Ryan's 40th Birthday 1st-Ever Disneyland Resort Adventure--with Super Sneaky Surprise

Feb 11, 2013
So I lurked for a while and then started posting about my return to my beloved Disneyland after a seven year absence to take my DBF--who has never been there (or even to California)--on a magical 40th birthday trip. It finally occurred to me to start a Trip Report, so here I go. Let me preface by saying, in the early 2000s when I was a regular DLR visitor, I was on other forums and never found the amazing welcome and friendliness and library of DLR and WDW knowledge that I keep finding on these boards. Really happy I found this wonderful community!

WHAT: "Ryan's 40th Birthday 1st-Ever Disneyland Resort Adventure--with Super Sneaky Surprise"

WHEN: Friday, March 1 through Monday, March 4, leaving for home Tuesday, March 5.

WHO: Michael Benami Doyle & Ryan Anderson

FROM: Chicago, IL

Introductions...I wrote a blog post that lays a lot of this out ("Where You Sit Side By Side on Space Mountain" --if you read it, don't give away any of the birthday secrets you find out here or refer to this post, pleeez!), but here's the nutshell.

I'm Michael, an early 40-something NYC-native former urban planner who moved to Chicago 10 years ago, works in communications strategy, and used to have a DLR AP when I lived on the east coast.

DBF is Ryan, a medical lab network manager originally from southern Illinois who feels like he hasn't been anywhere great, and who hates it when I sneak up and drop a crazy hat on his head while he's not looking...as you can see!

Ryan's really stressed at work (thanks to a crazy, potential-addict Vice President above him) and has been really anxious about turning 40 for months. I started my midlife crisis at 39, so by 40 I was all set. But for Ryan, I knew I had to take special measures.

I let the cat out of the bag early--let's do a birthday trip! Then I offered a few suggestions: San Francisco; New York; Washington D.C.; Montreal...Disneyland. I annoyed him for weeks bouncing back and forth over the options when he had pretty much settled on San Francisco. But really, he knew better. We'll get to Northern California. But there's no better way I know for a stressed out person feeling/fearing their age to reconnect with their inner child and the joy said child entails than a flight to LAX followed by a drive down to Anaheim. And I haven't been back since 2005, so it's time!!

So no one gets upset, I've been to "The World". I remember waking up upside down in my bed at the Polynesian when my sister (z"l) and her boyfriend took me to Florida for my third birthday in 1973. At Walt Disney World again when I was seven, with my Aunt Juanita and Uncle Ron and their family, I fell in love with the original Space Mountain, sharing a tandem seat with Aunt Juanita (who thought I had died because I wasn't screaming--because I liked the ride so much!) I really want to go back (just--keep--reading!)

But as I learned in 2002, you sit side by side on the better Space Mountain--and that one's at the park where Walt walked. Disneyland Park, at Disneyland Resort, in Anaheim. Besides the double seats on Space Mountain, I miss...the smell of the pine trees in Critter Country. The far longer, far better Pirates of the Caribbean. Monte Cristos at the Blue Bayou inside said Pirates. The tandem-seated original Splash Mountain. Haunted Mansion where the stretching room really is an elevator. Mad Hatter Tea Cups with no giant tent on top. The Matterhorn. The amazing facade outside it's a small world. The "goat trick" on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Indiana. Jones. Adventure. Soarin' Over California with its full name, Hollywood Tower of Terror, Grizzly River Run. And I've never seen Cars Land!

And most of all churros...everywhere churros! Well maybe really most of all that non-thin guys like us can fit on *everything*! (Unlike our local Six Flags park.)

I haven't decided how many magical surprises I'll spring on Ryan while we're in California, but he already knows wearing his "First Timer" and "Birthday" pins from City Hall are non-optional. I'm hoping the magic works on him and helps him de-stress and laugh and relax and enjoy. It better. He has to come back home and live with me, and I'm from New York originally so you can guess how I can get. So I guess maybe we'll just have to keep going back...

And that's where the birthday surprise really begins...hehe... :rolleyes1


Actually, my name is Sara. It's a long, VMK story.
Jul 22, 2005
I hope your trip is wonderful! We will be there the 27th through the 1st! :)
  • Joined
    Feb 11, 2013
    ...So I last left off with the Super Sneakiness light bulb going off over my head. Ryan already knows we're staying at the HoJo--and old favorite of mine that really helped me and a friend out when I last stayed there in 2005. (Due to a Southwest Airlines "incident" at Midway Airport in Chicago, our whole trip got pushed back by a day--going and coming back--and the staff at the HoJo graciously listened through my half-dozen frantic calls from the airport and saved our trip by pushing back our reservations a day on each end at the very last minute with no charge.)

