I Love Disney So Much, but Our Next Family Trip Will Probably Be Our Last

When you're a parent, taking your kids to Disney World is a magical experience. Seeing their faces light up when they see Cinderella's castle for the first time or watching your little one dive into the arms of their favorite princess is enough to make any parent melt and feel the magic, too. But despite of all these wonderful experiences, there's one major problem. Disney World is insanely expensive, which is why our upcoming family trip will probably be our last.

Parents work so hard to save up for a Disney vacation for their families, and the fact that prices continue to increase feels like a big slap in the face. When will it end?

I know this isn't news. Disney has always been expensive. During one of our visits in the early 2000s, a Disney bus driver made everyone laugh by announcing that MGM (now Hollywood Studios) stood for "Mickey's Got Your Money." (I've always wondered if that rumor is what led the Disney execs to change the name.) In the past five years, my husband and I have visited twice — once on our daughter's first birthday and again on her second — but only because we were living just three hours away. During those two short trips, we did our best to keep our expenses at a minimum, but our wallets still took a significant hit. Mickey did indeed get our money, but we shrugged it off and, like so many parents do, reminded ourselves, "It's Disney! It's worth it!" We knew our daughter wouldn't remember a single thing about either trip, but we enjoyed the experience of taking our new little family to the happiest place on Earth. Now, in just a couple of months, we will be taking another trip to Disney World to celebrate our daughter's fifth birthday.

Initially, I was more excited than she was. I booked our stay at a Disney resort and was on the phone exactly six months and one day before our trip to make dining reservations along with an appointment at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. I was giddy just thinking about her reaction after her princess makeover — the way she'll look in the mirror, clasp her hands together under her chin, and cock her head to the side while giving herself a coy little smile. I could hardly contain myself when I scored a coveted, early dinner reservation with an impressive princess lineup. I turned on Winnie the Pooh for my 1-year-old twins in hopes they'll recognize Pooh and his friends at breakfast. The part of me that delights in seeing my children happy was out in full force. By the time my brain kicked back into its normal, practical mode, it was too late. Reservations had been made, deposits had been paid, and I have a 4-year-old who is counting down the days until she turns into a real Disney princess who wines and dines with other real Disney princesses.

Just last year, Disney not only increased ticket prices (again!) but also started charging for reusable shopping bags in its stores nationwide. At our local Disney Store, the chipper cast member who rang up our purchases told us Mickey has gone green. I couldn't help but respond, "You mean Mickey has gone greedy." While I'm all for helping the environment, the fact that I had to either pay for a bag or carry my daughter's Christmas gifts out of the mall sans bag made me irrationally annoyed. And while it claims the higher ticket prices are to help prevent overcrowding and decrease wait times, it just feels like Disney has put Scrooge McDuck in charge.

With the exception of a character dinner and the boutique on our daughter's birthday, we're not planning an extravagant vacation. We've booked a suite in one of its value resorts that has a kitchenette. That means we can feed the kids breakfast and pack lunches in our hotel room before heading to the parks. We're also driving instead of flying, and we passed on the more expensive park hopper tickets. But in spite of all our money-saving tactics — and Disney's admittedly good hotel and ticket deals — it's still not enough to make a significant difference.

Parents work so hard to save up for a Disney vacation for their families, and the fact that prices continue to increase feels like a big slap in the face. When will it end? How will families continue to be able to make their kids' Disney dreams come true? As a parent, I want nothing more than to make my kids happy and experience such a wonderful and fun place with them, but it's getting to the point now where I don't think it'll be possible anymore, and that breaks my heart. I love Disney so much, but for what we're spending on our next "budget-friendly" trip, we could do so many other things. But we won't. Instead, we will just toss our money into Scrooge's vault one last time, and we'll have a magical time doing it.