#7 Disneyland: Antithesis to Eco-tourism

Once upon a Thanksgiving holiday, I visited Disneyland with my nephews who were near my age. Past the infatuation age with Mickey, Minnie and Pluto, the highlight of our trip was the scary rides.  It was a family trip nonetheless.  My nephew coaxed me into riding the Matterhorn, which cranks you up to the top of the mountain and sends you hurtling backwards and that you feel your innards being pulled from your stomach as the roller coaster plunged into darkness.  After the ride, the boys checked on how I felt. With a foolish bravado, I said, ‘that was great’.  Next up, Space Mountain! The line to the Space Mountain was long since it was the newest ride at the time. Standing in line gave me a heightened sensation of the ride itself. Sensing my apprehension, Glenn, one of my nephews, assured me that  I should sit next to him and that everything should be okay.  It would be fun.  All I could remember about the ride was the music; darkness; very fast; my head spinning against gravity as we traveled upside down on a runaway train. The ride concluded with my having a whiplash. I vowed never again. That was the beginning of my somewhat troubled relationship with Disneyland.

Two decades later, I found myself playing tour guide to relatives visiting from Australia. The kids' purpose for visiting California was to see Mickey and Minnie Mouse, so it would be totally unacceptable to leave Disneyland out from our itinerary. A retirement function at Club 33 gave me another reason to visit Disneyland.

This last visit had been another family (extended family) trip decided and coordinated through Facebook. A relative posted her status as wanting to see Disneyland’s latest attraction, ‘The World of Color’. The post was responded with a number of me 2’s. Three weeks later, we all had gotten hotel reservations, 3-day passes to Disneyland and picnic reservations to "The World of Color."

Day 1. California Adventure Park
We spent the first part of the day in Hollywood Land for shows like Disney Playhouse and Aladdin, and kid-friendly rides like Monster, Inc.  Lunch break at 3:00pm and we met up by the fast food franchises that had offering of French fries, hamburgers, ice-cream, and Dasani water and coke products. Talk about the long lines at the food franchises. Behind the food franchise area, I noticed the long line and the flashing sign ’70 minutes waiting time”. It was the line for SOARIN -- a simulated hang-glider tour of California, starting at San Francisco and ending in Southern California (Disneyland). To my pleasant surprise, my nephew’s brother-in-law was able to secure fast-passes earlier, so we were able to avoid the long line. SOARIN was one of the most enjoyable and impressive rides.

Inching our way to Bug’s Land, we ran into the Pixar parade – a parade of characters from Disney movies “The Bug’s Life”, “Finding Nemo”, “Ratatouille” to name a few. But the best fun for the 2 to 5-year-olds had, seemed to be the old fashion kind – getting wet at Princess Dot Puddle, a water play area for kids. The girls did not want to leave the water play area until being summoned that it was time for “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” – a 3D animated film about the life of an insect. This film is supposed to engage the audience and get their sympathy, but somehow the special effects of being sprayed on and poked from the seat, made the 5-year-old run for cover and cried, “I want my Mommy...let's get out of here Mama Alice.”

The World of Color
Had enough French fries and everything fried, I looked forward to picking up our picnic packages that Disney tried to sell online as family picnic package. The menu consists of a choice of American, Mediterranean and Asian food that look very appealing as is usually the case in print and on-line advertisement.

We picked up our picnic packages at the Sonoma Terrace Golden Vine Winery. But I was so disappointed when the host handed us our food in plastic packages, chucked into Disney ‘World of Color’ bags. The host announced that we have to eat our food at the terrace restaurant and that we would get separate tickets for the show. What did she mean by “we can’t eat by the viewing area, and that we have to eat our packaged meal at the terrace restaurant? Where’s the ‘picnic’ in eating our food fast-food restaurant style,” I protested. “What’s the point of paying extra to see the “World of Color” when we already paid more than $100 per person to get into California Adventure Park? The host responded that we could only see it from the ‘viewing area’. I had the Asian food – cold salmon and noodles. Those who had the fried chicken joked that perhaps the fried chicken was prepared in Alaska. Nevertheless, everyone left their food half-consumed. Who was I kidding to expect that I would be picnicking with my family at Disney Park? The amount of plastic, I thought!

As the day had progressed, I had become obsessed with the scale of the business -- Disneyland, a conglomerate that had partnered with ‘Coke’ another corporate giant, the fast-food franchises that dispensed French fries and hamburgers, sugar, and high-caloric food to sugar-seekers, slugging their quarts of Coke on the same scale. Even the picnic food had to be mass-produced and well-refrigerated. I guess to protect the company from food poisoning liability.  Likewise, you put your trust in the safety of the rides because the company’s reputation is riding on it.

As expected from one of the biggest entertainment companies, “The World of Color” was a stunning show - Hundreds of fountains shoot waters in dazzling colors with visual effects of animated Disney movies such as “Alice in Wonderland”, “Pocahontas”, “The Lion King”, and “Toy Story”. The finale was highlighted by flames soaring in the air – a tribute to Disney’s non-animated film, “Pirates of the Caribbean.” 

