Disney Parks Anonymous

Hello, my name is Jennifer and it had been three months since my last Disneyland trip. I fell off the wagon this past week all in the name of Zoë’s second birthday. And I cannot say that I feel bad about it. Disney parks can be an expensive habit, but the memories and happiness that are associated with them for me are worth the price tag.

Chad and I joke about being addicted to Disney, but honestly for the past 3 or so years, we have gone to Disneyland in Anaheim, California about every three months. I would love to say it was because we wanted to have fun with our daughter, but we were Disneyland annual passholders long before Zoë was even a thought in our mind. It really goes against everything we stand for usually, but we just cannot stop partaking in the fun.

When Chad and I were thinking of what to do to celebrate Zoë’s birthday, we were considering taking her to the zoo, or the beach, or even just going to the park. Both of us felt a little guilty at the fact that she would have to spend her birthday without family and friends and the fanfare that comes with that. Our guilt worked to our Zoë’s advantage, because we decided that only Disneyland Paris would assuage our consciences and make her birthday special enough. So on Saturday, we left Lisbon, Portugal and hopped on a plane for Paris Orly Airport.

Paris has two airports, Charles de Gaulle and Orly. I have never been in the Charles de Gaulle airport, but from what I have heard it is beautiful and efficient. Orly was obviously the more locally used airport, as we ran into language barriers almost immediately while picking up our rental car. The airport is not very well laid out and we ended up having to walk for 15 minutes with all of our luggage to get to another terminal to then pick up our rental car (really no shuttles?). These were really just minor inconveniences though, they were just magnified because we were all tired from traveling and wanted to get to our hotel. If you want to go to Paris and get there for much, much cheaper, use Orly Airport.

We found our hotel, The Park and Suites Prestige, on the British Airways website and we were able to use our “Avios” or credit card points to pay for the hotel room (as well as the rental car for this trip). When we arrived at the hotel, we were pleasantly surprised at the close proximity to Disneyland. We also were upgraded to a two bed suite with a small kitchen. We decided to get some dinner to go from the restaurant in the hotel and relax in our room and prepare for the following day at Disney Paris!

The next day, Zoë was kind enough to wake us at about 7 am, just in time to get ready, call both sets of grandparents, and eat our free buffet breakfast before catching the shuttle to Disneyland. The bad weather followed us again and it was raining (and continued to off and on all day).

We caught the shuttle and were dropped off at the entry walkway to the park. As we walked up, we were impressed at the beautiful Disneyland Hotel that had a massive Mickey Mouse Clock at its pinnacle. To enter Disneyland you actually walk under the hotel. Someday we will have to pay the probable small fortune to get a room there. Zoë is fascinated with clocks right now, so she yelled “o’clock” the whole time she was running up to the entrance.

All in all, we had an amazing time at Disneyland Paris. We rode all the fantasyland rides first, as it was Zoë’s birthday, we rode Pirates of the Caribbean, we took turns riding Space Mountain 2, and we walked around a lot and tried to find edible food and alcoves to keep out of the rain.

There are five things that I felt made Disneyland Paris a bit disappointing:

1) Cigarette Smoking Everywhere.

To most of us Americans, smoking cigarettes around children is a big no-no. I personally do not worry too much about second hand smoke in an outdoor area, but the amount of cigarette smoking in the park was sometimes overwhelming. The funny part about it is that there are designated smoking areas, and the park rules state that smoking is not allowed except for in those areas. Regardless of the rules, people will literally take their children on a ride, get them back in their stroller and light up a cigarette.

If you are coming straight from somewhere like California,where smoking is pretty much taboo, the smell of smoke could be upsetting, but if you have been in Europe for any period of time it probably won’t bother you as much, as smoking is prevalent everywhere in Europe.

2) Lack of staff.

This ties in a bit to number one of this list, the lack of staff makes it impossible to enforce the rules of the park. There were people smoking everywhere and children in areas that were cordoned off, where in the American Disney parks they would be asked to leave the area.

The lack of staff also caused inefficiency. It was especially frustrating when it came to wait times on rides. Since there were usually only two team members per ride (one getting people on the ride and one getting people off the ride) there was no one to change the wait times listed for the rides, and also no one to change the formation of the lines. This meant that often the wait times were longer than posted, or you would have to go around and around the lines like cattle being herded when there was no wait for a ride. Both of these situations were not of dire importance, but added to the overall feeling of chaos in the park.

3) Food.

This part is really hard for me to write, because as you all know, I love food. I am not picky about my food, it does not need to be gourmet, it just has to be flavorful. In this area, Disneyland Paris lost completely, which was very disappointing, as Disneyland Anaheim has amazing food, so my expectations were high.

