We weren’t planning on going to Disneyland this summer. We were planning on going to Missouri. Well, what we were doing was wanting to go to Missouri. Yes, we were wanting very much to go to Grandma Frances’s 80th birthday party and the big family reunion with all of Jake’s Missouri relatives. It turns out that while we thought we were planning on it, we didn’t really have a clue. The kids were looking forward to tractor rides, loads of cousins, bonfires, balmy nights, and fireflies. Especially the fireflies. This blog post was supposed to be about those memories. We made the decision to road trip it to Missouri instead of fly. Somewhere along the way, we told ourselves that it would take 14 hours to get there, which we would make into a two day journey. 14 hours sounded dreadful but doable. We never checked the map until the day before we were supposed to leave. And wouldn’t you know that it was going to take 21 hours of non-stop driving to get to Missouri? That amounted to three days there and three days back. We only had a week for vacation. So we pulled out. I cried from frustration and disappointment and fear of disappointing everyone else, including my own kids who were already packed and eager to go experience life on the farm and reunite with family. I searched for last minute flights online and even RV rentals so we could drive through the nights. Nothing worked out. So we did the only thing we could think of to do. We drove west… to Disneyland.
We only told Ari where we were headed. Because we know she can keep a secret. She was beyond excited, and she tried to break her promise to keep the secret, but Gabe and Bella failed to get the message. They figured it out when we got close. When they asked if we had gone the wrong way, and we finally told them what was up, they were confused, awestruck, a teeny bit disappointed (that we were missing Missouri), and excited… but mostly excited.
Of the four times we have been to Disneyland, this time was by far the best. I was nervous, because Disneyland did away with the Guest Assistance Card (GAC) for individuals with disabilities. Our prior three visits to Disneyland were amazing, and we had excellent experiences with the GAC card. But due to there being an overwhelming amount of entitled and immoral people in the world, and yes, even at Disneyland, who abused this service and stole privileges meant to make Disneyland more accessible to everyone; the GAC card had been phased out and replaced with the Disability Access Service (DAS) card. I didn’t know what to expect when it came to the DAS card, but as families with kids with special needs do everyday, we adapted and made it work for us. Basically, the DAS card involves a much more intricate system of checking in at Guest Relations kiosks throughout the park to get a wait time for an attraction. Rather than bypassing lines altogether, you can do other things (e.g. go on a ride with a shorter line, eat lunch, use a Fastpass) while you wait for your ride time to come due on your DAS card. Then, once you have gone on the ride that was on your card, you can repeat the process for another ride. You can only have one ride on your DAS card at a time, and it needs to be crossed off in order for you to have another one written. But, there are still a few rides in Disneyland that have alternate entries for wheelchairs due way the cue was made, so those sometimes don’t require the DAS card to get in a little quicker. We found that the lines at California Adventure were no more than 10 minutes in most cases on the day we were there, so we didn’t even need to use our pass that much there. All in all, I have to say that the workers at Disneyland were just as accommodating, the new system worked almost as smoothly, and we still got to go on every ride we wanted to. Not that I’d expect any less from the happiest place on Earth.
I have to say that the kids were at the perfect ages for Disneyland. Gabe, Bella, and Ari were still convinced that everything was real. I did not even have to try to convince them. In fact, one or twice, I even told them differently, and they wouldn’t believe me, ha! Gabe and Ari were tall enough to ride every ride that they wanted to (which was everything except Tower of Terror and the California Screamin’). Bella was also tall enough to ride every ride she wanted to and even a few that she didn’t want to ride. Surprisingly, Bella is my fraidy cat on the rides. She insists that the drops make her butt feel weird. I would laugh, but I am sorry to say that I know exactly what she’s talking about, because it’s the same for me. There’s no explaining it. Also surprisingly, Ari loves this type of ride. The more thrilling a ride is, the more she wants on it. I won’t push the limits, because the last thing I’d want to do is traumatize her, but she is definitely the bravest of them all.
This was Liam’s first time to Disneyland, and it was so fun to witness. He was in awe of everything he saw, he never cried, and he could ride many rides seated right beside us. When he was exhausted, he fell asleep sitting up in his umbrella stroller and woke up no worse for the wear.
Every ride still wowed my kids. Even Dumbo and Small World and the tamest of the tame. Maybe they’ll forever be young at heart like their parents, but they hadn’t outgrown anything, and nothing was too babyish for them. I cheered and hollered on every ride like an crazy lady, which is just what happens to me here.
We got escorted up to the second row for the show, but people in the front row insisted that my kids have their seats. Disneyland brings out the best in everyone, I believe. And it was a beautiful thing that they got the front row too, because every character singled out my kids and waved to them individually. Ari, who is normally terrified of costumed characters (face to face, not on screen), actually waved back at Mickey Mouse and appeared to be trying to get his attention the whole time. If it were possible to die of joy, this would have been one of the many times that this happened to me on this trip.
I got to stand next to Ironman. I can be a huge geek at times, and this was one of those times. This was probably even cooler for me than it was for Gabe, despite me not getting to meet Tony Stark.
We did, however, get to meet Thor. Gabe and Bella thought that he was the real deal. When someone asked Bella what her mom’s favorite part of the trip was, she replied “when she got to meet Thor.” Not entirely true but funny anyway!
