A World Beyond Disney
A Former Member of the Mickey Mouse Club
I'm probably going to hurt some feelings here, by taking a jab at revered American icons, Disneyland and Disney World -- by saying that it makes me want to puke whenever some people talk about it being their "life dream" to take their family to these entertainment parks, both here and abroad. So, before you label me anti-American, let me explain myself.
It's not that these amusement parks aren't fun and worth seeing, it's about using your time with your children, to introduce them to places and things that are real, and not artificial. It's also about age appropriateness in the timing of when you visit these parks.
Additionally, it's about teaching your children about the reverence of what is natural in nature vs. over-stimulating them with artificial high-thrill activities. Moreover, it's about the real cost of visiting these types of entertainment venues.
In over 110 degree weather, on July 17, 1955, my parents took us to the grand opening of Disneyland. We were among the six thousand who had bonafide invitations, among the other twenty-two thousand, some of whom showed up with bogus counterfeit tickets. This grand opening was two weeks into miserable California heat wave, in a time when air conditioning was not central, or common place, neither in your home or your car.
As history has recorded, this was at a time when the local plumber's union was on strike. There were only a couple of water fountains that worked in the park, and they had very long lines. One of my strongest memories, being a child, was that walking around that day was sticky and you had spongy gunk on your shoes.
My mother had worn shoes with small heels, and her shoes kept getting stuck in the newly laid asphalt streets, which were melting in the heat. My baby sister cried almost non-stop in the blistering heat, while my harried father took us on some of the rides. Thirsty, hot, in danger of heat stroke, I believe we stayed about three hours tops, before returning home.
Everybody loved Walt Disney and his visions for the "happiest place in the world." The experience was all part of the euphoria that living in that era encompassed, as we had high hopes for wonderful world filled with opportunities. Despite our first experience, my parents encouraged my younger siblings and I to love everything attached to the word "Disney."
At home, everyone had been glued to The Wonderful World of Disney for the past nine months on ABC. Like many other families, parents, children, and even our grandparents all settled in to watch TV together, the adults and children equally interested in the same program. It was the highlight of the week when Walt Disney appeared upon our screen.
However, despite fond memories of the "happiest place in the world," today as a mother and grandmother, I have a very different view of what these parks and other entertainment parks have become and what they represent.
Hazards At Theme Parks
Any place where there are lots of children, also means there are lots of opportunities for accidents, minor and serious. Understand that accidents and even deaths, at these places are downplayed in the news media. It's not good for tourism to allow the public to know the facts. Living here in Florida, there are so many things that people coming from outside the area, are not aware of when they visit our popular theme parks.
First, they are usually unaware of the high crime that exists in and around both all of the theme parks and the hotels and resorts. They are also unaware that many of the outlaying hotels and motels, are also homes to the homeless families under Florida's welfare system.
Visitors to Central Florida, are certainly unaware that some of the motels are where newly released prisoners and sex offenders live. Moreover, they are unlikely to know that even visiting any local shopping mall, or big box store near these attractions -- makes them a target for professional panhandlers, thieves, and sexual attacks.
Even though you are on a vacation, parents need to be aware of the unpleasant hazards, that despite all precautions these parks take (They truly want everyone to be safe as they do not like to get sued or have bad publicity). Here are some tips to consider while at the theme parks:
- Always ride with your children
- Remind them to keep their hands, arms, and legs inside the ride
- Always make sure they use the safety restraints
- Don't expect a child to know how to act on a ride, they may become scared and do the unexpected
- It is safer to ride in the middle of the rides and in the middle of the seats
- Older children should not babysit the younger children on rides or in the park
- Children under the age of seven, are supposed to be accompanied by an adult at all times
- Don't let your children climb on fences
- Don't let your children climb on artificial rocks, etc.
- Don't let your children climb on railings
- Don't let your children stand on fences
- Don't let your children stand on cement planters
- Remember to strictly adhere to the height restrictions on rides. I know this is hard. However, what price do you put on your child's safety, if the ride is designed only for people of a certain height to ride safely?
