They may be getting older, but Disneyland still works for my next generation. And for me!
So much for small talk. Nick called me a few weeks after I first uploaded this post. He was hesitant. “Dad,” he started out, haltingly, “the Disney post, like there are maybe three or four strong bits in it, but it’s just so long!” Of course, I much appreciate guidance and counsel from my next generation.
But I am going to try to edit.
I will never forget how much fun we all had during our early years of constant visits to Disneyland in Paris, between 1994 and 1997. Well, not Alex, who wasn’t born yet, but the rest of us. Our move to the US almost stopped those visits cold. How did that happen? The last time that Alban went was Thanksgiving 2003. Wow: almost eight years! What were we thinking, not visiting the Magic Kingdom for so long? Nick and Tom hadn’t been to a Disney park with us since the summer of 2000 in Orlando.
This summer, Charlie and Alex were living with me for the month that their mother was taking her summer vacation in Brittany. I had no vacation planned, but suggested a long weekend at Disneyland. They hummed and hawed, not exactly enthusiastic (long drive, with parent, fun place, boring company!), and then one of the boys suggested that we bring the big kids.
Three of their older siblings live in Santa Cruz: maybe we could get them interested. Indeed we could, at least Alban and Nick, if we included their girlfriends. Why not? Daphne turned the weekend down: maybe she was working. Charlie found a friend, Josh, and we had our group.
By popular acclaim, the first order of business on our first morning in the parks, the Friday, was TomorrowLand, for the new 3D Star Tours show and, of course, Space Mountain. By 10.45 am there was already a 60 minute wait for the former, and so I took our six tickets (Nick and Charlotte were yet to arrive) to the Fast Pass distributors for the ride. We received the day’s last Fast Passes for Star Tours before 11 in the morning. In fact, there were only five left, but the cast member kindly scribbled “+1” on one of them so that we would all get in. The time for our admission? Between 23.30 and midnight! It was going to be a long day of Fast Passes and rides.
Then Space Mountain broke down, which is does more often than anyone would like, after we had lined up for about 45 minutes to get on it. Whoops! As a gesture, they gave us a Fast Pass for any ride we wanted. (Fast Passes are sort of like VIP access to rides, entitling you to jump most of the line. You can get one every two hours).
Splash Mountain came next, and was our first ride of the day. If you don’t know it, it’s a great ride. The park’s old-fashioned real railroad train rolls through it from time to time, there are scenes of “zipadee doo-dah, zipadee ay, wonderful feeling, feeling this way” playing on the banks of the stream, and on top of all that it’s a wonderful log ride.
I’m fond of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, our hometown funfair, and it has an okay log ride until you compare it with Splash Mountain. Why has nobody ever even equaled Disney in designing and building rides? Good feelings come at you from all directions, for most of your senses. They’re pretty much all worth the wait.
Not having explored Disneyland for so many years did create a little anxiety for Alex. Each of his brothers and sister had learned to enjoy roller coasters as they grew old enough to ride them, with a little help (read peer pressure) from their older siblings.
But they were regular visitors until they turned 12 or 13. So learning to enjoy roller coasters was a natural progression for each. Without the same progression, Alex was a little worried about the peer pressure that might come from his three older brothers.
He voiced these concerns sitting at home in Santa Cruz one evening before we left. I told him that he had nothing to worry about, and that none of his siblings would force him on a ride that he was worried about.
Two hours later, Charlie walked in from some social event and out of the blue announced in an authoritarian voice that whatever happened, Alex would be going on roller coasters at Disneyland. I kept my peace, and Alex went back to his video game. He knew that the pressure was on, whatever I said.
He had enjoyed Splash Mountain in the morning, but the true test would come with Space Mountain later in the day and Thunder Mountain Railroad. The latter is my favorite roller coaster ride. The children called it the “Train Fou” in Paris, the crazy train, and all of us loved it there. It was an older ride at Disneyland, but still had the same great mountain mining décor, hints of Colorado and Rocky Mountain silver mines, to spice up the great ups and downs and whirling around.
Needless to say, Alex loved it, although he preferred Space Mountain, a faster and wilder ride, in the dark to help scare you, when he tried it later that day. That was his favorite, he proclaimed, immediately after his first try, before convincing me to go and retrieve him another Fast Pass for it.
The next day he took to California Screaming too, and insisted on going on it again. So much for that little anxiety! A little help from his brothers, and Alex was on his way to teenage roller coaster heaven: whatever had he been worried about!
