Many years ago, I was reading an interview with someone who worked with the characters at Disneyland. They recommended against a static pose, and instead that you stand behind the characters and try to capture that expression when your child meets these creatures for the very first time. This advice led me to capturing my favourite photo from our trip to Disneyland Paris, when Hayden met Chip.

 

We had two character dinners during our holiday. The first was a buffet at Inventions, where we met Mickey, Eeyore, Smee, Pinocchio’s father Mister Geppetto, Chip, Dale, and Pluto. We arrived as soon as it opened, and we had lots of time with all the characters. However, Hayden sat with his back to the door, and sometimes he was a bit startled when these giant characters snuck up behind him. However he was very comfortable with Eeyore, Chip, and Mickey, giving them hugs and bopping them on their noses. I ate lots of fresh seafood, Adrian had a decent vegetarian spread, and Hayden ate nothing but plain crepes. Hayden sat on my lap as we watched Disney Dreams through the window, and he told me that Mickey Mouse makes fire with his hands.

 

The second dinner was at Cafe Mickey. The children’s meal included quail eggs – very French. My favourite character here was Goofy, who sat down with Hayden and helped him put together his mini-figures from the Lego store next door. We also had a long mime-conversation with Mickey. Adrian asked if he was a prisoner, because he had seen him chained to the parade float. Mickey signed that no, it was just so he didn’t fall off. I asked Mickey if he had cooked the food, but he shook his head and brushed his jacket in such a way to indicate he was the manager, not the chef.

 

On the last day, Adrian took Hayden to meet Spiderman while I was on the Rock & Roller Coaster. They tried to make Spiderman hand gestures together, but Hayden was a bit confused. Adrian told Hayden to say “Hello Peter”, and Spiderman said that only his friends were allowed to call him Peter, but Hayden could be his friend.

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Hayden enjoyed Ratatouille. He enjoyed Dumbo. He enjoyed the Flying Carpets. He enjoyed Big Thunder Mountain. He enjoyed Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop. So the questions was – could we take our 3.5 year old child on the Tower of Terror? Keep in mind that the last time that I rode this attraction, I screamed in absolute fright for the entire three minutes. I hated it. I hated the feeling of the floor dropping out from below me, falling falling falling. But Hayden just reached the minimum 102 cm hight requirements (“stand up straight and bop your head but don’t stand on your toes” can be a surprisingly difficult instruction to follow), so we decided to give it a go.

 

I promised myself I wouldn’t scream and freak him out. I told myself that I would re-frame the experience from falling to free-fall. I would be like an astronaut, floating in space. After all, being orbit is nothing more than continuous free-fall. We asked Hayden if he wanted to go on a lift that went up and down really fast. He said yes.

 

The first time, I watched his face, and he was smiling and smiling. This meant that I had to open my eyes, see the beautiful view over the park and the neat special effects on each floor. As the lift came to an end, I was confused. It couldn’t have finished, because we hadn’t had the really scary drops yet. Subjectively, I felt as if the ride was a lot slower and a lot smaller than a few years ago. Objectively, I knew it was exactly the same physical sensations. It was just my attitude that had changed.

 

This was an interesting learning experience for me. Something that was once daunting and terrifying had become fun and enjoyable. All I had to do was change my perspective.

 

We ended up going on it twice. Adrian laughed and laughed. Hayden really did seem to enjoy it. And surprisingly, so did I.

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Since Hayden had loved Star Tours and all the rides at Efteling, we decided to see how he would fare on a true roller coaster: Big Thunder Mountain. The hight restriction is 102 cm, but Hayden was very confused when we asked him to stand up straight under the ruler. Finally I had to kneel down and demonstrate to Hayden how to “bop” one’s head. He followed suite and just managed to pass the test. We told him that the train would go “very very fast”, but he still wanted to join us. We all managed to squeeze into one row, and off we went. I watched Hayden the whole ride, and, to my surprise, he absolutely loved it. He laughed and smiled and said “wheeee”. Even the loud noises and the darkness didn’t scare him. We ended up riding the “very very fast train” several times during our trip, and every time, he reminded me that I had to “bop” my head on the ruler. It turns out, our little boy loves roller coasters.

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After lunch at Bistro Chez Remy, we returned to the hotel for a well-deserved nap, and then woke up just in time to see Disney Magic on Parade. We saw Elsa, Buzz Lightyear, the Queen of Hearts, and finished with Minnie and Mickey. Hayden enjoyed seeing Captain Hook and Smee. I loved listening to the music, and getting a high five from one of the Green Army Men. The characters were vibrant, and gave Hayden lots of waves and kisses. Adrian told Pepter Pan that he preferred Captain Hook, and Peter Pan made a face at him. The best part was seeing Hayden’s face as he watched all his favourite characters come to life and smile at him.

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