Family

Weekend of Disney magic absolutely worth the $47,000 in Mickey straws

The Happiest Place on Earth doesn't have to be a financial nightmare -- if you know how to pack snacks and juice boxes, that is.
The Happiest Place on Earth doesn't have to be a financial nightmare -- if you know how to pack snacks and juice boxes, that is. McClatchy-Tribune News Service

I am happy to report that we've returned from Orlando, Fla., from Mouse Country, from the Disney Compound, from the Land of Overweight Americans and Not-Overweight Europeans (Seriously What's Wrong With Us?), from the Happiest Place on Earth, so long as your happiness hinges on spending $47 for a horse feed-sized sack of chicken nuggets.

It has been a long and often terrible 2014, so with life being short, summer being shorter and me both wanting to give the children a weekend of magic and separate myself from $47,000, we figured an impromptu two-day Disney trip was in order. (Most of that $47,000 went to ice cream treats and Mickey straws. My cousin read somewhere that you could take a family of four to Australia for a week for approximately the same price as Disney, though to be fair, Disney boasts a much lower chance of being bitten by a baseball glove-sized spider or scorpion or whatever they have out there. I'll never know, because I can no longer afford Australia, because of all these Mickey straws.)

Now, I am on record as being a Disney fan. I know it's trendy to bash the prices, lines and music; I love it. And the trip was a blast, despite being in Florida in mid-June with two kids for three days, one of which involved taking them to a water park by myself. Happily, they were well-behaved, the crowds were low, the Disney magic was plentiful (and costs $25.95 a vial at the gift shop) and we got stuck on Pirates of the Caribbean for 15 minutes, which, despite what you're thinking, is actually a huge positive. If I could get stuck literally anywhere in the world, it would be on Pirates of the Caribbean. Pirates, you see, are awesome. (Fake pirates, that is; the jerks from "Captain Phillips" kind of ruined them for the rest of us.)

But I love Disney the way it was 15 or 20 years ago, where it's mentally frozen in time for me. Things are different there now, especially FastPasses. Sweet head of Walt, I was unprepared for the complexity of the FastPass game. Going in, I had some vague notion of a machine that printed tickets that lets you skip lines, which was great, because I once spent 90 minutes waiting for It's a Small World, which, let's be honest, is monstrously boring. But to jump from a simple procedure -- Get In Line, Wait in Line to Ride Awful Sleepy Boat Ride -- to something that involves your smartphone and three different ride options was a little intimidating. Somehow, the FastPass matrix put us on Thunder Mountain, then, 30 seconds later, on Pirates of the Caribbean, then 25 seconds onto the Tomorrowland Speedway. BUT, get this, getting stuck on Pirates (with a boat full of uniformly T-shirted preteens on a tour, and that wasn't obnoxious or anything), got us a BONUS FastPass for the Jungle Cruise. I don't want to gloat, but that's like getting extra credit in the FastPass game.

We also spent a few days at the two Disney water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. We went to these water parks for one single reason: I wanted to feel what it was like to be the most in-shape person somewhere. Because I love water parks, and I love America, but man do we as a nation need to straighten up a few things before we let everyone roam water parks all willy-nilly.

Besides, it doesn't have to be a financial nightmare; there are ways to save money while on the grounds. My youngest is 2 years old, so his admission was free as Disney doesn't begin charging until children are 3. For this reason, we tried to pass my 10-year-old off as 3 as well, but he wouldn't keep his head down in the stroller. Trust me, his admission is coming RIGHT out of his college funds.

You also can bring your own food. I packed approximately 75 Clif Bars and 4,000 juice boxes each day. I'm pretty sure I read kids can survive on just those things, right? It was either backed by proven scientific fact or it was on Dr. Oz's website, I can't remember which. Anyway, my kids aren't so much into "eating food" or "meals" or "consuming body fuel when there are water slides to dive down head-first in flagrant defiance of the lifeguard's whistle," so we basically snacked and nibbled and lived like we were hiking Mount Kilimanjaro. This is, of course, ridiculous because hiking Kilimanjaro would have been much cheaper and involved fewer interactions with people with neck tattoos. Lamer straws, too.

Jeff Vrabel believes there's a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day. He can be reached at www.jeffvrabel.com and followed at twitter.com/jeffvrabel.

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