The Downside of “Moving to the Magic”
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!
Tom, I ENJOY all the information that you give to us as well as the wonderful images to go with it. You guys have truly captivated what it is to be a Disney blogger and I thank you for that.
As a fellow blogger, I wanted to ask if you guys had a “day job” and if you could give pointers to those that actually want to make a living reporting on Disney.
As always, keep up the good work, we most certainly all appreciate it!
My day job is as a practicing attorney, mostly doing briefing and internal litigation analysis–really exciting stuff!
As for advice, I guess my biggest tip would be to be honest (people see through B.S.) and have a strong voice. If you’re writing about a common topic, make sure you have something compelling to add to the conversation. If you’re tempted to resort to clickbait–don’t. That’s a crutch for weak content. Instead, create strong content.
There are a sea of irrelevant bloggers in virtually every niche, and most are irrelevant because they don’t have anything worthwhile to say.
I’m more than happy to answer specific questions you might have.
We’re close to WDW and are passholders. One of the ways we keep things exciting is by taking advantage of Florida Resident Discounts on hotel stays. We went last month for a weekend stay at Caribbean Beach. Saturday afternoon in July, we shared the pool with one other woman. (CB has tons of pools, this one was right outside our pirate room!) It was wonderful to arrive in the afternoon, spend a couple hours in the pool, then head over to Epcot for the evening. We were able to ride Test Track (single-rider lane is awesome), Soarin’ (fast pass), Nemo, and Spaceship Earth. We even had time for the movie in Canada before our reservation at Rose & Crown.
It’s great to be able to go over for the day, but staying in the hotels, having a Mickey waffle for breakfast and really experiencing early morning at Disney really makes it feel special.
We’re now about 1.5 hours from Disneyland, just far enuf to make it special but still close enuf to be able to go once a month. Yes, we ” 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.” And also being able to do the lesser loved attractions like Great Moment with Mr Lincoln.
Its nice coming up to as super long line for a Attraction and going “OK, next month”, instead of being disappointed.
I still schedule my vacation there, in fact I’ll be there for 4 days 3 nites during the middle of September. Maybe we can do lunch.
I’ve lived in So Cal as an adult for 25+ years. And been a Disney fanatic the entire time. But aside from the 3 years I had an annual pass (which I’ll never do again), only enter Disneyland & California Adventure once or twice a year max.
And yet I still visit the DLR Resort area without fail every 2-3 months, spending that time at Downtown Disney & the Disney Hotels.
It’s my absolute favorite getaway from my home is Palm Springs 95 miles away.
Entering the Parks any more than that seriously dampens the “Magic” for me.
I know it can be different for others.
But when “Disney” becomes “routine”, that’s a very sad thing.
I’ll never make that mistake again.
Tom when I first started reading your post I was so sad that Disneyland had “lost the magic” for you. I thought that there might not be as many Disneyland related posts, which are the ones I love the most, since all of the other parks are out of our budget for at least 10 years. I’m so happy you found a way to keep it magical for you. I’m born, raised and continue to live in Southern California, about 30 miles from Disneyland. As a child my parents took us once a year, and it was always the best day of the year. My fondest memory was the day my parents kept us home from school to go to Disneyland with special event tickets, and if you knew my mom you’d realize that this was tantamount to hell freezing over. I’ve been a passholder all but one year of my adult life, going anywhere from one a week to once a month, but no matter how recently I’ve been, I still get excited for my next visit. Maybe because between kids, work, school and family I have to put my visits on our schedule months in advance. Just looking at the calendar and seeing how close I am to our next visit get me excited! And even though we live so close, we do mini 1-2 night trips a few times a year and stay at the Disneyland Hotel, just to get more immersed in the “Disney Bubble” 🙂
I knew Disney as a local before I really knew it as a vacation spot. I was a child in Central Florida, and we would visit as AP-holders on the weekends or in the evening. It was always magical and is the reason I love Disney as much as I do, but after we moved from Florida, I experienced WDW as a vacation destination, and it was a completely immersive magic that I love even more.
I also live in Southern California (LA), but I am not a passholder. I’ve been about six times in the two years that I’ve lived here, and the infrequent visits have definitely kept Disneyland (especially California Adventure) slightly unfamiliar and magical to me. Maybe one day when I have a less busy schedule, I’ll try out being a passholder, but I do wonder if I’ll have an experience similar to yours.
I completely agree with your sentiment. I lived in Central FL for a few years and my first year there I bought APs. At first it was great, and I loved being able to go grab dinner at one of the restaurants inside Epcot, or go hit ToT or RnR one night and then call it a day. Then, the magic started to fade for me. That is actually why I have not been back to the parks in over 6 years. I actually would tell people “I’m Disney’ed out”. But, times have changed and I’ve had a nice long break and the excitement is back. I have a trip planned this Fall and I cannot wait.
