It was July 1923. I packed all of my worldly goods – a pair of trousers, a checkered coat, a lot of drawing materials and the last of the fairy tale reels we had made – in a kind of frayed cardboard suitcase. And with that wonderful audacity of youth, I went to Hollywood, arriving there with just forty dollars. It was a big day the day I got on the Santa Fe California Limited. I was just free and happy! – Walt Disney
The past 2 weeks we have been chilling in Costa Rica – we’re staying in an incredible open house, close to the ocean, sleeping with the sounds of the jungle. Here, we’ve finally slowed down, our pace like that of the sloths we find all around us. Los Angeles feels to be a distant memory. As I start to type, I have to dig oh so deep to picture us in that magical, hectic, colorful world of Disneyland.
After we packed up our trailer and donated a ton of stuff , we finally arrived at our hotel. We had arranged this portion of our trip a long time ago, and we both had kind of forgotten what we booked. Turned out, we were staying at the Courtyard, right at the park’s entrance. Our room wasn’t ready yet when we arrived, so we got to chill by the pool. The hotel clearly caters to the young Disney-loving crowd. The pool had 2 big slides, and a large water playground, and the weather was heavenly. Pure bliss. Not in the least because the hotel also had a Starbucks corner. This was my first “tall, non-fat, almond cappuccino” in weeks; and I must admit … my eyes rolled backwards in my head with delight. And then best of all, our room… easily 3 times the size of our Tin Can. I think our trailer might have fit in the bathroom! As much as I loved camping, I let out a soft “phew!!”. We all took the longest showers ever, with quite a few ohs and ahs! Big thumbs up.
The next morning we got up bright and early, and were in line at the entrance for the early opening of the park. Those who knows us, know that is a miracle. Now, we were complete Disney novices. We had no feel for the size of the park, the number of people to expect, how fastpasses work etc. But we had great help. Friends of ours had worked with David from themousemaster.com. We let him know what we like as a family, and he did all the rest. We had a detailed plan in hand for every day of our visit, complete with estimated waiting times, how to maximize our time with fast passes and more. Hotel, transport, entrance tickets – everything was perfectly and seamlessly organized. Hyper-efficient, I like!! (We highly recommend David. It does not cost you a cent more than if you were to book by yourself, but you get such incredible service. During our visit, he answered all our questions in minutes. Check it out at themousemaster).
That first day however, the park was way busier than any of us expected, and the Disney park website predicted. By mid afternoon, any ride had more than 45 minutes waiting time. We noticed that greeting Mickey in his house was advertised with just a 10 minute wait, so we’d go say Hello. But ouch! They simply had not updated the little sign. We spent a full hour in there … but rewarded with a picture with the Mouse Himself :). We mostly explored Tomorrowland that day and quickly found the “glitch” in the fast-pass system. The Buzz Lightyear ride was closed unexpectedly, and so we grabbed fast-pass after fast-pass for Buzz, which turned into “multi-experience” passes, that we could then use on any ride to cut the lines. Whoop whoop! (I have no patience whatsoever. Nor does Vincent. So standing in line for a 4 minute ride is pure torture). Till now, our boys had shied away from the real “big” rides (fast, upside down, scary etc.), but they are growing up fast. Steven really does not like any of those, so it’s my “pleasure” to go thrill seeking with the boys. That first day we did Matterhorn (simulates a bob-sled ride) and Space Mountain. Space Mountain had a Halloween overlay and was c-r-e-e-p-y!!! I sat in the cart squeezing Vincent’s leg, thinking “oh boy, he’s going to throw-up and cry”. Turns out we both kept our eyes closed for most of the ride… We enjoyed rides on all sides of the spectrum – I think we went on the carousel 5 times. Peter Pan was magical. But our number 1 attraction that day was the Tangled play at the Royal Theater. It’s a small, open air theater under Disney’s castle, where real-life actors enact a Disney story. It was witty, funny and engaging. We also truly enjoyed Mickey’s colorful parade; Elyse and I were dancing and clapping along, so that most characters made eye contact with a little wink or wave. That made Elyse feel oh so special … Rapunzel, Ariel, Tiana, Snowwhite, Aurora … they all were part of the show, singing and dancing. (Confession – I can’t tell one princess from the other …). While I am generally not a big fan of amusement parks, the wonder on Elyse’s face and the boys’ excitement on the rides made it more than worthwhile. And what I was truly impressed with, is that every-single-detail on every-single-ride and on every-single-corner of the park is simply perfect. Absolute perfection. It’s clear why the Disney company is the Disney company – they have patented the art of storytelling. We spent the day from 8am to 9pm in the park, and everyone fell blissfully asleep when their heads hit the pillow.
