Five years ago, we decided to do what millions of people do every year. We decided to take a magical trip to Disneyland. My oldest was obsessed with the Pixar movie Cars. What better way to feed into this obsession than by visiting a theme park that had an entire section dedicated to this movie?

Hours of research went into this trip. We had three children ages 5 and under at the time, so there was a lot of strategic planning. Which hotel to stay at? What was the best way to navigate the parks? Which rides were on the “must-do” list? How the heck do we use FastPass?

The actual trip itself was a bit of a blur. Lots of walking. Lots of waiting in lines. It was hot. Obligatory pictures were taken. Naps and mealtimes were squeezed in somehow. In short, it was fun, but exhausting. I’ve come to realize that this is how most so-called “vacations” go when children are involved.

It was also an expensive trip. This was before I started tracking our spending, so I didn’t exactly budget for this trip. My credit card statement did a pretty good job of reminding me that this Disney experience came with a big price tag.

Fast forward to this past summer. We were staying in southern CA again, and this time, we were meeting with extended family. We came to the consensus that we should spend a day at one of the many amusement parks in the area. In case you’re not familiar with southern CA, there are a plethora of amusement park choices in addition to Disneyland, such as Legoland, Universal Studios, Six Flags Magic Mountain, and Knott’s Berry Farm to name a few. 

We could have easily opted for Disneyland again this time around. However, we nixed every single one of those choices and opted for Adventure City. Adventure what? If you’ve never heard of Adventure City, here’s a quick comparison chart:

Disneyland Adventure City
Name recognition/global presence Yes No
Size 85 acres 2 acres
Number of attractions 91 19
Accommodations 3 on-site None on-site
Vacation packages/ has its own behemoth travel industry Yes No
Famous characters beloved by millions (or is it billions?) Yes No
FastPass Yes No
Parades Yes No
Cool fireworks display Yes No
Fine dining options Yes No
Offers VIP package tour for an extra $2,550 Yes No
A family destination Yes Yes
Cost for a 1 day ticket Anywhere from $91-$185 ages 3 and up $19.95 ages 1 and up

$15.95 for seniors 55 and up

Why Adventure City? Here were the factors in our decision-making:

  1. Our total party included 3 adults and 6 children. The 6 children ranged from 4-11 years of age.
  2. Activity level of children: My kids are definitely on the lower end of the activity level spectrum. They have never been the type of run around and require backpack leashes when out in public. My niece and nephews are similarly low key. Therefore, we didn’t feel like we needed the kids to burn off energy during our day trip outing. To those parents who have high energy children, I salute you. I don’t know how you do it.
  3. All of the children have already experienced Disneyland and Legoland at some point in their lives, although not all of them have memories due to their young ages at the time of the visit.
  4. We didn’t want to shell out a ton of money.

My thoughts from this trip to Adventure City? The park is incredibly easy to get around due to its small size. There were a decent amount of people there, but it never felt congested and claustrophobic. Minimal to no time was spent waiting in lines. We got around to every single attraction and didn’t feel like we had to rush or that we were missing out. Most of the rides were experienced multiple times. Since this park caters to the 12 and under crowd, it was so easy for the children to meet the height requirements. (Have you ever had a kid that missed a height requirement by fractions of an inch? Not a pretty sight.) This way, the adults could sit and relax a bit while the kids had a fantastic time. Did I mention no lines?

It really was a win-win situation for all involved. 


We could have easily gone to Disneyland or any of the other bigger amusement parks had I not been aware of Adventure City as an option.

Let’s say that I had no idea Adventure City existed and we opted for one of the bigger parks.

My prediction based on actual past experience: we would have had to do a lot more planning and research beforehand. We would have spent a lot more time getting into the park, getting around the park, and waiting in lines. This would have led to less time on the actual rides. Shows and other attractions would have required advanced planning and waiting in order to get the best seats. Our wallets would have suffered much more with any of these other options.


I have to admit, I was a little concerned with how the kids would react since they had previously experienced Disneyland and Legoland. They had seen the best of the best, and perhaps this slightly dated, pint-sized amusement park was going to bore them within the first half hour.

Even just the experience of parking and purchasing your tickets is so different. The bigger parks do a great job of hyping you up well before you even make it into the park. Lots of big, bold signs that promise a day of fun and magic. Beautifully manicured landscaping. Massive parking lots, where you can easily play the license plate game and count the number of different state license plates. If you did your homework, you would’ve scored your tickets online. If not, you’d be waiting impatiently in a very long line of equally impatient people, wondering why you didn’t just buy the tickets online.

At Adventure City, the parking lot was not anywhere near full. In addition, parking is free, which is unheard of when visiting almost any amusement park. We walked right up to the ticket counter and purchased our tickets. The grand total for 3 adults and 6 children: $255.39.

Voila! So simple.

