Recently my son came upstairs after watching TV and said, with genuine amazement in his voice: “Mom, did you know there is this place, where the characters from some of my favorite movies are real? And there are rides! And fireworks! And ice cream cones the size of my head!”
I laughed. Yes, my son, how observant, how pure. “It’s called Disney World. But don’t get your hopes up. We will probably never go.” I know. You’re cringing. All these self-righteous, bigoted, defensive statements are bubbling up from your mind, and you’re thinking: What kind of mean mom are you? In fact, how can you even call yourself a mom? Do you not love your children?
Disney World Is Ridiculously Expensive
Indeed, while I can’t blame you for asking those questions, I can assure you my love for my children is burgeoning, unlike my wallet. Scott Sanders, vice president of pricing for Disney’s parks and resorts between 2004 and 2009, says, “Every child feels like they’re entitled to a Disney vacation, and I think they’ve played off that, letting the emotions lay in until the family says to do it. They’re recognizing they can capture demand across the price curve. So why not take advantage of what people are willing to pay?”
Sanders isn’t joking. A recent issue of Parents magazine boasted a piece called “The Ultimate Disney World Planning Guide.” I flipped to the article, hoping I might find that a planning guru had somehow crunched the numbers to enable me to take my kids for less than selling my kidney.
Turns out, the cheapest a family of four—two adults and two kids—can go to Disney on is nearly $4,000. That includes airfare, lodging, meals, and tickets to the parks, but doesn’t include many of the extra items kids are pining for like character dining. Additional research shows that most people who enjoy some of the bells and whistles Disney has to offer spend between $5,000-10,000 (we are a family of six).
Disney World Is Manufactured Fun
I’m not anti-rollercoaster or spinny-things that make you feel like you want to vomit. There is a kind of adrenaline-pumping, free-wheeling fun that comes from amusement-style rides. Plus, admittedly, folks before age 30 enjoy those most because they are immune to nausea like Frozen’s Olaf is immune to melting. As for the magic—the dinners with Elsa, the fantastical world of Harry Potter (which is technically Universal Studios, not Disney)—it all looks mind-boggling, uber-thrilling, and all-encompassing. I don’t doubt that.
To wit, via the Washington Post, “Disney World last year spent $425 million to expand Fantasyland, marked by the opening of a new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster. Next spring at Epcot, Disney will retool its Norwegian-mythology flume ride, Maelstrom, into Frozen Ever After, where visitors will float past a skating Olaf and Elsa in an ice castle, singing ‘Let It Go’ amid a sparkling, simulated snow.” Disney on overdrive, anyone?
But at the same time, you’re spending a couple months’ salary—many families save years—to enjoy a world based on the mini-worlds created on screen by a company that specializes in seducing and amazing children. It’s so American. So first-world. So anti-cultural. (But yes, so fun.)
Disney World Is Really Narrow
Pardon me for writing about Disney and then waxing philosophical, but I tend to believe you have money for what you want to have money for. If you spend $8,000 on a family vacation to eat dinner with Cinderella, those are your values, if by default. Those values communicate something, and just don’t reflect my family’s values. Obviously, the vacation can’t be free, but for that much money, I’d rather not stand in the hot Florida sun only to whiz down a ride on Magic Mountain.
If I’m going to spend $5,000 to 10,000, I prefer to do something that engages my family’s minds and imaginations, broadens our horizons, and expands our cultural preferences. Maybe that means, on the low end, a simple trip to the beach exploring coastal life or New York City’s historical landmarks, or heck, while I’m at it, our ancestral heritage in Europe! Of course, Europe is going to set us back at least $10,000 and most likely more, but it just may reflect our family’s values a little more than dinner with Elsa and Anna.
Do I think other families are wasting their time, money, and energy taking their children to Disney World? Not exactly. Everyone is different. Everyone likes different things. For some families, Disney makes sense. It just doesn’t for ours. So when you get back from Disney, and we get back from the beach, we can look at pictures on our phones and smile and be happy for everyone.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that fast passes cost additional money. Instead, they require registration and linking to one’s park admission.