On Disneyland and Magic

Point being, this early trip may not stick many details in my daughter’s mind about what it really means to be at Disneyland, but I think there is more than enough cognition to give her an overall sense of why going to Disneyland is more exciting than, say, going to an indoor jungle gym with themed rooms. Both are certainly fun, but there is an element present at Disneyland that you don’t get from just anywhere, an element that, at risk of sounding like some kind of shill or drone, is close enough to magic to be virtually indistinguishable in a child’s mind. As self-appointed tour guide for her, I went in feeling like it fell on me to ensure that she tasted that enough that if I were to come back to her in a year or two with, “Would you like to go back?” the answer would be as enthusiastic as I would be offering that to her. Presumptuous? Over-ambitious? Perhaps. But in context with the discussion of what it meant to be a childless thirtysomething at Disneyland trying to understand why that sparkle was fading from the experience, it felt significant to me to believe that there was a new element to a favored activity waiting to happen.

We decided to fly down rather than drive. A dull trek down I-5 with a kid in a rear-facing car seat didn’t sound quick or appealing for any of us so we had our flight out of SFO early on Monday morning. Sunday afternoon we traveled to the City to stay overnight; our flight wasn’t just early, it was crazy early for us so saving that little bit of time by waking up within spitting distance of the airport seemed smart. Sunday evening we took Callie to Pier 39, hit the aquarium there and showed Callie the sea lions before having dinner and then retiring very early. We were all up by 3:30 the next morning which might have felt more intense than it did if not for the vacation adrenaline, yet somehow despite our what-time-did-you-say-it-was morning and wise pre-planning our boarding experience was a little stressful, and we just squeaked on the plane with a hasty breakfast scarfed down at the gate. Our arrival at John Wayne airport was further frustrating in that the shuttle we had paid for ahead of time turned out to be more or less a regular passenger vehicle with no child seats. We confirmed with the booking agent that because it was registered as a public transportation vehicle it didn’t fall under the same guidelines as what I assume the exact same van would have if registered differently, but we weren’t at all comfortable with tossing our three year-old in the back of a van and hopping on the LA freeway system. With limited options we ended up paying for a rental car that came with a child seat, which we frustratingly used only to get to our hotel and back. I might have thought it an ill portent, but we were too focused on getting settled in and heading to the park.

As soon as we arrived, my notions of coordinating the trip carefully for maximum Callie-friendly exposure were tossed aside. Our solid-12-hour-sleeper was working on maybe seven hours of rest if you include the short nap she took during takeoff and though she gamely stood in line to meet Minnie Mouse (she was wearing a new Minnie t-shirt, some Minnie Mouse sneakers and sporting a temporary Minnie tattoo on her arm), she didn’t seem all that charmed by the silent, imposing form of the costumed character. I had wanted to stroll leisurely down Main Street and let Callie take in the sights and sounds and smells of that iconic entry point, but it was quickly agreed that we needed to get her on a ride to whet her appetite for the meat of the park. We chose Peter Pan’s Flight as it has been a long time favorite of mine and Nik’s, but in retrospect I think we might have gone a different direction: the line was sluggish and long, most of the switchbacks being positioned right under the unforgiving noonday sun and an already tired Callie was uninterested in anything but clinging to an adult. The resulting 45-minute wait was a sweaty, grueling ordeal that culminated in a ride that didn’t seem as vibrant as I remembered and which Callie declared upon exiting as “scary and too dark.” If she was going to be skittish about dark rides, we were potentially poised for a disappointing trip: a very large number of the attractions at the park are indoor rides with a heavy reliance on spot lighting.

For the rest of the morning session we relied on outdoor rides like Dumbo and The Jungle Cruise, but before long we realized we needed to get the little one some sort of nap so we hopped the shuttle back to the hotel and she promptly conked out on my shoulder during the ride, only to snap to vibrant alertness once we hit our room. Nik and I were dying for the planned nap so we slept fitfully while Callie kept half an eye on the TV and spent the rest of her time arranging our belongings into various drawers around the suite, which made for some fun rounds of Finders Keepers as we tried to interpret Callie’s organizational scheme. As we went back to the park and stayed as late as they would allow us (we ended up being the very tail end of the line for Autopia with a Cast member standing behind us the whole way to dissuade any after-hours sneakers, which afforded me a few opportunities to ask Stupid Guest Questions), something began to dawn on me but it took until later in the week to understand it.

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