Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Happiest Place On Earth is Sometimes the Hotel Room

We just returned from a long weekend in Orlando, Florida, with our three year old Ally. Yes, we took her to the Magic Kingdom. No, the trip didn't turn out quite the way we had expected or even hoped. Thankfully you can't really tell that from the pictures we took.



We knew that a long day at Walt Disney World with Ally was out of the question. We simply weren't going to be able to do everything, or even take in most of the park. We hoped we'd be able to do part of Fantasyland, maybe tour another section of the park, catch a parade, and I very much wanted Ally to meet one of the princesses in person. I was hoping that Steve and I could maybe catch one of our favorite rides while the other watched Ally. What we actually got was something else entirely.

Ally thought the tram and monorail rides to the front of the park were fun. She lit up at the sight of Cinderella's castle and actually jumped up and down with joy.

The Castle!!! We Made It!!! from Steven Swenson on Vimeo.

We then walked through the castle and into Fantasyland. In retrospect, I should have known that Ally fully expected that real, live Disney Princesses would actually live in the castle. When you're hoping to find Cinderella and Aurora and Snow White sitting inside a castle and you only find a restaurant, you're bound to be a little disappointed.

After the castle we stopped at the carousel for our first ride. Once in line, Ally immediately balked at the ride and said she didn't want to ride it. We rode Dumbo and It's a Small World, both of which Ally enjoyed.


Then it was time for a bathroom break and a snack. Post snack we found Pinocchio and had a picture taken with him.


We tried the carousel again after Ally said she wanted to ride it, but by the end of the ride she was in tears, fearful that she was going to fall off the horse even with Steve standing beside her.


The day sorta dissolved into disappointment from that point. We couldn't find the princess or fairy characters in time to get in the line to meet them before the line was cut off by the character's handler. The PhilharMagic show was too loud and dark and scary with the 3D glasses, and we had to carry a crying Ally out before the show ended. The lines got longer and longer as the crowd swelled. By noon Ally started asking if we could go home, and the occasional light sprinkling of rain didn't help. We rode Peter Pan's Flight, the People Mover in Tomorrowland, and then caught the afternoon parade, which helped buoy her spirits, but the end was near. We had another snack, rode the Magic Carpets in Adventureland, and then headed for the Walt Disney World Railroad station to ride back to the front of the park. The skies open and rain poured down, leaving us wet, cold, and very, very disappointed with the day.





Clearly Ally felt overwhelmed by the experience. I can't blame her...it's hard when you're not very tall and there are all these strange people around you and you don't know if Cinderella's evil stepmother is real or just pretend. Ally probably would have been perfectly happy staying at the hotel where she could ride the elevator, eat waffles at the breakfast bar, and spend the day in the pool.

All of this left me pondering why we thought taking Ally to Walt Disney World at this age was a good idea. Both Steve and I had visited the Magic Kingdom as kids, and we wanted to share all that joy and wonder with Ally before she was too old and too cynical for it. We wanted to give Ally a fun-filled day with some of her favorite characters in one of the most magical places. Unfortunately it's all too easy to build up your child's first trip to Disney in your mind into something wholly unrealistic and unattainable.  

Was the trip an utter failure? Thankfully, no. Ally woke up the next morning with a big smile on her face and told me she had a happy dream about Ariel, the mermaid. Suddenly the trip to the Magic Kingdom didn't feel like such a waste. After all, we did enjoy a few rides together, we shared some ice cream, and Ally got to see many of her favorite characters either from the side of the greeting areas or in the parade even if she didn't get to meet them in person.  We have some fantastic pictures from the day.  I think she has plenty to talk about at her daycare center this week, much to the envy of her classmates.  Obviously we'll have, um, vivid memories about the trip for many years to come.

I think we might try Walt Disney World again in a couple of years, when Ally is at least 6 or 7 years old.  She'll be able to enjoy more of the rides and shows then, and that vague, blurry line between reality and make believe (which Disney does so well) won't be so frightening.  But most importantly, I fully plan to take her back just so I can point out, "Here's where you cried about not wanting to ride the carousel, and over there's where you threw a fit about not getting any popcorn, and oh honey, look, that's the show we had to carry you out of because you were howling about how scary it was."  Then we can all go ride the Pirates of the Caribbean, eat ice cream, get our picture taken with Tiana and Prince Naveen, and stay late enough to see the fireworks.

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