Welcome to Stuff I Learned Yesterday. My name is Darrell Darnell, I think going to Disneyland is better than going to Disney World, and I believe that if you aren’t learning, you aren’t living.

So what about you? Do you prefer the Disneyland experience or the Disney World experience? For me, it’s all about the weather and the convenience. In Anaheim you get sunshine without the humidity, plus you get the convenience of the parks and the hotels all located within walking distance of each other. Sure, Disney World has more parks and more to experience, but I think Disneyland offers 90% of the experience of Disney World, so that’s a trade off I’m happy to make.

Now, think back to your childhood to your first memories of visiting Disneyland or The Magic Kingdom. What’s the first thing you remember? Is it the Disney music playing as you approach the ticket checkpoint? Maybe it’s the face of Mickey made of flowers greeting you as you pass the ticket booth. Oh, I know! It’s the anticipation as you walk under the train tunnel and emerge onto Main Street USA!  No? Is it the first look of the castle calling to you in the distance? That is a good one! For some of you, that memory may be tied to a smell. For you, maybe it’s the smell of the popcorn vendor at the Main Street hub or the sweet cinnamon smell from the nearby churro stand. I could go on, of course. I haven’t even mentioned any of the rides, character meet and greets, or the fireworks.  One thing is certain, for most people, those childhood Disney experiences make memories that last a lifetime.

Disney has done a great job over the years selling their parks as something every child needs to experience first hand. It seems that pretty much every family in America makes the trip to a Disney park at some point so their children can experience the wonder and magic of it all.

I asked you what your favorite childhood Disney park memory is, so I hope you don’t mind if I share mine with you.  It’s…

That’s right, it’s nothing. I don’t have one. My parents DID take me to Disneyland as a child, but I was still an infant and have no memories of it. My first Disney park memory is from 2017 when I was 41 years old. I was in Orlando for two conferences and had a day off between them. I bought a ticket to Hollywood studios and had a great day all by myself. The next year I was in Anaheim for a conference so I stayed an extra day and went to Disneyland. That was my first experience at a castle park, and it blew me away. That day I experienced true Disney magic and fell in love with the Disney parks. Then in January 2019 I took my son with me to Disneyland and in August that same year I took my daughter. In June of 2021 I took all four of us to Disney World and in October of that year I took all 4 of us to Disneyland just so we could all compare the experiences. Then in January of 2022 Addi and I returned to Disneyland again and in June of 2022 Colby and I went to Disneyland while we were out there for a conference. My most recent trip was in April of 2023 with Addi. Clearly, once I experienced the Disney park magic, I’ve wanted to experience it as often as possible. 

A few months ago a friend of mine named Scott came to me with a concern. He wanted to take his family to Disney World, but they didn’t have the finances for it and he was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to make lasting memories with his kids if they didn’t go. It’s an understandable dilemma. As I said, Disney has done a great job making all of us think that we have to take our kids to a Disney park if we are to make any lasting memories.

But as parents, we WANT to make lasting memories with our kids. We want to have shared experiences that make the bonds between us stronger. We want to give our kids the Disney experience.

In preparing to write this episode I messaged my kids separately and asked them to share with me their three favorite memories that involve us as a family. I told them at least one parent had to be involved in the memory. I framed the question this way because Scott was focused on making memories as a family. 

My daughter’s three favorite memories were a trip we made to Oklahoma City, a trip we made to Chicago, and spending Christmases with our extended family at her grandparents house. My son’s three favorite memories were building a gingerbread house with his mom, going to Hawaii, and playing the card game Phase 10 with our friends while visiting California.

