We stood in line with the 55,000 other people who would be at the park that day. It took nine minutes. We approached the little pole with the ears, put up our cards and our thumbs, and watched the spinning glow switch from blue to green. We were in!!! I was excited to enter the Happiest Place on Earth with Bill, who would be seeing it for the first time. We entered the gates, and there we were, on Main Street USA, while attendees and cast members bustled throughout. In front of us rose Cinderella's Castle, a shape almost as evocative as the ears themselves. (An interesting factoid now that I am an expert in all things Disney: Mickey's ears are always drawn as full circles, regardless of the angle viewed. So even though he turns sideways, which should elongate them, had he been drawn "accurately" (you know, for a mouse in clothes and gloves), the ears are always full circles, reinforcing that iconic ear image.)
Our first stop was the Pirates of the Caribbean experience, which has changed a little since I was young. Back in the day, we had to use tickets for the individual experiences, and the Haunted Mansion, the Pirates of the Caribbean, and Space Mountain, among others, required a blue "E" ticket, that was more expensive and sought-after than all the others. Today's experiences are all free once you enter the park, and the Pirates experience has been updated to include several appearances by the lovely and odd Jack Sparrow. A very convincing animatronic Johnny Depp hides in a barrel, attracts a pirate's dog, and basks in his own fortunes. A Disney ride with Johnny Depp? It really IS the happiest place on Earth!!!
We roller coastered on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain (we ignored the "you may get wet" signs and were dismayed to actually get QUITE wet), and then hightailed it to Tomorrowland, where Sue Ellen (have I mentioned how much she is the BESTEST EVER????) had secured fast passes for the experience of all experiences, Space Mountain. We headed eagerly over, glad to see no line stretching from the gate, when a nice male cast member stopped us. Sorry, Space Mountain is temporarily closed.
The world spun around me. I felt lightheaded. I heard the sounds of all my hopes and dreams crashing to the ground around me. My stomach jolted. The world. Was. Ending. "WHAT????"
The gentleman was very kind. He assured us it would open shortly and our fast passes would be good all day. I informed him, as calmly as I could, that it had been 30 years since I had been to the Magic Kingdom, and that all I wanted -- ALL I WANTED -- was to go on Space Mountain. He gave me some blah blah blah about how they had to keep it SAFE, and if something was wrong, they didn't want to ENDANGER us, smiling all the time, as he informed me that my HOPES and my DREAMS were CRASHING DOWN. He encouraged us to load the free "My Disney Experience" app on our phones to keep track of wait times on various rides and to learn when Space Mountain reopened. We later learned that because of our fast passes, Sue Ellen had been emailed when the ride closed and again when it opened. Technology is amazing, and Disney uses it perfectly. We did load the app, and we were able to return to Space Mountain just about a half-hour later, and we zoomed about in the dark. My day was made, and from then on, the rest was gravy.
In the intervening 30 minutes or so, Mark and I went on the tea cup experience, a Disney classic. While we waited in line we saw Alice, from Alice in Wonderland, on the tea cups. She was accompanied by a little blond girl, and as they spun, Alice waved to children who were watching, and she laughed and clapped with the little girl in her tea cup. I can only imagine how happy that girl is and how vividly she will remember her tea cup experience with Alice.
It was about this time when we realized some alcohol might be in order, and were dismayed to learn there is no alcohol in the Magic Kingdom (not so magic, I would say...) In retrospect, we were spoiled by the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. With the size of the crowd and the stress level of the children, alcohol probably would have complicated things dramatically. Apparently, the Be Our Guest restaurant, which is booked solid for months in advance, offers a single beer beverage to adults with enough foresight to have planned their late-May alcohol consumption in January.
Sue Ellen came through again, though, and booked us a dinner reservation at the Crystal Palace. The latest available dinner reservation was 3:30 p.m., but that would be the highest heat of the day, and that would be perfect. In addition, we would be dining with the characters from the Pooh world, and that turned out to be amazing. As the Disney park concierge hung up, she had asked, "Are you celebrating anything today?" and without missing a beat, Sue Ellen informed them it was Bill's birthday. He got a large "Happy Birthday, Bill!" pin and a card signed by Tigger, Pooh, Piglet and Eeyore. For the rest of the day, which went until nearly 11:00, every cast member -- every single cast member -- said, "Happy birthday, Bill!" as we passed.
We caught the afternoon parade, which was amazing. The costumes were elaborate and flawless, the dancers were smiling in spite of the heat, humidity, and 70 pounds of regalia, the floats were gorgeous, and the 20-foot dragon shot real flames above the crowds. Again, everything Disney does, they do perfectly. The parade was amazing. We found a spot to watch and were happily assisted by a nearby castmember who moved the crowd-control ropes to help us navigate our seat. We were serendipitously standing next to a cast member and her husband, along with their toddler grand-daughter, wearing a blue princess dress and tiara. (Why, why, WHY didn't I bring a tiara???) They gave us the inside scoop on working there and living near Disney, and they all agreed--it is an amazing place to work, with an emphasis on quality and pride.
We rode, we walked, we shopped, we ate and drank, we took in all the calm rides, like the river boat cruise, the jungle cruise, and the Country Bear Jamboree. The Country Bear Jamboree, by the way? HILARIOUS. I had visions of Chuck E. Cheez and reluctantly went in only to take advantage of the a/c and upholstered seats. I was way off. I highly recommend it.
About 8 p.m. found us sitting and resting under the statue of Walt himself, directly in front of Cinderella's Castle. At 9 would be the Electrical Light Parade, which I remembered as a child. I had looked forward to seeing how the parade had changed through the years, and with all the new technology I had visions of fiber optic lights, laser-like whooshes and many other delights. I was wrong.
The Electrical Light Parade hasn't changed one bit since I was a kid. The same characters ride by, the same light-bulb style technology shows off each detail, and the whole thing is decidedly old school. But not old, not falling apart. Every single bulb lit as it was supposed to, with the blinking ones blinking on cue. It was a surprising trip down memory lane, and all the better for being the same magical parade it always was. It was followed by an amazing "movie" shown on the castle itself, with fascinating 3-D effects as a result of being shown on a building. The sound was flawless--I never heard a single speaker crackle the entire time we were there--and the movie was an homage to all things Disney. Mickey is my man, and he made a sweet, humble appearance as well. It was fantastic.
The fireworks show, again, was great, and is another Disney icon, reminiscent of childhood vacations and also those Saturday evenings at home with the family watching the opening credits of the Wonderful World of Disney.