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A “behind–the–ears” look at Disneyland
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David Koenig
David's Ear-Mailbag Week of June 26, 2002

A few weeks ago, the "readers revolted" against a few other writers, one of whom suggested children be banned from Disneyland until they were about 7 or old enough to behave appropriately.

Fall out from the fray continues...

Stroller Derby

Dottie praises:

I just wanted to write and thank you for adding so many letters from parents defending young children and strollers in the Disney parks! I've personally been shaking my head and saying to myself, "What was that guy thinking?" ever since I read the argument that kids should wait until they are about 7 before going. You posted a good collection of rebuffs that has now restored my opinion of my fellow Disney visitors. Thank you much!

Laura Akers notes:

At the risk of facing massive Reader Wrath, I just wanted to step in to the defense of Scott McKenna. It's possible that I was the only one not completely appalled at his comments. It's obvious that nobody truly believes that the park should only be enjoyed by adults; everybody understands that Walt intended Disneyland to be a place for visitors of all ages.

Perhaps parents should be conscious of non-child-occupied visitors as well, rather than assuming that the children in Disneyland have top priority. It's true that a stroller in the ankle is all too common, and while it's usually understandable in a crowded park, some parents seem to have trouble realizing that Disneyland is not just a child free-for-all.

I believe that the majority of those readers who responded to Mr. McKenna's comments are probably the parents we adult Disneylanders have no problems with. It seems that Mr. McKenna is simply pointing out that Disneyland is for those who can appreciate it -- and more often than not, an infant who is not of walking or talking age is simply not ready to enjoy what the parks have to offer.

It's important to remember that Disneyland was intended for ALL ages, and adults have the same right as children to expect entertainment and enjoyment without having to deal with those who refuse to take responsibility for their children.

Tomi Johnston protests:

I find it a little disturbing that any criticism of the child situation at Disneyland is immediately drowned by a chorus of accusations of child-hating. Anyone who doesn't like screaming toddlers is branded as an evil villain of Cruella DeVil proportions.

Should small children go to Disneyland? Of course! Should they be well behaved at all times? Of course! Growing up my siblings and I attended Disneyland from the age of 3 on. I am the oldest sibling and remember (with the confirmation of my parents) that never once did any of we children have a "meltdown" or tantrum of any kind. If our family can do it, so can yours. No excuses. A public tantrum because one is tired, cranky, or otherwise overexerted means that you have never been taught to behave in private, either.

I am speaking here of a full-on, ear-splitting, limb-waving spectacle. I am not talking about pouting, fussing, whining or other normal childhood behaviors. Tantrums do NOT qualify as normal behavior. Grow up people, and teach your children some responsibility and self-control. They do tend to live up to any reasonable expectation of them.

Thanks, I really needed to say that.

Simone reminisces:

As a 5-1/2-year-old girl growing up in the San Fernando Valley, I absolutely hated my parents for saying that I was not old enough to properly enjoy Disneyland until my sixth birthday. All of my friends had gone so many times -- one was already planning a family vacation to Disney World. It was especially humiliating because all of us were devout worshippers at the altar of Disney; how could I be authentic if I'd never even been to the holy land?

My anticipation grew in the months before my birthday. I felt I would burst if I didn't get to "the D-place" soon. Finally, the big day arrived. I was 6. I remember so much about that day -- the car ride that seemed to last for days before the Matterhorn appeared over the horizon, the pre-opening breakfast at Denny's, the characters, the churros, the castle, the ice-cream sundae I had at the Carnation Cafe in lieu of dinner, the pirates -- boy, was I scared of pirates. I thought "it's a small world" was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen. The whole park sparkled and glowed. Flavored by the anticipation I'd attached to it, the day was one of the most magical I've ever had.