Tired from the day’s event, we decided to take the shuttle back to our hotel. The $4 per adult and $1 per child fares brought me back to my obsession. The last time I was here, the shuttle ride was free.  I was so tired to even protest quietly.
Day 2: Disneyland Park
With renewed energy or maybe still high on sugar, the kids and adults alike walked to Disneyland Park with great excitement. The kids were having fun with their cousins. We were literally greeted by Princess Ariel, who suddenly appeared as we walked past the ticket entrance. I told Adeline and Apple to pose with the princess as I grabbed my camera.  The girls' eyes lit up with joy when they saw the princess, but unfortunately I was not able to capture that moment because I was hurried as many kids and parents started to gather around the princess and wait their turn for the photo-op. We took the horse-drawn trolley to Main Street and to the heart of Disney Empire – the castle. Today, being a Saturday, the park was crowded and wait to the rides was long – 45 to 70 minutes. Nobody complained about the long lines. Everybody was polite and smiling. There were princesses emerging from a fairytale castle and parades. With the little ones, we tackled the easy rides like Peter Pan Flight, Alice in Wonderland and Mad Tea Hatter. Then the little girls had their faces painted. The boys and young adults went on their merry way riding the scary rides. My sister and I enjoyed Captain EO and lipsynched to Michael Jackson’s “Another Part of Me…woo” to our hearts content. The happiest place on earth indeed!

Then my 25-year-old niece rained on my parade when she mentioned the fact that it was great for Disney to bring ‘Captain EO’ back, very nostalgic. I thought she had no right to use the word in that context. She did not grow up with Michael Jackson and his music. It was our era as if my sister and I owned exclusive right to the word ‘nostalgic’ when applied to 'Captain EO'. Then my suspicion set in. Is Disney trying to cash-in on MJ’s music resurgence on the pop charts?

Having lunch that consisted of French fries and hamburgers again, I went back to the previous list of my obsession about the world’s largest entertainment company. My niece fed into my obsession by giving me tidbits of information as in the number of visitors per day - 14,000* on a really bad day to 70,000* on a good day. There's nothing new on this side of Disneyland Park, no new investment only maintenance expense, I thought. While waiting in line for 'It's A Small World", the host asked, "How many in your party?"  My sister shouted, "TWENTY-FIVE."   How much would my extended family alone spend on this visit? I started to see $ sign dancing in my head. Should I buy Disney stock?

This business analysis did not stop at numbers.  While I noticed improvement on diversity in the workplace (noted from the previous day's Pixar parade), I was disappointed at Disney’s insensitivity to culture. In 'It's A Small World", for example, Disney did not seem to know where to place the little one representing the Philippines – Asian, Latin American or Pacific Islander - so it was stuck in the middle of nowhere.  Was my overreaction absurd?

This corporate obsession prevented me from fully participating in all that magic. I had no idea that Apple’s intention of buying the autograph book from the souvenir shop in front of ‘It’s a Small World’ was to get it signed by the princesses. It was too late by the time we got to Princess Fantasy Faire to ask for the princesses' autograph. The princesses had retreated back into their castles and no longer available for autograph signing. Apple would not stop crying. So we moved onto the next stop, “Toontown”, but then it started to get dark for little kids to enjoy this side of the park. At this time, the kids were tired, but there’s still a must-see at 9:30 - “Fantasia Fireworks” where Tinker Bell flies over the Castle. During ‘Fantasia Fireworks’ the little ones were asleep or half-asleep except for 5-year-old Apple, who seemed to have forgotten about the princesses autograph.

Day 3. California Adventure/Disneyland
We failed Apple by missing ‘Princess Fantasy Faire’ the previous day. She could not stop talking about the blank autograph book and had bugged her grandma all night.  So while the rest of the extended family enjoyed the pool at the hotel, my sister and I decided to go back to Disneyland. As we arrived at the park, I decided to go with my brother to California Adventure and ride SOARIN for the last time.  We agreed to meet up with my sister after lunch.

My sister and Apple were late from the designated meeting place. Thirty minutes later, I saw my sister, dashing and trying to balance the 4 ice-cream cones (each cone the size of a bucket) and the plastic bag full of souvenirs. Apple staggering like a drunk, tried to keep up with her grandma’s stride. “Mission accomplished! We were able to get the princesses to sign Apple’s autograph book”, my sister declared as she handed me one of the ice-cream cones. In as much as I had no room for sugar and processed food, I tried to finish the ice-cream to show appreciation for my sister’s thoughtfulness. Peering into the plastic bag, I saw souvenirs of plastic pink toys.  I wondered how long would the novelty last.  I knew something for certain, these plastic toys would inevitably be added to the pile of plastic toys at my sister's backyard. Apple proudly showed me her autographed book page by page.  Given their familiarity with Disney characters from watching TV every day, I wondered if meeting the princesses and this magical event would leave a lasting impression on the kids.

Am I missing the point? Disneyland is for kids after all. The latest attraction, The World of Color, is to bring renewed interest to Disneyland and to bring families to the Disneyland resort. It may seem absurd to expect Disney to promote eco-tourism when global standardization of happy endings (11 theme parks around the world*) is the core of its business. But I can dream, can’t I?

Note:  * Source not verified. Based on informal conversation with my niece, Sherlock.



  1. Hi Alice,

    I really enjoyed reading your post on Disneyland. I, too, agree with much of your observations on how Disneyland sucks your wallet DRY for mediocre food and sometimes rides, although the fireworks shows they put on are quite good. Have you heard of Carl Hiaasen's book, TEAM RODENT: HOW DISNEY DEVOURS THE WORLD? I'm sure he hates Disney more than you do. :)

    Here's an excerpt:

    "Disney is so good at being good that it manifests an evil; so uniformly efficient and courteous, so dependably clean and conscientious, so unfailingly entertaining that it's unreal, and therefore is an agent of pure wickedness. . . . Disney isn't in the business of exploiting Nature so much as striving to improve upon it, constantly fine-tuning God's work."
    --from TEAM RODENT


  2. I could not STOP laughing!!!! Great Read!

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