Why The Best Vacation of My Life Was At Disneyland

When I first spotted Mickey Mouse, he was wearing his sailor costume and there was a line of 20 people waiting to meet the legend. There was no question: I had to be in that line, too.

My turn lasted approximately 30 seconds, just enough time for a quick photo. I knew it was just a person in a costume, but also, it was MICKEY MOUSE. I could barely contain my excitement. No, I wasn’t a star-stuck 4-year-old on her first visit to a Disney park — I was a star-struck, newly engaged 25-year-old. I had dreamed of visiting the Magic Kingdom since I was a little kid and meeting Mickey just 30 minutes after I walked into the park exceeded my every expectation.

I’ve always had an affinity for Disney, which is normal for a kid, but a little out of the ordinary for an adult. I know that; I’m okay with it. Growing up, I dreamed of visiting Walt Disney World. As a kid from Ohio, it was the ultimate vacation.

When I was 4, my family of three drove from Ohio to Florida on a family vacation. I have basically no memories from that trip, which was supposed to include my first tour of Walt Disney World. In the end, my parents took me to Busch Gardens, instead. Tickets were cheaper. I don’t mind missing Disney on that trip, since I quickly became obsessed with the flamingoes walking around the Busch Gardens property, but it would have been cool to have a picture of toddler me and Mickey.

We never took another trip to Florida while I was growing up, but that didn’t stop me from dreaming about one day visiting a Disney park. Everyone knew about my love of Disney — it’s not something I outgrew, like braces or my crush on the best Backstreet Boy. (Nick Carter, obviously!)

But visiting a Disney park didn’t become a reality until the summer of 2011. My then-boyfriend had a business trip to San Diego and he invited me along. He would work, I would lay on the beach. At the end of the trip, he promised to take me to Disneyland. He had bigger plans for that trip — and he caught me completely off-guard when he proposed at the beach at sunset. I was over the moon, even though a little piece of me had hoped he would get down on one knee at the Happiest Place on Earth.

All my disappointment disappeared the next day, when we drove to Disneyland. Every bride-to-be’s dream, right? You’d be surprised. Disney seems to specialize in selling merchandise just for brides and grooms. (Really, they have merch for everyone, from those who want a teapot that looks like Mickey's backside to people who wish their dinner plates had a map of the Haunted Mansion on them.) I couldn’t convince my husband-to-be to buy the bride-and-groom Mickey ears, but he did agree to pose in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle with a sign that read “Just Engaged.” As a lifelong Disney fan, I couldn’t think of a more perfect wedding announcement. I immediately shared it on Facebook.

The lack of Minnie bridal ears didn’t hold me back. I was determined to make the most of my day at Disney. We started at 8 a.m. and didn’t stop until midnight. I was determined to be there as the gates to the park opened and stay until the park closed. Fulfilling a childhood dream means obsessing over every little thing and I spent months scouring Disney websites like MouseSavers.com and message boards like DisBoards.com for tips. Anyone who’s visited a Disney park knows that a plan is essential. I discovered which rides were best to do in the a.m. before the park got packed and which attractions were indoors and perfect for getting away from the summer heat. Complicating matters was the fact that I had only a single day in Disneyland. I was certain I wouldn’t get to do everything on my list. Luckily, I conquered it all, including rides I was initially unsure of, like the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

There was plenty of time for Instagrams between rides. Taking fun photos with Disney characters was on my must-do list and I didn’t care if I might get strange looks because I didn’t have small kids with me. Here’s the thing, though: There were no strange looks. The coolest thing was how psyched the characters were to meet me. I know it’s part of their job to enjoy greeting guests, but as an adult, I got a kick out of Ariel asking me if I’d found my necklace in a treasure chest on a sunken boat or Cinderella complimenting my “prince.” A little cheesy? Yeah, but in Disney, everyone rolls with it.

In fact, adults can do a lot of things kids can’t. Besides not worrying about the pesky height minimum for many rides, adults can enjoy taking a break and relaxing in restaurants like the Blue Bayou, located in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. And of course, alcohol is a factor, too. Although you can’t drink in Disneyland, there are plenty of options in Disney’s California Adventure (and even more if you’re visiting Walt Disney World and opt to drink around the world in Epcot). Finally, nothing beats a long day of crowds and rides like relaxing with your loved one and checking out the fireworks above Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Visiting Disney as a grown-up was more than just checking off an item on my childhood bucket list. Since that trip, I’ve gone to Disneyland three more times and Walt Disney World twice. It may have taken me a long time to finally meet him. Luckily, Mickey doesn’t hold a grudge.

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