Probably one of the greatest moments of parenting is when you wake your kid up super early in the morning, tell her you’re going in the car, explain that it’s for a long boring meeting, and that she has to be a good girl for the whole day. Then, 90 minutes later, when you all arrive at the destination, she says, “I see Donald on the wall,” and she asks you if you’re at Disneyland and then you answer, “What do you think?” and she squeals “yesssssssss!”
That’s probably one of the greatest moments in parenting.
We surprised Madelyn with a day at Disneyland the Tuesday after she turned three. We wanted to renew our annual passes and figured her birthday would be the best excuse to go. Not like you really need an excuse to go to Disneyland since “I like to have fun” is a reasonable excuse, but it made the dollars make sense.
The expectations for the day were low and that’s the beauty of having annual passes. You don’t feel like you have to squeeze every square inch into the eleven-hour day, and you know you’ll have more opportunities to try new things and revisit tried and true landmarks.
So the first thing we hit up was the Princess Fantasy Faire’s Royal Hall to meet the princesses. While Bryan held our spot in the 40-minute line, Madelyn and I spent some time in the Fantasyland shops where she became the owner of a new Elsa/Anna flip-flop doll. Long lines for the win!
Once Bryan texted us that we were coming up soon, we hurried back to the line and got ready for our turn. Madelyn was wearing a birthday button which meant she was a magnet for birthday greetings from Disney cast members. The line greeter was so nice to Madelyn and gave her extra special birthday wishes. I think the line greeters are just as important as the princesses; they’re like the warm up act to get the kiddos ready and pumped to see the royal girls. Madelyn drank the warm up Kool-Aid and then as soon as we got in for our private one-on-one time with the first princess, she clammed!
The first princess encounter was with Ariel, Madelyn’s #1 all-time favorite princess. I think she was in such awe, that she got shy. She was able to get up the nerve to give hugs and curtsies to Ariel, but the fangirl reaction was muted a little more than usual.
Next she met Cinderella who she’s interested in, but not in love with. However, the mermaid warmed her up a little bit, and Madelyn interacted a little more casually with Cindy.
Finally, the last princess to receive her was Snow White and while Madelyn has not seen the most frightening movie of all time to feature its title princess, she was smitten like a doting dwarf. I think it’s because Snow White was reeeeeeeaaaaaaaaallllllly putting on the character voice. So much so, that I thought maybe one of her little woodland creatures was doing the talking for her — holy squeaks! — but it made her more character-y and less cute-actress-in-a-ball-gown-ish and, therefore, Madelyn totally bought it. She was cute and did little nose pokes and tickles with Madelyn. For the least known of the three princesses, I’d say Snow White was the biggest hit.
After we left the Royal Hall, it was literally 742 degrees outside. I don’t do well in the heat, period. But I just really don’t do well in the heat at Disneyland where you sometimes stand in the sun, roasting, while waiting for rides and squashed up against equally hot people who emit sweat and other molecules I don’t wish to share. So we chose to eat. Because eating is less scorching than waiting in lines.
We went all the way to Critter Country for some predictable burgers and fries with lakeside seats that let us watch the Mark Twain Riverboat go by. Madelyn would wave and shout a friendly “hello!” to the passengers on board. When the Sailing Ship Columbia glided by, she sang “Yo ho!” to them and made a pirate face. She’s really gotten the hang of the Disneyland characters — furry, princessy, and even nautically.
After lunch, I took her to the bathroom just below the restaurant and on our way down, Tiana passed us by, looking a little less frog and more like a princess. She was entering the park from a Critter Country backstage area and waved a big, spirited hello to Madelyn. Her three-year-old fan gasped, looked at me with her mouth wide open, and broke out into the chorus of Tiana’s song and then finished with — and to herself — , “sing it giiiiiiirl!” I don’t know if Tiana heard, but nonetheless, I think she should be very concerned about her job security.
