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Better Than Disneyland

June 16, 2014

It’s called the happiest place on earth, but my neighbor found out that in the eyes of his three kids there was someplace even better. For many families the trip to Disneyland is a pilgrimage. Often taken annually, but attendance at least once in your life is almost considered a rite of passage.

My neighbor Carl tried to take his kids every couple of years. A few years ago he loaded his family into the minivan and made the trek across the desert from Northern Utah to the Mecca of Southern California. The three days he was planning to actually spend in the park was nearly as long as the drive back and forth. So, to fill out the week, he and his wife decided to take the kids to the beach for the first couple of days. They had a great time, but the real attraction was coming up.

On the third day they headed to the land that Walt built.

My parents took my two brothers and me on a two day trip to Disneyland when I was about 12. They put my 14 year old brother Richard in charge of watching my eight year brother John and me, and then they turned us loose on the costumed characters and concession workers.

Of course, the first thing that John and I did was promptly ditch Richard on Tom Sawyer island. I knew better than to ditch John. I’d get in enough trouble for ditching my older brother. Leaving my 8 year old brother to wander alone would be too much to hope to get away with.

We ran all over the park and stood in lots of long lines for comparatively short rides. By the time we met back up at the predefined rendezvous spot, we were as exhausted as you would expect after a day of running all over the park and avoiding my brother and my parents.

As we got off the bus from our hotel on the second day my parents wisely separated me from my brothers. Richard was back in charge of John and I had permission to keep out of trouble on my own.

I tried to think what I wanted to do: Matterhorn? That line was going to be really long.

Tom Sawyer Island? I’d pretty much covered the entire island yesterday.

I kept trying to decide what attraction I’d missed or was worth the line for a second go around.

Disneyland features a horse drawn streetcar that makes a simple loop up and down Main Street. I liked horses, so I caught the street car and sat as close to the front as I could. Eventually I was seated next to the driver.

He apparently wasn’t used to twelve year old boys choosing to fore-go the speed and excitement of the signature attractions for the relaxed pace of the street car. He loved to talk and I was a good listener. I sat on the bench for hours as he gave me a history of the early days of Disneyland. He’d been hired personally by Uncle Walt. He pretty much had a job for as long as he wanted at this point.

At the end of the day I said goodby to my new friend and headed off to meet my parents and my bothers who had done another round of rides that day. I’m sure my parents were annoyed at some level that they’d blown $75 for an all day pass and all I used it for was sitting in a streetcar and talking to what was admittedly a stranger.

But, this post is titled “Better Than Disneyland.” My second day was still at Disneyland. That brings me back to my neighbor Carl and his family. As Carl and his wife Aubry shepherded their brood from ride to ride, the kids eventually got bored with standing line. They didn’t go hang out on the streetcar, instead they went one better. . .”Can we go back to the beach?”

I know Carl was somewhat annoyed. He was putting down big bucks for the full experience and here all his kids wanted to do was go back to the public beach. . .which didn’t cost a dime.

I’ve seen similar experiences in business. Corporate retreats have somewhat fallen out of favor thanks to excesses like Enron. Still, sometimes you need to get your people away from the office. Think twice before you book them through to Hawaii or Telluride, or really anywhere that you have to fly to. I’ve never found a hotel bed as comfortable as the bed at my house.

You don’t want the experience to become counterproductive. I talked before about having “Christmas Dinner In June.” Remember that if you’re the boss and you “invite” your people to an event, they will feel obligated to attend. Our department was once “invited” by my boss’s boss to attend a Christmas play. My wife was invited too, of course. Which really meant that my boss’s boss had “invited” us to get a babysitter for several hours and drive an hour each direction to Salt Lake, and fight for parking with the Christmas shoppers, for a play that he really loved.

I was relieved when I discovered that the date of the performance conflicted with previously scheduled maintenance that I had to supervise.

So, doing things for your team is great. It’s a way to build unity and show appreciation, but like my friend’s kids and my own experience, don’t assume that the only way to accomplish your goals is to spend a lot of money.

BTW, Carl took his family to Disneyland again this year and they seemed to have a great time. My parents decided once was enough for me. . .and they were right. Realize that for your teams there may be destinations that are better than Disneyland.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children and one grandchild.

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