"There's the castle!" shrieked my awe-struck 5-year-old, peering out the monorail window as we made our way into Disney's Magic Kingdom. Laughter and grins from fellow passengers confirmed that we had made the right vacation choice. Despite protests from my husband, whose idea of a vacation involves reclining poolside with a good book, we had decided to brave a day with Mickey Mouse before heading to our favorite beach town. "The girls love the princesses, and I think we can even have breakfast right in the castle," I explained.
"Please, Daddy?" begged my kindergartner, who had learned how to effectively bat her blue eyes.
"Well, we can go, but just for one day," my husband relented. "Then we are off to the beach!"
A quick phone call later, reservations were secured for a "fairytale breakfast" inside Cinderella's castle Although I winced at the price tag, I rationalized that this would be a once-in-a-lifetime event.
"The princesses will all be there to meet and greet your family," the perky Disney receptionist reassured me. With promises of stuffed French toast, muffins, and fresh fruit, even my reluctant husband turned sweet on the idea. What could be better than starting our Disney adventure from high atop the castle walls?
Clad in jeans shorts, sneakers, and princess T-shirts, our girls scampered into the castle, anxiously awaiting the arrival of royalty. "Line up please, single file," we were instructed. "Cinderella will come down for photos before breakfast is served." Flipping through their autograph books in search of a blank page, the girls were blissfully unaware of the scene unfolding around them.
"Go stand in front of the spiral staircase," a camera-ready mother commanded her daughter. "Now give me a smile!" The girl, not more than 4 years old, looked as if she had been born right inside the castle walls. Her floor-length, pink taffeta gown glittered in the early morning sunlight. Her shoes were covered in ruby rhinestones. Maybe these were purchased to match her silver tiara or glittery hair spray. As she turned to protest yet another photo-op, the little princess's iridescent eye shadow flashed my way. Shocked, I elbowed my husband.
"Did you see that girl?" I whispered.
Raising his eyebrows, he nudged me a little, pointing out a few other children in similar attire. "I didn't know we needed to dress for breakfast," I mused.
More and more little girls floated into the waiting area, bedecked in satin princess attire. How in the world were those kids going to ride Dumbo the Flying Elephant or Goofy's Barnstormer? And how much fun could it be to walk around the Magic Kingdom in high heels?
Looking at my daughters in their shorts and sneakers, I felt a wave of protectiveness rise from within.
"My girls are beautiful, too!" I wanted to shout to everyone in the room. "You should hear my kindergartner read and my third-grader play the piano!"
As we smiled with Cinderella, resplendent in her powder-blue satin gown, I wondered if this breakfast was such a good idea, after all. What sort of message about beauty and intelligence was I reinforcing?
As my daughters happily munched on French-toast sticks and chatted with the likes of Ariel, Belle, and Snow White, I flipped open the Disney park map to plan our day. A new attraction, the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, caught my eye. In this "enchanting salon" the brochure read, "Fairy godmothers in training create hair, makeup and wardrobe makeovers." Had the parents visited this kiddy beauty parlor prior to the 8 o'clock breakfast?
Supposedly the girls felt happy and pretty. But later, the tears and screams coming from the restroom stall next to mine told another story. The little princess wanted out of her hot, itchy gown. And could she have her juice cup, please?
That afternoon, as my girls sailed through the air on the Magic Carpets of Aladdin and squealed with glee on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, I saw a glimpse of true joy. They giggled, screamed, and reassured each other when the rides got a little too scary or bumpy.
Later that week, we drove to the Gulf Coast. From alligators at a wildlife preserve to starfish washed ashore after a storm, nature's bounty overflowed. My daughters got along just fine with sand blowing in their uncombed hair as they searched the shore for shells. With nary a tiara in sight, they could discover their inner princess – how a truly beautiful girl can bike for miles along an island, catch a wave on her boogie board, and beat her parents at card games.
Disney is all about the magic, but I wonder if some parents have missed the message. Don't our little princesses deserve just a bit more?