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California: Our Magical Day at Disneyland

Pokey (Pokey)

I thought it would be a blast to take my mom, Darleen, to Disneyland on her 80th birthday. I grew up in Southern California and my mother and father would often take my sister and I there. Mom tells me our first visit was in 1957. I was only three and don't remember, but I do remember many visits as I grew older, as a teenager and as an adult. My parents loved going there and I hoped Mom would get a kick out of spending her 80th birthday in a place where she had so many wonderful memories.

This is a (not so) "Minnie" report on our day at Disneyland with special VIP treatment, thanks to a handful of wonderful, dedicated Disneyland and Buena Vista Productions employees. My closest childhood friend works for the movie side of Disneyland; Buena Vista Productions. I hate to impose on people, but this was a SPECIAL occasion. I asked my friend Cawkey if she would be able to get us four passes and maybe, perhaps, "a little something special" because it was Darleen's 80th. I was hoping for, maybe a birthday cake or pictures with Mickey and Minnie. Well, my girlfriend got the ball rolling and much to my surprise and delight, we were treated like VIP's!

Disneyland at Halloween

Halloween at Disneyland

Back in April, my sister had bought three matching Disney tee shirts for us to wear. The night before Mom's birthday, Laurie and I went into Mom's bedroom, holding the tee shirts and we belted out the Mickey Mouse Club theme song. At the end of the song, we screamed "we're taking you to Disneyland for your birthday tomorrow"! Well, Mom started jumping up and down and Laurie and I joined in! We jumped and whooped and hollered so much it caused Mom's front doorbell to start chiming! We were laughing so much; it was one of those moments in your life that you'll never forget. We didn't want to tell her about the VIP treatment; wanting it to be a surprise once we arrived.

The fourth member of our Disneyland entourage was Mom's dear friend and neighbor Sue. She helped Laurie and I so much with Mom's big party, it was our pleasure to have her join us. Unfortunately we weren't able to get a matching tee shirt for Sue, but she is quite the fashion diva and did not disappoint by coordinating her outfit to match ours.

We left promptly at 9:15am and were pleased with no traffic snarls. We were asked to be at the Grand Californian Hotel by 10:30am where we would meet up with our Hostess for the day. Disneyland had arranged for us to have Valet Parking and, true to their word, we pulled up to the little booth, told the perky Disney employee our name and she placed a bright pink Valet parking card on the windshield and we proceeded around to the front of the hotel. Within seconds, car doors were opened; birthday greetings were given to my Mom (evidently out of the four of us she looked "80" **wink wink**) and the fun began.

We were supposed to meet a Host named Dean, but he wasn't able to be with us the entire day. Rebecca, whose smile and bubbly personality never waned the entire day, soon greeted us. The lobby of the hotel is breathtaking. It's like being inside a rustic lodge, but a 5 star rustic lodge! Rebecca gave us each a badge to wear. Mom, of course, received the Birthday badge and had her name printed on it. Laurie, Sue and I proudly wore our "Honorary Citizen of Disneyland" badges.

California Adventure Park is new to me. Where it stands used to be the main parking lot for Disneyland so I was totally confused and had no sense of direction.

This park opened in 2001. My last visit to Disneyland was in 1989. With Rebecca by our sides, we went through security (amidst "Happy Birthday Darleen" from any employee who noticed Mom's badge). We bypassed a long line of people waiting to get into the ride Soarin' Over California. We felt like celebrities! No stinkin' lines for us no sireee! Unfortunately one of the hang gliders wasn't operating so we decided to come back later in the day. We walked over to the Monster's Inc. ride where Mike and Sully rescue Boo! (Not near scary enough for the birthday girl or me!)

Little did Mom know that we had a special photo-op with Mickey and Minnie in front of Cinderella's Castle and we couldn't be late "for our very important date"! We crossed over to Disneyland and then the memories started flooding into my mind. It was exactly as I remembered, although everything was decorated for Disney's Halloween Time. Mickey's silhouette made out of orange pumpkins and white pumpkins. Pumpkin mania had taken over!

Our first stop was a private tour of Walt's apartment. The other guide, Dean, met us in front of the Fire House and led us around back where there is a private entrance; a spiral staircase, leading up to Walt's apartment. I learned that Walt stayed here during construction of Disneyland and once it was completed continued staying here, enjoying the view out the window of the smiling faces of the families as they first entered Disneyland. There is a lamp in the front window that is always lit, in memory of Mr. Disney. We heard amusing stories of Walt's grandchildren - can you imagine being Walt Disney's grandchild, what fun! The Jungle Cruise runs along behind the bushes in the back of the apartment. Our host told us that Walt's grandkids would hide in the bushes and jump out saying "oohga-boogha" as if they were jungle natives, to people on the Jungle Cruise ride. What a blast! The original Victorian furniture was there, including a gorgeous music box, family pictures, even the glass baby bottles for the children and the grilled cheese sandwich press! There were five showerheads in the shower stall. I guess Walt liked that all over clean feeling! We took pictures inside and it was such a treat to learn about this "secret" that I never knew about. Walt Disney was only 65 years old when he died.

Rebecca was in contact, via cell phone, with Mickey and Minnie's handlers and she escorted us to a small grassy area where we waited for "The Big Boss" (as she called Mickey) and Minnie. All of a sudden, we see Mickey and Minnie coming towards us and then there they were, as big as life! They were hugging Mom and kissing her, it was the cutest thing ever. Mom was like a kid, mesmerized and giggling like crazy. I was laughing and crying at the same time. We took a lot of pictures and people were gathering around us watching, wondering, "who the heck are those people" with Mickey and Minnie? They were so gracious and kind. And petite! We asked Rebecca how many people play the characters and as seriously as she could she said, "There's only one Mickey and Minnie". How silly of us to even consider that M&M weren't real!


