Charlie Riding Merry Go Round at Disneyland

[twitter]Disneyland crossed a magical threshold this week when they raised the price of their annual pass nearly 35% to over US$1000. Per person.

Yes, that’s for an annual pass. Yes, it’s the most exclusive pass that has no blackout dates and lots of little extras. Yes, that’s US$350 a month for passes for a family of four to Disneyland for a year. Yes, that’s a lot. (To compare, our theme park here in Calgary is $40 pp for an annual pass. It’s not Disney, but when they’re young, it doesn’t matter.)

Sure, all you’d need to do is go once a month to make your money back, but how much awe and magic is left at Disneyland if your kid is going every 4 weeks all year long. Isn’t it about the awe, and wonder and surprise?

When my mother and father took Charlie on his trip to Disneyland last month, my mother was astounded at the number of families at the park.

That sounds ridiculous, but the age of the families is what really surprised her. Disneyland is the happiest place on earth. For 5, 6, 8 yr olds it’s a dream come true. Younger than that and you’re rolling the dice on whether they will ever remember the event, and that’s the demographic my mom saw everywhere.

People, on a 35 degree day in California, were dragging infants around Disneyland.

As my mother waited in line for Dumbo, she watched a mother, father, infant, grandfather, and grandmother ahead of her. The mom and infant got in an elephant, and then the other 3 got in one each. One family, taking up 4 places on the ride.

Riding on Dumbo at Disney

No wonder the lines are so long.

And this wasn’t out of the ordinary, she told me. There were infants and toddlers (and the requisite SUV sized strollers) everywhere at Disneyland. Perhaps it’s because kids under 3 are free at Disneyland and with tickets at US$93 a day the moment you turn 3, a family visit to Disney gets expensive quickly.

A three day pass for a family of four with the ages of kids who would appreciate the experience is nearly US$700. Before flights. Before hotel. Before food. Before added experiences (it’s hundreds more to have dining or spa time with the characters).

So you can see why the very young families clog the streets of Disney, they’re getting in while the getting’s free even if their kids won’t have a recollection of the day.

We are very lucky to have grandparents who are willing to buck up and take off to Disneyland with my boys. From airfare to hotel to gate admissions, it’s not a cheap adventure. We wait until the boys are old enough to appreciate and remember the adventure, and then send them off to have the time of their life. Any younger and, really, it would be a waste of money.

After all, the trip is about them, isn’t it? Not us. Isn’t it?

Charlie and Nana and Grandpapa with Mickey

I get there are Disneyphiles in the world. There are those who have weddings, honeymoons, and more at Disney parks around the world. My mom saw a couple in their 50s negotiating which character they were going to see next while they waited in line for Mickey. They had no kids, and lived in Sacramento. Even then, they had annual passes to the Anaheim park.

We are not those people. For our family, Disney is a very very special treat to experience once a decade. Maybe. It’s just too damn expensive. With prices going the way they are, I really wonder if the ‘big theme parks’ can be considered family attractions anymore. Perhaps for the locals who don’t have to fly and can sleep and eat at home, it’s still a family attraction, but for those who want to make it their vacation, it’s a family trip that will easy move past $5000 for just a few days.

At Zacharie’s request, we’re heading to Florida for our February break this winter. He really wants to see crocodiles, alligators, and Florida panthers. He was so determined to go, he saved his own money and paid for his own plane ticket. Cobbling together points and a contest I won for accomodations to Embassy Suites is the only way we’re making it ‘affordable.’

So guess where we’re NOT going when we’re there? Theme parks. Whenever I tell someone of our adventure they immediately chime in on advice as to which park we should go to and then furrow their brow when I say we likely won’t visit any.

We fly in and out of Orlando, and while I’m looking at Disney Animal Kingdom as a stop for a day – we’re doing it for the animals, not the rides or characters – even that’s not a guarantee. There will be no Sea World, no Universal Studios, no Legoland, no EPCOT nor others. They’re all just too expensive.

After a day in Orlando we’re out to the Kennedy Space Centre to touch moon rocks and see astronauts, before driving down the Space Coast to Fort Lauderdale to relax for a week on the beach.

As Iggy Pop told Anthony Bourdain on a recent episode of No Reservations of his perfect day in Miami:

“It’s a clear morning, hot.  The sun comes up in a hazy, tropical, orange orb. And you’re not workin’, you’re not at a schedule, but you have somebody fun to spend the time with. And then you would go to the beach when the sun isn’t right overhead yet, cause the beach faces east, the sun sparkles on the water.  The sparkles are very nice, so positive.”

Sign me up.

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