'The Happiest Place on Earth'

As the more than 400 veterans and their families converged on Walt Disney World’s Swan Resort for the sixth annual Road to Recovery Conference and Tribute, so, too, did record low temperatures. But not even near-freezing weather could keep people off Disney World’s Main Street for Mickey’s Veteran Merry Christmas Party this week.

The invitees and their families present at Road to Recovery – co-presented by The American Legion and the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes – were provided passes to the Christmas party, which featured Disney’s Main Street dressed to the nines in holiday lights and decorations.

The night features live entertainment, the traditional parade down Main Street – themed for Christmas and complete with Santa Claus – fireworks, complimentary cookies and hot cocoa, and access to many of Disney World’s attractions.

Although the night was geared toward family fun, it meant much more than that for U.S. Army veteran and Florida resident Raul Perez, a Road to Recovery invitee. Perez – who did two tours in Iraq before leaving the Army in 2008 – said the Disney experience was a big step for many of the veterans in attendance.

“Seeing all those people there without their walls up, that was really excellent,” Perez said. “It said, ‘My condition is not an obstacle.’ There wasn’t any alienation or anything like that.”