After a quick ride in a Winnie the Pooh beehive, we got in line to meet the characters from the movie. Madelyn has met Tigger, Eeyore, and Pooh before, but she loves to cuddle up with the larger-than-life stuffed animals. I definitely noticed that Madelyn cozied up more to mascot characters than face characters. Perhaps it’s because the face characters are more life-like. You know, because she regularly interacts with pretty girls in poofy dresses and tiaras who constantly go to balls.
Madelyn performed a little signature “hoo hoo hoo hoo!” to Tigger and he seemed impressed with her interpretation.
She also met up with Eeyore whose tail was extremely fascinating to her. She kept pointing out the pink bow at the end of it and comparing it to the one in her hair. She and Eeyore are basically identical twins.
Finally, she met the man, the myth, the Pooh himself. She sang his theme song to him which must be like when people go up to Ted Danson and sing him “Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your naaaaame” or the four-clap to a “Friends” cast member. But, no matter, Pooh thoroughly enjoyed Madelyn’s staccato version of the song that calls him a silly willy nilly ol’ bear. She also continued to run into him to give him the biggest, well, bear hugs. And if Pooh is a boy, sorry.
Because we’re geniuses, we chose the hottest part of the day to enjoy a straight 15-minute cluster of air conditioning on It’s A Small World. There are people who are lovers of this attraction and people who are haters of this attraction. I happen to be an extreme lover: catchy song, no drops, adorable international dolls living in peace and not bombing the shit out of each other, and air conditioning. On this Disney day, it was the air conditioning that really did it for me.
The happy birthday button came through and Madelyn’s VIP status got us front row on the cruise. This meant that we got air conditioning a whole 12 inches sooner than our shipmates behind us. That’s a score if you ask me. While I chose to stay very still and allow my nooks and crannies to cool off, the birthday girl danced up a storm in the front row. She really loves this ride. And apparently a rising body temperature.
We decided to make our way out of Disneyland to head over to California Adventure, but just as we were reaching the town square at the base of Main Street, we saw Mickey Mouse coming out from backstage and heading over toward his meet and greet spot. I had my eye on the prize and sprinted over to him while Bryan jogged with the stroller to meet me. Like moths to the flame, or Real Housewives to a plastic surgeon, dozens of other Disneyland guests had the same idea. Fortunately we secured 4th-in-line status and in no time, Madelyn was meeting Mickey. In all of her visits to The Land, this was her first time meeting Tuxedo Mickey. She’s met regular Mickey at his house in Toon Town and she’s met Hollywood Mickey at California Adventure, but this get-up was new for her and she was loving it. I think Mickey really liked her too, because he gave her lots of extra special attention. They even danced together. With dips and everything. This was one of those “I love being a mom” moments that got me all teary and emotional. The joy in her eyes was exactly the reason why we got up early, dealt with traffic, and sweated our skin off to be there.
Mickey’s handler asked me for my phone when Madelyn and Mickey started to dance. He took the video — vertically — (I’d kill him if he wasn’t so darn chipper) but it’s super cute and it was really nice of him to see the magical moment and offer to capture it for us.
Once we were in California Adventure, our first order of business was to go back into the “water,” this time via clam shell and under the sea. Madelyn’s all-time favorite ride is The Little Mermaid ride and this doesn’t surprise me in the least. It’s actually super adorable and she loves how lifelike and musical it is. She sang all the songs and warned us when Ursula was coming because “she’s baaaaaaad.”
After The Little Mermaid ride, we treated ourselves to an afternoon snack. This delicious snack also served as a cooling-off mechanism. And it just so happened to be a very meta choice based on Madelyn’s T-shirt!
You are what you eat.
Once we were properly re-calories-ified, we thought we’d venture to some other parts of California Adventure but just a few minutes in the stroller, we noticed she was totally conked out. So, what are two hot and tired parents to do when their child snoozes at a theme park? They go into the lobby of the fancy hotel and enjoy more air conditioning. For just over an hour, Madelyn napped, we charged our phones, we caught up on social media, and, most importantly, we savored the best AC that’s available in the parks. It was actually a wonderful hour. Madelyn woke up cheery and we continued with our afternoon!
Madelyn snoozes as I try not to die of heat stroke.
