Growing Up Mouse

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A Lifetime of Disney

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California anywhere from 45-90 minutes from Disneyland depending on traffic. 😉 As a child my family would visit Disney around once a month and sometimes more often when school wasn’t in session. My grandfather was friends with the head of public relations for Disneyland and she provided tickets for us to enjoy Walt’s playground quite often. I recently learned that my parents and grandparents occasionally were invited to special events as well. For example, they all attended the private Disneyland 25th anniversary party in 1980. Just thinking about it brings on waives of jealousy.

Me (left), my brother (center) and our friend Grant at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Disneyland in the late 1980’s.

When I was 11 we moved from Southern California to Las Vegas which meant my Disney trips became less frequent for awhile. My most prominent memory of Disney during that time was a choir trip I took in 7th grade. We stayed at what is now the Paradise Pier Hotel which at the time wasn’t owned by Disney. Our visit came on the heels of the opening of the Indiana Jones Adventure which was exciting.

Unfortunately demand was through the roof and the line was over 4 hours long. It snaked its way from the ride out into Adventureland before making its way out into the hub and then wrapping back around into Frontierland. My schoolmates and I took turns waiting in the line and we did eventually get to ride. It instantly became one of my favorites.

Space Mountain queue 1999.

Starting A Family

Eventually I “grew up” or perhaps I should say I didn’t have much of a choice. I was on my own by 16 and began dating a young lady named Jasmine just before my 17th birthday. During the Summer of 1999 I took her to Disneyland for the first time. It was a special visit and perhaps the first time I realized that Disneyland was changing forever. At the time Disney’s California Adventure (its name at the time) was under construction on the former parking lot and I couldn’t have been more excited. Since moving to Las Vegas I hadn’t been visiting Disney often, so to make up for that we visited another time that year before our lives changed forever.

Late in 1999 we were shocked to find out Jasmine was pregnant. I was 17 and Jasmine was 19. We were just kids, but we were on our own and had decent jobs. We started our life together and in August, 2000 Shawn Reece was born. His Disney story didn’t start right away though. At the time I believed Disney with young children was more of a torture for parents than fun. I have since come around on this way of thinking, but it guided our Disney strategy when Shawn Reece was a baby. We would wait until he was 4 to make our first visit to Disneyland with him and then we wouldn’t stop.

Shawn Reece riding Big Thunder Mountain on his first visit in early 2005.

A Disney Childhood

From the time he was 4-6 we visited Disneyland every few months. We were incredibly lucky in that he loved to ride everything, but there was another blessing we didn’t appreciate enough. At 4 years old the kid could go all day without a stroller. Morning to night he would go and go and go. He was a Disney natural and before long he was indoctrinated into everything that Disneyland had to offer. While visits every few months are a blessing enough for most people, that little kid and indeed the kids that were his parents were about to take things to a new level.

During the first few years of Shawn Reece’s life Jasmine and I worked as servers at IHOP where we both made surprisingly decent money. We married in early 2001 and bought our first home shortly thereafter. I eventually worked my way up to become a General Manager at IHOP before realizing that was way too much work for not enough pay. Eventually Jasmine moved on from IHOP to become a Realtor and I shifted to the financial industry first working in Estate Planning and then moving into mortgage where I was doing quite well despite the incredibly stressful environment. Then one fateful day in 2006 I had a quick chat with an older female coworker.

Our first visit to Hong Kong came in 2008 when our son was 7 years old.

Dreaming of the Road

My coworker Valerie was telling me about how she had once traveled to Europe for a month with her husband and son. During our talk she passionately described how they only brought small bags and used a rail pass to criss-cross the continent while visiting some of the world’s most iconic cities and sights. That conversation triggered something deep within my soul. I had once dreamed about traveling the world, but had not really revisited that idea when my son was born. Suddenly I began thinking, “Why not?” Why not indeed.

To make a long story short, I thought about this conversation and the idea of traveling the world as a family for a week before I decided to bring it up to Jasmine. Then, one day I had her pick me up for lunch and I told her. “Why don’t we sell our house and travel the world for a year or two?” I had been reading blogs and resources non-stop for the past week and knew it was possible. Financially we could do it and there were ways to stay safe. She agreed to entertain the idea, but deep down I knew we were going to do it. We left on our 17 month journey in April, 2007 with nothing but our backpacks. It was amazing.

