NOTE: UPDATE AT BOTTOM OF POST TO CLARIFY THIS MOST CONTROVERSIAL POST
When seeking a vacation, I typically look for some variation of the following things:
- The opportunity to have at least some time apart from my children
- The chance to indulge in delicious cuisine, maybe even a few farm-to-table restaurants
- Some outside-the-box fitness – scenic running or hiking trails, recreational adventure, even a local CrossFit box
- Local culture, history, and regional quirkiness.
Obviously, I knew a trip to Disney World would offer the precise opposite of all these things.
So, admittedly I was a bit pessimistic about this "vacation." But after plenty of advice from friends who LOVED Disney, I felt prepared, even a little excited. Maybe it would be “magical”? Maybe my children would love it so much I'd get caught up in the excitement? Maybe it wouldn't be the seventh level of hell but some mystical ride into childlike bliss?
And here are 10 reasons why it sucked:
- I ate so much garbage that my body was actually confused. I had a perpetual gnawing fear that eating nothing but empty calories and glorified cafeteria food for four and a half days would put all of our bodies into nutritional shock. And I was right. For $41 per person per day (just two meals), Disney offers a quick service meal plan resplendent in cafeteria-style crap peppered with the exact same bags of petrified produce doled out in my son's public school lunch room.
- My kids lost their shit. The seven days I spent in a rented beach house with my children last summer were the most blissful days of my life. They were more well-behaved than I have ever seen them. We've gone through several long, hot days at Sesame Place without a meltdown. I don't know if it was the sugar, the stimulation, the endless walking, or a combination of all these things. Regardless, they turned into animals.
- I got the distinct pleasure of rooming with my children. In reality, most vacations on a normal budget would require bunking up with your kids. But that doesn't make it suck any less. It's hard enough to sleep in the same house as these night-wakers, but getting all close and cuddly with grinding teeth, kicking legs, and the warm smell of piss doesn't make the night hours any more restful.
- Despite planning and bringing our own ponchos, we still got caught in the rain at Magic Kingdom. This was no one's fault but Mother Nature's (and the guy who told us we don’t need to take the monorail to the character breakfast because it was only a five-minute walk). It was a 20-minute walk that began at the precise moment the skies opened up. You can imagine how that scene went down.
- The Mission: Space ride at Epcot almost killed me. This is purely my own fault. As someone who gets carsick in the backseat of a taxi, I was wary of the signs on most of the rides warning riders of potential motion sickness. But they were generally exaggerated. For example, 'Soarin only went about five feet in the air and was delightful. But Mission: Space had some RED FLAGS I should have listened to. You have the option of ORANGE or the less intense GREEN version. I wanted to be a bad ass and ride the ORANGE with my 6-year-old. Upon entry, you receive a flyer with bold print exclaiming that if you have any doubt at all, GO GREEN. I ignored this. Then, we went into a small room where a video plays with Gary Sinise again advising you to disembark if you think ORANGE might be too much for you. The 8-year-old kid behind me assured me it would be rad. Then, we head into another small room where, again, Gary Sinise tells you this is your last chance. Opt out now or get on board. My son and I were placed along with two strangers side by side in a small, enclosed car complete with actual BARF BAGS. A bar comes down around you, which along with the force of gravity, prevents you from looking to the side. This thing took off with a bolt that left me breathless and then rocked and heaved with the force of God's wrath. My stomach dropped out of my body and then punched me in the face. Since I couldn't turn, I had no idea if my son was thrilled or terrified. So, I just held fast to his hand repeating, "Isn't this awesome?" When I stumbled off the ride, an attendant handed me a cold towel. I then went and lost my lunch in the public bathroom, and I don't think I've been right since. Lesson: Always listen to Gary Sinise.
- Epcot World Showcase is depressing. Look, it's a lovely idea, creating quaint little archetypes of a dozen nations, full of music and miniaturized versions of national landmarks. In reality, it's a bit sad. Each showcase sets up shops and stands selling knickknacks. Maracas made in China. Miniature Eiffel Towers made in China. Chinese Lanterns made in, well, you get the picture.
- It's an environmentalist's nightmare. No one can say that Disney doesn't keep the places clean. Unfortunately, we have some disagreements over the definition of clean. For instance, the assault of ammonia bleach feels more like a punch in the throat than "clean." Each bathroom smelled like an orgy of Glade air fresheners. The intensity of the fragrance was actually worse than the familiar Philly rec center bathroom smell of old crotch. Also, despite never opening the variety of mouse-eared toiletries, they put new ones in our room daily. They multiplied like, well, mice. Look, I didn’t expect an ecological paradise. I just didn't think Styrofoam was going to be a thing.
- Orlando kinda sucks. The main artery of International Drive is the home of every chain restaurant you thought had died out years ago. (Sizzler anyone?) And then there is Disney, where the employees of themed resorts dress like they’re part of some kind of polygamous circus cult while slopping up sludge in 100-degree heat. I just think many of these employee uniforms are a special kind of cruelty. Trying to recreate the New Orleans experience through cafeteria-style jambalaya and a manmade river just doesn't "evoke the Antebellum era" for me.
- More bedazzled over-priced mouse crap than you can even imagine. If there is one thing I did right as a parent, it was instilling in my children that I will not be buying them souvenirs, trinkets, or anything that lights up and is sold from a vendor cart. I told them they would each be allowed one purchase: mouse ears. Fortunately, they each chose the basic, old-fashioned variety, which ran me $27 for the pair. Other parents didn't fare so well. Balloons cost $20. Disney World will mold a turd into mouse ears, roll it in glitter, and sell it for $14.99. Of course, my children acquired complimentary Mardi Gras beads and what I like to call "plastic phthalate fish." We let these items bunk up with us for five days and then blissfully left them behind.
