Autumn is a sweet, unassuming, non-demanding little girl who doesn't ask for much out of life. The ONLY thing she was looking forward to on this trip was meeting princesses. She talked about it for weeks: how she was going to run up and give her favorites a big hug. She was going to tell them about her princess dolls. She was going to ask them questions. They were going to love her, and she was going to love them. It was all she hoped for.
But then you get to Disneyland and seeing an actual, living (pretend) princess, especially one that you can walk up to and talk with, is like sighting a unicorn. It's impossible. Even the few princesses we did see "in the wild" were standing with LONG lines. Which is fine. I would stand in a line all day for Autumn to meet a princess, but they only lasted ten or fifteen minutes, and then they would cut the line off and either you would stand there for a long time and just not get to meet her, or they would tell you that you weren't allowed to stand in the line because they had cut it off two minutes earlier. We bought her the dumb autograph book and a fancy Cinderella pen. We waited in lines. We looked up princess viewing times online. Still, by day three, we hadn't "met" even one. It was very frustrating.
So then I read up online about princess encounters, and the biggest suggestion was to go to Ariel's Grotto, a restaurant where you were guaranteed to meet five princesses--Ariel and four of her friends. I booked a reservation yesterday (they apparently fill up really fast), and I hoped it would be everything she ever dreamed of.
Another thing I didn't know was that little girls wear their princess dresses to Disneyland. I wish I had even considered it might be a possibility. Autumn has half a dozen of the beautiful, well-made, elaborate princess dresses--even a brand new Ariel one from her PA grandparents for Christmas. They sold dresses in Disneyland, of course, but they were an entirely different line and they just weren't as pretty. The ones from the Disney Stores are sparkly and gauzy and pretty. The Disney Park dresses looked cottony with massive sequins. They looked so different from each other, and I really like the Disney store better. I didn't want to blow $70 on a dress that she had a repeat of at home or that wasn't as cute as one she could have if she waited. I know, more than you ever wanted to know about princess dresses.
So this morning we decided to take it a bit easy, not rushing to the parks until later than usual because our lunch wasn't until 2:30pm, and the kids were burned out.
The kids wanted to go swimming. I wanted to walk across the street to Target and see if they had a cheap princess dress. This is one example of why I love Andrew. It was so cold outside. Nothing sounded more miserable than hanging out in the outdoor pool with the wind blowing and no sun shining. But Andy went swimming with them, and I went to Target. I found a flimsy little Belle dress. It wasn't ideal, but I knew that Autumn would think it was perfect. She loved it.
We got to the park around noon, and then we tried to kill the next two hours until our lunch date.
Sitting on the benches, enjoying her prim and proper dress
We started out at California Adventure since that's where Ariel's Grotto is located. We did several of the usual things (Bugs Life, Ariel), but then we went on California Screamin'--a fun simulation of flying over California and seeing some of the most famous landmarks. We went over to "Paradise Pier" where we planned to hit Goofy's Sky School and a couple of things we hadn't hit yet.
Calvin and Andy went on Goofy's Sky School. She was too small.
She was sad that she kept getting rejected, so I took her on the Ariel ride a dozen times, then we went to the bathroom and tidied up her hair, and then went to Ariel's Grotto. The place was packed. We watched a dozen people get turned away because they didn't have reservations, and they were booked up for the entire day. We were glad we had planned ahead.
We walked down a tall, winding staircase (with sea life pictures on the carpet), and were greeted by Ariel at the bottom. Autumn showed Ariel her doll, and the real Ariel sat on the floor and chatted with her. She was adorable. She acted so excited to see Autumn, and I think that Ariel being Autumn's favorite princess made a difference because Ariel spent longer with her than she had the other girls.
The professional Ariel shot:
Complete with Autumn's doll she'd brought for the occasion
They handed the kids paper crowns, stickers to decorate them, an activity sheet, and crayons, and then led us to our table. Our waitress told us that we were special because ours was the first table that each princess visited. After the fact, we decided that being first wasn't great because the princesses hadn't hit their grove yet. We were in the center of the room, and they all seemed nervous when they came to us, but more relaxed as they made their rounds.
