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Monday
Feb132012

A Disney Vacation: Magic or Not?

They say Disney World is the happiest place on earth. For children, it certainly holds that promise. When I was a kid, I always wanted to go to Disney World. I finally got to go when I was fourteen years old and had a great time. But it wasn't really magical at that point. We figured Disney was something we wanted to do with our kids at some point, possibly only once, and we wanted to do it when they were still at an age where it would be magical to them.

So this year, for Christmas, I bought Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse puzzles, encoded a secret message on them, took them apart, wrapped them up and put them under the tree.



They were thrilled. Emma said: "Wishing on a star works. I wished upon a star that we would go to Disney and it came true." A little bit of magic before we even got there (of course she has now wished on a star for some plastic junk that she saw on a TV commercial that she wants for her birthday).

Finally, on February 2, it was time to go. Some of the details of our vacation (as context, because it affects what I have to say about what we liked and didn't like) included:

  • Our kids are 7 years old and almost 5 years old.

  • We bought a 5 day pass (that would allow us to go to each park once, and then have a second day at one park).

  • We flew to Orlando with WestJet and rented a van for our stay.

  • We stayed off-site (i.e. not at a Disney hotel) in a 3 bedroom condo about a 10 minute drive from Walt Disney World.

  • My mom was with us for the whole stay and my dad joined us for a couple of days (he was there for a conference).



I had mixed feelings about going to Disney. I like some of the stories and movies and I love seeing my kids get lost in a fantasy world, but I also really dislike the over-commercialization of it all and the princess culture. My kids, however, love it all (which bothers me, but also creates opportunities for conversations and teaching them to be critical of media and consumerism). This vacation, however, was about them having fun, so I went along and participated with gusto. The lessons can come another day.

What I Liked at Disney

  • The Fun: The rides were great, the parks are nicely laid out, the staff is friendly and we had an absolute blast. The little details they thought of, like a mini-playground in the waiting line for the Winnie the Pooh ride or the Mickey Mouse videos that they show when you are waiting in line to get into a Mickey Mouse show, ensured that we didn't get frustrated or bored with the lines.

  • Responsive Staff: I lost a kid at Disney. I was alone with Emma at the "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" playground while the others were off at a stunt show.  The playground has climbing structures and tunnels that make it impossible to keep an eye on your child at all times (unless you're crawling through with them). I positioned myself in the middle of the playground and Emma would come by every few minutes as she went from one place to the next.  Until she didn't come back for more than 10 minutes and I went to look for her. I spent 10 minutes looking for her and couldn't find her anywhere. I went to the exit of the playground to ask the person usually posted there if he had seen a kid fitting her description leave, but there was no one at the exit. That's when I panicked. She could have been gone for a full 20 minutes. I found a staff member and asked her if there was someone who could help me look for her. Right away, she said "I can". She asked me a few questions (what does she look like, where did you last see her) and jumped into action. She found her playing with some other kids in a cave. Big relief.
  • The Muppets! We love the Muppets and it was great timing being able to see the Muppet show and all things Muppet-related after having seen the new movie, as well as several of the older movies, recently.
  • Surprisingly, the Food:  I was pleasantly surprised with both the quality and the price of the food.  On the first day, we got an adult-size veggie pizza with caesar salad, two kid-sized pizzas with cheese, two side orders of apple sauce and carrots with the kids meals, juices for the kids and a large unsweet iced tea, all for around $20. Most of the food that we ate was very good, with reasonable prices, and fruits and vegetable served with both child and adult meals instead of fries.
  • The Characters: I didn't expect a lot from the characters, but I was impressed.  Our kids loved being able to meet them, they always gave the kids hugs, posed with them for pictures, talked to them a bit, and generally were really great sports. They were incredibly good at staying "in character", asking questions and doing things that fit with who they were. Cinderella complimented Emma on her dress and asked if her mice made it for her. Belle danced with her. Rafiki, the monkey from the Lion King, took Emma's stuffed animal and held it up in the air like he did with the baby lion in the movie.  That said, Emma remarked that Tiana (from Princess and the Frog) and Alice (from Alice in Wonderland) had the "wrong voice", but apparently the rest of the princesses had the "right voice".
  • Staying Off Site: I liked that we didn't stay at a Disney hotel. It was nice being close by, but having more space to ourselves and having a full kitchen and private pool that we could use. That meant that we only bought one meal each day at Disney, which saved us a lot of money and stress.  It also meant that we didn't have to cram into a tiny hotel room.

