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Image: Disney character breakfast
Andy Yemma
The Disney character breakfast. L-R: Chip (not Dale), Orlee Roza and Melanie Yemma. When Melanie was a toddler, Chip made her cry.
By
Tribune Media Services
updated 7/24/2009 9:31:02 AM ET 2009-07-24T13:31:02

Come on. Let's have some fun. We deserve it.

Ignore those office emails, forget all about the economy and for an afternoon focus instead on what's really important, especially on vacation — making memories with the kids.

Judging by the crowds on a recent sunny day at Disneyland and it's sister California Adventure Park in Anaheim, a lot of families have decided to do just that, getting every dollar's worth out of the day and ending triumphantly with the nighttime fireworks show "Magical."

"To have the kids having such a good time, it's absolutely worth it," says Virginia Martinez, who has brought four kids ages 10 to 15 from Las Vegas. "Disney is fun no matter how old you are," she says.

"How can you not have fun when Goofy walks right in front of you," adds Amy Rosen, who lives in nearby Venice and is here with extended family from the Midwest.I look around at little girls with Tinker Bell painted on their faces, boys in pirate hats, dads sporting Grumpy shirts, grandmas pushing strollers and everyone slurping frozen lemonade, laughing, trying to eat Mickey shaped ice cream bars before they melt, saying calories be damned with churros, cotton candy and giant turkey legs.

People even seem to be in good moods on the lines (yes, despite FastPass technology that allows you to swipe your ticket and return at an appointed time for the attraction) there are still lines and ever ride doesn't have FastPass. We wait nearly an hour for Toy Story Mania, where you wear 3-D glasses while playing 4-D carnival games. "Definitely it was worth the wait," says 14-year-old Brenda Rodriguez, who shares my car and beats me royally. She's celebrating her birthday. I know because she's wearing a big button that says so and she got free admission. (Come on your birthday for 2009 and get in free.)

Megan O'Rourke, 14, from San Antonio, acknowledged her favorite part of the day was her picture with all of the Disney princesses, while Seattle grandmother Janet Lee loved riding Splash Mountain with her 12-year-old granddaughter. They'd come for a special girls' weekend, she said. "She'll only be 12 once," Lee added. "This is our time together."

Especially this summer, maybe we all need a little dose of The Happiest Place on Earth. When Walt Disney conceived Disneyland — it opened on July 17, 1955 with 18 attractions — his intent was to create a place where adults and kids, including Disney and his two daughters, could have fun together. Today, there are all types of families here — moms with their kids, multigenerational families, single dads with their kids, grandparents and grandkids.

Colorado trucker Mike Carson, a single dad, said he hopes to make a summer visit with his 13-year-old daughter an annual tradition. "We're pooped but we're having the time of our lives," he said.

Yes, Disneyland is exhausting and expensive (just getting through the gate will cost a family of four more than $250), but there are many deals available, including free hotel nights and free park admission. If you plan to hit several Southern California attractions, check out the substantial discounts from (www.citypass.com). Slideshow: The world of Walt Disney

But it is also an ideal place to be a kid — no matter what your age. Three-D glasses perched on their noses, my daughter Mel and her friend Orlee laugh at The Muppets' very funny antics — enhanced by the special effects — at the Muppet Show at Disney's California Adventure.

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But unlike a lot of the kids in the audience, these two girls aren't preschoolers. They're 18 — newly minted high school graduates. That doesn't mean the fun quotient is any less, they say, even with mom tagging along.

As we make our way through California Adventure, memories come flooding back of past visits here and at Walt Disney World in Orlando: The time 2-year-old Mel cried when Chip and Dale got too close, the time her older brother and sister talked her into riding Space Mountain when she barely made the height requirement and she was so proud of herself. She reminded me of the time I was more scared than she was on the Tower of Terror (I skipped it today).

But one thing hasn't changed. When the girls had enough, we decamped for the hotel, just as we did when a much younger Mel needed a nap — or her parents did. Later, we meet up with some Southern California relatives for a decidedly grown-up dinner at the Grand Californian Hotel's award-winning Napa Rose restaurant. This being Disneyland, there are plenty of kids chowing down on (petite) tenderloin, mashed potatoes and pasta with four-cheese sauce while parents enjoy the gourmet fare (Braised Alaskan Halibut perhaps?)

The girls rush out before the main course to California Adventure (right next door) to ride Soarin' Over California, the virtual hang-gliding tour over California's landmarks, taking advantage of the FastPass that allows them to return without waiting in line. Back for their steaks, they report the ride lived up to the hype.

They forgo dessert for the chance to ride their childhood favorites at Disneyland, a short walk away — Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, Small World and to catch the fireworks featuring music and favorite Disney characters.

