There are all kinds of Disney freaks in the world. I’m one of them.
In fact, I’m not only a Disney freak, but I contributed significantly to the Disney freakishness of all four of our children.
My first plane ride took me to Disneyland in 1971….from South Dakota. I was eight years old and it was a huge deal. My parents took three of my sisters and I, back when you’d buy a booklet of ride tickets. I remember using a precious “E” ticket to ride the live mules in the area that later became Thunder Mountain Railroad, while my sisters used theirs on the more thrilling Matterhorn. Imagine: giving up a chance to plummet down a mountain in a bobsled, and opting for a mule instead. (Maybe some foreshadowing there.) Jungle Cruise stands out in my memory, as did the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse and Bear Country Jamboree. And I remember wanting to kill my sister for pushing my car all the way through Autopia. That was another “E” ticket spend, and it represented my first time behind the wheel…ruined by my sister who thought it was hilarious to push me the whole way.
Disneyland rocked in 1971.
We moved to California when I was 11. For Californians, Disneyland is totally do-able. Even if you live in Northern California as I did. I went twice a year all through high school with the band. I was in heaven. Going to Disneyland twice a year, when none of my friends in the Midwest had ever been.
When John and I had our first child, my mother-in-law could hardly wait to take her to Disneyland. It was a rite of passage. For a grandmother.
Our true freakishness began when one of my sisters got a job working for Disney. Score. She’s a computer geek, which is not exactly like playing Snow White, but it didn’t matter: she was a Castmember, just the same. She may as well have been Snow White. She could get three of us in for free every day. Holy cow. And no one was more excited about it than my wonderful sister, who gave us an open invitation to “…come down any time.”
Now, I realize folks say things like that to be polite. But people who have the ability to get you into Disneyland had better never say that unless they absolutely, positively mean it. ‘Cause I’m in. And we have four kids. And even though my husband would rather relax at home over the weekend, I have a dear friend who has a kid, too, and we never ever get tired of that six-hour drive to Southern California. Never ever.
And so the tradition began. Once a month for about five years, my friend and I would pile our five kids in the minivan Friday right after work, wave goodbye to our grinning husbands, and yak yak yak all the way to my sister’s house. Saturday morning we’d all hit the parks, play all weekend long, and head home Sunday afternoon. Back to work Monday morning. Every month for five years.
And we never got tired of it. It was fantastic.
We knew those parks – Disneyland and California Adventure – so intimately that my kids would offer advice to other guests. They knew where every bathroom, churro stand, and ATM could be found. Disney was like our neighborhood park. We mastered everything from which lines moved the fastest (go to the right on Small World and Pirates….) and where to take little ones to run off energy so we could relax without losing a kid (Tom Sawyer’s Island, Tarzan’s Treehouse, and Redwood Creek Challenge Trail). There were places we avoided at all costs (‘Toon Town was a disaster unless all five were on a leash) and places we never missed (Billy Hill and the Hillbillies, now retired).
We went so often that when the lines became too too long, we would just go back to the hotel and swim in the pool or go to a movie. No biggy. We felt bad for those families who spent their life savings traveling from Kansas for this vacation and “…by God we are going to milk this even if we all want to kill each other by the end!” And when we came with friends, our kids were perfect companions because they’d go where ever the other kids wanted to go. No arguing, no fuss. They’d be back in a month to go on the rides they wanted to go on…let the guests have their way.
We even assembled a guide containing all the tips and tricks we’d learned, and we’d give it to our friends so they could navigate the park like a pro. I still get requests for that thing. People have told me they followed it to the letter and loved it. “You should write a book!” they’d say, not realizing there are thousands of Disneyland guides on the market – all inferior, of course, but crowding the shelves so I may never get my shot.
Eventually the kids’ lives started getting in the way. My friend and I would be so irritated when a kid had a commitment that screwed up our plans. Jeez. Fine. We’re going without you. And then one by one the annual passes we bought to supplement my sister’s admission privileges expired. Before we knew it, the pattern was breaking and Disney was slipping away.
Every once in a while the kids would ask, “When are we going to Disneyland? It’s been months, Mom.” With football and baseball and theatre…. Friends at work would casually ask on a Friday afternoon if it was a park weekend. I was saying “no” so often that I think people began to suspect something was seriously wrong.
We missed my sister. We missed the long drives when we had a chance to catch up and really talk. We missed the parks. I think our husbands missed it, too. The empty house, I mean.
But a new generation is dawning.
Our second daughter – a theatre major in college – applied and was chosen for the Disney College Program. Yes. We created a Castmember. We have penetrated the Disneyland Parks Family with our own. It’s like marrying into the royal family.
Only much cooler in-laws.