Friday, February 25, 2011

NOT a Disney Family

"Nobody but yourself can tell you what to accept and what to reject...[W]e begin to figure out for ourselves what is poison and what is medicine, which means something different for each of us....[W]e are the only ones who know what wakes us up and what puts us to sleep."  

--Pema Chodron,  The Wisdom of No Escape: And the Path of Loving-Kindness, the book I read on the plane-ride home from Disneyland, the irony will become apparent, read on....

We took the kids to Disneyland this past weekend. I'm not sure why I thought that was a great idea, but for some reason I did. 

On the first day (which was also President's Day) we went to California Adventure, thinking it might be less crowded than Disneyland, and had an okay time. 

It wasn't very crowed and there were some fun rides and interesting things to see, but I kept thinking to myself, "Three hundred dollars for THIS?"

No matter what we did it just didn't seem worth the amount of money we had paid to do it. I kept telling myself, "Disneyland will be different. Disneyland is the real deal. This is just a poor substitute for Disneyland," but I wasn't convinced. 

It took all the parental guilt I could muster the next day to plop down my debit card again and give them another THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS to go to Disneyland. 

Walking into the park, however, I felt the sense of anticipation and wonder that one is "supposed" to feel when going to Disneyland - just saying the name "Disneyland" evokes fantasies of laughter, good times, dreams coming true - right up until I realized we had beat the rush by about thirty seconds.

Within minutes of entering the park we were swept up in a torrent of people, maps and kids in tow, heading for SPLASH MOUNTAIN! SPACE MOUNTAIN! TOON TOWN! 

We decided to make our way through the park, wandering as we went, just taking our time and letting the Universe and our own interests guide us. The kids saw the Indiana Jones ride and wanted to go on that so we joined the long and winding queue that was the beginning of the end. 

After waiting in line for half an hour or so we finally made it inside the cavernous building that led to the mining cars waiting to take us on "the ride of our lives!" 

After walking for five minutes through a maze designed to look like the inside of one of Indiana's adventures (and hoping against all hope that this walk was not what we had waited thirty minutes for), we made it to the second line, where we waited for another thirty minutes in a poorly-ventilated mine shaft with hundreds of other people. 

We were all tired of waiting by this point, but I was trying to look on the bright side and said to my husband, "At least it isn't ninety degrees out today. I can't imagine being trapped in here in that heat." Nonetheless the boys and I were slumped on the floor and it soon became apparent that something was wrong. The idea that a riot might break out occurred to me just before the line started to move again. 

Alas, we were not heading for our mining cars, but back out into the park - the ride had broken down and could not be immediately fixed. 

We were given "fast passes," which allowed us to cut to the front of the line, for the ride of our choice and encouraged to "check back in an hour or so" in hopes that this ride would be fixed. 

A little discouraged, but still with the hope of Mickey in our hearts, we headed out to SPLASH MOUNTAIN. The water ride at California Adventure had been my younger son's favorite and we thought a little water fun was just what we needed after being trapped in a mine for an hour. 

SPLASH MOUNTAIN WAS CLOSED. Not even kidding. A yellow-flagged rope drawn across yet another labyrinthian line tested our faith in Mickey. 

But we were not to be deterred. The boys really wanted to do the "Jedi Training" that friends of theirs had told them about. If they got their "Jedi Master" badges or certificates or whatever the day would not be a total loss. (Only three hundred dollars to become a Jedi Master? What a deal!)

As we looked at the map, which did not seem to show "Jedi Training" anywhere, we passed by a boarded up area that said, "Star Wars area under construction. A new and improved exhibit coming in 2011" (or something like that....). 

There would be no Jedi Training today. 

At this point we had been in the park for over two hours and we had yet to do one thing. I was DONE. I turned to my husband and said, "If this is the happiest place on earth, I want to kill myself."

And that was it, Disneyland was over for us. 

There was no way I was going to pay THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS for that. I walked up to the nearest employee I could find - a middle-aged man dressed as Buzz Lightyear - and asked him where I needed to go to get my  money back. 

"You're serious?" he asked, with a smirk on his face.

"I'm serious," I said, very seriously. 

I had started to think about how things had gone down - and, yes, how much we had paid for things to go down that way - and I was pissed. 

"City Hall, in the center of Main Street," he said, adding in true Disney spirit, "Have fun!"

"I will," I replied, not knowing just how much. 

As we walked back to Main Street the boys voiced their thoughts about our day at Disneyland: 

"If this is the happiest place on earth, I want to kill MY self, " my older son said, repeating my comment from earlier. 

"The most awful thing I can think of is less awful than Disneyland, " said my younger son, finding a way to express his disappointment.  

I marched my family straight to City Hall. On the way my husband tried to suggest that they wait outside, but I knew I needed the kids to be there to make this work. My plan, if I encountered any resistance to a full refund, was to suggest that a YouTube video of my kids repeating the above statements probably wasn't in their best interest and that it would be easier for them to just give me my money back. 

Luckily, I didn't have to resort to threats (which, to my credit, I knew were not coming from my Higher Self, but my Higher Self was still stuck inside Indiana Jones' mine shaft). Unlike the rest of Disneyland, their customer service lived up to its reputation and we were given a full refund after talking to only two employees. 

The first knew by my tone and demeanor that I was not to be trifled with and wasted no time in passing me off to his supervisor, Kevin, a man thirty years his junior and twenty years mine. 

Kevin made a brief attempt to "see what we can do to turn your day around," but I soon made it clear that nothing less than a full refund was going to do the trick. 

What I didn't realize is that a full refund comes with one extra benefit - an escort out of the park. 

That's right, we were escorted out of Disneyland! 

I couldn't have asked for a happier ending. Something about being escorted out after the day we had just made me....HAPPY. Giddy really. I danced a jig, I gave a cheer and then I started to laugh.

Soon, we were all laughing. Deep, loud belly laughs like I hadn't laughed in months. 

We recounted the past few minutes, "The look on Buzz Lightyear's face....the fear in the customer service people's eyes...." 

We invented a new game called, "_________ is better than Disneyland," deeming things like Brussels sprouts and nail trimmings, homework and liver as all "better than Disneyland," and we just kept on laughing, all the way back to our hotel. 

Maybe Disneyland really IS the happiest place on earth. 

The thing is I know lots of families and lots of people who have gone to Disneyland and LOVED it, had the time of their lives. It really was, for them, a dream come true. 

That is why this quote hit me so hard on the plane ride home. We try so hard to be a "one-size-fits-all" society. THIS is great! THAT is great! DO THIS! DON'T DO THAT! DISNEYLAND! BABY SIGN LANGUAGE! IMMERSION EDUCATION!

But the truth is, one size never does fit all. It never has, and it never will, "...[W]hat is poison and what is medicine...means something different for each of us." 

There were women at Disneyland wearing high heels, drinking 16-oz lattes, and pushing babes in strollers. Just one of those things - Disneyland - put me over the edge, I can't imagine that I would have survived all four. But they were having fun, or at least appeared to be. 

I know there are people for whom our day at Disneyland, including the full refund and escort out of the park, would have been horrifying. For me, it was just what the doctor ordered.  


  1. Loved it!!! Your article, not necessarily Disney.

  2. Awesome post! Thankfully our son hasn't really expressed an interest in Disneyland. I was a little worried that he was missing out on some rite of passage for his childhood. Thanks for letting me know it is definitely worth skipping the whole ordeal.

  3. Tomzaga - Good to finally hear from you on RO! YOU are gonna love Disney, I just know it.

  4. Johanna, Glad you liked it (and that it saved you $300!). How was your break?