We’ve just returned from the ‘Happiest Place on Earth!’ I have my doubts.
When we visited Disney World six years ago, we had only two children who were roughly the same age. They enjoyed the same rides and experiences, and it was magical—it truly was. Every day was like Christmas morning for my then three year old and five year old daughters, and so it was for me, too.
This visit, eh... not so much.
But the story begins six months ago. After making the hotel reservation, I settled in to research all things Disney; where to eat, which events to go to, what was the best time to meet up with Minnie Mouse and exactly the best place to sit to see Finding Nemo—the Musical. I was so excited in the details, truly euphoric in my anticipation that my husband mused, ‘How are you going to keep this going for 180 more days?’ Bah-humbug! I was intent on reliving the magic, only this time it would involve four children of very different ages... and interests.
I had written and rewritten an itinerary that scheduled us down to the half hour, literally. I spent about 60 hours researching and compiling the most efficient use of our time during our nine days (that’s 216 hours) there. There would be time slotted in for naps, of course I’m no tyrant, but the children would have to drift off to sleep within fifteen minutes of lying down and be awake a refreshed, ready to carry on within two hours after initial slumber.
I was able to successfully suck the fun out of Disney for pretty much everyone in our party.
And the thing is I am normally the laid-back one. I am the one who says, ‘Let ‘em play, will ya? It doesn’t matter of they stain their shirt or stay up too late—they’re kids, they need freedom.’ That lady was nowhere to be found in the Magic Kingdom. She was kidnapped, bound, gagged and replaced by the uptight, schedule-wielding bitch I had become.
Couple this with the fact that although they agreed to it, some members of our party (I won’t name any names, but his gender is male) refused to stick to simple plans. ‘Okay, Daddy —you take the big girls to ride Thunder Mountain, I’ll get in line with the little girls to see Chip and Dale and meet you back here in 30 minutes!’ After standing in the sun, waiting for two hours at the assigned meeting point, I gave up, took the bus back to the hotel, laid down for a nap with my four year olds (all of us hot, sticky and tired), and had a good cry.
That was day one.
And then there is the extreme cash lay-out. Buying a package that included hotel, tickets and meals, we thought (completely naively) that we would actually be spending very little in the parks; maybe a t-shirt and some mouse ears for each kid.
There was the Halloween Party (extra entry-ticket required) that Mickey threw for his favourite little ghost and goblins in the Magic Kingdom ($58 per person). The family fought through the costumed crowd of thousands of other Disney World
Every time we opened our wallets, there were thirty people standing behind us waiting to do the same.
I began to see that Disney World truly is magic—Mickey is a marketing magician. He has figured out how to get people to pay handsomely for things they not only don’t need, but usually don’t even want.
The little rat.
So on our last night, we went to the Luau at the Polynesian. It was really beautiful, everything lit by great baskets of fire. We bought the girls full-on Polynesian outfits, grass skirts, flower wreaths for their heads and leis for all of us. My mother-in-law bought the group photo for $42 and my husband fell asleep at the table before the fire juggler came on. I was about to punch him on the shoulder to wake him, when my tiniest girl, Tess crawled up on my lap and flung her arms around my neck, following her daddy off to sleep. I realized that this was the first time I had slowed down long enough to hold any of my children in almost ten days. I kissed her cheek then buried my nose in her soft, skinny neck.
And as I gazed at the glowing fireball being tossed around on stage I began to think about how soon we could come back to Disney World.