    DBF also knows about the PhotoPass+ that I ordered. Over the weekend I let him in on some of the Priority Seating reservations I've made--Blue Bayou, Carthay Circle, and Big Thunder Ranch BBQ--to throw him off the track. Now he' spending time looking at all the dining options at DLR (which is good and will keep him busy--I'm a home cook and we're kind of foodies at home.)

    I haven't let him in on the Fantasmic! dessert seating I reserved. If I did, all I'd hear would be him telling me not to spend the money. (We already began that battle with the Carthay Circle PP, but unfortunately for him, I'm paying for all the dining!)

    So while he tries to figure out what that final PP dining reservation is, I'm bursting not let out my real plan. (We went shopping for additioanl trip clothes yesterday at Wal-Mart and I told the clerk at the fitting room in order to tell *somebody* since he kept asking in the car.)

    That plan is to ditch our trips to Six Flags Great America this year (we're usually Six Flags APs) as well as our casual trips around the Midwest, and roll their cost into a year of DLR and WDW for Ryan's 40th. So when we arrive, I'm going to send Ryan somewhere *else* somehow and upgrade our Park Hoppers to Premier APs, which should pay for themselves in three multi-day trips to DLR and WDW, and pay back in dining, merchandise, and (hopefully) accommodation expenses over a year.

    Now if only the snow holds off for Friday here in Chicago so we can get to LAX on time... :scared:


    Jun 28, 2005
    How fun! I'll be watching for your updates. I'll be there this weekend for my 40th too.:blush:
    Feb 11, 2013

    (See full thread here.)

    We relied on PhotoPass+ and didn’t take many personal photos of DLR, so this won’t be a photo-heavy trip report. But what an amazing--and unexpected--trip we had!

    For full disclosure, I ended up telling Ryan about the “big surprise” before we left. He knew there was something I wasn’t telling him and hates surprises, so I eventually let him play 20 questions and he figured it out. It took a lot of choruses of “everything’s on me!” for him to be OK with the expense of us getting Premier (dual-coast) APs. But when he did, he really perked up about the upcoming trip!

    I used to fly a lot, but had not flown in 7 years, so I was nervous about the 4 hours in the air between Chicago and LAX. A week before our trip, though, I read a lot (A LOT!) of blog posts from flight attendants and pilots about the normal parts of flying which really helped. I ended up spending the flight reminding myself that turbulence is perfectly normal and had a great time getting there (and coming back, too.) So that was a great way to start things.

    Day One | Saturday: "There’s a Marching Band? There's a Marching Band!"

    After an easy if early 6 a.m. flight and a quick smoke for Ryan outside the terminal at LAX, we hopped aboard our DRE bus and the Disney magic began. Ryan had never been to L.A. before and was fascinated with the mountains and downtown skyline and freeway traffic, and pretty much smiled the whole way to the HoJo. On our bus was a first-time couple, and when we got near DLR and I started pointing things out the window to Ryan (the upcoming I-5 exit, Matterhorn, the D&F parking structure), the couple kept peering out the windows to see, too, which was kind of cute.

    I had forgotten about L.A. weather--how even temps in the 60s can seem very hot in the California sun--and it happened to be in the 80s when we got to the HoJo. So we quick changed into shorts the bathroom before stowing our luggage and then headed down Harbor Blvd.

    So. We’re both in our 40s, and I’m heavier than the last time I was at DLR (when I was 35.) Boy, the walk down Harbor used to seem shorter. But who cares? The moment we got to the ped crossing to the resort entrance, nothing mattered. I had forgotten how the moment you cross the threshold, the stands of trees and Disney music instantly make the “bubble” begin. It was awesome to remember. Even for being less in shape than the last time I visited, I had to remember to slow down to not make Ryan feel like I was dragging him down the walkway!

    It was 9:30 a.m. and there was a short line at the ticket booths, but it grew once we got to a ticket window. I didn’t expect it to take 20 minutes to upgrade our park hoppers into Premier APs, but it did. The CM at the window needed to get two supervisors to help make the upgrade happen, but it was great fun because apparently, very few Premiers are purchased overall. So even the CMs shared in our joy at getting them.

