My Happiest Place on Earth

August 10, 2020

I have an obsession with Disney. There. I said it.

As a child, I loved Disney because it was fun, colorful, and bright. I was enraptured with the characters and the stories. It stood for everything I believed in and it brought my family together for movie nights every week. Nestled between my parents and my siblings, popcorn in hand, we’d watch our favorites. And I’d feel completely at home.

I’d say that my love of Disney isn’t entirely mine, though. My father instilled it into me when I was young. I remember asking him if we could watch a movie and him asking if we could watch Mulan. I remember his love for The Incredibles and The Emperor’s New Groove. But what I remember most of all is his wonderment and pure child delight whenever he was at Disneyland.

I was 5 or 6 the first time I remember going to Disneyland. I remember bouncing in my seat in my first-grade class, just itching for the intercom to come on and announce that I was being called to the office. Lunch came, but of course, I didn’t bring a lunch! I’d be getting one with my family on the road.

My teacher didn’t believe me. She called me a liar and forced me to get school lunch. The intercom sounded, but the words couldn’t be understood over the hustle and bustle in the cafeteria. My mom found me crying at a table, but she quickly wrapped me up in a hug and said that I could bring my chocolate milk with me. I spilled it in the car.

Then we were on our way across the country and I fell asleep watching the countryside whip by. The next thing I know, we’re at Disney. I remember meeting Mickey for the first time and Winnie the Pooh.

winnie the pooh

A later picture of me with Pooh.

I remember walking hand in hand with my parents, and waiting with trepidation outside Splash Mountain and the Haunted Mansion with my brother because I was too afraid to go in. I remember wearing my Snow White dress and getting soaked on the Grizzly River Run. I’ve been told that I loved the Tiki Room and the Country Bear Jamboree. I lost 2 teeth on that trip. One on the esplanade leading into Disneyland and another when I ran into a glass screen in the hotel chasing after the most enormous bird I’ve ever seen.

My dad was diagnosed with cancer that same year. I didn’t know what that meant.

The next time we went, I was 11. It was Halloween time and we went with the whole family, including my little niece and nephew. I remember that I wore my favorite outfit the first day at the park and we took pictures in front of the giant Mickey-head pumpkin. I was still too frightened to go on any of the major rides. I remember standing on the roof of our hotel with the little kids watching the fireworks show from afar.


My dad had almost made it 5 years without cancer. But it was back. But he had beat it once before, and he could do it again.

Sometime after that, I started planning trips to Disneyland every January/February. I’d spend hours researching the best times to go, what to eat, and all of Disney’s little secrets. That little piece of happiness would keep me from getting too depressed in my doldrum months. Even if we didn’t end up going.

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A little known secret. That bulb is half white and half red so that the pattern continues around without repeating colors.

In August 2012, we decided to make a last-minute trip. We planned it in less than two weeks, from the moment we made our decision, to the moment we went on the plane. This trip was just me, my parents, and one of my brothers. I was 14. It was a magical whirlwind. I’d never been on a plane before and I think my family wishes they filmed my response. I bounced in my seat, anxiously awaiting take-off.

Once we touched down in California, we walked to the park even though it was dark. Just to see a glimpse of that castle. It was the first time I cried walking into Disneyland. It wasn’t my last. I remember collecting leaves from plants around the park and in California for a science project due back home. We ate dole whips like crazy and for once I rode every ride. It started by accident, with me not knowing that Big Thunder Mountain was a roller coaster. Half-way through the queue, I realized my mistake. But on the ride, all I felt was adrenaline and happiness. I laughed like a maniac, and coming off the ride we immediately headed over to California Adventure to ride California Screamin’ before I lost my nerve. I’ve loved roller coasters ever since.

I remember my dad getting really tired and going to lay down in the nurse’s station while we went on another ride. We ate so many dole whips because he’d recently had gamma-knife radiation therapy, and his throat was sore from it.


A picture with Maynard, one of the more well-known cast members at Disney.

But I also remember the way his eyes lit up when we watched Fantasmic! and the ginormous 70-foot dragon appeared. I remember walking up Main Street USA with him and looking for hidden Mickeys. I remember riding the monorail and hearing my parents and brother talking about naming something Tigger. I blew it off, not realizing what they were discussing. After we got home, a kitten showed up after school one day. We named him Bunter.

I was 16 the next time we went to Disneyland. Me, my parents, and two of my brothers. We were able to go for my birthday and my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary.

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Beignets to celebrate 30 years!

We got free beignets, rode every ride, and sang just about everywhere we went. I managed to convince my English teacher to let me write a research paper on Disneyland, so I was there for “field research.” That meant that I snuck vials of water from the Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and It’s a Small World back home with me. I made two and gave one to my English teacher with my report. He drank it.

walking into disney

I remember standing in line for the Pirates of the Caribbean and singing pirate songs with my brothers. The other people in line clapped for us. My mom brought my dad back to the hotel early on at least one of the days. He was too tired.

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The last time I went to Disneyland, all my siblings were there. I was 18. There were at least half a dozen small children with us. My aunt came. I know my father was there, even if I couldn’t see him. I cried a lot.

On our last day, the siblings and my mom all rode Star Tours together. I’m not sure why we chose that particular ride as our ride to honor my father. But we did. It was the last time all of us were together as just us with no kids or spouses.

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Disneyland is a special place. It’s a place where you can be a kid again if you let yourself. It’s a place where “You leave today and enter the world of Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy.” And no matter how old I get, I will always get a twinkle in my eye when I hear the music on the esplanade and enter the tunnel into Main Street USA. They say that Walt Disney is always at Disneyland. I think that as long as I’m there, my father is too.

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