I would like to introduce you to these two lovely people. For anyone reading this that may not know which of these is not like the others, I'm talking about the dashing young gentleman to the far left and the smiling brown beauty to his immediate right. They are Garrett and Ashley, respectively, and though I just met them, I feel blessed to call them two of my closest friends.
Since I've already let the cat out of the bag in my first entry about Disney, I'm just going to do my best to tell this story in chunks and link it all together like a crazy person. As I mentioned in the entry "WE SAID YES" Carley, my girlfriend of the last 7 years, and I got engaged during our trip to Disneyland this year.
When I started my journey that morning to Disneyland, the engagement ring box in my recently purchased CamelBak backpack, I couldn't get into my usual "Disney" zone because I was so distracted. I wanted everything to be perfect and the thought of that moment being anything less had my palms sweating and my stomach flipping.
We had an early entry to the park that morning so the gates were opening at 7:00 am therefore I requested to be walking into the park no later than 6:00 am. Jacqueline, Carley's mom, and Leslie, Carley's sister, were on the trip with us and graciously humored my outlandish Disney rituals. After calculating the proper timing to accommodate the return of the rental car, hotel check-out, shuttle from airport to new hotel, hotel check-in, McDonald's breakfast run, and arrival at the gates at 6:00 am, we figured we needed to leave the hotel at 4:30 am and wake up about 45 minutes prior to leaving the hotel. Since Leslie and Jac weren't flying in until 11:00pm the night before, the one thing we didn't calculate was sleep.
The next morning, we stood waiting for the shuttle dressed in our matching tee-shirts full of Disney Spirit. I turned on my Disneyland playlist on Spoitfy on my phone and set it down on the bench to set the mood and mask my impatience with the tardiness of the shuttle driver.
We threw our bags in the back of the dark blue van and I climbed in last and sat next to Leslie on the front bench, Car and her mom behind us. I was so excited to have Leslie and Jacqueline there to help make this day as special as possible for Carley. If the ridiculousness that we'd already shared the night before and the morning so far were any indication of the fun we were going to have over the next three days, this was shaping up to be one helluva great trip. We were playing Disney Theme song trivia, reviewing park strategy, and laughing and joking about everything. We hadn't even arrived at our hotel and things were already running exactly according to my Disney routine.
Even on the van ride to the hotel, all of my energy was focused on doing everything possible not to tip her off about the impending engagement. I was nervous and doing my best not to let it show. I looked forward through the windshield, happy that we had been early enough to see the sun rise, and talked strategy with the Girls. We had a solid plan in place that would put us in front of the Disneyland castle about 30 - 45 minutes after entry to the park. I wanted to propose at that specific spot because I knew there would be a Disneyland photographer stationed there to capture it all on camera. My agenda was to propose as soon as possible so I could finally share my excitement with Carley about the engagement and enjoy our Disney experience to the max. It was a flawless plan and Jacqueline and Leslie helped stealthily confirm what we had in place.
After checking into our hotel early and taking our luggage to the room, we walked to the McDonald's in the adjacent parking lot for breakfast. My stomach was in no mood to eat but I walked in with the group in honor of the most sacred of Disneyland rituals, "We always travel as a unit."
The mixture of excitement from my proximity to the entrance of Disneyland, nervousness from the proposal, and the smell of McBreakfast wafting through the lobby was more than my anxious stomach could handle and I started to feel ill. I whispered to Leslie that I didn't feel well and would wait outside for them. The fresh air felt great but it didn't ease the queasiness. Egg McMuffin, hashbrowns, and Parfait in hand, we headed toward the park. After only a few steps, my stomach gave out and I started to heave. I fell behind a little and pulled off the side of the sidewalk and heaved again. Then walked a few steps. Then heaved. Then walked a few more steps. Then heaved. Leslie and Jacqueline, determined to prevent themselves from joining me at the side of the walkway, giggled and sped up a few extra steps, just out of ear shot. It was quite a ridiculous sight.
Apparently, emptying my stomach a bit was all I needed to get my head back in the game. As soon as we reached the front entryway, I broke ahead of my group into a dead run. I threw my hands above my head, lanyard swinging from side to side, slapping me in the chest and neck as I dashed toward the bag check line. I didn't expect to run the entire quarter mile stretch at a full sprint but that's exactly what happened. About half way down the path, I realized that there was a line with no one else lined up and I stood a serious chance to be the first in line at the ticket booth. An unknown source of energy propelled me forward, shouting and waving my arms as I ran, fully prepared to nurse some serious laryngitis the following day. It was worth it. There I stood, one of 4 people standing in line that day, first in the line I was in.
