Mickey Mouse vs. Grand Duke Vytautas the Great

Grand Duke Vytautas the Great

There comes a time in every parent’s life when she must choose between a family vacation to Disney World, or Lithuania.

The decision might seem like an obvious one at first, but let me assure you it is not. I have been actively thinking about taking the family to Lithuania for a while now. The last time I visited was in 1995 – four years after independence – when they still had soldiers stamping visas behind a card table as you walked off the plane. It’s a whole different country now, with gourmet restaurants, fancy hotels, even its own scent. My friend V went a couple of years ago and got cryogenically frozen at the spa in Druskinikai, if that’s any indication of how far Lithuanians, as a people, have come.

But the biggest motivation is for my children. I want them to see that there’s a place where speaking the language I continue to yammer at them in is routine. I want them to be awestruck by medieval castles and fortresses and make the connection that they share blood ties to the people who once built and lived in them. I want to buy them an ice cream cone on the beach by the Baltic, and most of all I want to force them, for two solid weeks, to speak Lithuanian.

Mickey Mouse

But even though I had pretty much decided on Lithuania (if it’s financially possible), I began to waver when my friends spoke to me of Licensed Character Dinners that needed to be purchased for Disney a full year ahead of time. Disney World is cheaper than Lithuania, there’s no language barrier, and you don’t have jet lag or a hangover when you get home. The kids are always pleading with us to go to Disney, but you never hear them clamoring for a visit to the Lithuanian Museum of Ancient Beekeeping. Everyone keeps telling me that the Disney World Appreciation Window is narrow, and next summer my kids will already be 6 and almost 9 years old. So despite my noble aspirations, I started thinking about putting the Land of my Ancestors off for another year.

But recently my little son Jonas, who you may remember as being outwardly anti-Lithuanian, said a curious thing. At first I had no idea what he was talking about because he was using run on-sentences and mixing up languages and at one point he also started to sing. But what ultimately came out of it was this:

Jonas is in the process of developing a very special pair of shoes. Sneakers so stunningly engineered, that when he wears them on “Jonas Day” in Lithuania, he will be able to propel himself over a fire with very little exertion and win the Midsummer Night’s bonfire jumping contest to great international acclaim.

Awhile back, I tried to talk up the fatherland by telling him about how they celebrate the Feast of his patron Saint, John. And it turns out that just because, at the time, my kid was staging a dramatic display of disinterest, doesn’t mean he wasn’t listening. In fact, it seems he is planning to go.  Yesterday he asked me how many days we would have to fly to get there and reminded me that on “Jonas Day,” as he calls it, people stay up all night.

If you have perchance taken your children to Disney World and/or Lithuania, how old were they and how, if I may ask, did it go?

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16 thoughts on “Mickey Mouse vs. Grand Duke Vytautas the Great

  1. Becca

    I have not taken my kids to either Disney or Lithuania. However! I am always one to err on the side of the more educational, less manufactured, option. And go Jonas! I always love it when the kids surprise me like that!

  2. Lise

    I don’t think the Disneyworld appreciation window is narrow at all. Three of my daughters visited DW with an aunt when they were teenagers and loved it. I took all four of my kids to Disneyland when they were 4,8,11, and 14 and everyone had a great time. They might not be interested in the character breakfasts (which honestly are overpriced and somewhat cheesy) but they’ll love the rest of it, even if you wait a few years to visit. I’d take my kids to Lithuania in a heartbeat. Experiencing a real culture is so much more valuable than visiting a plastic amusement park.

  3. Jennifer sachar

    I was forced into a family trip to Disney way too early. My husbands whole family was going. So off we went. My kids were 3 and 9 months. They were way too young. I agree with Lise, there is not a small window. My nieces and nephews who were teenagers also enjoyed the park. You still have plenty of time to take them.

  4. Audra

    Since Disney is actively, frantically marketing Princess crapola to young girls and who knows what else, I’m happy for Disney windows to open and close without taking part. Legoland Denmark, ok. Something that involves Heidi and Swiss Alps, yup. But Disney is on my sh(*&t list after reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Maybe we can somehow make it through childhood sticking to old school Muppets.

