Small Wonders: The highs and lows of the Magic Kingdom

“I think most of all, what I want Disneyland to be is a happy place where parents and children can have fun together.” — Walt Disney, from the plaque on Partners Statue at Disneyland.

And somehow, that is exactly what happened, despite the very thing Disneyland was meant to serve: people, lots and lots and lots of people.

Not only is Disneyland the happiest place on earth, it is one of the few places on our increasingly overpopulated planet where the H.P.S. — Human Positioning System — of 100,000 people simultaneously goes on the fritz.

Besides Costco on any given Saturday, or the Glendale Galleria the day after Thanksgiving, rarely are you ever among a throng of so many people who have absolutely no idea there are other human beings in their general vicinity.

So what better way to spend Labor Day weekend then by becoming one of the masses battling the currents to swim upstream to reach Big Thunder, Space and Splash Mountains.

With well-planned usage of “Fast Passes,” and by positioning oneself at E-Ticket rides during parades when lines are depleted, it is possible to “beat” the crowds. (Side note: explaining to the younger generation what an E-Ticket ride is gets you the same condescending, quizzical look you get when you talk about life before the TV remote control and the Internet. It’s impossible to say how we survived.)

Though seemingly a contradiction of terms, Disneyland is exactly the kind of place where parents and children can have fun together. And yet, any and every trip to the Magic Kingdom is always fraught with highlights and lowlights. So here are a few of mine:

Highlight: Lunching on perfectly battered and deep-fried Monte Cristo sandwiches at the Blue Bayou restaurant under an ersatz starry sky in a Louisiana swamp, watching boaters gently float into a Caribbean world of pirates, wenches and Johnny Depp.

Lowlight: Spending $150 on that lunch for four, the kids eating about $5 worth, and leaving the leftovers behind for the rum-swilling scalawags. Yo-ho, yo-ho, no pirate's life for me.

Highlight: Using a Fast Pass to avoid standing in the blazing sun for an hour, and going straight onto the newly renovated Submarine Voyage. Accepting that every ride now promotes some franchise character or corporate sponsor. Finding Nemo throughout the underwater journey actually provided a level of entertainment missing in recollections of the ride from my youth.

Lowlight: The aromatic funk of 40 huddled humans who've spent the last few hours doing wind sprints from Adventureland to Tomorrowland now trapped in an airtight sardine can. Once that submarine hatch closed, images of “Das Boot,” not clownfish, began to play in my head.

Highlight: Getting early access to the park before the general public as guests at one of Disney's palatial and pricey hotels.

Lowlight: Being told there was no early entry that day by security guards at the gate.

Highlight: Parlaying that “miscommunication” into additional Fast Passes from the concierge.

Lowlight: The sleep-deprived, sugar-induced tantrum and tears of a young girl being urged to go on a ride her parents know she will like despite her reluctance and fears.

Highlight: The uncontrolled glee and saucer-sized eyes of that same girl on each twist, turn and splash of the ride she feared so desperately. And then having her eagerly ask to go on it again.

Highlight: The brilliance of technology and art that comes to life when colored lights are projected upon sprays of water and set to dramatic music. Just when you thought you'd seen the show or parade to end all, the minds at Disney Imagineering show you what else they can do with the elements.

Lowlight: The ache in my lower back from standing in one place for 90 minutes as I wait to see World of Color.

Lowlight: The sticky layer of saliva and liquefied sugar on face and hands after eating cotton candy and ice cream bars in summer heat.

Highlight: The sticky layer of saliva and liquefied sugar on face and hands after eating cotton candy and ice cream bars in summer heat.

Lowlight: Spending the equivalent of half a day's labor in five minutes on arcade games to win a Dumbo doll at my daughter's behest.

Highlight: Being her hero for one brief moment.

Extra highlight: Seeing her, unprovoked, give that Dumbo to her sister.

Miracles do happen. Children and parents can have fun together. If not always at the same time, or for the same reason.

PATRICK CANEDAY is author of the book “Crooked Little Birdhouse” available on Amazon. He may be reached on Facebook, at and

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