As we drove away from Disneyland, my husband and I marveled at the empire that is Disney. We mused about what it was really like to be a cast member at Disneyland, if they were as happy to be there as they seemed to be. A few days after our trip, I received a survey from Disneyland Resorts asking me any number of questions but the one that really stuck with me was the one that asked if anything "magical" had happened. Magical.
Imagine a place where cast members are directed to go out of their way to give you a magical experience. In a place that is gob-smacked with crowds, where apps exist simply to help you avoid the longest lines and busiest days, cast members are tasked with making magic for guests.
Would I describe our visit to Disneyland with two boys aged 4 and 5 as magical? In a word, yes.
Carsland was their first ever favorite movie come to life. Both boys were both tall enough to ride Radiator Springs Racers and so we did so 3 times the first day (no doubt aided by FastPass and Magic Mornings).
Star Tours allowed the boys to "ride" a Star Wars space craft through a Star Wars scene. I didn't realize at the time that there are 50 different scenes for this flight simulation ride. My guys probably would have stayed on this ride all day if we'd known, just to experience all of them.
At the Jedi Training Academy the boys donned Jedi robes, learned a few light saber moves AND fought Darth Vader and Darth Maul. Also, the show is a hoot for parents to watch. The boys never felt braver. We will never stop talking about this experience.
A few tips:
1. Offseason meant some features were closed for refurbishment. Even the signature castle was under wraps. I might have felt differently if this was our first or only visit but we'd seen World of Color and had ridden Peter Pan's Flight on previous trips. Offseason for us meant smaller crowds and shorter lines and I was all for it.
2. Jedi Training Academy. We wore Star Wars t-shirts and sat in the first row for the first show as I had read we should do. The first show was packed. Parents had their kids holding signs: "Yoda is my preschool teacher." Our boys didn't get selected. We came back later when other people were claiming parade viewing spots. The boys donned mouse ears in addition to their Star Wars shirts and were the first padawans recruited to the stage. I was worried that they'd be afraid when Darth Vader appears. To prepare, they watched a YouTube video of the Jedi Training Academy. They couldn't wait to have a chance to fight Vader! I was also worried only one (if any) of our two would be selected. The Jedi Master is no dummy. He selected kids in groups of two (give or take) and seemed to make every effort to include all interested siblings, especially in that much less crowded afternoon show.
3. Fantasmic Fastpass. You can buy a meal to ensure a good viewing spot for Fantasmic. You can also grab a free Fastpass. We opted for the latter not knowing if we'd still be standing by dark. The FastPass put us in the Green section on the bridge by Pirates of the Caribbean. I never would have guessed, but it was a great spot to watch the show, and cast members kindly helped us find an unobstructed viewing spot within their roped off section.
4. 40" is the magic height. Our littlest was too little for some rides on our last visit. Naturally, meltdowns ensued. This time, he was just over 40". He got measured EVERY SINGLE TIME a ride had a 40" requirement. And every single time he got the green light. And every single time I saw him stand a little prouder and be a little braver. The confirmation of being tall enough, even just, felt good.
5. Ideal camera lens for Disneyland. The last time we went I brought my 50mm lens because it was light. This was mistake. I was too close (especially on a cropped sensor frame). I needed a wider lens to shoot anything from within the Teacups and it made me nervous to back that far away from my little ones just to take a photo. This time I brought the 24-70mm. True, it was heavy. Had we not rented a stroller/sag wagon/camera bag carrier, I might not have, but it gave me the width and zoom I wanted and I was glad I did.
For our four and five year old boys, Disneyland was a place of magic. Yes, it helped that cast members went out of their way to make sure our views weren't obstructed by trees or that my boys had straws for their milks. I doubt they'll remember those niceties, though I will. I imagine they will remember they saw their favorite movies come to life. They rode Space Mountain for the first time. Above all, they had opportunities to be brave.