What I Disliked at Disney World

  • "Princess": Everywhere we went, Emma was called "princess". When they did it at the breakfast with the princesses, I didn't mind that much. It fit the scene. But the rest of the week, every time a Disney staff member spoke to her, they called her "princess". Interestingly, they didn't seem to have a standard name to call boys. Julian didn't get called "pirate" or "prince" or anything like that.
  • Abusive Parents: I don't know if it is the stress of a family vacation, a cultural difference between Canada and the United States, or the sense of entitlement of parents who have spent a lot of money on a vacation for their kids, but I saw more parents physically abuse their children in one week at Disney World than do in years at home. Two of the children were slapped across the face (one by a father, one by a mother) while strapped into a double stroller. I will admit that the vacation was stressful at times, but if the price of a Disney vacation is abuse, I don't think it is worth it.
  • Waste: In Canada, if I say "I don't need a bag" or "I don't need a box" it is usually respected without question. At Disney, I went into a little bakery at Hollywood Studios with Emma and she picked out a cupcake to eat. The woman behind the counter took out a big plastic cup, which she turned upside down (i.e. lid on the counter) and was about the place the cupcake in. I said, "That's okay, we don't need that, we're going to eat it right here," as they had tables in the store. She said something along the lines of "I'll give it to you anyway" and then passed it down to the cashier. As the cashier was ringing it through, I took the cupcake out of the plastic cup and left it on the counter. She said "oh, you don't need this?", holding up the cup. I said, "no thank you, we're going to eat it here" and she took it and tossed it into the garbage bin behind her.  I've since learned that there is possibly separation of recycling away from the guests at Disney (not confirmed, but heard), but I didn't appreciate having my request ignored and the appearance that they didn't care about excessive unnecessary waste.
  • Not Enough Coffee:  I'm a caffeine addict. I'll admit it. Most of North American and European society is set up to accommodate that. At Disney, however, I had to go out of my way to find coffee most days and some of it was not that great. I had a wonderful latte that I bought outside the gates at the Animal Kingdom, but the rest of the time, I either couldn't find the coffee or it wasn't that great.
  • Things to Buy Everywhere:  It seems like almost every single ride we got off of had a store outside of it that we were forced to walk through while leaving.  It felt like I spent half of every day saying "no, we're not getting anything now, you can buy something on the last day of our trip" or "look around if you like and remember what you like and then see if you still like that the best on the last day".

Am I happy that we went?

Ultimately, yes. I am happy that we went. I loved seeing my kids that happy (when they weren't whining about yet another balloon or souvenir that I wouldn't buy) and am thrilled that they had a good time. This vacation was all about them and this was the right age to do it at.

Will we go back? I'm not sure. I would say that we probably won't. Not because we had a horrible time, but because there is so much more to see on this earth and most of the true magic is found outside of those 47 square miles in Florida.

So long, Mickey Mouse. Maybe I'll be back with my grandchildren one day.

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Reader Comments (84)

I lost my kid in the same playground, for probably a minute but I was already freaking out (he was not quite 4). I did NOT like the set up of that place, it was almost impossible to tell where kids would come out of a tunnel after going in, and who's to stop them if they just leave the area? We left as soon as we "found" the boy :P

I'm glad to say I did not witness the abuse of children while we were there.

