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A Family Afar: The Priciest Place on Earth


That first trip to Disneyland with your kids is a rite of passage. It’s table stakes for new parents, one-upping each other as we sit in playgroups or at the park, where we keep a watchful eye over tumbling toddlers. “We took little Joey to Disneyland when he was barely old enough to ride the tea cups,” says one parent. Another chimes in: “Charlotte sat in Cinderella’s lap when she was just two.” “Well,” says a third, “we pushed Harry down Main Street in his stroller at three weeks, and he shook hands with Darth Vader!”

Regardless of when you go, you must go. It’s a pilgrimage you cannot escape. Through the generations, the siren song of Fantasyland beckons strong and clear.

But beware, future Mouseketeers: The Happiest Place on Earth is also one of the most expensive places on earth. By the time you buy each family member a two-day Park Hopper Pass (so you can visit both Disneyland and California Adventure), book rooms at one of the Disneyland hotels (we like the Grand Californian because of its direct entrance into the park), and factor in meals like the Character Breakfast, food inside the park, and a couple pairs of those adorable mouse ears, you’re in for about three large. Three thousand dollars! PER TRIP.

Now you’re thinking, No worries, we can do it cheaper as a day trip. Up and back from San Diego is a breeze! You’ll pack snacks, load the kids in their car seats at dawn, make a Starbucks run, stop at least once for a potty break, arrive in Anaheim around 10 a.m., find a parking garage, ride the tram to the park entrance, stand in line to
buy tickets, stand in another line to enter the park, proceed immediately to lunch because now Daddy’s hangry, stand in lines to go on the rides... you get the picture. I’ll bet those hotel rooms are looking pretty good right about now.

The “cast members” (er, Disney employees) call it “staying on property,” and it’s a luxury that affords us more time, so we don’t have to cram everything into one full day of fun. Ever since our kids were little, we’ve mixed the crazy energy of the rides, characters, parades, and fireworks with brief moments of peace. The girls love swimming in the pool and riding the waterslides, while we parents sip an adult beverage (or two) on a cushy lounge chair in the sun. The hotels even have daycare and a spa if you really need a break.    

It’s all totally worth it. Every last cent; every epic meltdown in the middle of It’s a Small World; every deep, patient, count-to-ten breath you take as the kids ask for one more fill-in-the-blank.

We have the sweetest memories of 4-year-old Sophia meeting Alice in Wonderland and 6-year-old Ava sitting in Rapunzel’s lap. These moments are balanced with strolls through Downtown Disney to take in the latest movie in a quiet, air-conditioned, darkened theater. One of our favorite things at the Grand Californian is the fireside bedtime stories, read to kids by a professional storyteller in the soaring lobby. In-room entertainment offers a special channel with Disney princesses telling their own classic bedtime stories as you snuggle sleepyheads into bed. Our kids, now 14 and 12, are way past the target age for this, but they still love it regardless of their self-anointed maturity.

These days, they test us by seeing how long we can last in the park without a break. On our most recent trip, they announced that we’d be running continuous loops between California Screamin’ and the Hollywood Tower of Terror until the park closed at midnight. My stomach lurched at the thought. Luckily, they were still bribable with offers of caramel apples and a nighttime hot tub dip back at the hotel. Hey. Don’t judge until you’ve been there, too.

And you know what? It’s all totally worth it. Every last cent; every epic meltdown in the middle of It’s a Small World; every deep, patient, count-to-ten breath you take as the kids ask for one more fill-in-the-blank.

Because seeing those pure, beautiful smiles of joy and wonder on your kids’ faces as they meet Mickey Mouse for the first time? Priceless. Happily, it’s just as priceless to see that same look peer out of tween eyes that have become more accustomed to rolling than looking amazed. These truly are memories that will last a lifetime. We just got back from our eighth visit. And like Peter Pan, it never gets old.  

Jon Bailey is co-founder of i.d.e.a., a San Diego–based marketing agency. He also writes for Hilton Hotels’ Mom Voyage, a blog dedicated to family travel.

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