Stroller Derby

It's been 11 years since I first went to Disneyland. I'd say I've been at least 30-odd times since then, and I often save for months to accumulate the necessary funds. I read MousePlanet loyally once a week and still feel a thrill when I first see the Matterhorn. I definitely think that my parents' enforced waiting period had a lot to do with why I still love the park so much. I'm not saying that kids shouldn't go to the park -- I'm saying that the wait improved the experience for me, and that I'm a lasting fan because of it.

My diary entry from the first day that I went to Disneyland ecstatically states, "Went to Disneyland today!!!!!" The ticket is tucked into the book. A trip to Disneyland isn't going to be a significant milestone if the kid's been going since birth. I remember my first time. I think that's important.

S.C. writes:

Two days ago, we took our 8-year-old daughter to Disneyland for the first time. Our family did have a wonderful time, but I could not help being a little shocked at the large number of strollers, especially in the Fantasyland area. Some of the congestion may have been due to the shut down of the Carrousel. It was the largest buggy convention I've ever seen. The crowd itself was larger than I care for. We knew June would be somewhat more crowded, but we went to take advantage of the Anaheim resident discount.

Stroller Derby

The way I see it, the daily attendance is a factor in this stroller issue. I hadn't seen it so crowded since my family visited in the mid '70s, on the Fourth of July (apparently a record was set that day.). I am not against parents pushing strollers. Perhaps the park needs to evaluate the situation, and take into consideration the number of strollers entering the park and being rented, when setting limits on park attendance.

Also, the park needs to innovate big-time, and come up with a way of parking empty buggies near attractions, so they don't constrict through-traffic. And how about some designated stroller rest areas? Smokers get designated areas.

It is ultimately the responsibility of Disneyland to make everyone's visit enjoyable. I am a former stroller pusher myself, but I did get my foot rolled over the other day.

Disney parks often have cast members that will "regroup" strollers when people start parking them randomly outside an attraction. Unfortunately when the park gets really busy, those cast members are pressed into more urgent duties; ironically, that's when we most need them clearing strollers.

Stephen Grubb notes:

Walt Disney World is a place for children of all ages. That being said, it is up to the parents to decide if they think their child is physically and emotionally ready to handle a day in the parks. That will of course vary from child to child.

It is also the responsibility of the parent to not expect too much of their child. Many young children are just not built to last an entire day in a huge amusement park during hot weather. Take lots of breaks (like an afternoon nap) and don't expect to "do it all." From talking to many parents, it seems that the hotel pool and visiting with characters at the parks is the favorite of many a small child.

The MISUSE of strollers is a pet peeve of mine. Strollers are overused by some people. I have seen lots of children who appear WAY to old to be sitting in a stroller. The stroller has become a mini storage vehicle to some families and not just a means of assisting young children who can't walk on their own. Unfortunately, I have also witnessed many parents who utilize their strollers as battering rams to force their way through the crowds. There is definitely a contingency of folks who use their strollers as weaponry. These stroller abusers are in the minority, but they make themselves quite noticeable.

It all comes down to consideration. Be considerate to your children and be considerate to other adults.

Glo adds:

One of the things that a loving parent provides for their children is magic. The world has too much going on right now, with terrorism, drugs, sex, etc., that kids need that magic. Disney provides that in huge amounts. My daughter is 14, and I am a "few" years older.

Sure, I've been hit with a stroller in my ankles, and I know that it is never done on purpose. Crying kids don't bother me, every single parent on this earth has gone through that. Children's Fairly Land in Oakland (where Walt drew a hidden Mickey at the Alice in Wonderland hole) doesn't admit adults without children. Maybe Disneyland should do the same!

Me, I'll always be the exception, because like Peter Pan, I'll never grow up!

Dena York writes:

I think people are being a little hard on Scott. He does have a point, the problem is everyone is taking it so personally. His letter didn't seem to be aimed at all the wonderful parents who have sent such enjoyable letters in about their young ones at Disney. It's aimed at the same type of people who step in front of their strollers and trip their kids. The truly clueless. (Although I must say, 7 years old? NOT! My 18-month-old will make her first trip in September...YAY!)

