OK: I imagine this headline alone will have hardcore Disney addicts in a tizzy. They’ll immediately don those cute little mouse-ear caps en masse and riot like rats in an unmanned cheese factory at the mere suggestion that Disneyland, Disney World, Epcot Center, et al., are not, in fact, the most totally awesome vacations, like, ever!
Maybe they truly are awesome for some parents. I envy these adults—I do!—because a trip to a Disney theme park is a rite of passage for many American kids. Parents, wanting to see delighted smiles on the faces of their Mini Mes, announce an upcoming Disney tour like it’s some kind of prepubescent vision quest. If you as a parent can actually enjoy the journey, well, more power to you.
For me, however, Disney expeditions have proven to be a slow burn in purgatory, followed by the flames.
Here’s why, a la Dante’s nine circles:
This is the painful period after you surprise the children with the news of a pending trek to Disneyland but before you actually leave for the trip. It can be weeks of literally neither-here-nor-there as they dominate all conversation with detailed, dreamy Disney discussions. Their excitement is so fervent, their energy so hopped at the mere thought of taking the “It’s a Small World” boat ride and Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, you already know they’re in for a serious letdown by the time you actually go.
Don’t page through Travel + Leisure’s latest issue from the airport newsstand on your way to Epcot, or you will find yourself pining for that tony Turks and Caicos escape you can no longer afford to dream about because you just had to take out a second mortgage on the house to pay for five days and nights at a Disney Deluxe Villa Resort.
After arriving at the theme park, the kids can’t make it past the entrance’s front gates. Why? Because there’s an enormous gift shop stationed there filled with branded merchandise you know they’ll adore for precisely the time it takes to purchase it and leave the general vicinity of the cash register. And one trademarked toy or emblazoned tchotchke is never, ever enough. You are then required to carry said goodies, most of which are overstuffed and wider than your natural arm span, for the remainder of the day.
Is that a sunhat that woman is wearing? Was she smart enough to bring an umbrella to keep her from baking in the 100-degree, cloudless heat as she moves shiftlessly between the Astro Orbiter and the Chip ‘n Dale Treehouse with her complaining kids? Where did she buy these items? Can I buy them off of her? Wait! There’s another gift shop. I’ll take twelve. Thanks!
There’s a 120-minute wait to meet a posse of Disney princesses? Who are—let’s get real for a moment—pimpled teens dressed in bad taffeta gowns while making minimum wage? Are you ‘offing kidding me?
This is what you’re accused of when you’re caught snorting under your breath, “’Happiest Place on Earth,’ my ass.” You think you’ll get away with muttering this inappropriate comment because a random toddler meltdown is reaching its apex just 10 feet away from your horrified family. The screeching is so ear-splittingly painful, you imagine no one will be hearing much at all for, at minimum, three weeks. Of course, you’d be wrong. So you spend the next thirty minutes explaining to your kids that an “ass” is actually a donkey, sort of like Eyeore, that classic Disney character from Winnie the Pooh.
“You think you’re cutting the line in front of me, lady? I don’t think so!” you spit at the rude stranger trying force her way in front of you and your clan with her rowdy brood of seven at the Great Movie Ride, an attraction you’ve endured endless sibling bickering about because your youngest wanted to hit the Cinderella Carriage instead. You’re thisclose to flashing gang signs. Step back, biyatch.
Just weeks ago you and your suburban friends were dissing those entitled Upper East Side moms who hire black market disabled guides in order to legally skip all the lines at Disney parks, since special needs children never have to wait. As you finally sit down to a deep-fried lunch after a long morning with a 5:1 ratio of waiting to ride-taking, you scan your iPhone for that college friend who you heard just moved to the East ‘80s off Park Avenue. Maybe she knows somebody … no harm in calling real quick, right?
Days later, on the return flight home, your most impressionable child asks you if “we’ll ever come back,” her open gaze almost Bambi-like in its sweetness. “No,” you whisper just as earnestly, trying to let her down gently. “Walt Disney was a mean, mean man who never allows any child to experience his theme parks twice. Isn’t that awful?” Then, as a fat tear trickles down her small cheek, you hand her a set of headphones and say, “I’m beat. Wanna’ watch Frozen again?”