Darleen with Minnie and Mickey

We waved goodbye and continued into Fantasy Land. Mom, Laurie, Rebecca and I went on the Teacups ride and we really got the cup and saucer going fast! I was laughing so hard I was wondering if Disneyland sold Depends. I wanted to go on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and Alice In Wonderland too, but the lines were long and VIP or no VIP, Rebecca couldn't sneak us in quickly.

We headed over to It's A Small World, where we had no wait at all. I remember back in its heyday guests would wait in line for an hour or more to get on this ride. Of course I loved the Italy dolls, the gondolier dolls and Leaning Tower of Pisa replica (funny how the Small World song stays with you forever).

I was ready for a glass of wine at this point, but there is no alcohol at Disneyland (at least not for us - we're not that special). It was very hot so we paused for a bottle of water and strolled around Fantasy Land until it was time to head over to New Orleans Square where we had lunch reservations at The Blue Bayou. We asked Rebecca to join us, but she graciously declined. The poor dear was probably looking forward to an hour away from the four of us! This restaurant is exactly the way I remember it. It is actually part of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. You feel like you are dining along the banks of a bayou, complete with tiny lights and the sounds of crickets, frogs, and banjo music. We all ordered the signature Monte Cristo sandwich that was perfect, deep-fried bread which is soaked in egg batter, filled with ham, turkey and Swiss cheese. It was served with blackberry preserves and a light potato salad. I believe each sandwich was around $23. Yes, pricey, but well worth it. We had a table right along the banks of the river, and Mom was treated to a birthday dessert that we all enjoyed.

Rebecca met us and we headed over to The Haunted Mansion ride. This ride is much different than I remembered it. The entrance and actual vehicle you are in is the same, but it is now modeled after the Tim Burton movie "The Nightmare Before Christmas". The ever so real looking talking lady's head is still inside the crystal ball (that always freaked me out)!

We walked through Adventure Land and went on the Jungle Cruise ride. We had so much fun, screaming and acting like kids. We could imagine Walt's grandchildren enjoying themselves by trying to scare everyone in the boat. Everything was exactly as I remembered, the one change were the "piranhas" jumping out of the water! Arrgghh, run for your lives! (We got splashed, but it felt good on this 80 degree day.)

Some of the rides I remembered as a teenager were no longer there such as the Monsanto ride. The illusion of the ride was it made you feel as if you were shrinking; stuck inside a microscope, with a big eyeball watching you. It was a great ride to "neck" with your boyfriend **wink wink**. The ride closed in 1985. Also, what used to be The Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, is now Tarzan's Treehouse. It looks exactly the same, just a different name on the rope bridge!

We strolled back over to California Adventure Park and rode on Soarin' Over California.

The four of us pranced ourselves up to the front of the line, thanks to Rebecca! This ride gives you the feeling of soaring over California in a hang glider. Now, I have this teensy-weensy fear of heights, but boy, this ride scared the bee-jeesus out of me! You could actually dangle your legs because you were literally lifted up and the screen was right smack dab in front of you. I had my eyes closed for most of the ride so I can't really say too much about it. What I did see (Rebecca held my hand to reassure me and would say things like "we're flying over Palm Springs now and it's really pretty") was gorgeous footage of the different areas of California. My Mom loved the ride and wanted to go on it again. I wanted a Dramamine and a shot of whiskey.

This park was closing early because they were having a special Halloween Trick or Treat party for paying guests that evening. The employees were setting up the trick or treat stations. What a fun evening it was going to be!

We strolled back to Disneyland and stopped off at the Guest Relations Office on Main Street. Rebecca took us into a side room where we waited. There was a guest book under glass and the page was opened to Paul McCartney's signature. Of course, I had to take a picture! When Rebecca returned she gave us 5x7 copies of the pictures the Disneyland photographer took of us with Mickey and Minnie! What a nice surprise (I was expecting to pay for them).

We had about 45 minutes before we were to meet Rebecca at the grandstand seating area to view the parade. We all went our separate ways to shop for souvenirs. (I treated myself to a chocolate cappuccino and peanut butter chocolate fudge). People were lining the streets for the big parade! I met the gang back at our designated spot and we all enjoyed the entertainment!

It was the perfect ending to a magical day. You could feel the happiness in the air, thousands of smiles surrounding you, everyone having the time of their lives! This was truly a magical day, one that I'm sure my Mom, sister, Sue and I will never forget.

One week later there was a knock on the door and the UPS man handed Mom a huge box. We look at the return address label and it is from Disneyland. My Mom says, "Will the fun never end"? Inside was a Mickey birthday basket, filled with all sorts of goodies and an adorable stuffed Mickey holding a birthday cake, and a lovely birthday card.

Looking back, I realize how fortunate we were to have spent such an extraordinary day at Disneyland. But, my Mom is totally worth it. She is a gem and we all treasure her very much. The only thing missing was my dad, but I'm sure he was sitting next to Mr. Disney himself, and together they were smiling, feeling the same joy that we did on that special day.


Slow Travel Community Photos: Pokey's photos of the trip

California - Disneyland for Grownups: When to go, hotels, tickets, restaurants, the rides, Shannon from CA

www.disneyland.com: Visit the Disneyland website before you go to find out about show times and closed rides.

Disney Dining Reservations: Or call (714) 781-3463. Dining FAQ - Blue Bayon Restaurant

Disneyland Resort Tour Services: (714) 817-2299

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