Disney World Florida

Is A Theme Park Really The Happiest Place On Earth?

Until recently, neither one of us had been to a theme park in well over ten years.  Mostly because we are drawn to nature more than the bright lights, high admission fees and the seemingly empty promises of most tourist traps.

However, in the past six months we’ve been to four different theme parks.  Maybe it’s been a case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) or a when in Rome attitude that has led us to forgo our typical ‘avoid the tourist traps’ mantra.  Or maybe it was the burning question, is a theme park really the happiest place on earth?

theme park

Over the years we have found we’re more fulfilled by natural surroundings, however, we do have a broad spectrum of interests and we often go by the old saying “don’t knock it till you try it.”  So we tried it, and like any good adventure, we learned a lot about ourselves and the world of theme parks.


Nature Park vs Theme Park

We’re willing, and happy, to go on an all day hike or a week long excursion where we may endure extreme temperatures and push our bodies and minds to their limits.  Why?  For us, Mother Nature has enamored us by creating the most fascinating works of art, and we’ve found she is incredibly hard to top.  By far our most exciting, exhilarating, interesting and beloved experiences all have to do with the outdoors.

In contrast, it is a consistent effort for us to remain happy, calm and patient when we are herded around like cattle in large crowds and long lines.  Theme parks are chocked full of hour plus long waits for what is typically a one to three minute experience.  For us the wait time to enjoyment ratio is way off here.


Seek the Experiences You Crave

It’s really important to know your travel style and remember to spend your time seeking out fulfilling experiences.  We sort of forgot this and got wrapped up in the rave reviews of others.  If we would have assessed what we thought we would gain from the theme park experience, we would’ve realized it wasn’t our style.

We’re always searching for unique and authentic experiences so naturally, if we have the option to see or experience the real town, country or nature made attraction, why bother with a lackluster replica?


Pick the Right Park

If you’re going to spend the money and time to visit a theme park, make sure you end up at the right one.  If you love everything Disney (books, movies, music) then chances are you’ll enjoy a Disney park.  If you’re a thrill ride seeker, then six flags could be just the ticket.  If you like super heroes, Harry Potter and Dr. Seuss like I do, then Universal studios may be worth a visit.

We recently told you about our experience at Universal Studios in Orlando because it was our most recent and by far our best theme park visit.  Below are some of our thoughts on the other parks we visited, because those experiences were the real eye openers for us.


Disney Land

We visited at the end of October so the weather was ideal, it was my first time to a Disney park and I was sooo excited.  Plus my cousin Matt (he’s more like my brother) was planning on meeting us.  He lives in Anaheim, has a season pass and is a total theme park fan.  So we thought for sure we were gonna love it…but we were left with mixed feelings.

First thing we noticed was how tiny the castle really is.  On TV it looks like its huge!  In general it seemed as if Disney Land was full of dated animatronic attractions best suited to the 12 and under crowd.  It was fun enough, but I felt none of it needed a repeat, nor was it worth the long lines or the steep price of admission.

Luckily, we had park hopper tickets and spent the second half of our day at the California Adventure Park.  This is a newer park and it felt like it.  The rides were bigger, more impressive and the “lands” were much more immersive.  After the Cars ride and a visit to the Hollywood Tower of Terror we were starting to feel like we could somewhat understand why people were so crazy about Disney.  But would we travel here just for these experiences? No.


Knott’s Berry Farm – Knott’s Scary Farm

Halloween is easily one of my favorite holidays (because everything in a costume is more fun) and I have always loved a good haunted house. Back in our college days we would load up our buddies and drive a hundred miles to get to a good haunted house for an authentic scare.

So, when my cousin Matt told me that Knott’s Scary Farm had several haunted houses, thrilling rides and a real-life Zombie shooting experience it seemed like a no brainer!

Traffic and parking was a mess but once we were in the park, the setting felt right.  Lots of fog machines going, dark walkways and spooky decorations throughout the park.  We found our way to a neat little pub setting, grabbed a beer and enjoyed the slap stick humor of the stage entertainment.  It was a good start.

Turns out, the only thing scary at Knott’s Scary Farm…are the crazy long lines!  Two, three and four hour long waits for the haunted houses and don’t even think about the rides, those waits are truly frightening.  Once we made it into the Haunted Houses, we were rushed through like a herd of cattle at a stock show.  There was no suspense, no fright and no time for the characters to get in place. It felt like an awkward dress rehearsal that wasn’t going very well.


Disney World

We were told by the masses that Disney World (Florida) was better than Disney Land (California). So when John and Angela who are Disney Vacation Club members, offered to show us why they loved Disney World, we couldn’t say no.