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

I went to Disney this winter with our boys (4 and 9 months). You pretty much summed up our experience (though we didn't have the princess part of it). I often thought that for the "happiest place on earth" there were a lot of frowns! But overall we did enjoy ourselves, but I do not want to go back anytime soon!

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterApril

I went to Disneyland when I was 2... too little to understand or appreciate it (or even go on most of the rides). My sister was 11 at the time.

I don't know if I want to take my own children there eventually or not. Part of me wants to utterly rebel against the consumerism (and refuse to support businesses like Nestle who probably sell their bottled water everywhere in there too--did you notice? I'd like to know!), but at some point we will be ready for a good vacation that is as much for the kids as for the adults.

Are you in B.C.?

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobbin

My parents took us on a magical Disney trip when my sister and I were the same age as your kids. We were there for half a day before begging to go back to the beach. We had a three day pass. We never bought into the Disney magic.

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterstephaniemz

We went to Disney World in December with 3 little ones (6, 4, and 1), and at this point I would have to say that I would never choose to go back again. It was stressful, expensive, and exhausting. It wasn't our choice of destination for the vacation either, so that could have something to do with my feelings. It was definitely fine, but I wouldn't consider it to be magical in any way for us.

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCasey

We went last year - Land not World, since we live on the west coast and it's closer and cheaper. Had a fantastic time. When we weren't listening to whining or wishing we could get on rides together without kids once in a while. And when we were ignoring them calling my 3 year old "princess." I'd always poo-pooed Disney as a stupid cult, but my husband grew up holding all Disney in reverence, and his 80-something parents STILL feel that way. They went to Disneyland for their 50th wedding anniversary in 2005! So - big big Disney fans. Will we go back? Yep, next year, with some in-laws. But it won't be our only vacation, and once the kids are old enough to go to more adventurous places (and we're not paying two full time daycare fees anymore), we'll be shifting the focus of trips from fantasy entertainment over to learning about the magic that the world outside of Disneyland/California Adventure.

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commentereva

Thanks for the thoughtful commentary, Annie. I can always count on you to give honest, thorough reviews of brands & products.

Our family actually prefers Disneyland to Disney World because it's smaller, more intimate, and MUCH easier to get to (we live in Arizona).

We will likely go back to Disney many times in the coming years. I DO think it's a magical place. I love how clean and cheerful the park is, how imaginative the rides are, and how well-done the performances are. Plus, the food is good and the employees are outstanding.

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

Thanks for such an honest and open review. My first daughter is only 2 and my second daughter is in utero for another few weeks so Disney isn't on our agenda any time soon. But I have the same concerns about the 'princess-ification' of it all. They didn't have this princess thing when my family went to Disney when I was a kid. And I remember liking Epcot WAY more than the Magic Kingdom. That being said it sounds like a really nice thing to do once as a family with young children. But there are so many national parks and landmarks and other corners of the world to visit that I couldn't see my family going annually or anything. Plus it's so damn expensive I'd rather save a bit more and go overseas!

And regarding the physical abuse of children at Disney. How sad and scary. All of the families there have spent major money to be there, for the enjoyment of their children, why would hitting be involved in that? So so sad.

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlexia @ Babies & Bacon

Robbin:

I'm not in B.C.. I'm near Ottawa.

We brought our own stainless steel water bottles with us into the park and there were water fountains everywhere, so we generally didn't have any need to buy bottled water in the parks. I did buy a bottle once, when my partner was off in another part of the park with the backpack and I know it wasn't Nestle, but I'm not sure which brand it was or if they had the same brand everywhere or not.

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I've been to Disney World twice, both times as a teenager. I remember seeing a fair bit of parental stress from those with small children (like toddlers). Even at the time I found it off-putting, and it convinced me I wouldn't want to do a trip like that until my youngest was at least 4 or 5. Based on your experience, it sounds like a good call.