- Set rules before you go about safety concerns
Additionally, please remember that the nearby motels, hotels, resorts, and vacation homes have their own safety issues. Not to put a damper on anyone's grand plans, some common sense prevails when visiting tourist destinations, some of these include:
- Understanding that children can and do drown in the pools and need to be carefully supervised
- It is not safe for your children, and even your teens to be unsupervised anywhere on hotel, motel, or resort properties
- Your valuables, luggage, cameras, etc. should not be left in your rooms unattended
- Your valuables, luggage, cameras, etc. should not be left in your vehicle when you are not in it
- Not everyone staying in these hotels, motels, and resorts are nice people
The Issues of Age Appropriateness When Visiting Theme Parks and the Timing of Your Visits
First, there is the issue of age appropriateness when visiting these kinds of entertainment parks. Occasionally, for children over the age of five or six, visiting theme parks such as Disney World and Disneyland can be a nice escape from reality, albeit an expensive one. Having lived ten blocks from Disneyland, and living near Disney World for a number of years, I have the following observations:
- Far too many well-meaning young parents are breaking the bank, to take very young (still in strollers) infants and children to such entertainment parks. Those children will never remember going there for the most part. Furthermore, question what are they remembering, if they do remember something. Then, ask yourself if this is it something real or of value?
- Sadly, you see over-tired parents and children arguing, crying, and having melt-downs all over these parks. Then, ask yourself if this is really all that much fun, or are you too emotionally invested in the expensive "fun" of it all, to be showing your too young children a good time?
- Particularly here in Florida, it is hot and humid and the lines are long. This isn't bonding, this is torturing your children and risking heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
- Often taking very young children to these parks, is more about what young parents perceive as what they should do, or what they think everyone else is doing. It's about them, not the children or even what is best for their children.
Additionally, there is merit in waiting until your children are old enough to appreciate, or truly remember visiting these parks. It's not a whole lot of fun for a child, when you are too little in inches to ride on the ride, that everyone else in the family is going on.
I'm not advocating not going to entertainment parks, just pointing out that the timing of this activity should be more carefully considered with respect to age.
Note: Remember, if you have older children, certainly take them to theme parks, but making other arrangements for your babies and toddlers.
Another consideration is the timing of your visit to such parks. There are certain times of year, that are not desirable for visiting these entertainment venues. For a more enjoyable trip, be aware of the typical weather and the craziness of visiting in the middle of summer, if you are used to a more temperate climate.
Another time to not visit is during Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays (despite all the heavy advertisement of special events), not only because it is more expensive, but because it is more crowded. The lines will be longer. The prices of everything will be exaggerated.
Also, this is when many local companies sponsor special Very Merry Christmas discounts, locals with out-of-town relatives are chauffeuring them around, and Central Florida is invaded by masses of UK and foreign tourists.
Additionally, other times to not visit with younger children -- is during Bike week, Gay Pride week, or Spring break.
I'm not saying anything bad about these groups, only pointing out that visiting with impressionable children during times of "adult" play, may mean that you'll find yourself and your children exposed to public rude or inappropriate very public displays of affection and behavior -- that you may not want to have to explain to your children. Otherwise very nice people can forget when they are in "party" mode that children are present.
The Issue of The World Beyond Disney
The issue of the world beyond Disney theme parks and all other entertainment parks for me, boils down to one simple question -- What are you and your children missing out on, by making these American icons your whole or sole vacation destination?
If you have your heart set on visiting the Disney parks or other large theme parks, try to balance the experience with other types of low key and absolutely fun natural experiences.
Just a few examples -- How many of you, saw the real Florida, when you visited Disney World? Did you go to?
- DeLeon Springs State Park
- Blue Springs State Park
- Hommassas Springs Wildlife Refuge State Park
- Sebastian Inlet State Park
Or did you?
- Ride an air-boat, not in a little park, but a real air-boat on Lake Toho (West Lake Tohopekalgia)
- Go horseback riding
There are literally, thousands of places in both Florida and California to visit that have more value and are a lot less expensive. Speaking of expense, here's the real scoop on what dollar costs you will be incurring at Disney parks:
The Real Dollar Price of Visiting the House of Mouse Type Amusement Parks
For a family of four, the typical vacationing family spends about $500 per day between the cost of accommodations, foodstuff or meals, tickets, and souvenirs. That works out to be about $3,500 for a week of artificial fun. (before airfare or other transportation).
Considering that this is time often wasted by quite a few hours waiting in lines for the privilege of this expense, you have to question just how much fun you are really having. With the use of credit cards, many people don't realize until too late, how much this trip can actually cost them.
