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The Toddler Bucket List – Disneyland Has to Have a Place

Disneyland, California

Do you think Athena, at two years old, has a toddler bucket list? Not the kind where you think about death or even the length of life, but the kind where you dream of great adventures, destinations, and experiences? When I created my 2014 bucket list, I wanted to include things for the entire family; their happiness, after all, is directly related to mine so I made a toddler bucket list too. With Athena’s Mickey Mouse and friends obsession, Disneyland topped the toddler bucket list. We spent 10 hours at Disneyland and Disneyland Adventure Park and I realized that my greatest bucket list accomplishments are experiencing the complete joy of others, especially when it’s with my beautiful daughter and husband. Being at Disneyland brought about a joy in Athena, and us, that was magical. As a parent, I can now truly appreciate the hype of Disney.

Athena's Excitement at Disneyland

“Here is the world of imagination, hopes, and dreams. In this timeless land of enchantment, the age of chivalry, magic and make-believe are reborn – and fairy tales come true. Fantasyland is dedicated to the young-in-heart, to those who that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.” 
― Walt Disney Company

I spent hours planning out the perfect Disneyland day for Athena to fit Athena’s toddler bucket list, incorporating her schedule with her favorite character locations and entertainment options. I thought about what her favorite experience would be and planned that one first. Disney Junior – Live on Stage was the obvious choice. Perfect for preschoolers, Disney Junior characters, including Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy, Minnie, Doc McStuffins, and Jake and the Never Land Pirates, all perform together on one stage.

Disney Live Show - Donald Duck

Disney Junior Live

Disney Junior Live on Stage - Daisy Duck

At 23 minutes plus wait time, I wondered if Athena’s attention span would last. When I arrived, I realized This is Disneyland. They’ve got it covered. There were benches to sit on while waiting in the line and a few televisions playing Disney shows. Besides, there were dozens of excited kids all waiting for the same thing. They played together and entertained themselves.

Disney Junior Live on Stage

Inside, we sat on the floor. The Disney employees did an awesome job of grabbing everyone’s attention right away and when Mickey Mouse appeared on stage, Athena was hooked. She sat on my lap, stood, danced, clapped, and followed along as these enchanting puppets brought her favorite characters to life. We were part of the show as bubbles and gold leaves fell from above. She was mesmerized. I kept looking at Darren to see if he was witnessing the smile on our daughter’s face, and we were part of it. My own heart was bursting with joy.

Next up, Mickey’s Fun Wheel. Since Mickey’s Fun Wheel offers two different ride experiences, the swinging gondola option and the gentler, more stable ride on the stationary gondola, we could see the stunning views of Paradise Bay and not worry about age or height restrictions.

Paradise Pier - Mickey's Fun Wheel

Athena didn’t even mind the 20 minute wait. There was music playing and so many things happening all around us that lines became part of the fun rather than a hassle.

Surprisingly, her favorite part of the ride was watching the roller coaster zip by us. I guess it was the closest she’d ever been to a roller coaster. It would zip by and what seemed like a crazy speed and she would smile, point, and giggle.

Riding Mickey's Fun Wheel

She spotted King Triton’s Carousel from the top of the ride and her smile was contagious. That excitement continued the entire day. (Obviously the carousel was our next stop.)

Riding on King Triton's Carousel at Disneyland The ground transportation, which we used as frequently as possible, became a major part of the experience. We rode the tram, the train, the trolley, and the bus. Athena thought they were all rides just as spectacular as the actual rides. We ran, and often danced, from one ride to the next, hopping on trains and smiling at conductors.

Dancing our way to the Next Ride at Disneyland

All of this excitement plus A Bug’s Land filled our morning. By 12:30 pm, we knew that Athena would need a nap. She wasn’t cranky, but we’d planned to follow her regular routine to make the day as pleasant as possible.

We didn’t even make it out of the parking lot and she was asleep. We had lunch at Red Robin, about 3 minutes away from Disneyland, and let her sleep for almost an hour. She had pasta when she woke up and then we returned.

The parking structure is massive so getting a spot wasn’t an issue. We paid $16 for the day and could leave and return when we wanted. Although we lost about an hour and a half by leaving, it was a good break in the day. We returned refreshed and ready to explore the other side of the park.

We rode the train from Main Street USA to Mickey’s Toontown and I learned that you need an entire day in Toontown alone. I never could have planned appropriately for the energy and excitement of Toontown.

Mickey's Toontown, Disneyland

Every building in Toontown looks like something from a dream. It is 100% cartoon!

Toontown Building, Disneyland The line to see Mickey was 45 minutes. (There are signs all around the park before each ride that tell you the wait times.) Regardless of the wait, we knew that we had to do it.

Inside his house, the heat was sweltering, kids were running away from their parents, and some families were forced to leave because they couldn’t stand it. It wasn’t a fault of Disneyland itself. Mickey is popular. A line was necessary and Disney did a good job of providing visual stimulus along the way but it’s still a long time to entertain a child, especially a toddler, when they don’t really understand the point.