    I told the window CM that it was for Ryan’s birthday, and much to his chagrin out came birthday and 1st Timer buttons, which I made him put on right there :-) And then it was off to the main gate. Ryan wanted to stop at the first long line we encountered. I new better and kept walking and we were in DL 60 seconds later--with Ryan smiling in spite of himself at his inaugural “Happy Birthday, Ryan!” from the CM at the main gate.

    I thought I’d cry going under the berm, but I didn’t. I was surprised that Ryan and I had some immediate friction, though, once inside the park. He was instantly afraid to feel embarrassed about seeing characters or doing things that a child might enjoy.

    It turned out--and this is the point of the whole trip report--he dearly wanted to do those things because he never go to do things like that when he was a kid. So our whole trip to DLR was about Ryan rediscovering his inner child and letting him out to play. The friction aside (and his fear brought up more in the following days) it was SO AWESOME to watch it happen.

    Especially because Ryan hadn’t done his homework about the trip. He wanted to be surprised, he said. The minute we set foot on Main Street, we ran into Mickey leading the Marching Band down the street. Ryan’s jaw dropped, and we stopped to watch. Between the band, the Emporium, and the Penny Arcade, I don’t know how we made it to the Hub. But by the time we did, it was really obvious Ryan was in a whole new and totally unexpected world--er--land.

    We stopped at the Photo Shoppe for our PhotoPass+ (so I could spend the next few days beating Ryan’s declaration that “I don’t want any photos of Tinkerbell on my palm” into submission!), and then I led us counter-clockwise around the park.

    Ryan was nervous before every ride because he was used to Six Flags-style thrill rides. Laughing like a 10-year-old throughout Space Mountain should have been a tip-off that he didn’t have anything to fear from DLR. Least of all fitting in any rides--thank you, DLR, for remaining friendly to larger-sized guests! (Although, not for nothing, the really need to replace all the burned out lights in the station and the blue-light tunnel. Ryan didn’t notice, but as someone familiar with the ride when it reopened in 2005, it really dampens the show.)

    Next up was Star Tours, and there I learned another big Disney lesson about Ryan--he absolutely loves the motion-simulator attractions! ST instantly became his favorite ride in DL. We rode it several more times during our visit, and both really loved the new random storyline elements. Our favorite--Jar Jar’s undersea world. The second time we got it, we kind of (yes, and not ashamed to say) squealed with delight.

    Fantasyland was crowded as always by Noon, but I did manage to drag Ryan on my (and almost no one else’s co-favorite ride), Pinocchio. Again, in spite of himself, Ryan’s inner kid just jumped right out and smiled. Mister Toad was next, and it was the same story. By this point, I knew DLR was a great idea for Ryan’s 40th birthday trip, though it took him a little while longer to figure out how much fun he was having.

    Eventually we made it to Blue Bayou for our birthday lunch reservation. We waited for and got waterside, and the ambience erased all the years I had been away. We each had our own Monte Cristo (half of which we ended up eating as breakfast the following morning). I have to say, the food at BB--and across DL in general--is way, way better than it ever was when I was visiting in the early 2000s. It made the dining expense seem much more palatable. (Pun intended.)

    Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel to relax, both of us quickly realizing that we were covering a lot more ground--and feeling a lot more beaten up from it--than we had expected (or than I had remembered.) So we tried to go more slowly after our break, heading back into DL for our Fantasmic! dessert seating.

    We ended up in the second row on the left side of the right-hand side seating (did you follow that?), and the view was awesome. It was a bit difficult to balance a beverage cup and the dessert box with its loose lid without a table, but we managed. Though he deals with cold much better than I do, Ryan was chilly after sundown, and from this point on I tried to convince him to bring sweater in the evenings because SoCal gets chilly after sundown. (He eventually listened later in the trip.)

    Even so, and even with the Mark Twain being in drydock for refurb, after the show was over, Ryan told me it made him cry. That was my jaw-on-knee moment. Like the moment in the WDW commercial where the husband, who didn’t want to be there in the first place now doesn’t want to leave? Like that. Boom. Welcome to Disneyland :-)

    Day Two | Sunday: "I’m not getting on Tower of Terror!"

