Early this spring, I got a call from Disney inviting us to come down for a weekend with our two littlest people. They had a weekend planned for bloggers with preschoolers and wanted us to participate. We actually had a window in our schedule and agreed to take Louis (just turned two) and Elsie (just turned six) down to experience some of the special moments that Disney has available for preschoolers. It ended up being an adventure of the good kind that left me, a working mom of four, in tears last night.
The Disney team met us at our hotel and, for several days, walked with us through a handcrafted experience designed to teach us how to have fun with the littlest members of our family in a Disney Parks environment.
Some of our magical moments (keep reading for the less magical moments):
We stayed on resort at The Yacht Club. We loved The Yacht Club. It’s near the entrance to Epcot. The pool is zero-entry and had a real sand beach. I was surprised at how much stress was relieved just by being able to walk back to our hotel after a day in the parks. Being cost conscious, we’d always used Marriott points to stay off the resort because it was so much less expensive. This trip helped me finally understand why it’s worth it to spend extra stay on resort. No car rental. No long rides to the farthest corner of the parking lot when you’re exhausted. A character dining experience and a small convenience grocery store was within an arms reach, and other dining was readily available for any budget.
Elsie got dressed up as Cinderella and, with some convincing, went to the Bippity Boppity Boutique to have her hair and makeup done. She’s always beautiful, but a formally polished little girl, now decked out in her best Cinderella finery, was also invited to attend the premier of Cinderella at Walt Disney World. She practically glowed through the whole movie and her moment on stage with the other little girls dressed like Cinderella. We later found her climbing a light post while wearing her beautiful dress. Because that’s what girls do.
In the parks, we rode plenty of rides, but she wanted to ride Dumbo again and again. In addition to the amazing play area inside the wait line that both kids could have easily played for an hour in, Elsie was completely enamored with being able to make the little car on this ride go up and down, much to the cameraman’s chagrin. It’s pretty easy to see from the grin on her face that we could have done this all day and she would have been just fine with it.
Knowing that the wait can be really hard for the little people, Disney has integrated entertainment for littles (and bigs) into their wait lines for a number of rides. The interactive Peter Pan line and a play area inside the Dumbo line were amazing. Thoughtful line design could be seen everywhere though. This photo of Louis is a great example of how a creative approach to the line turned into a meaningful moment for my little guy. He was afraid to get a picture with Tigger and Winnie the Pooh, but he was totally enraptured with the experience of watching them from behind this box that was just the right size for a little person to hide behind. He loves Pooh. And this was just enough for his tiny little brain.
In additional to all of the magical moments, we also had…
- A shy little girl who didn’t like having people comment on how pretty she looked and definitely wasn’t into having cameras around.
- An independent little girl who was on her own schedule and really didn’t want to do what was planned. If grown-up suggested it, she thought it was a bad idea.
- A two year old who preferred not to be in the stroller.
- A two year old who was covered in food mostly always.
- Stressed out parents who were worried about what these amazing people hosting us were thinking about our clearly precocious children.
- Kids uninterested in smiling for the camera. My kids are often the subject of unwanted attention when we’re in public. All of them (except one) have developed an aversion to people being in their faces with cameras. Consequently, most of the pictures and video footage we took turned out to be of kids avoiding the spotlight. But we captured the reality of those imperfect moments. So there’s that.
All of those issues we encountered with our kids were normal. Six year olds and two year olds are unpredictable, strong-willed, and not necessarily willing to perform on cue. In the middle of dealing with the chaos of normal kids doing normal things, the team from Disney did an amazing job of teaching us how to absorb the Disney experience from a preschooler’s perspective. Walt Disney’s primary goal was to create a place where parents could actually engage in experiences with their kids. That experience is going to be different for parents at different points in a child’s development. It’s easy to approach Disney with the goal of doing all the things. Older kids want to run around and do all the rides. They don’t mind waiting. But you just can’t do that with littles. That said, this trip proved to me that you can have fun creating some incredible memories with your littles in spite of the corresponding unpredictable chaos they add to any vacation.
Honestly, if we all tell the truth, there’s not a parent on this planet that wouldn’t think twice about taking that unpredictable chaos to Disney. Toddlers scream at inopportune times, they need naps, diaper changes are inevitable, and sometimes there’s just poop everywhere. By the time you’re done doing the administrative side of keeping littles alive and healthy… you’re exhausted and wishing that it was all just a little bit easier. Disney somehow managed to read our minds. Over the last few years, they’ve been making changes that were specifically for the family with the very young child… to be sure that we (you, me, and our littles) could have a good time too. Those efforts have manifested into baby care centers that are also quiet, air conditioned places for all of your kids to rest for a few minutes, age-appropriate ride experiences, water play, random bubbles on the street, bright lights and engaging parades at night, and dining experiences that can include Mickey Mouse or Winnie the Pooh. For a complete list of resources that Walt Disney World makes available to parents of small children, read this article from Walt Disney World News, a publication of Disney Parks.
Strategy and lists aside, the “why we do things” is always a much bigger deal to me than the “how we do things”. Louis surprised me last night with a little trip into his mind that showed me in a few short minutes how important this trip was to him. I’d been gone on a stressful business trip all day in New York. I walked in late at night, exhausted after intense conversations, fully expecting to find all of the kids in bed. I’d put my bag down inside the front door, taken my boots off, and had turned to head towards our room where my pillow was calling me. As I turned, I saw Louis running towards me. He wrapped his little arms around my legs, solidly kissed my knees, and started talking and talking and talking.
“You home, Mommy? You ride on airplane, Mommy? You go up hill in airport, Mommy?” And then, unprompted, he started into a 60% understandable blue streak of words that I finally realized were a string of memories of his last time on a big trip that involved airplanes… to Disney. Somehow, my trip to New York had triggered some memories of our trip and he needed to tell me all about them. Right that minute. With his arms wrapped around my legs. It helped me realize that, with the helpful guiding hands of the team hosting us, we had slowed down enough to let some of the experience sink meaningfully in to his little brain. And he was remembering good things, good memories, that happened with us. As a working mom who is often traveling, I’m always hoping that something special is registering with my kids. Those few minutes with Louis last night, looking at the smile on his face while he talked, were so meaningful to me. I travel all the time. I have a full-time job. Seeing that this trip and the way it was approached had made an impact, even on my two-year-old, simply made my day.
Moments like this, even months later, are what can make a trip to Disney so worth it… really.