Disney Rich, Cash Poor and Proud

Grand Cayman ExcursionIt feels incredible to know that we’ve been doing it right!  Well, some of it, anyway.  While we don’t claim to be the best parents ever (there were a few bumps in the road and, just between you and me, we are probably not the parents to come to for potty training advice), it’s nice to know that mixed in with our well-intentioned but certainly not perfect child-rearing decisions, we did one thing right!  We spend all our extra (and occasionally a little more) money on travel.

Disney Rich, Cash Poor and Proud

What makes us right?  Science!  Recent studies have revealed that spending money on experiences is more meaningful than buying expensive or fancy material items.  Most recently, this article caught my eye.  And it got me thinking about our vacations…DSCN3080

In all fairness, it was not all Disney travel.  There was an ill-fated (for me) ski vacation to Park City, short trips to places in nearby states (Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma) that were certainly fun, and wonderful visits to see family in Missouri and Illinois.  During the lean years, we spent many of our summer vacations on the “Red Neck Riviera” (Alabama’s Gulf Coast).  All of those places were great!  By far though, our most amazing vacations were (and still are) Disney ones.RM-Maharajah-Jungle-Stop

Raymond and I honeymooned at Disney World and sailed on the Big Red Boat (precursor to Disney Cruise Line).  Then we were parents with extremely limited vacation resources.  As time passed, we made the conscious decision to spend less on “things” and more on vacations.  The more we saw and did, the more we wanted to see and do!  Disney World became our favorite destination followed quickly by Disney cruises that would carry us as far and wide as we could possibly afford to travel.DSCN2852

So what if we drive our vehicles for 10 years or more?  That outdoor kitchen I’ve been dreaming about can wait a little longer.  Would I like a new washer and dryer? Oh, you bet I would!  But that will have to wait until we can no longer repair what we have.  We need our Disney vacation fixes and the memories they provide – long after the vacation is over.  I suppose the telltale truth in all of this is now that our children are adults, they tell us how much they’re looking forward to traveling with their own children someday.  DSCN3249They now appreciate that while they may have been jealous of their friends’ swimming pools, game systems, and trampolines, those same friends may not have dined with Mickey Mouse, zip-lined in Alaska, kayaked in Norway, or saw Michelangelo’s David in Italy…all things we did on Disney vacations.  Some of these trips took years of planning and saving to achieve, but every sacrifice was worth it!IMG_2025

We’ve taken some flack through the years for how much we spend on travel.  (Let’s not even start on the “You’re going to Disney World AGAIN?” comments.)  At the same time, not a single person ever criticized us for not buying our children the latest video game or most expensive sports equipment.  I’m not saying we are perfect parents or that anyone else is wrong for buying their kids whatever makes them happy – I’m just thrilled that in rearing our children, we got one thing right.  We showed them as much of the world as we possibly could, gave them tons of happy family memories, and wouldn’t trade a single moment.IMG_0263

What vacations have been your family’s favorites?  Where are you planning to visit next?


Evolution of Disney Vacations

IMG_2141If you’re a lifelong Disney fan, you may have a good many Disney vacation memories to smile about.  You’ll also maybe have seen the way you vacation at your favorite Disney resort change over time.  Today I’m here to share our family’s experience…how our vacation style has changed over the years.  Perhaps you’ll be able to relate to one (or more) of the stages of the…

Evolution of Disney Vacations

The BK Stage (Before Kids) – We were young, broke and just married.  We didn’t know what we didn’t know, but were crazy about everything – the attractions, shows, atmosphere, the details…the magic that hooked us and made us want to keep coming back!  No plans, no dining reservations, no FastPasses (they had not yet been invented), but we were blissfully happy and felt so fortunate to have had the experience.