    1. Rima Post author

      Audra – I hear you. I’ve heard of that book but haven’t picked it up yet. Thankfully, Vija isn’t really into princesses of any kind. I’m hoping to spend more time at Epcot once we do go.

  5. magpie

    i will NEVER go to disney. so, lithuania all the way, baby. seriously. i’d love to go there. and denmark, and paris with the girl, and japan, and maybe hawaii.

    i’ve also never seen The Sound Of Music. i plan to keep it that way.

    do read the orenstein book. is AWESOME.

  6. OHmommy

    I said NO WAY to DIsney two years ago. I thought I would hate it but I really liked it. I was so against it. I’m glad we went.

    I’ve taken my kids to my home country in Europe and WDW – both were completely different from each other. I would do both trips again, in a heart beat.

  7. Kat

    Well, in my opinion, I think the kids are at the perfect age for Disney. A trip to your homeland is AMAZING and they may be able to appreciate it (the culture, the history, etc) just a little bit more when they are older. We are trying to get in that magical window with our kids too. I went to Disney for the first time when I was 18 and I just thought, “meh”. Not that big of a deal. I want my kids to go and feel like it is all magic. I feel like that kind of disappears after a certain age.

  8. Marta

    I haven’t taken the kids to Disney yet but my in laws are taking all of us in January. By then my son will be almost 5 and my daughter almost 18 months old. I think she’s definitely too young to appreciate it and I think he will be just at the cusp of going on a lot of the rides. But I know he’ll love it. However, I’m 26 and I can’t wait to go. I was just there in July for a work conference and loved it. I’m not sure what this window you speak of is, because I would go to Disney at any age. Especially on someone else’s charge =).

    I’d love to take my kids to Poland. It’s something my husband and I have definitely talked about. It would however be when they are much older and we are much richer. I used to go every single summer from age 6-12, and I loved it.

  9. Leslie - MOTR

    I’m going out on a limb here with no research on pricing trips to Lithuania – but I have been to Disney World. And I’m betting that Lithuania is less money. On top of that, when you leave Disney World, you leave feeling a wee bit violated by the giant mouse. Perhaps, robbed. Empty pockets. Whereas, even if Lithuania trip IS more expensive (seriously, I bet it’s not) – you’d get more out of it. Once your kids go Disney, nothing is good enough unless the culture is stripped of it and in it’s place, glitter and mouse ears. Go Lithuania first for the wow effect. Disney can wait.

  10. alejna

    Completely selfishly, I hope you pick Lithuania. Because I would love to read about that trip! (Also, I’d love to go on a trip like that.) I’ve never much gotten interested in reading about people’s visits to Disneyworld. The Disney experience seems just so…packaged and mass-produced. For me, there’s far more magic in other parts of the world.

    Of course, I always enjoy whatever you write. And your family would no doubt look terribly cute in mouse ears.

  11. Polish Mama on the Prairie

    I vote for Lithuania. I went to Disney when I was 14 and my brother was 12. We both still enjoyed it just fine. Disney will be there, it doesn’t change except for the skirts getting shorter and shorter.

    Lithuania will keep changing, becoming more and more wonderful. I took our oldest to Poland for the first time when she was just 3 and do not regret that at all. We are hoping to make it a biyearly experience throughout my children’s lives. That way they know where I come from, that there is a world that is so wonderful outside of America, why they should try to learn Polish, that there is a delicious world to discover. My oldest now is proud to be Polish because she gets what it means, both want to learn Polish, my oldest misses her cousins and Ciocias and Wujeks and her praBabcia, etc. They get it now and why not let them get it sooner rather than later, I think.

    Lithuania over Disney any day. Disney will be there. Good luck whatever you choose to do!

  12. Kristina

    I would be torn too. I’m 2nd generation Lithuanian, went to Lithuanian school (and hated it at the time), Lithuanian scout camp and Neringa until I was 13 and my first visit to Lietuva was at 13. I was actually in Lietuva the summer when 7 border guards were killed and visited the graves of the fallen. The whole trip was an intense experience that I don’t think I would have appreciated had I been younger. I say, save up for Letuva for when your kids can really understand the importance of the trip, and go for Disney. I went there for the first time when I was about 7 or 8 and there is definately a “magic” about it at that age (but I think that magic is there at any age).

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