I love Disneyland!
Not in an obsessive, appareled and home outfitted, pin collecting and trading sort of way (not that there’s anything wrong with that if that’s you), but still, I love it. Having grown up in SoCal, Disneyland was “in our backyard” and a regular excursion several times a year for family trips, youth group trips, school trips, you name it.
Of course, it wasn’t nearly so expensive then. Dating myself, I even remember the days of E Ticket rides when Disneyland was free and you paid per ride. And then the SoCal discount, which for a while got you in for about $25 admission.
Strange as it may sound, as a regular part of my life, Disney also influenced my theology.
*Disney encourages child-likeness and so does Jesus: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). The wonder, delight, imagination and creativity Disney imbues into the smallest details lights up my soul and reminds me of the beauty our Creator God created into our world and our lives.
*This sign at the entrance to Disneyland
sounds reminiscent of this description of Jesus from Hebrews 13:8 – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Disneyland may change (becoming ever more delightful) yet The Magic Kingdom remains “the happiest place on earth.” For those who believe in Jesus, the Kingdom of God has come and we live in the joy-filled presence of the King yesterday, today, and forever.
*It’s not enough to go to Disneyland; you have to enter the Kingdom. Why wait at the gates and never spin the turn-style? Similarly, it’s not enough to go to church; you must enter into a relationship with Jesus. A whole new world becomes available when you enter the gates, when you say “Yes!” to Jesus. When Guy and I were in our 20’s we had a friend in her 40’s who lost the use of her legs to a childhood bout with polio. She loved Disneyland but, confined to a motorized wheelchair, she realistically thought her Disney experience was limited to shops, parades, shows, and Mr. Lincoln, which she thoroughly enjoyed. Content just to be in the park, she was still on the outside of the Disney experience. During one group trip to Disneyland we convinced our friend that Star Tours would be completely safe and doable. We entered through the exit (a small perk) and several of our strapping young men carried her into a seat. She was completely blown away! Having tasted the truth, what else could she try? Matterhorn, Space Mountain, the log ride, we did it all. The joy of the real Disney experience overflowed. It changed her, and it changed the rest of us as well. God’s hand at work didn’t escape our notice as we witnessed, participated in, a conversion unfolding before us. When you go all in, there is so much more to life in the Kingdom.
*And perhaps the most significant aspect of my Disney-influenced theology: hidden Mickeys. One spring, long before we had kids, Guy and I took five Disneyland trips with friends and family in the course of three short months. By trip three we began to get bored (gasp!) and then someone mentioned hidden Mickeys, the three circles that form the “classic” Mickey Mouse shape hidden in plain sight throughout Disney parks and animated films. The hunt for hidden Mickeys transformed our next trip. We looked for, and found, hidden Mickeys. We swapped stories with other hunters. And we observed that as we trained our eyes we saw Disneyland differently; as we train our eyes – and our hearts – to look for God, we see life differently. In Isaiah 6:3 the angels declare, ““Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” But we won’t see the Lord’s glory unless we open our eyes to see it. We find what we seek.
And so it has been important for me to share Disneyland with my own kids. We moved away from SoCal when Tween was only a toddler; it has since required significant logistical (and financial) effort to create Disney memories. Five years ago we celebrated my birthday at Disneyland (our first trip to California Adventure); this week we spent two days there, likely our last trip while Teen still lives under our roof.
Disney theology aside, Disneyland can be completely over-stimulating, capable of bringing out your very worst self. Amid the happy faces we saw plenty of families fighting and young children screaming. It is real life on steroids. And so we look for miracles in the mundane, as extraordinary as this mundane may be.
Where did we see miracles?
*We put our cell phones away and shared conversation and experiences. We played together.
*We each compromised for the sake of the family. Tween doesn’t cherish big thrills while Teen lives for them. Teen put away his teen pride to ride Dumbo. Tween tried Space Mountain, Matterhorn, Indiana Jones. Afraid of heights, I braved Soarin’ Over California. When Tween decided that Space Mountain wasn’t scary, was in fact his favorite ride, Guy rode it more than once even though he doesn’t like it.
