Growing up, my family made two trips to Disney World. The first was when I was three (from which I only remember getting my Mickey ears hat), and the second when I was eleven. I recall being so in awe of the whole Disney experience. From the corn dogs, the songs, the parades, the employees, to the rides, I loved how every square inch of the place was designed to make your experience a magical one. I remember afterwards begging my parents to move to Orlando because after all, shouldn’t that kind of magic and fun be experienced all the time? (Needless to say, we didn’t sell the family farm in Iowa and move to Orlando to become professional Disney-goers.)
Cut to present day, I am fortunate enough to have Disneyland 45 minutes away. I’ve had the great pleasure of enjoying the Disney experience several times with my stepdaughter, but we had only been once with my son AJ. We took him soon after his first birthday, which I admit, was a bit too soon. Even though he seemed to enjoy it, it was a far cry to what it means to him now. For starters, my son is a HUGE fan of Finding Nemo and Cars. If he could, he would watch these two movies all day, everyday. Thus, to see the sheer excitement in his eyes the first time he recognized his beloved Disney characters in ‘real life,’ was pure and utter joy. AJ was over the moon while exploring Cars Land, riding Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters, meeting Lightening McQueen, checking out the Cozy Cone Motel, and admiring Stanley’s Statue. His excitement grew to a new level on the following day while watching Daddy film an episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos around the Disneyland park. When AJ saw Daddy film a segment with Lightening McQueen, he truly viewed his Daddy on a whole new level of ‘coolness.’ AJ’s jaw dropped to the ground when he watched as his daddy shared laughs, gave high-fives, and seemingly started a friendship with his cherished Lightening McQueen. It quite literally left my toddler speechless. Daddy is friends with Lightening McQueen…say what!?
The high quality excitement and too-good-to-be-true reactions didn’t stop there. Perhaps AJ’s favorite was the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. He squealed and shouted “Nemo!” and “Dory!” every time he spotted them on the ride, which was quite frequently. (My apologies to those sitting near us.) My favorite was watching him jump out of his seat with more enthusiasm than I had ever seen from him during the Paint The Night Parade when seeing Nemo. It was truly a magical two days and it completely melted my heart to see my little boy be so moved by the Disney experience. I know he probably won’t remember this years from now, but I know my husband and I will. (I only have over 800 photos to show AJ when he’s older.) Though it wasn’t his first Disney experience, it was his first Disney visit where he was old enough to experience the ‘magic of Disney.’
We had an extra-special treat during our Disney visit. My husband won a one-night stay in the Disney Dream Suite (at a Disney-related function) and we were fortunate enough to schedule it during the same weekend. For those of you who may not know, the Dream Suite is located upstairs from Pirates of the Caribbean. It was originally planned as a private apartment for Walt Disney to entertain special guests and to use for his family, but he passed away before it was completed. The suite is absolutely STUNNING! It is beautifully designed and captures the very essence of the Disney inspiration. (It even has an exquisite horse from a carousel that is reminiscent to the one Walt watched his daughters play on when he first dreamed up Disneyland.) The suite is full of special effects, including a special button in both bedrooms labeled “goodnight kiss.” You can push it up to three times for various ‘surprises’ that appear in the room. My personal favorite was the master bathroom where the large master bath had a gorgeous stained-glass window lit by tiny stars (including a hidden Mickey) in a dome-like setting. The kids were entranced with the fireplace, which had a lovely silhouette of the castle and firework-like sparks from the fake fire. Just like the way details are carefully looked at in the Disneyland park to ensure everything you’re surrounded by is magical and special at all times, the same holds true for the Disneyland Dream Suite. Love is shown in the details. They put a lot of love into this special space and it was truly a dream to be able to appreciate it.
Once the guests had left and the park was officially closed, we all put on our bathrobes and ventured out with our lovely guide for a walk around the empty park. (We put our sleeping boys in the double stroller and took them along for our 12:30am-2am stroll around Disneyland.) It was surreal to be the only guests in the park. The guide was so sweet, as she was a trooper for agreeing to take so many pictures of us. And it was beyond fascinating to listen to our guide and learn about the little known facts and features as we aimlessly wandered around the park. The Main Street lights were still on so we took full-advantage of using the street for a little photo shoot involving clicking our heels in the air and acting like children again by doing silly Disney character poses. (My inner-child was never more awakened than during this trip!) We kept looking at each other saying, “OMG, can you believe we’re here?!” It was truly an unforgettable and amazing experience for all of us. (We had invited two of our biggest Disney-fan friends –legitimate Disney-addicts– as guests for the second bedroom in the suite.) Just like the first two days at Disney, I have a slue of photos from our truly enchanted middle-of-the-night adventure in Disneyland.:)
Overall, it was by far the best Disney trip we have ever before experienced. Staying in the Dream Suite was much like a fairytale. Thank you Disneyland for the smiles and memories. We loved every second!
Photos by Ashley Burns & Angela Ribeiro