The Happiest Place on Earth – Part III: Random thoughts that didn’t make it into Parts I and II

As time has passed, a few more thoughts have popped into my head about things that happened on our Disney vacation.  And when thoughts pop into my head, I usually like to write about them.  So if you can stomach one more post about Disney World, I promise that I will write about something different next time!  School starts here in about a week, and I have one kid going into second grade and one starting kindergarten.   That ought to provide TONS of good blog fodder.  But first, three more Disney stories:

1 – If your child worries about every single ride being “too fast,” then don’t take him on the “Star Tours” ride at Hollywood Studios.

We have been taking SB and AB to amusement parks and local fairs and carnivals since they were 3 and 1.  They both have always loved the kiddy rides, and have ridden almost everything with no issues.  AB is a bit braver than SB, who has avoided the truly thrilling rides, but SB has handled most of the ordinary ones just fine his entire life.  Last June, however, when our family went to the “Celebrate Fairfax” carnival in Fairfax, Virginia, we experienced a drastic and unexpected change in SB’s ride tolerance.  The first ride he rode was small cars that go around in a circle – almost too much of a “kiddy ride” for a 7-year-old.  In the middle of the ride, he began crying and screaming bloody murder!  “It’s too fast!  It’s too fast!”  The worker stopped the ride to remove him.  After he calmed down, we put him on some alligator-shaped boats that also went around in a circle.  This ride was even slower than the cars.  Although he boarded the ride willingly, he again began screaming and crying as soon as it got moving.  So again, he was removed mid-ride.  My husband and I had absolutely no idea what was going on.  He had never been bothered by rides this ordinary before.  In the past, he had always enjoyed them.  And my stomach started to churn as I realized that our much-anticipated Disney vacation was only 2 months away.  Would he ride ANYTHING at Disney?

The only ride that didn’t send him into a fit of terror that day was the merry-go-round.  In order to get our money’s worth out of the “all-you-can-ride” wristband that I had already bought for him, I let him spend a large chunk of the afternoon in the fun house, climbing up the rope ladder and sliding down the slide over and over again.  He seemed perfectly happy in this attraction, since it didn’t move.  Was he just having a bad day, or had he suddenly developed a fear of ALL rides?

After a discussion with our therapist, we decided to try to expose SB to some calmer rides before our vacation to see if he could handle them.  We took him to Burke Lake Park, which is near our house and has a merry-go-round and a very tame train ride.  Our family has been to Burke Lake Park hundreds of times throughout the boys’ lives, and we have bought enough tickets for that little train to get us to New York City and back.  Charlie even brought the video camera on this day to video any meltdowns or panic attacks so that our therapist could watch later.  I wondered how it might look to a stranger if our child was screaming in terror and we were just sitting back and videotaping it!  I decided not to worry about it.

The merry-go-round went fine that day – no panic or crying at all.  Whew!  So then we boarded the train.  As soon as it started to move, SB started to breathe a little faster.  “Mommy?  Is this ride fast?” he asked me.  “No, sweetie!” I replied.  “You’ve been on this train many times before, remember?  It’s not fast at all.  It’s a nice, slow ride.”  He seemed to calm down at my words, and was able to stay calm for the whole ride.  Again, whew!

Our master plan was to find another local carnival or fair to expose him to a few more kiddy rides before our Disney trip.  But our weekend schedules are busy, there is not a fair every weekend, and sometimes we intended to get to a fair and the weather did not cooperate.  So that plan never happened, and we left for Disney World, crossing our fingers and hoping for the best.  This is one of the reasons that I chose the Winnie the Pooh ride as our first ride at the Magic Kingdom.  Winnie the Pooh is a character for toddlers – it HAS to be a tame ride, right?  Thankfully it was, and both boys loved the ride.  There were a few times that day when he asked me if a particular ride was going to be fast, and I always assured him that it was not.  We didn’t take him on anything thrilling at all, and he loved everything that he rode at the Magic Kingdom.  Oh, thank God!