The next day we started out easy. We had tickets to Mickey’s Halloween Party. That meant we could not enter the park till after 3pm, so we had the day to ourselves. We hung by the pool, took a nap and made good use of the gym. That night at the park, there was a much smaller crowd than the day before, so we got to do some of the rides we had to skip the day before. And, there was trick or treating throughout. I hate to admit… the dinner menu that evening was candy and more candy. We watched another spectacular parade with a Halloween theme this time. So all the “bad” guys and girls came out. We loved Ursula, the sea witch. Gaston was hilarious. Maleficent impressive. Add Cruella De Ville, Jack Skellington and many more.
At the end of the night we positioned ourselves in front of the castle for the famous Disney fireworks. They were themed Halloween and made smart use of laser, video and sound. A fantastic production, and the fireworks did not disappoint at all. Lots of ooh’s and aah’s from the crew.
The next day we got up early again to explore a different side of the park; Adventureland. The busy days and lack of sleep started to take their toll. We rented a stroller for Elyse so she could just hang out. Honestly, Cars-land was incredible. It’s as if you walk into the movie: Luigi’s garage, Flo’s V8 café, the Cozy Cone Hotel, etc. We had so much fun in the “simple” rides like Maters’ graveyard jamboree and Luigi’s rollickin’ roadsters . We all got into line for Radiator Springs Racers. We made the mistake of thinking this was a thrill ride, and Elyse wasn’t going to have any of it. We scared her ahead of time without really knowing what the ride was all about. Standing in line, you see 2 cars speeding by, and so we all assumed that would be it: participating in a high-speed, cutting corners, car race. Turns out that was about 30 secs of the ride, which for the rest was a super mellow “drive” through the scenes of the movie. But Elyse’s mind was made up: the worst ride ever! After that, it was Elyse’s turn. We had lunch booked at “Arielle’s Grotto”, where we’d have some good food (such a relief from the fast food throughout the park), but most importantly, had lots of princesses who came to greet us. Elyse was over the moon. And frankly, the boys too (although they would never admit that). I can’t say enough about the characters – the costumes are perfect, the mannerisms are perfect, the voices are perfect, and even the signatures are perfect. We nearly panicked when all the little girls at nearby tables pulled out their professional Disney signature book, where the princesses dutifully sign their name after snapping a picture. We went the cheap route: grabbed a couple of order taking forms from the waiter, and her pen, and were saved by the bell!
