Is My Preschooler Too Young For Disneyland?

My three-year-old daughter wears Minnie Mouse ears around the house. Her big brother got them for her last summer when we took him to Disneyland and left her at home with a sitter. Although she had no idea what Disneyland was, she knew she wanted to go. She was devastated when my husband and I left her at home claiming that, at two, she was just too young to really enjoy a theme park. 

Now that summer is rolling around, my big boy is asking if we’re going to Disneyland again this summer. Hell bent on not getting left home this year, his little sister is wearing her pink, sparkly Minnie Mouse ears as an act of sibling disobedience. She’s going to wear those ears until she gets to see Minnie and Mickey live and in person.  It’s a preschooler protest of colossal proportion. But since my little one is still just three-years-old, I can’t help but think she’s still too young to appreciate a day at a theme park and I’ll have wasted a ton of cash on a very exhausting, expensive day.

So of course I feel guilty. I loved going to Disneyland as a kid, but I never got to go when I was such a little kid. I went when I could enjoy it.

The first time my parents took my sisters and me to Disneyland. We lived in San Francisco and drove all the way down to Anaheim in my Dad’s mustard yellow Oldsmobile Delta 88.  We stayed somewhere near Disneyland, certainly not the fancy Disneyland hotel. The ticket price at the time was $13 a person, which when multiplied for the five of us, was a lot of money for my parents.

I was in heaven eating Mickey Mouse ear-shaped pancakes for breakfast and staying up late for the Electric Light parade. I spun on the teacups with my mom, who never otherwise went on rides. And I saw my dad smile, an occasion rarer than mom going on rides. My sisters and I got T-shirts, personalized mouse ear hats, too much candy, not enough sleep, and the best day of our lives. I can still remember it all these years later as if it were just yesterday. I was probably five-years-old at the time.

Most of my friends started taking their kids to theme parks when the kids couldn’t even walk. It always sounded so miserable to me, carrying an exhausted kid around in the heat while praying the kid didn’t melt down because the line was too long or the water ride was closed. I can’t help but think the day at the park was for the parents, not the kids since the kids were often barely old enough to appreciate much of what the park had to offer.

Then again, perhaps I’ve also been too worried about creating the "perfect" experience for my kids. I have amazing memories of my Disneyland day as a kid– even though I'm certain the trip wasn't perfect. I just don’t remember the flaws. Perhaps my kids' day at Disneyland wouldn't be perfect — there would be meltdowns, tears over lollipops, long lines, and all of us losing our tempers — but the trip could still become a sweet childhood memory. A kid is never too young for happy memories, so I suppose my girl is not too young for a trip to the theme park. 

So I've finally told my daughter she could go to Disneyland this year. When she heard the news, she jumped up and down and squealed with delight. She still hasn’t taken those pink mouse ears off and chances are she won’t for a while. It’s fine with me. She’s happy. And so am I.