Every year, we go to Disneyland. We have been doing it since Kelly and I met in 2005. In the first decade of our relationship, we went all the time. One year, we went 11 times.
Disneyland parks were a big part of our relationship and most certainly our favorite vacation destination. For Kelly, it still is. These days, I’ll take Disney World.
Fast forward a few years, and Emily comes into the picture. Finally, we aren’t just a couple of weird Disney adults – we have our own kids to enjoy the parks with. Or so I thought.
When we first took her to Disneyworld, Emily was one and a half years old. I didn’t expect much in terms of shock and awe when it came to Emily and her baby brain. What we got was worse. It was cold, Emily cried a lot, and we couldn’t do much without trading a baby off or hoping she fell asleep in her stroller.
Looking back, I tell anyone who will listen that taking a one-year-old to Disneyworld is a bad idea. Ask Kelly, and I am sure we had a great time.
That didn’t stop us from returning Emily to Disneyworld twice within the next two years. I don’t remember much, but I do know those trips weren’t any better. The best memories we made (and top-tier record book memories) were in the hotel. Room service, staying up late, and acting wild was more up Emily’s alley than a massive theme park with too much to do.
Last year, Emily was five, and we took her to Disneyland for the annual trip. This time, I did have high expectations. She knew the characters, sang the songs and was tall enough to go on most of the rides.
I had a terrible time. Kelly and Emily had a great one. The problem was I had too high of expectations. I thought we would enjoy all my favorite things together, and I could see Disney through her eyes. I thought we would ride Buzz Lightyear together, and I could point out all the ways to get a high score.
All Emily wanted was to play in the kid area back in Toontown and ride the teacups endlessly. Being an adult, I threw a tantrum and ruined the trip for myself. Thankfully, they still had a great time.
Fast forward one more year, Emily is six, and all her favorite cousins are going to Disneyland for Thanksgiving week. Anywhere with Emily and her cousins is a guaranteed great time. After a bit of humming and hawing, we decided to go and bring Grandpa Joe along with us.
What a difference a year (and a couple of cousins) makes. Finally, all of our Disneyland dreams came true. She went on the rides, I got to share Buzz Lightyear, and we ate all the snacks and partied back at the hotel room too.
Emily was so brave. Before she left, her first-grade teacher, Mrs. Mariani, shared that her favorite ride was Big Thunder Mountain. Usually, a roller coaster would be a definite no. But not this time – the stars aligned. Combining her desire to tell Mrs. Mariani what she thought of Big Thunder Mountain and a pinkie-promise-sealed deal with her cousin Caleigh in trades for an hour at the Challenge Trail, Emily mustered up the courage to ride. She loved it! She said she would ride it again next time.
She also braved two other typical no-gos. The Haunted Mansion and Indiana Jones. The Haunted Mansion was an easier sell. It’s the holidays, so it’s Nightmare Before Christmas themed and Emily was just Sally for Halloween. She liked the ride and seeing all her favorite characters.
Indiana Jones, on the other hand, not so much. It was a bit intense, and she said she wouldn’t be going to that one again anytime soon. Grandpa Joe said the same thing but for another reason.
A few days before the big trip, my dad threw out his back at work. He had to be wheelchaired out of the hotel and in front of all his peers. He said it was embarrassing. However, he really didn’t want to miss this trip, so he downed some Advil and came along anyway.
A little bit into day one, and he couldn’t walk. I asked him if he wanted a wheelchair, and he vehemently said no with a dramatic shake of his head. An hour later, we were scrambling to find one. All the electric scooters were sold out, so we got a good ol’ push wheelchair.
For most of night one, I pushed him all around California Adventure. I could write a whole post on that experience. It was never an inconvenience but more of an eye-opener. It felt like a tale of a time when my dad was old enough to need assistance, and I was old enough to take care of my dad.
I gotta say he adapted pretty quickly. He had me pull over so he could double-fist churros while I chauffeured him to his next snack. His eating habits could get a whole other blog post too.
On day two, we got up bright and early so he could get the electric scooter. Now, he could drive himself to get ice cream. I think he was a bit bummed out about missing most of the attractions, though. Thankfully, we learned his newfound handicap could get us on rides faster.
We ended the night with Indiana Jones. Driving his electric convenience vehicle down the special line allowed us to skip about 60 mins of waiting. The journey wasn’t without its own thrills. About halfway through, his scooter struggled to get up the steep hills, and the battery died. We had to wait for it to recharge.
After Emily and Grandpa Joe braved Indiana Jones, both were filled with a bit of regret. It was too mentally intense for Em and too physical for my dad. On the way home, he mentioned a few times that he probably shouldn’t have gone on that ride.
All in all. Disney dreams do come true. Hanging with the cousins and family was amazing. We ate at Tortilla Joes. Emily had an absolute blast and came home with memories and confidence that she could ride just about anything. And maybe best of all, the idea of going back next year with her is even more exciting than the year we went 11 times.