|Sleeping Beauty's Castle, Disneyland, December 2011|
Boo! Disneyland would be tops – truly the happiest place on earth – without the mundane minutiae of life, you think. To achieve that feat, old Walt, who is immortalised in bronze at the end of Main Street with his friend Mickey Mouse, would have had to do some manufacturing of robot-like, non-pooping nor eating people to walk around his 'toony town, because humankind has the uncanny capacity to rain on one's parade and bring the whole show down.
(Imagine, for a second, being in a toy store as a child running wild... and then waking up to the sound of your parental alarm).
Furthermore, Disneyland is a place where children still throw tantrums (impressive, world-winning wobblies) and parents get disgruntled. Where people still have disabilities. Where there are rich people and poor people (who have saved their pennies to get there). Where there are attractive people and not-so-attractive people. Mean people and nice people. Ergo: Disneyland is not heaven.
But, if you take to Disneyland with a practical backpack full of provisions (drinks and snacks and an extra jumper and socks in winter), with some people who share an optimistic, childlike outlook on it all – whose hopes are not easily dashed by sore feet or the five hours (seemingly) it takes you to get into Toy Story Mania – you'll find your experience the better for it.
A stodgy breakfast of porridge, nuts and sultanas under my belt to sustain me through to morning tea, I joined my trusty Planet Blue group at the gates to Disneyland for day one of our park experience: day two would see us tackle Disneyland's nextdoor neighbour, California Adventure Park.
Entering the park, I took in the vibrancy that is Main Street, a tall Christmas tree the first hint that the park is transformed to an engorged Santa's workshop at this time of year. Our maps in hand, we resolved to stick together for as long as we could stand it, and I'm glad we did. Like a wardrobe full of dresses but no ball to go to, Disneyland is lonely flying solo.
Up past Sleeping Beauty's castle, we made our way to Fantasyland, home to the heroes and villains, princes and princesses, of fairytale mythology: Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty herself. A moment to contemplate feminism. Hmm. First ride stop: the Tea Cup, a tribute to Alice in Wonderland, a mild and lovely way to ease into the day albeit in a Mad Hatter kind of way.
Our predilection for whizzing around whetted, we moved onto Space Mountain, a thrill of a ride through a blackened galaxy with just enough dips to keep us on edge, followed by a screening of Captain EO (in 3D, which in the 80s would have been impressive), starring Michael Jackson. I may have sobbed. Such a talent he was and we have lost!
The duration of the day, until we gathered to "watch" the spectacle that is the nightly fireworks display, was spent navigating our way from Tomorrowland to Frontierland to Mickey's Toontown, stopping to fuel up along the way (when the sun set, the hot chocolates – served in gigantic paper cups – didn't go astray) and to take in a viewing of the Christmas parade.
Marching bands, elf-like dancers, acrobats, giant costumed renditions of Disney animations, Chipmunks in a car, a motorised Santa Toy Factory operated by Jiminy Cricket and Pinocchio, Woody on his horse, Snow White and the seven (giant) dwarfs but inches away... the kids all around us were smitten.
While "It's a Small World" has the capacity to freak a small child out, its little bobble-headed dolls representing all the nations of the world, and the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blaster takes some muscle, I most enjoyed the Pirates of a Caribbean ride (Captain Sparrow looked so lifelike!) and the Indiana Jones Adventure (girlhood crush!).
I also adored The Many Adventures of Winne the Pooh, an alternatively tame and sensible way (with a zany middle bit; what's in that honey?) to end the day shared with my girl Tamara when the others thought it fit to get drenched coming down Splash Mountain after dark (no, thank you!). We passed on the Haunted Mansion, too. The evening fireworks display was obscured by legions of people in Main Street, so we retreated and vowed to get there super-early the next night and stake out the best vantage point.
A good night's sleep behind us, we tackled California Adventure Park on Day 2, diving straight into things with The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The Disney parks aren't known for their wild rides, but this was enough to send one of our crew into a state of scream-for-your-life shock. I walked (wobbled?) away wondering when the punch line was coming (yes, I am so cool).
Taking to Ariel's Undersea Adventure took me right back to age 10 or 11, when my mother ushered my sister and I to our seats for a screening of The Little Mermaid. It remains a favourite. We did some California Screamin', having procured a nifty Fast Pass for the occasion (each visitor is given a Fast Pass to use, which fast-tracks you past the queue for a ride of your choosing) but I was far more terrified by Mickey's Fun Wheel, my stomach plunging to the bottom of our cart with each halting stop and turning over as we swayed and swayed and swayed (I want to be sick just thinking about it). That mouse is sadistic.
While I adored the Muppet's in 3D on the screen (oh, Kermie!), I shed a tear during the stage production of Aladdin. The genie was excellent with his improvised quips about Lady Gaga and all manner of current newsy people and things, but "A Whole New World" sealed the cry-baby deal for me: "I'm like a shooting star, I've come so far, I can't go back to where I used to be...". At that moment, I thanked God for the childlike spirit that possesses one who carries Christ within; who can delight in God, feel His presence and see his hand at work in the world and in our own lives.
Standing watching the fireworks display on our very last night, which at this time of year is choreographed to the tune of Christmas carols and Disney tunes, I found myself lamenting that I was not there with my husband and thinking, "Is this all a bit ridiculous? I'm soon to be 31!". And then God gave me permission to just enjoy it – to revel in the extraordinary detail, the sheer human work force, the coming together of people from all over the world, where many a Make-a-Wish dream comes true, while practising a humble gratitude.
I would never have asked God for a trip to Disneyland, but he sure does know the quiet longings of our hearts. That's the beautiful thing about having God in your life and Christ by your side. Our joy in Him, above all things, is reward enough, but it means you're never lonely, you don't have to be afraid of what other people think, you don't have to hide, and sometimes you are surprised.
"Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." (The Lord's Prayer, Matthew 6: 9-13)
A short video of my Planet Blue Tours trip is to come!
Girl With a Satchel