My first visit to Disneyland came later in life than expected. There was this guy from California at my East Coast college, and one summer I got it into my head that I should drive cross-country to hang out with him.
I’d had it all planned. We would live at the beach and party with rock stars, and everything about me would just generally become better and cooler. When I reached the West Coast, though, the Pacific turned out to be freezing, there were no parties and the guy had a new Orange County girlfriend, a born-again ballet dancer.
As a farewell gesture, he said, he would show me the Magic Kingdom. Praise the Lord: Disneyland looked and felt exactly as it was supposed to. And though my wallet was all but empty by the time the day ended, my relief at stumbling into a place where there were no surprises was so intense that I’ve never forgotten it.
I thought of that feeling this week, as I read about Disneyland raising its price of admission. A single-day ticket for one park is now in the near-triple digits, $96 for everyone over the age of 10.
The news has generated much buzz: How long will Americans put up with such fleecing? Which is funny, because even Goofy could tell you the answer.
Forever. And they won’t even mind it. Because there are times in this world when people will pay anything for something that is exactly what they’d been led to expect.
This is why Disneyland gets overrun with locals, even though most of them could sleepwalk by now from Tom Sawyer’s Island to Tomorrowland.
Head for Malibu with your out-of-town friends and all they’ll see is a wide spot on the Pacific Coast Highway; pose for a photo on the Walk of Fame and a bum might stab them. But Sleeping Beauty Castle is like Half Dome. It takes all comers and never stops looking just like it does on TV.
This, too, is why parents make repeated trips with their children, no matter how many mouse ears molder in the closet, and how many half-eaten churros petrify on the floor of the family car.
Little kids hate change. Force it on them, and they will make you sorry. Disneyland is the one place that, for the good of us all, will never throw them.
The long tram ride to the ticket kiosks, the longer line at Space Mountain, the fat, pale tourists, the jungle-like wall of heat that is Anaheim in August – even the unhappiest parts of the Happiest Place on Earth will satisfy because they are constant.
This is why, for decades, not a summer passed at our house without at least one obligatory visit, even after the time we were trapped on “It’s A Small World” for a full 20 minutes. (Don’t ask. I can still hear the little click of those dolls’ mechanical jaws.)
News accounts say that record crowds necessitated the ticket changes. Demand got out of hand. Some reports credit globalism; others, the rebounding economy.
But these are uncertain times, and I can’t help thinking that’s part of the explanation. Last summer, a friend who had lost his home and then his relationship in the recession went to Disneyland alone for his 50th birthday.
“I got one of those big birthday buttons, and as God is my witness, I wore it,” he told me. And when a little girl ran up and hugged him – well, he said, it was priceless. As is, sometimes, predictability.