How Years Ago I Vowed to Never Again Set Foot in a Disney Theme Park…

vintage Disney poster

I should have known. The notion that we’d become residents of Florida and not be lured by the All-Powerful Disney was laughable I suppose. I truly believed this. The result of my decades-long grudge against the entertainment goliath.

It dates back to my first year in California. I was nineteen, back at my parents’ for summer break after freshman year of college, but now in a new house in a new land (my family had moved to a Los Angeles suburb while I was away at school). It was all quite a shock coming from woodsy New England – the concrete sprawl of L.A. didn’t match the picture I’d envisioned… sandy beaches, swaying palm trees, the only road in sight the glorious two-lane PCH sweeping past the Pacific. I knew nothing.

I spent the summer waiting tables at a local Baker’s Square, schlepping breakfast scrambles and French Silk pies while learning what it meant to be a real Californian. Like knowing the proper pronunciation of “quesadilla.” And not asking inane questions about why the busboy’s nametag said “JESUS” (Is that a joke? Isn’t that sacrilegious?) Someone had had to explain, It’s pronounced Hay-ZEUS and it’s a very common Spanish name. Like I said, I was clueless.

I met a friend at the restaurant. We’ll call her Michelle. One night she invited me to join her and a friend on a trip to Disneyland (the Disney of the West). I’d never been, and knew only that it was the source of a confounding quote I’d heard again and again since arriving in L.A. – That’s an E-ticket ride! I needed to know what this meant, so I was in!

Michelle and her friend were both over 21, so to avoid my underage status squelching their extracurricular fun, they’d procured a fake ID for me, specifically to enable what I’ll call Phase One of our Disney adventure – Tomorrowland’s Skyline Lounge.

We rode a gondola called the Skyway to a cocktail lounge high in the sky, where we sucked down several rounds of potent fruity cocktails before returning to the park, soaring over the glowing fantastical landscape in our little cage high in the sky, goggle-eyed and giggling. We were toasted.

Phase Two antics bumbling about the park are foggy. But I clearly remember Space Mountain, our ultimate destination, a.k.a. Phase Three. One of the first “thrill” rides installed at Disneyland, Space Mountain was the biggest, baddest ride that everyone wanted to ride (the E-ticket ride). The line for entry was an hour at least. But we’d gotten our cocktails on, were feelin’ no pain, so we got in line and inched forward with the masses as the clock ticked by.

Now, were we drunk? Certainly. Were we obnoxious? Maybe. Were we disturbing our sober neighbors in line? If so, then only modestly. Really. I feel confident in asserting that we were relatively self-contained. And we were following protocol after all, marching along in step, waiting our turn, biding our time. And our time was near.

As the entrance to Space Mountain drew closer, its yawning mouth growing huge, our excitement grew too. Anticipation built. Patience soon to be rewarded. This was going to be the ride of a lifetime! We were just steps from the attendant, one last family before us, and just as we checked in with each other (You ready? I’m ready! Tickets in hand? Ready! This is going to be so awesome…) a security guard grabbed Michelle by the arm and said, Step out of line. All of you.

What?!? Noooo! We’re going on this ride! We’re next, we whined.

I said, step out of line.

And that was the beginning of the end of my love for Disney. Couldn’t they have apprehended us after the ride? I mean really. Or how about before the 55 minutes we waited patiently in line? It was an asshole move.

But what transpired next is what truly burnished my hatred for Disney. In short, they took us to Disneyland Jail. Now few people know this even exists, but I am here to tell you that it does. And it is a serious buzzkill.

We were dragged to an underground lair, a complex of very non-magical offices, the antithesis of Disney’s image – gray/white walls, blinding fluorescent lights, uniformed guards.

Over the course of the next two hours, they interrogated us each separately. Typical law enforcement tactic… isolate the individuals, see if their stories match. How did we get drunk? Were we on drugs? Where did we get the alcohol? Did we have any drugs or alcohol on us? Yadda yadda yadda… They took Michelle away first.

Meanwhile, her friend had a camera. She’d been snapping photos of our adventures all night, the bumbling about the park, the soaring over fantastical Tomorrowland. But here, she was warned, “You are NOT to take any pictures.” She took this as a challenge and snapped a photo without even looking through the finder. Cast a flirty smirk at the guard.

He said, “I said no photos! Don’t make me say it again.”

She then snatched the security cap from his head, tossed it on her own, raised her camera backwards, and took a selfie (decades before the term “selfie” even existed). What can I say? Alcohol does relieve those pesky inhibitions.

“That’s it!” he said, “I’m confiscating your film.” At which point he literally pried the camera from her hands, opened the rear hatch, and pulled the film in a twirling spiral from the camera, exposing and ruining the images stored there.

She could have had photos of her dying grandmother on that roll of film. Did she? Not likely. But it doesn’t matter what images were stored there. That film was her personal property, and they destroyed it without question. That’s how authoritarian dictatorships behave (incidentally, see this news story). It’s not supposed to happen in America.

Our confinement went on for what seemed an eternity. We were no longer feelin’ no pain. We’d been read no rights, had no idea what was going to happen, and were actually pretty nervous. But in the end they did little more than escort us from the premises. The guard walked us all the way to our car and watched to be sure we made our way through the exit.

In the wake of these events – interrogation without rights read, personal property stolen and destroyed, E-ticket ride snatched from our clutches – my little act of defiance was to silently vow never to step foot in a Disney establishment ever again.

Until today. Because as it turns out an old and dear friend from California, one whom I no longer can see at the drop of a hat, has traveled 3000 miles with kids in tow – destination: Disneyworld. So after nearly three decades, I’ve decided I’m a big enough person to let bygones be bygones…

It makes me think of Shonda Rhimes book Year of Yes, and how she vowed for one year to say “yes” to everything that scared her. Now I’m not afraid of Disney, but my long simmering resentment toward them (like most resentments) impacts them not a bit. I’m sure they’re quite unaware of my little protest. But it’s a confinement I’ve placed upon myself (like so many of us do)… the boundaries of our own expectations, grudges, fears. Oh, I’m not the kind of person who would do this. Or, I would never do that. Never wear the color purple, never go to a Disney theme park, etc.

So in the interests of expanding myself and saying “yes” to the opportunities the universe is presenting, I’m going to Disneyworld! (I’ll report back on this soon… please stay tuned!)