In 2008, my husband and I made the impetuous decision to snaffle the kids out of school and head to Disneyland. To abscond. To play hooky from life. Irresponsible? Maybe. Naughty? A little. Exciting? Oh yes! because we’re not talking Hong Kong Disney – oh no. Nor Paris, Tokyo nor Florida. Phhht.
We’re talking the Real Deal. Yes folks, the place where dreams are made (note to self: pick up a few more dreams at Disney gift shop)… the original, the one and only – Anaheim Disney! (Squeal of delight – and without a trace of sarcasm.)
The most curious thing about making this decision was telling our kids, Ella and Riley. Barely able to contain the rising thrill in my voice when I made the announcement, both children simply stared at me, smiled weakly and then asked what was for dinner. Astounded, I let it slide, consoling myself with the fact that they really had no idea what they were in for.
They had already seen Hong Kong Disney. Had this smaller knockoff, in all its appealing yet awfully twee splendour, ruined my children’s faith in Disney? Could they not feel the power and allure of the Real Deal magic, vibrating across the Pacific Ocean, beckoning with sugar-dipped fingers?
Ten days later, I purchased the e-tickets online and printed them, complete with lusciously coloured Monsters Inc characters. This will have them spinning like tops, I thought, yet they were more interested in the somewhat lacklustre Legoland ticket I held clutched in my less important hand.
Curiouser and curiouser.
When Walt Disney first opened his magical land in 1955, he no doubt shared the exhilaration and joy I felt about my First Time in Anaheim. Although not a Disney virgin, I couldn’t fight the sweet anticipation rising in my throat at the thought of finally clapping eyes on that Original Castle (Fantasyland is by far the most popular Disneyland attraction). Nothing could quell that excitement, not even the questionable responses of my children.
Although, if my husband had any idea how much I’d paid for those tickets (and Sea World and Legoland and San Diego Zoo and…), his nervous tic would have put all excitement in severe jeopary. The first Disneyland ticket ever sold was to Walt Disney’s brother Roy, for one dollar. Let’s just say 54 odd years of inflation is a looong time.
So, would my children enjoy the grandiose Californian home of Mickey Mouse? I remained convinced the answer would be… without a doubt. And if they didn’t, there was always the highly stimulating and exhilarating long haul flight to look forward to (woe!).
Fast forward that long haul flight and a road trip along the California coast from San Francisco (more on that later) – D-Day (that’s Disney Day) was suddenly upon us. I can still feel the thundering pace of my heart in my chest.
As I walked towards the surprisingly humble entryway to Anaheim Disney, clutching the wriggling hands of my buzzing children, there was only one dream I hoped would come true (beside the requisite wishes for world peace, health, happiness and an inexhaustible supply of non-taxable funds). The dream? That my disturbingly high anxiety levels would plummet like the Matterhorn, and subside to a low-level buzz.
Why was I a bundle of nerves? In a Chip ‘n’ Dale nutshell? Queues. Crowds. Pushing. Shoving. People. Everywhere. Queues. Did I mention queues? (Please also add to this a hindsight entry – USD 18 for two grande lattes and two cookies.)
There I was – Anxiety Level: 8 – striding towards the gates to Disney Anaheim, with two squirming hands slipping on my sweaty palms and Husband hopping around like a flea in a dog-wash, while stream after stream of scurrying people slid past and overtook us on jet-powered feet. Why couldn’t we walk that fast? Would it be considered bad etiquette to break into a low-level run? In the other direction?? Anxiety Level: 9.
Plenty of striding and deep breathing later, we reached the bag-check, then the gates themselves – where my anxiety was surprisingly calmed by the lack of crowds. Well – I mean, there were crowds… they were just sparsely divided – straggling into skinny, fast-moving lines, like the thinning strands on Homer Simpson’s head. Not too bad, I thought. Not too bad… Anxiety Level: 6-ish.
Our entry tickets trilled through the machine like Tinkerbell’s sound byte and suddenly – awe-inspiringly – we were There. We were In. Inside the Dream Factory. Anxiety Level? Maybe a quasi-4, but mostly because we didn’t know where to start. Looking clearly like first-timers, Husband and I huddled over the map while the kids jumped up and swatted it excitedly.
Where first? The train around to Toon Town? The monorail? Amble up Main Street? A fast stroll to Frontierland? Or straight to The Castle? How how how do we choose? Then the Disney train pulled into the station and tooted a friendly hello. We were off. Anxiety Level: around 2 and rapidly dropping*.
I don’t remember much after that.
Fairy-floss blended into a pink teacup swirl. Alice in Wonderland tumbled headlong into the starry night of Space Mountain. Caffè lattes swished in the belly of Peter Pan over London Town. Giggles and squeals echoed in the halls of Goofy’s house, through the parlour at Minnie’s and slid down the ropes of Tarzan’s treehouse. Chip and/or Dale played pixie games with our heads (who really is who?**). Snow White put a crick in Ella’s neck (you know, upward, slack-jawed gazing). Riley pinched Buzz Lightyear’s gun and conquered space aliens while Nemo darted through a hologram ocean and Winnie-the-Pooh took us on a heffalump-hallucinatory-trip.
Summary? Disneyland was a visual, auditory, sensory three-days of fantasty-fandangled delight.
Highlight for kids? Umm… everything. Highlight for Husband? A solo trip on Space Mountain that overshot the platform and had to go around twice. Grrr…
Highlight for me? I have three. 1) Covering my mouth to catch the squeaks as I watched Ella and Riley stare around in rapture. 2) Clapping eyes on that straight-from-the-annals-of-girlhood fairytale Castle. 3) Seeing Bear in the Big Blue House, in person (hey – we all have our little idiosyncrasies).
Just for the record – my median anxiety levels during our three-day play? Zero zero zero. Anyway, I had bigger problems – how to come down off the sugar-coated high. I’m still buzzing, over two years later. And the kids? Let’s just say it was worth every anxious moment.
*Footnote for the impatient or agoraphobic: Although certainly not empty, visiting Disneyland in January was a joy. Most rides were either walk-straight-on or a two-minute wait, with the odd 10-20 minute wait. The following comment was overheard several times by regular Californian visitors who wear their annual pass proudly around their necks, bedazzled with dozens of Disney pins… “I will never come to Disneyland again unless it’s January or February. It’s a dream!” And indeed it was.
**For character aficionados – Chip has one tooth, Dale has two.