Meet Carrie Visintainer, author of “Wild Mama” (which I am currently reading and will report on soon!) I love this post because I could have written it myself – she mirrors my thoughts exactly. Be sure to read all the way to the end to check out her bio and where to find her.
And please do comment with your thoughts- we want to get some great discussion going on this one! All respectful opinions welcome.
Recently, I was eating dinner in an Indian restaurant with a bunch of acquaintances, mostly moms. The mood was jovial as we downed paneer masala and naan and sipped a colorful combination of drinks. And then, during a pause in the conversation, one woman, the mother of three elementary-school aged kids, set her glass down seriously and said, “Okay, I have something to ask you guys, but I’m really nervous.”
I guessed she was going to mention some vaguely disturbing health issue, or an affair. But then she muttered, “How important do you think it is to take your kids to Disney?”
I practically spit out my beer. As a mom of kids ages 8 and 5, this exact topic had been weighing on my mind for months, and I too had been embarrassed to bring it up, because I didn’t think anyone else questioned it. Although my kids had only asked to go a few times, always after watching TV, the idea of a family Disney vacation felt as much an American rite of passage as that obligatory photo of your child on Santa’s lap or the first day of school. It had always seemed that the question was “when is the right time,” not “if.”
Yet my husband and I were dreading a possible trip (long lines, zillions of people, enormous cost, costumed animals, fake everything). I’d thought several times about posting on Facebook, “How Un-American is it to skip a family trip to Disney?”
But I suspected that would be wildly unpopular. And my husband and I already do lots of unpopular things. For example, we’re into extended travel: The last three years we’ve taken our son out of his public school classroom for a couple of months, while keeping him up to speed academically, in order to live in a village in rural Mexico and immerse ourselves in a new culture. And at home in Colorado, we go hiking and backpacking with our kids in the wilderness. This winter, we’re embarking on a three-month trip to Costa Rica to volunteer in an animal rescue, chasing a dream of my son’s.
So it seemed like a trip to Disney might at least balance out our weirdness, aligning us with the millions of Americans who take this standard Dream Vacation each year.
Except at the table in the restaurant, it appeared that maybe I wasn’t that strange. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who felt ashamed about not really wanting to partake. In fact, to my amazement, no one in the group felt it was a “must” to go. One person said it cost her family of five almost $1500 in admission just to get into Disney World, and add to this airfare, lodging, and food, and the weekend trip was over $5K, more than they could really afford. Once inside, her kids hated it. It was too crowded and overstimulating. She regretted going.
Another women said her kids also found the whole shebang totally overwhelming and they left after two hours and went to the hotel pool.
As a group, we mused about what kinds of experiences $5K could buy our families: A week or more in Belize, Puerto Rico, NYC, or an extended U.S. road trip. My family of four lived in rural Mexico for two months for less than $5K.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to rain on the Disney parade, even though it’s hard to feel awesome about the Princess and Prince Charming delusion and the anatomical proportions of most of their female characters and the astronomical cost and the fact that if you browse the top books in the Family Travel category on Amazon, the vast majority are Disney guides. (Is this how we define travel?) But I get that many people find Disney World and all associated theme parks magical, or at least they’re pressured into feeling this way, and I also like magic.
It’s just that I find it in very different places— walking jungle paths, swimming in waterfalls, sitting on top of an 11,000-foot mountain, staring at a painting at The Met or a sculpture at the Galleria Borghese in Rome. And this seems to resonate with my kids too. When my daughter first saw dolphins jumping in the cove near our little palapa on the Banderas Bay, she said “this is the best moment ever.” And when my son went to his first fiesta in Mexico, a child’s birthday party, he found so much joy in hitting every one of the six pinatas and then scrambling for the candy.
Every time I travel with my kids off the beaten path, I see dream-like wonder in their eyes.
It’s not wearing a mask and it doesn’t cost that much money. Maybe I’ll change my mind someday (never say never), but for now we’re going to skip the Magic Kingdom and continue to forge our own magic.
Carrie Visintainer is a writer who splits her time between Colorado and various off-the-beaten-path places. Learn more about her wild family at www.freeyourwild.com.
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