The Toddler Bucket List – Disneyland Has to Have a Place

Athena at Disneyland

Do you think Athena, at two years old, has a bucket list? Not the kind where you think about death or even the length of life, but the kind where you dream of great adventures, destinations, and experiences? When I created my 2014 bucket list, I wanted to include things for the entire family; their happiness, after all, is directly related to mine. With her Mickey Mouse and friends obsession, Disneyland topped the list. We spent 10 hours at Disneyland and Disneyland Adventure Park and I realized that my greatest bucket list accomplishments are experiencing the complete joy of others, especially when it’s with my beautiful daughter and husband. Being at Disneyland brought about a joy in Athena, and us, that was magical. As a parent, I can now truly appreciate the hype of Disney. 

Athena's Excitement at Disneyland

“Here is the world of imagination, hopes, and dreams. In this timeless land of enchantment, the age of chivalry, magic and make-believe are reborn – and fairy tales come true. Fantasyland is dedicated to the young-in-heart, to those who that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.” 
― Walt Disney Company

I spent hours planning out the perfect Disneyland day for Athena, incorporating her schedule with her favorite character locations and entertainment options. I thought about what her favorite experience would be and planned that one first. Disney Junior – Live on Stage was the obvious choice. Perfect for preschoolers, Disney Junior characters, including Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy, Minnie, Doc McStuffins, and Jake and the Never Land Pirates, all perform together on one stage.

Disney Live Show - Donald Duck

Disney Junior Live

Disney Junior Live on Stage - Daisy Duck

At 23 minutes plus wait time, I wondered if Athena’s attention span would last. When I arrived, I realized This is Disneyland. They’ve got it covered. There were benches to sit on while waiting in the line and a few televisions playing Disney shows. Besides, there were dozens of excited kids all waiting for the same thing. They played together and entertained themselves.

Disney Junior Live on Stage

Inside, we sat on the floor. The Disney employees did an awesome job of grabbing everyone’s attention right away and when Mickey Mouse appeared on stage, Athena was hooked. She sat on my lap, stood, danced, clapped, and followed along as these enchanting puppets brought her favorite characters to life. We were part of the show as bubbles and gold leaves fell from above. She was mesmerized. I kept looking at Darren to see if he was witnessing the smile on our daughter’s face, and we were part of it. My own heart was bursting with joy.

Next up, Mickey’s Fun Wheel. Since Mickey’s Fun Wheel offers two different ride experiences, the swinging gondola option and the gentler, more stable ride on the stationary gondola, we could see the stunning views of Paradise Bay and not worry about age or height restrictions.

Paradise Pier - Mickey's Fun Wheel

Athena didn’t even mind the 20 minute wait. There was music playing and so many things happening all around us that lines became part of the fun rather than a hassle.

Surprisingly, her favorite part of the ride was watching the roller coaster zip by us. I guess it was the closest she’d ever been to a roller coaster. It would zip by and what seemed like a crazy speed and she would smile, point, and giggle.

Riding Mickey's Fun Wheel

She spotted King Triton’s Carousel from the top of the ride and her smile was contagious. That excitement continued the entire day. (Obviously the carousel was our next stop.)

Riding on King Triton's Carousel at Disneyland The ground transportation, which we used as frequently as possible, became a major part of the experience. We rode the tram, the train, the trolley, and the bus. Athena thought they were all rides just as spectacular as the actual rides. We ran, and often danced, from one ride to the next, hopping on trains and smiling at conductors.

Dancing our way to the Next Ride at Disneyland

All of this excitement plus A Bug’s Land filled our morning. By 12:30 pm, we knew that Athena would need a nap. She wasn’t cranky, but we’d planned to follow her regular routine to make the day as pleasant as possible.

We didn’t even make it out of the parking lot and she was asleep. We had lunch at Red Robin, about 3 minutes away from Disneyland, and let her sleep for almost an hour. She had pasta when she woke up and then we returned.

The parking structure is massive so getting a spot wasn’t an issue. We paid $16 for the day and could leave and return when we wanted. Although we lost about an hour and a half by leaving, it was a good break in the day. We returned refreshed and ready to explore the other side of the park.

We rode the train from Main Street USA to Mickey’s Toontown and I learned that you need an entire day in Toontown alone. I never could have planned appropriately for the energy and excitement of Toontown.

Mickey's Toontown, Disneyland

Every building in Toontown looks like something from a dream. It is 100% cartoon!

Toontown Building, Disneyland The line to see Mickey was 45 minutes. (There are signs all around the park before each ride that tell you the wait times.) Regardless of the wait, we knew that we had to do it.

Inside his house, the heat was sweltering, kids were running away from their parents, and some families were forced to leave because they couldn’t stand it. It wasn’t a fault of Disneyland itself. Mickey is popular. A line was necessary and Disney did a good job of providing visual stimulus along the way but it’s still a long time to entertain a child, especially a toddler, when they don’t really understand the point.