I’m very glad you were able to find the balance that works for you as you mentioned, not everyone will feel the same.
We are coming up on our 1-year anniversary of living in Florida. We live a little over an hour from WDW and are APs. I, too, feel like it loses some of it’s “magic” by going so often. Yes, it’s awesome to be able to go over for an afternoon, or when I just HAVE to have a Dole Whip. Don’t get me wrong – it’s all pretty awesome. But having only ever gone for week-long trips, I struggled with feeling like we didn’t really “do Disney” if we didn’t hit all the traditional spots. The first few times I just had to ride a monorail, even when it wasn’t necessary. Now we try to take advantage of all the Florida Resident discounts on rooms, and just staying over for one night and being able to wake up to a Mickey waffle helps out a lot! And as everyone knows, the parks are so different at night, so it was disappointing when we had to leave in the early evening to get home. One of the best parts, though, is that if it’s super crowded (I’m looking at you, Food & Wine Festival) we know that we can come back soon and be able to walk by Germany without holding onto one another for dear life! But as with most things in life, you take the good with the bad. And a bad day at Disney is always better than a good day anywhere else!
I agree, with all of it really. I lived in SoCal for 22 years and went to Disneyland at least once for every one of those years. Yes, I’ve been lucky, and yes that is probably why Disney has become really an integral part of a celebration to me. However, the year I turned 18 my (then) bf ane I got season passes. Back then, not even too long ago, the Deluxe pass was $250 and had roughly 50 black put days. *sigh*.
They first few times we went were so great. I loved the more relaxed feeling the parks took on knowing I didn’t have to squeeze it all into one or two days. But then after a few visits, the boredom set in. We had been on every ride a few times together, seen every show, and didn’t have the kind of money to go eat at the fancy restaurants. I started becoming indifferent to what we did when in the park, since I wasn’t particuarily excited about any of it. Of course I still enjoyed being there more than most casual hangout spots, but it wasn’t the same as it used to be. I did always love trading pins though, I have found that to be a totally fun experience regardless of frequency. Anyway, I visited the parks a few times with other friends and had so much more fun. Seeing the parks through someone else’s eyes, someone less adjusted to them I suppose, made things exciting again.
After my season pass ended I went back about a year later and most of the ‘old’ feeling was back. I have since returned to my annual visiting schedule and found that to be the perfect balance. Besides, the prices are so jacked up now that it really doesn’t make financial sense for me, personally ( 😉 ) to go that often.
Thanks for sharing the honest experience! And isn’t CA great? I can’t wait to move back in a few years. Ya it’s expensive, but I think living somewhere you love is one of the best things to work for/spend money on.
Unfortunately, we had the same dream when our kids were young. We quit our jobs, sold our house and moved to Central FL. We bought year passes for everyone and went every day we could – sometimes even taking my daughter out of school. But reality set in quickly. The dream of spending every free moment in the magic could not wash away the reality of central FL. We’d visited numerous times and thought WDW WAS central FL but were sadly mistaken. It wasn’t even the alligator living in our back yard and having to keep the kids indoors, the fire ants in our soil, the huge flying roaches called Palmetto bugs, never leaving our shoes outside or we’d find a scorpion in them, or the snake that was the length of our yard. What really got us was all the bigotry, racism and misogynistic attitudes that were espoused right out loud, right in public. At first I thought it was an anomaly, but I heard disgusting comments one too many times and could not raise my children in that environment. We moved home within a year but still love WDW and still visit often.
I believe that the fantasy of being a parks local can not truly live up to the reality. The ideal of constant magic, an accessible bubble to ‘get away’ frequently, and the promise of being happier close to the parks is an illusionary one. It’s human psychology that we habituate to any emotion after prolonged exposure and the Disney parks are no different. What once was a rare and overwhelming emotion becomes the every day.
I remember being a child and waiting six weeks for that Broadway cast recording to be imported on CD to Australia (never quite knowing if the music store could secure it). Since iTunes and globalization I’ve never had that same exuberance since. The excitement IS about the anticipation and the road to reach the goal, not the goal itself. That’s why Disney parks mean so much to me. In January I can just about see the Castle turrets rising out in the distance, becoming ever more visible as November approaches.
I like to think the biggest benefit of being an Aussie Disney parks fan is that I can go to any resort as they’re all within the approximately same travel time. Paris or Orlando? Tokyo, Shanghai or Hong Kong? Where to this year?