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

I live near Disney World and pretty much agree with everything you said, including the abusive parents. It's awful, and it's not confined to one nationality or group, either. Something about the stress or the whining you mentioned or just the upheaval of it all seems to bring out the worst in some people. A magical vacation doesn't leave magical memories when it includes abuse :(

My in-laws are fanatical about Disney Land--I haven't quite understood it. Then again, my only experience with Disney Land (besides being in the stroller at Tokyo Disneyland and not remembering a lick of it) was an orchestra trip when I was 16 and it was the rainiest day in California's history.

They have a Disney Land trip every five years, and the next time will probably be when our little one is two. Don't think we'll be going to that one--she'll be too little to appreciate it, and it would just be too stressful for my husband and me.

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura--The Sushi Snob

We took our two boys (5 and 3) this past summer along with my parents, my two sisters and their families. In all, there were 14 of us with six kids aged 2-8.

We had an amazing time. My family ended up adding a fifth day at the parks because the kids enjoyed the first four days so much. My younger son has autism and Disney really goes out of its way to make accommodations for children with disabilities.

We noticed that little stores were added at the ends of the rides since we'd been there last (in 2002, pre-kids), but I can say that was the only annoyance we came across (aside from the lack of a good latte which I considered my own personal problem). Of course, I don't have girls so my exposure to the princesses is likely limited. My boys adore them now and were enchanted to meet them all, but they might outgrow that before we go back again.

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJo

Thanks for the review. My attitude towards Disney is basically summed up at the end of your post - I don't really have much against Disney (although I hate the overcommercialization and princess-ization that it encourages culturally), but there are so many other places I'd rather take my kids that I doubt I will ever spend the money to take them there.

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

Wow, I despise the very idea of Disney World and am surprised (somewhat) that you went, although the encoding of a future surprise on a puzzle is very charming--I'm going to steal that. Your review of the experience is great to read. I really think all the cons would still keep me away though. The "princess" thing, the crowds of awful mainstream people (abusive parents, yuck, if they're going to slap their kids in PUBLIC, while they're strapped into a stroller I can only imagine what you do at home---and then take them to Disney as some kind of consolation, puke!!!) and the just general fakeness and commercialism of it all. I think people could go to real, regular cities or towns and just go to a playland, county fair, etc. and have as good a time without all the hype. Your review was good to read though because I view you as a non-plastic, non-mainstream person...

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

How funny Annie, we were at Disney last week too! We took the kids to Florida to see Nana and Poppa who live there during the winter and have been dying to take the kids to Disney. We only did one day (The Magic Kingdom) and although the kids had fun, my husband and I weren't all that impressed. Our kids are 9 and almost 7 and they have no interest in the characters. They had a great time on the rides though. I too found that there were stores at the exit of every ride, although thankfully my kids were too interested in getting to the next ride to stop and look. I found that the wait times were sometimes difficult for my two, and with the rides for the older kids there wasn't as much to distract them.
What we did really enjoy, and will definitely go back to if we have the chance was SeaWorld. I think we'd been there for about half an hour and my husband said to me "I'm already having more fun than Disney." The shows were amazing and it was a wonderful educational opportunity. The kids loved seeing all of the animals and learning more about them. They were able to feed dolphins and stingrays, and the staff were very friendly and loved answering questions for the kids. In the rides area for the kids there was no wait time at all (good time of year to go I guess). They were able to stay on the roller coaster and go as many times as they liked! On the back of the map, it said that you could go to the vacation information center and get tickets for a second day for free. We checked it out and sure enough they gave us tickets for a second day free (within 7 days and you have to have your original tickets). We ended up spending almost two full days at SeaWorld (the kids were really excited about going back) and still didn't see absolutely everything. The adults enjoyed it as much as the kids!

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFleur (NurturedChild)

Great post Annie! We are in the planning stages for our trip and are very excited!

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGwen

We took our almost 4 year old and almost 7 year old this summer, and while we did have a good time, we realized the key (esp. if you were only going once) would be to wait until they are both over 48 inches, so they can go on all the same rides. There were a few things my youngest couldn't go on with his brother (though there was plenty he could do).