About ten minutes later, when the rest of my party caught up to me at the gate, I had already introduced myself to the Cast Member waiting to let us into the park. She was telling me about a special candy cane making day that only takes place 4 times a year in December and that day was today, in the California Adventure park. It wasn't an advertised event and only people who knew when and where to go could participate. They start handing out wrist bands to the first 150 people that show up as soon as the park opened and ran out quickly.
In the line next to us was a young couple, about my age, and another woman in front of them, probably in her late 40's. They were joining in on the conversation and the excitement throughout the group was mounting. Unfortunately, our well-orchestrated park strategy wouldn't put us in the California Adventure park until the following morning. Our group decided we probably wouldn't go so we put it from our minds and we continued talking to the people in line next to us.
The young couple were Garrett and Ashley, from Arizona, and the other lady was an annual pass-holder but any other information about her is totally lost in the blur of my Disney Vision. I was acting foolish, as I often do when I'm excited about something, and having an extra parfait in our McDonald's order, we offered it to our new Disney friends. Jacqueline quickly decided that the granola was actually not up for grabs as part of the previous offer of the parfait. I helped emphasize that she was speaking only specifically about the yogurt and fruit portion of the parfait so if they were thinking that it only sounded good with the granola drizzled on top of the yogurt and fruit, they would probably not want to accept the parfait. It was a good bit and we ran with it for a while. Leave them laughing, I always say.
The cast member let us in and it was off to the races for me again. I shot out of the gate and raced in to be the first one to line up at the final entrance. I immediately met a Cast Member on the other side of the fence and we exchanged excited pleasantries. When my group finally caught up to me (again), we chatted with another Cast Member about the strategic line-avoiding course we had mapped out for the day.
Just a reminder, I was first in line. For the second time. Our matching tee-shirts were getting many positive reviews and I was happy about that. And I have to admit, I was looking pretty amazing.
It wasn't long before we were meeting and talking to everyone around us about their plans for the day. I turned around and the Cast Member who was guarding the entrance from what I'm sure she could only have assumed was a crazy person, was trying to get my attention. She asked me in a soft voice how many guests were in my party and I told her there were 4 of us. She opened the gate and let the four of us pass and closed the heavy green steel gate behind us. She told me that we, Carley, Leslie, Jacqueline, and I would be helping them open the park and were THE FIRST GUESTS IN THE PARK FOR THE DAY!!!! I thought for sure I must be dreaming but she asked for my ID and park pass, stamped my hand, scanned our passes, stepped aside and welcomed us onto the grounds. I was living a fairy tale and I was feeling that the stars were aligning to make this the perfect day I had dreamed it to be.
I started hyping the crowd, surprising them with my excitement and energy. I even spotted the friends Garrett and Ashely that we had met at the gate! I'll admit that I was even enjoying the bit of envy in the faces of a few anxious guests in line just a few spots behind me.
"10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...LET THE MAGIC BEGIN!!!" We shouted in unison.
Like the well-oiled machine that we had practiced to be, we each shot in the direction of our first planned ride, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. We raced to the right, ahead of the crowd, headed straight toward Main Street. We stopped suddenly at the first sight of the beautiful Christmas decorations on the buildings and above the main walkway down Main Street toward the Castle. The stage to our left was draped with beautiful white and silver lighting with rows and rows of chairs surrounding a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. We continued, at a slightly awed pace, taking in the wonderful sights around us.
|(This is actually a photo from the last day but hopefully helps paint a picture of the beautiful decorations in the park.)|
After Nemo, we stuck to the agenda and headed to Space Mountain. After the adrenaline of opening the park had worn off a little, the reality that our next plan was to inconspicuously take a path in front of the castle and set the stage for my proposal, had set in the pit of my stomach. I was in no shape for Space Mt. and decided to stay behind with Jacqueline and do some looking around and shopping. We waited for them at the exit of the ride and bumped into Ashley and Garrett again, coming off of Space Mountain themselves. They told us that they were going to go to California Adventure to get a bracelet for the Candy Canes. The girls came up behind us and they invited us to come with them. The prestige of the event seemed exciting and lucrative and we decided that it would only enhance our Disney experience so we went with them to get our candy cane bracelets.
That was pretty much the last time we were separated from our new friends for the rest of the trip. They fit into our group like a piece we never knew was missing. They were the exclamation point on the best sentence ever written. I was tentative at first to leave Disneyland for the other park and derail my well-rehearsed plan of proposing as soon as possible. I've never been so happy that I chose to go with the flow, unknowingly embarking on the best Disney adventure of my life with 5 of the best imaginable companions.