Every time I am at Disneyland, I am victim to, or see parents using their strollers as battering rams to clear the way. Now to expect crowds to part like the Red Sea for a stroller is laughably unrealistic. BUT, even a sincere sorry wears a little thin after being rammed from behind for the hundredth time in a day.

Sometimes it is just not realistic to expect folks to get out of your way, they can't see you, or are limited in their movement by the constraints of the crowd, or are just plain old unaware of their surroundings. Remember people walk into garbage cans and off curbs all the time.

If you decide to take your children that need a stroller to the park (and don't get me wrong, I have NO problem with that) it just isn't fair to expect people to be aware of and able to accommodate your need for space in a crowd all day (and I bet more people than you realize DO try and you never even realize it). In a perfect world, I can wholeheartedly agree it would be nice. The bottom line is everyone is calling for considerations, respect, and for us all to be aware of those around us and act with courtesy. A great idea. But let's be real, it's not gonna happen. So I suggest everyone suck it up, remember why you are there. Next time you get rammed, or cut off, just blow it off, and ask yourself in the grand scheme of things, is it really worth worrying about?

P.S. I see more "meltdowns" at the mall. I would consider this a universal problem.

Carl Starrett writes:

I just wanted to throw in my two cents regarding this tantrum and stroller controversy. There are merits to both sides of the issue, but it still boils down to courtesy and exercising common sense. Our family has annual passes and we drive up to Disneyland from San Diego about once a month. Our daughter is almost 5 and we've been taking her for these monthly visits since she was about 2-1/2 years old, so we have stroller experience.

It's all about being aware of your surroundings. Be courteous and respectful. If you're pushing a stroller, be alert and try to avoid a collision for the safety of your child. And if you are in a group of stroller, please don't sit three abreast in the middle of a pathway in Fantasyland at noon while you try to read your map.

And if you don't have a stroller, be careful and accommodating of others who do. Disneyland was meant for kids and where you have kids, strollers will be also.

The age thing is a little trickier. Each kid is different, but parents should know their children. I thought 2-1/2 would be too young for a kid to appreciate Disneyland. I was wrong. It just gets more fun every time because we've graduated from Dumbo to Big Thunder Mountain.

I know my daughter's limits. When she's tired, we rest, but I do not tolerate meltdowns. Part of it is how we discipline our child and we don't let her get away with much. But again, each child is different.

Jessica Hickman Schneider reports:

I will be making my 11th trip to Disney World in two weeks and this will be the first time with children -- my two nieces, aged 6 and 8. The first time my parents took me to Disney World, I was 6 and I must say, I don't remember ONE THING about the park. The most clear memory is the plane ride, as that was my first time. I remember the blue carpeting in the Grovesnor Resort but that's about it.

Stroller Derby

I am glad I went, and I think my parents were purposely trying to wait until I was a little older (my brother was 17 and that was his first trip). I look at photos from that trip, but nothing rings a bell. And I have an excellent memory and can recall a few brief scenes from my life in my crib! I have excellent memories from our next trip when I was about 12. From then on, we went every few years. Then, my husband and I went on our honeymoon and last fall we became Disney Vacation Club owners. I knew it would be hard for my brother and his wife to take two young children to Disney World, so I offered to use the DVC for a two-bedroom at Old Key West and take the whole family, my parents included. I wonder how much my younger niece will recall in 20 years.

I also know the last three times we went, we stayed for 10 days, and it actually got to be a bit much at the end with the stroller accidents. Maybe it was us cutting them off -- I never thought of that. Also, I wholeheartedly agree that it is the parents' responsibility to take action when their children are unhappy or having a "meltdown." I recall Austin (it's a bad sign that I actually remember his name clearly, since I heard it so many times) at the Sci-Fi Drive In screaming his head off for most of my dinner and his parents actually said to him, "We are just going to ignore you," and THEY DID! What technique!

A cast member speaks up:

I noticed that all the letters printed against what Mr. McKenna's letter were all parents with young children. Funny how they come across. What really is needed is the view of people without children, for those with children have a bias. They all somewhat sounded a little arrogant.

