Listen, I don’t know if it’s because I don’t get much time off, or because we rarely travel, or because the smog blanketing Los Angeles is actually laughing gas, or because the comparative horror of spending all day trapped in a windowless cubicle makes anything seem glorious by comparison … but, whatever the case, I have never had more fun with my family than I did during our recent California vacation.
It is a massive relief to be able to say that … because I planned my ass off for this trip. I spent hours searching for the right hotel and reading an endless stream of reviews and poring over Disneyland messageboards and plotting our every move with the kind of near-maniacal zeal that only a borderline-OCD-sufferer can muster.
The thing that vexed me the most — the thing I downright agonized over — was where we should stay while visiting Disneyland. Should we stay at one of the three Disney hotels? Or should we stay at one of the many “Good Neighbor” hotels?
“Jon, what are ‘Good Neighbor’ hotels?”
I’m glad you asked. “Good Neighbor” hotels are the hotels you stay at when you don’t wanna dish out the kind of cash it takes to stay “on property” (which is Disney parlance for “at a Disney owned-and-operated hotel”). And I convinced myself that we should go that route … because we don’t have a ton of dough … and the kids wouldn’t know what they were missing anyway … and, hey, I never stayed “on property” when I was a kid, so what’s the big deal?
Except, here’s the thing: I knew it would be more fun, and more special, to stay “on property” … and I had always told myself that I would do just that when it came time to take my own kids to Disneyland. But let me remind you here that the loudest voice living in my head is the voice of my father, and “Woe be unto he who splurges to stay ‘on property’ when there’s a perfectly good homeless shelter just up the street!” boomed that voice.
So I found, and booked, a “Good Neighbor” hotel that seemed decent enough … and then spent days reading the latest guest reviews of said hotel. Here’s how those went:
“What an AMAZING hotel! The room was modern, clean, spacious and well-lit! There were unicorns and free puppies and waffles powdered with complimentary organic cocaine. The ghost of Walt Disney even served us breakfast in bed while singing an original song titled ‘You’re So Smart for Not Staying On-Property!’ Best vacation ever!”
“What an AWFUL hotel! The rooms were run-down, filthy, cramped and dark. The roaches were so big and vicious that we initially thought they were velociraptors. One of them ate my 2-year-old, and the manager refused to compensate us for the funeral. As if that wasn’t bad enough, we also had to pay for parking. Worst vacation ever!”
Inconsistency abounded, and the odds of my family having a great experience versus the odds of my family having a bad experience seemed to be 50/50 at best. Needless to say, I was filled with hotel-roulette-induced anxiety.
Meanwhile, reviews of the “on property” lodging I had considered (Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel) went something like this:
“What a WONDERFUL hotel! We loved the beach theme, the kids had a blast on the rooftop waterslide, the rooms were spacious and clean, the customer service was fantastic, and the little Disney touches made us feel like we never left the amusement park!”
“What an OVERPRICED hotel! We loved the beach theme, the kids had a blast on the rooftop waterslide, the rooms were spacious and clean, the customer service was fantastic, and the little Disney touches made us feel like we never left the amusement park … but we could have saved a lot of money by staying at the velociraptor-cockroach place!”
“See?” said my father’s imaginary voice. “The velociraptor-cockroach place is the way to go!”
And that’s when I shoved a sock in his imaginary mouth, canceled the “Good Neighbor” reservation and booked us a room at the Paradise Pier Hotel … because I suddenly remembered that I’m a 43-year-old man who doesn’t have to listen to my father’s imaginary voice, and that my family is worth spending a few extra bucks on in order to guarantee a wonderful experience during a once-in-a-lifetime trip. So there. (In related news: Thank you, psychotherapy!)
And I couldn’t be happier with my decision … because guiding the minivan off of the freeway and onto Disneyland Drive, and then remaining on Disneyland Drive all the way to the Paradise Pier Hotel, was so much more fun and exciting than it would have been to leave Disneyland Drive and head down So-Totally-Not-Disneyland Drive to a “Good Neighbor” hotel. I wanted the kids to have a full-on Disneyland-immersion experience … and that is just what they got.
In the weeks and months leading up to our trip, I would often sit on the couch between Zan and Jayna, the three of us sightseeing our way through the Disneyland Explorer app, which features a graphical representation of all of the Disneyland attractions, hotels and shops … and as we began to spot those now-familiar sights in person, Jayna blurted out, “PEOPLE, WE ARE IN THE IPAD!”
Yes, we were. And it was fucking awesome.
TO BE CONTINUED …