0 com

The Power of Disney

In all honesty, I did not want to go to Disneyland. I imagined long lines, huge crowds, unhealthy food, no recycling and my kids repeatedly asking me to buy over-priced souvenirs. But what a curmudgeonly mother I would be if I didn't go.

And of course, there were some long-term implications of choosing not to go. It would probably become a common dinner refrain: "Remember the time we went to Anaheim and mom wouldn't take us to Disneyland." I would also be cast into the role of the cheap communist, which admittedly I do sound like on occasion. I just don't agree with compulsive consumption or marketing aimed at children, among so many other things related to present-day Disney (Read: hypersexualized princesses). But in not going to see the mouse, I could inadvertently create two Disney-obsessed shopaholics.

It would be better to take them. Then, as I looked at the sheer size of Disneyland and the California Adventure Park, I realized that we would need to go for more than one day. There was also the age difference: my daughter is 10 and my son is 6. They wouldn't be interested in the same things, and this could lead to some hard feelings and inevitable arguments. The solution was to take them for three days.

FYI, you cannot get any deals on Disneyland tickets, but the price per day goes down considerably if you go for three days. After reading up on all the star attractions, I planned that we would do three high-profile rides by 11:00 in the morning before everyone arrived and the lines got long.

We flew through the gates on Monday morning when it opened at 8:00 am. (Weekends are the busiest, particularly in peak season from April to September.) The first surprise--there were recycling bins all around. We headed straight for Star Tours and Space Mountain only to discover that my 10-year-old daughter was too afraid to go on them.

I told her that I had been on Space Mountain before in Orlando and that it was a lot of fun. "No way," she said. After doing all the research, I was kind of looking forward to a few of the rides,  Space Mountain being just one of them, but my daughter gave a definitive "No" to the first two. This was the same child who used to beg us to take her La Ronde, Montreal's amusement park.

The day changed dramatically for all of us when we got to Fantasyland. This is the area of the park for small children with the original 1955 slow rides. The lines were short and the rides were fun. My kids' favourite was the Mad Hatter's Teacups, a ride we did four times. And as corny and embarrassing as it might sound, the Disney carousel was magical for me. But why would that be, especially when the carousels at Montmartre or in Santa Cruz are far more impressive? It took a day of pondering the reason before it came to me. I'd seen the Disney carousel hundreds of times in the opening sequence of the Wonderful World of Disney every Sunday at 6:00 pm as a kid, a period of optimism that predated my years of  Disney cynicism.

After the carousel, I let go and enjoyed our day. I found myself looking at all the details of the park. It had all been so well thought out. There was no chipped paint or faded colours, and the ride attendants were gentle with my children. The imagineers, the professionals who devise, install and maintain the attractions, had done a wonderful job. Another positive point, the park offered healthy food choices, and there were even fruit stands. The food and souvenirs were fairly expensive, but not outrageously priced.

Overall, our three days were highly enjoyable, especially the two days when we went early in the morning and avoided the crowds. My two-day nostalgia-filled high from the carousel was exhilarating and gave me plenty of food for thought about marketing to children.

In spite of my education and cynicism, Disney had still managed to trigger a very positive reaction in me, a product of relatively "harmless" Disney from TV in the 1970s. I cannot fathom the impact of Disney's very powerful presence today on the next generation of adults.

I'm relieved to know that the province of Quebec does not allow fast food chains or toy companies to advertise on television to our children, and I wonder if this regulation came to one of our lawmakers after a trip to Disneyland.

Here's the opening of sequence of the Wonderful World of Disney from the 1970s. Do you remember this?

Read more »
0 com

California Trippin' and Tippin'

Sacha Outside Food 4 Less in Anaheim
As luck would have it, my significant other had another conference in California. This year, we visited Southern California, or SoCal, as it's called. Our first stop and location of the conference was Anaheim, the city best known for Disneyland.

Although we usually associate vacations with taking a break from things like cooking, I find the whole idea of eating daily in restaurants stressful. Going out for every meal can be unhealthy because of all the calorie-rich fried foods and, of course, it's expensive. For our family of four, each meal costs on average about $50, plus a tip.

While I'm on the topic of tips, I spoke to a waitress at the very beginning of our holiday about gratuities. In California, servers have to report all tips with 10% of your bill being automatically  deducted from the server's minimum wage salary. As a result, if you don't leave a tip, they are paying for you to eat. A good tip is twice the state sales tax or 16%. It's best to ask someone at your hotel about tipping before you go out for dinner. In the U.S., minimum wage for servers varies from $2.13 to $7.75 an hour and how gratuities are factored into this wage also varies from state to state.  

After our first breakfast at an Anaheim IHOP, which cost $42, I made my way to a local grocery store to buy enough food to have breakfasts and lunches in our room equipped with a fridge and microwave. I bought the necessities, which included a paring knife, vegetable peeler, cutting board, two bowls, two plates, some plastic cutlery and a few plastic storage containers. These are all inexpensive items that I could leave behind at our last hotel when we left. I did this last summer and it cut down substantially on how much we spent at restaurants (not to mention the weight I could have gained), and it also meant that my kids got plenty of fresh California fruit and vegetables.

A helpful shopkeeper close to my hotel directed me to the cheapest grocery store chain. It was about a mile on foot off the beaten Disney path. The immaculately pruned palm trees lining the sidewalks quickly gave way to cracked pavement and strip malls with liquor stores, fast food restaurants and tattoo shops. There was also a new sight I wasn't expecting--homeless people, very young homeless people. It was strange because Anaheim and most of what we saw of Orange County looked like an affluent suburb, not a densely populated urban centre, but in bus shelters and at intersections, there always seemed to be tiny groups of mainly white homeless people.

My children were shocked by the first young man we encountered sleeping in a relatively clean red sleeping bag in the grass next to the sidewalk. My daughter asked me in French what he was doing there, and I told her to smile and that we'd discuss it later. I smiled at the man as we passed and said "Good morning," to which he returned my greeting and smiled back. I later told my daughter that people become homeless when they lose their jobs and can't pay their rent, but I emphasized that it doesn't mean that they aren't nice people.

This young man was one of many homeless people we would see on our holiday. Of course, I would see most of them on my trips to other grocery stores. I always walk, just for some much needed exercise. But a car is the means that most Californians still use to run errands like going to the grocery store. In spite of the commuter trains, bike paths and buses we saw, California is still overwhelmingly car-centric, and if you want to visit tourist destinations you have to leave early in the morning to find a parking space. We unfortunately discovered this one lazy Saturday morning when we arrived at noon at the beach only to drive endlessly unable to find parking.

Other posts about California:
LA's Million Dollar Theater
Disney Theatre W/ the Kids
Unexpected Beauty of Historic Los Angeles

Read more »