As it turns out, there was no need to worry. The kids had an absolute blast. Not once did they bemoan the fact that there were no 4D shows or better, fancier rides. They thoroughly enjoyed not just the park, but spending time with one another. I took plenty of pictures, and I know that many fun memories were made on that day.


How many families have overlooked Adventure City because (a) they didn’t know about it or (b) they immediately dismissed it because it wasn’t a “name-brand” amusement park? There are probably a good number of families that fall into one of these categories. They just went into Disney mode, convinced that this was the best option for family fun.

What do I mean by Disney mode?

Disney mode means that you pay more for a consumption item because you assume that it provides better quality without being aware of equally good (if not, better) options. To you, it’s worth every penny, despite the higher price tag. You may even think that it’s worth it because of the higher price tag. This is where you’re equating monetary value with intrinsic value.

You can easily enter into Disney mode with almost any consumption item. That dream home with the bigger mortgage. The new car with all the bells and whistles. Any name brand item- take your pick. Expand this concept to all consumption items, and you can see how your spending can add up very quickly, leaving less to save and invest. You may also be missing out on some wonderful experiences.


So how do you prevent yourself from automatically going into Disney mode? This requires a bit of a shift in mindset, but the key is to build awareness around your spending habits. If there is a particular spending category that is always giving you trouble, ask yourself if you’re defaulting to Disney mode. That thing that you want….is it really the best value considering the time, effort, and money that will be required? Or are there more budget-friendly alternatives that will fulfill your needs equally as well?

Guess what? These alternatives can be just as good, if not better, for you at this point in your life. Maybe you really didn’t need so much Disney, now that you think about it. This is not about deprivation or downgrading your experience. This is not about being frugal for the sake of being frugal. It’s about taking a hard look at what will benefit you, not what society thinks will benefit you. It’s about making those assessments and being honest with yourself.

As I’ve said before, align your spending with your values. This doesn’t even require that you make a specific spending plan, although I highly recommend starting one if you’re serious about getting your finances in order. If you really love the Disney version of whatever it is that you want, then you’re going to have to plan for it. If you find that everything you value requires a Disney-sized budget, and in reality, you have an Adventure City-sized budget, you’re going to have to prioritize what you find important. Either that, or start making enough money to accommodate your Disney-sized budget.


For all you Disney lovers out there, don’t take any of this personally. I figured almost anyone could relate to Disney, so that’s why I chose Disneyland over the other amusement parks. I love my fair share of Disney movies and have memorized way too many Disney songs. We have a couple of Star Wars fans in the family that are eagerly awaiting the newest addition to the Disneyland family, a Star Wars themed land that is set to open next summer. Our kids are at the age where visiting Disneyland won’t be quite as daunting (no nap times or diaper changes this time around!). Because we are intentional with our spending, we’ll make plenty of room in our spending plan to accommodate this vacation so that we can enjoy it to its fullest without worrying how much we’re spending.

When you’re faced with a spending decision, figure out if it’s the Disney version that you truly want. If it is, by all means, go for it….as long as you understand its true worth, you won’t regret it. However, if you are ready to explore alternatives and think that the Adventure City version is the way to go right now, embrace that choice. You may be surprised at how much joy it will bring you.


  1. xrayvsn on September 5, 2018 at 10:29 am

    Interesting observation. I admit I never heard of Adventure City but sounds like it was a good option especially since you already have a visit to Disney. I also admit when I do a vacation for my daughter it usually revolves around recognizable brands. We did Disney in Orlando 2 years ago (which was a blast). Stayed a week and hit every park. Was a pricey vacation as all things Disney is but memories are awesome from it and no regrets. Next year have a Disney Cruise on the docs (first time my daughter has been on a cruise of any sort, so thought go with one that would cater to her). Again pay a premium for the experience with Disney branding but I figure she’s only young once.

    • Financial Wellness DVM on September 5, 2018 at 8:18 pm

      In the context of our situation, it just made sense to go with the non-Disney option. Disney has many repeat customers (including a number of adult fans who go without children), so they’re obviously doing something right! I’ve heard that Disney cruises are amazing- would love to hear what you and your daughter think after you take your trip!

  2. Tread Lightly, Retire Early on September 6, 2018 at 9:48 pm

    We haven’t done Disney yet, but I expect we probably will at least once. Somewhat similar, we’ve opted for the much smaller county fairs – cheaper, fewer crowds, just as much fun 🙂

    • Financial Wellness DVM on September 6, 2018 at 10:21 pm

      I love county fairs! It’s just a nice reminder that kids can have fun pretty much wherever they go. I feel like Disney is one of those vacations that’s become a rite of passage for all families with children. Walt Disney was certainly a marketing genius!! The fact that they’re adding a new Star Wars Land almost guarantees that we’ll be joining the masses in the future. I will need to prepare myself physically, mentally, and financially before that trip!

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