It’s no secret that my wife loves Disneyland. When she needs to unwind she says, “Let’s go to Disneyland for the day.” When I need to unwind I say, “Hey, why don’t you take the kids to Disneyland?” Relaxing to her means a long drive, big crowds and walking around all day while hoping that my three boys do not try to kill each other over a churro that I am making them share. (I make them share because I am convinced that I am teaching them a valuable lesson, but in reality I am just very, very cheap and cannot bring myself to spend the extra cash.)
My wife also challenges me to find things to do in the park to bond with my boys. My three sons are very different. They have very different likes and dislikes when we head to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure (DCA). I have learned that it is best to take them each on different attractions so we can create our own memories each time we go. Plus, I get to tell them all that “it’s a small world” is closed indefinitely and not worry about my wife catching me in a lie.
So here it is: my top things to do with my sons at Disneyland and DCA. These are all equal to me and in no particular order. Some are obvious and others are small hidden gems.
1. As much as my wife loves all thing Disney, I love all things Star Wars. My son who just turned six, shares my passion for all things Jedi and Sith. We make sure to always do the two Star Wars themed attractions that no fan should every bypass no matter how hot it is or how long the lines are. We start with a FASTPASS and ride on Star Tours. My son never tires of the droids talking to us in line or us talking about which planets we will visit this time. The best part about the ride is the fact that he has not made up his mind yet if it is just a ride, or if we are really blasting off into space. He is a bit of a dreamer, and I know he knows it is just a cool ride, but his face tells me that for the time we are in line and on the ride, he really is blasting through asteroids over Mustafar, weaving between the legs of an AT-AT on Hoth, or pod racing on Tatooine. As soon as we make our way down the carpeted entry into the galactic gift store Star Trader, he is talking about how awesome the ride was and how glad he is that we went on it together. The hardest part of the ride for me is not spending all of my cash on the items at the exit that we can get for 30 percent cheaper at out local Target!
The second Star Wars-themed attraction we don’t miss is the Jedi Training Academy. Here is our son Brandon in action during our last visit.
2. If you have a kid who is in the seven- to ten-year-old range I have learned that they are just starting to become adventurous and even if they are really, really scared, they will take a chance on a big ride just to prove to you that they can take it. So I like to take my son on California Screamin’ at DCA. I think he likes it because he tells me so, but the whole time we rode it, I watched him and he watched the inside of his eyelids! There is no better bonding than getting off a big scary ride, high-fiving each other, and then walking across the park to meet up with the rest of the family so he can tell his mom and brothers how awesome it was and how he wasn’t scared at all. For the rest of the day, he reminds me how much fun the ride was and how he cannot wait to go on it again. When I say, “Let’s go now,” he just coolly looks at me and says, “Nah, let’s try something else.” (Just in case you haven’t reached this age with your kids yet, that’s 8-year-old code for “I am gonna need the rest of the day to process that ride and decide whether or not I can go on that thing again, if ever.”
3. My youngest son has just turned three and he has no lack of energy and sense of adventure. So, to bond with him we head over to the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. He loves climbing on the cargo net bridges and climbing along the rock wall. He is too small to ride on the tire zip lines, but he will slide down the log slide 40 times in a row. I also enjoy this area as it gives me a chance to help him climb, slide and find the animal tracks on the path. I know that in the blink of an eye, he will find this area (and me) pretty lame, so I have to enjoy every minute I can with him. He already pushes me away when I try to help him climb the nets, but as soon as he gets a bit unsteady he grabs my hand and refuses to let go until he realizes that he is holding my hand.
4. Sometimes we like to head into the place where my three sons stay riveted and spellbound. I am not talking about Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, I am talking about the awesome little magic shop on Main Street. We could watch the Cast Members at the counter do magic all day. My sons all want to buy something, and one time we did. My oldest son practiced the trick and performed it only once (he lifted a coin on his hand using only his mind) at our friend’s pool party. He was so proud of himself for pulling it off, and I really appreciate the fact that the guys working at the shop are so into what they do that my son actually learned something that helped him overcome his shyness. If it is a hot day and you want to just relax and check out something different, try out the Magic Shop. Just be careful, because before you know it, you could be taking out a home equity line of credit so your kids can have Grandma guess how they got the three of clubs from her hand into their pocket.
5. Pirates! All three of my boys consider themselves to be pirates and have told us that they consider being a pirate later in life a viable career choice. They love this ride because it is a little scary and a “lotta” cool. We have never been to the park and not been on this ride. I don’t know how long this ride is but it is always a welcome rest, and we always talk about the piles of gold, the colorful jewels and the fact that Jack Sparrow seems to move along with us as we float through Tortuga. It’s an obvious choice, but you get to talk to your kids, hold their hands, sing along to the pirate tunes and laugh as you get sprayed by the over chlorinated water.
6. Corn Dogs. Do I need to say more? Want to bond with your kids? Grab some of the giant, delicious corn dogs from the Corn Dog Wagon on Main Street, State Door Cafe in Frontierland or Corn Dog Castle in DCA and find a place to sit and talk. It takes a kid 34 minutes to eat one (that is just a guess) and you will never get better quality time during the day as you all sit there and people watch.
7. When I want to get some exercise and share a real adventure with my boys, I jump on a raft and head out to Tom Sawyer Island. We climb through (I squeeze through) every cave on that island. If you have never been out there, you are missing out on one of the greatest spots in the Magic Kingdom. There are hidden treasures, skeletons hidden in caves, floating barrel bridges, and what seems like miles and miles of trails. It is calm and somewhat quiet out there and you really get to have a great time with your kids. I love exploring with them and actually getting dirty. We also like to watch the canoes race around the island and wave to the people on the Mark Twain. Trust me–take your kids across the water and over to the island if you want to spend some quality time during a hectic day at the “Happiest Place on Earth.”
Well that is it. I know these might not be anything new, but they are the places and things that make the parks fun for me when I am spending time with my boys. I really believe that since I have been with my wife and we have had our three boys that I have seen and done everything at both parks, but I am surprised that from time to time I still find new things to do and see with the kids. Riding the rides and experiencing the parks is great, but sharing laughs and mini adventures with my three boys whether one-on-one or as a group, is what makes the ever increasing cost of my annual passes well worth it…at least for now.
Will Robertson is the husband of Lisa Robertson, the publisher of Babes In Disneyland. Although he really does like Disney, he doesn’t love it as much as she does. He loves Star Wars, comic books, football, Yucaipa’s Upper Del and quoting “Tombstone.” More on him at willrobertsontv.com.