I am not someone who enjoys amusement parks. I’m not a fan of crowds, or lines, or fast rides. I don’t think you could pay me to ride a roller coaster; that dropping feeling in your stomach is something I want to avoid at all costs. Ferris wheels are not romantic in the slightest, screaming kids with sticky fingers give me anxiety, flashing lights and loud noises make me want to retreat into a dark cave, and I don’t think my digestive system would know how to deal with a funnel cake now that I’m 30.
I probably don’t need to elaborate more, but just in case, here’s a list of parks I never want to experience:
- Six Flags (kill me)
- Universal Studios (hard pass)
- Water World (ugh)
- Lego Land (doesn’t seem as bad as the top three, but pry not)
I don’t even know enough about theme parks to know what other ones exist, however, I can assure you they belong on this list.
But……….I do have a confession.
Since January 2017, I’ve been to Disneyland four times and Disney World once.
There I said it. Wow, it feels good to get that off my chest.
So wtf? I know, it’s taken me by surprise too. I’m pretty sure even as a kid I expressed no interest in going to a Disney park, so what is the deal?
Well let’s get a few things straight. These trips, especially the first one, were in no way my idea and I would have never agreed to go or even thought about going if I wasn’t dating someone who is super into Disney.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Does this person wear a lot of Mickey shirts? Is Epcot their idea of a cultural experience? Do they have a Disney timeshare? Do they go on Disney cruises?
The answer to all (ok, most) of these questions is no. For the most part, Bret is a normal dude who likes adventures, mountains, and travel all over the world, but just happens to have an unbridled love for Disney.
Growing up, his family went on vacations to Disney World (also where his sister got engaged), and he’s really just in love with the whole experience. So much so that he actually built is own app that has information about ride wait times and fast passes. It’s called Magic Carpet in case you’re interested, but he could care less if anyone downloads it, he really just built it for himself. You know when he’s working on it because he’s usually wearing his Haunted Mansion sweatshirt or Mickey Christmas t-shirt, blasting Disney ride theme songs.
When I learned about this Disney obsession I wasn’t really sure if this relationship would go anywhere, but I figured I’d let it play out a little because what the hell.
I just didn’t understand any of it. I pictured these parks as terrible places, with long lines for fake experiences, just raking in money from people with screaming kids. I was embarrassed to be going, and I didn’t want anyone I knew to hear about it.
But, as I’m writing this, I have a flight booked at the end of the month to go to Disneyland again for Halloween, and I’m kind of looking forward to it. I might even wear a costume….gasp.*
*Full disclosure, there is another Disneyland trip planned in January with Bret’s entire family. It’s fine, I’m fine.
Don’t get me wrong, I have my stipulations. I can only do two days, max. I won’t go in the summer time, and flights and hotels must be booked with points (I’m not spending money on anything other than tickets and Mickey pretzels).
This is still very much Bret’s thing (I probably would never go without him), but at this point it is my conscious decision to go. So I guess the question is why?
I’ve thought about this for a while on the many flights two and from LA, and I think I can break it down into three perfect blog post sized points.
1. If you’re making assumptions and judgements, you’re probably missing out.
My first visit to Disneyland was in February, 2017. This was also my first time meeting Bret’s sister and brother in-law who were meeting us there. I didn’t have very high expectations, but I knew how excited Bret and his sister were and I definitely didn’t want to be the asshole who ruined Disneyland for everyone.
The first ride I went on (Peter Pan’s Flight) had a super long line that seemed to smell worse and get warmer the longer I stood in it. The ride probably lasted a whole three minutes and I thought, “oh shit, this is going to be terrible.” I tried to hide it. I figured I could stick it out, and questioning this whole relationship would need to wait until I got home.
As the day progressed I had my first Disney pretzel, which was Mickey shaped. If I’m being objective, it was probably the same quality pretzel you’d find at a little league concession stand, but for some reason it was SO GOOD. Maybe it was the Mickey shape, the mustard, or the constant food smells being circulated in the air, either way, I was definitely going to have more of these to get me through the day.
After the pretzel we rode It’s a Small World, and that is when I started to enjoy myself a little. I realized as the day went on that this park wasn’t about fast rides and creepy carnies, but that it had a lot of history, rides that had been there since the opening, and so much detail. It’s a Small World, for example, was originally built for the 1964 World’s Fair, and after being a hit, found its permanent home in Disneyland where not much about it has changed. It has this old musty smell I’ve come to love, very 60s looking decor which is so detailed that I spot something new each time I go on it, and a song pretty much everyone knows, even if they’ve never been on the ride (though I’m convinced if played too many times in a row could be a pretty effective means of torture).
I found out lines aren’t that bad if you know how to organize your day around fast passes (Bret and his sister are VERY strategic about this), and the rides in Fantasy Land have way less crowds at night. Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion cannot be missed, and are perfect if you need to escape to a dark, cool place for awhile. Oh, and getting the first or last car on the Casey Jr train is pretty rad.