    Feeling our age, we didn’t even try to make it to DCA for a special passholder Early Entry promotion that we had access to (so much for Wide Right!), though I did unfairly harange Ryan about it because even at DLR, I can still be a jerk when my own inner child comes out. (Seriously, I do not deserve the amazing partner I have in this life and am grateful for him being in my life every day of it.)

    The moment we made it through the beautiful new main gate, I wanted to jump for joy. The change in DCA was astonishing from what I remembered in the bad old days. Buena Vista Street instantly hugs, welcomes, and delights you now, the same way Main Street USA does. We could have spent all day right there exploring.

    Except, you know, for that super convenient, rest-giving Red Trolley. So up BVS, around the fountain, and through Hollywood Land we rode--straight to Ryan’s most feared ride in DCA. Before the trip, he had been adamant about not wanting to set foot on Tower of Terror. Now we were standing next to it--and there was only a 20-minute line. So he sucked it up and we got in the standby line and rode. And, no surprise, it became his co-favorite ride in DCA which we did several more times during our trip! (“I felt myself coming out of the seat!” “I know, honey. That’s the point!”)

    We continued clockwise through DCA, passing up ITTBAB to get a look at Cars Land. Nothing to say here that many haven’t said before. We both loved it and thought it was awesome, amazing, insert superlative here. A bit crowded, but hey, it’s still brand new! We choose Flo’s V8 for lunch, and yet again I had the feeling that the food at DLR is just notches better than before. We loved the sides and ugly crust pies, especially. Not to mention the view of RSR from the south seating area.

    The RSR line was too long for a sunny day, so we ended up circling DCA, with Ryan pretty much loving the whole experience (California Screamin’, Little Mermaid, ahem--the smoking area where Maliboomer used to be.)

    We eventually made it around to Soarin’ Over California. I remember years ago when people used to applaud when the ride ended back when it was new. I did my usual SOC schtick--giving the little kid a thumbs up back along with Patrick in the pre-ride move. I wish the same old dirt wasn’t still there in the film image, but I was happy that the applause is still there, too.

    When our glider landed, Ryan was wiping tears from his eyes. He told me he just couldn’t describe how the ride made him feel--so free, so magical. I remember the first time I rode, too, in 2002. I totally get that feeling. It turned out to be his favorite ride in the entire resort--especially when I asked the CMs to let us wait for Row 1 on a few later rides. (We’re looking forward to experiencing the Florida version when we make to WDW on our Premiers!)

    Days Three & Four | Monday & Tuesday: “...And the rest.”

    And that’s pretty much how the rest of our time at DLR went. Ryan discovering how much fun it is to let himself let go and lean into the magic, and me remembering how much I love DLR. The balance of the details kind of melt together in my mind, but there were definite highlights:

    • Single-rider on the Matterhorn is transcendental. The most amazing improvement in my Disneyland day ever. Ever. Ever. Yay!!!
    • The new Matterhorn sleds are...not.
    • We are a mixed-family when it comes to it’s a small world. I could ride it all day. Ryan...couldn’t. He’s a once-per-trip guy in this department. I can live with that. (I’m not so crazy, however, about the knees-in-your-chin 2007-era boats.)
    • We are also a mixed-family when it comes to French Market. Ryan thought it was dumpy and didn’t like his food. I love the whole experience.

    • Ryan was a little freaked out by the talking tikis in the Enchanted Tiki Room. They’re my favorite part!
    • We both discovered eating at River Belle Terrace together (I had never been!) Loved the seating along the Rivers of America--and for the first time ever, I finally had a pancake breakfast in DL, and loved it!
    • We both need more practice on BLAB, but it’s just as much fun as I remember it being.
    • So was Peter Pan’s Flight. And I taught Ryan how to get in line right before park closing so you’re guaranteed to get it as your last ride of the day--an always magical final ride.
    • An after-sundown 90-minute standby wait for the amazing, E-ticket RSR was worth is--as was the fact that our ride ended 45 minutes before DCA closed and LFT and MJJ (can I just take this ride home with me?) were walk-ons!

