PHOTOS: A Four-Year-Old's First Time at Disneyland

If you remember this post from last week, you'll recall that I was set to go on a full-day Disneyland adventure with a four-year-old boy named Anthony (and his family), who would be experiencing the park for his very first time.

I'm proud to report that Anthony went, and Anthony conquered. Boy, did he ever.

Learn more, and see a bunch of photos from the day, after the jump.
I met up with Anthony and his family in the parking garage around nine in the morning. Immediately, he seemed excited. Not so much by the fact that he was about to walk into the Happiest Place on Earth for the first time ever, but more by the Mickey Mouse concrete pillar wraps that lined the level they had parked on.

"There's Mickey," he said. "And there he is, too. And there."

After about a hundred or so Mickey parking lot sightings, we boarded the tram. I have to be honest, Anthony looked a little nervous to me at this point. He's a quiet child, more of a thinker than a talker, so as we drove to the front of the park I began to think that it may already be too much for him to take in. I was hoping he'd find his groove and relax a bit as the day wore on. Otherwise, forget the fireworks... we might not even make dinner.

Well, at least there's always Trader Sam's, right?

We exited the tram, pulled out our tickets, and headed through the gate. Once inside the park, Anthony stopped dead in his tracks.

I don't think it's possible for kids to express what they're feeling or thinking on that first time in the park, but I translated Anthony's body language into something similar to "holy shit."

PHOTOS: A Four-Year-Old's First Time at Disneyland

We stopped by City Hall and picked up our "1st Visit!" pin. I thought Anthony might be a little reluctant to actually wear it, but he quickly asked his father to help him pin it on his shirt.

PHOTOS: A Four-Year-Old's First Time at Disneyland

Before we got into the park I explained to Anthony that he would be able to meet Disney characters once inside.

Shady: Who do you want to meet?

Anthony: Pluto. He's my favorite.

So when we walked in and found ourselves just ten feet from Pluto himself (and since his line was only a few people deep at the time), I figured Anthony would be excited to start off the day by meeting his favorite character.

Shady: Anthony, there's Pluto! Do you want to get a picture with him?

Anthony: No.

And who could blame him, really? It's already a hell of a lot to take in, and to walk in the gate and see a cartoon character you've only ever seen on television before standing right there in front of you, yeah, I guess it can be a little much.

I tried to convince him that there was nothing to worry about.

Shady: Pluto is very nice. And besides, it's probably just a little Asian woman inside of a suit. You're not scared of Asians, are you?

Of course, I didn't say that second part, but I really wanted to.

With some coaxing and convincing from his mother, Anthony slowly and cautiously approached Pluto. By the time I snapped the photo, I think he was well on his way to getting comfortable with this whole character thing.

PHOTOS: A Four-Year-Old's First Time at Disneyland

We hit Main Street and stopped in at Blue Ribbon Bakery. I wanted a black coffee. Anthony wanted anything that had Mickey Mouse's face on it. We both got our wish.

PHOTOS: A Four-Year-Old's First Time at Disneyland

We walked through Sleeping Beauty's Castle and into Fantasyland.

We waited a half hour for Peter Pan's Flight, which proved not to be that bad considering we were there in mid-August. Anthony expressed some concern over not wanting to see Captain Hook because he was a bad guy. I told him that he shouldn't worry because Captain Hook was also a small Asian woman.

PHOTOS: A Four-Year-Old's First Time at Disneyland

He loved it. I mean, the ride is great, so what's there not to love? Amazingly, we left Fantasyland directly after and never returned. To be honest, because of Anthony's age, I assumed we'd be spending most of, if not all of the day there because that's where the kiddie rides are. But Anthony was ready for more, and so we headed to Adventureland.

We rode Jungle Cruise and had a great guide. (A good or bad guide can make or break that ride.) A leaf fell into the boat as we were passing a low-lying tree branch. The guide picked it up and handed it to Anthony, telling him that it was a free souvenir from Disneyland. He held onto it for the entire boat ride as if it were a stuffed Mickey Mouse doll.

PHOTOS: A Four-Year-Old's First Time at Disneyland

We followed up Jungle Cruise with Pirates of the Caribbean, which Anthony loved. I thought he might be a little scared by the darkness or drops or loud explosions, but he took it all in stride. "If he can do Pirates," I explained to his parents, "the Haunted Mansion will be a breeze."

He showed no signs of being scared while we waited the thirteen minutes in line, but unless he had a terrible fear of Victorian architecture, why would he?

PHOTOS: A Four-Year-Old's First Time at Disneyland

We walked into the holding area, and as soon as the sliding door opened into the sinking room, a serious look crept across Anthony's face.

