They’ve lived in Orlando their whole life, yet I have never taken my children to the House of Mouse.
I want to start this by saying that we’re not anti-Disney. My children, ages 5 and 8, enjoy Disney movies. My daughter spent her two years of toddler life obsessed with Elsa & Anna. We watch every Disney movie and we buy plenty of Disney toys and merch. My husband and I have been to Walt Disney World plenty of times — but my children have not.
Disney is expensive, but my point here isn’t really to complain about the price. We can afford to go to Disney, but we choose to spend our “fun” money on other experiences — the type of experiences that can help my children learn and grow physically, mentally, and culturally.
I’m sure there are lots of families in the Orlando area who make similar decisions. As a native Floridian, I don’t think it is that weird that my kids have never been to Disney. But I was inspired to write this piece because of the people we met while traveling across the U.S. last summer. It kind of bothered me that when someone asked me where we lived, they then turned and said to my children, “Wow. You must go to Disney all the time!”
For the first time my children, who were having a blast hiking mountain passes and exploring desert canyons all summer, wondered if they were missing out on something because we didn’t go to Disney World. I responded to these strangers’ input with, “Well, Disney is just as expensive for us as it is for everyone else. For the same price as one week at the parks, we can explore the entire continental U.S. or go on a trip to Europe.” And that’s the truth.
People budget and prioritize expenses for different things. We prioritize travel over theme parks.
My kids’ friends have annual passes to Walt Disney World. They frequent the parks regularly. Some of them will make an afternoon run to Epcot just for a taste of one treat from the Food & Wine Festival. Or they might run to the Magic Kingdom for dinner and fireworks. And I know that many local families do Disney on a budget. But my kids aren’t fans of waiting in long lines and until recently they weren’t tall enough to ride many of the rides. They don’t like standing around in the heat and humidity. I never thought that I was holding them back from something they needed to experience.
I should clarify — if my kids start begging me to go to Disney, I would take them. I’m not trying to take away some kind of childhood magic or penalize them in any way. They have just never asked!
Honestly, hearing, “Wow. You must go to Disney all the time!” on repeat all summer was just frustrating for me as a parent, especially when I made a lot of sacrifices to give my children an incredible trip of a lifetime. We spent 10 weeks living in a van traveling the western United States, but now my kids have some kind of Disney FOMO that didn’t previously exist.
Should we have stayed home and bought annual passes instead? I guess I do sort of understand it. It’s like saying to someone from LA, “Wow, you must see celebrities all the time.” Or saying to someone from Hawaii, “Wow, you must hang out at the beach every day.” I’m sure that’s not the case! But it is an assumption people make about what life must be like in those places.
So, I spent some time trying to figure out, “What actually is Disney magic?” As a parent, it’s supposed to be the experience of seeing their faces light up when they meet their favorite princesses and heroes in person. Or the feeling of pure joy as they walk around with a Mickey Ears ice cream bar and ride rides. That was the Disney Magic I experienced as a child. It was an adventure, it was an experience that we got to have as a family. And while I haven’t taken my kids to Disney (yet!), we have given them those same experiences. We’ve explored new parts of the U.S., we’ve bonded over long car rides and amazing scenery, and we have stories to tell when we’re reminiscing back home.
While I haven’t given my kids the trademarked Disney magic, I have given them the same types of experiences — and that’s all anyone could ask for.