OK, I admit it. When my husband first suggested that we buy our family annual passes to Disney for Christmas, the first thing I said was something like, “Are you crazy?”
I mean, I don’t know if you’ve checked the prices for Disney tickets lately but they are quite a hefty investment. So much so that a day at the park isn’t really affordable for the average family of four, particularly once you factor in parking, food, and (if you’re from out of town) travel and lodging.
Another factor in my knee-jerk response are the ages of our kids. Our son is a junior in high school and our daughter is in her last year of middle school—not exactly the prime demographic for Disney kids. The cost of the tickets and the ages of our kids are what prompted us to go with annual passes to Universal Studios a few years back and Busch Gardens in 2013. We thought that the thrill rides would be more appealing for our son and the Busch Gardens safari and up-close animal tours would be a draw for our daughter. And so they were, but after a year, a sense of “been there, done that” takes over and interest wanes.
Which brings us back to Disney. The last time we had annual Disney passes was back in 2006, when our son was eight and our daughter was five. We had passes about four years before that, then opted for Universal in between just for something different (and less pricey). So even though Disney is my favorite theme park of all, it’s been a loooong time since we’ve been to a Disney park.
Growing Up Disney
I was born and raised in Miami, Florida and some of my fondest memories are of trips to the Magic Kingdom when I was a kid. We were lucky to have some friends of ours move from Miami to the Orlando area who were gracious enough to let our whole family stay with them whenever we wanted to make the drive up from Miami, which we did quite often.
Back then, there was no EPCOT, no Animal Kingdom, no Hollywood Studios. And no day passes. Instead, you got into the park for a nominal cost and bought books of tickets. Each ticket had a letter, A through E, and everyone knew that A ticket rides were lame and E tickets were the best. If you’ve ever heard the expression, “That’s an E ticket ride!” applied to anything exciting or thrilling, that’s where that comes from (or maybe that expression is just a Florida thing, who knows?). Inevitably, you would run out of E tickets and be stuck with a bunch of A tickets, forcing you to endure such attractions as the Carousel of Progress and the Hall of Presidents (I say endure since, as a kid, just the whiff of having to sit down for something informative and educational was unappealing, to say the least).
I’ve watched Disney World change and grow over the years, but no matter the changes, going back there always makes me feel like a kid again. I can’t go on the Haunted Mansion ride without thinking of my dad, who did the absolute best spooky laugh every time we sat down in our “doom buggy” and began our journey into the mansion. Small World also reminds me of my dad. It was my favorite ride back when I was really little and I remember him taking me on it over and over, which would be enough to push most adults over the edge at being subjected to so much sugary sappiness, but not my dad. “Again!” I would say and he would tear out two more tickets with a smile and get us in line.
I remember my mom reassuring me that, no the cannon balls firing on our boat in the opening part of the Pirates of the Caribbean weren’t real. They were too real, I insisted as I cowered in the boat—see, they’re splashing in the water all around us. She then had to explain sotto voce mid-ride how they made the water splash. I remember her marveling at how lifelike the pirates were and pointing out the one with his leg hanging over the bridge our boat passed under as an example. “He even had hair on his leg!” she exclaimed, in a voice filled with a pinch of wonder and appreciation for the attention to detail. Every time I ride that ride, I think of her as I pass under that bridge, and yes, the pirate’s leg is still hairy (I checked again when I rode it last night).
Disney and My Kids: Yesterday and Today
I have Big Thunder Mountain Railroad to thank for converting me into a roller coaster rider at the age of about ten. I also have that ride to thank for re-introducing coasters to my daughter yesterday. She rode every coaster in the Disney parks when she was much younger, but has been afraid of almost all thrill rides since her dad made her go on Tower of Terror with him, which true to its name terrified her. Ever since then, she has categorically refused to go on any ride with “big drops” or the possibility of one.
This is the girl who went up to the height measuring stick at Space Mountain at the age of five to prove to us that she was tall enough to ride when we told her no, she was too short (and she was tall enough…oh my, now what? We let her ride.). This is the girl whose favorite ride of all was Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom when she was five. This is the girl who would ride anything when she was little, yet very few rides when she got bigger. I’m glad to see she’s working her way back to being able to enjoy the rides she used to love.
In a bit of a role-reversal, Disney converted my son from someone who wouldn’t do or ride anything (even a tunnel slide threw him into immediate “no way!” mode when he was about two or three) into a serious thrill-rider. We had passes when my son was about four years old and one day, I surprisingly managed to persuade him to ride the kiddy coaster, Barn Stormer with me, so I wasted no time getting us in line. We made it almost to the point where you get on the ride when he heard a bunch of screaming riders go by and that was it. Despite me begging, pleading, bribing, encouraging, and explaining that it wasn’t scary, there was no way I was getting him on that ride. So, we had to and go backwards through the line we just waited in, one of us frustrated and irritated and the other of us upset and panicky.
In a moment of parallelism, we got in line for that same ride last night behind a family with two little boys. We made it almost to the end of the line when one of the boys, like my four year-old son, would go no further. His father had no choice but to do what I had done so many years ago and walk back through the line to get off. Gesturing at my now almost-grown son, who towers over me at six feet tall, I smiled at the father and said, “He did the same thing to me when he was about that age. One day,” I said looking at his small son, “he’ll ride.”
That one day for my son turned out to be pretty soon.
I remember us taking to him to Disney again after the Barn Stormer incident and trying to get him to go on Splash Mountain. He saw the boat come down the drop at the end and that was an immediate NO from him. Frustrated, we decided to break for lunch and ate at a restaurant with a different view of the same ride, where little log boats bobbed happily in the water to the tune of Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah. Perhaps picking up on our frustration and wanting to extend an olive branch, my son pondered the scene for a moment, then said, “I would ride that ride” and pointed to the log boats.
Without missing a beat, my husband said, “Then let’s go!”, of course not mentioning that this was the same ride with the drop. I gave my husband the eye over our son’s innocent head and whispered, “You can’t do that” to which he said “Oh yes I can” and off they went. I expected an upset crying boy to return after the ride, but his little face was wreathed in smiles and he ran up to me and told me how much fun he had and he wanted to go again. A rider was born.
So here we are, looking at our family nest that all too soon will see one of our little fledglings fly off to college, with the other one not too far behind. Already, the kids have their own interests and friends and now that my son is driving, he spends a lot of time with friends and less time with us, which is to be expected. Time ticks loudly in our ears as we hear the clock counting down the days until it will be just me and my husband at home. And we want to spend as much of that time as possible with our kids.
Hoping for a 2015 Full of Magical Memories
Thus the Disney passes. A day or even a few hours in the park is a great way to get everyone away from screens of all sorts and sizes, get me and my daughter’s noses out of our books, and unplug us all from other interests so that we can do more of what we’ve always tried to do as a family: spend more time together making memories.