If you would like McDonalds type hamburgers and fries, or foot long hot dogs (okay so the buns were good at least I guess), reheated pizza or pasta, or donuts, then Disneyland Paris is for you. The food that we had was all pre-packaged and rather unappetizing. I am not going to lie, one of the main reasons I love Disneyland Anaheim is because of the marvelous baked goods and meals, as well as the candy. The carmel apples especially are one of my favorites and I look forward to having at least one every trip. Disneyland paris had none of these things. It was very sad, I found myself wanting to leave the park to eat, and that is a first for me.

4) Cleanliness and upkeep.

The grounds of the Paris Disneyland were definitely not up to par as far as cleanliness and upkeep go. This ties into number two of this list, as I would think it would be impossible to clean and maintain that much space without any staff to do it.

The park was littered with cigarette butts and food wrappers. The waiting areas for the rides often had graffiti. The arcade was filled with games and kiddie rides that were not operating and also covered in graffiti and old food and drinks. There were cobwebs everywhere, which is not that big of a deal to me, but was a marked difference from the original park. And last but not least, the gardens and plants were overgrown and riddled with weeds. It looked like my old back yard. In summary, the park looked dingy, uncared for and made me worry about what Zoë touched most of the time.

5) Overall cultural differences.

I do realize that Disneyland Paris is in Paris, France not Paris, Texas. I assumed that there would be differences not only on the rides, but in the behavior of the tourists in the park. I was prepared for it, I had been living in Europe (albeit Lisbon, Portugal which is totally different from France) for two months. I was ready to be an experienced world traveler and not have any culture shock. Well I was wrong, the tourists at Disneyland Paris for the most part were rude and pushy. For example, if you wanted a picture with a Disney character, you had to push your way through a mob of parents pushing their children to the front of a huge semi-circle around the costumed person.

The Crowd Around Snow White

The Crowd Around Snow White

Zoë and I's Only Chance to Get a Picture With Donald Duck-We Were First To Get There Too!

Zoë and I’s Only Chance to Get a Picture With Donald Duck

Another example, if you were to be waiting in line for a long period of time, and a new line opened up for some reason, you would literally have to run to get in the new line, even if you were the next to go. People seemed to have no guilt about getting ahead by any means necessary.

But not all of Disneyland Paris was negative. There are five things that I feel you must experience at Disneyland Paris, they are:

1) Visit the Dragon in Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.

Underneath Sleeping Beauty’s castle, by a special path, there is an area where a realistic looking animatronic dragon lies. It was so fun to watch, I would definitely recommend checking it out.

The Dragon

The Dragon

2) Ride Space Mountain 2.

For all of you Space Mountain lovers out there, Space Mountain 2 blows it out of the water. It is faster, longer and even goes upside down numerous times (I couldn’t tell how many times because it was so dark, weird how that works…).

Space Mountain will be my favorite ride always in both Disneyland Anaheim and Paris from now on. If you love Space Mountain, or any roller coaster for that matter, you must take the time to ride this one.

3) Ride Casey Jones and Storybook Land Rides in Fantasyland.

Most of the rides in Fantasyland in Paris were pretty similar to the Anaheim park, which is great because those rides are really fun anyways. But Casey Jones and Storybook Land at the Paris park are different and actually much better.

Casey Jones is an actual little kid roller coaster that whips around corners and up and down little hills. Zoë loved it, as did we. It was like a toddler Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Storybook Land was different in that each boat did not have a tour guide and the tiny scenes from Disney movies were different than the Anaheim park for the most part. It was fun to see something different.

It was not only that these rides were really fun and different from the originals (for both us an Z), but because they are hidden in the back corner of fantasyland there was literally no wait for either of these rides. Whether you have little ones or not, try out these rides.

Zoë and Chad on Casey Jones

Zoë and Chad on Casey Jones

4) Take the tour of the Nautilus.

One of Chads favorite movies growing up was “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” I have often heard him talk about how this movie instilled his love of adventure and underwater exploration. I must admit, I have never seen the movie, but being able to tour the submarine that was in the movie, the Nautilus, made me want to see it.

The Nautilus tour is just a walk-through of the submarine, but there are some surprises that keep it exciting. It was a great way for us to get out of the rain and let Zoë run around a little without worrying that she would run off or hurt herself.

Zoë and the Nautilus

Zoë and the Nautilus

5) See “Dreams” the Fireworks show.

It was our second and last day at the park, we powered through and made Zoë stay awake until 11:00 pm to see the fireworks show, titled “Dreams.” It is Disneyland Paris’ 20th anniversary and the fireworks show highlights all the films that are dear to France’s heart, such as Ratatouille, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Peter Pan, and Beauty and the Beast. Pretty much any of the Disney movies that were set in Europe, were showcased. The effects and fireworks were amazing though. It was unfortunate that it was on so late, but I could understand why they had to as the sun did not set until 11pm there.