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

It would have been funny if we'd run into each other in line for one of the rides!

We didn't like the Magic Kingdom much at all. It was hot, crowded, and we didn't find the attractions that spectacular. We liked all of the other parks more than the Magic Kingdom.

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Just an FYI: if you ask any vendor at Disney for a water they are required to give you ice water in a full size medium paper cup for FREE. We forgot our own containers and learned this gem from a friend that has annual passes. We live in Florida and go often, so this has saved us a LOT of money and we were able to recycle the cups. Double WIN!

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Ruby

Re: Waste, unfortunately, I do not think this is unique to Disney. I won't speak for the entire US, but I live in Florida and that's just the way it is here (at most places, not health food stores, etc.) In fact, I have gotten into the habit of saying "If you can re-use that bag/cup/whatever, then I do not need it" and then they usually think to put it back for the next person.

My husband and I grew up going to Disney and we just love it. I agree that it provides a lot of teaching moments, although I will save those for when our toddler is older. I didn't think about any of that stuff when I was little (although it wasn't quite as princess-obsessed in the 80's/90s), and I eventually grew up to be conscious of all the shortcomings. It was part of growing up and learning how to think critically. I'm glad, however, that my parents, like you, just let us have fun while we were there. Such great memories.

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSam

"the crowds of awful mainstream people"

Good Lord. Glad you consider yourself above the great unwashed masses!

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaye

Good to know that the other parks were better. We also went to Medieval Times while we were there (lots of fun!) and ran into some kids from the same school that my two go too (and their parents of course). It's a small world!

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFleur (NurturedChild)

That is so good to know! I hate it when I go to public attractions in my home city and find bottled water, especially Nestle bottled water, everywhere. We have some of the best water in Canada in Victoria coming right from our taps!

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobbin

Oh, okay. :-) I'm from Victoria.

Yeah, we are big on our kleen kanteens here, and I really hate going to public attractions and being inundated by bottled water--or going to a restaurant or something and being told that water is only sold by the bottle and you can't get tap water! We have some of the best water in Canada, and bottled water is just gross and destructive.

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobbin

Have you watched "Mickey Mouse Monopoly?" It's an interesting documentary on Disney.

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephanieMZ

No, I haven't. Sounds interesting.

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I really appreciate reading a review like this. I was just there (same days as you, apparently, Feb. 3 - 6) and spent a lot of time looking at/thinking about all the families around me for whom this is a way bigger deal than it is for me. As a South Floridian, Disney World is considered our backyard and many, many people here go multiple times a year (as a child, I did not; I went twice, once for 3 days, once for the 8th grade version of Grad Nite, but I have gone a lot as an adult). It is for many of us a quick getaway, something to do on a long weekend. This is part of the problem, actually - it's really easy to get up and go and not think too deeply about the related issues (and it feels like soooo many people down here are nutty Disney fans - they looove going, looove going frequently, looove collecting all manner of related knick-knacks).

So I'm curious about experiences where it's not like this, where it's a full-blown, *real* vacation, and I pretty much know that in those shoes, I would not do this more than once.

I think it's good that you gave them the experience - there IS a lot about WDW that is fun and special, and like you, I believe that even experiences that have aspects that are counter to my personal philosophies are worth it for the opportunity to have discussions and teach lessons. But as your cons show, I think it's something you can take only in small doses. I've been thinking more about that now that I have a child, one who's gone about once every six months the last two years, way more than I'm comfortable with (most of those trips has been with his father, so it's not entirely in my hands). I personally am creeped out by the fake *perfection*, the seemingly forced happiness and good cheer that no one with kids can ever live up to, the commercialism, the food (though I agree that the choices were all right. A mere two years ago, the options were way unhealthier. I still find the prices a bit much, though), and the princess thing. I have a boy, but I realize he too is affected by the princess culture, like when he refers to me as one or asks if I want my own crown.