The highlight of our day, though, was finally meeting Mickey. I would wait 5 days in that line and entertain Athena the entire time just to have that moment again. She looked at Mickey the same way I’d look at Johnny Depp – pure awe! Her mouth actually dropped when he picked her up. She held his hand, gave him a kiss, and posed for a photo with us. It might have been the happiest moment in her life. From what I could see, there was no question.

It was one of the happiest moments of my life too. I made this dream come true for my daughter and I was part of it. We had stood in line together and reaped the rewards at the end.

Meeting Mickey Mouse at Disneyland

Mickey did an amazing job at making her feel like the most special child that ever existed. Although he doesn’t speak, he said a thousand words with his gestures. We walked out of the building like we had just finished skydiving, filled with adrenaline yet also filled with a sense of calm.

We spent about two hours in Toontown before watching Mickey and the Magical Map and going on a few more rides. Every show was equally spectacular and held Athena’s attention from start to finish. She wasn’t the only one enjoying herself though; we cherished each second of the day and it will remain with us for the rest of our lives.

Mickey and the Magical Map Ending

Mickey and the Magical Map, Disneyland

We left feeling accomplished, tired from all the excitement, completely fulfilled, reassured. We’ve opened our eyes, again, to the world of imagination.  I have no question, now, that children have bucket lists as well. I don’t know how many items were crossed off of Athena’s list at Disneyland but I know that we’ll return year after year to keep fulfilling her list and mine.

Disclaimer: Disneyland Resort provided us two free tickets to review the park, but all ideas and opinions are my own.

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101 thoughts on “The Toddler Bucket List – Disneyland Has to Have a Place

  1. I loved this post! You’re very lucky you got the free tickets to visit the park! I love Disney and although I’ve never visited Disneyworld, I have been to Disneyland Paris 3 times and can completely understand Athena’s joy and excitement, despite being 19 years older than her! Hahah. Disney really is magical and I think you expressed that spot on in this post! 🙂 xx

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    • I’d like to take Athena too all Disneyland parks. Maybe that will become part of our family bucket list. 🙂 I feel the same joy and excitement and I’m in my 30s. Disney doesn’t have age restrictions 😉

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  2. We so want to take our children to Disney World. That’s where my husband and I honeymooned, so it’s always been a special place for us. Our youngest (twins) are 2, so I think we might wait another year or two, just to make it easier on ourselves. But I feel so excited when I think about how excited they will be! 🙂

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    • We’d like to return yearly and try to cover a few new things, as well as our favorites, each time. The park is so massive that it will take a few years to cover everything 🙂 Then, she’ll be tall enough to try the bigger rides.

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  3. What a beautiful little girl you have! I totally concur that we receive just as much pleasure watching our children enjoy themselves as much as they are enjoying themselves! Reading the bit about your daughter meeting Mickey Mouse was just like it was for my daughter when she was 2 years old meeting Upsy Daisy from ‘In The Night Garden’.

    Fantastic post, thanks!

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  4. My family loves Disneyland, I think most of our best memories as a family were spent there. Even with my kids being 15,13,11 and 9, they all still ask to go. We’ve gotten an annual pass a few times- even living in Northern California, we were able to make it 3 or 4 times a year to make it worth it. One thing I will suggest- you MUST do a visit at Christmas time- usually starting middle of November to just after New Year’s. A magical place even more magical with the Christmas decorations. If you go on a weekday before Christmas vacation starts the park is relatively empty- can walk on most rides.

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    • I love hearing that! You must be excited that he is developing so much of his own personality. That’s one of my favorite parts about being a mom, watching Athena grow into a little person with her own likes and dislikes. 🙂

      Do you think you’ll make it to China with him?

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  5. Funny, you posted this because we just did our 1st trip to Disneyland over Easter weekend! Our 20 month old loved it too! We may have just been there at the same time ;). I loved your recap! Look out for mine in the upcoming days 🙂

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  6. Oh fun, looks like Athena really enjoyed yourself! Also looks like you have a daughter that doesn’t cry when she sees make believe characters in costume.

    I was not one of those kids, I was always crying on Santa’s lap and even to this day I go out of my way to avoid street performers dressed up as Sesame Street characters/Spongebob/etc. I don’t like not seeing a person’s face hidden under a costume, it freaks me out too much! One day you’ll have to take her to Disneyland Paris. 🙂

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    • I never really thought about it, but I guess lots of kids are nervous of characters in costume. Thankfully, Athena doesn’t mind at all.

      I’d love to take her to all of the Disneyland parks; maybe that will go on my life list 🙂

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  7. Back in the late 19070’s, living in England, we saved up all our money to take a trip to L.A. and Disneyland. When we finally got back home we all said “Have got to do that again” And we did time and time again, preferring Disney World in the end. Since those days we have taken all of our grand-children there, fabulous time. Right now we are talking about taking our great grand-son to Disney, he is five and certainly ready.

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    • I’d love to hear about why you prefer Disney World. Someone just asked me my preference yesterday and I said Disneyland but I wasn’t sure. Regardless, it’s wonderful that you’ve been able to visit both.