Anyway, we sat down at our table and were super excited:
They brought us a tier of appetizers:
Top: Fruits, jello, and string cheese; Middle: Prosciutto, shrimp salad, Mediterranean olives, fancy cheeses, and dried mangoes; Bottom: salad with vinaigrette.
It was all really good.
Then we ordered our food, and they brought a sourdough bread flower and some yummy dipping sauces.
Our food followed quickly:
Autumn: Seashell Pasta (mac-n-cheese with fish crackers and fruit)
Calvin: Meatball Lollipops (turkey balls with spaghetti, Marinara, and fruit)
Emma: Herb Chicken, Cheddar Mashed Potatoes, and squash.
The food was actually really good. The servers were fast (they're trying to shift you through the whole process in an hour flat), and the place had a great ambiance.
Then every couple of minutes, an announcer would tell us about the new princess coming out.
We liked Belle. She was sweet. At this point I don't think Autumn knew quite what to expect. She didn't talk much and was sad when Belle had to hurry on to the next table. Belle did rave about Autumn's chintzy little Belle dress, so Autumn was pleased about that, and I'm glad she was at least in a princess dress. Belle is one of her favorites.
I'm pretty sure she actually thought she was a princess. She seemed snooty and disinterested, which seem like bad character traits if your job is making little girls feel special. She took a picture and moved on. Nothing personable.
She was our favorite. She was so sweet and adorable. Right when she walked up, she said, "Oh my gosh, you are darling!" and then she sat on the floor and interacted for several minutes.
Listening to Autumn chatter
Tucking her hair
She was so personable and wonderful. I wanted to put her in my pocket and take her home.
Then we had a mini-crisis. Mulan came out next, and she walked right past our table without stopping.
Autumn looked liked she was going to cry. She woudn't touch her food. She watched Mulan around the ENTIRE room with this look on her face:
She turned out to be super sweet. She spent several minutes with Autumn as well.
For a few minutes Autumn was sad she didn't see Tiana or Jasmine or Rapunzel, but then I explained that Ariel brought different friends every time (should have done that ahead of time), and she settled in and enjoyed her meal now that meeting her heroes was out of the way.
Calvin colored the whole time and was oblivious to everything. He could not have cared less.
Loving the strawberries. She ate Calvin's too.
Posing in the crown she decorated (And falling out of her too-big dress)
I had some cute shots of Calvin in his crown, but he deleted them from my phone. I was super angry. He swore never to do it again.
Then they brought the dessert tray:
Autumn licked this cupcake. And then Calvin ate it.
...and all of the rest of them.
Andy and I got the lava cake and the fruit. We took the white chocolate Ariel and seashell with us, but ended up tossing them not too long later because they were a pain to carry around. Everything was cute and delicious.
It all ended happily. We hugged princesses, ate good food, and made the day of a 3 year old. Overall, it was a great experience and we were really glad we did it.
We tried to go on Radiotor Springs Racers again, but this time they wouldn't let Autumn on. It was so weird that she had ridden these rides all weeks, and all of a sudden they were turning her away on everything. She was disappointed, but we told the boys to go anyway.
The ride that might have been...
The boys wanted to do some things at California Adventure, but Autumn wanted to do Disneyland, so we split up again.
Wet and cold, but loving Grizzly Rapids
Leaving the park at night
Entering the park. Autumn wanted a picture with Mickey, and then some guy offered to take one of both of us.
Once we got onto Main Street, she was happy just to climb on everything.
riding the hitching post
Since she was feeling photogenic, I wanted to get one of her in front of the Fantasyland castle:
I could not get one single decent shot. She was doing the robot, the moon walk, the swim, and everything in between. At least she was having a good time with it.
After the obligitaory time in Fantasyland, Autumn and I went to Toontown for the first time. It was a lot of fun.
The little roller coaster, just her size
Driving funky cars
And remember that $7.00 balloon Autumn wanted so badly yesterday? Someone had left one in the hotel lobby. It was even pink. The string was cut off with a key, so we figured it had been attached to a stroller and they were ditching it before catching a flight. We happily gave it a new home, and Autumn was convinced that we were, in fact, the best parents ever today.
Another night of pizza and hanging out in our room before going to bed.