This post was most recently updated on July 9th, 2019
I went to Disneyland this week for the first time in about ten years, but I left my good camera at home. I’d been sick and was still on antibiotics, so I’d decided I would keep a low profile and just focus on being with my family, instead of documenting everything as travel bloggers are wont to do. The occasion? My oldest granddaughter’s 4th birthday. I wasn’t going to write about this Disneyland visit, but something happened.
I really felt something.
It’s been years since I’ve accompanied a young child to Disneyland. My children are grown. I’d forgotten what it is like to see it through a child’s eyes. Especially for the first time. As we waited for the gates to open, there was talk of Mickey Mouse, princesses, and the castle. Excitement for sure, but unknown expectations. But once we walked inside the gates, it all came rushing back. My own thrill the first time I visited Disney World as a 12 year old. My love of all the details Disney incorporates to make their parks a whole new world apart from the world. And for my granddaughter? She was so excited! About everything. The trolley…the castle…the giant Christmas tree…the birthday button they gave her at Town Hall…window displays…and so much more.
My daughter-in-law was rushing to get her to where she could meet with one of Disneyland’s princesses, thinking there might be a long line. All my granddaughter wanted to do was stop and look at everything. But we made it to the first “Princess stop”, and there was no line at all. Sleeping Beauty welcomed my granddaughter by name (it was on her birthday pin), stooped down to greet her at eye level, and put her arm around her and her younger sister. Then she gave them both a hug. And that’s when it happened. There was a hot rush, a choking feeling in my throat, and tears welling up in my eyes. I know. So pathetic — I was crying because my granddaughters were being treated so well. Because they were having an unforgettable moment. And because I love them so much!
For sure, we would go through the castle now for my granddaughter, who was so anxious to see it. But one more stop first. The fairy grotto. Again, no line. Tinkerbell knelt down to be at eye-level with my granddaughters, showed them her fairy home, and talked with them for a few minutes. So very special and so very sweet. And there I was, crying again. I could hardly whisper “Thank You” to Tinkerbell as we left. I could barely see to take photos with my phone.
Could anything top that?
When we met up with everyone else to go to Fantasyland (oh yes, we were a large family group of 12 — two sets of grandparents, two of my adult children with their spouses and children), I was already overwhelmed emotionally, and it was only 9:30 am. Maybe we just got lucky. Maybe the rest of the day would be a nightmare of long lines, overpriced souvenirs and food, and tired fussy kids.
But lines weren’t very long — at least not for the rides we wanted to take the children on. They were 4 yrs, 2 yrs, and 18 months. We wowed them with Peter Pan’s Flight, Dumbo, the Carousel, Mad Hatter’s Teacups, Storybook Land’s boats, the Sleeping Beauty castle, and the Alice in Wonderland ride. They didn’t even mind waiting in line! My grandson was quite adept at climbing on all of the fences, walls, and bars that corralled us in line. My oldest granddaughter was holding her younger sister’s hand while trying to catch her climbing cousin! And while it was nearly 90 degrees in the sun, all the adults were doing a great job of finding the shady spots to wait.
Every ride a new experience. Every ride a new delight. For all of us. Because there just isn’t anything quite like going to Disneyland with young children.
Toon Town turned out to be a great respite
By 11:00 am, everyone was uncomfortably warm. The kids had flushed cheeks and they were wearing down a little. We meandered over to Toon Town and found a great little play area in the shade. The perfect spot. The kids loved exploring under boxes, sliding, and climbing. Nope. I didn’t get any pictures at all. I was resting, too. But it was so nice to be able to rest where we could see all of the kids and know they were safe and having fun. We had reservations for lunch at the Carnation Cafe at 12:30, and this “rest stop” was perfect. We wandered into the Mickey Mouse home and the kids tried to “break out” of Toon Town jail. Then we headed back to Main Street for lunch. I fully expected our lunch to cost us a fortune, but I was still looking forward to a nice family lunch.
Lunch…and a surprise!
Remember I was expecting super-inflated prices for lunch? We walked in at 12:30 and they had our table ready within minutes. We were all able to sit together under umbrellas on the patio where it was quite comfortable. They served our drinks immediately and gave us unlimited refills (included in the price of the meal). Since we were all a little dehydrated, that was good news! The waitress brought crayons and paper for the kids, and it wasn’t long before we had all been served.