      I can’t wait to read about your experiences with your great grandson. That will truly be special. 🙂

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      • Disney World is so much bigger, a three mile drive up to the main gates, at least three lanes wide. A train ride to the turnstiles and then a decision has to be made. Mono Rail or Boat over to the Magic Kingdom, after that its just what are we going to do next !!! The three day pass is not really enough, that’s why we keep going back, there is still so much to see. Will keep you updated on great grand-son Tyler’s trip. At the moment the whole family is insisting coming with us. so instead of renting two holiday houses, we will need three. Apparently the kids all think that good old Grand-dad is paying.

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  8. This one’s definitely in my bucket list when I finally settle in San Diego with my husband. My cousins-in-law have been planning on a week-long vacation in Anaheim to make the most of our Disneyland trip since our wedding. I’m excited!

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  9. Oh, Leslie, what a wonderful time for all of you. Athene has grown so much, and the joy on her face must have fulfilled part of your life time bucket list as well. I’m still smiling for you.

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    • It’s so crazy, isn’t it? She’s not a baby anymore. I don’t know how it happened.

      Thanks for all of your support, Lisa. I feel like she’s growing up with so many other people in her life. It’s wonderful to have your continued support. 🙂

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  10. What a wonderful family day out. There will be so much you can share and blog about as your daughter grows up. I only wish I had found this when mine were little, your career progression with this, I think will be amazing. Having children brings out the creativity inside of a person I think – which is perfect for your line of work. 🙂

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  11. As a long-time Castmember (the word ’employee’ is a big no-no for us) at Florida’s Walt DisneyWorld, it always warms my heart & fills me w/pride knowing that you were able to have lovely Magical Memories! That is our goal for you, our cherished Guests! My 3 children also ‘play roles’ at DisneyWorld….my sons have even met their ‘true loves’ at the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’! We have high seniority now so are able to have great schedules of four 10-hour days each week but we still manage to spend an extra day weekly ‘playing tourist’ in the theme parks on at least 1 of our days off! Yes, we love it THAT MUCH! In case you are wondering where we go on actual ‘vacations’, I’m sure that by now you’ve guessed it: Disney cruises, Disneyland, Disney Paris, Hong Kong Disney….still haven’t done the Disney in Japan yet but we have plans for that in June, following a 9-day layover at Disney Vacation Club’s Aulani Resort (our 4th visit there) on Oahu!

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  12. As a young adult, I’m still in love with Disneyland! While living in San Diego during my ini days, I got a season pass for multiple years and easily went at least 30 times! The SoCal pass is sooooo worth it! My friends and I would go on a regular basis, sometimes just for dinner and fireworks (but usually for the entire day!) and it NEVER got old!

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  13. We’ve been there pre our little girl and had an absolute blast. So looking forward to taking our little girl. Not quite as close by, so a little while for her to wait. Great smiles on Athena’s face – must have been worth every minute.

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  14. We were newly married when I first took my wife to Disneyland. I’ll never forget her smile and happiness as we entered the park to the tune of “When You Wish Upon A Star…” We were both kids again.

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    • I’m thinking about making one for Athena for 2015. We can create it together and look at possible activities, destinations, and classes. I know she’s only 2.5 years old, but she knows what she likes 🙂

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  15. Gorgeous post! I can’t wait to experience this when my baby is old enough

    I rememeber as a child when my parents took me to Disneyland and it was one of the best times of my life as a child

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  16. Thanks for liking my posts Leslie. Disneyland is truly a wonderland, especially for younger children. It is a big wonderful and magical place. I remember when I was young and going to the park was so enchanting. It didn’t have as many attractions as it does now. But, still enchanting nonetheless! Much love and light to you and yours.

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    • Today we went to our neighborhood park and she had almost as much fun. As long as we are together and playing, she is happy. We are blessed to have such a happy, healthy child. 🙂

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  17. She’s beautiful, Lesley, and reminds me of my 22 yr. old daughter at that age. I grew up 5 minutes from Disneyland, so you can call me a Disney Fanatic! I love Disney! I have so many great memories of taking our son and daughter when they were little, but we’ve all been there recently, too. I’ll always love it, but will now dodge the park during holidays and peak times. We’ve gone at Christmas twice now and there are just too many people. No matter what though, it is the “happiest place on earth!” Wonderful post!

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  18. As a native Southern Californian, I have loved Disneyland as an adult as well as when I was young. Your daughter’s photos show she is hooked. I wish her many such great visits to “The Happiest Place on earth!” I have always lived near enough to hear the fireworks at night and though I can’t see them, the sound always evokes nice memories 🙂

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  19. Pingback: 2014 Bucket List | Bucket List Publications

  20. Your daughter is lovely indeed. I remember going to Disney World in Florida when I was a bit older at eleven years old. I was so excited I could barely breath. lol. The Disney resorts are truly made for children. And that was a time when reality was not allowed to encroach…Ah, happy days..; )

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  21. Pingback: The Toddler Bucket List – Disneyland Has to Have a Place | Travel Companion

  22. You nailed it again. The best things in life are those that bring joy to our loved ones as well as to us, and most of those, even better when loved by a child! Such great pictures of the gorgeous Athena, too! 🙂
    xo
    Kathryn

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