Disneyland: … It’s the Most Magical Place on Earth
Like most humans, I know a little bit about Disney. The movies, the franchises, the characters, the merchandising (merchandising, merchandising, merchandising!). As with most people my age, I wore out the VHS tapes of The Lion King, Aladdin, The Aristocats (underrated in my opinion; always loved it), etc. when I was a kid.
But my family never got around to actually going to either of the parks (Disneyland and Disney World, never mind Euro Disney and Tokyo Disneyland; might as well have been on another planet).
Then the years went by (as they often do, faster and faster as you get older, goddammit), and what was once a fascination with all things Mouse-related became just another part of my childhood. I looked at Disneyland as just another theme park, like Six Flags or Canobie Lake Park (shout out to all my New Englanders out there). If you’ve been to one, you’ve been to them all.
Then I got married; which might seem like an odd segue, but the woman I married has a love for Disney that borders on the pathological. In a good way (I love you, honey).
She would tell me stories of this amazing place tucked away in a little-known town called Anaheim, where she spent some of the happiest times of her childhood. She talked about how incredible the rides were, how delicious the food was. But what I found the most interesting was how she described the atmosphere.
Amusement parks, to me (even Canobie, if you don’t time it right), were these massive, sweltering parking lots filled with sweating people, screaming children, burning ride seats, and overpriced food that inevitably left you making a beeline for the bathroom when you got home.
The way she described it, Disneyland was this paradise, in its own little bubble, outside of time and space, where everyone was happy and nothing bad could ever happen. I couldn’t believe it, maybe I didn’t want to believe it.
Then we went there, or more accurately, she dragged me there.
Even standing in the security line, waiting to get in, there wasn’t a frown to be seen. Everyone was… happy. Children laughed, the adults were smiling (probably because the kids weren’t giving them grief); there was something in the air that I’d never experienced before. I hesitate to call it electric because that implies tension — there was no tension. It was almost… contentment.
(Cue “A Whole New World”)
Then I walked through the gates and into the park, and something strange happened. My facial muscles contracted and contorted of their own volition and a massive smile wormed its way across my face. I hadn’t even done anything yet, and I was just standing there, staring down Main Street and grinning like an idiot.
If I want to mess with my wife I tell her they pump low grade tranqs into the air, just enough to get you feeling loose and goofy (Disney puns). But in reality, it really was like stepping into a little bubble, a Disney bubble. Everyone was so freaking happy.
To be honest, it was kind of off-putting until I got used to it.
The staff (cast members, whatever) are all courteous, they’re always smiling, they will literally drop whatever they’re doing to help you. Now, I realize that’s part of the indoctrination (yes, it’s indoctrination) that employees undergo, but it feels so genuine. Generally people can tell when someone isn’t being truthful or honest, but I didn’t get that feeling once while I was there.
I don’t know, maybe I got played, or maybe everyone genuinely was that happy to be working for Disney.
The food, oh dear God, the food. I was expecting traditional amusement park fare, the deep fried everything, the massive soft drinks, the bags of cotton candy and the complimentary bottle of Pepto.
What I got was beef po’ boys, loaded potato skins, beef skewers, seafood gratin, poutine, turkey legs that could’ve come off an ostrich, rack of freaking lamb (Blue Bayou is incredible by the way; if you can go, go); and that’s just the big kid food. Churros, Pineapple DOLEwhip, caramel apples literally the size of my head. It was all so freaking delicious.
Each little area (Tomorrowland, Frontierland, Downtown Disney, etc). was like walking into a different world. You get so many experiences, all so self-contained yet flawlessly strung together in such a way that you don’t even really notice it’s happening.
The characters walking around are all so damned happy to see you, greeting you like a friend they haven’t seen in a while. It was just… magical. Ugh.
It’s the perfectly curated experience for literally everyone. Men, women, young, old, solo or with a group, Disneyland caters to all comers. This isn’t even taking into account California Adventure, the park adjacent, oh no! We’re focusing strictly on the OG here.
Over the course of the several days we were there, I began to realize a very important fact: I never wanted to leave. I still don’t.
The cynic in me wants to write about how it was all a sham, how if you looked a little closer the wheels fell off the immersion, and all they really cared about was extracting every last dime from my wallet (it is an expensive piece of paradise).
But honestly, for what you get, I’d say it’s worth it. Now, admittedly, I went with someone who can rattle off the wait times for rides from memory and knows exactly what time of year to go (I can’t tell you; evidently, it’s a state secret), so others’ mileage may vary.
In the end, as much as it pains me to say it, Disneyland is every bit the magical place Walt wanted it to be way back when he was first drawing that little mouse in his garage.
P.S. My favorite ride is Pirates of the Caribbean, but Haunted Mansion is a close second.