When I was a kid, my father’s idea of a vacation was piling into the family car and driving around Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada. From the back seat of our car, I saw the Grand Canyon, Meteor Crater, the Petrified Forrest, Death Valley, the Hoover Dam, Montezuma’s Castle and countless other sites that I have since suppressed in the recesses of my memory. This wasn’t a one time trip…this was each and every summer for as long as I could remember. And remember, this was the early 80s. There was no such thing as a “personal gaming system” to keep you entertained. You either read a book, did Mad Libs, or watched the weeds pass by at 55 miles an hour outside.
Then in 1985, when I was 10, my mother put her foot down and told my father that I deserved a “regular” vacation. They fought…my mother won. And so began the first vacation of my life I actually enjoyed. We didn’t just go to Disneyland on this trip. We did it all: Knots Berry Farm, Universal Studios, Sea World and Disneyland. Out of all the places we went, I only remember Disneyland.
What I remember most about the Disneyland was that we were a family. I used to have video of this trip and the part I remember most was us on the Skyway going through the Matterhorn, smiling and laughing. Looking back at it, we all got along, my parents didn’t fight, we had a good time.
I’m not here to tell you that I had a bad childhood or that I went through anything out of the ordinary by today’s standards. My parents divorced when I was 16 and there were troubles for years before that. Everything that I felt and went through as a child and teenager helped to make me the man, husband and father I am today. I wouldn’t change that for anything.
That first trip to Disneyland was the most amazing time I had ever had in my entire life up to that point. There is no possible way to describe to someone that’s never experienced the feeling you have the first time you walk onto Main Street U.S.A. and get a glimpse of Sleeping Beauty Castle. That trip ignited a passion inside me that wouldn’t soon fade.
My next trip to Disneyland was Christmas, 1987. This trip was memorable for me because it was the only time I’ve ever stayed at the Disneyland Hotel and back then, the monorail stopped at the front of the hotel, so my parents allowed me to go to the park completely by myself on Christmas Day. Something that I think by today’s standards would be considered neglect or in the very least highly unsafe. The two things I remember most about that day was how empty the park was (you don’t see that happen now) and there was absolutely no line for Space Mountain. I rode it 14 times in a row. I would get off the ride, go around and get back on. Most times riding by myself. I rode so many times that after about the fourth time going around, the cast members told me to stay on as long as I wanted. I rode 10 more times. You could never do this today.
I became so familiar with the park that I knew every path, every bathroom, every restaurant and what their menu had and how to get to every ride. I had bought a map at the park on my first trip that was about 3 feet by 5 feet and it hung on my wall in my room. I would sit at home and study every facet of that map and run through the fastest way to get from Country Bear Jamboree to America Sings or from the People Mover to the Mark Twain Riverboat. I was obsessed.
This was the last trip I would make to the park while my parents were married. My next trip was in high school. I sang in our choir and us and our band went to Disneyland for Magic Music Days. I’m not sure if they still do this but it was a program where high school bands, orchestras and choirs would come to Disneyland, go to the backstage area behind the park into a studio and see how music scores and choral pieces were recorded for Disney movies. If you were a good enough high school, you got to perform in the park…we were not. This trip was the first time I went to the park with friends and not family. It was a different experience and I had a blast.
I went one more time in my teens when I was 18…and then I didn’t go again for 20 years. That’s right…I was 38 the next time I went to the “Happiest Place on Earth”. In the time since my last trip, Country Bear Jamboree was turned into a Winnie the Pooh ride, Bear Country was now Critter Country, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was turned into the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, the rockets were moved from the top of the People Mover loading platform to the entrance of Tomorrowland, the People Mover was turned into something called Rocket Rod’s and then closed, Captain EO had been turned into Honey I Shrunk the Audience and then back to Captain EO, the Circle Vision theater was closed and used for the Rocket Rod’s queue and then turned into Buzz Lightyear when Rocket Rod’s closed, America Sings closed and all the animatronic characters were moved to Splash Mountain, and the biggest change of all was that the parking lot was bulldozed and turned into a completely new park, Disney’s California Adventure.
I went to Disneyland because I was now married and had a son. My wife and I decided that we would take him for his third birthday. Planning the vacation, I was excited to take my family but that had not sparked the embers I still had burning for the park since I was younger…until we walked in the front gates and through the tunnel onto Main Street U.S.A.. By the end of that trip, to say that I was obsessed would have been an understatement. What really did it for me was on Friday night of that trip, we staked out our spot for Fantasmic!. I had not told my son anything about the show or showed him any clips from YouTube. When the show started and Mickey walked up to center stage after conducting the water and fireworks shot from his fingers, the look on my son’s face is one that I will never forget. His eyes popped open, his jaw dropped and he pointed at Mickey in total amazement. To this day, that is a mental picture that I still see as if I had it printed on Kodak paper.
Since then, my family and I have become annual pass holders, we went back for my 39th birthday, I’ve been several times on my own during my travels for work, I went with my brother-in-law, Danny, for the 24 hour “Show Your Disney Side” summer kick off, my son and I went for his fourth birthday (That’s right…without mom), and we’re planning on several more trips throughout the rest of the year, including my wife’s birthday, Halloween, and a weeks vacation during Christmas.
The short answer to the question, “What makes you such an authority?” is…absolutely nothing. I have read books, watched specials, read other blogs, chat rooms and chatted with people who also have a passion for Disneyland. Do I know everything? Again, absolutely not but I hope to pass on what I do know and I hope to learn more as I go along and most of all, entertain those of you reading.
Walt Disney created this place for people to be emmersed in another world with their families and friends and he left it to us to continue the legacy and pass it on to our children and grandchildren and I plan to do just that.
I’m sorry this blog didn’t talk much about the park, but I thought it important for those of you who are willing to read these to understand me a little bit. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t spend some portion of my day thinking about Disneyland…it’s what keeps me sane.
Coming up next: Happy 45th Anniversary to the Haunted Mansion!!! Did you know that one imagineer intended and wrote the story line to combine the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Tom Sawyer Island (now known as Pirate Island) into one big story line? Read all about it in our next blog!