The highlight of our day, though, was finally meeting Mickey. I would wait 5 days in that line and entertain Athena the entire time just to have that moment again. She looked at Mickey the same way I’d look at Johnny Depp – pure awe! Her mouth actually dropped when he picked her up. She held his hand, gave him a kiss, and posed for a photo with us. It might have been the happiest moment in her life. From what I could see, there was no question.

It was one of the happiest moments of my life too. I made this dream come true for my daughter and I was part of it. We had stood in line together and reaped the rewards at the end.

Meeting Mickey Mouse at Disneyland

Mickey did an amazing job at making her feel like the most special child that ever existed. Although he doesn’t speak, he said a thousand words with his gestures. We walked out of the building like we had just finished skydiving, filled with adrenaline yet also filled with a sense of calm.

We spent about two hours in Toontown before watching Mickey and the Magical Map and going on a few more rides. Every show was equally spectacular and held Athena’s attention from start to finish. She wasn’t the only one enjoying herself though; we cherished each second of the day and it will remain with us for the rest of our lives.

Mickey and the Magical Map Ending

We left feeling accomplished, tired from all the excitement, and completely fulfilled. Athena’s toddler bucket list could have been completed in one day at Disney. I have no question, now, that children have bucket lists as well. I don’t know how many items were crossed off of Athena’s list at Disneyland but I know that we’ll return year after year to keep fulfilling her list and mine.

***Does you have a toddler bucket list for your child? What tops the list?

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24 thoughts on “The Toddler Bucket List – Disneyland Has to Have a Place

  1. Anne says:

    It has the right name as the happiest place on earth. Look at that smile. She is beautiful. I haven’t taken my two kids yet but I’m looking at flights to California now. Thanks for the incentive.

    Anne

    1. Lesley says:

      Regardless of age, I’m sure they’ll love it!

      I’d love to hear all about it once you go.

      Stay in touch,

      Lesley

  2. Kristi says:

    Going to Disneyland with my parents is one of my earliest memories. I was 3 years old but I really do remember meeting Mickey Mouse. Congratulations on making the day special for your whole family!

    1. Lesley says:

      I don’t know if Athena will remember it. I honestly doubt it, but it was worth every second. I can’t wait to take her back again and again. I think she’ll get something new out of it every year. 🙂

  3. Anita says:

    What an exciting time for your family! Thanks for sharing it with us!

    1. Lesley says:

      It’s so amazing being back in southern California! In the last month, we’ve visited San Diego Zoo and Disneyland. We’re planning a day at Universal and Knott’s Berry Farm as well. There are so many options here. I love it!

  4. Sarah says:

    Its so great to take them young. What a wonderful experience for her!

    1. Lesley says:

      So many people agree that you should wait until they are older but the look on her face says it all. She loves it at this age and she’ll love it later when I take her too 😉

  5. Dana says:

    Yes, there are many amazing places to see in the world but Disneyland should be experienced too. Disneyworld is still one of my kids favorite vacations.

    1. Lesley says:

      How old are your children?

      I’m grateful that we live near Disney but we don’t go too often. I’d like for it to always be special rather than an every day event. I want her to still love it when she’s older too.

  6. Beth Blair says:

    Awww! I love this. I was tiny when I first went…and don’t remember a thing. But I’m sure I had a great time just like my kids.

    1. Lesley says:

      I have just as fun much as her when we go. Watching her experience things for the first time is refreshing.

      How old were your kids when you first brought them?

  7. Globalmouse says:

    Aw her face is one of pure joy! We are just back from Disneyland Paris and had such a great time. Disney is a really special place!

    1. Lesley says:

      We haven’t been to Disneyland Paris. Do you have posts/photos from your trip? I’d love to see and read more.

  8. Kirsten says:

    The pictures really say it all. What a special trip for your daughter and great memories for everyone. I will never forget the first time we took our boys to Disneyland, they loved every minute of it, but it was exhausting! 7 years later and they still ask to go back! Disney really does things right.

    1. Lesley says:

      It is exhausting, isn’t it? There is so much to do and so little time even if you have a couple day pass. We don’t want to get a season pass though because I worry it won’t be as special.

  9. She looks so happy! I completely agree that sometimes the happiest moments in travel are the ones when we see just how happy our kids are. We took our two to Disneyworld a couple of years ago and, just like Athena, they were in Disney heaven. I would go again just to see the look on their faces!

    1. Lesley says:

      Me too! I love it. It’s just as much a treat for me as it is for her. 🙂

      Where is your favorite place to take your kids?

  10. Robin says:

    What amazing photographs of such a special day! She won’t remember it, but you have captured such a beautiful experience for her, she’ll always love it.

  11. We travel the world with our kids, but when we have a chance we always take them to Disney. Recently, we were literally passing by the Park on our way to Boca Raton (road trip from Boston!) so I made a decision practically on the fly to stop by there for 6 hours! My 5 year old had a blast! (looking at your daughter’s adorable pictures- it’s impossible to deny her the Disney fun of her own:)

  12. I remember when my girls were little and Disneyland was such a fabulous place for a family vacation!

  13. It looks like you all had a fabulous time! I have to say Disney does know how to hire the right people. I was very impressed with how well organized everything was at Disneyworld when we visited.

  14. Rodney Gottier says:

    These trips you show & go through with your family are truly entertaining & give a new place when can actually go too. Thanks for it al!

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