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Aspen Times Weekly: Pain and pleasure in the Magic Kingdom

by Bob Ward

Sometimes it’s just too much. When the “Soundsational Parade” rolls by, there’s no crossing the street. At least we got to see Ariel the Little Mermaid (top center).

eight months ago, when birthday parties for two of my children were canceled because of schedule conflicts, my wife and I apologized and made a fateful promise: We’ll take the whole family to Disneyland over spring break instead.

Elizabeth and I had taken kids to Disneyland before, so we understood the gravity and potential cost of this promise. We also knew that Disneyland is no longer one park but two, owing to the creation of California Adventure, a sort of latter-day Disneyland built around the culture and geography of California, and recent Disney creations such as “Cars,” “Toy Story” and “A Bug’s Life.” This meant two days of Disney with four children, a strange mix of jollity and torture that only parents can understand.

The kids, of course, accepted our pledge and dutifully held us to it. We decided to drive to California on the first day of break, visit friends and relatives in the area, and make Disney the centerpiece. Some Northern California friends even drove down with their son to join us.

This was an exercise in both enjoyment and self-inflicted punishment. Not only were we driving 900 miles one-way with six people in a minivan; we were also aiming for the Magic Kingdom, the shining temple of mass-produced family fun. During spring break. For two consecutive days.

We made sure everyone brought comfortable shoes and a sense of humor. That enabled us to appreciate the smiles on the kids’ faces, which are really the only reason you go. Humor also carried us through the inevitable challenges, like the $996 price tag on our six two-day tickets, or the urinary accident that happened in one of the long lines (we bought an emergency pair of Adventureland swim trunks to finish out the day).

It’s also worth mentioning that both days were 12-hour ones. So, yeah, we threw down.

But, as cheesy as it sounds, Disney really does deliver the memories. I will never forget the sound of my wife’s spontaneous shrieks on the California Screamin’ roller coaster. She had me laughing through the entire ride — which was fast, hair-raising and fun. Moments like that carried me through the aggravating experiences, such as the afternoon when we were elbowing our way through the crowds in Fantasyland on our way back to Critter Country, and were blocked by Mickey’s Soundsational Parade. This noisy procession of effusive Disney characters may be a delight on uncrowded days, but on this spring-break afternoon, when we were crossing the park for a FASTPASS appointment on Splash Mountain, the parade was like “shoving the happy down our throats,” as my 14-year-old put it.

But this brings up a point to remember if you go: The FASTPASS system is a truly smart and efficient way to avoid the lines. If you know which popular rides you want to do at either park, then go early to the entrance to that ride and grab a FASTPASS, which allows you to go straight to the front of the line at a later, specified time. We used a number of FASTPASSes, and they truly improved our experience.

So, after one day at Disneyland and another at California Adventure, what was the verdict? Which was better? Unanimously, our family preferred California Adventure. The crowds were less intense and there were more thrill rides that appealed to my older kids, who have lost interest in Cinderella and Mickey. Mom and Dad also liked the fact that they could share an afternoon beer (no alcohol is served at Disneyland).

Bottom line: Both days were great. The lines, though long, were never unbearable, the “cast members” were helpful, and we honestly felt our money was well-spent. Critics will complain that every aspect of the Disney experience is choreographed, and they’re right, but as a paying customer I appreciate that Disney has anticipated virtually every problem and designed the park to accommodate it.

As a kid, I enjoyed Disney for all the reasons that kids do. Returning as an adult, I’ve been floored by the organization, efficiency, infrastructure and design — the enormous creative brainpower behind the dazzle. Every square inch of these theme parks has been debated and carefully considered, and it’s astounding how well it works, day in and day out.

So, deal with it — Disney sets the standard. If you have a family, then just don your smiley face and take the kids.


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