The Stroller Phase – I realize looking back that taking kids in strollers with one in diapers must have been challenging (and involved packing a LOT of stuff!), but I don’t remember that part.  I remember taking our time, seeing and doing what we could while fitting in naps and pool-time at our resort.  The child-swap option for attractions worked well for us and we loved the three o’clock parade.RM-Magic-Kingdom-Parade-Watching-1996IMG_2139

The Character Phase – Meet-and-greets, autographs, character dining – we couldn’t seem to get enough!  During this phase, we seemed to care the most (compared to any other time) about where and when we could find our favorite characters.  Megan was a shy little girl and felt the most comfortable with characters that didn’t talk because it meant that she didn’t have to talk either.  Her happiness meeting Donald, Minnie, Mickey and the rest of the gang stands out in my memory especially for this reason.IMG_1948 IMG_2128 IMG_1942

The Family Motto Phase – This will be different for every family – based on your family’s touring style.  This is the stage when you are free to go, go, go!  No strollers, no naps, everyone’s tall enough to ride everything.  We really liked this phase!  The Green Family coat of arms is made up of three gold stags on a blue shield with the motto:  Virtus Semper Viridis – we convinced our kids that this meant “We’ll rest when we’re dead” and during the post-stroller, post-character phases, we rose early and hit as many attractions as we possibly could before seeing a nighttime spectacular – after which we’d return to our room, collapse, rise and repeat.  IMG_0990 DSCN2522The motto really means “Virtue is always flourishing” but nobody needed to know that, did they.  We felt our five or six days at Walt Disney World was time so precious (and expensive) that to relax at our resort was unproductive.  Right or wrong, that’s how we felt and boy, could we get stuff done!  We’re still especially guilty of living by the (made up) motto when we visit ports on Disney Cruise Line – we make the most of every minute and return to the ship exhausted.In line at Disney

The Empty Nest Phase – Sounds sad and lonely, but it’s anything but.  We can invite our Disney-loving offspring to join us on some trips and sometimes not!  Yes, we’re back to vacationing without kids, only this time we know what we’re doing.  We know exactly when we want to go (and aren’t vacationing around school and sports), we know where we want to stay, how we want to tour, where we want to eat, and now we know how to relax!  Best of all worlds!  We’re really making the most of this phase because in the next one, God willing, we’ll be back to the stroller phase again as grandparents… which actually sounds pretty good to us.Epcot-International-Food-and-Wine-Festival

How about you?  How have your family’s Disney vacations evolved over the years?  Which phase are you in now?

Don’t Take Your Kids to Disney World This Summer!

You may have seen this article out there in The Federalist (an online magazine) – Why I Won’t Take My Kids to Disney World This Summer, by Nicole Russell.  I respect the opinions of the young and idealistic Ms. Russell – and actually agree with her on a couple of points.  I even applaud her for taking a stand that will reduce the crowd my family has to contend with on our next trip to Walt Disney World.  There are, however, a couple of things she’s standing firm on that I absolutely do not agree with and isn’t that the beauty of this whole article-writing thing?  We can agree to disagree.RM-Sunrise-Magic-Kingdom

Don’t Take Your Kids to Disney World This Summer!

First of all, I’ll freely acknowledge that Disney is a for-profit company.  As a person who appreciates the free enterprise system and our ability to invest in big, for-profit businesses, I’m okay with corporate income.  My nest egg appreciates good business sense…even if I’ll miss Maelstrom.  Ms. Russell is correct in her comments about price:  It can be expensive to visit Disney World (though tons of folks with big families do manage to do it for less than $4,000) and, if you have the money, there’s no doubt Disney will be happy to have you open your wallet in their resorts and theme parks.  As Ms. Russell states, Disney World is manufactured fun.   And sometimes, fantastic, made-up fun is exactly what a family needs.  I know mine does – in regularly scheduled doses.RM-Epcot-Blue-Tang

At first, I have no problem with Ms. Russell’s opinions until she gets to the part that says, “Disney World is really narrow.” – Here’s where our opinions seriously diverge.  I do firmly believe that it is important to visit historical landmarks and learn about coastal life at the beach or wildlife at the local state park.  I’ve taken my children to musicals, art museums, aquariums, zoos, and even on a pilgrimage to the ancestral home of my many-times great grandfather Daniel Boone.  All time and money well-spent!  On the other hand, I find Disney World to be quite broad – SO broad, that if we want to, we can also learn about important historical landmarks (Hall of Presidents & The American Adventure), coastal life (The Seas in Epcot), wildlife (Animal Kingdom), musical performances (Festival of the Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Finding Nemo, the Musical), foreign lands (World Showcase) and, by the way, artistic talent is on display literally everywhere.Italy Pavilion / Epcot's World Showcase

