My senior year of college at Arizona State, my best friend and I wanted to do something during Spring Break. It would be our last one together. I didn't really know what I'd be doing after graduation, other than returning home with my degree in theatre. Yeah, friends were looking at MFA programs, and that probably would have been the track I would have taken. But my life would follow a much different path.
Being as close to California as we were, we decided on Disneyland. I'd never been, and we were sure to have a good time. We stayed at a hotel outside of the park (there was only one at the time!) to "save" money. It was a life-changing trip.
After I stepped through the gates, I was completely taken. We spent an entire day on rides and enjoying attractions. We closed out our evening by standing on the bridge over Pirates of the Caribbean (before the political correctness AND the movie changes) and watched Fantasmic! Tears of joy, amazement, and overwhelming desire flowed when the dragon appeared toward the end. Thankfully, I had the steamboat finale and exit music to compose myself before heading off to be stunned by the Main Street Electrical Parade and the Fantasy in the Sky fireworks.
I knew I had to work there.
I was made to work there. I was about to finish my degree in stage management. My whole life was ahead of me. I had to make Disneyland part of it.
We went to the administration office (Team Disney Anaheim) the next day and applied for jobs. I don't remember everything, as it's been many years, but I think we might have even had a preliminary interview. We tooled about southern California, taking in the sites...and finally returned home.
Toward the end of April, I was asked to return to Anaheim for another interview with the Entertainment Department. The interview went well, but I was told they weren't hiring at that time. I was crushed! But something else would come along. I had a list of other theme parks to look into.
Days before graduation, I received a call. I had a six week gig at Disneyland, stage managing Grad Nites. I gathered my few belongings and headed west. Little did I know this would be the hardest, but most exciting thing I'd do for a long time.
Before Grad Nites wound down, my supervisor asked if I'd found a place to live. I'd been staying with a friend. I quickly found myself a nice little apartment in Anaheim...because I had a job! I began to train on productions like The Festival of Fools and Fantasmic! I won't spoil the magic, but let's just say I learned the ins and outs of Bucky the Dragon...even got whacked upside the head a time or two by his wings. I managed weddings, smaller productions, and even events with some pretty big-name stars. On nights I wasn't working, I'd slip into the park to enjoy the fireworks and parades. Amazing time of my life.
I had to leave, though. After working there for three and a half years, I hadn't advanced positions and didn't have benefits. I really wasn't making much more than when I started, and I had to supplement my income by working at a small, independent bookstore (yes, it all started there...) I landed a management position with Club Disney, a local play facility for kids. They had decided to open one in Denver, which was much closer to home.
So why this long story? Well, I'm feeling a little reminiscent tonight. We've been listening to a Disney CD in the car, and the first track is the Main Street Electrical Parade theme. I love telling about my first week in the park, when I got to wag Elliott's (from Pete's Dragon) tail in that parade. I pulled up a few videos on YouTube for my kids to see the magic. We haven't been able to take them yet...and I imagine they will have to wait for a road trip in college to experience it...but this at least allowed them a little taste. And of course, my girls are obsessed with Frozen, just like the rest of the world. Finding videos with Anna and Elsa are one of their favorite computer pastimes.
Recently, I had the opportunity to return after 15 years. Things had changed quite a bit. We had a disadvantage because we went just after Memorial Day. Super crowded and super hot. With the addition of Downtown Disney, California Adventure, and the massive parking structure, I found myself a little overwhelmed. And sadly, as we waited in line at the Haunted Mansion, I noticed two trashcans overflowing. That wouldn't have happened in my time... Little things like that make all the difference. We had fun, though. And my prayer was, "Please don't make me want to stay." The last time I had visited, staying was all I could think about.
Now that I'm a couple months out, though, I'm only remembering the good parts. I'm not thinking about the traffic and traveling long distances to get anywhere. And the expense. And the crazy amounts of people. (I'm listing these to remind myself...) Yet, I want to go back again. And I want to take my Dingoes.
I loved my time at the Happiest Place on Earth. I was one lucky girl, to be sure! I made some good friends--and I'm still in touch with several of them. I met some interesting people. I did some incredible things. And I've got some great stories!
Award-winning sci-fi author * Christ follower, wife, and mom * broadcast content producer. And yes, I am a real duchess. http://amzn.to/2eLTlH3