Add the fact that many people, don't have the ability to pay off their charges in the month they make these charges, with interest rates and minimum payments -- it's just another trap to keep yourself in debt perhaps for years to come, all for the sake of a few days of "fun." If you are paying for this vacation (or any vacation) on your credit and can't afford to pay it off fully immediately or at least within a couple of months -- you can't afford to go.
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There are thousands of vacation homes near Disney World and all of the other theme parks here in Florida. Most of these homes are owned by UK residents, German nationals, or absentee American owners, thanks to the former boom in speculative investments in Florida real estate.
The owners usually visit once or twice a year, and have a property management company rent the home to vacationers for the balance of the year. There is a revolving door in terms of ownership, when many of these owners realize that their property may sit empty most of the year.
Some of these property management companies aren't even in the U.S. Some of them are big real estate corporations that are really in the competing business of selling vacation homes. Some of them sub-contract out the cleaning, mowing, repairs, etc. to the revolving population of self-employed businesses that are often here today, and gone tomorrow.
Despite heavy advertising, mailing addresses, and the fact that the airport is in Orlando, Disney World and all of the other theme parks are actually in Kissimmee, Florida. Sprinkled among these vacation homes are a few (very few) full time residential owners. Local owners quickly get tired of vacationing families who are in party mode 24/7.
The family or adults who are staying in the next house and most other surrounding houses, may not be someone you should trust around your family. You don't know who they are and there will be a constant change with people moving in and out. With absentee owners, there is no oversight. Children are not safe being outside alone in these neighborhoods, no matter how nice the area seems.
The vacation homes are cheaply furnished, usually include a pool, and can sometimes afford a savings in terms of being able to feed your family, convenience, and privacy. They can be convenient (less than thirty minutes to the parks during the day, and even less commute time at night).
Where you can run into trouble with these homes, is that:
- Most owners are not local, and if anything goes wrong it may be impossible, if not difficult to get the problem remedied. Often these property management companies may not be reachable. The few local owners may not be responsive, in times of an emergency, such as plumbing leaks, etc.
- Most of these homes are equipped with security alarms which can, in times of power outages (a frequent occurrence in Florida thunderstorms) go off at an ear piercing volume, that are difficult to turn off.
- These homes may not be very clean. The bedding may not have been changed, etc.
- Property management companies "butch cut" the lawns, so the sound of lawn mowers, and other loud maintenance equipment is a daily and early morning occurrence. The more often they mow, the more money they can charge the management companies.
- You may not have any legal recourse, once they've gotten your money, should you encounter an impossible situation that necessitates you moving to other lodging.
- Nearby restaurants, groceries, and big box retailers are all aware of the "tourist" factor visiting among them, and prices will be jacked up on just about everything.
- These homes and the area attract many professional panhandlers who will be approaching you for money at stop lights, in stores, and even at your door.
- There are a large number of homeless men living in the wooded areas nearby, behind stores, etc. Expect their presence, they will even follow you in the parking lots and stores pleading their plight.
- All of these neighborhoods by law have retention ponds, some of them very deep, and all of them have alligators. Don't be fooled just because you didn't see one. Do not feed the alligators (it is both illegal and dangerous). Do not allow your children to play near the water or in the water, especially near evening time when the alligators feed or early in the morning.
- Lastly, be aware the water outside these homes (including the sprinkler system) is gray water, recycled waste water. Not fit to drink, or allow children to play in.
The Gift of Real Experiences
Giving the gift of real experiences to our children, and knowing the difference between that and high tech entertainment parks, is something we all should take a closer look at.
Sometimes, growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, being blessed with young and energetic parents was the best of all worlds. In the post World War II economy, gas was cheap and the travel bug was alive and well in our home.
Every Friday evening, when my parents came home from their jobs in the avionics and aerospace industries, a weekend adventure was about to begin. They were avid fishermen, backpackers, experienced outdoor campers, and rock hounds. Because of that, the likelihood of us staying home on a weekend or holiday, was next to none.
As a result, we were given the gift of experiences and memories that have transcended ourselves into re-gifting those events with our own children and grandchildren by continuing to share what's real and natural at every early ages.
While in many of my earlier hubs, you'll read about rural life in other parts of the country, I was born and primarily raised in California. I was an infant the first time I went backpacking, riding on my father's back on weekend hunts, and day hikes for in a never ending quest for fishing spots and rock-hounding expeditions.
Back then they didn't have the canopied infant backpacks (or front baby carriers) sold today, but my dad did build his own papoose style carrier.