Ms. Russell insists, “If you spend $8,000 on a family vacation to eat dinner with Cinderella, those are your values, if by default. Those values communicate something, and just don’t reflect my family’s values.”  While I have never spent $8,000 to eat dinner with Cinderella (nor do I intend to), I’ve raised my children on Disney World vacations to teach them more than how to stand in line in the hot Florida sun – I’ve taught them that it’s okay to dream, good to imagine, important to pretend, and absolutely, perfectly fine to let go and relax, enjoy laughing and having manufactured fun in an incredible, magical, silly, interesting, and, yes, educational way – together as a family.  At Disney World we’ve learned much about other cultures by listening to a gentleman Cast Member from Botswana describe his homeland, having a Norwegian Cast Member explain the differences in what their lives are like after high school compared to Americans’, and chatting with a patient Italian server who was kind enough to help us practice our Italian.Epcot's World Showcase

Interestingly, Ms. Russell believes a family trip to Europe – home of her ancestral heritage – would better reflect her values and be a better way to spend money.  Having been fortunate enough to vacation with my offspring in Europe more than once, I do have to say, it’s an amazing place to visit.  On our most recent trip, we spent a brief time in Copenhagen, Denmark and what did we do?  You guessed it!  We had manufactured fun!!!  We visited Tivoli Gardens, one of the world’s oldest amusement parks – home to manufactured fun since 1843!  So, I’m going to disagree with Ms. Russell’s statement about Disney World: “It’s so American. So first-world. So anti-cultural.” – Tell that to the Danes and see what they have to say about it.  Tivoli Gardens was an inspiration to Walt Disney for creating Disneyland.RM-Tivoli-Gardens-Arch

Let’s be honest.  I’m not really here to defend vacation choices.  I’m very secure in our decisions about how we spend our discretionary income.  I suppose I’m really feeling stung by this young woman’s assertion that my family is somehow flawed in the values department.  That by enjoying the incredible, gigantic playground that is Disney World, my family is somehow shallow, reflecting poor values and a lack of culture.  That’s the bottom line here.  Ms. Russell is free to raise her four children in any manner she sees fit as I was free to raise my two.  My parents chose not to take me to Disney World when I was growing up – and I turned out okay.  By contrast, my children have visited Disney World more than a dozen times and they’re pretty terrific, well-rounded, productive members of society…and their values aren’t too shabby either.  Much of their passion for history, travel and culture was born at Disney World.Waiting for Toy Story Midway Mania

Ms. Russell firmly states, “If I’m going to spend $5,000 to 10,000, I prefer to do something that engages my family’s minds and imaginations, broadens our horizons, and expands our cultural preferences.”  I agree with you on that point, Ms. Russell, 100%!  Vacation at Walt Disney World or not…I’m just going to say – don’t knock it ’til you try it.

Okay, readers, your turn!  What say you to Ms. Russell’s assessment of Walt Disney World and those who choose to visit?

Disney Vacation Mental Preparation

RM-WDW-EntranceThere’s a lot of discussion on Disney blogs and websites about ideal Disney vacation packing lists.  Packing for the average family can present quite a challenge!  Most of the packing lists I’ve seen are somewhat incomplete though.  There are a few items you must not leave at home if you want your vacation to be as fun, as happy, and as successful as it can possibly be.  We all want our Disney vacations to create lifelong memories, right?  Let’s make sure they’re happy ones, shall we?

Today’s Friday Five:  Five critical packing items for optimum Disney Vacation Mental Preparation.

