Is A Theme Park Really The Happiest Place On Earth?

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?

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.