Thanks to last-minute work plans changing for my friend, I spent last weekend alone in Anaheim for the Tinker Bell Half Marathon at Disneyland. And I loved it.
An amusement park by myself?
First, let’s be real. I’m not normal when it comes to being in a crowd of strangers. I talk to anyone and everyone, and they always talk to me. As one close friend puts it, I’m the type of person people want to be nice to.
So when I found out I was going to be alone in the self-proclaimed Happiest Place on Earth, I was only slightly apprehensive. I was afraid I’d be bored waiting in lines or that my phone would die and I’d be without entertainment.
Packet Pickup: The aloneness starts
As soon as I arrived Friday, I walked the 20 minutes from my hotel through Downtown Disney to the expo to pick up my race packet. I wandered around and checked out the vendors, talking myself out of spending $40 on a glow-in-the-dark tank top that said “Fairy in training” but having the confidence this time to buy the “I did it” half-marathon t-shirt before actually doing it. I was ok being alone in the crowd, but I noticed how many people were in large groups.
With that in mind, I called my brother to tell him about my aloneness. My brother and his family are all Disney veterans, and he gave me some great advice: Walk up to the first Disney photographer you see and tell her you’re there alone and want as many pictures of your Disneyland trip as possible.
Challenge issued, challenge accepted
After a leisurely breakfast the next morning (gluten-free pastry and a honey vanilla latte that could bring tears to your eyes with its deliciousness), I wandered over to the park. I decided to start in California Adventure, because it seems more attuned to grown-ups. I walked down the main street, and sure enough there was a photographer in the circle. I walked right up to Bianca, explained my situation and started the most awesome amusement park experience of my life.
Not only did Bianca love my story and my brother’s challenge, she wanted to help. She took tons of pictures of me in the circle, then took my arm and all but dragged me back to the entrance. See, she knew Chip N Dale would be at the front gate in about 15 minutes — in Disneyland, they are among the most rare photo opportunities you can get. So she wanted me to “meet the Munks” and introduce me to Nicole, another photographer who was paired with the chipmunks. We made quick friends, then I got huge hugs from Chip N Dale. One of them mushed my face. Hilarious.
And that’s how my whole day went in California Adventure. I happened upon Sully, Mr. and Mrs. Incredible, Sofia the First, Flik, Donald, Jessie, Goofy and Pluto without even trying. I also toured the entire park on my time, stopping when I wanted, riding what I wanted. I used Fast Pass and single-rider status to my advantage to ride Tower of Terror twice within an hour, to try out California Screamin’ and all sorts of other adorable rides.
And you know what? I never once felt ALONE. Maybe it was the California people around me — everyone there was so NICE, and waiting in line tons of people struck up conversations with me. Maybe it was the gorgeous, 80-degree weather in January. Maybe it was knowing I could leave whenever I wanted, that I didn’t have to wait for anyone (or anyone’s children) to do what they wanted. I could be completely selfish without being a jerk. Whatever it was, I had a BLAST all morning and into the afternoon.
A dream come true
I was on my way out of California Adventure at around 2 p.m. to head over to Disneyland proper. And who did I happen upon? Bianca, walking with Mickey Mouse himself. I said, “Bianca, may I follow you?” and she said, “I’ll do you one better. Mickey, take her hand. Let’s go for a walk.” That’s right — I walked hand in hand with Mickey Mouse down the main strip of California Adventure. Talk about a dream come true for any Disney fan, regardless of how old she is. We got to his destination, and Mickey gave me a kiss! Bianca got a picture of that, of course.
I went to Disneyland that afternoon for a few hours. I met Minnie the moment I walked in, as a matter of fact, and I kept my promise not to tell Minnie I’d just seen Mickey. Not that I think she’d mind — she’s pretty confident. I found more gluten-free food in the park, then headed home for an early bedtime. I had to be up at 4 a.m. for my race!
Tinker Bell magic
Turns out, I slept until 3 a.m. on my own and woke up in a panic. I had the “you slept through the race” dream. So I got up, got dressed and made it to my corral with perfect timing. Alone again.
For anyone who has done runDisney at Walt Disney World, I want you to know — Disneyland is AWESOME for running. The property is much smaller, so we didn’t get routed through a tiny part of the park. We ran EVERYWHERE. Through Disneyland, including backstage, through California Adventure, through and under Downtown Disney. Also through the streets of Anaheim, which wasn’t nearly as fun but which added hills and challenge to the course. And in the parks, all the rides were lit up for the night. The fountains for the World of Color show were lit. Rides were spinning. It was, in a word, perfect.
I ran my 13.1 miles alone, although on the course we’re all of one mind and support each other. I accomplished a new personal record, too — 2:35:28, which means I cut off 23.5 minutes from my race last year to this one. After collecting my medal, I made my way back to my hotel, wrapped in my mylar blanket (thank you, Disney!) and ate my gluten-free snack box like it was my job.
Ending how I started
After cleaning up, I went back to Disneyland. I spent another day by myself, exploring and taking pictures. (Genie, Tiana, Goofy again, Pluto again, Woody — he asked me to square dance! — and Pinnochio, Robin Hood… the list is LONG.) I confess, I’ve rarely been more content. I considered going back to California Adventure, but my exhausted body won out. I was back in my room by 7 p.m., unable to move my legs without pain. But again, I didn’t have to accommodate anyone else. I could go lay down when I wanted, with no explanation and without concern that I was letting someone else down.
So this is my question: If Disneyland is the happiest place on earth, and I enjoyed my time there alone so much, doesn’t logic dictate I’m happiest alone?