Let me give you details on some of these to help you appreciate them. We live in a suburb of Oklahoma City. But one night when our kids were 8 and 10 years old, we decided to stay the night in a hotel in downtown Oklahoma City. It was during the Christmas season and the downtown area was full of family activities. It was the first time our kids had ever stayed in a hotel, and they loved it. When we walked into the hotel and we told them we were staying the night there, you’d have thought we had just told them we were going to Disneyland.  Kari and I knew the kids were going to have fun that night, but we had no idea how that inexpensive night in a hotel would make such an indelible memory. They’ve talked about that night many times since then, so it was not a surprise when it appeared on Addi’s list.  Chicago was her first trip away from Oklahoma and Christmases with her grandparents were tons of fun, so those aren’t surprising either. I bet many of you had a similar experience when you were a kid. For me, my Christmases with my cousins in Liberal, KS are still some of my all-time favorite memories.

Colby’s choices are also interesting. The gingerbread house was a really special day. His classroom at school was making gingerbread houses, but due to his food allergy, it was not a safe environment for him to be in. His teacher was aware of this and spoke with us about it ahead of time. We chose to pull him out of school to keep him safe. Instead, his mom found a safe gingerbread house kit, and they spent the afternoon putting it together. It was a really special moment between them, and I got some great photos of them. Hawaii was Colby’s first trip out of Oklahoma, so it’s understandable why it would stick out to him. Plus it’s Hawaii. It was amazing.

However, his choice of playing Phase 10 is not one that I saw coming. In fact, I don’t even remember doing that. But I do remember that trip. We got together with several friends from across the country and rented a huge house in the Hollywood hills. We were all coming to LA to attend an orchestra concert for the music from the TV show LOST. This was our kids first visit to LA, so we did many touristy things. We went to the Hollywood walk of fame, visited the Hollywood sign, and visited multiple film studios. 

At the Warner Brothers tour the kids got to see Batman movie props, Harry Potter props, and Lord of the Rings props. They got to see various filming locations, take a behind the scenes tour, and perform a scene from the show Friends. At another tour, they got to see where The Wizard of Oz was filmed and tour the sets of Jeopardy! and The Goldbergs. Near the end of our trip we went to the Santa Monica Pier and Colby rode every single ride he wanted. None of that stuff made his list. Sitting on the bed with our friends playing cards. That made the list.

Here’s what I learned.

The advice I gave Scott was to not worry about Disney. If he’s able to take his family to a Disney park one day, great. Either way, focus on making memories in the everyday moments of life. My kids were 15 and 17 when I first took them to a Disney park, but that didn’t matter. My son was 11 when we took that LA trip. It wasn’t the Harry Potter stuff or the amusement park stuff that made the lasting memory. It was playing cards. An overnight trip to a hotel in our city felt like Disneyland to them. 

There are many other things we’ve done that have made lasting memories for me that they didn’t mention. These are things like geocaching at the local park, taking them to eat at their favorite restaurant, going on walks around the neighborhood, or pulling them out of school early to go watch a movie they were excited about.

What matters most is that you’re intentional. I’m now the parent of a 21 year old and a 19 year old. When people say the days are long but the years are short, believe them. Do the silly things the things you think are boring, or the things you don’t think you have time for. Don’t wait or plan to do things later. I mean, DO plan to do things later, but don’t neglect to do other things NOW. Build blanket forts, eat ice cream for breakfast, enjoy tea parties, and go play catch. One day they will stop asking you to do things. One day they’ll leave your nest and fly out on their own. But never, not even for one single moment should you ever think that you need Disney magic to make a childhood complete. Your presence is the best gift a child could ever receive. Give it to them every day.

I’m Darrell Darnell, and this has been Stuff I Learned Yesterday.

I want you to be a part of the next Monday Mailbag on April 29th! Monday Mailbag is your opportunity to Share what YOU’VE learned, so that other listeners and I can learn from YOU.  It can be a message as short as 30 seconds or several minutes long.  It really doesn’t matter just as long as it’s something that will benefit others.  You can send in questions or responses to my SILY episodes, and I’ll respond to them via Monday Mailbag episodes. You can participate in Monday Mailbags by visiting the Golden Spiral Media listener feedback page at goldenspirlamedia.com/feedback.