The gold standard when it comes to family vacations, a trip to Disney has been a symbol of the quintessential American childhood experience for decades. Unfortunately, over the span of those decades, the price of that experience has also gone up quite a bit. Yes, your kid will have a blast at Disney World (or Disneyland), of course. But if she's young, you probably wonder whether it's worth dipping into her college fund for a vacay she might mostly forget. Are there any reasons to take your toddler to Disney even if you don't think she'll remember the trip?
While this might not be the answer your bank account was hoping to hear, there actually are several potential benefits to taking your tot to "The Happiest Place on Earth." (Although, if you want to get particular about it, this moniker only applies to Disneyland in California; as the website VisitDisney.com explains, Disney World in Florida's official tagline is "The Most Magical Place on Earth.") And those benefits go way beyond photo ops with Goofy and the opportunity to snag some primo Disney-themed souvenirs, too. As experts have found, trips like these can benefit kids in some surprisingly significant ways. So even if they're not cheap, you can at least rest assured that you're getting your money's worth out of getaways like these — and probably in ways that will surprise you!
1. You'll Bond Big-Time
If you're like most over-extended modern parents, finding ways to spend "quality time" with your kids is at the top of your list of priorities — and research has shown that family vacations are the perfect opportunity for some serious bonding. A poll conducted for Disney by the Kelton research firm found that 97 percent of parents said that their kids got to know "new things about them while taking family trips," as Fox News reported; the survey also discovered that while on vacation, entire families tended to be "more excited, silly and affectionate." In addition, parents who took the survey said they ate nearly twice as many meals as usual with their kids on vacation as they did at home. So even if your toddler doesn't recall the specific details of that conversation you had about Goofy's funny hat while you shared a churro, you'll still have grown closer as a result.
2. Your Kid Will Get A Brain Boost
As an adult in desperate need of a break that involves using your brain as little as possible, this next benefit might be a tad unexpected: Family trips to places like Disney can actually boost your little one's brain development, as The Telegraph reported. That's because these experiences exercise two "genetically ingrained systems" in the brain’s limbic area, known as the PLAY system and the SEEKING system (discovered by Professor Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist at Washington State University).
Giving your kid a chance to explore and have fun engages these systems, stimulating growth and maturation in the frontal lobes, or the area of the brain that influences "cognitive functioning, social intelligence and well-focused, goal-directed behaviors that may last a lifetime". So even if you don't think of Disney as an "educational" vacation, per se, your tot will still be learning quite a lot!
3. Happy Memories Can Last Forever
Just because your toddler might forget the name of your hotel or getting her picture taken with Minnie someday doesn't mean that she's not still carrying those experiences with her. As Dima Amso, an associate professor in the department of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown University told Scientific American:
"A memory is essentially a unit of experience, and every experience shapes the brain in meaningful ways. Specific memories may be forgotten, but because those memories form the fabric of our identities, knowledge and experiences, they are never truly or completely gone."
And that's a good thing, when it comes to happy memories. As The Huffington Post reported, research conducted by the Family Holiday Association in the United Kingdom found that 49 percent of people surveyed said their happiest memory was of their family vacations, and a quarter of those people admitted to mentally reliving these happy memories to help them make it through hard times. As John McDonald, Director of the Family Holiday Association, explained, “Using these memories as an anchor to take us back to more cheerful moments, we're often able to approach problems with a fresh sense of perspective."
4. A Vacation Is Money Well Spent
If you've got some extra cash and you're torn between spending it on a trip to Disney and a new playset for the backyard (or some other big-ticket purchase), experts say a vacation will do your kid more good in the long run, even if it seems foolish to splurge on something so temporary.
Research conducted at the University of Toronto found that "experiential gifts are more effective than material gifts at improving relationships from the recipient's perspective," according to ScienceDaily.
"An experiential gift elicits a strong emotional response when a recipient consumes it — like the fear and awe of a safari adventure, the excitement of a rock concert or the calmness of a spa — and is more intensely emotional than a material possession," explained researcher Cindy Chan, an assistant professor in U of Toronto's Scarborough's Department of Management and the Rotman School of Management.
5. Vacations Make Moms Happy, Too
Okay, to be fair, a vacation with the kids isn't exactly a "vacation" in the truest sense of the word. After all, you're still technically "on duty" at all times (although some resorts do have childcare options for the occasional break). Still, a vacation is a vacation (there are no chores to be done at Disney, at least), and one study out of Wisconsin found that women who don't take vacations are more likely to be depressed, as The Washington Post reported. And like the old saying goes: If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. So even if you're still technically on the mom clock, getting away from the daily grind could do wonders for your outlook and your kid's well being as a result!
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.