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"Because if we get hit by a train, we're going to die and we're going to hell"

"Because if we get hit by a train, we're going to die and we're going to hell"

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Hey, gang

Jim Hill here. My apologies for JHM going dark for three days last week. But between my Mom going in for gall bladder surgery on Monday and my Dad winding up in the emergency room with heart palpitations on Friday (Not to mention that brownout in New Jersey as well as the 60 MPH windstorm in New Hampshire), everything that I had originally planned on posting on this site last week wound up being put on hold while we picked up the pieces around here.

Speaking of pieces ... One of the articles that unfortunately wound up getting delayed was a terrific Father's Day column that Ron Schneider wrote. Which -- even though it's a day late -- still offers lots of great advice about how a daddy & a daughter can make the most of their day at a Disney theme park.

So settle back now and enjoy Ron's latest literary effort. And with any amount of luck (More importantly, provided that Mother Nature behaves herself and/or no more Hills wind up in the hospital) JHM will be back on schedule tomorrow.

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“Disneyland started with a father who wondered why couldn't there be something built, some place where the parents and the children could have fun together” – Walt Disney
 

Through decades of Disneyland visits, first as a fan then as a cast member, no single trip stands out for me like taking my daughter Katie to the park when she was six. She had visited dozens of times with her mother to watch me perform at the Golden Horseshoe. She'd sit in the box onstage and clap and laugh and I'd bounce my 'teeth' off her head during the 'Pecos Bill' number. Katie had even celebrated her first birthday backstage with the Golden Horseshoe cast.

But from the time I moved away to Florida until a visit to California when she was six, she had never been to a Magic Kingdom. Thus, when the two of us set out for two whole days at Disneyland, she had no memory of the place and no idea what to expect. Driving out on the Antelope Freeway Katie spies a huge water slide by the side of the road. “Oh, Daddy, can we go there?” 

I have to laugh. “You don't understand, darling. Disneyland is better than that. It's better than anything.” My plan is to spend the first day in Fantasyland and Tomorrowland; then take her straight into Adventureland and Frontierland the next day and blow her little mind.

Once inside Fantasyland I take her straight to my childhood favorite, Peter Pan's Flight. As we step up to the load area, Katie asks me, “Daddy, what happens in here?”


Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

What can I tell her? I don't want her to be nervous, I don't want to spoil anything. I decide to try this: “Honey, I have no idea.” And that's what I do for the next two days. As a result, every attraction is a voyage of discovery that we make together. 

Over at my favorite spot, Snow White's Wishing Well, we run into Captain Hook and Mr. Smee. Since there are no other kids around (which should give you an idea of how long ago this was) the pirates play with us for five minutes, teaching Katie to curtsy and dance the minuet. As we're walking away, heading down Main Street to grab some curb for the three o'clock parade, she asks me, “Daddy, where do Mickey and Minnie go when Disneyland closes?” I tell her they go home. 

“No, they don't. The people go home. The costumes stay here.” Well, I'm impressed – only 6 years old and she already knows Company Policy. We walk in silence for another minute, then I hear a gasp of recognition. With an amazed look on her face she tells me, “You play the part!” Up to now Katie's known that I was somehow connected to Dreamfinder, but this is the moment she realizes what Daddy does for a buck.

This was back when someone thought Disneyland needed to add seasonal themes to be entertaining, like "Circus Fantasy" or "Blast to the Past." The afternoon parade has a '50s theme, featuring a troupe of celebrity look-alikes of the period: Superman, the Lone Ranger & Tonto, bogus Mouseketeers. We're enjoying the show when Katie spots Lucy & Ricky Ricardo. She jumps up from the curb and runs into the street to throw her arms around Lucy's legs in a happy hug. Lucy looks at her partner and whines, “Ricky, is this one of your girlfriends?” Ricky Ricardo walks my daughter back to me on the curb; it took her the rest of the day to get over that.

The next day Katie gets to steer the Mark Twain and has her first cotton candy (complete with the attendant stomach ache). The only low point for me is halfway through the Enchanted Tiki Room (a personal favorite) when she asks, “Daddy, when is this going to be over?” I take the hint and we sneak out the back door.