Now, there is one ride in Adventureland that makes a full loop, California Screamin’. Apparently Vincent had heard from one of his friends that that is the best ride in the park. He had never been in a rollercoaster that loops before, but he was determined to try it. After all, if his friend said it was the best … . The lines were short, so he and I stood waiting for 10 chitter-chatter filled minutes. When Vincent is nervous, he blabs your ears off. A trillion questions about what it would be like. And frankly, I had a nervous twitch in my belly too. But what a blast! All I could hear next to me is “wooooohooooooooooooo”!!! He was so excited when we got out, and wanted to go again and again. He must have then talked to Matthias later, because Matthias now wanted to go too. So hupsakee, back in line. Imagine the contrast – Matthias becomes very quiet when he is nervous, while Vincent blabbed away at him thinking that would calm M’s nerves. I was not quite sure what to expect with M. But as soon as the rollercoaster car took off at full speed (you know, pushing you back into your seat as if your brain is going to stay behind) Matthias was already yelling “yeeeahhh!! This is aaaawwwweeessommmme!! I loooove this!!!!”. I guess we are now officially a thrill-loving family …
On our way home that night, there was a father holding his sleeping child on his shoulder, with a little sign asking for help and support. I know it does not solve anything in the grander scale, or even for him, but I would have given the man our change. Except that we did not have any cash on us. He noticed me look for something to hand him, and I gestured that I was so sorry for not having anything right then and there. All he did was lovingly say “it’s okay. god bless you, thank you, please pray for us”. It had such an impact on us all. The fact that we get to spend this time travelling, and that we just stepped out of Disney (nothing about any of that is cheap). Seeing that man with his child. Knowing that there is so much need in the world. It strikes me with such grief, compassion and guilt every time. We are very aware this is a very sensitive topic for many, especially in the US. And I am sure there are some people out there who made “bad choices”. But I also know most people were simply not born with our privilege, or are struck by disease, war, or bad luck. It’s exactly what we want to show and teach our children along the way, and it made for a very lengthy conversation that night. How do we help? What is effective? How do we deal with our good fortune in contrast? Our kids were going to set up lemonade stands, and sell things, and find that man and his child and give them all the profits. We would go buy food and bring it to them. We would spend time with the boy and share toys. You then have a conversation about just how grand the issue is. That we have decided to donate through NGO’s and organizations, rather than one offs (with an exception here and there). How we would love to be able to help all. And that while we choose not to give to every needy person on the street, that it’s important to feel compassion. That we do expect all of us to give back, through contributions to organizations we believe in, and by volunteering. I brace myself for the time we’ll spend in developing countries, for children begging on the streets. As a family, we have not volunteered that much as of yet, and I would like to change that during this trip. I vow that we will look for opportunities to support local communities along the way. I realize I might get a ton of reactions on this post, and I know there’s many different points of view. Ours for sure isn’t fully developed. All I know, is that I wish for every child to have an education and an opportunity to blossom in peace and prosperity.
That night, we also had the mega “I am so tired I can’t think anymore tantrum”. I mean, the off-the-charts, wake-the-entire-hotel kind of tantrum. We knew this was bound to happen – so many impulses, so many people, so much thrill, so little sleep, such bad food etc. And we had one more day to go! We took it easy on our last day… We repeated the rides we loved (more California Screamin’ for the boys, and Bouncing Jellyfish for Elyse), and did a couple we hadn’t done. This was also the day Elyse had been waiting for: meeting Anna and Elsa (and Olaf and Kristof)! This was my favorite moment of our 3.5 days Disney without a doubt. They were so engaging with her, asking questions, having a conversation. And Elyse was wonderfully shy, yet curious, and politely replying to their questions. A big hug & a wonderful photo-moment. It made me emotional! Really.
The boys attended “Disney academy” where we learned how to draw the Disney character Winnie the Pooh. I was impressed with how there truly is something for everyone at Disneyland. Although I still can’t understand why anyone would tattoo Mickey and Minnie on their calves. (To each their own, I guess). And I still can’t tell Belle from Tiana from Snow-white.
All in all, zero regrets about our stop at Disneyland. We joke now with the kids that they can do long hikes, if you count the miles they logged those couple days. We want to thank our families who pitched in, and contributed to making this an unforgettable part of our trip for the kids. Also an official thank you to my dear team who got us a Disney gift card. We spent it well and now carry 2 more hats, 2 t-shirts, 1 princess dress, and a mouse ear shaped bubble maker in our luggage. It feels dual writing that down after my little paragraph on the big needs of the world, but I try to be honest and truthful about our lives on the road.
We made it back to our hotel at a reasonable hour, and packed up once again. We would leave bright and early to catch a plane …