We've all seen the commercials: kids jumping for joy when their parents surprise them with a trip to Disney World. Huge smiles abound as the family whirls in tea cups, eats breakfast with princesses and hugs Mickey until the cows come home.
You watch and can't help but feel jealous of the sheer happiness that this "Disney family" exhibits. It's contagious, and you do as the advertisement intends: book a family trip to the Magic Kingdom. Well, magic my tush.
See, I recently experienced it with my two girls (ages 2 and 4), and it wasn't long before I realized why the commercials never depict the faces of the parents (they might never sell a ticket if they did!). Which brings me to...drum roll, please....my top 3 reasons to rethink that Disney vacation:
1. Hurry Up...Then Wait
I knew the long lines would be an issue before I even bought our tickets. Taking in everyone's advice, I had meticulously planned our strategy: Fast Pass for quick entry, arrive at the opening whistle, walk left upon entering the gate.
There I was with my Excel sheet, Disney phone app, and daily family pow-wows to determine who's going where and what was required to reserve special breakfasts and dinners with the certain characters, months in advance. I'm pretty sure Ulysses S. Grant sketched out fewer plans before going into battle.
But in truth, even a 1000-page tome on navigating Disney wouldn't eliminate the long, long, did I mention long, lines for rides, character photo opps and more. And we all know there is no chance of persuading your young child that she doesn't need the photo or autograph. A two-and-a-half hour wait for one photo with a young woman in a plastic dress with straw hair down to her feet? You betcha, been there and done that (at least five times in three days).
2. It's A Small (and Scary) World
A lot of the rides and movies at Disney are truly scary. In fact, there should be warning signs to register the expected degree of fear, like the minimum height signs. Turns out, Mickey Mouse in 3-D isn't so easy on the little ones' eyes; my girls have refused to see a movie since.
Plus, fireworks go off almost every hour. So if your kid isn't into booming, ear-splitting noise, you're in for a treat. My kids - not big fans of gun-shot-loud sounds - were ready for A Magic Carpet Ride right back to the hotel.
3. Money Doesn't Grow On Trees, Even in Disney
Holy Expensive! The last time I spent that much for a sandwich, I was at the Carnegie Deli in Manhattan looking at the pictures of George Burns and Gene Kelly on the wall before hitting a Broadway show (And remember, there's enough turkey on that sandwich to feed Ulysses S. Grant's army). Add in a $3 Sprite, $4 bag of chips, hundreds for the hotel, hundreds for the park tickets, and wow - you've got a semester's college tuition, 16 years from now.
So now that you've concluded I'm the Scrooge of Disney, let me tell you this: We're going back..and likely, more than once. Because despite my grouchy take on the experience as a parent, it's really about those sweet and special moments that do indeed last a lifetime (even if you overhear one woman scream at her kids, "You can't be upset here. THIS IS OUR HAPPY PLACE!").
And, after all, it's those memories, fun, scary, silly, happy, fearful, that make up the colorful kaleidoscope of childhood. And it's our job as parents (and subsequent cash cows) to make sure the kids experience life every once in a while, to its fullest, Disney-style.
Jamie Fishman is the author of this post.
Wendy Widom is CEO of Familes in the Loop (FITL), Chicago's hippest hub for parents and kids.
See more of Wendy 's stories here.