- I don't think my kids even liked it that much. I've seen my kids have way more fun playing with friends at the local park than sitting bug-eyed and nervous during Pirates of the Caribbean. We all agreed It’s a Small World was creepy and a little bit racist. The Winnie the Pooh ride was like an acid trip. On Magic Kingdom day, we left the hotel at 8:15 a.m. and arrived back at 3 p.m. and had somehow only gone on six rides. My 2-year-old shouts with glee every time she sees Mickey Mouse on a bus sign or TV screen but couldn't care less when the costumes character came to our breakfast table.
OK, so it wasn't all bad.
I think in general we did it right. We didn't underplan or overplan. We followed all the "Mouse Saver" rules and Disney blogger tips. And did you notice that epic crowds and lines didn't make my list? Getting to the parks early and using our Magic Pass allowed a relatively easy go of it. We only stood in one remarkably long line and made it go by fast by befriending the family behind us.
I thought Spaceship Earth was very cool, if a bit dated, I dug the Buzz Lightyear laser ride, and I liked the Great Hollywood Movie ride as I am a sucker for anything with a montage. The heated resort pool had a cool slide. I loved the frittata at the character breakfast buffet. And during a handful of moments, I saw true glimmers of joy: when the shaving cream "snow" sprinkled down at the Frozen sing-along, when my son gave Donald Duck a hand-drawn portrait complete with our home address, and when we ate ice cream and ice cream and more ice cream.A happy moment
My kids will forget all the bad parts and place this trip wherever early childhood vacations live in children's memories. But, most importantly, they never will be able to say we didn't take them to Disney World.
Wow. This post has actually pissed off more people than posts I have done about being miserable while pregnant or breastfeeding on medication.
I’ve gotten quite a bit of pushback, particularly on my social media. I’ve been called ill-informed, ignorant, negative, and, worst of all, unwilling to put my children’s desires first (though if you really read this you will see that my children had less fun at Disney than they do in my basement).
I’m told this post is traveling around Disney message boards as a “cautionary tale for the clueless” and Disney travel agents are messaging me enraged.
I am always open to civil discussion and debate, and I am always willing to admit where I may have been wrong and to defend where I believe I have been right. Here is a combination of the two:
Five Points To Clarify This Post:
- As I stated in this post, we DID do a TON of research prior to our trip. We booked with a travel agent. We read and bookmarked blog posts and tip sheets. We grilled our friends and family who have been to Disney. We booked our character breakfast and our fast passes months in advance. We did all of the due diligence that makes it feel a bit less like a vacation than like an overly-scheduled business conference.
- We chose the quick service dining plan and a mid-range resort because that is what our budget allowed. I suppose if money had been no object, staying at the Grand Floridian and enjoying the fine dining plan would have made for a very different experience. But it is simply not what the average family can afford. That said, Quick Service does not have to mean gross. We have gone on several mid-range cruises and enjoyed all of the buffet-style meals. We don’t expect organic gourmet meals – just fruit that doesn’t come prepackaged in a bag. And, yes, we brought some our own snacks but we still needed to eat meals. We did pay for two sit down meals, which were a small fortune and average quality. We also tried to make reservations for some of the recommended restaurants six months in advance and they were FULLY BOOKED.
- When I started this post with the items I typically seek in a vacation, I was stating them with the understanding that this vacation was not about those things and I fully understood that. Sure, if we REALLY wanted to find those things and pay extra for them we probably could. But we didn’t want to pay extra for childcare – we were taking this for what it was, and unfortunately, it was not our cup of tea.
- I also know how to admit when I was wrong, and it was unfair for me to categorize the whole of Orlando based on Disney World and International Drive. I would be irritated if someone based all of Philadelphia on the less desirable sections or a bad cheesesteak (which they do). While my husband has visited Orlando about 20 times for work and not seen anything to make him particularly fond of the city, we have not spent significant time exploring its finer points. So if you live in Orlando or are from Orlando, I do apologize. I’m sure there is much more than meets the eye of the casual traveler.
- There is a reason this post is called "10 Things I Hated About Disney” and not "10 Things YOU Will Hate About Disney." Look, I love CrossFit so much it's practically my religion. But I have read loads of hilarious posts about people who tried it and hated it. Sure, sometimes I will post and say something like, "Sorry this sucked for you - maybe you just didn't have a very good trainer or the right coaching - but maybe it just wasn’t for you! That's OK. I've tried yoga about 30 times and never liked it. To each their own. Enjoy your fitness journey anyway that makes you happy and healthy!” So if you’d like to point out things I may have missed or share your positive experiences at Disney World, I’m happy to hear them or have you share them with others who may be chatting on my networks.
Again, this is just a tale of my personal experience and I make sure to point out the good parts as well. Just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean you won’t. I’m not trying to deter you from going or intervene with Disney’s thriving travel business, nor do I think my little blog is going to make one iota of difference.
So if you want to rock out with your ears out, rock on! But as for us, we have lots of other travel ideas on our bucket list we are anxious to explore.
Paige is the author of Spit That Out! The Overly Informed Parent's Guide to Raising Healthy Kids in the Age of Environmental Guilt and the owner of Paige Wolf Media and Public Relations, a B Corporation certified eco-friendly PR firm focused on sustainable clientele. Visit www.spitthatoutthebook.com for her blog on making green living practical, manageable, and affordable.