All in all, I do not know if I would venture to Disneyland Paris again, but the memories that we made there while celebrating the second birthday of the most important little person in our lives, will make it special forever. It was truly wonderful, not because of where we were, but because I was with my two favorite people. Now I know this for Zoë’s next birthday and we can do something a little less extravagant (yeah right….)

Wednesday Write-Up: Crazy Blessed

This past week has been a whirlwind of fun and stress. I have never felt so blessed and crazy at the same time, I often feel crazy and I often feel blessed, but at the same time?…never that I can remember. So maybe that is a fallacy as I am continually blessed and continually crazy… wait is the craziness starting to show? Ummm…

Three days ago, we celebrated Zoë’s second birthday. It really does blow my mind that this beautiful girl is a real little person that ripped out entered this world from my body just 24 months ago. I know, it’s so cliché to say how time moves so fast, but dammit… it does. And this amazing trip that we are on, is moving fast as well. We are now in Budapest, Hungary after three days in Montevrain, France (near Paris) at Disneyland Paris and a day long layover in Berlin, Germany. We have a little over a week here and then we are off to Greece, and then Taipei, Taiwan. I think I am still in shock that this journey is ours. God has indeed blessed us greatly.

So, we celebrated Z’s birthday at Disneyland Paris (more about the park in my Friday post). It was a great time after we got used to the fact that we were not at the Anaheim Disneyland and embraced the differences.

I have had to embrace differences in many things recently. Mostly with my precocious toddler. The “terrible”, or as my mother-in-law kindly calls them, the “teaching” twos are now a full-blown hurricane in our family. All of a sudden, in the last few months, Zoë’s favorite word is “no”, or when she’s told she cannot say no to us, she uses “not.” Temper tantrums are a very common side effect of saying anything to her that she doesn’t want to hear. She has been hitting us and sticking her tongue out at people that say hello to her. She has been acting out a bit, and I am having a hard time disciplining her consistently, it can be difficult in general, but especially while traveling. It is hard in different cultures and when you are always on the move, to make time-outs as scary as they should be. Not only that, but as soon as I get a bee in my bonnet to change the way I discipline her, she becomes a perfect adorable angel and I can’t even think of having to discipline her. I mean come on, look at that cute face!

Photo By Jennifer Mitchell

(c) andthreetogo

Photo by Jennifer Mitchell

(c) andthreetogo

Luckily, we have not had anyone say anything to us about her behavior or our handling of it. I know back home, many people like to give their “help” or “opinions” when a child is having a melt-down, so in this way I am glad to be away from America. The language barrier is helpful for once! Honestly I think that if someone was to tell me that I was parenting Zoë incorrectly, while she was on the floor of a store, crying and yelling, I would probably punch that kind helpful person in the mouth. Ok, so I wouldn’t punch anyone, but between my screaming daughter and someone trying to talk over her and judge me, something has got to give, right?

This adventure of ours is a constant learning experience, for me, Chad, and Zoë. We are all learning how to be kind and listen to each other. We are all learning how to be patient with each other, and how to be firm as well. When do we get a summer vacation from learning these life lessons and everything is simple and smooth? Anyone know?

All these things that we are learning are making us better humans and people of faith. I am thankful for that. I am thankful that I am on this incredible trip, that I have a wonderful husband, and that I have a smart, stubborn, and active daughter. I am just really freaking grateful!

To all of you moms and dads out there, whether you have traveled or not, what has helped you get through the twos?

Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

The Happiest Place on Earth

Chad and I love all things Disney. We love Disneyland. We love Disney movies (well most of them anyways, can anyone really say that they loved Pocahontas?). I even love that Disney has bought the rights to Star Wars, because I personally think that they can improve it (I know Chad is cringing at that one). One of my personal life goals is to visit all the Disney parks.

I would love to be able to say that this healthy obsession began when I had my daughter and that I loved seeing the look of joy in her eyes as she looked at Cinderella’s Castle for the first time. It is true, I love watching Zoës face light up when we walk into Disneyland, but Chad and I had annual passes long before she was even a thought in our minds. Our favorite weekend get-away was aptly known as the “Happiest Place on Earth” and we visited it often.

We knew that Zoë would love Disney as well, I mean it’s in our genetic makeup, how could she not! We began brainwashing introduced her to Disneyland at the tender age of three weeks old. Just this week we started off our world travel with one last time (well at least for this year) enjoying the wonderful world of Disney.

This was Zoës sixth time at Disneyland, and there are many parents out there that think that we are crazy. I have heard some of the arguments, such as, taking a child before they are old enough to remember the trip is a waste of money, or it will be too difficult to keep track of them. The way I feel about that, is that you are making memories for yourself having special time with your child, even if they cannot remember it, you will, and that happy experience with you impacts them. As far as having difficulty keeping track of your little one, I feel it’s no different than taking a child to a crowded shopping center, except for the fact that Disneyland has amazing security and a child has never been taken from Disneyland ever. Thats right folks, in 57 years, not one child has gone missing from the park. This gives me a sense of security (but that doesn’t mean that I just let Zoë run around all over, I pay close attention to her and make sure that she doesn’t stray out of my sight).