1. Patience – I cannot stress how important this is!  I don’t know about your kids, but mine march to the beat of a different drum…with a much slower cadence than the one I follow.  In other words, I could easily become frustrated each and every morning of vacation just trying to get out of our resort!  Then there’s the standby lines, the RM-Walkers-Walt-Disney-Worldcounter service restaurant lines, the waiting for a show to start, the waiting for a rain shower to pass, the time between FastPasses – I could go on and on.  Pack extra patience!  You will probably use every bit you have.  Seriously, knowing before you ever leave home that there will most likely be many things on a Disney (or any) vacation that may try your patience and preparing for that eventuality in advance will help you be so much happier!

2. Rose Colored Glasses:  If you pack these, you’ll have a better vacation.  Here’s the deal – negativity is popular.  Whining, complaining, grousing, general discontent – it’s all in vogue!  This is the stuff rotten vacations are made of.  Put on your positive attitude, look for positives and do NOT focus on negatives.  I’m not delusional.  I know that things break, people are rude, beds are uncomfortable, and accidents happen.  It’s how we choose to deal with life’s obstacles that makes the difference, I believe, in being happy or unhappy – in general and on vacation.  Stop and put on those rose DSCN2961colored glasses!  I hear they come in contact lenses now too.

3. Flexibility:  There’s that oft quoted saying – “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”.  Yeah, it’s popular for a reason.  So’s Murphy’s Law.  I’m a huge advocate of planning!  I love to plan vacations almost as much as I like to take them – the key to really great planning though, is to allow for changes to the plans.  If you have to get your heart set on anything – try to set it on creating a successful and fun overall experience.  Make those ADRs (Advance Dining Reservations) and FastPass+ Having fun at Old Key Westselections, but be prepared to change course when and if the need arises.  Sometimes blisters, exhaustion, sweating, a stomach ache, a meltdown, a thunderstorm…well, one or all of those can strike at any time!  Great things are out there to be seen and experienced on a Disney vacation.  Some are in unexpected places – be flexible enough to make new discoveries when the chance arises.  Also, know when to call it a day.

4. Sense of Humor:  You can either let a good soaking on Kali River Rapids ruin your day or you PeopleMovercan find humor in the situation.  It’s easy to become cranky, grumpy, grouchy – whatever you favor – when things aren’t the way we want them to be.  If there’s ever a time to look for the silver lining or make lemonade (insert favorite metaphor here) it’s when our children are watching (no matter how old they are) – when our demonstration of how to deal with life’s curve balls shows others how it should be done – with grace and kindness, with as happy a face as we are able to muster.

On our last Disney vacation, Raymond and I caught a bus from Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the late morning and happened to sit near a beautiful family.  The mother, father, and all four young daughters were just an incredibly good-looking bunch.  No one was happy – there was no excited chatter, no smiling, no conversation at all.  As the bus traveled along towards our stop at the Magic Kingdom, the dad said, “First one who catches mom smiling gets a dollar” – I could tell he was just trying to lighten the mood.  The mom spun in her seat and loudly whispered (you know how that sounds), “StopWalt Disney World Summer Crowd IT!” then proceeded in a lower tone to chew him out.  When she was finished, she turned back around (with a lot of drama) and proceeded to cry for the entire rest of the trip.  I would never presume to guess what might have been wrong, but I did think about what kind of example was being set for those four beautiful girls.  Please, if you’re a parent – remember to be the grown-up.

5. A little love for your fellow humans:  People visit Disney parks from all over the world and all fifty of the United States.  There are rude people and sweaty ones, people with frowns, people who cry on busses, people who stop Kali River Rapids / Disney's Animal Kingdomin the middle of the sidewalk, people who ram into you with strollers, ones who film Wishes with an iPad over their heads, Cubs fans, wearers of very large beards, all kinds of people!  People who are completely different from us.  I choose to try to be friendly and embrace the variety of Disney vacationers – I’ve made more friends this way and preserved my sanity at the same time.  Of course, there must be a certain level of safety and mindfulness of “stranger danger”, but looking for the goodness and referring to numbers 1 and 4 on this list helps a lot.  Oh, and some folks?  You just need to move away from.

What about you?  What do you pack to help you mentally prepare for your Disney vacation?