The excitement of arriving at Disneyland begins before you even enter the park and then unfolds like a giant storybook.
Whether in line to get tickets or to gain entry, the music will lift you up and sweep you in and remind you why, no matter how old you get, that the very essence of The Happiest Place on Earth is what draws you into its unconditional embrace each and every time. Just standing in line, you’ll start to feel like you’ve come to the right place because everyone around you shares that in common, and everyone is happier still for the music that fills the playful soul even without being conscious of it. And that’s just a prelude to the magic that is to come.
You know you’ve truly arrived when you pass through the turnstile and find yourself in front of the pristinely manicured Mickey flowerscape that rises to the iconic Disney railroad and out to the Main Street entrances on either side. Surely, every butterfly and bird is extra special here, and enviable for getting to flutter and flit upon streams of air when all you can do is contain your body from running in every direction all at once. This is why, in case you’ve forgotten, children jump up and down. The reassurance that perfection can be maintained, much less achieved, is why, deep down, you believe that wishing upon a star is more than a wistful lyric, and that if you dream your heart’s wish, it can come true.
And still, you haven’t fully arrived—not until you pass through the concourse (left or right, no need to overthink), beneath the railroad track, that opens to Main Street, where you officially “leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.” Now you have arrived. The music harkens to yesteryear, when clydesdales were all the horsepower one needed to trolly the length of the town and back. All the more the desire to run in every direction, but the Dapper Dans are singing barbershop, or a 20-piece orchestra is playing the Star Spangled Banner, or Tigger and Goofy are giving autographs, or it’s just a beautiful day and the flowers are bright and pretty and the shops on Main Street have a fresh coat of paint, and you just have to stop and breathe and take it all in for just a little while, just for the sake of forever.
One of the many wonders of Disneyland are the “stop and smell the roses” spots that would make almost any child cry and stomp vehemently for having to spend even a minute of boring adult time when there’re so many really fun things to do. Granted, if you’ve got the park all to yourself, you’re not a frequent Disney flyer and the only reason to stop is to look at a map, use a restroom or have a necessary meal, you may want to bookmark this bit for a later date.
However, for those who see the benefit of the breather, to recuperate, regenerate, soak up the surroundings, or all of the above, Disneyland has a number of special little places that will forever reside in your heart for what relatively little time you may spend there.
Not everyone stops long enough to appreciate Disneyland’s many facets beyond the obvious. But when you do stop, to share an ice cream, enjoy a cappuccino, have a snack and a refreshing beverage or consider your next steps, there are places that can take you out of time and space as you know it and restore whatever it is you’ve run low on.
We’ve watched the sun go down in Toontown, listening to the chicken opera in the little park while licking a sour watermelon lollipop as parents hoisted their sleeping children over their shoulders and back to Main Street, leaving Toontown all but deserted. We’ll have a pick-me-up Power Ade in the cul-de-sac off Main Street, behind the apple and pickle cart while listening to Minnie Mouse take a piano lesson and Goofy gargle in the shower. We used to start the day with beignets and espressos in New Orleans, listening to a jazz quartet as sparrows played in the bushes. Sometimes we just watch the new duck families in the peppermint-striped covered pier behind the Matterhorn before heading off to our next destination. In the family nether-hour, in between lunch and dinner, the Mexican restaurant in Frontierland is a vacation spot where the bougainvillea blooms brightly, the cacti stand tall, and hummingbirds and lizards are a source both of stillness and sudden speed. And sometimes there’s a show in front of the Golden Horseshoe Saloon that perfectly caps our little romantic getaway and gets us on our way.
Fanciful hangouts are plentiful in the park, and will also vary depending on weather, crowd, time of day, time of year, etc., etc., but finding just the right spot at just the right time is always easy when you let your heart lead the way. Just follow the music or a flock of ducks or the direction opposite of the flow of traffic. Where there’s a small table with two chairs, or an unoccupied nook seemingly undiscovered, you may see yourself there; and if you do, try it on. It will undoubtedly reveal a perspective you never otherwise would’ve had.
At a certain point, when there’s still daylight in the air but evening is on its heels, the lights come on. It’s a subtle shift, like the tide changing, and you start to notice the carts selling light-emitting wonders that you may not be able to resist, and people lining the streets in anticipation of the nighttime festivities. Parades and fireworks and ice cream and balloons can all be inhaled if you close your eyes for even the briefest of moments.
Then all at once you notice the lights, as if the sky went dark at the flick of a switch even though it happened at the speed of gradual. The park is renewed in its nighttime garb, casting itself in illuminated color and presenting itself in an entirely new light that invites renewed exploration. The music feels louder and convinces you to stay. Your feet wish to be unburdened and you want to oblige, but wait, but wait, but wait. Why not just find a place to sit where you can see the fireworks. It doesn’t have to be the best seat in the house, but a seat would be nice. Maybe the other side of the castle—the Small World side—where there’s likely to be fewer people. It’s worth a look. Surely it’s at least worth seeing Mary Blair’s Small World facade all lit up. It is, it is, and you light up for seeing it. Then everything goes dark. Really dark. Completely and utterly dark. Your heart beats excitedly. A small part of your properly programmed brain wonders why it isn’t afraid and thinks maybe it should be. Certainly it could find reasons to be, but decides against it. It would rather trust in Disney and enjoy the moments of anticipation before the real fun begins. And with a mighty preface of a drum roll originating from the center of the earth, a brilliant white star shoots across the sky, and only your sense of awe prevents you from remembering to make a wish. But you don’t need to make a wish, because it just came true. The sky is alight with dancing embers of color that appear to burst out of nothing and then drift weightlessly towards you as if in approach of a celestial hug. You’ve seen fireworks displays before, but this is a show. It has a story. It has a beginning, middle and end. And at the end, everyone is one. One with joy, with tears, with tears of joy, with laughter and humility for displaying tears of joy with complete strangers who are now all one for feeling as if they’d wished upon a star and their wish all at once was granted.
You join the slowly departing herd, all in a daze of exhaustion and exhilaration. You know your feet hurt, but it doesn’t matter. You know there will be another line to wait in to catch the tram, but it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that your relationship with your inner bliss has just been restored, and the person you shared it with feels exactly the same way.