Monday, May 16, 2011

Disneyland for Toddlers?

(This photo was taken at about 9:00 am, after an early "Magic Morning" in the park. He is 16 months old here.)

(Picture above is from his 3rd or 4th trip (who's counting) last August with Daddy's cousin, Donna. He is about 9 months old here.)
(The pic above with the castle is from his 2nd trip in April of 2010. He is approx. 5 1/2 months.)

Hey, I know a lot of you Disney-doubters question whether Disneyland is really a good place to take a baby or a toddler, arguing that it's either germ-filled, over-stimulating, or that it's just plain pointless because the little kids just won't remember spending the day at the Magic Kingdom when they're that little. But I beg to differ. I think Disneyland is a great place to take young children, especially if you live close to Anaheim, or if you have an annual pass, thus can justify taking several shorter trips rather than one big trip, where you feel the need to pack everything into one day.

Here are some of the reasons why I love taking my toddler to Disneyland:

It's Kid Friendly. What place could be more kid friendly? So your child is crying or better yet, screaming with delight over the sight of Mickey Mouse. He's in good company, because chances are, there are at least 10 screaming kids within shouting distant of your loud & vocal tot, so scream on. He's not alone.

There are myriad food options, even for picky eaters. What I love is that most restaurants in the park not only have kids' meals, but toddler meals, and for a mere $3.99, you can get mac 'n cheese or chicken & rice, etc. with apple sauce and a milk. Our favorite options are either at The Hungry Bear restaurant, which serves the best mac 'n cheese in Disneyland. (Yes, the different restaurants serve different versions of the cheesy goodness.) Or the Pollo con arroz from Zocalo. It's always a hit!

Disneyland is super-convenient when you have babies that are nursing or kids in diapers. Bathrooms are always close by, and they all have baby changing stations.

There is even a Disneyland Baby Care center, which offers a private area for nursing, super clean changing tables, and even sells essentials like diapers, formula, etc. in case you find yourself in a jam. They even have a sink where you can wash bottles or sippy cups out with Dawn dish soap and steaming hot water.

Another great reason is that it's free admission for kids under 3. Of course, adults have to pay and parking is not cheap and neither is the food. But hey, how many places give you anything for free, right?

If you stay in one of the Disneyland hotels, they offer what are called "Magic Mornings," which means they open the park an hour earlier than normal to hotel guests. This is awesome, especially with little kids because you can hit all the Fantasyland rides, which often get crowded, before the park even opens and the rest of the crowds come. Truly magical.

My son is 18-months, and while he was only 4 months at his first trip to the Happiest Place on Earth, every time he goes, he gets something new and different from the experience. It also makes a difference that his favorite characters (all Disney pals) are Pooh, Tig-Tig, Eeyore, Mou-mou, Woody, & Buzz etc. From the time he was about 10 months old, he would wake up in the morning and ask for "Pooh." So a trip to Disneyland for him is like going to his best friends' house, where all his best friends live together in the coolest pad ever.

We love exploring Toon Town and playing at Goofy's playground, a great place for young kids who need to get out energy by climbing or playing on the slide. His favorite rides right now are the "Neigh neighs" (merry-go-round), Dumbo, Small World, and of course, the Winnie-the-Pooh ride. (Side note about the Pooh ride: I really think that ride represents a lousy effort on Disney's behalf. They took out the Country Bear Jamboree (a personal fave) to do a poor job re-interpreting some classic Pooh stories into a ho-hum ride that really should be called "Pooh on Acid," because when Pooh has the heffalump nightmare, the whole ride turns into a neon-colored world with scary, psychedelic images.) The only redeeming quality about the ride is they left the familiar faces of the deer, moose, and buffalo from the walls of the Bear Country Jamboree, so at just the right moment you can spy Max, Buff, & Melvin beaming down from above. Also, the cupcakes in the Pooh Corner shop right next to the ride, or a photo op with the Pooh characters, make a trip to Critter Country infinitely worth-it, even if you skip the Pooh ride.

Disneyland means different things to different people. For me, it's a place I enjoyed visiting with my family as a child. We didn't take a lot of fancy vacations, but we always went to Disneyland, at least once a year, and for that I felt very lucky. It was a place I enjoyed with my older brothers, who were quite a bit older than me. So now as an adult, having an annual pass and taking my own family is really special for me, too. Sure, there are fun rides and plenty of tasty food options, but it also provides a momentary escape from normal life. It's a time to take a different view on the world and let yourself dream a little bit, just like when you were a kid.

I know over the years, my toddler will only get more and more out of his Disney trips. Even though he won't remember these early adventures in the park, his parents will remember and tell him about how cute he was when he was boiling over with glee at the sight of Winne-the-Pooh, or how a simple balloon made his day...