Past Disney visits were often in the air for the older members of the family. Alban reminded us that for a while Nick had been the only one tall enough to go on Space Mountain, and had gone on it constantly, time after time, visit after visit. I remembered the parents’ anxiety back then, trying to keep track of our turbulent little crew as we made our way around EuroDisney in Paris (its original name). Someone was always getting lost and finding his way to the lost children’s office. Normally, that someone was Tom! (He lives in Paris now, which is why he did not join us on this trip). We felt his presence every time when we didn’t have to look around for a missing child.
Saturday brought our group more people: my delightful nephew Antony brought his lovely five year-old daughter Avalon and her nine year-old cousin Vincent to spend the day with us. His wife Courtney had given birth about a week before to Carys (it’s the Welsh for “love,” explained Antony), they live in San Diego, only about an hour and a quarter from the park, and Ava needed a day out. She has a special feeling for Charlie and Alex, and was delighted to come and see them. Hail, hail, the gang’s all here!
After a few photos of the ten or eleven of us to prove that we were all actually together, Alban, Ava, Charlie, Josh and Alex moved over to California Adventure to pursue their obsession with scary rides. One of their destinations was the Tower of Terror, the ride which looks like an apartment building after a bomb went off in a higher floor somewhere, and which somehow manages to tower over the entire park.
Waiting in line there, they again sat on the chains that cast members move around depending on how many people are waiting for the ride. They’d been doing the same thing at different rides all the time we were there.
Only this time, the chain that Alban was sitting on broke, and sent him sprawling. Oops! He told us about this breakage later with a truly gleeful expression on his face. This was something to write home about!
He continued the story with a mention of a Fast Pass which was lost at the same ride. “We lost a Fast Pass,” said Alban, to which Ava (the older Ava, his girlfriend) jumped in: “I lost a Fast Pass!” Let’s hear it for full disclosure!
Alex did not go on the Tower that particular time, and so it was Alex who overheard the cast members’ exchange about the lost Fast Pass after his siblings and friends were back on the ride.
“Yeah,” one cast member said to his colleague, “that was the same asshole who broke the chain!” Yeah Alban! I guess I can’t say that he’s my a–hole, but I can say that he is my step-a–hole!!
I did want to show the young people a Disney show, but knew that this was going to be a challenge. I picked Fantasmic, described on the Disney web site as being made up of “digital projection, fireworks, live performers and larger-than-life set pieces,” and tried to herd them together on the Saturday evening for the show.
After dinner at the Rainforest Café in Downtown Disney, Nick and Charlotte disappeared: she was still jet-lagged. Josh and Alex promptly disappeared as well, to Thunder Mountain, they said, the crazy train.
I texted them for twenty minutes telling them where we were so that they could find us again. Then Charlie gently notified me that they were not coming back, no way, not for the show at least. Okay.
About two thirds of the way through, Alban whispered in my ear that he and Ava were bored, and they went off looking for a ride.
I’m beginning to get the message!
By the end of the show, when the fireworks took up the baton, Charlie and I were the sole survivors. A high school friend of Charlie’s had suggested that he check the show out, which was presumably why he was still with me at the end. “Only the end was any good,” he affirmed. Well okay, the end was the best part, but I was enthralled pretty much throughout.
The rides continued on Sunday, although I did mention another show once, to universal blank stares. Late on Sunday afternoon, Nick and Charlotte left for Santa Barbara and Alban (who was working on Monday) and Ava left for Santa Cruz, taking Alex, who had a middle school party on Monday. The group was splintering, as our big blended family is prone to do.
I drove back on the Monday with Charlie and Josh, who both managed to fit in several hours at Six Flags in Valencia on the way back. It was a great drive after they came out of that park, full of the crazy roller coasters they had been on.
But I wasn’t sure that the weekend had worked as I had hoped, bringing older and younger siblings together with their friends, and giving everybody a good time, because teenagers don’t necessarily tell you the good news. In fact, they’re pretty cagey much of the time.
I wasn’t sure until, that is, I saw on Tuesday morning Charlie’s post on FaceBook from his cellphone on Saturday night. We must have been at the Fantasmic show, or maybe the fireworks, or maybe on our way to a late evening ride. It would still be a couple of hours before we found our way back to the hotel rooms.
“I love life!!!” he wrote on his wall, right out of the blue.
Only it wasn’t out of the blue, it was Disneyland working its magic on us yet again. “Long weekend at Disneyland for family and friends, $3500 on MasterCard. Three words on FaceBook, priceless!!”