Full disclosure: my first trip to Disneyland with a toddler was mostly a bust. My son was three years old when I decided we were ready for our first trip to Disneyland. He walked through the turnstiles, saw the hordes of people, heard the Disney band marching towards us-trombones blaring-and he cried. He covered his ears, asked to be picked up, and declared his trip to Disneyland was over.
So it was, that our first trip to Disneyland together involved a lot more tears and bribery through Mickey-shaped ice cream sandwiches, than the magical memories I’d hoped for. Here are the lessons I learned. Don’t laugh, I was a rookie mom.
1. Just because all the other toddlers are doing it, doesn’t mean mine will. I saw plenty of bouncing, laughing toddlers float by me on the Pirate of Caribbean boats. They were apparently not the least bit bothered by the realistic pirates, skulls, and the cannon battles. So off we went into the pirate’s lair. My son hated me the whole day after. In fact, he refused to go on almost all other rides-even the harmless Heimlich’s Chew Chew train (a green caterpillar cruising at 2 mph through giant fruit and yelling in a bad German accent) was too suspect for him to even attempt. I knew my child was super sensitive to most of the Disney movies at that age, why did I think going on the rides would be any different? I let peer pressure get the better of me. Just say no.
2. You will travel 7 hours, spend hundreds of dollars, and your child will want to ride the Monorail 5 times (and the Jungle Cruise 6 times). I quickly found that my very active three-year-old boy was not captivated by most of the Fantasyland rides, he would rather run around Tom Sawyer Island, ride the train, and pretend he was an explorer in the Jungle. I altered our ride plans after our first horrid day, and went with his natural interest in trains, dirt, and running like crazy through jets of water. Our day was a lot less filled with princesses and pirates, but a whole lot easier. You may not like where your toddler will take you, but just go with it.
3. There are crowds and then there are holiday crowds. I didn’t realize that the crowds during Easter week would make our visit three times harder. The seas of people, umbrella strollers, and noise were too much for sensitive little guy to handle. I wasn’t too fond of it either. If you don’t get to visit Disneyland often and have invested a lot of money into your trip, you don’t want to spend your precious time standing in line for the parking tram.
4. Plan or perish. I made a lot of mistakes on that first trip, but my lack of planning is what really did me in. The extent of my planning involved printing out a Disneyland map and checking out some of the ride descriptions on their website. I didn’t give too much thought to making a plan for our day. Because of our ill-fated first trip, I have learned a whole lot more about the best ways to enjoy Disneyland (at any age). Do your research, there are a lot of resources online to help you.
5. Nobody took my Mother of the Year award away from me. Sure, I made mistakes on my first trip, but there were things I couldn’t have foreseen. My son’s reaction was all his own, and maybe no amount of planning and preparation would have prevented it. Toddlers are lovable but unpredictable little anarchists. Do what you can to make your toddler’s first trip to Disneyland enjoyable, and if else fails buy him a Mickey-shaped popsicle. Then find yourself a shady bench.