As locals and club members, we could see the draw.  Invites to special events, free movie screenings and perks on other resorts around the world…what Disney nut could resist?!?  And they were real Disney people.  They loved every resort, every country, every sculpture, every little detail…for them Disney could do no wrong.  It was fun to experience their enthusiasm and love for it all but I can’t say that we felt the same.  I would still rather save my bucks and travel on the cheap to South Africa than spend those same dollars by staying at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  Different strokes for different folks, and that’s what makes life fun!


Where We Parked It

  • Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm – Prado Regional Park  It was a bit of a drive but the park was quiet, the RV spaces were secluded and there is plenty of green space for walking.  The bonus: a small disc golf course onsite.
  • Disney World and Universal Orlando – Kissimmee/Orlando KOA  Approximately 20 minutes from each of the resorts the KOA is clean and the staff is friendly.  The bonus: 23 hour pool


Is a theme park really the happiest place on earth?

For us, it’s not and these experiences taught us that hands down we prefer Nature Parks over Theme Parks. There’s just no comparison.
Why share all of this info on theme parks when we weren’t wowed by them?  Because even as full time travelers we have to remind ourselves why and what we travel for.  Of course there is no wrong travel style, it’s all about figuring out what makes you happy.

Remember, life is too short, the world is too big and there isn’t enough time to waste on experiences you don’t love.  So, next time a bad case of FOMO comes our way we’ll think twice before jumping on the bandwagon.

Are you a Theme Park, Nature Park or both kind of person?  Do you have a favorite park?  Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.  We would love to hear from you!

Disclaimer: We did receive media passes (complementary admission) to Disney Land and Knotts Scary Farm.  Which if they read this, they probably wish they hadn’t.  As always all of our experiences and opinions are our own and not purchased.

Hello there! I honestly don’t know what to say, so I am going to tell you a bunch of random facts instead. I'm a fish eating vegetarian who hates spiders and loves snakes. I almost never took vacations growing up. I wanted to be Pippi Longstocking (still do). I misspell about every other word I write and still struggle with grammar. I love splurging on a good high tea (which is really hard to find these days). And whatever you do, don’t tell me I can’t do something, because then I'll HAVE to do it!

Comments (42)

  • Raivyn

    This is an apples to oranges comparison. Disney is all about dreams and imagination. Disney is a world where people who never want to grow up (a la Peter Pan), princesses of all types, and Marvel villains and Star Wars heroes come to life and can enjoy the fun and fantasy that comes with those things.

    National parks are about enjoying the untouched natural world. It is beautiful, but it is reality. No Mickey Mouse, Darth Vader, Thor, or Sleeping Beauty.

    So if you enjoy nature and reality, then the national parks would be your thing. I for one would not want to live in a world without super hot Captain America or Yoda – so God bless Disney.

  • Kerri

    I have to say I agree somewhat with your views. I absolutely love Disney (we have stayed at Fort Wilderness twice now with another trip booked for March). However, after hitting Disney (in March) we are touring more of the Gulf Shores (Alabama, Louisana, and Texas). As much as I LOVE Disney I think I more looking forward to our other plans and seeing things I have not yet had the chance. Like you said different strokes for different folks and that’s what makes life great and interesting. Happy Travels!

  • Mike

    I absolutely love theme parks.

    All the rabble can go there and I’ll be somewhere else….

  • Amy

    We love both and alternate different kinds of trips. The way you described the theme parks is not how we would do them. Disney requires a lot of advance planning to match an efficient touring plan to your individual interests. We’ve never waited in lines that long. I know you guys aren’t really planners (per the planning post) and that makes a difference. As others said, who you go with matters too, and the way you tour changes by the ages in your party.
    We also love backpacking and tent camping and RV’ing and time in nature. The question is like asking me to choose between cuisines. I like them all but at different times. Variety is the spice of life.

  • Tom Kranauer

    We live only an hour and half from WDW and have been going there since it opened in the 70’s. It used to be the best place in the world but over the last several years, it has been increasing it’s price some time twice in one year to the point that the average family can’t afford it. The park has been over runned by foreign people who can be rude and pretend not to understand English and constantly cut in front of you in lines ruining the “Magic”. I have never seen the park so crowed all the time lately that it makes it almost impossible to enjoy it. We have purchased our class A a few weeks ago and are so looking forward to seeing “mothernature” in her glory.

  • Trudi

    I definitely prefer nature parks.

  • Wanda

    Sorry, changing subjects. We are retired, 64 and 70. We live in north Texas. Where should we go for an extended stay this summer to escape The Texas heat. Thanks in advance everyone.

