This was the first trip to Disneyland for all of my children, but I was particularly interested to see how Emma, my almost five year old, would react. Matt and Jordan are going on nine and eleven, respectively, and while they can still see the wonder in things, they are old enough to distinguish between reality and fantasy. But, to Emma, a life size, flesh and blood Disney princess is every bit as real as the cartoon version. Though, consequently, that means that the other characters -- particularly six and a half foot tall Goofy (the first one we ran into) is also real. That didn't go over so well. And she was a little wary of the Enchanted Tiki Room, but when the wall she was sitting next to started talking, that sent her over the edge. Emma is also a little volatile -- what she will have nothing to do with one day, she may embrace with her whole soul the next (God help the poor sucker who marries her). So, we're vacationing with a total of seven people, Emma being the only one who will be a little iffy about certain attractions. I hoped that if I could just get her on to the bigger rides, she would settle down and enjoy them. And there's the rub, if Emma gets the slightest notion that she may not like something, there is NO changing her mind, and there is nothing to do, short of picking her up bodily and dragging her, kicking and screaming, on to the ride. Good times for all. So I adopted a strategy that, for the most part, got Emma in to places I would not have thought possible. I held Emma's hand, kept moving forward, deflected questions, pointed out things to look at, remained vague and, when necessary, lied. Parenting at it's finest.
The first challenge was probably the scariest -- The Indiana Jones Adventure. Emma loves -- yes I said loves -- the Indiana Jones movies.
In fact, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is her favorite (have her tell you about the scene where Mola Ram removes the guy's heart sometime). But the ride is dark and loud and noisy and scary. We got on so fast that she didn't really have time to think about where she was, until we were in the jeep and moving forward. She wanted off, but there was nowhere to go and she was stuck. She was very brave. I wasn't sure she would ever forgive me, but as we walked off the ride, she talked non stop -- getting braver and braver the farther we got away from the ride. "I kept my hands up the whole time," "I sure did a good job driving," " I saved Indiana Jones," " I was trying to scare you Dad, but I actually scared myself!" "That was my favorite ride!" She still maintains this, although, when asked if she wants to go on it again she responds with an emphatic "NO!"
We followed this pattern on several more rides, including Pirates of the Caribbean, and it really only backfired once -- at Snow White. After a couple of the big scary rides I promised Emma that we would go to Fantasyland and ride some of the more kid friendly rides. She wanted to ride a "Princess" ride. What could be more "princessy" than Snow White? Well, the problem was two fold. First, the entrance to Snow White is kind of dark and mysterious (like Pirates and Indiana Jones) and Emma is an incredibly quick study -- she was beginning to sense a pattern. Secondly, her brother and sister have big mouths and had to mention that the ride is actually called "Snow White's Scary Adventures." That did it. Everyone, except Emma, (and me) went on Snow White. All things considered, Emma did very well, though, by the third day, she was perfectly content to stay in the Disney Princess Fantasy Faire. She had "seen it all" she said.
One other Emma experience. We went to Disneyland, Disney's California Adventure, Universal Studios and Sea World. And each place had a similar kind of ride. The oldest of this type of attraction was Star Tours, at Disneyland. You go into a small theater, buckle up your seat belt, and watch a movie while the whole place moves around, simulating the experience of flying in a Star Wars space ship. It's basically an interactive movie -- and it's pretty cool. To me. Well, after Star Tours, there was the Muppet 3-D movie at California Adventure, along with Soarin' Over California (which was incredible). Emma, actually enjoyed those quite a bit, though it took some coaxing to get her inside. At Universal Studios, there were two of these rides -- Shrek 4-D, and Terminator 2. Neither is as good as the Disney rides, and Terminator is very loud. Emma did okay with these rides, but, as I said, Emma is a quick study, and she had begun to notice another pattern developing, which was -- you start off in a room adjacent to the theater for a little introductory entertainment (some are more entertaining than others -- the Shrek one was just stupid), then you move in to the theater, strap yourself in, and mayhem ensues. By the time we got to Sea World's offering of this type (almost our last ride, on the last day of the trip) -- a helicopter trip into the arctic -- I was standing next to Emma in the introductory room (for lack of a better term), and I noticed her whimpering, as we began to head into the theater. Here is, verbatim, how the conversation went:
Me: "What's the matter Emma?"
Emma: "Whimper, mumble..."
Me: "What was that?" -- it was very loud.
Emma: " I said, I can't take this anymore!"
Me: "It's going to be fine, I promise" -- I said, for the hundredth time.
Emma: (incredulously and looking at me, like I'm a complete idiot) "Then why are there SEAT BELTS!?"