Because the first 10 years of my life was in South Korea, I did not grow up watching Disney movies. I never knew the giddy feeling people got when the opening of each movie began with Tinkerbell waving her wand over Cinderella’s castle. I did not grow up begging my parents to take me to the Magic Kingdom (not that we could have afforded it). I watched most of those “kid” movies with my sister who was 9 years younger than me. They were well done but I did not enjoy them as much as the anime I grew up with.
As I began to take my own children to “playdates” with other moms I saw the Mickey Mouse stickers on their mini vans and listened to them regaling the magical wonderment of having gone to one of these Disney parks. I quickly realized the grown ups were way more excited than the kids themselves. This is when I first realized the pilgrimage to a Disney park was THE American Experience for many families. It was fascinating to observe.
I do remember that even in Korea Mickey Mouse represented America. Some of my cousins wore T shirts with the emblem of Mickey and everyone associated it with the US. It’s a cultural icon all over the world. Because Disney made movies that echoed Americans’ ideal version of family, happiness and “magic” I think trips to these amusement parks became a symbol of success for a family.
My children have never been to a park but when I was dating one particular guy in my twenties he wanted to take me because he could not believe I had never been to Disney World. We drove from the coast of NC to Orlando, Florida which felt like took FOREVER. We paid way too much for a hotel near the park and rode a shuttle van to the gates.
THE PARK WAS SO BIG! I felt overwhelmed immediately and while I appreciated all his efforts, it quickly became a chore as he tried to figure out the best times to get in line for the best rides and we did a lot of walking around and waiting in line. Food and drinks were overpriced and we were shoulder to shoulder with huge crowds constantly. We toured the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and added Universal Studios to our whirlwind 3 day trip. The only part I remember liking a lot was Epcot. I especially enjoyed eating in a Moroccan “restaurant” while a belly dancer entertained us. The cinnamon chicken was something I never forgot. Other than that I remember being hot, thirsty and tired.
Looking back I can see they worked really hard to attract their US customers. There was Main Street USA which really pushed the whole American Dream angle. America’s past was proudly on display for all to see. So many parades! Parade after parade also highlighted how successful America was and gave plenty of examples on how happy families should be acting. In painful contrasts I saw parents screaming at their kids for crying and being afraid of the very characters they waited in line to see, kids crying because they were hot and thirsty and sleep deprived, couples (us included) fighting about what we would do next as we tried to fit TOO MUCH into 24 hours. I was relieved when it was all over.
Shellshocked from too much exposure to bright lights, loud sounds and decadent food, I passed out in the car on the way home and slept most of the way. I could tell he was disappointed that I was not starry eyed about the whole experience. When he mentioned how we will bring “our children” to these parks when they were old enough further cemented what I already knew – this was NOT the man I would have children with someday.
I do not HATE Disney. I enjoy many of their movies but I do not enjoy the park experiences. When my kids were younger, the moms constantly talked about saving up and taking their kids to Disney. Luckily my kids were oblivious to the influences of Disney ads. We never had cable and watched DVDs and Netflix so no one tried to convince them this trip was an absolute necessity. I don’t think they even knew of the parks’ existence until recently. At ages 11 and 15 they have NOT ONCE asked for a Disney trip. They have asked to go to LegoLand a couple of times though. LOL@ my nerdlings.
I am not slamming people who like Disney. I have a very sweet friend who is Tigger incarnate and she took her kids and takes her grandkids on Disney Cruises and takes them to parks whenever she can. She loves going as much as they do and they all love it. I do not think loving Disney parks is evil – I just find the obsession some people have to be unhealthy. I feel like running away from real world problems and cocooning yourself in the sterilized, perfect, “magical” Disney environment so you can feel that “everything is okay” may not be the best thing for a family. The harsh reality I saw at the parks showed lots of fractured families trying to put on a show and failing miserably.
Let’s talk about the cost of these trips. We are talking THOUSANDS of dollars! Most US families can not afford these costly vacations and end up using credit cards or spending money that should be spent elsewhere. I’ve witnessed a lot of fights between spouses as they discuss how to afford these vacations not once but many times during their children’s lives. I have not met many families where BOTH spouses were on board. Usually one is a fanatic and the other is puzzled at the passion the other has for this Mouse and its friends.
I hope most of these families realize that creating a loving and safe environment at home is far more beneficial to their families than trekking across 40 square miles in the heat of the Florida sun (or slightly smaller in California). What kind of memories are you creating while you squabble over whether you should carry water bottles or pay outrageous prices for drinks all day? Do you stay in the resorts on site or pay for hotels or rent a house? Are you driving or flying? Do you wait until your youngest is old enough or do you worry your oldest is missing out while waiting? It hurts my head just typing all this. I just do not see how the end result is worth all that.
If you have plenty of extra money, I’m sure it is much easier to just go without any of the angst but you and I both know that the average American family can not afford a Disney vacation. Yet – there they go just so they can say they indeed went. It makes me sad. I would much rather spend the same amount of money in a nice beach house on any coast than to go to a Disney Park. I’m sure Walt is rolling in his grave.