by Carrie Kirk
My late husband and I made two vows to each other. The first was to love each other in sickness and in health, ’til death did us part. The second was to never ever take our family to any major amusement park, most specifically Disney or Universal Studios. He made good on both, and I broke the second.
Neither Charley nor I came from a Disney family. This means that while I did watch reruns of The Mickey Mouse Club (“Hi! I'm Darlene!”) and, on occasion, saw the classic Disney movie (think: The Apple Dumpling Gang) at the theater, there was no family grotto fashioned with a shrine to honor this entertainment company, no hats with the mouse ears hanging on my sisters' or my bedposts.
The farthest my family went for manufactured fun was King's Island in Ohio and our adventure to Virginia, where we each took a turn in the stockades in Colonial Williamsburg. My father was a very practical man, and if a yearly car trip to Sarasota, Florida, for a week in April was good enough for my mom and him, then by golly, it was good enough for his four children. God, I miss those days.
It seems that now there is an urgency for parents and even grandparents to give their children or grandchildren an experience. This experience I choose to place in italics is one of full immersion into a land completely devoted to ... well ... them -- the kids. It's a place with really incredible settings, kind of like being on a movie set without seeing the craft services table or the wardrobe trailer off to the side. You can eat whatever, whenever. You get your thrills met via rides -- thrilling or fantasy and sometimes both. And it's a place of second chances: If you think you'll never find that Harry Potter pin or lemonade crush once you leave one area of the park, just take a few more steps and you can have another go at both.
For fall break, I decided to take my two boys to Orlando and visit Universal Studios. Before any of you ask in a freakishly high judgie voice, “But why didn't you go to Disney?” let me preface my decision with my reasoning. My youngest is a Harry Potter fan and my oldest is a very cool, very hip 13-year-old boy. That being said, Universal Studios is the place for Harry Potter World and touts itself as a good option for older children. I bought airline tickets ($$$), three nights at an off-site hotel ($$) and park-to-park admission passes ($$$$$!). Charley had dug in his heels to the idea of going to these parks, because he reasoned that for that kind of money to get there, stay there and play there, we could easily go to Europe for just a bit more money. He was spot-on. And even though I'm not my dad, his practical DNA resides within me, and I marveled at my decision to bring our family to this clichéd destination each and every time I pulled out my credit card.
Will my children's lives be richer because of their time in here? I don't know. I say that a lot as I travel down this parenting road, because I see such gray area in my approaches to raising them. Did they have a good time? Yes. They were often laughing and smiling and -- sweet manna from the heavens -- got along better than they typically do. Did they see this experience as something special? Yes again. The boys were able to recognize the level of creativity that goes into these parks, admiring the workmanship and detail on its buildings and rides. In fact, when William entered Hogsmeade, this cool and hip preteen admitted that it was impressive. My kids also explained to me that like at King's Island instead of waiting in line and getting on and off the ride, at Universal Studios from the moment we took our place at the attraction's entrance, the experience began throughout our wait to take a seat on the ride. They were able to recognize the difference that this type of additional creativity had on achieving a crescendoing experience.
All in all, I don't feel too guilty about breaking one of my vows shared with my late husband. I broke the lesser of the two, I believe. Have we yet booked our return flight to Orlando though? No, and we probably won't for the foreseeable future. There is so much to see and do together, and I can't wait. I will share with you, however, that on the last day of our vacation we went to the movies and swam in the hotel pool. We could have done a number of things at a number of area parks, but we chose a dark theater with a smattering of moviegoers and then a boisterous game of Marco Polo. And even though we had a good experience at the parks, when George turned to me in the pool and said, “Mom, I'm glad we're taking today off,” I knew there were other good -- and for our family -- even richer experiences to be had in our lives together. And I made a vow to George and his brother that we would.