So now it’s Ryan’s turn. He turns the big 4-0 in early March, a milestone he’s been anxious about for months. I started my midlife crisis at 39, so by 40 I was all set. But for Ryan, I knew I had to take special measures. His anxiety coupled with lots of work stress set the light bulb off over my head about a birthday trip. But where?
I let the cat out of the bag early, because I didn’t want to take Ryan somewhere he didn’t want to be. He has this sense of not having seen much of the world and really likes big cities. But though we’ve been together for two years, we’ve only tripped as far as Cincinnati with each other. I offered a few suggestions: San Francisco; New York; Washington D.C.; Montreal…Disneyland. Then I annoyed him for weeks bouncing back and forth over the options when he had pretty much settled on San Francisco.
He knew better. We’ll get to Northern California. But there’s no better way I know for a stressed out person feeling/fearing their age to reconnect with their inner child and the joy said child entails than a flight to LAX followed by a drive down to Anaheim.
And I haven’t been back since 2005. So it’s time.
In the early 2000s before I moved to Chicago, I had an annual pass to Disneyland Resort–and I used it muchly, too. Sure, I’ve been to “The World”. I remember waking up upside down in my bed at the Polynesian when my sister (z”l) and her boyfriend took me to Florida for my third birthday in 1973. At Walt Disney World again when I was seven, with my Aunt Juanita and Uncle Ron and their family, I fell in love with the original Space Mountain, sharing a tandem seat with
my cousin Darcy Ann Aunt Juanita [who reminded me on Facebook I rode with her and scared her because I didn’t make a noise on the ride!]
But as I learned in 2002, you sit side by side on the better Space Mountain–and that one’s at the park where Walt walked. Disneyland Park, at Disneyland Resort, in Anaheim. Which was cheaper to fly to from New York and stay at versus Disney World in Florida back then–and still is, too, from Chicago. It became my “home” park in my mid-30s. I’ve missed it for a long time.
The double seats on Space Mountain. The smell of the pine trees in Critter Country. The far longer, far better Pirates of the Caribbean. Monte Cristos at the Blue Bayou inside said Pirates. The tandem-seated original Splash Mountain. Haunted Mansion where the stretching room really is an elevator. Mad Hatter Tea Cups with no giant tent on top. The Matterhorn. The amazing facade outside it’s a small world. The “goat trick” on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Indiana. Jones. Adventure. Soarin’ Over California (its full name, thank you very much), Hollywood Tower of Terror, Grizzly River Run, and the brand new Cars Land at Disney California Adventure.
And churros…everywhere churros.
Our trip is a weekend one over Shabbat. Back home in Chicago, we’ve tended to have angst-ridden visits to Six Flags Great America on the Jewish Sabbath. Usually ending with me complaining that, much as I like Great America, it’s sure no Disneyland. Violent thrill rides (some of which we’re too girthy to fit on and breathe) and ganging teenagers and rotten food and a less-than-classy atmosphere could ruin any Shabbat.
Disneyland isn’t those things. Sure, the height of a hot, crowded day when the lines are long and tempers are short can by trying. But Walt Disney created the place six decades ago to be an antidote to experiences like we often have at Great America. He wanted a place where families could go, escape the world, and connect with each other in an atmosphere of imagination, and wonder, and joy. And in the ‘land, girthy people fit on everything.
I can’t think of a better place to spend Shabbat and celebrate Ryan’s 40th birthday.
If your experience has only been the larger, emptier, Magic Kingdom park in Florida, it’s beyond an understatement to tell you, you really don’t know what you’re missing. The real magic’s in a completely different Orange County. (Yes, emptier. Disneyland Resort’s two parks have more rides and attractions packed into them than all four parks at Walt Disney World put together.)
I haven’t decided how many magical surprises I’ll spring on Ryan while we’re in California, but he already knows wearing his “First Timer” and “Birthday” pins from City Hall are non-optional. I’m hoping the magic works on him and helps him de-stress and laugh and relax and enjoy. It better. He has to come back home and live with me, and you know how I can get.
Guess maybe we’ll just have to keep going back.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.