First of all, I need to say that Disneyland is an awesome place for all kids. Boys or girls, young or older, there is something there for every child. But I have to admit that our first few Disney trips were a little more “Girl- centric” in theme. When our daughter was three and four and our son was one and two years old, we tended to gravitate towards the princesses and fairies. We picked the princess character meals and visited all the female characters and our son was happy to just go along with it for the most part. On our last trip when he was a month shy of three he was starting to state his preferences a bit, but other than making a point of visiting Buzz Lightyear and riding the Astro Orbiters, we didn’t really go out of our way to seek out the less “girly” attractions.
Well, the little guy is almost four now and he’s making it very clear that the days of taking a back seat to his big sister’s preferences are long over. One of my favourite things about being able to do a mother and son trip to Disneyland last month was the chance to focus on my little boy and to do the things he wanted to do. There would be no waiting in lines to see princesses on this trip!
Looking back through the years, it seems like Disneyland has been changing a bit to cater more to girls. In the beginning, there was a lot more focus on the Wild West, Frontierland aspect of the park, back when Davy Crockett and cowboy movies were all the rage. In the 1950’s you could ride trains, cars, rockets, boats, aerial trams, canoes, rafts, wagons and even mules. The only original ride named after a female character was Snow White’s Adventures. Mickey, Donald and Goofy got top billing while Minnie and Daisy got the bit parts. The park was very much a reflection of the times.
But of course the world changed and Disney changed with it. Someone figured out that there was a lot of money to be made from princesses and other female characters and suddenly they seemed to be everywhere. Minnie’s house got equal billing next to Mickey’s when Toontown was built. Fantasyland became much more princess orientated and the stores filled up with merchandise that was marketed to girls.
Now, all parents know that just because something is marketed at boys or girls it doesn’t mean it’s written in stone. One thing I love about Disneyland is that my princess-y daughter can whip around Big Thunder Mountain in her frilly Cinderella dress and my wild and active son will sit mesmerized as a float full of waving princesses goes past during the parade. But there are definitely parts of the parks that cater more to one gender than the other. The girly stuff often seems to get top billing, especially with the recent success of the latest princess movies, but there are some pretty amazing attractions and experiences for little boys as well if you look around. Here are some of our favourites from this last trip.
Both of the Toy Story themed rides at Disney, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters in Disneyland and Toy Story Midway Mania in California Adventure are set up like ride through video games. Your ride vehicle is a sort of mobile gaming unit and as you ride along you shoot at targets and accumulate points. Toy Story Midway Mania is much more sophisticated with multiple games and a 3D aspect to it, but both are great fun for kids who like video games. My son loved riding them over and over and we saw kids of all ages doing the same. These rides have huge appeal for both boys and girls, but it seemed like it was the groups of young boys who were always getting off and running right back to get into the line again.
As I mentioned earlier, Disneyland has always had a huge variety of different vehicles to try, even if mules are no longer an option, and this was a huge attraction for my little boy. We made a game of seeing how many different modes of transportation we could try. The Autopia cars were a hit as always and we tried a lot of different boats with the Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Storybrook Canal Boats, and Sailing Ship Columbia. Unfortunately the Nemo Submarines and Small World rides were closed or we would have tried even more. You can even ride a fun variety of old fashioned vehicles down Main Street including a horse drawn streetcar and a double decker omnibus, while California Adventure has the Red Car Trolley. And don’t forget the rockets in Tomorrowland and the Flying Tires in Carsland!
I have to say, the characters are one area where boys seem to take the back seat to girls. We were in Disney World last February when the had the princes together with the princesses for a special Valentines Week event and it was a lot of fun to greet Flynn Rider along with Rapunzel, the Beast together with Belle and even Cinderella and Snow White’s unnamed princes. Unfortunately, Disney keeps the men locked up in the back most of the time (or something) and the princesses usually do all their greeting on their own. You can usually find out where to meet Mickey and friends, but finding the other characters that boys like can be pretty hit and miss, unlike the scheduled appearances for the princesses and fairies. There is a character meet and greet inside the Animation Academy in California Adventure, but it can be hard to find a specific schedule. We happened to arrive once to find Buzz and Woody, but were told that the line had just closed and they would not be appearing again that day, which was a huge disappointment to my son. There is also a princess character meal offered at Ariel’s Grotto, but no equivalent for boys. It’s a bit of a shame that I can make plans to take my daughter to see her favourite princesses, but I can’t find a way to ensure my son can see Buzz Lightyear or Jake the Pirate.
Shows and Parades
One thing that Disney has always done well is entertainment. With so much good music and so many talented performers they have something for everyone. Both parks have big parades most days and we loved them both, but the Pixar parade in California Adventure had some of my son’s favourite characters such as Toy Story, Cars, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo and a lot of the floats were sort of fun and wacky in a way that appeals to little boys. We skipped the Royal Theater princess stories, but we really enjoyed the new Mickey’s Magical Map show and the Aladdin musical had a lot of appeal for my little guy with great action scenes and even a real flying carpet. And one of the best attractions for boys is the Jedi Training Academy in Tomorrowland. My son was a little too young to try to get picked as one of the young Jedi’s, but he loved watching the show and asked to go back and watch another one. Of course, little girls would have a great time being a Jedi as well!
So that’s my first impression of visiting Disneyland with a little boy. I’m sure other Disney veterans and people who have visited with older boys would be able to add a lot of other tips. The only thing I’ll do differently next time is to make sure we bring along the “big boy” in the family since Daddy loves Disney as much as the little guy does and it’s a lot more fun for everyone to do it all together!