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A 3-Year-Old's Perspective of Walt Disney World
By Denise Ferguson
ALL EARS® Guest Columnist
This article appeared in the March 23, 2004, Issue #235 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
My daughter Ceara is 3 and her favorite place is Walt Disney World. She told me so on our recent trip.
Before we went, I had read the email lists and guidebooks and set upon a plan to explore the parks. I compiled a list of the things she would be interested in and the things to avoid. I knew what rides she could ride and shows she could see. I had read that she might be too young to enjoy Epcot and that the Snow White witch would terrify her. I planned the trip around her -- what she liked, what she was interested in. I believe that is especially important when traveling with a child.
My husband, daughter and I made the 18-hour trip to Walt Disney World by car, breaking the traveling into two days each direction. We packed the car with snacks, drinks, coloring books, Disney CDs, and various other items that we'd all enjoy. We stayed at an off-property hotel that I had booked on the Internet. (Next time we go we will stay on property so that we can easily return to our hotel during the day to rest, and so that I can be well assured of the quality of the room.)
We brought Ceara's umbrella stroller from home and each day she would jump into it and ride around until something caught her interest. (WDW rents strollers, but we just brought Ceara's with us, since we were driving down and the umbrella stroller didn't take up much room in the car.) When Ceara saw something that intrigued her she would holler at me to stop ("Mommy, I need to see the horsey!") and then hop out on her own, grab my or her stepfather's hand, and drag us over to see whatever excited her.
One of the rides that caught her interest was Snow White's Scary Adventures. "Mommy! I wanna go see Snow White!" The guidebooks were right about it, though -- she burst into tears halfway through. Of course, then she refused to ride Peter Pan or go into any other building because it would be scary. "Mommy, that ride scary! The witch is mean!" That was our first day in the parks. I thought the trip was doomed. But anything she could see from the line, she wanted to do. She was still adventurous.
Ceara rebounded from the scary Snow White attraction and delighted in aspects of the trip that I never thought would thrill her. Cinderella Castle was her favorite place in the park. She delighted in Cinderella's Surprise Celebration so much that we ended up seeing it twice, making a special return trip to the Magic Kingdom another night just to see it. She wouldn't go near Captain Hook in the parks, but she cheered when Peter Pan vanquished him from the Castle. We would have spent every night at this show if we could have.
My daughter had avoided (was terrified of) Santa Claus at Christmas time, but in Walt Disney World she chased after Goofy when she saw him at Mickey's Toontown Fair. She attempted to tackle him -- and almost knocked him over -- when she threw her arms around his legs to give him a hug. During the character meals we attended (lunch at the Crystal Palace and at the Land) she could hardly contain her excitement at seeing Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet, Mickey, Pluto, Chip and Dale.
Her favorite characters were Pocahontas at Rafiki's Planet Watch in Animal Kingdom and Belle at the Fairy Tale Garden. Both gave her hugs and called her a "little princess." Pocahontas must have spent nearly five minutes explaining to Ceara where her necklace came from and why it was important to take care of the planet. My daughter hung on to every word that these two characters said to her. "Mommy, they said I princess, too!"
Remember the witch from Snow White? Though Ceara had declared her scary, she cajoled me to follow the Witch around the Disney-MGM Studios. We must have followed her for five or ten minutes. My daughter was enchanted by her but would not go anywhere near her. From the safety of her stroller, Ceara even blew her a kiss!
Buzz, Woody, Jessie and the Green Army Men thrilled her at the Studios, while Lilo, Stitch, Donald, Goofy, Mickey and Minnie were exciting at Animal Kingdom. In addition to the characters enchanting and entertaining Ceara, she was also impressed by quite a few other surprises. Roving musicians on Main Street caught her attention. The entire time they played, she danced in front of them. At the end of every song, she approached them and gave them "high fives." The guidebooks never mentioned that 3-year-olds would be enthralled by the street performers. Characters, yes. Street bands, no! But she was, and it brought endless smiles to our faces.
Rides she loved in the Magic Kingdom included Dumbo, Buzz Lightyear, the Mad Tea Party teacups, Cinderella's Carrousel, the Walt Disney World Railroad, the Liberty Belle riverboat, and Goofy's Barnstormer. By the time we went to the Studios, she consented to riding the Great Movie Ride. At Epcot, she rode the Land boat ride, Spaceship Earth, and Ellen's Energy Adventure. At Animal Kingdom she loved the animals that she interacted with at Rafiki's Planet Watch and the ones that she saw on the Kilimanjaro Safari. She also made a boyfriend -- actually a potted tree [Wes Palm] that talked and flirted with her. It even asked her for a kiss before continuing on its walk.
By the last day, Ceara's favorite refrain after a ride was, "That not scary, Mommy, was it?" I was prepared for her to like the rides. The fact that she fell in love with the performers and the characters is another story. But every day added a few more surprises.
We spent a day at Epcot and my daughter would have enjoyed being there for longer than that. After all, Epcot is where her "brother" is -- a robot that talked to her and flirted with her and basically adopted her as its sister. The guidebooks had warned me that Epcot might bore her -- after all it is not geared as much to little ones. But Ceara was not bored. She eagerly explored Innoventions -- banging doors, pushing buttons, playing with the computers. For almost 45 minutes she ran back and forth playing with the different displays. At the Land we spent more than three hours. She watched the Lion King movie that explained the Circle of Life. She made cookies and got to wear a chef's hat. She ate at the character lunch and rode the boat.
In the World Showcase, she danced with musicians and laughed at the different performances. She loved making a mask and stopping at the Kidcot Fun Stops. We missed a few on our travels, but she enjoyed every one that she did get. In Norway, she posed with a giant troll and lovingly patted its hand before we walked on.
At the Studios, she watched the shows. Muppet Vision 3D was exciting, and the animation tour kept her attention because Mushu ran all over the place. But the most entertaining part of the day was when we ate at the 50's Prime Time Caf Our Aunt Claire delighted Ceara by hollering at the adults to keep their elbows off the table and feeding each of us in turn when we didn't think we could finish one more bite. My daughter still loves to make airplane noises as she finishes "just one more bite." We couldn't leave without Ceara hugging and kissing Aunt Claire.
In addition to the major characters and attractions, my daughter was delighted by a Downtown Disney Cast Member who gifted her with one of his pins. We pin-traded the entire trip and my daughter asked this CM to trade with her. He handed her one of his pins and wished her a good night. Another CM at the barbershop in the Magic Kingdom gave my daughter a dozen stickers just for stopping by -- we couldn't convince her to get a haircut, but she loved the stickers.
In four days we explored four parks. The rides and attractions were interesting, but the magic that my 3-year-old found was not in just the big pageants. Tarzan Rocks and the Lion King show are definitely festive, but the little moments when Ceara danced in front of the street musicians or stalked the Wicked Witch were even more magical. It was when her eyes lit up as she saw Peter Pan save the castle for the second time and when she hugged our waitress and told her that she would "see you later, gator."
The guidebooks and tourist brochures concentrate on the Big Moments, but when traveling with my little girl, it was the little ones that were the MOST magical. I saw it in her smile and when her eyes lit up. We can't wait to go back. In fact, she already told me she would move in with Cinderella if she were asked. One day. Until then, we have the magical memories from seeing the magic through Ceara's eyes.
Denise and Ceara live in Ohio. Denise had been to Disney World once as a child, but not again until this past January when she took her 3-year-old to experience the magic. They both fell in love with the place and hope to make Disney a traditional event -- if not every year, then at least every few years!
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.