And yet, I go, do my best to enjoy it, and mostly, I do (it's actually super fun for grownups - you can do a whole lot with almost zero exposure to pure Disney culture beyond good customer service, though you'd have to skip the parks and stick to the resort hotels & campground). But I admit that I just can't fully buy into any of it, and the older he gets, the harder it'll be for me to hide that. Which isn't such a terrible thing, IMO.

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTere

Ah, the gift shops. You know, when Exit Through The Gift Shop came out, I honestly thought it was about Disney World. I'd never heard of Banksy at the time and thought he was a new Disney character. True story.

I didn't see any abuse while I was there, but that is horrifying.

I'm not sure you answered the question in the title. I guess magical for the kids, not so much for you?

And finally - where did you take that last picture? That's gorgeous.

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

We've gone to Disney three times with kid(s) over the last 7 years - twice to DisneyWorld (FL), and once to DisneyLand (CA). Though my children don't watch Disney Movies (Mary Poppins notwithstanding), we still have had a marvelous time every time.

What I like best about Disney is that the staff everywhere is so accommodating for children & families. Breastfeeding - anywhere - was never a problem. Parents going on rides with kids, no problem (and you can switch off if you have one child who can't go, but both parents want to ride).

I agree that the way lines are handled is wonderful (yay, FastPass!), there is far too much stuff to buy (and SO MANY PEOPLE BUYING STUFF!!!) and I also remember not being able to find enough coffee throughout the day... (as well as not enough on-the-go healthy fare for vegetarians - but I understand most folks are meat-eaters, so we bring a lot of food in to the park)

Our favorite place is Epcot - there is SO much to discover there, excellent shows, and I love the past-->future theme. Plus, if you go in October, the Food & Wine fest is super-awesome(!!!)

Maybe it's expectation, but I DO feel its a magical place, and as hectic & crowded & commercialized as it *can* be, there's so much to see, the employees all really seem to CARE about their jobs (which, in turn, makes you feel that you are cared about as a visitor), the music is good, the weather is so fabulous, and the kids are having a ball!! Like with anything, I can block out or don't participate in the stuff we don't care for & enjoy just walking around & appreciating what amazing things I can find in the crowded sights (I've built up this skill living in NJ most of my life, LOL!)!

The thing is... it just is what it is. You can't go to Disney expecting a backwoods camping/hiking peaceful observance of nature exploration vacation. It's a Disney vacation. So if you go into it with that expectation, I've found you get your money's worth, for sure.

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkelly @kellynaturally

I’m not sure you answered the question in the title. I guess magical for the kids, not so much for you? To an extent, yes. It was also magical for me to see the kids having so much fun and I admit I got caught up a bit in the fantasy at times (in places like the Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, where the park layout is fabulous). But overall, not as magical as exploring REAL places and REAL cultures, instead of made-up ones.

With regards to the last picture, that was walking down the street in Hollywood Studios.

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Damn. I totally missed that part of the park. Somehow.

Ah well. Next time...

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

Sounds like you went to a theme park!

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMom101

It was right in between "Honey, I shrunk the kids" and Muppets. We spent a lot of time in that part of the park. :)

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

How about the crowds and lines? When I went it was supposedly a slightly lower season, but there was still definitely more waiting than riding even with the online advice of which rides to race too and using those passes to come back later. We ended up spending more time at the secontions of the park that weren't the exciting rides. Also, others said it, but Disney is fake beyond belief. It's done really well, but it is off-putting that we're in an environment that looks realistic: mountains, rivers, towns, castles, etc, but it is totally manufactured. Kinda like maybe we should have gone to the real equivalent of a town or a castle or a river.

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlex | Perfecting Dad

The lines weren't bad when we were there. For most rides, we didn't have to wait more than 10 minutes. For some of them, even very popular rides like Star Tours and Space Mountain, we basically walked right onto the ride. A few rides had lines and we tried to get Fast Passes for those whenever possible. I would guess that we only lined up for more than 15 minutes on about 6 rides total in the 5 days we were there and only lined up for more than 30 minutes for 1 ride. We were lucky that we were there during a time that wasn't a school break anywhere (that I'm aware of) and we also didn't want to go on all of the most popular rides (i.e. some of the newer/scarier roller coasters and thrill rides).