This trip, I won't be carrying a sleeping child through the park after the show. (Sorry, Tinker Bell!) I'm the one who is exhausted and tell the kids I'm going to bed. They laugh and head out on their own for one more taste of magic.

At breakfast the next morning, they cozy up to Chip and Dale for photos. (No tears this time, just embarrassed grins) and report that when they came out of their last ride, the fireworks had just started.

"Perfect," said Mel.

Thanks, Mickey.

For more Taking the Kids, visit takingthekids.com and also follow "taking the kids" on twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.

© 2009 Eileen Ogintz ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Photos: Disney around the World

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  1. Feast for a Beast

    The Beast welcomes guests to his castle in the Magic Kingdom, where Be Our Guest Restaurant will serve French-inspired cuisine for quick-service lunch and table-service dinner. Part of the newly-revamped Fantasyland, the stylish restaurant will have its grand opening on Dec. 6, 2012 at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Matt Stroshane / Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Dumbo's pre-flight deck

    Waiting in line for Dumbo the Flying Elephant is as much of an event as the ride itself. As guests arrive, they'll receive a circus ticket pager that will virtually hold their place in line and notify them when it's their turn to board the attraction, leaving them free to explore the interactive wonders inside the big top while they wait to take to the skies. Dumbo the Flying Elephant is part of the expansion project which nearly doubles the size of Fantasyland, a multiyear project that will have its grand opening on Dec. 6, 2012 at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Ali Nasser / Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Luxurious cuisine

    French-inspired cuisine will be highlighted when Be Our Guest Restaurant opens in the New Fantasyland. Furthermore, select wines and beers will be offered to complement the elegantly-themed meals. (Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Fit for a princess

    Visitors to Disneyland can walk through Sleeping Beauty Castle and see 3-D scenes from the classic film, originally released in 1959. (Paul Hiffmeyer / Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Birthday girl

    Singer Miley Cyrus performs at the "Miley's Sweet 16 Share the Celebration" party at Disneyland in October 2008. (Mario Anzuoni / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Boo!

    The Haunted Mansion, a New Orleans Square attraction, opened Aug. 9, 1969, and is the home of 999 happy haunts. As Disney's website suggests, "Enter...if you dare!" (Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Time for supper

    Ghosts dine inside Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. Disney classifies the ride as gentle but warns that younger children could be frightened by its special effects. (Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. 50 and fabulous

    Fireworks explode over The Sleeping Beauty Castle as part of "Remember ... Dreams Come True," the biggest fireworks display in Disneyland's history. The display took place during the Disneyland 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2005. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Shiver me timbers!

    Villainous pirate Barbossa is hot on the trail of the eccentric Captain Jack Sparrow in Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The classic attraction re-opened following an extensive three-month enhancement and featuring new characters and elements from Walt Disney Pictures' "Pirates of the Caribbean" films. (Scott Brinegar / Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Around the world

    Walt Disney World's It's a Small World ride is a great option for youngsters. Visitors can sing along to the famous tune while visiting countries around the world. Hong Kong Disneyland opened the classic boat ride in 2008 in an attempt to boost sluggish attendance at the theme park. (Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. My, what big ears you have

    Dumbo the Flying Elephant takes riders over Fantasyland, and lever controls let them fly at their desired altitude. (Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Eating under the sea

    Larger-than-life replicas of prehistoric sea creatures combine with giant aquariums of exotic fish in the lounge area of T-Rex: A Prehistoric Family Adventure, at the Downtown Disney area in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The 600-seat restaurant, operated by Landry's Restaurants, combines table-service dining and retail in an interactive prehistoric environment built around water, fire and ice. (Gene Duncan / Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Mickey hops the pond

    Roy E. Disney, nephew of Walt Disney, poses with Mickey, Minnie and Pluto, in front of the Sleeping Beauty castle during a press preview of Euro Disneyland, now called Disneyland Paris, in Marne La Vallee, France. The site opened in 1992. (Eric Feferberg / AFP - Getty Images file) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Dive! Dive!

    The original submarines from the Disneyland Submarine Voyage, a popular attraction for many years at the California theme park, have been extensively refitted for the 21st Century adventure of Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. The attraction now takes explorers on an undersea voyage where they'll have close encounters with the fish characters from the Disney-Pixar movie, "Finding Nemo." (Paul Hiffmeyer / Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Fun after dark

    Downtown Disney is a promenade that offers shopping, dining and other activities. The avenue shown here leads to both Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure. (Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Should've seen it in color

    Crowds are seen walking around the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, Calif., circa 1955. (Archive Photos / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A visionary's vision

    Walt Disney unveils his plans for Disneyland to a national television audience during the premiere of "Disneyland," the television show, on October 27, 1954. (Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Blank canvas

    Walt Disney purchased 160 acres in Anaheim, originally covered with orange groves, to build his dream of a place where parents and children could have fun -- together. (Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
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