Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Fantasmic Engagement!

A Fantasmic! Engagement

Ryan, 23 Gold Coast, Australia

As an Aussie kid, I grew up all of the incredibly far off and nearly inconceivable 7297miles from Disneyland.

I first discovered what an incredible, magical place it was when I was 10 years old when my parents took my brother and I on our first international holiday; first stop Disneyland. 

I have great memories of that trip, long lines at a newly opened Indiana Jones ride, old fashioned lemonade, staying up late to watch the fireworks (and consequently sleeping in the next morning, much to my own disappointment, for wasting the morning hours I could have otherwise spent back at Disneyland).
The trip was over all too quick, and as I grew older, It was shelved alongside other childhood memories.  I was amazed at Disney as a kid; but it’s my most recent experiences with them that proved how magical they truly are.

Eleven years later, all grown up, girlfriend in tow, I returned to Disneyland in 2008.  

Now, things had changed (most notably DCA, which on my last visit was still a parking lot), but from the moment my partner Trish and I walked through the turnstiles (I didn’t even have to cross the berm) it all came flooding back – and for 72hours I found myself a spitting image of my former, 10year old self.  Grinning from ear to mouse-hat-ear.  

Fast forward another six months and I find myself reminiscing about the great times magical memories I had of Disneyland.  More importantly I started thinking about what Disneyland meant to myself and to my partner, whom had just had her own incredible first visit.  A few passes of the photo albums and a couple of days consulting Google to confirm just how special a place it was and I found myself planning a trip of a lifetime, back to Disneyland.

 Initially I had some difficulty deciding how to incorporate the Happiest Place on Earth into one of the most important moments of our lives.  Once I had an idea in mind I started planning by going straight to the top.  I contacted Jay Rasulo (the then, CEO of Disney Parks & Resorts) directly. He put me in touch with the Disneyland Resort Operations Manager, who after a few discussions, approved my requests and introduced me to the VIP Guests Services Hosts. Together we planned an awesome surprise trip for Trish.

In July of 2009, I announced to everyone that I had won a competition which included an expenses paid holiday for two to spend New Year’s Eve '09/'10 at the Disneyland Resort, Anaheim.  In actual fact, there was no prize. It was all part of an elaborate plan, mainly to ensure my partner and I were able to get annual leave and travel at a busy time of year. 

Also, we had just got back from a holiday there the year before; I would have had a hard time getting her to go again so soon without proper reason. 

I created a prize winners letter and had it mailed by a friend from onsite at Disneyland, and bounced a few emails back and forth with the staff to have the ‘proof’ of the winnings.  The plan worked perfectly, not only convincing the one and only person it had to, but many of my fellow themepark staff at Movieworld in Australia.  A fellow employee even claimed to have seen the online competition and entry form which I had entered with.

Trish and I had a quick (previously booked) trip to Hong Kong Disneyland to give ourselves another Disney fix in between, but once the cover story was out in the open, the rest of 2009 flew by, and before long it was time.
December 30, 2009
Still believing everything was part of the prize, Trish and I set off, as I worried about keeping an engagement ring hidden whilst travelling through airports and customs.
On our arrival at LAX we were met by a 12-seater stretch limo and transferred to Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel
At the hotel we were met by one of the Resort VIP Coordinators. He welcomed us, streamlined our check in and gave us a welcome package from Mickey and Minnie (all in line with the prize winning cover story)

During the back and forth of planning for the trip, I had been asked if it was alright that the staff through in a few surprises for myself along the way.  I am thankful for the effort Disney went to, to ensure our trip lived up to the elaborate story I had conceived.  Within moments of arriving at the resort, I myself could have believed I was lucky enough to win such treatment.

Our welcome package included photos, merchandise, tickets, dinner reservations, and a specialized itinerary for the duration of our stay.

The Coordinator then told us, he had taken the privilege of upgrading our room to a Pool/Park view suite, overlooking the newly opened expansion of the hotel.

We were also given $500 Disney Dollars to spend during our stay at the resort (I paid for the Disney Dollars in private, but the suggestion was made to purchase these instead of converting currency as we would only be onsite at the resort during our quick trip to America, it helped serve the prize winning ruse). 

We had arrived mid morning, so Trish and I spent the afternoon doing some serious shopping at Downtown Disney.  We also checked out the latest Disney release The Pricness and the Frog (2009) before heading back to the hotel.

