Hipster parents love to hate Disney, and who can blame them? The Walt Disney Company is one of the largest moneymaking empires in the world. Its theme parks attract hordes of visitors each year, charging exorbitant prices for everything from tickets to embroidered ears to cheeseburgers.
And yet, I'm devoted.
My passion for all things Mouse is my biggest vice. Where I live, in the suburbs of New York City, there's a bit of a stigma that goes along with visiting Walt's magical kingdom. Within my social circle of cultured, intelligent friends, confessing my love of Disney is met with unguarded scorn. Even my father rolls his eyes. He sees my pixie-dust fervor as an indictment of his parenting.
True, it's not perfect. I blanch at the mountains of landfill-ready merchandise featuring voluptuous princesses, wearing impossibly long lashes and come-hither stares.
There's also a certain Orwellian rigor to the Disney parks that the cool kids feel inclined to reject. You could set your watch to the start of the three o'clock parade. Everything is clean. Everything is organized. Everyone is happy. In his 1998 book, "Team Rodent," Carl Hiassen argues Disney's intrinsic evil. "It just gets kinda creepy. It's so orderly and efficient and insulated from the real world. At some point the human soul calls for surprise or something that is real."
Get over it, Carl.
PHOTOGRAPH BY: Gina Vercesi
We're inundated by the real world every single day—just take a glance at the newsfeed. Who wouldn't enjoy being insulated from reality for a while? Who couldn't use a little manufactured magic? What harm could come from skipping down Main Street USA, $20 balloon in hand, surrendering to the fairy tale?
Here's my pitch: You can go to Disney World and still hike and camp and compost your scraps. You don't have to forego museums or sushi or world travel in exchange for a trip to the Mouse. You can go to Disney World and still be cool. All you holdouts, for whom avoiding a trip to the Most Magical Place on Earth has been something of a coup, here are seven things that will make you reconsider your anti-Mouse stance—maybe even in time for your next vacation.
1. There's comfort in order
Although it is a bit bizarre the way everything is so perfect, coming from the chaos of our daily parenting lives—getting the kids to school, working, schlepping them around after school, cooking, doing laundry—it's a pleasure to just follow someone else's program for a while. There are lovely queues, litter-free sidewalks you could eat off of (no, don't do that) and people who direct you where to go. There are flowers and ice cream (and characters to hug). The cast members smile and wave. You can sing out loud and no one looks at you sideways—except maybe your kids (you're hugging those characters pretty tight). At night, all the lights come on and everything glimmers. Your edge? You'll enjoy leaving that back home. So what if it's fake.
Go with it.
2. There's a ton of talent (no, really)
Disney has some pretty amazing talent, this from a New Yorker, where we have an abundance of first-rate music and theater. There's the Dapper Dans, an old-fashioned barbershop quartet, and the Notorious Banjo Brothers and Bob, who hang out in Frontierland playing cowboy tunes and bluegrass. In Epcot, the Jammitors perform on trashcan drums and Animal Kingdom's "Finding Nemo: the Musical" could easily make it on Broadway.
PHOTOGRAPH BY: Gina Vercesi
3. You don't have to buy all the crap
My 11-year-old daughter told me, "People think Disney is all about the money and the merchandise, but when people go there they really grasp the fairy tale and the family part that Walt envisioned. It's just a place where everyone can lose themselves in the magic." Disney World is about the experience, not the stuff. Sure, most attractions dump you out into a gift shop. But is it really that hard to say "no"?
4. Cocktail lounges
Here's one you might not have expected: Most of Disney's deluxe hotels have really fantastic lounges. My favorite is the Belle Vue Lounge in the Boardwalk Hotel, where you expect Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan to stroll in while you sip on your martini. The Territory Lounge at the Wilderness Lodge and Victoria Falls at Animal Kingdom Lodge are other notable spots to get your drink on.
5. There's a ton of history
We're not talking Smithsonian, but work with me here: From the Enchanted Tiki Room's birds and Walt's famous railroad to the calliope hidden in the barn at Fort Wilderness, everywhere you look there's a way to delve into the Disney backstory. Take a behind-the-magic tour. Book a dinner with one of Disney's Imagineers. Make an effort to explore some of Disney World's past.
6. You can escape
Disney World property encompasses 43-square miles, the majority of which is outside of the theme parks. Rent bikes or canoes or kayaks. Go on a guided bass fishing excursion. Visit the horses at Fort Wilderness. Spend the day at the hotel pool and let the cast members play games with your kids all afternoon. Relax. It's vacation.
7. Disney World really is magical
Even cynics can't deny how technologically and creatively groundbreaking Disney's attractions are. Then there's the theatrical component.