There are plenty of happily ever after articles about relocating to be closer to Disney Parks, typically Walt Disney World. This post offers anecdotal reflections of our experience living close to Disneyland for the last couple of years, which includes the downside–for me–of moving to the magic.
To my knowledge, there aren’t many people who express disappointment and regret about living closer to the parks. There’s probably good reason for this: Florida and California are relative paradise, and Disney fans love the ease of access afforded by being close to parks.
Even those with regrets might be reluctant to share them given that it’s a dream for so many and it come across as a “woe is me” or ungrateful attitude. Well, as a curmudgeon who can manage to suck the joy out of even unequivocally positive things like unicorns (just try keeping that white coat clean!) and sunshine (does it have to be so blindingly bright?!), I thought I’d share my thoughts, which seem to deviate from the norm.
I jest, but I should be clear up front: this article is about the downside (as a Disney fan) I’ve found in living a short drive from Disneyland, but it is not intended to be a woe is me piece. There is no regret or disappointment here. Moving to California was the best decision we ever made, and every day I wake up happy to be here. I likewise assume many who have taken the plunge and moved to Florida would agree with this sentiment–and it would remain true for them even if they took being close to Walt Disney World out of the equation.
Taking a step back, most regular readers are probably by now aware that we moved from Indiana to California nearly 2 years ago, as we’ve alluded to this in numerous posts. Given that we write a Disney blog, you might (understandably) assume that this was to be closer to Disneyland.
However, this was not why we moved to California. Actually, we moved to be closer to In-N-Out Burger…duh! 😉
Proximity to Disneyland certainly wasn’t on the “con” side of reasons to move, but it wasn’t our primary motivation. We fell in love with California during our first visit to Anaheim and Huntington Beach, and subsequent trips to Disneyland, Yosemite National Park, the Pacific Ocean, and other locales reinforced this, as did places unseen that we desired to visit.
We became intrigued by the prospect of living in California, and researched the myriad pros and cons of living here. I could write a treatise on why I love California, but that isn’t exactly germane to this post. Suffice to say, after a lot of consideration of where we were and wanted to be, moving to California just made sense.
A lot of people have asked about our move, and we haven’t shared much about it. Although we put a lot of ourselves “out there” on the internet, we still like to maintain some degree of privacy. Our move hasn’t been a particularly pertinent topic for the blog. With that said, we thought this post might share some of our post-move experience through a Disney prism…
As part of the move, we were definitely excited about the prospect of being within driving distance of Disneyland. I was also apprehensive that regular exposure would make Disneyland less special.
Despite taking multiple trips to Walt Disney World and writing about it on a regular basis, part of what I love about those parks is the feeling I get the first time I step onto Main Street and see Cinderella Castle in the distance. Or that sense of satisfaction and inspiration felt watching IllumiNations. I can’t necessarily pinpoint any singular reason for these feelings, but I assume it’s a mix of nostalgia, anticipation, and excitement.
In terms of the downsides (plural) of living closer to the parks, there really is only one downside (singular): familiarity can take away that excitement and anticipating, and make anything lose its luster (“familiarity breeds contempt” would be far too strong here). Also, I guess you could say that another downside I discovered was that “too much” (is that even possible?) Plaza Inn fried chicken and Yule Logs might be bad for wallet and waistline. 😉
Our first year in California, we visited Disneyland an average of about once per week. Living nearby presented a host of intriguing options at first, from dropping by for dinner without not doing a single attraction to going to the “Wednesdays with Walt” Annual Passholder event and meeting up with friends. It enabled us to visit the parks in a way we never had: casually.
There was never a sense of anticipation because our visits to Disneyland were seldom planned more than a few hours or a day in advance. Rather than arriving at rope drop and being excited to start our day with favorite attractions, we usually arrived in late afternoon with no agenda beyond eating or meeting with friends. The visits were more often preceded by the sense of frustration from fighting California traffic than they were nostalgia or any other emotion.