We went on the Jungle Cruise twice. The first time, we went on during the day and the second time at night. The first time, my kids were very serious. No one smiled except Ari. They believed that everything we saw was legit and they were fascinated… and nervous. The second time we went on, we had the funniest river guide ever. Unfortunately for him, Gabe couldn’t stop chiming in and trying to one up his jokes. I don’t know who was more amusing, Gabe or the guide. Towards the end of the ride, the guide made a joke about not having a girlfriend because ‘who would want to date a skipper on the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland’. Gabe was quick to quip back compassionately, “Don’t worry! I’m sure someone would date you! You’re a really funny guy!”.
One of the first rides we went on was Haunted Mansion. Gabe and Bella were both completely scared. I know it’s mean to laugh, but this was funny. Bella was clinging to Jake for dear life, and Gabe was smooshed up against me. Ari and Liam were the only ones who kept their cool. Gabe had a million questions about what everything was, why the decorations were different than at Halloween time, how the ghosts died, why the man was lost, and on and on. Every time I tried to reassure him, he either wouldn’t believe me or would tell me to stop talking!
Born and raised in Disneyland… lucky duck.
My youngest will only be two for a very short time. I needed to bring him to Disneyland to meet his favorite guy of all. Liam has a stuffed Winnie the Pooh that he loves to cuddle and kiss. He won’t sleep with him or any stuffed animal, which I find strange since my other kids sleep with tons of them, but Pooh bear is his favorite. When he saw the full-sized version, he took off on the run for a hug. There was no hesitation. It was just perfect. Everyone in line behind us melted from the sheer adorableness of it all.
While we were cuddling life-sized lovies, the other kids were on an entirely less pleasant adventure. I’m talking about their nonconsensual ride down Splash Mountain. I wasn’t there, but I heard that Gabe and Bella had their reservations after they got on the ride (possibly before they got on). But they had waited for this moment for so long, so Jake firmly encouraged them to ride it by giving them no other choice. Jake said that Gabe was shouting something at him while on the ride like “This is all your fault, Dad!” and Bella was saying, “This is not fun!”. Jake was afraid that Gabe was going to do something rash like climb out of the boat. Ari was was the only one not complaining. Bella said that she needed to hang on to the side of the boat to keep herself from falling out, because there were no seatbelts. Jake confirmed her seatbelt observation. Anyway, after it was all said and done, Gabe still said that on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the most fun, it was a 1. Bella agreed. She said it made her butt feel bad. Ari loved it despite thinking that it was scary. But we got this $15 photo gem out of it, and it will be a cherished family treasure for years to come. I’ve seen it a hundred times, and it still makes me laugh.
They were usually happier than this picture depicts.
Gah! He is the cutest! I swear, he does these things just to make me squeal and squish him.
Gabe took his Wilderness Explorer badges very seriously. He wanted to make sure he hit every challenge so he could scratch off the badges on his map. I love his integrity and determination.
Gabe successfully completed the Bravery challenge by going on the zipline. After Gabe got in line to go, I noticed Bella was sitting down on a rock outside the line. I asked her why she wasn’t in line to get on, and she told me that she really wanted to go, but she thought that she wouldn’t be able to do it with just one hand. I told her that she could do anything that the other kids could do, but she was afraid that she might fall off without a two handed grip on the rope, and she just hung her head. I had never seen her act like this before – normally this kid won’t let anything stop her! I had to call in backup. I found an older gentleman who worked that attraction and was dressed in a complete Scout Master uniform. His eyes spoke kindness and his grandfatherly face showed experience. I thought he looked pretty legit. I briefly explained the situation, and he took over from there. He coached Bella and built up her confidence, and within minutes, she was walking straight to the start of the zipline.
And she did not fall.
Not only did she not fall, but the Scout Master gave Bella some last motivational words and then presented her with a button that said she was a Guest of Honor of Disneyland, and it displayed an image of a golden key. This was one of the times many times I cried tears of joy. Disneyland is seriously magical. I mean, I couldn’t have imagined this turning out more beautifully. Not in the movies. Not in my dreams. This trumped all.
We rode every ride we saw. Gabe and Ari loved them all. Bella sat out for one or two, because she wasn’t tall enough, but she didn’t seem to mind. Maybe she was even relieved that she was too short for Indiana Jones.
We had dance parties wherever there was live music. We do this all the time. Disneyland was no exception.
We watched parades. For this parade, Gabe and I were stuck on the opposite side of the street from the rest of the family. I loved watching the others from across the street. Liam was dancing his little heart out, while Jake was trying to corral him to keep him from running up to the floats and characters, while Ari was crying as the giant costumed characters approached her one by one and squirted her with water. They were doing it to be friendly and playful. And of course, the floats that were coming up from behind didn’t see her reaction to the prior floats, so they did the same thing. I know it sounds sad, but it wasn’t. It was hilarious. Gabe and I were laughing so hard at the whole scene that our bellies were sore by the end of the parade. And Ari made a giant step in the direction of overcoming her fears of costumed characters. By the time the 20 minute parade was wrapping up, she was happy and starting to dance again.
On our last night, we stayed at Disneyland until close at midnight. We grabbed great seats at dinner with a view of the fireworks show. I have seen Disneyland fireworks shows before, but never before have I seen Dumbo fly over the park to the music of “Baby Mine” from the movie. I have sung that sad but lovely lullaby to each of my kids since they were babies. There was a time when Bella requested that I sing it every night before she went to sleep for over a year, and I still sing it almost nightly for Liam. The kids all lit up when they heard those first few notes, and exclaimed, “Mom! This is our song!” I was already weeping by then and I still am now just remembering it.
This trip was amazing, and if I had a dollar for every time I yelled “this is amazing!”, . . . we’d have enough money for a return trip to Disneyland ;).