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Mouse Trap

When taking your child to Disneyland, it’s important to manage expectations—namely, your own

Author Chris Wright Illustration Sam Island

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A few months back, my ex and I decided to take our daughter to Disneyland Paris, timing the trip to coincide with her seventh birthday. We’d deliberately waited until Molly reached this age because it seemed more likely she’d remember actual details of the trip, rather than simply incorporating oversize chipmunk faces into her nightmares. No sooner had we booked the tickets, however, than we were faced with a fresh dilemma.

On the Disneyland website, you can watch video clips of parents surprising their kids at the park gates, eliciting responses that straddle the line between joy and panic attack.

Helen wanted to go the secrecy route, but I was inclined to spill the beans as soon as possible, on the premise that Molly would be able to enjoy a few weeks of pre-trip excitement (at no additional cost) and we’d get a few weeks of brush-your-teeth-or-you-won’t-go-to-Disneyland leverage.

A subsequent, um, slip of the tongue rendered the debate moot, while also exposing a major flaw in my strategy. What I hadn’t bargained for was that Molly’s pre-trip excitement would manifest itself as a succession of nighttime visitations, which would begin with a bit of bed bouncing followed by an extensive question-and-answer session. Call me a killjoy, but trying to provide the French translation for “To infinity and beyond!” at 4 a.m. very quickly lost its appeal.

In any event, Molly proved to be a shrewd interrogator. By night two, I had not only agreed to waive the no-cotton-candy-for-breakfast rule but had committed myself to the purchase of various commemorative items that, by my calculations, would cost somewhere in the region of 1.2 million euros. My big fear, though, was the prospect of preteen ennui—Molly walking through the park gates, taking one look at the Sleeping Beauty Castle, and going, “Meh.”

So it was that my daughter and I found ourselves occupying opposite ends of the anticipation spectrum, the one that runs from excitement to anxiety. And maybe that’s an inevitable part of being a parent—you become so finely attuned to the potential for disaster that you risk snuffing out the good stuff.

Or at least this is what happened to me. As the big day approached, every sniffle became the prelude to a crippling bout of flu, every raindrop augured a continent-engulfing Storm of the Century.  

The real problem, I think, was that there was just too much riding on the trip’s success. I’d read somewhere that this would be “the holiday of a lifetime,” and that had begun to worry me. I’d conjured up the image of Molly in the future, a middle-age woman with kids and concerns of her own, sipping a cup of tepid coffee, reflecting on her first visit to this magical, mythical place. I didn’t want her to look back and think, “Well, that was rubbish.”

My fears weren’t entirely without merit. For one thing, Molly isn’t the ideal specimen for a Disney park adventure. She’s terrified of any ride that moves faster than an arthritic tortoise, isn’t particularly keen on crowds, and as for the princess thing—our little girl has never even worn a dress, let alone a tiara. What were we thinking, bringing her here?

This was the question weighing on me as we stood before the Disneyland gates—or, as I had come to think of them, the Gates of Disappointment.

But in we went.

The first thing you encounter when you enter the park is Main Street, U.S.A., a candy-colored strip of cutesy buildings, most of them containing stores selling the commemorative items that had been the subject of so many pre-dawn discussions. At the end of the street, rising like a massive plastic plaything (figures sold separately), were the castle’s famous pink-and-blue

turrets. I looked at Molly. Molly looked at the castle. Helen looked at the price tag on a hoodie with the word “Grumpy” on it. This moment went on for a while. Not quite vers l’infini et au-delà, but close.

But Disney isn’t the world’s most ubiquitous entertainment conglomerate for nothing. Walking through the park’s clutter of attractions is like having sugar rubbed directly into your eyeballs. Everything is geared toward triggering the “Again! Again!” response. And the kids go nuts with it. They don’t stop. Again! Again! Again! By the eighth hour, watching the big parade go by, the waving Woody and the peppy musical number on an endless loop, I was rocking on my heels. It was one of the happiest late-afternoon slumps of my life.

That was a while ago now, but Molly and I still love to sit around discussing the pirate galleon, the animatronic dragon, the Pinocchio train, Aladdin’s Cave, the cackling skeletons and swirling ghosts in the haunted mansion—where my sweet, sensitive girl responded to a smaller child’s distress by shouting, “Oop, we’ve got a crier!” She’s especially proud of having ridden the Casey Jr. roller coaster, which moves around an undulating track faster than a speeding hamster.

Still, I’m pretty sure that Molly doesn’t enjoy these post-trip chats as much as she did the nocturnal bed bouncing before we left. I’m the opposite, and that’s probably a generational thing—young people look forward, older people look back. Yet when I recall our trip, I find myself drawn to Molly’s anticipation of it, the Disneyland she’d assembled in her mind, which is possibly the most magical place there ever was.

Ink Global U.S. editor Chris Wright would like to apologize to the small girl in the Little Mermaid wig whom he shoved aside in order to fist-bump Baloo the bear. 

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