We have a tense moment while waiting to board Star Tours. “Daddy, I'm scared.” I explain that we are going on an imaginary trip to outer space; that it will feel real, but it's not. Thus reassured, Katie hops aboard our Star Speeder and loves the whole trip.

Katie also gets nervous while exploring Injun Joe's Cave, so I take her hand and let her set the pace. When she spots daylight, she lets go my hand and runs for the exit. As soon as she's outside, she turns to me with a smile and says, “Let's go again!” (She says this same thing after every ride.)

I often advise new parents to hold off taking their kids to Disneyland as long as possible. I've found that children who grow up riding Pirates of the Caribbean over and over often come to think of it as just a boat ride with waterfalls. Space Mountain becomes just a roller coaster without ever being a rocket trip into space. By waiting until my little girl was old enough to understand – yet young enough to believe -- I had set us both up for an amazing experience.


Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

My wish for every father is to make this same 'voyage of discovery' with your child. The world has enough commonplace thrills in it; they can be found at the side of any freeway in America. There are far too few flights of fancy... and these moments when our children want us to tag along are fleeting.

I've saved the best for last. Here is my all-time favorite memory of Disneyland:

We are approaching the load area for Mr. Toad's Wild Ride when Katie spies the cars. “Oh, Daddy, can I drive?”

“I don't know. You've never driven before. You're kinda young... “

“Oh, PLEASE!!”

I give it some thought. “Tell you what. You can drive on two conditions. You have to go exactly where I tell you to go – “

“I will. I promise.”

“And don't get us hit by a train.”

“I won't!”

“Because if we get hit by a train, we're going to die and we're going to hell.”

“I won't, I'll be careful!”

So we get in the car and it pulls forward and it looks like we should turn left and leave the building. I tell Katie, “Turn left.” She turns the wheel left and the car goes right and busts through a wall. I scream at her, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! LOOK OUT FOR THE FIREPLACE!!” And so it goes through the whole ride.

I grab the wheel and we're both trying to steer and I'm screaming like a frightened kid while she's laughing so hard she can't catch her breath. And wouldn't you know it? She drives us right into a tunnel and a head-on collision with a train. Women drivers.

As we're driving through Disney's vision of Cartoon Hell with demons all around, I ask my daughter, “Didn't I tell you NOT to get us hit by a train?!” She's still laughing as we stagger off to our next adventure.

Isn't that a great bit of fatherly advice? Now here's another piece of advice ... If you liked today's column, make plans now to pick up a copy of Ron Schneider's memoirs, "Themes, Dreams & Schemes: 40 Years Behind a Nametag." Which should be on store shelves sometime in late 2008 / early 2009.

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  • That was an awesome story!

  • Great story! Yeah, I agree that it must be more fun to ride those great rides when you are able to remember everything about it. I've been there a week every year of my life so I don't actually remember my first-time excitement for a lot of rides. Things don't get as tiring for me, but my younger cousins who got the same vacation treatment were so tired of it all by the first day (even California Adventure) that they just hung around Downtown Disney or walked over to a mall.

  • How delightful!

    I love to approach Disneyland with the eyes of a child; this story captures the real magic of Disneyland exactly.  Thanks, again, Ron.  Can't wait to get your book!

  • Great article!

    Is that picture of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride from the old Walt Disney World version? It doesn't look like the Disneyland version of hell.

  • My wife and I are expecting our first little Mouseketeer in mid-December. I especially like the "I have no idea" response to "What happens in there?", and can't wait to use it on our own child on his or her first trip.

  • Another fantastic story, Ron. I absolutely love your writing. I figured I'd share a story about the first time I ever went to Disney World with my grandpa with us.

    We were boarding Peter Pan's Magical Flight. My two brothers split off with mom and dad, so I got on the ride with Grandpa. Now I'd been to Disney many, many times before and knew the ride like the back of my hand, but this was my first time there with him. I was probably about 12 at the time.

    So as we round the mast of the ship to find the pirates defeated and Peter Pan triumphantly at the wheel, what does my grandpa say to me?

    "Look at that. Kicked the *** out of 'em!"

    To an unsuspecting 12 year old, it was just about the funniest thing I'd ever heard. And it still plays in my head every time I ride Peter Pan.

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