Volcan Pacaya in Guatemala. Notice the lava just above his head! 🙂

Visiting All Disney Parks

Shawn Reece was 6 when we left Las Vegas and 8 when we returned. We visited 20 countries, studied languages, hiked volcanoes, swam in the oceans, discovered ancient ruins and SO much more. We also deepened our love for Disney. Towards the beginning of the trip we spent 2 weeks at Walt Disney World and towards the end we also managed to visit Hong Kong Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Resort. These places only served to deepen my childhood love of Disney. I could both see their unique characteristics and how they were similar to what I loved back home.

After returning home we picked up Disneyland annual passes and made tons of trips down I-15 to the Happiest Place on Earth. Any time we would get antsy for the road we would head down there. I was happy to visit the OG Disneyland, but I wanted to complete our Disney journey with a visit to the last resort we had yet to visit. In 2009 that opportunity came with a $209 roundtrip mistake fare to Europe. During that trip we visited Spain, Italy and France. Most importantly for this story we visited Disneyland Paris Resort. On one hand we discovered Disney’s worst park (Walt Disney Studios) and perhaps its most beautiful park as well. (Disneyland Park Paris).

Casey Jr. in Disneyland Paris 2009.

Another Disney Decade

And that was a decade ago, but my Disney love and knowledge has only grown since then. For example, for one reason or another I seem to be in Hong Kong often, so I have returned to Hong Kong Disneyland 7 times. During the past decade I have also returned to Paris, Tokyo and Orlando numerous more times and I was at Shanghai Disneyland just months after it first opened in 2016 and on return visits in 2017 and 2019.

Our lives have changed a bit over the course of this journey as well. Shawn Reece is now 18, but we welcomed a new child into our lives in 2015 with the birth of Elizabeth Skye. Unlike with her brother, Ellie wouldn’t have to wait until she was 4 to experience Disney. On her first birthday we took her to Disneyland Paris where she rode everything she could without a single tear. She is now 4 and while she still needs a stroller, at 40″+ she is a daredevil when it comes to rides like Tower of Terror, Space Mountain, Star Tours, Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain. The kid hasn’t met a ride she doesn’t like.

Ellie piloting Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run at Disneyland.

Mission – Disney Around the World in 6 Weeks

And that’s probably a good thing, because our latest Disney feat was quite the challenge. Earlier this year we visited every Disney resort in the world over the course of 6 weeks. To spell it out, we visited: Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, Anaheim, Orlando and Paris. All with a 4 year old and all within 6 weeks. Why not quicker? Well, we do love to travel as well so we squeezed in some non-Disney stuff in between. I can say that visiting 6 resorts containing 12 parks and 2 water parks within 6 weeks is aggressive enough. It also gave me the unique opportunity to truly compare what Disney has to offer both here in the United States and around the world.

Why Disney Hacks

Before concluding my story, perhaps I need to back up a little to explain why I am starting Disney Hacks. From 2007-2008 I wrote about much of our around the world trip while blogging for fun. Then, I made my way back into Corporate America for a few years, but it just wasn’t for me. By 2013 I left my job and re-branded our old site to begin blogging full time. Since then I have shared tips and tricks for maximizing travel rewards with millions of people on Miles to Memories. That site has grown tremendously and today my team and I continue to help others travel the world for pennies on the dollar. Now, I want to use my expertise to help fans really maximize their Disney experiences.

My dad in front of Star Tours in the late 1980’s. Note that bench seating is now gone. 🙁

Join Me & Subscribe

As you can see from my story I have amassed a wealth of unique information. Yes, I have spent the past 13 years traveling around the world (including Disney) with kids of all ages, but there is so much more. I am an established expert when it comes to credit cards, family travel, award travel and in finding deals. Now, I want to combine those skills with my Disney knowledge and experience. So here I present Disney Hacks for your enjoyment. On this site I’ll cover Disney news from around the world. I’ll spark your imagination by showing you what you’re missing at the foreign Disney parks and I’ll show you how to visit them cheaply. I’ll also keep up on Disneyland and Walt Disney World and give you the best hacks on saving at Disney while getting more for the money you spend.

So what can you do? I’m glad you asked:

I do hope you’ll find Disney Hacks is useful as a resource and as a community. Please consider joining our Facebook group to talk Disney and utilize our sister site Miles to Memories for everything you need to know about traveling the globe for pennies on the dollars.

Shawn Coomer
I grew up an hour from Disneyland and spent most of my childhood at Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom. As I grew up my love of theme parks and Disney grew as did my love of travel. For the past 13 years I have circled the globe with my family for pennies on the dollar. I am an expert at travel hacking, saving money, family travel and of course Disney.

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