*I enjoyed one-on-one time with Tween while the others rode California Screaming, beyond Tween’s comfort zone. We rode the Under the Sea carousel and the Golden Zephyr, both of which he loved. I commented, “See? It’s fun to be a child!” to which he replied, “It is, and I think you enjoy being a child just as much as I do!”
*Of his own accord, Teen decided that he would bow to any little princess who made eye contact with him. He graciously played the role of prince and added to so many little girls’ wonder-filled day at Disney.
*We told stories from previous Disney trips and both created and re-created memories our kids will be able to share with their friends and family.
If you live in SoCal, you can stop reading now as you probably have your own Disney do’s and don’t’s. If you’re planning a Disney trip, this is for you based on what worked and didn’t for us.
*Never, ever, ever buy tickets from a private vendor. With such a big heart of goodness, Guy trusts too willingly. He bought discount tickets from a young woman who claimed her grandmother bought tickets for the grandkids who couldn’t use them. She lied, took his money, and disconnected her phone. The tickets had been used (Disney takes your picture and associates it with the ticket bar code so tickets are completely non-transferable – which would’ve been good to know beforehand) and we had to buy tickets at the gate, a painful punch to the pocketbook.
*Go on a weekday. Friday Disney was at 64% capacity and it felt doable; Saturday it was at 81% capacity and it felt like 100%. Holiday time is extra-special with all the beautiful decorations.
*Comfort rules, especially, wear good walking shoes. We walked 25 miles in two days and that doesn’t count the hours standing in line. Fourteen+ hour days on your feet will take a toll even in the most supportive shoes.
*Where to stay: two ways to go… since you will really only sleep and shower in the hotel, you can go budget. You’ll want to be within easy walking distance, with an included continental breakfast, and affordable parking. Or save your pretty pennies and stay at the Paradise Pier. You’ll have a shorter walk and get into the park an hour before opening. We stayed at PP last time and I wish we’d made the same choice this trip.
*App at it. Seriously, download Disney’s park app. It will tell you wait times at lines which is oh so very helpful in deciding where to spend your time.
*Go with the flow. Pick a park, pick a direction, and go for it. Encourage everyone to try (just about) everything with an open mind and attitude.
*Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. We walked a fine line, gently nudging Tween beyond what he wanted to do while also respecting his boundaries. He may never go on Indiana Jones again, but especially after the ride broke and we had to be escorted out, it was important to us that he have the full experience before we left the park. California Screaming looks too “traditional coaster” and he knows he doesn’t like roller coasters so we let that one stand. Taking risks and setting limits are both valid options, a good life lesson.
*Lockers cost less than lunch. We stuffed a backpack with bagels and cream cheese, fruit, trail mix, and a water bottle, along with our jackets for after sundown, and stuck them in a locker. As food averages $10-15/person/meal, the locker saved us significantly on lunch.
*Put the cell phones away. Our kids left their phones in the hotel; parents brought cell phones to use as cameras and to keep in contact when we went separate ways. This meant line-waiting actually became family time. We saw our kids faces instead of the tops of their heads.
*Caffeinate the kids. In generally we stay off sodas, but a caffeine jolt can really help get everyone through the day.
*Take advantage of Fast Pass, essentially a reservation to ride, but be strategic: if the wait time for Space Mountain is an hour, you’ll need to wait an hour until you can get another FP.
*Let the wonder captivate you. Disney does a great job creating “moments.” I got a little choked up during the holiday lighting of Small World. Not just me, the kids readily admitted it was cool.
Two days later and we are still recovering from Disney-induced exhaustion, but it was worth it. We closed our Disney adventure with Fantasmic, the show on the Rivers of the World, followed by fireworks. Fantasmic allows us access into Mickey Mouse’s dream where “beauty and love will always reign true.” After defeating his nightmares and dancing with his good guy buddies Mickey exclaims, “Now that’s a dream!” Which is just how I feel – we had quite a Disney dream. Until next time…