During the planning stages, it was the suggestion of many Disney staff members to have dinner at Napa Rose, so our ‘special itinerary’ included dinner reservations for that evening.  We were given a nice park view table and a delicious appetizer and desert on the house.  The food was quite simply, the best I have ever tasted, and filling enough that we both would have been pleased with entrees and mains.  It was a nice surprise to have our waiter follow up with a desert tasting plate, that the ‘chef thought we would like’. 
After such a great evening, Napa Rose will definitely be a repeat stop for anytime we’re near Anaheim in the future.

December 31, 2009

It was an early start on New Years Eve.

We were at the gates by 6:30am. 

The resort coordinator had informed us that as part of our "prize winning status" we had been preselected to officially open Disneyland for the last day of 2009.

Inside with the other Magic Morning guests (most of whom ran straight to the Plaza to secure spots for the midnight fireworks!).

It was great to be back in the park, and to see it still dressed in holiday decorations

Following our itinerary we headed towards Fantasyland, stopping on the way to make use of the Photo Pass photographers.  As a themepark photographer myself, Trish and I would often stop and snap a photo with any photographer we saw. 

All the more on this particular trip, as one of the added bonuses was the inclusion of a complimentary Photo Pass CD, so we could take home all the photos of our holiday.

We continued into Fantasyland, and headed straight to Small World Holiday where we met our first Magical Moment guide.  Our guide had made sure we got a private boat for a tour around the Holiday themed attraction (although it wasn’t too hard; there weren't too many people there at 7am!) .

With a trip to Hong Kong Disneyland fresh in our minds, we found Disneyland's Small World much superior.  It was nice to see the holiday overlay, as during our visit the year before the attraction was closed for the holiday re-fit.

Our next stop was the Character Breakfast at the Plaza Inn. At the staff’s suggestion, this reservation was made to ensure we both got the opportunity to get multiple photos with the characters without waiting in queues on what is their busiest attendance day of the year.

After breakfast, we went back to Fantasyland to reconnect with our guide.  He took us past the barriers into an unopened Toon Town where he had organized a special photo shoot with our celebration hosts Mickey and Minnie.

So far all was going to plan, and Trish was pretty excited.
Before saying goodbye, our guide gave us a handful of complimentary Attraction Readmission Passes so that we could ride anything we wanted to, all day, without waiting in lines.  I had not even considered this in planning, but kudos again to Disneyland!  It’s the busiest day of the year, with lines exceeding 4hrs, and we didn’t have to wait. 

We spent the morning using some of the passes as we ride hopped our way from Toon Town to Adventureland.

As we arrived at Rivers of America, we were just in time to catch the first performance of Tiana's Showboat Jubilee (glad we had seen the film, the night before).  It was nice to see the Mark Twain all done up in colors. 

We spent the day doing the things we loved around the park.  We stopped to catch Mickey's A Christmas Fantasy Parade, although we were lucky enough to have seen the floats beforehand at the filming of 2008's ABC Christmas Day Parade. 

After the parade we had a private ride onboard the Lilly Belle scheduled, but unfortunately got crammed in with a bunch of other Disney enthusiasts (so didn’t get any decent photographs to show for it). 

We spent the afternoon using up more of our readmission passes, until; unbeknown to Trish, the moment that all the planning was leading up to was upon us.  We had dinner reservations overlooking the water at Blue Bayou before meeting up with another Magical Moments guide outside.

According to our itinerary we had priority seating to see Fantasmic! Ever since that first late night I spent in the park as a 10 year old boy, Fantasmic! has been my personal highlight of Disneyland. I would happily return to America and Disneyland for the show alone, no questions asked.  Needless to say, when I brought Trish along for her first visit in 2008 and saw just how much she loved the performance as well it was clear what would make the perfect setting for our most memorable Disney moment. 

In 2008, Disneyland was continuing the second year of the ‘Year of a Million Dreams’ promotion during which guests would be selected to spend a night in the Dream Suite above Pirates of the Caribbean.  I knew from my previous visit as a child, that the Dream Suite was also the home to the best view of Fantasmic!

With this in mind, according to our itinerary we had priority seating to see Fantasmic!  Our guide showed us up the stairs to the Disneyland Dream Suite. 

At this point Trish was bouncing with so much excitement she failed to see my nerves starting to kick in.  It was too hard to suppress them, the show began and there we were happily watching from the balcony.