  • I agree with you both! Definitely nature parks over theme parks. Haven’t been to a theme park recently, but they usually make me sick. Recently I added Zion National Park to my bucket list. Have you guys been there? Did you go anywhere fun during National Parks week?

    P.S. My husband & I live in the Black Hills of South Dakota (Mt. Rushmore territory). When you’re in the area, we should connect! We’ll show you how the locals do it!

  • Laura

    I love it all! I went to Disney World last November with my 29 year old daughter and we had a blast! I also took her when she was 4 and had a different kind of a blast:-)! Timing and fast passes are key. Go early in the day and when kids are in school, the crowds aren’t nearly as bad. Avoid summer months! Stay nearby so you can leave when you get tired and the crowd gets to be too much. Then come back later and watch the fireworks, or watch them from a distance at a hotel or restaurant. Many of the restaurants in the hotels and shopping areas are excellent!
    Yes nature is wonderful too! I enjoy both types of trips!

  • Jim

    Having a teenager who loves roller coasters, we’ll plan one of our RVing trips to either Kings Island (Cincinnati Ohio), Kennywood (Pittsburgh PA. ) Both are reasonable in price with online or discounted tickets ($35-$39). Kind of goes hand in hand with what it cost to go skiing at Vail or Aspen ($120). Have skied Vail 17 weeks since 1985, but sad to say with the rising costs (air, ground, lodging and lift tickets) Easily costing $5000 for a family of 3 to do a 7 day Colorado ski trip, I would rather now spend that to RV around the country more. Kind have to prioritize ones entertainment dollars.

  • Glenda Wilburn

    I thought I just didn’t like those places because the older I get, the more I hate crowds. But 3-4 hours in line for a 3-4 minute ride is insane! Now, the only parks I can say I truly love are the National and State parks and even those in the off-season.

  • Keith

    Not to put a heavy theological weight on this topic, but realize one is created by God and one by man. One is limitless in how it may be enjoyed the other is designed for a distinct pleasurable response. Wonder is far more enjoyable and sustainable than pleasure. Yeah, I agree with your conclusions!

  • I’m afraid of heights. I hate crowds. I get motion sick easily. Theme parks are a HUGE waste of time and money for me. Alas, my family loves them. So I’ll go once a year. I bring a book, hold their stuff, and enjoy people watching. I did, however, LOVE Universal Studios in CA. The studio tour was most excellent. Hands down, I’m a nature girl. -Chris

  • Jean Williams

    i am a nature lover and birdwatchers, who also lives near Orlando and is a Disney fan. I love the parks for the lightheartedness. I never do the parks the way you describe, though. We have annual passes, and typically go early in the day (the least crowded time) for an hour or two. If we are in the mood we go back in the evening just for the fireworks. We use Fastpasses to avoid the lines, and enjoy the exhibits and shows, which are typically much easier to access without dealing with crowds and lines. Would I rather be in Africa than Animal Kingdom? Certainly! But Animal Kingdom is much more accessible and cheaper. Each has its own allure. Mostly, I would rather be birding, but some days, Disney is just what calls me…

  • Debra Haworth

    Nature all the way. I have experienced those theme parks and I was glad I did but would not care to repeat them. I love the great ourdoors!!

  • Roger

    First, I have to say I’m more of a Nature park person. Yosemite and Yellowstone can’t be matched by Man.
    That said, visiting either theme parks or nature parks is a mater of timing. Go when crowds are less not at peak times or events. Visit when kids are in school.
    We made the cross country trek to Disney World late in August. Our kids wouldn’t start school until September. Most East coast schools had already started so the lines were reasonable. Since we had been to Disneyland in California several times, Our kids (and us) had had enough of the Magic Kingdom by noon and wanted to go back to Epcot. We all enjoyed Epcot the most. Lots of educational stuff there. Universal was ok but again we’d already been to Universal in California several times.
    I also must say that the experience in a theme park depends on who you are with. I’ve been to Disneyland when our kids were young (2 and 5) and you see things through their eyes. I also went while in college with dorm mates (we had a pony keg in the car in the parking lot) and that was a very different experience. The last time I was there I went with two other young engineers, one from India and one from China. I loved watching their faces as they tried to figure out all the animatronic sights.
    Someday I would like a backstage tour to see the “man behind the curtain”.
    All that said, higher on my bucket list is visiting all the National Parks in the 48 contiguous states. I’ve notched better than half of them and am targeting the rest when full timing it starts next year.

      • Roger

        I started a long time ago. Trouble is, the government keeps adding them!. That’s not a bad thing unless you’re trying to visit all of them.
        I also need to revisit some I didn’t do justice to the first time.

