My First Time – Disneyland, 1st May to 11th May 2005
My First Time – Disneyland, 1st May to 11th May 2005
So, do you remember your first time at Disneyland? It may have been a long time ago, walking through the gates with your parents on your first overseas holiday, or it could have been a more recent experience. For me, it was just a couple of weeks ago. In this article, I hope to rekindle thoughts and emotions from that first trip, so that you all may smile and remember your first time.
Flashback to the late 1970’s – Saturday afternoons watching Wonderful World of Disney. Who could forget the opening credits? Scenes of the Pirates of the Caribbean, the Submarines, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, and of course, Tinkerbell lighting fireworks over Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. For me and my memory, these were the iconic scenes that defined Disneyland – that place so far away that I thought I’d never get to see.
Now fast forward to 2001 and the beginning of my association with Down Under Disneyana. Here was a club where most people I spoke to had actually been to this magical place. Images on video, photographs, memorabilia purchased in the parks and the trip reports of those who went, spurred the interest of Della and myself to book our trip. In April 2004, we decided to aim at travelling in April 2005.
Of course, the May 2004 club meeting changed all that – it was here that the details of the 50th Anniversary celebrations were announced, with May 5 2005 (05/05/05) being the event kick-off. So our holiday was pushed back a month – fine by us.
A year’s worth of planning was now before us. Lucky we had so many good friends with advice! How many days do we stay? How busy will it be? What is the weather like in May? Where do we stay? How do the shuttle buses work from the airport?! So much to learn – so long to wait…
But time passes (rather quickly as it turned out) and soon it was late January 2005 and time to book. By mid-February, everything was set in stone. By March, it was all paid for. Come first week of April, we had our tickets. It was all official now, but still seeming unreal…
…Until I had to ring Disneyland itself. On that first week in April, I called Guest Services to book A Walk in Walt’s Footsteps tour. There I was sitting on the floor in my bedroom, credit card in hand, blank piece of paper and pen ready, dialling the US. The phone rang, and after the usual “Your call is important to us” the music on hold began to play “Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me!” Then all of a sudden it was real – I really was going to Disneyland. The girl who answered the phone had an American accent! Wow!
May 1, 7:00am Penrith NSW. Get out of bed after a great sleep. This is it, I’m off. I even managed to pack the day before – rather than my usual effort of packing an hour before driving to the airport. I get to Della’s house around 9:00am; we are at the airport 10:30am. Check in; grab a drink; immigration and customs; board the plane; and take off at 1:25pm – we were on our way.
May 1, 10:00am Los Angeles International Airport. “Welcome to the United States of America” proclaimed the big sign as we get off the plane. We are getting closer; Anaheim is only 25 miles away. We grab our bags and head out to the roadside to grab a shuttle. Whoa, culture shock. Cars on the wrong side of the road. Momentarily they look driverless because we are seeing the empty right hand passenger seat. I look to Della with a big stupid grin “This is amazing, look at all these cars”. Big ones, little ones, strange ones.
We grab a Super Shuttle and head out onto the freeways, travelling south. The road signs point to towns and landmarks whose names are familiar, Pasadena, Long Beach, San Diego and there – that one said Anaheim – we must be getting close.
“Look!” says Della “that road sign says To Disneyland Drive!” – I missed seeing it, but we must be close, the towering rides of Knotts Berry Farm are to our right – no thanks, we’re going to Disneyland!
Both our eyes are darting around, trying to see something. We drive up an off ramp and to my right I see it – the back of the Matterhorn Mountain, rising above the green fencing beside the road – it is my first glimpse of our destination. I try to alert Della but my mouth wasn’t working properly. She misses it as she is looking to the left. I grab her hand, but the mountain has disappeared behind a building. I managed to get the word “Matterhorn” out of my mouth as we drive down Harbor Blvd. She now understands that we are alongside Disneyland.
I’m still trying to spot recognisable features whilst Della is pointing out various hotels that we looked at before settling on our final accommodation booking. “The Carousel” she says, “that’s where Wayne and Jennifer stayed, I couldn’t get that, it was booked out. And there’s the Park Vue, Nicole and Matt stayed there, I looked at that one too.” Meanwhile, I’m still looking to the right when I realize that the pylons we are driving by belong to the Disneyland Monorail – you remember me talking about icons? Well that is one of them, in full colour right by my window. Of course, it was just the track, but hey, the monorail must still run mustn’t it?