Roger Colton checks in:

Most of us who come and go through MousePlanet and other online venues probably go to a Disney park at least once a year, and many of us go as often as we can (it seems). However, there are people (many of them children) for whom a visit to any Disney park may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I've seen these folks, as I am sure you have. They tend to be the "have to do everything in one day" type. A quick guess at what a family of five will spend in a day sets the tone. Two adult admissions, two (maybe three) child admissions, parking, breakfast, lunch and dinner along with assorted snacks and sodas, toss in a few souvenirs, and you're talking a hefty dent in the family credit card. Add in the cost of gas to get there and maybe a motel room, and it manages to become serious quickly.

So is it any wonder that either kids or adults can get cranky as one of these days of a lifetime goes along? It is a challenge to try to see and do everything in a day, and sometimes, you can't help but pass the breaking point.

Stroller Derby

I was lucky enough to get to visit Disneyland every other year when growing up, starting with a first visit in the summer of 1965. Out on my own, I visited more often as I could, at first driving and then flying in from the San Francisco Bay Area, eventually breaking down and getting an annual pass for five years straight. During the 35th Anniversary year, I think I visited the park over 30 times, and one of those days was for all of a minute (just to see if I had won a prize from the Gift Giver Extraordinaire!). For about seven years, I went to the park only now and then, maybe once a year, and it made me appreciate the time I had to be there all the more.

So the next time someone gets run over by a stroller or banged into by that errant 4-year-old, step back, take a breath, and think on this: You are in the Happiest Place on Earth. You could be hundreds or thousands of miles away only dreaming you were at Disneyland.

Andy offers:

Just my two cents on the subject of strollers in Disneyland: No one needs them! Especially those double-wide Buicks. Try navigating Adventureland with 15 of them trying to get through.

If you're tired, sit down. No one in my family ever needed a stroller for the children. If they can't keep up or need a nap, then sit yourself down. Let the larger kids go off and meet you back there. Besides, you'd be surprised how beautiful Disneyland is when you slow down and relax. 

My 11-month-old can't walk yet.

Do I leave her home or drag her?

Alas, the other original writer, Wyatt, only drew more critics...

Bob Starcher writes:

I don't want to beat a dead horse, but as everyone chastised Wyatt for allowing his 2-year-old on Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, I noticed something. First, I agree with everyone that he should not have treated the cast member that way and that he should have never taken that child to that show. I have been on it enough to know that small children don't take the intensity of the show well. Every time there are kids screaming in horror. My point is that the glasses are not the only danger in this attraction. I can only imagine the possible emotional damage that viewing such a film can do. And seeing it without the glasses may be the only way someone that young should attend, if at all.

So parents should realize that cast members are running these attractions and whether we understand it or not, rules are there to keep us safe.

Ken Hughes expounds:

Something no one touched on in the Reader Revolt piece: The mutterings of people dissatisfied with cast members' instructions or justifications for refusal of this or that. Their minds are revealed when they say something like, "Pimply-faced teenager! Whadda you know anyway? I've been coming here since before you were born!" Or, "Well, what do you expect from someone earning only minimum wage," or worse, racial epithets if the cast member is of any non-white ethnicity (common across Disney parks, even moreso at Epcot). Sad to say I've heard 'em all at one time or another.

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What needs to be said is that none of these cast members is acting arbitrarily based on their own flawed /stupid /inexperienced /racially-biased /insert your pet adjective here judgment. They are acting according to the instructions given to them by Disney. Many of these rules are a result of previous guests' failure to heed common sense and getting themselves or others hurt or even just nearly causing accidents. Let's avoid questioning the wisdom or necessity of some of TDA's liability-minded attorneys for now, and just focus on the guest/cast member interaction. The cast members are duty-bound to protect our safety, even if it means protecting us from ourselves. The consequences for the company are huge if cast members are negligent. A negligent cast member just loses his or her job. Disney has to settle claims, be they frivolous or merited, often to the tune of millions. Millions that might have been spent on the parks themselves.

