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Can you imagine walking through the gates of a Disney theme park for the first time? Many families visiting the parks wear buttons announcing their first visits. This week, we asked the Parenting Panel: If you were taking a child to a Disney theme park for the very first time ever, what would you do first?


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Chris, also known as GusMan, is always planning his next family trip to the Walt Disney World Resort and loves to help others plan their trips, as well sharing his experiences. Chris writes:

Whenever I talk to people about their upcoming trip to the Walt Disney World Resort, a common question is where to go first and what sort of things should they try first. For me, the first time I took my daughter there was nothing else in my mind but reliving my own personal childhood memory by going to the Magic Kingdom first. There is something about the anticipation of walking under the train tracks into a world separate from the one you came from, only so you can start making memories that just makes your heart race with anticipation. Seeing the castle for the first time in all its splendor and hoping that it takes your kids to the same happy place where it took you when you saw it for the first time. It is when you say to your family “Yes, we made it… lets have the best vacation ever.”

Even with the buildup of anticipation, there is always the question of what to do first to celebrate the arrival of that first trip. While it may seem like overkill, this makes the first big impression. I think, for my daughter, there was only one answer to that question:

Must. See. Mickey! And that we did. Autograph book in hand and camera in focus.

This may seem like the equivalent of reading the last chapter of the book first, since there is a certain level of excitement built up to see your favorite character for the very first time. But to her, and, I think to many, this is a major point in the trip. Otherwise, parents get constantly reminded, through gentle nagging, that they would like to see Mickey (or their other favorite character of choice). Trust me, its a request best tended to immediately so that the rest of the trip is enjoyed by all.

Keep in mind, we did not do much planning for our first trip. After all, it had been 20 years since my first, and only, prior visit, and I did not know what to expect. However, letting my daughter lead the way to that first activity was well worth it. To some, it might be hitting Space Mountain for the first time. Maybe the Mad Tea Party looked like fun, especially from the commercials. Regardless, if your kids have an idea of what they would like to do first, see what you can do about making that happen. If you have more than one child experiencing a Disney park for the first time, try to determine these "first" activities as a family before you leave. Sometimes to be fair, flipping a coin to see who gets to choose first works wonders. This is where planning makes all the difference, and even more important for a first trip.

I will always remember my first trip to Walt Disney World. When I recently found pictures from that trip in 1982, I saw the joy in both my eyes and my parents'. It was the sort of joy that I want to share with my kids over and over. I think of it as continuing the tradition of firsts in hopes that they will make it a part of their legacy with their children some day. A legacy that will start off with the age old question “What should we do first?” and ask it before every single trip.

Parenting in the Parks columnist Adrienne Krock’s three boys are now 13, 11, and 8. They’ve been visiting the Disneyland Resort since they were each just weeks old and Annual Passholders since their 3rd birthdays. Adrienne writes:

No matter what resort you’re visiting, my answer to this question is the same: The first time a child visits a Disney resort, the first thing they should do is walk through the gates of Disneyland Park or the Magic Kingdom Park.

To my mind, the most magical aspect of the Disney experience, is walking up Main Street to the castle. The first time we visited the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, we stopped along the way up Main Street to capture the memories with a family portrait in front of Cinderella’s Castle. In Anaheim, guests can almost always walk over the bridge and through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at any time of day. The only way to enter Fantasyland for the first time should be through the Castle, if you ask me.

On both coasts, Disney Photo Pass Photographers stand outside the castle ready to take pictures for guests. These pictures load onto accounts and guests can purchase the pictures during their vacation, or buy a CD with all of the digital files for the pictures. If you get a Photo Pass card early in the trip, you can collect quite a few photos to make the CD very worth while. You can even combine multiple Photo Pass cards on one CD. One trick I learned recently, take a picture of the back of the card whenever you get a Photo Pass. If you lose the Photo Pass, Disney can still recover your photos and attach them to a new card or CD.