The worst park, by far, for crowds and lines was the Magic Kingdom. We had originally planned to spend 2 days there, but opted to go to Hollywood Studios for a second day instead.

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Thank you for this post Annie. I have never been to Disney but we're planning to take the boys in the next year or two. First hand accounts are way more helpful than guidebooks!

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSara

I'm terribly glad to see this post! We are planning our trip for this summer. We are meeting the German family there - their oldest is graduating and wanted a Disney trip. So off we go! Our daughter is 5 and _not_ a princess, so we will see how it goes!

Having traveled to Florida several times, I can tell you that I think some of your insights regarding the humans there are a "vacation" thing and Florida (maybe southern?) thing. I'm from Colorado, where I often walk out without sacks, plates, or even cups (if I bring my own!) and no one bats an eye. Boulder has banned plastic bags without and several stores I shop at in Denver are strictly BYO. In Florida, we couldn't walk from the store to our car without someone giving us a bag! And the hitting? It's not a US thing, it's a bad parenting thing. I think stress does make it worse. I've seen it more here than in Europe or Australia, but much less here than in Mexico or S America.

Question for Annie and other commentors: My daughter is 5 - with a bit of a sensory disorder. Any tips on lower-key areas to hang out and "recharge" if she gets overstimulated (which I'm expecting to happen)?

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterScholasticamama

That depends a lot on time of year and on the park. We found Magic Kingdom to be the worst in terms of crowds and lack of space to decompress. We found Hollywood Studios to be the best. For example, that last picture in my post was in Hollywood Studios and you could easily take a rest on the steps of any of those fake storefronts/homes along the street. At any of the parks though, I would suggest looking for areas that are away from major rides and away from the restaurants. Often there are benches behind buildings or in quieter spaces that don't have a major attraction. The staff was really knowledgeable and responsive too, so I'm sure they could suggest a place for you and your "princess" (ahem) to recharge.

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

That model San Francisco in the last photo looks cool! Funny to see a model of the city I work in all the way out there in Florida!

Yeah, as far as waste, things are pretty different in my part of the US anyway. It's all crunchy granola no-bag-please 'round here.

I have lots of fond memories of Disneyland from the two times I went as a kid, but I'm not looking forward to having to go as an adult, just because crowds and lines really don't appeal! But when my kids are old enough to enjoy it, I'm sure I'll feel a bit differently.

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterInder

I went to Disney World when I was 17, with my BFF from high school and 10 of her family members -- I'm white, they're black, and every.single.place we went in FL, I was asked by the staff "One?" as in "Table for one?" "Ticket for one?" "Obviously, you're a teenager here by yourself and not with those other people." Weirdness.

Anyway, I also noticed a lot of really questionable parenting and really unhappy kids -- the two of us teenagers had a blast, but it definitely made me pause, and how kids and parents acted out in public was not even something that was on my radar at the time.

February 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercrystal_b

It's not about class or financial status, it's about eschewing commercialistic garbage and faux experiences and instead going to, you know, a real city or town and exploring how people live...or going camping or to the beach or something real rather than blowing hard-earned money on some contrived fantasy. The people that this appeals to, to me, seem like unimaginative lemmings (which is why I am surprised the author of this blog succumbed, but I still greatly respect her, which I am sure she does not care about one way or the other because she is too cool for that, but anyway...) It's not "unwashed masses" I am, in fact, probably less "washed" than the people there, which is mostly my point. Disney= plastic and contrived.

February 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

When going to Disney they do have economy hotels now that are off site. This is the most affordable way to go to Disney. My wife and I and our 1 year old stayed at Disney Sports Complex (http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/all-star-sports-resort/rates-rooms/) and they have rooms for as low as $84/night. Otherwise you have to pay a small fortune to stay at Disney.