So what's the deal, Wyatt? Would you have tried to sue Disney had your little one ended up hurting herself with those glasses after all?

Bottom line? When you ask a cast member for something and they have to say no, you have to know that they get a knot in their stomach wondering what it's going to cost them. They didn't say no just to ruin your visit. They said no to keep you from ruining your own or someone else's. Pay them due respect, even if they are a "pimply-faced teenager." And if they disrespect you, be an adult and take your complaint calmly to City Hall. If you're acting like a moron when you complain, it's less likely the rude cast member will be dealt with properly -- they'll just chalk you up as yet another hot-headed guest.

It used to be that "the ugly American" was something only seen abroad. Now they bother the rest of us at home too. Great.

In response to another reader, a ride operator explains:

In regards to what reader Pete wrote about his child who was measured at the entrance of a DCA attraction, and deemed okay to ride, and then measured again at the load portion of the ride where another cast member thought the child was too small.

As a cast member, I cannot tell you how many times that has happened, and not only is it bad feeling for the guests, but also the cast member. Not only do we see the disappointment in the guests face, we also have are accountable for someone who either made a mistake, or didn't check close enough. I am glad to hear that Pete didn't go ballistic at the cast member.

At Indy, and there are three checkpoints for height: the outside marquee, at the ramp into the station, and finally when guests are grouped. At least once a day a child is deemed too small by one person, and fine by another. The final say goes to the cast members inside who have a yard stick to point out the lack of height. Even then, parents claim that children have gone on. It is probably true, but that doesn't make it right. We work hard to make sure that those who the ride are not safe for do not go on.

MousePlanet's own Adrienne Krock adds:

I read the reader e-mail today about the little girl being told she wasn't tall enough for Jumpin' Jellyfish even after another cast member measured her and she was.

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This is, unfortunately, not the first time I've heard this happen at that attraction. In fact, I wrote about it in a column last December. In an e-mail I received after that article ran, a cast member became very defensive saying that he personally checks the Jumpin' Jellyfish measuring device and it's accurate, but I've heard this story too many times to believe it. As I mentioned in my article, Mary had a tape measure in her purse and found the measuring stick to be inaccurate.

I strongly believe that parents should respect the restrictions that Disney puts on attractions. I do not lie or try to sneak my son on any attraction because these are not values I want to teach him. That said, it is pretty frustrating as a parent when there is an error on the park's part.

Finally, Karl B. reports:

A postscript to your Spiderman story:

I arrived late afternoon, around 6:30, to have dinner with family at Plaza Inn. Upon arriving, I noticed the very same Spiderman character attempting to entertain children just to the left of the entrance.

Several red flags struck me as I waited for the rest of my party and watched this "Walk Around Character" perform. First, the character was spending unusual amounts of time entertaining a small party of children. Second, there was no handler in site, and third the quality of costume was good but not at a professional level.

When my party arrived, I briefly mentioned the incident and questioned why Spiderman would be at a Disney park. We quickly brushed it off as something related to ABC Family Channel rights.

About 10 minutes later, we saw the Spiderman character led offstage (behind Plaza Inn) escorted by security, with the hood off. This was around 7 p.m.

NEXT TIME: Reaction to last week's "Pesky Passholders" article.

Send your comments to David here.

Stroller Derby


David Koenig is the senior editor of the 80-year-old business journal, The Merchant Magazine.

After receiving his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton (aka Cal State Disneyland), he began years of research for his first book, Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (1994), which he followed with Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks (1997, revised 2001) and More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland (1999); all titles published by Bonaventure Press.

He lives in Aliso Viejo, California, with his lovely wife, Laura, their wonderful son, Zachary, and their adorable daughter, Rebecca.

You can contact David here.


Click here to go to David's main page for a list of archived articles.

Visit MouseShoppe to purchase copies of David's books. (Clicking on the link opens a new window.)


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