A couple of years later, when my brother came along, these trips continued, but had a different focus as we spent a more leisurely time with frequent stops to count pine cones, examine rocks, seeds, tadpoles, insects and the like. Learning to sit still, and absolutely quiet to observe nature as we watched squirrels and birds was a big part of the experience.
Perhaps, this is one of the missing keys to stillness that so many of today's children don't seem to know. Throwing pebbles in streams, and laying on your belly watching trout swim, are all early memories.
By the time we were in grade school, we were seasoned veterans of backpacking and carried our own small lightweight homemade bags, that my grandmother made for each of us.
Communing With Nature
Many of our childhood adventures took place all over California and nearby western states. My parents found that communing with nature gives your children rich experiences in appreciating nature.
Additionally, it taught us life skills that can't be duplicated by merely reading books, lessons in the class room, seeing movies, or watching television.
Becoming Amateur Geologists
We learned to be amateur geologists at an early age due to our parents being avid rock hounds. This is a wonderful family activity is low cost, low key, and a great bonding hobby for the whole family, as it has no real age restrictions -- even the youngest and oldest can enjoy and learn from this pursuit.
Participating in this hobby we learned to observe, compare, and classify rocks, even as toddlers. We each had our own magnifying glasses. Early on, we talked about colors, shapes, and how rocks looked compared to other rocks. We spent hours sorting our "finds." We traded them among ourselves and our friends. We gave them as gifts. We painted them. We glued them on plywood boards, labeling them by type and location found.
As we got older we were taken to gem shows and museums, and spent a lot of time looking at reference books trying to figure out what kind of rocks we had. It made studying earth sciences in school a lot more relevant to us, than our peers who only read about earth's treasures.
I Collect Rocks
Teaching Your Children How to Fish
Fishing offers families still another way to bond and form life long good memories that are free of modern day distractions. Fishing is a laid back sport and you are competing with short attention spans, and children who live in a world of immediate indulgence and high tech gear.
However, if you start out in small spurts of fishing experiences, keep your tackle, rods, and reels simple to fit the age of your potential new fishing enthusiast, you'll quickly turn this into fun that they beg to do. Once they've caught their first fish, they'll generally be hooked on an activity that promotes and teach patience.
Additionally, if your children are slightly older, (assuming you are near the ocean) taking them out on a party boat, for a half day fishing experience, will almost always make this an enjoyable escapade.
Remember children are more prone to motion sickness. The keys to having this be a enjoyable leisure interest, is to monitor not eating junk food prior and during the trip; deciding to make this first trip during good weather; and staying in the center of the boat, where it is more stable.
If You'd Like to Know More About Yosemite National Park
Let's not forget about California. No hub could possible cover all that is to be seen in any state, especially California. Here are a few of the places every child alive in America should see at least once:
Yosemite National Park
We all have John Muir, Steven Mather, and Horace Albright to thank for preserving Yosemite National Park for future generations. While I grew up in a time when unrestricted camping was allowed, the number of visitors to this park today, doesn't allow for unsupervised camping without permits and is restricted to certain areas of this park.
My strongest memories are of black bears, which are still seen both day and night in Yosemite National Park. The magnificent waterfalls, over two thousand varieties of plants and wildlife, make this the ideal family classroom for both fun and learning.
I believe every American should visit there at least once in their lifetime. If you aren't the "camping" type, there are many fine lodges and cabins run by the park service.
Yosemite National Park - Open Road
If You'd Like To Know More About the Redwoods National Park!
Redwood National Park
Where else can you see both gray whales and elk in the same day? It is here among the most awe inspiring trees that I first learned about endangered species. At Redwoods National Park you can see (among other endangered and threatened species):
- Bald Eagles
- Brown Pelicans
- Chinook Salmon
- Steelhead Trout
Additionally, only here will you truly grasp breath of the large and smallness of nature and learn how each needs each other.
If You'd Like to Know More About the Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park
Aside from the giant sequoia trees at Sequoia National Park, the Mineral King portion of this national park is the closest thing we have in America to visiting the Alpines. There are ample words to describe the magnificent scenery, the water falls, the caves, valleys, and wildlife and flora.
As a child, contemplating just one of those trees left a unforgettable mark upon my heart and mind. To understand that some of these trees are thousands of years old can only be accomplished standing at the foot of one, looking up and realizing how far and close heaven can be at the same time.
Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park while two separate parks they are connected in terms of locality.