Thursday, June 25, 2015

Why I Love Disneyland and Why I Hate that I Love Disneyland

I had this post planned for a year before we went to Disneyland. Here’s how it was going to work. I was going to start with the moment, the Disney Moment. Do you know which one I am talking about? After a full day in the Magic Kingdom, we would find ourselves standing in the center of the park, Duchess on my shoulders, the light parade passing by, and the fireworks lighting up her face with dancing, colorful shadows. Her giggles would be muffled by the music. In my periphery I would catch glimpses of her tiny fingers pointing at Aladdin, Rapunzel, Ariel, Sulley. Stevie would be holding my hand. My son, exhausted, would be sleeping in the stroller. Everything would be perfect.  Perfectly perfect in every perfect way.

And then I would deconstruct the scene backwards. I would explain the cost of the “Disney Moment.” I would do some fancy math and show how much we had invested in Disney over the last four years to create that look in my daughter’s eyes as the fireworks behind the castle mimicked the path Tinkerbell takes in the Disney opening to every movie.

The numbers were pretty staggering. Every movie, every toy, every blanket and book adaptation we had purchased since Duchess was born… the park tickets and the plane tickets, the hotel (which was very kindly covered by my in-laws).  It was a lot of money. We had, and continue to invest a lordly amount in our daughter’s love of all things Disney. And we’re not alone! Millions of parents are doing the same thing.

Going in, I was skeptical that it would be worth it. We have family members that are infatuated with all things Disney. Before the trip I had never really understood it. I liked Disney, but it wasn’t the be-all-end-all for me. Within a few hours of entering the park, I, like everyone else there, was sold. I teared up when I took Duchess on the Dumbo Ride, it started, and she screamed “WE’RE FLYING DADDY! LOOK! HI MOMMY! I’M FLYING!!” I’d have given all my dollars to see my daughter bury herself in Winnie the Pooh’s giant soft belly.

It was all perfect. Every corn dog, every song, every ride, every employee, everything at that park is designed to the square inch to be a magical experience. It wasn’t just magical, it was moving. Looking upon the joy that the park had created in my daughter’s face made me feel like a better dad. When we returned to our hotel that night I pulled out my laptop and deleted the spreadsheet where I had stored my snarky data. I didn’t care how much I had invested. It was worth it.

I carried her all the way back to the hotel like this. 

And here we are, a little over a year later. Stevie and I are already talking about when we will be going back, because we want that feeling again. We want to see the look on our kids’ faces as they are fed the highest potency Grade-A joy money can buy. Captain is almost the same age Duchess was, and we want him to experience it all too. I don’t care if it is manufactured with the sole purpose of releasing endorphins in the brains of people young and old. I don’t care if the method of delivery is “fake" and that there are no ghosts in the Haunted Mansion. The happiness is real. That is some quality joy, and I want more of it.

Disneyland is the crystal meth of happiness. And not just your standard, crappy crystal meth that some junkie made in a bathtub in a trailer somewhere. Disneyland is the top shelf, scientifically proven, Walter White, 99% pure, blue crystal happiness. It is the good stuff.

There is no denying it. Disney knows what they are doing, and they are doing it better than anyone else. I don’t even think there is necessarily anything nefarious about it. Sure, they want to make money, but they want to do it by making kids happy. The employees have bought in just as much, if not more than everyone else. The people I know who have worked for Disney are the biggest Disney cheerleaders I know. We’re all addicted to the top shelf happiness, and we are willing to pay.
So what is the problem? Is there one? The title of the post seems to indicate that I am going to get to one. Well, here:

I spent the better part of my youth camping. I slept under the stars. I ran the edge of the river. I marveled at the way water would spin in an eddy, carrying the leafs or sticks I had thrown in back up the stream and then back down again. I hid in the branches of trees and watched how the light played with the shadows on the dirt below. Growing up, those were my fireworks.

In 1998 my best friend Ken and I hopped in his 96 Dodge Neon and drove to the Grand Canyon. As we entered the South Rim we pulled off to the side and walked to the canyons edge. I felt as if the earth had punched me in the stomach. When I saw the canyon I immediately felt changed. I had never felt so small and so big at the same time. We laid out a couple blankets and slept under the stars. The next morning we hiked the Bright Angel Trail down to the river. I swear to this day that there is a power in that canyon. There is something in my blood, in my genes that made me feel connected to a world much bigger than I am. I felt joy in that canyon. 

I felt better at Disneyland.  

I felt better at Disneyland, and that scares the hell out of me. Disneyland is manufactured happiness turned up to 11, and I am worried that if I keep the music that loud my kids won’t be able to hear the quieter joys in life. I am worried that in a few years when we pack up the kids in the car and drive them down to the South Rim, my daughter is going to look at me and say “That’s neat dad, can we go to Disneyland now?” I’m worried I will say yes.

By the way, our Disneyland trip didn’t end at the parade the way I had envisioned it. It ended in the gift shop. Duchess had been so good all day and we told her she could pick out a toy as a reward. After spending 20 minutes deliberating whether she wanted a stuffed baby Tinkerbell or a stuffed baby Dumbo she finally chose the fairy. And then she spent the entire drive home talking to it and playing with it. I kept watching her in the rear view mirror as she made her fly and yelled “zoom zoom!” In fact I was so busy feeling proud about what my money had bought that I failed to notice that she didn’t look out the window once.

I do love Disneyland. I really do. But this summer we’re going camping instead.

"Dad, can we go to Disneyland?"
"Maybe next year." 

Did you enjoy this post? You should come join the fun on Ask Your Dad Facebook Page! Did you hate this post? You should come yell at me on the Ask Your Dad Facebook Page!


  1. Nice John.
    We went last year after saving for a while. It was a great trip - our best trip ever! We decided to wait till the boys were older because we wanted them to remember it as we figured it would be our only trip. However, both of them would be thrilled if we went back. Maybe, we will some day but that day is far away. I'd like to go other places.

  2. You loved Disney year after year and also fell in love with camping and the rugged, beautiful Oregon Coast. It's a rich world out many, many ways!

  3. We are still kids ourselves, aint we? Disneyland was and will always be a lot of fun for children. Yes, adult children. :-)

  4. Gosh I love your writings!! I know what you mean!! You go through life so fast focused on the glitz and glam in life to stop and enjoy the simple things that money can't buy. I paid a babysitter what her parents thought was too much, they returned 30.00 to me, I kind of thought it was rediculous in my head but then I thought to myself.... "They are right... She is JUST a kid, over paying this poor child could render her from knowing the value in earning a buck. You can't spoil them young... Spread the magic through the years, let your children have a chance to appreciate the little things in life!! 👏👏👏

  5. I've never been to Disneyland, and your post has convinced that I never want to go, and never want to take my kids.