I still daydream of being a local but recognize, in this case, my idealized dream is not a true representation of reality. Plus, I am lucky to visit each of the Parks (sometimes multiple times) around the world within the year. Maybe I couldn’t do that being local in the US.
Thank you for sharing Tom! As a local (about 90 min drive away), we went as a family every year and it was always special. We always only went for one day so that day was jam packed! Then as an adult with a child, I had an AP for a few years and went once a month. It was different because I could see the Park through my son’s eyes. We could dawdle, wander and experience things I’d never done as a kid. I’d never seen fireworks in front of the Castle, for instance so I made that happen! Now we visit once or twice a year, always just for one or two days before going back home. We make plenty of time for swimming at the hotel, dining experiences and watching the entertainment. It’s still magical for me (even after 42 years!)
Glad you and Sarah are loving California! I spent a summer in San Francisco during grad school and wish I had more time there….maybe someday….
Interesting perspective on losing some of the excitement living so close to Disneyland. I’m curious, did the decrease in excitement also carry over to your trips to Disney World in Florida?
I live 90 minutes from wdw and the key to keeping it interesting is to not fall into routines. There are a huge number of things you can do on Disney property so repetition is not a problem. Just use Tom’s posts – particularly on restaurants – and you won’t have a dull moment. One or two night stays are great to add to the relaxation and let you enjoy magical times like Christmas at the parks more fully.
I don’t know how I would react to the small footprint of the California parks.
Glad to know I’m not the only one who is prone to being “Disneyed out.” Going to WDW numerous times as a child and not having hardly any new experiences recently has made our family put off returning for at least a few years. I always find that having a long gap between visits of a few years or more makes that next trip more fresh and exciting, especially when you feel like you’ve done it all!
I totally get this, Tom. To share a variation on the theme, I grew up about an hour away from Disneyland and went as a special thing 1-2 times a year by the time I was a cynical older teen, it was slightly less exciting, though still fun. I’ve since moved to the east coast and gotten married, and now WDW is a very special place for my husband and me. We both love Disneyland and DCA, and I think they are probably superior 1-2 day experiences to WDW, but at the end of each day at Disneyland awaits the SoCal freeway back to my parents’ house. For that reason, it loses a little bit of magic, whereas at WDW, which we’ve been to twice in the last 3 years, and I see us going every 2-3 years or so from here on out (would love to go annually), we get to totally disconnect from reality for a week or more. Anyway, connecting to your piece, I think that it’s a bit of the differenence between a fun way to spend a day vs a vacation to prepare and get excited for. (BTW, super cool about pilates in the park! how fun!)
This article is so spot on. Living closer isn’t always a better wY to experience the Parks. In fact I believe it why the quality and innovation have left Disneyland. The locals are going to show up so it really doesn’t matter what we do attitude.
Growing up I was able to watch the Disneyland fireworks every night from my bedroom , but I never really appreciated it. Then after having a baby I did experience the joy of Disneyland through her eyes and fell in love with Dinseyland again. But Annual Paasses took away the Magic and just turned it into a park. Then I discovered WDW and experienced more joy in one week there than I did in a year here. I’m two years Disneyland free and have no interest in going despite the fact that I can hear the fireworks every night. But My love for WDW is still growing and would be sitting watching Illuminations tomorrow if I had the chance.
Thanks for sharing your personal thoughts on the move. Even as anon-local, I can understand they fear of Disney becoming mundane. After taking 4-5 trips in 3 years with our daughter before she was school-aged, we figured that would happen to us. Our “last” trip was a long, 10-day vacation as a last hurrah.
Of course, in the 4 years since, we’ve been to WDW 5 more times as well as visits to DL and DLP. So we obviously didn’t get burned out. But the feeling does change. It’s been a long time since I got lost in one of the parks, and there is a little less excitement/thrill. But that’s replaced by comfort.
I love this post! I’ve often dreamed of moving closer to the parks, but have fought it off for these exact reasons! It’s good to hear ways you are combatting those feelings and learning how to “keep the magic”! Best of luck to you and Sarah in your continued futures in Cali!
Thanks for sharing your perspective on your move! After our last annual trip to WDW we have felt “Disneyed-out” and sometimes I wonder if that feeling will hit your family as well. I will say that having a toddler makes the parks both more magical while you are visiting, while simultaneously diminishing your enthusiasm for returning frequently because it can be just be total insanity. You forgot to mention the other main motivation for your move, however- shorter and cheaper flights to Tokyo and Shanghai . Seriously though I envy that you live in the best stage (by far) in the country. After eight years near New York City and now living in central Michigan- I’m planning my retirement to be SoCal! Let’s hope Disneyland is still just as magical in 40 years as it is today!