It might not have to be the first thing to do, but the first time we took our children to Disneyland Park in Anaheim, I made sure to take them to Mickey’s Barn in Toontown to visit the Big Guy himself. At the time, my children were anywhere from 17-days to 12-weeks old – pretty small babies! I treasure the photos I have of my newborns with Mickey Mouse. And Mickey really seemed to enjoy meeting my babies! At Mickey’s Barn, guests get a lot of personalized attention without feeling rushed, and if you have your Photo Pass, in addition to taking pictures with your camera, the photographers can add some more to your account, too.

Sure, the other Disney theme parks offer many wonderful attractions, but for my money, nothing beats the magic of walking up Main Street to a Disney Castle.

MousePlanet columnist Chris Barry his wife Diane, 11-year-old Samantha, and twin 8-year-olds, Casey and Alex, live on Long Island and are all major Disney and Walt Disney World fans. Chris writes:

We had two very different experiences with our children as far as the very first thing we did with them at the Walt Disney World Resort. Both times, our idea was the same but we had very different results. Winnie the Pooh was always a big deal in our house. We read the books, watched the films and the TV shows, and the kids' toy boxes were always filled with various Pooh paraphernalia. When we took our now 13-year-old daughter to the Magic Kingdom when she was 4 1/2, we headed straight back to Fantasyland and made our way to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. She adored it. It was a dream come true for her, and for us as well experiencing it through her eyes. It was the start of a wonderful week together.

Three years later, and our twin boys were 4 and now ready for their first trip to Walt Disney World. They were a younger 4 than their sister, having only just turned so a month earlier. Following suit, we made that same trek back into Fantasyland and were waiting for a replay of that first experience we shared with their sister a few short years before. All was well as we boarded our honeypot and made it into Rabbit’s garden. But…as soon as we went through those doors into Owl’s shaking house, the second part of this classic attraction…chaos took over. The boys were, to put it mildly, over-stimulated. What was happening to Owl’s house? Why was Tigger popping out from all sorts of places? Oh my God, what are these giant Heffalumps and Woozles going to do to us? We thought our week was over. If they couldn’t handle Pooh, then what would the rest of the trip bring?

Don’t get me wrong; The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh is a wonderful and pretty timid attraction for young children. I just think our boys had no idea what to expect from it. A ride to them was one of those fire trucks or speedboats that go around in a circle at the local carnival. When we told them we were going on rides…I don’t think they expected so much to be going on all around them. It was a bit of a shock. We powered them down on Dumbo, "it’s a small world" and Peter Pan’s Flight and they kind of got the sense that everything was going to be OK. These rides weren’t going to hurt them. Owl’s house wasn’t going to fall apart on top of them, and the Heffalumps weren’t going to come alive and attack them. Their second go around that afternoon on Pooh was much, much better.

My point in telling this story is to suggest starting off even slower than you think with a young child at a place as over-stimulating as Walt Disney World. You never know how they’re going to react to such deeply involved and elaborate attractions. They really are larger than life to a small child. You might have to slowly work them into it.

That said, my No. 1 suggestion for your first experience with a child at Walt Disney World is to head straight to the Magic Kingdom on your first morning, after getting a good rest at a Disney resort the night before. Get there early enough to see the opening ceremony. The anticipation builds as you wait for the train to come. Your kids listen to the music and, when they spot those characters for the first time arriving at Main Street Station, they know they’re in for something special. It’s an amazing way to begin any young child’s first Disney vacation. They can experience it from a safe distance with you and not be too overwhelmed by the 7-foot-tall mouse up there on the train platform. That way, they can slowly begin to take it all in and get their bearings. The kids are much older now and used to it all, but the Magic Kingdom opening is still our favorite way to start off any trip to the most magical place on Earth. If you haven’t seen it, and chances are you haven’t because it’s not listed on the park map or Times Guide when you’re down there, then try this first with small children. After that, make sure you ease their way into everything and they—and you—should be just fine.

It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!

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(Send an email to Adrienne Krock)

Adrienne gathered experience taking children to amusement parks when she worked as a day camp counselor and director. She was an elementary school teacher before she started her favorite job: being mom to her three boys. Adrienne, Matthew, Spencer, and Colin visit Disneyland frequently, usually with Dad, Kevin.