The Shapiro Files

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Disney Vacation: A Cautionary Tale

There comes a time when every parent must make a pilgrimage to the mecca of all things family entertainment. Yes, I'm talking about Disneyland.

When I began sharing with friends, family, and coworkers that Marcie and I were planning on taking Melody (age 3 and half) and Julianne (age 2) on this journey, we received no shortage of advice. Much of it had to do with taking regular trips back to the hotel, drinking lots of water, bringing snacks, renting strollers, and other such tactical recommendations. Much of this advice was heeded and indeed helpful.

But if a parent planning on taking two very young kids 18 months apart to Disneyland came to me today and asked for advice, here's what I'd probably say: Don't.

OK, I'm kidding (mostly) and overstating my point for dramatic effect as usual. The fact is for the most part, the two days at the Disneyland park itself were largely successful--albeit exhausting for us parents (a.k.a. "the mules"). Furthermore, the long drives to/from Southern California actually went surprisingly well, as did the visits to my mother's house that bookended our time down south.

The real nightmarish days were those immediately before and after the days spent at Disneyland.

Let's start with the day before.

Upon arriving at the hotel, I learned we arrived too early to check in (darn, should have called first) but Julianne had already spotted the pool--a pool only accessible with a key that could only be obtained after checking in. Without going into great detail, let's just say that by the time we finally got a room, the kids were beyond impatient and simultaneously over-excited from being in a new place and the highly anticipated arrival of their cousin Sarah. And yet, we still needed to schlep all the bags up to the room, unpack all the necessary swimming gear, apply sunblock to both kids, get Melody to use the restroom, change Julianne's diaper, and get all four of us changed into bathing suits--all before we could even get out the door. Needless to say, the kids rapidly melted down in a quick one-two procession. It was a huge explosion of whining, crying, and screaming--a performance my brother, who was kindly helping me with the bags, had the privilege to witness firsthand.

Next came dinner. We were all hungry and yet far from the comfort of our kitchen. So we really had no choice but to to let the kids have snacks, which subsequently made for an appetite-free Julianne upon finally arriving at Buca di Beppo for dinner. She wasn't interested in food and regrettably, the crayons provided by the waiter did little to hold her attention. I knew my window of opportunity to escape unscathed was limited, but being tired and hungry myself, I waited too long to extricate her from the situation before she had a classic two-year-old public tantrum.

The result was what I call the "Daddy Walk of Shame," If you haven't taken this walk yourself, I'm sure you've seen it. There I was, holding a flailing, screaming child in my arms (no easy task) and just trying to get out of the restaurant as quickly as possible. Of course, everyone is in the way and I'm steadfastly marching through what feels like and endless tunnel of impatient people waiting for a table, entirely without any sympathy for my plight, and all staring at me with that "You must be a terrible parent" look in their eyes.

Admit it: You've probably made that look yourself when annoyed at a screaming child getting in the way of your otherwise pleasant night out. I know I have. Boy, do I regret that now.

I knew that once I got Julianne out of there, I'd have no problem getting her to calm down and be herself again. I was correct. We had a pleasant time hanging out in the car and talking. But it was just such a humiliatingly endless march to get outside and away from public scorn. Yuck.

That night at the hotel was no great shakes either (least of which because the room with a promised "kids suite" offered no real privacy between the kids' sleeping area and that of the parents) but I won't go into that here. I'll just skip to the end of the second Disneyland day.

The plan was to spend a day or two in San Diego with my brother, sister-in-law and their daughter. It was a relatively short drive and the kids love playing with their cousin, so it made sense to add this to our agenda. Unfortunately, after two long days at Disneyland, the kids really just needed to go home, catch up on sleep, and get back to their routine. So this little detour proved to be a major disaster. We headed for San Diego after dinner and Melody fell asleep almost immediately in her car seat. Unfortunately, due to the logistics of getting their room set up (not to mention all the usual baggage schlepping), it was impossible to transport her without waking her. Fellow parents probably already know what that means. Waking a sleeping child in deep sleep means your sleeping angel gets dramatically replaced with its evil Doppelgänger. Yes, at a drop of a hat, our sweet little Melody, no doubt dreaming of her recent time with Mickey Mouse and his friends, transformed into Schmelody, the Villainous Witch of San Diego. Not much else really needs to be said on this topic.

And the next day was even better.

I won't describe in excruciating details all the whining, screaming, tantruming that went on that day. But I will say that it all came to a head when Julianne and Melody were in their cousin's bath (complete with said cousin's bath toys) and Julianne performed an act she hadn't done since she was a newborn: she pooped in the tub. With her sister in it. The result was an hour of screaming and general bedlam. I also ended up having to do a very thorough cleaning/decontaminating of that tub with no small amount of bleach. And to add to our guilt, my sister-in-law Kim rightfully opted to throw away all the bath toys. On the plus side, at least the bathtub was so clean you could probably do surgery in it.

Things finally settled down when not only Julianne and Sarah, but also Marcie and Kim all went down for naps. So I used that time to take Melody to Target with me to buy a replacement bath pad and a new Cinderella bath toy set for Sarah. Melody has always been a great shopping companion so that little trip finally turned things around and the rest of the day was relatively uneventful. However, despite being in beautiful San Diego all day, other than that little shopping errand, we never left the house.

The trip ended well with a short return visit to my mother's house and a fairly pleasant drive back home. But boy, did those days surrounding Disneyland really color my memories of that vacation.

So in the end, I suppose my less dramatically overstated advice on taking kids to Disneyland are these:

  • Renting strollers truly is highly recommended (ours even napped in them)
  • Plan nothing other than the time at Disneyland
  • Bring lots of snacks and plenty of water
  • Don't rush and expect to see a lot less of the park than you did in your pre-parenting days
The fact is that the kids really did have a great time and are already asking to go back. We'll try to hold off for at least 2-3 years, which I think is when the kids will be less prone to uncontrollable emotional explosions. Any sooner would be playing with fire. I don't think I could handle another Daddy Walk of Shame.