There are things that infants and children can do at Disneyland no matter what age they are, and that parents can enjoy too. I want to share our experiences with you and maybe you too will want to take your little one to our favorite place.

3 WEEKS OLD

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 (Zoë and Grandma Mitchell. Photo Taken by Chad)

At this age, babies are just eating, sleeping and pooping, which makes this age very easy in my opinion. Zoë couldn’t even hold up her own head but was able to ride all of the Fantasyland rides, as well as Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise, Winnie the Pooh (near Splash Mountain), the train, Small World, the Submarines, Roger Rabbit, and the Haunted Mansion. She was also able to go on the Little Mermaid ride, Monsters, Inc. and the Bugs Land ride in California Adventure. She, of course, was too young to really enjoy it, but I was! (New moms want to have fun too).

A great part of the Disney parks, that many people don’t know about are the Baby Centers. These rooms (one in Disneyland and one in California Adventure) have a nursing area, diaper changing tables and tiny toilets for potty-trained toddlers. They are air-conditioned (or heated in the cold months) and are comfortable and private. I spent a lot of time in these rooms this first time.

8 MONTHS, 10 MONTHS, and 13 MONTHS OLD

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 (Zoë and Nana McKeever. Photo Taken by Jenny)

I am lumping these trips together because these ages are not hugely different, at least as far as taking them to a Disney park. There was not much change in the rides that Zoë could go on in either park from 3 weeks to 8, 10, or 13 months old, but there was a huge change in the amount that she observed and reacted to. She was moving around more (she started walking at 9 ½ months) and was pointing to things that she wanted to see. I loved watching her and seeing what she would react to. I loved hearing her squeal and laugh and use the words she could say to describe what she was experiencing. I used the Baby Centers all the time but enjoyed the time away from the crowds for a bit. At these ages she was grabbing everything and putting everything in her mouth, so I had to be hyper-diligent in making sure she didn’t pick up any thing off the ground and to sanitize her hands often, besides that it was pretty easy going.

 16 MONTHS OLD

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(Zoë Playing in Donald Ducks House. Photo Taken By Chad)

Zoë had a growth spurt at this age. She was finally 32 inches tall and had graduated to more big girl rides. She was able to drive the cars in Autopia in Disneyland and ride on the new Cars Land – Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree in California Adventure. Mater was her first real ‘”roller coaster” type of ride. It was very exciting! Tom Sawyer’s Island, now called the Pirate’s Lair, was especially fun for Zoë at this age. It was perfect for her new running and climbing capabilities. She loved running around and tumbling in the dirt, and we loved it because it wore her out and she was willing to stay in her stroller longer. There is nothing better than a happy and exhausted toddler.

A side note, Zoë finally started to notice the characters walking around and was scared to death of them. We had to watch them from afar.

22 MONTHS OLD

photo-1 photo photo-3

(Photos Taken By  Auntie Lisa, Jenny, and Disney Cast Member)

As everyone knows the closer that a child gets to two years old, the more difficult it can be to take them places. There is a reason the twos are called terrible. It can be exhausting and frustrating taking care of a little person who is asserting their personality, desires and emotions, mostly without words. There are tantrums, disobedience, and many moments of fun as well. This age is not all bad. It is such an honor to see how this little person that you made is becoming who they are. Disneyland is a great opportunity to explore your almost 2 year old’s growing use of words and the way they deal with their new and confusing emotions.Tantrums are inevitable, but the bribery options at a Disney park are so much easier and more accessible.

I digress. Now back to the great things about taking a 22 month old to Disney parks. Disneyland has many options for toddlers to play and run around, Pirate’s Lair, the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail and the Bugs Land water parks are great for your toddler to cool down and tire themselves out. The Bugs Life show, Muppet 3D show, and especially the Disney Junior – Live on Stage were favorites for our almost 2 year old. She wasn’t able to ride any new rides, as she has not reached 35 inches yet, but that is okay because this time she understood and participated with the rides she could go on. We realized that she loves to cry “WHEEE” as we go down the drops in rides like Pirates of the Caribbean, which was so cute!

This time Zoë noticed and loved seeing the characters, even so much as to give Mickey Mouse a high five and a hug. It was great! This was by far the most fun we have had with her, not just with her around.

Disneyland is still my favorite theme park to go to and will always be. I hope that Zoë will share in our love for it and find it fun and fascinating. Besides teaching her to love travel and new places, I hope that she will also love and cherish the ones that she has been to a hundred times.

Have you taken your little ones to the Happiest Place on Earth? What do you think was helpful or good for you and your infant or child?