The fans I spoke with discussed Disney with nostalgia; each remembered a moment when the parks became more than a physical space, a touchstone for a distinct memory. Some involve celebrations: Marian Perez told me she’d always been a Disney fan, but when she got engaged at Cinderella Castle, her fandom “ignited” into an obsession that led to a Disney-inspired wedding and Disney-related decor in her home. Others involve finding refuge: Rachael Reyna, who grew up visiting the parks twice a month, began frequenting them as an adult after an ectopic pregnancy in 2016. “Something about being at Disney makes all your worries fade away,” she told me in an email. “I would spend days at the park by myself just to escape my depression. It’s impossible to be sad at Disney. It might not make sense to people, but it’s my happy place.”

In that sense, the parks serve as a reminder of personal joy, a physical totem of their bliss. I visited the parks too, and grew up with a similar appreciation for Dole Whip and hidden Mickeys. But where my impression of the parks faded and blurred over the years, these fans’ memories are as clear as glass slippers. A trip to the parks is never a mindless gesture for them; it’s fandom as therapy. “Disney fans,” Williams-Turkowski explained, “are resilient about keeping the happiness going.”

Indeed, they persist, even if it means donning masks in the Florida heat and feeling occasional pangs of anxiety. “There were times when I would get on a ride and the first thing I would think is, Oh! Let me get my wipes and wipe it down,” Michel, one of the Instagrammers, said. “But just being there, it was nice.” In fact, Lyn explained, it’s comforting to know the Disney parks are sacrificing signature elements of the experience to mitigate risks. “If you went and it wasn’t different, you wouldn’t feel safe there,” she said. “We’re in a place where everything we do is different. Everything.”