 No Murphy!?! :cry:

So we came all the way from Australia to see the latest addition and she doesnt even show up! I was a bit disappointed that of all nights, the dragon failed to show tonight, but quickly realised that the reason I had planned the whole trip was upon us.

Trish had commented just how incredible it was to be watching the show from our vantage point on the balcony.  During the soundtracks decrescendo as Tinkerbell spreads pixie dust across the opening of the Fantasmic! finale I leaned over and told her there would only be one more thing that could make this moment any more magical.  Ring in hand; I proposed right as the finale kicked off when Steamboat Willie appears atop the Mark Twain.
Her answer was Yes.  I dare say in the shock of the moments that followed we did miss the shows finale.

As the show ended, our guide returned to the balcony, drinks tray in hand.  He gave his congratulations on behalf of the Disneyland Resort and offered us some celebratory refreshments.  He made special reference to the face that there were four flutes instead of just two. 

Unbeknown to Trish, but planned from the outset, my parents (as her’s weren’t able to travel) had been hidden away in another room of the Dream Suite.  I had wanted to ask that some of our family be there to share in the moment as we celebrated our engagement overseas.
We watched the fireworks from the balcony and then returned inside for our own private tour of the suite. 

Dream Suite Tour Part 1http://tinyurl.com/RyanDreamSuit1
Dream Suite Tour Part 2 - http://tinyurl.com/RyanDreamSuit2
Dream Suite Tour Part 3 - http://tinyurl.com/RyanDreamSuit3

 Afterwards, it was back out onto the street to wait alongside 70,000 other guests for New Years.

January 1, 2010

At the stroke of midnight we ushered in the New Year as a newly engaged couple, amongst the first official Disneyland Resort guests of 2010!

We spent New Year’s Day with my parents at Disney California Adventure. It was still pretty crowded, and very busy.

Despite the fact that the whole "prize winning" cover story had been blown, Disney still came to the party, making sure we continued to have more Magical Moments, more readmission passes, reserved seating for Aladdin, a private talk with Crush and further surprises over the next two days. 


Come nightfall, I found myself again drawing on memories of the past.  The last time I saw Disney’s Electrical Parade was during its first Disneyland Resort run 11 years ago.

As with most things Disney, it’s definitely got the ability to stand the test of time and was great to see it once more. 

Smee picked out my camera all the way down the street. When he got to us, he waited and waited and waited for me, insisting I take a picture – if everything else that had occurred of over the last two days wasn’t enough, this simple moment proved even the small things make Disney magic!

After the parade, family in tow, we rushed back to Disneyland to catch the next performance of Fantasmic! Apparently, according to my fiancé, proposing during the finale negates the remainder of the show! No complaints from me however; After all, I wasn’t content with coming all this way and not seeing the new dragon.

We did some of this on the way...

And still made it to Rivers of America by the end of the fireworks. Just in time for the snow.

Tonight, Murphy decided to show up...

Got some shots of the finale this time too.

January 2, 2010

Back for our final day in the parks, we got a few more photos on our way to meet yet another Magical Moments tour guide.  This time, our itinerary called for a personal tour of Tomorrowland, which started with a special trip on the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage.

Next up was a ride in the drivers cabin of the Monorail

...complete with his staff's han

d-made "Just Engaged" signs.  A fantastic personal gift we now have amongst our Disney memories.

After touring Tomorrowland, and getting another handful of readmission passes for the day we were introduced to Grandma Pat.  She is a lovely staff member from Fantasyland (see Youtube).  We spent the rest of the morning with her, as she shared many stories of favorite rides in her magical land, as well as parading us around Fantasyland announcing our recent engagement to everyone in sight.

We cut the day short to head back to the hotel, as I had moved up our flights by a day to meet work commitments back in Australia.

Everyone we met at Disneyland on this particular trip was happy and helpful. It is truly a magical place. I say the same thing every time I visit any Disney park; Disney just know how to do things right. As a guest from halfway around the world, all I did was ask about sharing a magical moment at Disneyland.  They took my request so seriously, they went so far as to have me believing my own cover story that I had indeed won a Disneyland Holiday!

Everyone was friendly and keen to stay in touch whenever we visit again. So needless to say, a West coast stopover will be a necessity on the honeymoon!

YouTube- Disneyland Engagement [http://tinyurl.com/RyanDisneylandEngagement]

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