Did I mention that my tasty salmon with chef’s choice of vegetables was only $16? My husband’s satisfying sourdough bacon-cheese melt with fries was also only $16. I wasn’t planning to write a review, but when our bill came and I realized our entire bill with tax and tip was only $40, I rued the fact that I didn’t take any photos at all. I usually take 5 photos from 5 different angles of everything before I eat it, so I can get the best shot for a review. It was only later that I realized the bottomless pomegranate lemonade I enjoyed so much was actually included in my meal! These prices were very reasonable.
And then they brought a cupcake with a candle in it to my granddaughter and sang “Happy Birthday” to her! She was elated, and “Grammie” was in tears again. No photos of that moment either. Are you beginning to understand why my Disneyland photos turned out lousy? The staff was so kind and accommodating, my youngest granddaughter was able to sleep in her stroller without interruption, and all the adults enjoyed being able to sit and visit. Instead of a rushed, expensive average meal, it was one of the highlights of our day. But just one of many.
More Disneyland treats
Our next stop was Tomorrowland where we took advantage of fast passes to Buzz Lightyear and Star Tours. The kids were equally impressed with the Astro Orbiter, Autopia, and the spinning ball on water in the middle of the plaza.
The Finding Nemo ride was another adventure for all of us. Kids and adults alike were entranced by the feeling we were really in an underwater submarine in the movie setting. I took this video because I wanted to be able to re-live the experience.
It didn’t seem to matter what we did with the children; they found every aspect of it fun and entertaining. Wandering through a souvenir shop while waiting for other members of our group? Fun. Climbing along a low wall on the edge of a sidewalk? Fun. Visiting a restroom? Fun. And mind you, only one of these three grandchildren got a nap!
After Tomorrowland, we split up for awhile. Some went to the Haunted Mansion while I ended up in Critter Country with my grandson, and then climbing the Tarzan tree with all of my grandchildren. They loved the freedom of climbing and exploring at their own rate and then trying out all the hands-on activities at the end, including making music with pots and pans…and climbing a rope.
We really enjoyed the Tiki Room because we could sit and rest, and because the little ones were astounded by talking birds, flowers, and tiki heads embedded in the wall with moving eyes! Everywhere I went, I was reminded of Disneyland’s efforts to create a wonderful environment for its guests. You can’t ever tell that you’re in the midst of a busy commercial city. Trees and landscaping are meticulous. Details that place you in a different setting seem so real and are plentiful. And the Christmas decorations that had just been put up were so beautiful. Christmas music playing softly in the background (even in November) was still very welcome!
“Happily Ever After”
One of the last things we did was take our granddaughter to a gift shop on Main Street to choose a birthday present. Everyone knows that grandparents are happy to spoil their grandchildren, especially at a time like this. When I asked my granddaughter what she wanted, it was just this: a mermaid pen and a Minnie Mouse notebook to write in. (Ah! my granddaughter likes to write and draw, just like I do!)
And do you know? The sales clerk was able to help me find both of them. She didn’t just ring up our purchase and hand it to us in a bag. She reached into her drawer and pulled out a large button that read, “Honorary Citizen of Disneyland” and gave it to my granddaughter, saying “This is because you are so special today!” (The tears are coming again) Then she reached into her drawer again and handed a button to me. It read “Happily Ever After!” I felt as special as my granddaughter did.
What is it about Disneyland?
What is it about Disneyland that makes it so appealing to kids and adults alike? I think it is the expectation that we will all open our hearts to the joys of childhood–that we will welcome the opportunities to explore and feel and see as if in a perfect world, far away from the daily grind. (Did I mention I was here the day after the elections?) And the Disneyland staff does such a great job of adding to that feeling that we are here to be young again. They are kind and accommodating and thoughtful.
I enjoyed a wonderful day with my family, with memories that will last a lifetime. My photos are kind of lousy because I decided not to live the day behind a camera lens and be a part of the experience instead of documenting it. Yet I still ended up writing about it, because I just couldn’t resist sharing my beautiful experience. It will mean much more to me and my family than to you, but here it is, anyway. I hope you take the time to have these kinds of experiences with your family, whatever they may be–Disneyland or elsewhere.