We recently took my son to Disneyland for his 2nd birthday and we had so much fun. Still, I couldn't help but long for the days of Disney past. It's still one of my favorite places in the world, but is it still the happiest place on earth? That depends...
Growing up in Southern California, my family always had passes to Disneyland and we went all the time. One of my fondest memories with my mom is when she randomly picked me up early from kindergarten, on a Wednesday, and took me to Disneyland. To this day, I'd say my brother and I still know the park like the back of our hands.
These days, Disneyland is notorious for its long lines, expensive tickets, and overpriced food. And now I'm going to sound like a grandma...when we were kids...
There were always long lines at Disneyland, but not as long as they are now and the crowd certainly wasn't as insane as it is these days. On our recent trip there, we went on a Wednesday, thinking the middle of the week would be lighter, but it was uncomfortably crowded. We definitely masked-up, especially when we were in crowds and packed lines...which was most of the time. That being said, I thought we were ahead of the spring break crowd, but I later learned some parts of the country have spring break early. So, if you're planning a trip to Disneyland, I would avoid the entire month of March if possible! Or at least, brace yourself for the crowd.
I don't remember how much passes were when I was a kid. I know when I was my son's age, my dad said that annual passes were $100, which was a lot of money back then. But these days, a single day ticket costs more than that. And my mom and I booked the recent SoCal pass that was released, which gives you 3 days at the park for $67/day and you can go anytime during a certain time period. I was so excited for that, and then I remembered that in high school, a single day's ticket cost $50. And we thought that was getting expensive at that time.
Probably the most painful reminder of inflation is the fact that churros cost $5 a pop now. When I was at Disneyland a couple of years ago, it hadn't quite reached $5, but I knew it would. And I remember thinking that I can't imagine them costing more than $5. Surely, there's gotta be a cap on how much you can charge for a churro? Or will we always have the mindset..."When in Disneyland...?"
We rarely ate Disneyland food as kids--we always packed our own food and enjoyed some of the snacks there like churros, ginormous turkey legs, and giant pickles. So, I can't speak from personal experience about the food at Disneyland, but I've been told the food is not as good as it used to be either. A friend told me that at least in the past, even though food was expensive, it was at least good so you felt like you were getting your money's worth. When I have had meals at Disneyland as an adult, I've never been super impressed. So, I've always felt like we were overpaying for mediocre food.
That being said, Disneyland does have some tasty items--you just have to know what they are and where to find them. For example, I quite enjoy their corn dogs. Is it worth $10 a pop? Probably not, but at least it's good. In my opinion, if you're able to, pack your own lunch and snacks, and enjoy a few treats at Disneyland.
With all that said, is the magic all gone? Not entirely. Once you get through the lines and crowds, that is. You can wait anywhere form 30 to 60 minutes, maybe longer for some rides, and all for 60 seconds of magic, give or take. For some people that may not seem worth it. But I will always find it magical. Entering Disneyland will always bring a smile to my face. Sailing over starry London on Peter Pan will always be wondrous. Riding the boat through It's a Small World will always make my heart feel warm and happy. Space Mountain will always be thrilling. Seeing the marching band parade down Main Street or play in front of the castle will always be joyous.
Of course, I'll miss when we used to be able to go on all the rides in one day, and even hit some rides more than once, plus watch a parade during the day. There was even a time that staffers would randomly give you a laminated blue pass to let you get back on the ride without waiting in line. We were always lucky, and I think it's because they'd see my mom toting two to three kids by herself, so we'd ride Splash Mountain two to three times in a row thanks to those passes. That's some of the magic I miss.
I realize that a lot of the magic is probably in the nostalgia for me. It's a place that fills so much of my childhood memories. At the same time, I'll always be amazed by the imagination that goes into every detail at Disneyland. And that's the real magic.
Are you still a fan of Disneyland? What's your favorite thing about the happiest place on earth?