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An Open (Mostly Love) Letter to Disney

Must-Have Parent

Dear DisneyWorld: I love you.

Like really love you. Maybe not as much as my kids love you, but enough that I visit you more than I visit my grandmother. (And I do love her, too, it's just that you're closer.)

While my husband is deployed, my kids and I visited you. We had a Magic-Hours-to-fireworks fantastic time and -- with the exception of my son -- we loved all the Frozen stuff you've done with the place. Big hit with my girls. Huge.

And all those Christmas decorations in all the parks? And especially the lights and REAL SNOW at Hollywood Studios? Well, you fell just short of jumping the, er, mouse -- and we loved every bulb of it.

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But when you love somebody, sometimes you have to offer some constructive criticism. So I feel the need to point out the one little thing you could do to make the Disney experience even better for Must-Have Parents like myself.

But first, what are 'Must-Have Parents?'

Well, I'm glad you asked. Must-Haves, aka "solo parents," are any adults who find themselves raising kids without much help from other adults.

Could be single parents. Could be a grandparent raising a child. Could be a widow or widower. Could be (like me) a military mom or dad during a deployment. Or it could simply be the primary parent in a family where the other parent's job, illness or injury keeps them from fully participating in family life.

Consider all these situations and you'll realize that there are quite a few of us out here.

So why would any solo parent attempt Disney?

OK, I doubt YOU would ask that. YOU know why -- because the Magic Kingdom is truly magical and if any kid deserves magical, it's a kid whose life is already complicated by having just one adult around most of the time.

Then why not just wait until the other parent or another adult can go? Well, because the kids might be grown by then. Or in the case of parents with serious illnesses or debilitating injuries, it might never happen.

A Disney pilgrimage can be hectic for any family, but for a solo adult with multiple kids, it can be so overwhelming that it seems not even worth the effort. And that's where you come in with the one change that could make Disney even better for Must-Have Parents all over the world.

Let cast members ride with the kids on some of the rides.

Really. That's all that I've got. I'm not going to offer you 30 suggestions. I'm going to keep it to just one. We solo parents are a capable lot. We can handle the rest of it ourselves. We just can't come up with an extra adult when we need one most.

Many of your most exciting rides are not safe for infants through pre-schoolers, but they're just right for school-aged kids. Problem is, some children who are big enough to ride aren't allowed to ride without an adult -- an entirely logical rule that I agree with -- but a solo parent can't ride with an infant or toddler and certainly can't leave the little one behind in order to ride.

For my family (my kids are 2, 6 and 10), this meant we all had to skip ALL of those rides, which made for a fairly cranky 10-year-old. (Remember? The one who was already irritated by all the Annas and Elsas?)

But if a cast member could have just sat with my 6-year-old ...

Now, I get that it would get expensive for you to hire extra cast members just to have them hanging around waiting, but this is a service I'd be willing to pay for -- say, $10 per chaperoned ride.

Also, it seems like something that could be booked when reserving a Fast Pass (so that the cast member doesn't have to also wait with them in line and so those employees aren't just hanging around all day wondering if someone is going to request them. As you can tell, I've given this some thought).

We could pick the three rides that were most important to my kids, book the Fast Passes and the cast member chaperones in advance, and our Disney experience would be 1000 Hidden Mickeys better. I would happily pay $30 for that.

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Family and Spouse Military Parenting Rebekah Sanderlin

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Contributor

Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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