Disneyland ups and downs

Jan. 23, 2018, 1:00 a.m.

Dorm trip is one of the most iconic Stanford traditions that freshmen look forward to. Often, dorms take a “ski trip” or “snow trip” to Lake Tahoe, but my dorm went in the direct opposite direction from snow, venturing down to sunny SoCal to visit Disneyland. Though some of my dorm-mates were disappointed that they wouldn’t be hitting the slopes like most other dorms, many of us, including myself, were hyped about our destination. Overall, it was a fantastic, fun-filled time. However, there were a lot of ups and downs on the trip, and I’m not just talking about the dips from the roller-coaster rides.

Here are some of the ups and downs from our trip:

Up: The weather was picture perfect: 80 degrees and sunny during the day, getting into the 60s at night. We didn’t have to worry about weather interfering with our activities during the day or not having snow to ski on.

Down: We left campus on a bus at midnight and drove for eight hours, arriving at Disneyland in the morning. We hung out all day and then got back on the bus at 10 p.m. to drive straight back to campus. You could say it was a bit tiring.

Up: It was a great dorm bonding experience. Though I felt close to my dorm before, I was definitely closer to some people than others. There is a distinct difference between someone who is a dormmate and someone who is a close friend. The Disney trip, however, was an opportunity in which some of my dormmates became my great friends.

Down: Not a lot of people from the dorm actually went on the trip. Many stayed back, especially the people from California, as they had already been to Disney once, if not multiple times.

Beyond this, the trip to Disneyland revealed some deeper ups and downs. Before the trip, our dorm attended a diversity event on campus that got us discussing representation of race and other human differences in media. This was a required event for those of us who were going on the Disney trip, as it was meant to encourage us to keep our intellectual vitality running on the trip by keeping our eyes open for things that Disney does well to promote diversity and things that could be improved. I’ll be honest — I grumbled to myself a little before and after the event. Why couldn’t we just enjoy the trip and not try to make it an educational experience? In retrospect, however, I did get a lot more out of the trip as I began noticing assets and drawbacks of Disney in terms of advocating for diversity.

Up: Especially in recent years, Disney has created more stories where the princess, prince or main character is a person of color. “Moana” and “The Princess and the Frog” are examples of such movies, as well as the older animations “Mulan” and “Pocahontas.”

Down: Many of these movies with protagonists of color are full of stereotypes and contain problematic implications. This extends to the products and sites extended from these movies. The Tiki Room in Disneyland, for example, portrayed a native Hawaiian as someone who could clearly not speak English well.

Up: Disney is often referred to as “The Happiest Place on Earth.” While I think that’s an overstatement, the amusement park does do a great job at one thing: making everyone feel welcome. Even the guards at the security checkpoint were friendly and welcoming, making it impossible not to smile as you walked in. It is a place full of families, friends and individuals who are making memories and having a blast no matter where they came from.

Down: As a wheelchair user, this is a downfall that especially stuck out to me — the poor-quality accommodations for individuals with disabilities. The Disneyland map does a fantastic job of indicating which attractions are wheelchair-accessible and which are not. However, I found that many of the “accessible” attractions were not nearly as accessible as their label might claim. For example, a walkthrough of the Sleeping Beauty Castle was marked as wheelchair-friendly, so I went, only to find that Disney’s definition of wheelchair-friendly meant having a small accessible room next to the castle with a video tour of the attraction playing.

All this to say, my dorm trip to Disneyland was an enjoyable — and yes, educational — time that I appreciated greatly. And to Disney — although I am eternally thankful for the beautiful stories you create and the happiness you instill in millions of people’s lives, you’ve got a long way to go, just like the rest of us.


Contact Angie Lee at angielee ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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