, Marvel-inspired world. Soaring on the Hulk rollercoaster reminds me of the character’s strength and also takes me away from the present for a moment, just like comic books do. Then there’s The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, my favorite.

As a former full-time journalist in the buzzing newsroom of The Miami Herald, you could say Spider-Man inspired part of my journalistic life. Yes, Spidey himself! I always have loved his story, and this ride has the coolest “newsroom” environment ever. As you walk in through the queue to get on it, the decorations are inspired and showcase the newsroom of the Marvel universe’s The Daily Bugle. The newspaper is one of those staples in Marvel comics that creates a great background to adventurous stories. It also reminds me of my favorite reading moments: the news outlet’s first appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man comic. It’s fun to put on those 3D glasses and work through an enigmatic adventure, as Spider-Man is on assignment and ride as spectators on an “official” The Daily Bugle vehicle. It’s a moment that makes you feel like you stepped into a comic story, with you and Spider-Man on an adventure together.

While visiting Orlando, I always find time to read, of course. It’s become a tradition of mine to head on over to be pool bar area to read a book to unwind before the next adventure comes when I arrive at my hotel. I am a huge believer in finding downtime while on vacation, so I recommend you find a time for a bookish escape while you’re out of town. I’ve been known to even bring comics and books that relate to the park and its adventures with me.

Another Orlando park full of wonder, magic, and my own childhood nostalgia is Disney World. Two of my favorite parks to experience bookish adventures come to life are Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

At Magic Kingdom, one of my favorite bookish rides is the Magic Tea Party inspired by the tale of Alice in Wonderland..One of my favorite scenes from the book growing up is the ever-classic magic tea party, and on the Magic Tea Party ride itself, we get to spin in the cutest little teacups. Some of my fondest memories include hopping in one teacup with my brother and friends, taking turns on who could spin the ride the fastest. Stepping inside those teacups has always represented the childhood wonder of falling down the rabbit hole.

At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the magic lies in the force, of course. Walking into the Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge park is like walking into a Star Wars film and making yourself the main character in a galactic story. Besides enjoying themed cocktails at the Cantina and riding along surrounded by Kylo Ren and Rey and their story at the super cool Rise of the Resistance, there’s also something else that makes me live my best bookish Star Wars life at the park: one of my favorite Star Wars novels.

When I step into the Star Wars world, I see Zoraida Córdova‘s novel, Galaxy’s Edge: A Crash of Fate. The book follows Izzy and Jules, who were close childhood friends while residing in Batuu, dreaming of adventure. One day, Izzy’s family leaves Batuu, and her life quickly spins out of control. Her parents pass and she has to become a low rank smuggler to survive. Jules stayed in Batuu and became a farmer like her dad. When Izzy returns to Batuu after 13 years, she runs into Jules, the guy she always cared for, and her feelings rush back. I loved this Star Wars–inspired world, as it kindles fond memories standing in line with friends eagerly awaiting the chance to watch the rereleases in Puerto Rico. Star Wars ignited my love for science fiction and fantasy novels when I was younger, urging me to explore books past contemporary reads to this day. Star Wars also made me closer to my now husband as an adult: we share the comics and stories together, own lightsabers and I even have three Star Wars-inspired tattoos, all a result of falling in love with these stories and having someone to share the love of them with as well.

Not only do these books and parks represent me and my ever-present childhood wonder, but they also remind me of the sacrifice and the hard work my parents went through to make sure I always had a book and even a summer vacation, where I could see it all come to life and enjoy their company, along with my little brother.

That, to me, is the most priceless part of it all.