When I told friends that I was taking my four year old daughter, Perdida, to Disney World so that she could be made over as a princess at the Bibbiti Bobbidi Boutique, I was met with an array of reactions from my female friends. Though most reactions were positive, there were a few moms that were absolutely disgusted with me, saying that Disney Princesses were responsible for all types of horrid things, including the sexualization of young girls. I know that this has become a popular notion, but it drives me nuts. My kid is strong, empowered, fierce and very girly. Despite her adoring them, the Disney Princesses don’t have that big an influence on her life. She knows that they are pretend. What shapes her are the real life relationships and role models in her life.

Now I’m not one of those super big fans of Disney. I don’t drink my coffee from a Mickey mug, and to be honest when I went to Disney before when my daughter was two and a half, I found enduring the place to a chore. But, now that my daughter is almost five, we had a blast, and it was pretty much all princess all the time. I’d consider myself a feminist, and although those comments from other moms made me feel guilty, I’m pretty sure that being made over at Disney isn’t going to impair my daughter’s ability to form non co-dependent relationships in real life.

Our first afternoon at Disney, we were just going to pop in for a few hours and browse around in preparation for the Bibbidi Bobbedi Boutique the next day (you have to make an appointment well in advance of your arrival at Disney). As we walked up towards Cinderella’s castle, Perdida’s excitement grew, and as soon as we passed it we saw a massive line-up of families waiting to meet Rapunzel, the newest Disney Princess and undoubtedly the most kick-ass one (if you’ve seen Tangled, you’ll know what I mean). We waited almost an hour for Perdida to meet Rapunzel and get her autograph, but my kid was content to wait, and wait, for the chance to hug the princess.

Then we did the Dumbo ride, the teacups, got a few more autographs from less popular characters such as the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland and Daisy Duck. We watched the electric light parade, rode Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean and a few other rides. We waited up ‘til 10pm to see the spectacular fireworks over the castle, then Perdida fell asleep on her grandpa’s shoulders as we left the park.

It was an amazing afternoon, and completely changed my mind about Disney. I bought a Mickey t-shirt, though swore I’d only wear it around the house.

The next morning we were up early, because we’d left it so late to book our appointment, we were scheduled to be at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique for 8am (!). This meant that we got to see the Disney World opening ceremony, which I was unaware of until that moment. It was lovely, and well worth being there for. I advise you get to the park early one day to experience the major Disney characters arriving via train and singing the park open. We rushed to the appointment, and the second Perdida walked through the doors of the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, she was in heaven.

Perdida chose what princess she wanted to become (Rapunzel) and was ushered into a sparkly salon by her two personal “fairy godmothers in training”. She was primped and preened, given make-up and a manicure, all the while being indulged with conversations about unicorns and fairies and the secret lives of her favorite Disney characters. Perdida was completely in the zone, and I admired the ability of her attendants to converse so expertly with her on these topics. There were another six girls being made-over, and although it could have seemed like a princess production line, the attention that the girls were given just made it all so personal and very, very special. When Perdida finally got to see herself in a mirror, I cried. She was so happy and I felt so pleased that she got to experience this completely immersive fairytale experience.

After, we rushed over to Epcot, where we had a Princess brunch booked at the Akershus Royal Banquette Hall. Perdida was so proud of the compliments she received from other little girls and their parents as we traveled over there. As soon as we walked into the restaurant, Perdida got to meet Belle and have her photograph taken, then we were seated for our buffet brunch (it was pretty reasonably priced, working out at $90 for three of us, including tip). Perdida watched the other princesses mingling with guests, and could hardly eat with the excitement of knowing that they’d be coming over to our table too.

Perdida got to converse with Aurora, Cinderella, Snow White and Ariel. It was a lovely experience, and selfishly a good way to get all the princesses to sign her autograph book without us having to line-up for hours to meet them. The food was great too. I’d recommend this as a Disney dining experience. As we left, we spotted Mulan signing autographs just across the way, so managed to nab her too. My child was ecstatic. It had been an incredibly exciting morning for her, but also tired, so we went back to the Grand Floridian (amazing hotel, and staying in the Disney Resort makes the whole Disney experience much saner and more pleasurable) and lounged by the pool for the rest of that day.

Now we’re back home, and my daughter is still quite a girly-girl. She still prefers dresses to pants, and loves to play fairytale games. However, she asked for a skateboard for her Christmas present, and talks about being a scientist as much as she does a ballet dancer. The Disney Princesses didn’t corrupt her, and I’m happy that I was able to give her those experiences. Perhaps the issue isn’t the branding that Disney does, but how much parents LET that influence their daughters. Ultimately, responsibility lays with us, not the people that are selling us stuff. I’ll continue to let my daughter enjoy the fairy tales I grew up with, and the Disney movies that tell those stories, and I’ll continue to take responsibility for shaping her into a happy, well-balanced and confident little girl.