    • Two large men should not sit in the first two seats on Splash Mountain. Ryan wanted to kill me after he got soaked from head to toe in the middle of the mountain--and he was sitting behind me! I loved it. Soak me, I don’t care. I love Splash!
    • The current classic ear hats are so much better than a decade ago! Wider/rounder, with a sturdier, classier Mickey decal. The sunburn was worth it to wear it all day.
    • Ryan hates snakes. Next time we ride Indy, I have to sit on the right-hand side ;-)
    • I was surprised to dislike the Jack Sparrow overlay on Pirates. Took away some of the classic feel for me. Ryan liked it, though, and that’s what mattered to me.
    • No matter how you try to convince someone that Haunted Mansion isn’t scary, they won’t believe you. (Especially when they’re secretly hoping it will be scary.)
    • More churros, please.
    • Donna the Dog Lady on BVS putting Lady on Ryan’s shoulder for a birthday picture and referring to me as, “I see your name is on your cap. Can I call you Since?”. (Because my cap said, “Disneyland Since 1955”.)

    • The crazy dad on ToT who tried to start an argument with me when I made him move down to the end of the row (because you’re *supposed to*.) P.S. I’m from NYC, I won :-)
    • Beer and margaritas in DCA. I used to be a purist about it. Then I learned how well it takes the edge off having spent the first half of the day with other people’s strollers smacking into your heels!
    • Ryan loved the dioramas on the railroad. Naturally!
    • ART. Take it. Your feet will thank you. ‘Nuff said.
    • Autopia--for the first time ever at the age of 42 (and considering the fact that I don’t even know how to drive a real car) was a lot of fun!
    • The 24-hour McDonald’s on Harbor closing early two days in a row (“What?!”) to install a video menu board...and the wonderful Papa John’s delivery pizza as a replacement.
    • Mimi’s Cafe...really? After all the hype we’d heard, our stomachs served us with orders of protection after eating there. Never again.

    Day Five: Tuesday: “Honey, it’s snowing in Chicago...”

    There wasn’t supposed to be a Day Five. But a massive snowstorm in Chicago caused United to let us rebook our flight for free for one day later. Who wants to take the chance to be forced to land in a city they don’t live in due to weather? We didn’t, so... One. More. Day. In. Disneyland! Both of our jobs are flexible enough to deal with it, and the HoJo even gave us an AP discount for the extra night.

    On that extra day, it finally got through to me two things that Ryan had been trying to tell me:

    He needed me to take a morning on my own to run around like a madman in the parks alone, to give his feet a break, (DONE!) and
    He really loved all the scheduled and pop-up live entertainment (which has never really been my thing at DLR.)

    So after my whirlwind morning, we devoted the rest of Day Five to Voices of Liberty/Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, pop-up bands in New Orleans Square, more of Ryan’s favorite rides (Star Tours, Tower of Terror, and Soarin’ Over California), and for the first time ever for me (I swear!), the entire parade from beginning to end.

    We staked out an evening spot along the continuous stone bench next to the castle between Tomorrowland and Matterhorn, buttoned up from the evening chill, sipped our Dole Whipe floats, and waited. I should have done this sooner. Ryan...well, Ryan cried.

    When it was over, we followed the last float down Main Street and loaded up with candy and popcorn from Penny Arcade and some souvenirs from Emporium, as well as a DL history book from 20th Century Music Co. Then Ryan had to almost literally drag me out of the park. I have this thing where I just stand and stare longingly up Main Street at Sleeping Beauty Castle on my last exit of a DL trip. I guess maybe we all do that...

    And then...

    Being new passholders, we knew we’d be back. So we left Dumbo (which I know Ryan will love), the subs, and World of Color on the table this time. Our hour and 45 minute, two-bus trip to LAX on DRE stole a little magic on our way home. And Ryan was silent about the experience for a couple of days.

    And then I realized that the Youtube movie he kept watching over and over again for the rest of the week was Mickey’s Soundsational Parade.

    “When are we going back?” he asked me.

    “Don’t you want to go to Walt Disney World next to see how the Florida parks are?”

    “No, I’m afraid it won’t be as magical as Disneyland. Besides, I didn’t get to hug Mickey. I admit it, I really wanted to hug Mickey. When are we going back?”

    And that, my friends, in the newly minted Disney fan department, is what they call a job well done :cool1:


    Apr 29, 2007
    Great trip report. I went to DL for the first time at 34. Now I'm a committed and obsessive DL lover! I'm glad Ryan had such a magical trip. It sounds like you two will get more chances to enjoy the magic soon! :thumbsup2
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