By the end of our first year as locals, visiting Disneyland had almost become mundane for me. It’s as if what made the parks so special when visiting as tourists had faded into the background, becoming instead a convenient place to socialize–a better themed public park, almost. If there is a word I never want associated with visiting Disneyland, it is mundane. I always want what makes Disneyland special at the front of my mind when visiting.
I know not everyone experiences this feeling. Heck, not even Sarah feels the same sentiments as I do. Some variant of “for me, personally” can (and maybe should?) be appended to virtually every sentence in this post. I am probably the exception, not the rule. We have friends who are born and raised Californians, and I don’t think that luster and sense of awe has ever faded for them.
We know people who moved to the Orlando area and have told us that every visit is magical for them. Others we know enjoy the relaxed feeling of slowly being able to explore everything Disney has to offer without feeling a sense of urgency to do and see it all in a week. For them, being a local offers freedom and a different way to do Disney. Not better or worse–just different.
This story is not intended to be a rebuke of moving to the magic. Quite simply, it’s just an anecdote offering my perspective. It’s obviously personal, and in no way some sort of definitive assessment of moving closer to the parks. It’s perhaps something to think about if you’re thinking of moving to Florida or California, but that’s such a highly personal decision that no subjective post you read is going to help you there. Just because this is how I felt doesn’t mean it’s how you would or will feel.
The same experience can provoke dramatically different responses in different people, and no one reaction is “right” or “wrong.” This is no value judgment intended or implied here. Certainly we’ve all been asked the sneering question, “why do you visit Disney so much?!” This post in no way seeks to perpetuate that judgmental type of thinking.
The sentiment that Disneyland was becoming mundane was one factor that led to us deciding not to renew our Annual Passes in the spring. I figured some time away might be good, helping me hit reset. I didn’t want to take Disneyland for granted, and wanted to find a way to “fix” that.
After reflecting upon our first year, I realized most of my best memories were those that were driven by a specific “Disney” purpose. One of our first days in California, we had the rare experience of a rainy day, and decided to visit for short lines, plus the combo of Christmas lights and puddles.
Another time, we went went first thing to see the new baby goats in Big Thunder Ranch, and made a day of that. After the Disneyland Half Marathon, I rope dropped the park, spending several hours doing things I hadn’t in a while, and getting probably vain on-ride photos wearing my medal. Before the first day of Halloween Time at Disneyland, we got a hotel and rope-dropped Disneyland.
Even just dropping in for dinner was memorable when it was a special meal at Napa Rose and we made the visit about that meal. Without spending time in the park, it actually built anticipation for a future trip to the parks. The commonality I found with all of these visits is that they had a clearly-defined purpose that focused on Disney rather than something that could’ve been accomplished outside of the parks.
For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been doing Pilates in the Park for Disney Vacation Club Members at Disney California Adventure before the park opens. Originally, it was a way to get a “taste” of the parks while we don’t have APs (with “getting into shape” being a nice unintended benefit, I suppose), but it’s also been a great way to build anticipation for getting back.
As we’ve walked past Grizzly River Run, I’ve gotten excited about doing that. Same goes for dining at Carthay Circle, riding California Screamin’ at dusk, watching the Frozen Musical for the first time, and seeing the original World of Color again.
Now, we are both ready to revisit the parks. We’re excited for Halloween and Christmas. More importantly, I now know how to be a Disneyland local in a way that works for me, without diminishing the “magic” that makes the Disney parks so special.
While my apprehension about living closer to Disneyland was realized, I think I’ve found how to have the best of both worlds, living locally but having the excitement of a tourist–to have my cake and eat it, too. So, like most Disney stories, even this bit of a cautionary tale has a happy ending.
If you’re preparing for a Disneyland trip, check out our other planning posts, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, tips for booking a hotel (off-site or on-site), where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!
What do you think of ‘moving to the magic’? Is it something you’ve considered? If you are a local to Disneyland or Walt Disney World, what has your experience been like as a local? Share any questions or additional thoughts you have in the comments!