I think that after a successful Day 1, I got a little too complacent too soon.  I should have been more diligent.  When SB asked me what rides there would be at Hollywood Studios the next day, I listed them all for him.  When I said “Star Wars ride,” he got incredibly excited.  “Ooooh!  A Star Wars ride?  I wanna ride that.  Yeah!  I wanna ride the Star Wars ride!”  Although he knows some of the Star Wars characters, this child has never seen a Star Wars movie, so I’m not sure why he latched on to the Star Wars ride.  But he did.  He was more excited about the Star Wars ride than the Toy Story ride, which is a movie he HAS seen many times.  (By the way, the Toy Story ride at Hollywood Studios KICKS ASS, and is a must-ride for all ages.  In fact, you should plan to ride it more than once.  After your first ride, you will want to ride it again because you will be dying to see if you can improve your score!  But I digress.)

So we got in line for the Star Wars ride (which is really called “Star Tours.”)  I was not worried about how SB would handle it, because I knew it was a simulator ride, and that it didn’t actually move.  I figured that your chair shakes around while you’re watching a movie, and that’s it.  We’ve been on rides like this before at Hershey Park.  I mean, it doesn’t actually GO ANYWHERE!  How bad could it be?  Both SB and AB were totally pumped in line, checking out C-3PO and all of the other things to look at while we waited.  We picked up our 3-D glasses, and as we approached the “boarding area,” my dad pointed to a sign on the wall and said, “Mindy?  Charlie?  Did you see this?”  I looked at the warning sign, which said something like this:

“Star Tours is a highly turbulent thrill ride through space that includes sharp drops and sudden turns.  Passengers should be in good health, and free from heart, back, or neck problems, motion sickness or other conditions that could be aggravated by sudden movements. This is not a slow ride. Children who don’t meet the requirement of 48″ may not ride; expectant mothers should not ride, and children should be accompanied by an adult.”

Uh oh.

The doors to the ride opened, and SB was already inside the ride before I had completely processed what I had just read.  There was really no turning back.  Again, uh oh.

So we sat down, put on our glasses, and buckled in.  It was only a few minutes into the ride when our vehicle “launched” into space.  I must admit, the effect was really cool.  Between the seat vibrations and the 3-D movie, it really did feel like we were traveling at light speed through space.  SB lost it immediately.  “It’s too fast!  Too fast!  I wanna get off!  I WANNA GET OFF!!!!”  We had been closed into our little capsule with about 25 or so other people for the duration of the ride, so there was not an employee in sight for me to even ask to let us out.  The only thing I could do was to remove his 3-D glasses, put my arms around him, and cover his eyes.  He sobbed and screamed and begged to be let off for the entire ride.  Thankfully, the movie was loud, and I really don’t think that the experience was ruined for anyone but my husband and me, who were on either side of him.

I had been so absorbed by SB’s anxiety that I kind of forgot about AB, who had been sitting with my parents.  This hit me as we exited our capsule.  That was really intense!  Oh boy, was AB upset as well?  Was that experience as miserable for my parents as it had been for me?  It turns out that AB absolutely loved it!  Well, at least 50% of my children enjoyed it.

I’m thankful that after a short rest and snack, SB recovered fairly well and was able to move on to other rides and shows at the park that day.  In the parking lot tram to our car at the end of the day, SB struck up a conversation with the strangers sitting in front of him.  (For someone who is socially awkward, this is surprisingly common.)  They asked him, “What was your favorite thing today in Hollywood Studios?”  He quickly replied, “It was NOT the Star Wars ride!”  Fair enough.

2 – Tom Sawyer Island at the Magic Kingdom is boring.  Skip it.

Although I read many books and websites in my Disney vacation preparation, my favorite book was “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World” by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa.  I liked how the authors (and their band of amusement park testers!) had written very honest reviews of every single ride and experience.  (I also dreamed about what a fantastic job that would be – to simply enjoy Disney World every day as your job, and then write about your experiences!  Maybe someday…)  And now that I’ve been to Disney World after reading their book, I have to say that I agree with all of their assessments.  Except one.