February 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChris

"unimaginative lemmings"

Glad to see you consider yourself above the plebes!

February 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaye

Well said. Very very well said.

February 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commentershasta

Also, The Mouse Betrayed offers some interesting reporting on how Disney impacts Florida and the world, plus some of the more terrible problems that go along with Disney like pedophilia and staff hazing.

Giroux wrote The Mouse that Roared, another interesting read.

February 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKate

I agree. I grew up in Fl and we went to Disney 14 times the first year we lived there. I went to a Montessori school and we went to Epcot every other Friday (for education--I guess).

I don't know if I'll take my children to Disney at all. Like I said on Facebook, Disney's impact on Florida and on the globe are considerable, and THEN there's the cultural issues. Disney makes virtually no contribution to Florida structure (while admittedly it does draw a huge tourist crowd for Florida's economy). It functions as its own town and basically pays taxes to itself. As such, it has its own fire and police departments, which has led to some sketchy reporting (or not reporting) of accidents and deaths on park property. Like a few others, I was surprised that Annie would go there and take her children there given the wonderful opportunities there are all over the world for vacations.

I worked at Sea World and like it far better than Disney. Obviously it is not without a whole host of issues as well, though!

When I read about the safety issues, the staffing ("casting") issues, and about Disney's impact, I feel no desire to go there. Yet, there is certainly a pull from my childhood. From all of those movies, and characters, and princesses. Who knows whether I will reconcile the two and let my kids go. Perhaps I will compromise and let my children go with my parents.

February 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKate

It's Disney World... an amusement park based around the theme of fantasy - characters - cartoons - fairy tales - movies... it's escapist.

It ISN'T Yellowstone. It ISN'T taking your kids to a camp on a lake for the week, or hiking or biking or road-tripping. It's Disney!

It's an experience of being immersed in a fantasy-world for the time while you're there, not of actually going to a town, castle, or river. It's MEANT to be fake. It's meant to be manufactured, and managed, and manicured. It's the type of vacation where you and your children can be constantly entertained and never bored if you want that. Where it's totally okay to be in love with Pirate Jack, and think you're Mary Poppins. Heck, the employees are dressed up as charaters in movies and their job is to entertain children and adults - and they love it. That's what it is. It isn't the "real thing" - it's not meant to be.

I'm not saying Disney is everyone's thing. Honestly, if I HAD to choose, I'd rather spend the rest of my vacationing time on unplanned vacations in nature with my kids over one more superplanned vacation in Disney, but I've gone & I'd go again - because sometimes that kind of vacation is appealing. It's just a matter of going into it understanding what you're going to be getting out of it.

February 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkelly @kellynaturally

Agreed. We've stayed at All Star Sports. It's adequate; shuttle to the parks. Good pools. Meal plan. That said, I did prefer staying in a condo for the ability to make/take our own food in to the park.

February 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkelly @kellynaturally

Like a few others, I was surprised that Annie would go there and take her children there given the wonderful opportunities there are all over the world for vacations.

It wasn't my first choice, but it was something that was important to my children. They are members of the family too, so we compromised and decided to make their wishes a priority for this vacation. There are other things I won't compromise on, but this was something I was okay with (if not enthusiastic about). I don't think we'll ever go to Sea World though.

I agree, of course, about the other wonderful opportunities around the world for vacations. We are lucky that we get a lot of vacation time, because I am self-employed and have a flexible schedule. So I work really hard at some times of year, but can take two or three months of vacation per year. We've been lucky enough to travel to Germany, Spain, France, Switzerland, Cuba, Maine (our kids are the 5th generation of my family to vacation on the same beach), and a lot of Canada with our kids. We lived in Berlin for four months. We've done everything from camping to staying with friends/family to renting condos to local hotels to all-inclusive vacations.

This was one week, one vacation. It certainly isn't something that defines me or that defines our vacation style or choices.

February 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

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