“That’s it!” yells Della “That’s our hotel” I look to the left and sure enough, the is the Park Place Inn sign that I had looked at so many times on the Internet, and to my right, the lanes leading into the bus turnaround at Disneyland. The sun is shining bright and warm. We clamber out the shuttle, tip the driver and as I grab my bags, the Monorail makes its appearance across the road – oh boy, we are here, and I’m excited! I look at Della and I’m laughing, and we haven’t even seen into the park yet – but we are so close. It is now approaching 1:00pm (6:00am Sydney – 23 hours awake).
“Sorry, your room won’t be available until 3:00pm” says Rachel behind the counter. So we dump the bags and head over the road. We might as well get the administrative stuff over and done with. We need to pick up our 14 day Park Hopper passes and A Walk in Walt’s Footsteps tickets.
We cross at the lights and walk under the yellow and blue “Disneyland Resort” sign. We stop for a second as the monorail once again passes overhead. I grab the camera off Della and take picture number 1 of our holiday – a picture of the back of Della’s head as she walks up the pedestrian walk alongside the bus turnaround. A trickle of guests is walking towards us, merchandising bags in hand. I snap another photo when Della turns around – she wants to continue walking, but I’m still soaking it in, not wanting this first day to grow any older. I keep moving now, and we head to the bag screening, and our first interaction with Disney cast members. Naturally they are pleasant and smiling and wish us a wonderful day.
Take a deep breath – we are on the cusp of entering the Esplanade. Music is playing and to our left, I see the big CALIFORNIA sign through the trees. Of course, the “A” has been covered with a huge traffic cone – I’d seen that on the Internet at home just a day ago promoting the Block Party Bash – now it is here in front of me. Della spots a bench with Mickey heads and we plonk ourselves down. This is just too much for us. We had arrived.
I go to the ticket booth with my voucher, and once again speak to a fabulous cast member. I get my two Park Hopper passes and we head over to Guest Services, just to the left of the Disneyland gates. There is the Disneyland railway station – another image from my mind’s eye coming to life. There’s Guest Services, and there’s Della standing beside me crying…uh-oh… She wasn’t upset, just happy, and I knew this because I felt the same way. We weren’t even in the park yet, but the atmosphere, the music, the happy people – such a contrast to 13 hours in an aeroplane – the emotion of finally making it here was bubbling up.
We sat down and breathed it all in, calming the emotions before I stood up and got our guided tour tickets. Now we were off to Downtown Disney – we were leaving the parks to later. Merchandise, merchandise, merchandise! Della headed straight to World of Disney – a natural choice given the scarcity of decent Disney goods since the stores closed in Australia.
We give the shopping area a once over and head back to the motel. We finally get into our room and call home – “yes, we’ve arrived safely, no we are not too tired, yes we are having fun – seeya in a couple of weeks.”
The time is now 4:00pm (9:00am Sydney, 26 hours awake.)
At this point, I thought we were done for the day. But I also knew that we couldn’t go to sleep – we’d wake up at 1:00am and be in all sorts of trouble. Della was keen for a quick look into Disneyland, so we grabbed the camera, and headed back over the road.
Through security once again, but this time we walked towards the gates at Disneyland, the music was still playing, the sun is still shining. “This is it” I said, we were heading in. I hand over my pass and the smiling attendant who said “Oh wow, first time in?”
“Yep” I replied, “Just got off the plane from Sydney” – The literal truth.
“Enjoy you stay then” he replied. I was pretty sure I would!
We get through the gate and the Mickey Mouse flower garden is screened off by a construction wall. Beside that wall stands Rafiki, playing with a small number of kids. “Oh wow look at him” says Della and I’m too excited to grab a photo. We go to the right, under the arch that takes us into Main Street USA. The vista opens up before us like an image from a postcard. People walking around, kids calling out, everyone with happy faces. We walk over to the flag pole and take a photo of the dedication plaque – my first photograph within the park. We then grab a bench, pull out the map and determine what our first moves will be.
“YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE, THE DISNEYLAND LIMITED NOW LEAVING FOR A GRAND CIRCLE TOUR OF THE MAGIC KINGDOM WITH STOPS AT NEW ORLEANS SQUARE, MICKEYS TOONTOWN, AND TOMORROW LAND – ALL BOARD!”
Well, that answers that question, we walked up the steps to the Disneyland Railroad, boarded the train and did the “Grand Circle Tour”. Our adventure had begun.
“Look at that”
“Wow – must be Big Thunder Mountain”
“The Mark Twain!”
“That has to be Toontown!”
We were calling out the sights as we saw them, picture book and television images coming to life before us. We get off the train and step back into Main Street – right across the road from Mickey Mouse, standing outside the Main Street Opera House – practically by himself. We run over, and Della gets her first character photo. We observe children with autograph books…now we’ve got to get one of them too – can you believe that? The characters are signing autographs!
We walk down Main Street, taking in the shops as we go. Down at the Plaza, we see where Channel 7 has been filming the Monday morning Sunrise show – it is now approaching 6pm (11am Sydney – 28 hours awake). We get some photos in the plaza, and I nod to the statue of Walt and Mickey.
We head towards New Orleans Square, moving through the lightly crowded streets, just observing and laughing and trying to take it all in. Before us is The Haunted Mansion, wait time 5 minutes. “Let’s do it” says Della and we join the line. 60 seconds later, we are enjoying our first E-ticket attraction. I’m astounded by the Haunted Mansion, the music and special effects – this isn’t the ghost train from Manly Fun Pier in 1980!
We come out of The Haunted Mansion and straight into Pirates of the Caribbean. Once again, this is a ride I knew from the Wonderful World of Disney. Once again, a triumph of Imagineering design.
It is getting late in the day. We are tired and begin thinking about a bite to eat and retiring to our hotel. But beforehand, there is a ride that holds a special place in Della’s heart. 21 years before, she had come to Disneyland with her family with this one special attraction in mind. This attraction was also well known to me, as I had seen it on the opening credits every Saturday for many years – the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party – the spinning teacups. When she arrived just before Christmas in 1984, the teacups were inoperative, undergoing a winter service. In the 7 years I’ve known Della, whenever the subject of Disneyland was raised, she always mentioned her disappointment in not getting to ride.
We pull out the map, and begin navigating our way towards Fantasyland. And there amongst the trees stood the teacups. Better still, there was no one in line. We walk through the queue line and jump in the blue cup. I’m sitting opposite Della and grab a quick photograph before we set off. Spin, spin, spin, and we are laughing our heads off. We’ve finally ridden the teacups! For Della, it was a 21 year quest, for me, it was a trip into childhood memories. It is a quick ride, and certainly not an e-ticket special, but for the both of us, it is the defining moment of that first day, the culmination of 12 months planning and a lifetime of waiting and wishes.
Our first day over, we go to Downtown Disney, grab some food and head for the hotel. A shower and off to bed. It is 10pm (3pm Sydney time – 32 hours awake). The alarm is set for 6am – we’ve got to get up early for our Walk in Walt’s Footsteps tour. This would put our body clocks in order, and set the scene for the long days ahead.
Over the next week and a half, we encounter so many new experiences. The park made us laugh and cry through sheer fun and happiness. We had many fine experiences, but I must close with something that was unplanned but epitomised Disneyland and its cast.
On the 5th of May, after the fireworks and Fantasmic, we were shuffling out of the park along with tens of thousands of others. As we approached the arch under the Disneyland Railroad, there was a small group of station workers standing on the bridge. One cast member began a chant to the crowd:
“When we say Mickey, you say Mouse
Railroad Cast : Mickey
Crowd : MOUSE
Cast : Mickey
Crowd : MOUSE
“When we say Magic you say Kingdom”
Cast : Magic
Crowd : KINGDOM
Cast : Magic
Crowd : KINGDOM
When we say “Good” you say “Night”
Cast : Good
Crowd : NIGHT
Cast : Good
Crowd : NIGHT
A huge cheer went up from everyone in the crowd at that point, there were thousands of people around us and we had all joined together in the cast member’s chant. We walked out of the park that night laughing and cheering with everyone else. It was simple moments like this that ensured that Disneyland for us had become the Happiest Place on Earth.