The first thing the review says about Tom Sawyer Island is that it’s “the place for rambunctious kids.”  Well, I have two of those, so I’m already interested.  Here are a few other quotes from the book about Tom Sawyer Island: “a getaway within the park.  It has hills to climb; a cave, windmill, and a pioneer stockade to explore…It’s a delight for adults and a godsend for children who have been in tow and closely supervised all day.”  And also, “It’s a must for families with children ages 5-15.”  And lastly, “A true haven.”  Well, with a review that stellar, we had to check it out.

Tom Sawyer Island proved to be a major disappointment.  First of all, it was really hot at this point in our day, so no one in my group was feeling their best.  You have to ride a raft to get there, which requires waiting in line.  And then it turns out that there really isn’t much there to do, except for hiking trails.  And of course, the one thing everybody wants after a day at a Disney amusement park is MORE HIKING!!!!!!  The thing I will always remember about Tom Sawyer Island is that it was the place where AB (who is generally the easier child) decided to have his biggest knock-down, drag-out meltdown.  I don’t even remember how it started, but it ended with me and AB leaving the rest of the group to have a stare-down in some shaded spot that contained a few rocking chairs.  After we had been there having it out for a few minutes, everyone who had been relaxing in the rocking chairs got up and left.  (My kids often have that effect on people in public.)  Once AB finally got over himself, calmed down, and stopped behaving like a major brat, we got in line pronto for the raft to the mainland, never to return.

3 – Pretending is great!

I’ve mentioned in my blog before that pretending is hard for many children with autism, because their minds are so literal.  I talk about this a lot in “I’m not an ABA therapist…but I play one on TV.”  SB in particular has had a very hard time learning to pretend.  He had no interest in any dolls or stuffed animals for the first 5 years of his life, and I think it’s because he didn’t understand what he was supposed to do with them.

But recently, this has all changed.  The boys’ very favorite thing to do lately is to find all of the stuffed animals in the house and use them to reenact whatever we did that day.  If we went to a birthday party, the animals go to a birthday party.  If we got stuck in traffic, the animals get stuck in traffic.  If we eat at a restaurant, the animals eat at a restaurant.  It’s always fun and silly, and I’m so happy that both are using their toys to pretend and make-believe.

This pretending with stuffed animals is pretty much ALL the boys did whenever we were back at our hotel room on our Florida trip.  In fact, before we left, my husband had to limit the number of stuffed animals (or, “friends,” as the boys call them) that could come to Disney World with us.  If he hadn’t, I’m sure our suitcases would have been filled with 30-40 stuffed animals, and no underwear or pants.  Each boy was allowed to choose one animal for their suitcase and one for their carry-on.  (Of course, we acquired new “friends” in the gift shops as our vacation went on.)  And when you are on a Disney vacation, you spend a lot of your day doing this:


Hey, Dumbo! Is this the Fast Pass line?


Their favorite thing to reenact from our day, however, was riding rides.  First, they would find some sort of receptacle, like a grown-up’s shoe, which could be used as a pretend ride.  Then they would put an animal in the shoe and fly it around the room, pretending that it was the Peter Pan ride, or the Haunted Mansion ride, or whatever other rides they had done that day.  But they didn’t always choose a shoe.  Anything that could resemble a car-type vehicle that a stuffed animal could ride in would work.  And I mean ANYTHING:


Are you OK, Cookie Monster? I heard that this Blue Moon ride was a bit “hoppy!”


As I said before, our vacation was great.  Disney World is a fantastic place for kids, and I know that the boys will have fond memories of this trip for their entire lives.  But now it’s back to reality here!  We are gearing up for school, and I think SB is feeling it.  He has been particularly cranky and bratty lately, and his behavior has been worse the last 2 weeks than it has been in a really long time.  My theory is that he is feeling anxious about going back to school, and taking it out on his parents.  Say a little prayer for us that we navigate the beginning of the school year without any trauma or bloodshed!


2 thoughts on “The Happiest Place on Earth – Part III: Random thoughts that didn’t make it into Parts I and II

  1. Mindy I just love your stories of these life experiences! I was cracking up over the blue moon six pack ride!!

    You are a wonderful writer- you should turn your blog into a book 🙂


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