  • Always appreciate your insights and tips. For our crew, there are different seasons of life. I have to say I enjoy the most hiking or canoeing somewhere where I can enjoy the tranquility of the surroundings. Discovering a new place or experience with a loved one is always a pleasure. When you have kids, there is nothing more wonderful and heartwarming that watching the kids enthralled by a trip to Walt Disney World. So our RV and travel Lifestyle is ever changing, as are our seasons of life. Happy Travels guys!

  • Mary Alyce

    I am with you…crowds, junk food, lines, garish lights…give me the top of a 14er in Colorado or the bottom of the
    Grand Canyon or a slow walk on a deserted beach in Costa doesn’t get much better experiencing nature in all her glory…..

  • Robin M.

    When I was younger, I really enjoyed going with friends to amusement parks, especially to ride the big coasters. I have fond memories of riding the Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg with my geeky IT friends over and over to determine which seat gave the best thrill (the front for visual thrill, the last seat for the best ride.) But as I approach retirement age, the excitement of riding a roller coaster is far outweighed by the price and crowds. When we hit the road full-time, we will be looking for those Nature experiences and not the man-made ones.

  • Love your blog! Our family loves both nature and theme parks. Maybe watching our kids brings out some enjoyment factor to counter those long lines!
    Have you guys been the Alaska yet? Would love to hear your tips and adventures.

    Also, Dixon, California has a high tea place. Never been there but it has good reviews.

    Safe travels,

  • Variety is the spice of life. And what I love about this nomadic lifestyle is that we can experience such a wide range of possibilities with little investment. We have enjoyed some more touristy experiences along the way, and can assuage ourselves to the fact that we’re just passing through in everyday life.. and not have to try to justify the expense as a once-in-a-lifetime vacation expense.

  • Darci

    Put simply, chaos helps you enjoy quiet and quiet helps you enjoy chaos I truly believe a little of both makes for a complete life. Holing up in your preferred world would make you only half the person living half a life. Good for you guys for giving it a try!

  • Lindsa

    I think you would have a different feel for the parks if you were seeing it with children. The excitement they have & seeing them makes it happy. Someday you may change your mind when you have children

  • scooter

    Sheila, I’m with you on tge interesting people
    With my luck I would be reincarnated as a small piece of used chewing gum that needed to be scraped up on the next shift of college kid that said “Look it a 68 year old piece of gum” then I would have to wait for the next reincarnation cycle

  • Mary van

    We sure had some great times at Six Flags over Texas! Not really a theme park but the rides, long lines and junk food kind of the same and we went almost every week! Season passes every year. When you are a kid, it’s a fun thing to do. Even fun for an adult! Just not in the heat of the summer, anywhere!

  • Cindi McNiff

    We are adventurers in every since of that word. So for us it is an all in life style. We have a cabin the the mountains and can hike for hours. We can backpack and tent camp just about anywhere. We love the heat and the cold so you may find us in the keys in the summer and Alaska in the winter. But theme parks are a great day as well. We love Disney and go often. We love Busch Gardens and go often! We love finding the throwback theme parks like Tweetsie Railroad and go at least once to experience all the retro places. Traveling is great, nature is a wonder everyday, so we say go for it all. Live life with Gusto and be happy in it all. Two old people who are young at heart or like Peter Pan. No, we won’t grow up!!!!

  • Sheila Hagadone

    Enjoy everything! You only live once (unless you believe in reincarnation).

    I couldn’t find an “edit” button for your comments….is there one?

  • Sheila Hagadone

    I’m with you….I absolutely LOVE nature!
    I follow, too, & on this months email they had new (to them) boon-docking (wild camping to you) sites. One sounds interesting….Spider Rock Campground, Canyon De Chelly. It’s run by a Navajo man (who I’d love to talk to). But….I will go to Harry Potter World, for my husband & granddaughter and Disney World (cause my husband has been to EVERY one except the one in Florida). Enjoy everything…you only live once (

  • Just wondering what days you guys are going on? Weekends? I haven’t looked much into it yet but I was hoping to stop in on weekdays for less crowding or ponying up for the (if they offer such a thing) fast pass thing where you get an appointment to ride the big coasters and stuff. CeeJay and I are coaster aficionados so I’m hoping to hit as many as possible on our adventure.

    • Roger

      I was told that Disney world is acually less crowded on Saturday since folks who travel to Orlando generally travel there on the weekends and go to the parks during the weeks. Read one of the guide books on Disney World to verify or debunk that theory.

  • We have to agree with your assessment. We love Mother Nature’s parks, her “real” scenery and adventures-mountain climbing, beach combing and hope to add kayaking to our list. The only way we’ll go is to take our grandson, maybe….we plan to take him in lots of nature’s parks….so there may be no time!


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