I cried the first time I saw Mickey Mouse. I was 27 years old.
I did not have the joy of experiencing Disney World as a child. My dad is a musician and my parents are straight rock ‘n’ roll. There were no mini-vans, golden retrievers, or backyard barbecues in my early years. There were recording sessions, record promotions, and a house filled with creativity. We were a different kind of family, unconventional and cool. I loved it.
Yet still, I always longed for the magic of Disney. I watched all the animations and I religiously recorded the Disney Sunday movies from the television onto VHS cassettes. After about a thousand views, the white labels on the tapes began to lift off of the corners and my mother’s stout cursive hand written titles became illegible. I remember so vividly how the intro made me feel; the swelling of the symphonic version of “When you Wish upon a Star,” the sweeping shots that led me to the beautiful image of the Magic Castle that was surrounded by majestic bursting fireworks that fizzled to a magical trail from a shooting star that perfectly half-mooned the skyline of the castle. It gave me chills and left a sad little longing in my heart as I imagined what life would be like in that enchanting playground. In Little Sarah’s mind’s eye, it is exquisite.
My first steps into the park bring delightful greetings all around. Men in boater hats and striped vests usher me in as they sing a perfectly harmonized song that has been personalized for me. They are expecting me! Mickey and Minnie are front and center at The Magic Kingdom Castle. Mickey looks dashing in his classic attire and Minne is cute as a button in her signature polka dot dress. After we embrace and pose for photographs, they take my hands and proudly show me around the park like the dutiful King and Queen.
We enter the castle and the most splendiferous tea party is set up. EVERYONE is there! Donald and Daisy Duck, Goofy, Cinderella and Snow White. Ariel couldn’t make it because it would have too much trouble setting up a big water tank for her to enjoy a cup of tea and petit fours with us. Plus, she was on “vocal rest.” I quickly realize, she’s pretty high maintenance.
After my Disney crew and I are perfectly stuffed with sweet treats and fizzy teas, we are raring to go tour the rides together.
The cool, dark air tingles my skin on Space Mountain and it inspires me to become an astronaut. A dream that once seemed impossible. Snow White and I laugh hysterically as we spiral out of control in a giant pink and gold teacup at the Mad Tea Party. It is fun getting dizzy with her, but her syrupy sweet high-pitched giggle is pretty irritating. I admire Cinderella’s soft periwinkle gown as we gracefully soar through the air on the Dumbo ride. Much to our surprise, Donald and I get drenched on Splash Mountain even though we strategically placed ourselves in the back of the caboose. Tom Selleck lets me bury my head in his chest hair in the Haunted Mansion when I am shaken by the ghosts. Wait, that’s the adult fantasy version of my Disney day trip. It was Mickey. MICKEY lets me bury my head in his chest in the Haunted Mansion. We all collectively decide to skip the It’s a Small World experience because, well, those multi-national animatronic kids are just creepy and nobody wants to hear that damn song on repeat.
As we stop for warm, freshly-made cotton candy, we recap and gush about our favorite rides. We snap tons of photographs and enjoy the sugar high. My new friends and I head back to the castle as the sun begins to set. On our journey there, people join in and it quickly becomes a boisterous parade. We are leading the way and I feel like the Queen of these magical festivities. Handfuls of metallic confetti flutter in the air, drums are pounding, and the crowds cheer as we march along in celebration with the beat of my heart.
Alas, we reach our destination and there is an elevated throne waiting for me so that I can have the seat of honor to enjoy the fireworks. It is a glorious display that seems to go on forever. The grand finale fully illuminates the heavens. As the sparkles in the sky die down and the smoke clears, I see it: a shooting star. My shooting star. I make a wish, and it is the best wish ever.
I snap out of my Disney daydream only to realize that I am sitting at my play table set with a counterfeit tea party. My friends are there, but they are only stuffed versions of Mickey, Minnie and Goofy. Aww man! For a second I consider pulling together a stick and bindle to head out on foot so I can reach my dream destination, but then I remember that I am seven years old and a bindle isn’t even big enough to hold the things that I would need for this voyage. Why do all cartoon characters put their stuff in a bandana on a stick when they run away?
So I stay, and life returns to normal – our normal. My father is busy working on a new project called the “Singing Star Studio.” It is a mobile recording booth that people use to record a song to a prerecorded track for their entertainment. It is in our garage and I am dancing around to the music as the crew brainstorms different venues in which to showcase the booth. Atlantic City and Six Flags were thrown out as ideas in order to get a lot of traffic. Then, Disney World is mentioned. I stand at attention like an anticipatory soldier, like a little meerkat.
I immediately have visions of my father taking me on this particular trip, mixing his business with a whole lot of Disney pleasure. I figure I can be an asset as I can use my natural adorableness to round up people to come record songs. When it’s quittin’ time, we can hit Disney hard. Suddenly, my vision bursts into flames when my older brother says, “Remember when we spent Christmas and New Years in Disney World and they shut the park down for us? It was awesome how Mickey took me around to all the rides.”
I’m sorry, WHAAAAT!?!? How had I never heard this story before? My tiny little head exploded. My relentless pleading to make it to the magical world of Disney had been satisfied with the hopeful explanation of “Maybe next year, we just can’t afford it right now, sweetheart.” I understood. But I have to admit I was totally jealous of my brother and his incredible experience at the park. I needed to know more. All of it.
My brother, Michael, and I are ten years apart in age. He grew up in the ’70s when my dad was touring with his band Starbuck. They hit the road with music greats like Boston, Hall & Oates, Electric Light Orchestra and Seals & Croft. Naturally, Michael and I had vastly different childhoods.
I come to find that before I was even a twinkle in my parents eyes, Starbuck was to perform with K.C. and the Sunshine Band in Disney World for the first ever New Year’s Eve live broadcast from The Magic Castle. The band would have rehearsals beforehand, so my soon-to-be family decided to spend Christmas there too. Michael was seven and about to live every kid’s dream.
He was privy to the underground tunnels and moved through secret doors with the band. He had the faintest inkling that there were real people inside of those costumes, and sadly this was completely affirmed when he spied Tigger smoking a cigarette before he put his character head on and bounced up to the park. The jig was up. Still, he admits it was “really cool” when Mickey came and took his hand to personally escort him to the rides. The park was shut down for the show talent and their families. A Mickey Mouse escort AND no lines?! It was both excruciating and thrilling to hear.
Once my jealousy dies down, I realize that any other Disney experience would simply pale in comparison. My family had reached their Disney pinnacle and I had missed out. The death of my Disney dream superficially scarred me and was something that I talked about until my late twenties.
Then comes Christmas of 2007. My boyfriend, Josh, hands me a present. I carefully unwrap the package, open the box, and there lies The Unofficial Guide to Disney World. My heart plummets to the base of my stomach. Puzzled, I look up and he enthusiastically exclaims, “We’re going to Disney World!” It is such a thoughtful gift. I am in total shock and beyond excited.
What am I going to wear to meet my childhood fantasy BFF?
To be continued… Part II coming next week!
© Sarah Blackman 2015