PHOTOS: A Four-Year-Old's First Time at Disneyland

His father, who was holding him at the time, said he could feel his heart beating quickly in his chest. Still, he pushed through.

By the time he got off the ride he seemed fine, but I think it was clear that he wouldn't be coming back with his death certificate anytime soon. Still, he did it, and for that I give him a lot of credit. It's more than people can say about me and Tower of Terror, that's for sure.

Anthony is more of a Pixar fan than a Disney fan, meaning that he's more familiar with Lightning McQueen than he is with Goofy, so we decided to head over to California Adventure and take in some of the Pixar sights.

He got his bug eyes at It's Tough to be a Bug!

PHOTOS: A Four-Year-Old's First Time at Disneyland

We also waited in line to meet Anthony's favorite Pixar character: Buzz Lightyear.

PHOTOS: A Four-Year-Old's First Time at Disneyland

Unfortunately, Buzz is a member of the union, so he shuffled off to take his mandatory break before we got to the front of the line. Luckily, he gave Anthony a high-five as he walked by. Not as cool as a photo with him, but still pretty awesome.

PHOTOS: A Four-Year-Old's First Time at Disneyland

We headed back to Disneyland for dinner reservations at Blue Bayou. After eating, Anthony started to visibly lose steam. This is absolutely natural, of course, as who doesn't like a little post-meal nap? Unfortunately, without a stroller, his father found himself carrying Anthony. A lot. Tired kids equal tired parents, and so I began to wonder if this was the beginning of the end.

PHOTOS: A Four-Year-Old's First Time at Disneyland

But then we hit Mickey's Toontown, which is like pure caffeine for kids. Kids love this part of the park. I, on the other hand, barely go north of the Matterhorn when I visit, so a lot of it was new to me.

We waited for the parade to begin before getting in line to see Mickey Mouse. Brilliant idea, as we ended up waiting only ten minutes or so to meet the biggest name in the park. By this point, Anthony, who literally almost peed his pants while waiting in line (his father had to run him out to the bathroom before we met the Mouse), was completely at ease with meeting characters.

PHOTOS: A Four-Year-Old's First Time at Disneyland

We hung around Toontown for awhile as Anthony played in Goofy's Playhouse.

PHOTOS: A Four-Year-Old's First Time at Disneyland

We then took advantage of Anthony's second wind and headed back over to California Adventure to check out Turtle Talk with Crush. As we waited for the previous show to get out, we all stood in amazement at the Toy Story zoetrope in the lobby. This is easily one of my favorite things in California Adventure. But you know what? It's in desperate need of a dusting! Call in the maids, Disney!

PHOTOS: A Four-Year-Old's First Time at Disneyland

By the time we walked out of the building the sun had set. Anthony had done it! He had made it into the evening! Now if he could just hold out long enough for the 9:30 fireworks.

He started crashing fast, so his parents decided to rent a stroller for the last couple hours of the day. It was a smart move on the parents' part, and a bonus move for Anthony who got to watch the fireworks on Main Street from the comfort of a dad-pushed carriage.

PHOTOS: A Four-Year-Old's First Time at Disneyland

Once the fireworks were over, he didn't last long.

PHOTOS: A Four-Year-Old's First Time at Disneyland

I figured his parents would want to immediately take off, but they bought some hot chocolates and did some leisurely shopping while the kids continued to sleep. We left the park a little after 11:00 PM. Not bad for two parents who had been lugging an infant and a toddler around for fourteen hours straight.

The day after our visit I met up with the family to give them a CD of the photos I had shot. Anthony, now fully rested from the insanity of the day before, was wearing the Mickey Mouse hands his parents had bought him the night before.

Shady: So what was your favorite part of Disneyland, Anthony?

Anthony: The popcorn guy.

Huh? His parents had bought him a container of popcorn outside of the Haunted Mansion early on in the day, but both his parents and I recalled a woman working the cart. We were confused for a bit until it hit us.

PHOTOS: A Four-Year-Old's First Time at Disneyland

They had traveled thousands of miles and spent thousands of dollars to get to Disneyland, and Anthony's favorite part was the creepy little guy who turns stale popcorn on the cart in front of the Haunted Mansion. Hell, I bet I could get one of those for $50, easy.

Overall, going to Disneyland with a kid proved to be a much better time than I had anticipated. I'm sure it will be even better when I take my own kids some day, but even going with a child I don't share DNA with proved to be really fun. I found myself watching him way more than anything else around me.

Except for when we ran into Ariel, of course. I had a hard time not looking at her.

I guess that's just the kid in me coming out, huh? Yeah, Disneyland has a way of doing that to you.

PHOTOS: A Four-Year-Old's First Time at Disneyland


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