We ended up being at the park that day for something like 16 hours and I was pretty much non functioning by the time we got into the car. When I went to bed that night, I could still see lights and hear music. My head felt like it was spinning, and my insulin levels we’re probably off the chart. I think I ate just about everything in that park, from pretzels, to dole whip, to churros, to a dinner at the Blue Bayou (a restaurant that is actually a part of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride), and then ended with ice cream at midnight (because I’m an adult and can do what I want.) I really couldn’t help but be pretty amazed by the overall experience. I had fun riding the Thunder Mountain roller coaster and Space Mountain, I got excited when I saw Chip and Dale running around with Goofy, I got my picture taken with Eeyore, and I was completely blown away by the fireworks show which has ruined all other fireworks for me for the rest of time.
I was starting to get it. This place had depth, history, long standing traditions, and character. It meant something to people who went there, and it’s remained pretty true to its original vision throughout the decades.
Now I know it’s not perfect. Workers (excuse me, “cast members”) are underpaid, there’s a lot of waste, kids still manage to have epic tantrums even in the “happiest place on earth,” and I’m pretty sure I got pink eye and strep throat from my first visit.
As far as the Disney empire goes, most movies have their fair share of racist and sexist material, I get it. I don’t love that my favorite character growing up was a teenage mermaid who abandoned her family for a guy she’d never spoken to, and relied on getting by on her looks. But even though these stories didn’t fast track my path to feminism, they are still a part of my childhood, and I relate to the characters, and love the music.
Disney isn’t the first thing I’ve made assumptions or judgements about. We all do this when we don’t understand something or have the complete picture. It’s easy to point out the problems, the flaws, the issues, but I think I’m just going to lighten up and choose to believe in the good intentions on this one.
2. Joy is contagious.
I can be a bit of a curmudgeon, a cynic perhaps. Elation, joy, excitement…..these emotions don’t come easy to me. And while I’ll probably never look as happy as this dude, his joy is hard to ignore.
I’m not here to tell everyone they should go to Disneyland because to be honest, I’m not sure I would enjoy it the way I do if it wasn’t for Bret and the amount of happiness he gets from it. But it’s not just Bret, there are a lot of people out there who take this Disney thing to the next level. Season pass holders, families with matching shirts, pin collectors, bloggers…it gets pretty intense. If you want some visual proof just spend a few minutes on Instagram. In fact, Bret has an entire Instagram account that only follows Disney posts (if he’s been sitting in the bathroom for a long time you know he’s just scrolling through pictures of castles, rides, and Mickey shaped food). People get married there, have family reunions, belong to clubs, and know all kinds of crazy facts and trivia about the parks.
I now know some of these facts because I went on a ‘Walk in Walt’s Footsteps’ tour. It was a gift from Bret’s sister, and it consisted of something like three hours of walking, learning about Walt’s influences on the park, and ended with a visit to his apartment which is in the park. Not many people are allowed in the apartment, so I felt pretty VIP.
It’s super small and still has all the original furniture and decor, including a retro sandwich press that Walt made grilled cheeses on frequently (the man was not healthy but I respect that he owned it). I’d like to think this tour may come in handy someday should I find myself in some kind of Disney themed pub trivia night, which, at this point is a real possibility if we’re being honest.
Though my excitement levels are nowhere near Bret’s for all of this, there is just something about seeing someone truly throw themselves into something and enjoy the hell out of it that can be inspiring.
I don’t know if I’ll ever love something as much as some of these people love Disney, but I like knowing it’s possible.
3. Take some advice from Baloo and forget about your worries and your strife.
I’d like to think even though Walt Disney himself wasn’t perfect and made plenty of mistakes, he built something for the purpose of instilling joy and inspiration in others. He wanted people to be curious, to dream, and to make progress. He had a lot of hope for the future, and said himself that Disneyland would never be complete as long as there was imagination in the world. In other words, he wanted the feeling and purpose of the park to extend outside of the gates.
There is something about the detail, whimsy, innocence, and nostalgia from the parks that take you out of adulthood for a bit. I don’t think I’ve ever checked email, responded to Slack, or read a news story while I’ve been in there. You walk in, and it’s pretty hard to pay attention to anything else in life until you leave.
While I would advise against spending too much of your paycheck on a park experience, or eating turkey legs and midnight ice-cream on a regular basis, a little time dedicated to being a kid again can do some good. I know I take myself less seriously, and try to approach things with a little more playfulness after I’m there (this usually ends after a few minutes in LA traffic on the way to the airport, but, I’ll take what I can get).
Life can be a little much sometimes, and when that’s the case, may I suggest throwing on some mouse ears, starting your day with a mickey pancake, and getting a hug from Tigger (just remember the hand sanitizer).
Alright, so that concludes my deep, psychological analysis of my multiple trips to Disneyland. If you’re inspired to plan a trip now hit us up for some pro tips. If you’re thinking of getting engaged, please ask about Bret’s sister’s experience because it’s actually a really great story. And if you’re still cynical about it all, listen to some Hakuna Matata and chill the f out.