I’ve tried to shy away from any real controversy with this column, but the time has come to draw a line in the sand: I hate Disneyland.
Wifey and I knew this day would come. It was inevitable, like death and taxes. We would be required by ordained paternal obligation to bestow upon our offspring a trip to Disney.
And so, just a few weeks ago, we met family in SoCal for a one-day excursion to the Magic Kingdom and really tried to make the best of it. We went on a weekday, during a nonpeak season, with comfortable themed clothing, and with children old and tall enough to do at least some of the rides and maybe, just maybe, handle reasonable wait times.
We entered the park at opening and sprinted Jane and her cousin Hannah to meet Elsa. Alas, we weren’t fast enough to beat the unaccompanied adults who wanted to have in-depth discussions about her choice of breakfast cereal or some other inane princessy nonsense. By the time our squirming children actually got to her frozen haughtiness, Jane was completely underwhelmed and 3-year-old Hannah inadvertently kneed Elsa in the cleavage while positioning for the long-awaited photograph.
Later that morning, while the boys waited for “California Screaming,” Wifey and Aunt Lori concluded that 9:45 a.m. was a good time for beer. Upon purchasing four beers, one for each adult, Wifey began transferring some of the alcohol into my insulated water container.
“You can’t do that!” The prepubescent attendant squeaked.
“They’ll throw you out of the park if you are drinking beer from your own container.”
“But, I bought it here.” Wifey protested.
“They won’t know that.”
“How do we carry …?” Wifey pondered their predicament.
“Yeah, I can’t push a stroller and carry two beers.” Aunt Lori said after slopping some beer onto the stroller and her sleeping 1-year-old.
“I guess we have to chug.” Aunt Lori smiled and raised her glass.
No wonder my water bottle had lukewarm beer backwash, always a fun surprise.
Yeah, sure the rides were fun and characters cute, but even at 6, 5, and 3 years old, our kids could sense the inauthenticity. As Jane was hugging the massive head of Doc McStuffins, she wanted to test out a hypothesis.
“You’re not real, right?” She said and then poked the good doctor in one of her oversize eyeballs.
Reacting predictably, Doc McStuffins made frantic signals to her handler which likely amounted to code for “get this crazy kid off me.”
As the lines got longer and the day got hotter, our kids began to unravel in front of our eyes. Michael smashed his face into a concrete bench after tripping on one of the thousands of abandoned strollers strewn about the waiting areas. Exiting the Monsters, Inc. ride into the gauntlet gift shop, Jane became separated from us. When she realized her error and came running hell-bent toward me, she slammed right into another child. Both kids went down in an explosion of tears.
Even Wifey showed signs of emotional strain. After successfully balancing five ice-cream cones while navigating her way back to our parade-waiting children, Wifey began distributing the treats.
“Mommy, no!” Jane refused to take her ice cream.
“What?” Wifey demanded while handing out the other cones.
“I wanted strawberry.” Jane began screaming, “Rahhhh!”
Wifey’s eyes grew wide and she squeezed the snot out of Jane’s ice cream cone until it oozed between her fingers.
“Why can’t you just be grateful?” Wifey demanded through clenched teeth and then slammed the cone remnants to the ground while onlookers backed away slowly and Michael and his cousins averted their eyes.
Family drama aside, there were a couple small vindications on the day. For the past two years, I had been running gasoline expenses through a Disney credit card, so when the park admission attendant said, “that will be $15,” I nearly did a backflip. Unfortunately, I was soon informed by Aunt Lori that I’d have to purchase the one-day park-hopper pass: California Adventure for the girls to do Frozen, and Disneyland for the boys to do Star Wars. Two hundred seventy-five additional dollars later, and I was much less excited about all things Disney.
Another small victory over the magical “Dis-enemy” came while Wifey and I were waiting with the boys. There was a traveling ’20s-themed swing band playing “Zoot Suit Riot.” Wifey and I sat the kids down on the curb and started doing the fast-paced throws, pretzels and dips that we learned on the East Coast. The musicians, crowd, and characters pivoted their performance toward us and there was a fleeting moment of magic for our family until the song ended and one of the plainclothes Disney Gestapo snuck up to explain that though she appreciated our enthusiasm, this performance did not involve audience participation.
All of this got me thinking: Why go to an artificial magic kingdom full of synthetic thrills and choked with humanity when we live in a real-life magical kingdom: Tahoe. We even have a genuine castle: Vikingsholm. Why queue up with hordes of people to “meet” a Disney character or creature, when we are surrounded by the authentic magic of bears and bald eagles? Why wait in line for over an hour for a lame Radiator Springs Racers ride when we have the real Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and untouched backcountry powder skiing?
To kill a bit of time until our FastPasses were eligible for the Star Tours, we rode the carousel behind the quintessential Disney castle gates. By the time we got the kids strapped in, only one horse was left so Wifey and I quietly jumped into the saddle together. There were muted chuckles from the non-child-accompanied adults behind us as the ride started up and we scandalously rode our horse joined at the hip. At one point the carousel operator seemed to notice us too and looked like he was going to say something, but just shook his head and laughed instead.
And that small element of revolt, a knowing wink and nod from a Dystopian Disney underling, was enough to carry me through until the end of the day. An acknowledgement by one of “Team Rodent” (Mickey) that this hyper-reality was over-the-top and deserving of a smidgeon of ridicule. I have to admit that the parade was pretty special, but I was frankly ecstatic when we finally left.
Sure, it’s an experience. And now Michael and Jane can finally relate to all their classmates who’ve already been to Disney, but please don’t make me trade Tahoe for Disney ever again. Wifey even agrees.
The Magic Kingdom did grant us one parting gift though: food poisoning. I’m not sure if it was the long car ride, the overabundance of sugar, or just general Disney nausea, but half of our family blew chunks at some point in the 12 hours after leaving the “Happiest Place on Earth.”
Disney vs. Tahoe, do:
- Sure, go to Disney … once.
- Explore the real “magic kingdom” all around you.
- Allow your children to figure out whether or not characters are “real.”
Disney vs. Tahoe, don’t:
- Get Disney food poisoning.
- Be afraid to hate Disneyland, like me.
- Substitute hyper-Disney-reality for the true magic of Tahoe.
G.W. Miller is a full-time resident of South Lake Tahoe and author of the forthcoming novel “The Elixir of Yosemite.” To learn more or respond to columns visit www.mcbehm.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.