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