Later, back at Disneyland, we got spots for Mickey’s Soundsational Parade which we’ve seen a few times, but we all love it. We always get fantastic seats in the first row on the parade route right in front of a popcorn stand next to Le Petit Chalet by It’s A Small World and the back entrance to Tomorrowland. People line up for good chunks of time to get seats, but we always show up five minutes before and get prime viewing spots because people think it’s an off limits area. Nope. Once people see us sitting there, then the line up next to us or behind us. This is your insider tip. You’re welcome.
During the parade, the characters perform on floats and on the ground next to the crowds. Both Peter Pan and Pluto stopped their parade route choreography to come to Madelyn and dance with her. Madelyn wasn’t so sure about Peter Pan who wished her a happy birthday and told her to stay young, but she was all up in Pluto’s business. She was totally enchanted with the attention he gave her and it was so cute. He spent quite a lot of time kneeling down next to her and then had to trot a long way to catch up with his float staging.
With the passing of Robin Williams just days before, I got a little emotional during this part of the parade. His memory lives on for sure.
The Dumbo ride was right next to the parade, so when it ended, we flapped our ears and got in line to ride the elephant. I love this ride at twilight because you have a great overhead view of the park as it becomes magical with twinkling lights and the nighttime excitement at Disneyland revs up. Madelyn likes this ride because she can be in control. This girl is a lot like me.
She chose — big shocker — the pink Dumbo and we made sure to snap some silly photos before we went around and around and up and down.
We had worked an up appetite so we decided on a dinner spot that would also coincide with fireworks viewing because killing two birds with one stone is the name of my game. But of course while Madelyn and I were stalking tables and Bryan was inside ordering, one of us decided that it was time to go potty. RIGHT. NOW. I’ll let you decide who that person was.
So we zoomed over to the baby changing area that has little toilets perfect for the one of us that had to go potty. RIGHT. NOW.
Seriously, Disney thinks of everything. Except for air conditioning. It was not cool in there and one of us was sweating up a storm while the other one sang songs on the pot.
The most magical pee of her life.
We finally met up with Bryan who was SuperDaddy — as usual — and was able to not only order and bring out our food but secure a table for us. We chowed down and joined the crowd a few feet away just in time for fireworks. I have to admit — and yes I know how cheesy this is — but I got really choked up during the fireworks. I don’t know if it’s the music or the fact that TINKERBELL and DUMBO literally FLY through the freakin’ sky, but it’s quite a spectacle and Madelyn was fixated and the whole moment was very magical.
We pressed our luck for more magical moments when we took Madelyn to see “Fantasmic!” which she’s only seen snippets of as we’ve rushed through the park to take advantage of low wait times for rides. But we got great spots and didn’t have to wait too long for “Fantasmic!” to start. Madelyn loved seeing Mickey lead the show and was definitely in awe of the light show on the panel of water that projected some great scenes from classic movies.
And then it all went to shit when the villains came out. Madelyn has never really had any fears and would barely flinch when the villains came on during the movies, but this was big, and loud, and right in front of her, and she was not having it. She buried her head in Bryan’s shoulder and shrieked while I calmed her down to tell her that it would all be fixed and it would all be OK. Soon enough — SPOILER ALERT — the villains lost and Mickey won. Then all the princesses and other enchanting characters danced on the friendlier looking boat and she squealed with glee. At the end, she turned to Bryan and me and declared: MICKEY FIXED EVERYTHING! MICKEY MOUSE MAKES EVERYTHING BETTER!
So wise, my child.
So even though there was a moment where she might have been scarred and incurred some future therapy bills, I think it all turned out fine and she was able to overcome. She may even be able to make another visit to Disneyland in the future.
And just like that, the park was closing and we made that sad walk through the tunnel and out the gates and back to our car. We put a sleeping Madelyn into her car seat and drove home where a stuffed Mickey and Minnie were waiting in her crib, welcoming her back to reality.
We had a really wonderful day together, celebrating our girl and making it all about her. It’s truly no secret who our favorite princess is!