Going To Disneyland As An Adult
When I was a child, my parents would ask me and my siblings where we wanted to go for our annual vacation. They gave up asking after we chanted “Disneyland” for 3 consecutive years.
While most of my childhood has become a haze, the blue tiles of the Sleeping Beauty Castle still sparkle in my memories.
Me twinning with Donald Duck
Planning a trip to Disneyland
In 2014, my family decided to visit my brother, who now lives in California. Frozen had been released the year before and Let It Go was a viral hit. Kids were dancing to the song in front of TVs at Best Denki and clubs were playing its dance remixes.
You could yell, “Let it goooo, let it gooooo,” on the podium drunk, while waving your arms wildly to ‘shoot ice beams’. Good times.
Since I was flying for more than 20 hours to get to the US of A, I decided to pay Elsa a visit in Disneyland. The drag version that I had met in Bangkok just didn’t cut it.
Entering “The Happiest Place On Earth”
After flying across the planet and chowing down on In-N-Out burgers, my pilgrimage began. Dad rented a car to drive us to Disneyland because his 29-year-old son wanted to see Elsa.
Upon entering the gates, I was struck by how Disneyland had been strangely stuck in time since I last visited it more than a decade ago. One thing was different though: I was no longer dependent on my parents to bring me around, I could go wherever the hell I wanted!
I made a beeline towards my favourite ride: Splash Mountain.
As a child, Splash Mountain was nothing less than spectacular. I was enchanted by dioramas of a bunny tied up Fifty Shades-style and a goofy bear attacked by bees. The colourful scenes abruptly ended with a shocking 3-storey drop that created an intense G-force feeling in my tiny body.
It was a strange mix of the fear of impending doom and the reward of a happy song when you finished the drop that made me pulsate with excitement.
Now an adult, I was ready to relive it, so hit me with your best shot, Walt Disney!
Squeezing into the log-like ‘cars’, my knees jutted out awkwardly as I navigated the uncomfortable and cold seats. The log creaked as it brought us through sets of singing bunnies and cackling foxes. But this time around, I was unimpressed. The ride just felt like a walk in the park.
Worse, I could not withhold my cynicism. I found myself critiquing the paint job of the “mountain” and creaky robot animals. The ending was unsatisfactorily vanilla and felt like a dip with a splash of water on my face.
The thrill I used to experience was gone, ravaged by adulthood and growth. But if there was one thing that could help me to relive the innocent joy of childhood, I was sure it would be Peter Pan’s Flight.
Peter Pan’s Flight
Peter Pan’s Flight is located with other vintage rides like Snow White’s Scary Adventures, which, as its name suggests, is sure to traumatise your toddler. The former doesn’t have pyrotechnic displays or sudden drops but you get to sit in a flying pirate ship while viewing “London” from above the clouds.
This ride has remained through the years; its charm is not difficult to understand. Peter Pan is about never growing up and the wonders of flying. It has enchanted young and old for decades—except this jaded Singaporean.
I found myself once again looking at the run-down machinery beyond the sets. They were painted black so as to be inconspicuous but every gear and wire was obvious to me. The ride felt like being locked in a dark kindergarten for orphans and I felt a sense of relief when it ended.
“Maybe I should skip the nostalgic experiences and hunt for an updated Disney experience,” I thought. Which could only mean hunting for Elsa.
Trying to meet Elsa
In the past, chancing upon my favourite characters on the pathways was one of the most exhilarating parts of visiting Disneyland. I had an autograph book filled with the signatures of Mickey Mouse, Cruella de Vil and Maleficent.
To my horror, meeting and greeting characters has now become an attraction with queue times.
Nevertheless, we must all accept change and growth. Elsa is the superstar who emancipated Disney animation from irrelevancy, after all. I located her abode on the map to pay my respects.
When I arrived at the hut-like structure, I was dumbfounded. The queue was nearly 3 hours long. Based on the current time, she would have knocked off by the time I got to the front of the queue at 4pm.
Being an adult means your fairy tale heroes have shift hours, a disappointing realisation.
The main parade
Having had all sense of wonder beat out of me, there was 1 thing left to do: Check out the main parade. As I jostled through the crowd, a thought hit me: I’d rather be sipping on an ice-cold cappuccino in a cafe instead.
Does being an adult mean you prefer Starbucks over Disneyland?
Excitement filled the air as the music and fairy dust mingled with my low expectations to create a few sparks of magic. I grinned slightly when Baloo, Ariel and Winnie the Pooh waved to me from motorised vehicles.
“I still like them a little, I guess,” I thought to myself. Then I thought about how the actors must be sweating under their padded suits in the hot Californian sun.
Going To Disneyland As An Adult
When you are a child, Disneyland is a safe space to project your dreams and fantasies. It is a place where you don’t feel marginalised as a kid. But revisiting Disneyland as an adult, “The Happiest Place On Earth” failed to live up to its name for me.
As a calculative Singaporean, the more than US$100 entry fee set the bar kind of high. The few economics lessons I attended taught me about ‘opportunity cost’—how the US$100 could be spent in other ways that would bring me more joy.
For many adults, visiting Disneyland will still feel like flying to Neverland alongside Peter Pan, leaving the cold landscape of adulthood behind even if it’s just for a day. It is a romanticised form of medieval times, never mind the black plague.
However for me, visiting Disneyland as an adult was a journey in discovering how my inner child had died a long time ago and I never had a chance to shed a tear for him.
Photography and illustration by Asher Mak