I went to Disney two or three times as a kid, and yes: it’s a very special place. In fact, I have great memories of Disney World as a 5-year-old and 10-year-old: meeting Minnie Mouse and Belle, seeing the Carousel of Progress in Tomorrowland and “It’s a Small World After All.”

As I look back, though, I realize what I loved most about Disney. I liked seeing the different cultures in “It’s a Small World.” Best of all, I remember enjoying the “World Showcase” countries in EPCOT. That’s right: what I liked most about Disney was “visiting” Japan, Canada, Norway, China, Mexico, France and Italy. The rest was kind of forgettable in the long run.

As Dan and I work on what we picture travel to be like as we raise a family, a trip to Disney is unfortunately not in the plan. (Gasp!)

Here’s why.

Disney World is a manufactured experience

We’re not theme park people. We’re not even amusement park people. We don’t find these types of place so amusing.

As long as Dan and I are making the travel decisions for our family, we’ll be steering away from the manufactured experiences that theme parks offer. We both don’t like being shuffled from one point to another, figuring out how to avoid the crowds and skip over the long lines.

This makes me sound sour and cynical, but hear me out. I don’t have any strong desires to take my daughter or future children to these types of set-up experiences so that we can check some boxes. Even though, admittedly, Disney World is an extremely well-done experience for families, I have other plans.

A Disney trip is something society expects you to do

There are things in life that society just expects that you’ll do for your kids. This all stems from marketing. Marketing is what makes people buy diamond rings to symbolize getting engaged. Marketing is what makes people have big weddings. Marketing is what makes us design our baby nurseries based on Pinterest inspiration.

Society expects that you’ll make your kids happy with a trip to Disney. It’s almost been accepted as fact that a Disney trip is something you’ll do for a wholesome family vacation to make your kids happy.

To be honest, a trip to the village of El Retiro made our family content and happy. It was wholesome, pleasantly surprising, delightful and enjoyable. Can you imagine if a trip to Colombia was the default family vacation for young American families trying to impress their friends? I think with some marketing, we could get there.

We’re far from a South America trip being the norm, though, especially for young kids. Ironically, the six-hour flight time from NYC to Medellin is as long as someone coming from Seattle to Orlando.

Our daughter, when she was 14 months old, thought our trip to Colombia was fantastic. Mickey and Minnie were not there, naturally. She’s also too young to tell us where she wants to go, but we started her young on world travel, and that’s what matters.

We’re trying to break the mold that Disney is part of a good childhood

Disney World trips have become part of a “good” childhood and “wholesome” family experiences since the word got out that a Disney trip was something we should all be aiming for.

And Americans do.

In fact, most Americans think that a trip to Disney is a stamp of success. It’s something everyone aims for. It’s a simple choice, with ticket packages to choose from and an array of hotels at every budget.

But I think a good childhood means providing our daughter and any future siblings she may have with fun and memorable experiences anywhere. Her “good childhood” started with a trip to Canada when she was 8 months old.

A good childhood is what we’ll have to defend when our peers see us veering away from the Disney trip. We’ll say it’s not for us. We’ll say we have plans to go to Mexico City, or Portugal. We’re hoping that as everyone’s worlds sort of open up, especially with our well-traveled generation, that the definition of a good childhood will expand past a mandatory visit to Disney World.

We’d rather our kids see the world authentically

For me, it was cool to see my first taste of China, Japan, Canada and Mexico through EPCOT. I remember seeing the replica Chinese Temple of Heaven, which I later visited “for real” in Beijing in 2012. This a photo I took when I went (I assume the real one is larger than the EPCOT version):

While I was inspired by the mini indoor boat cruise in the EPCOT Mexico Pavilion, I was even more inspired while spending 7 weeks in Mexico City with Dan when we were 30. I probably would’ve loved to go to Mexico when I was a kid, but that wasn’t the norm at the time. What I want for my children is to have the opportunities to see all these places for real, and skip the replicas.

Sure, it’s thrilling to be able to visit China, Japan, France, Morocco and Italy all in one afternoon, but (!) with some flights and planning, we can take our kids to the real thing.

We’d also rather spend our money on real-life experiences

If you Google “cost of a Disney vacation,” hold onto your seat. It blows my mind that, according to the NerdWallet report, the cost per person per day of a Disney trip for a family of four is basically unaffordable for most.

What kind of breaks my heart is that families from all parts of the US are aiming for this exact same type of trip. It’s kind of cookie-cutter. They’re also blowing their money on the expenses of it because they feel like they have to (see above: “A Disney trip is something society expects you to do.”)

A family of four has to spend $6K (at minimum, according to the article) for a week-long trip, including hotels, tickets and meals. That’s not even with flying included, for two adults and two kids. Do you know how many weeks this could buy you in Mexico? Spending time within the zones of a theme park gives you almost no flexibility to save money while traveling.

Cost of travel aside, our funds are going to the real-life experiences of walking around South American mountain towns, or having a family-friend trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia. We can’t wait to get our daughter to more of the places we love and have spent time in, like how we fell in love with Merida, and Buenos Aires, and Lisbon.

Won’t our kids be missing out on Disney vacations?

What I’m getting at is not that we want to cheat our kids out of vacations spent in Disney World. I think Disney World is an incredible place, full of wonder, spectacle and amazement. Seriously: doesn’t Disney put on fireworks every night of the week?

Yes, we’re going to make them skip The Happiest Place on Earth, the #1 family destination in the USA. It’s going to be almost like how I haven’t been to London, Paris or Rome.

But if we show our kids that Disney is the definition of traveling, and skip over the experiences of walking around big global cities, or watching the sun set on a finca, we won’t be doing them justice.

Our kids will feel left out that they can’t relate to their friends who spent spring break down in Orlando, and that’s’ going to be really tough. But they’ll be able to brag that their passports get use, and that they got Global Entry when they were babies.

After all, their grandparents can take them to Disney. 🙃

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