The Most Amazing Thing That Ever Happened to Me
I’ve shared this story before on my old Amtrekker blog but I still think about the people involved pretty regularly and you can bet I tear up whenever I do. So I’m going to retell this story in the hopes that word spreads and I magically find them again. Deal with it.
Our adventure begins on my very first day wearing a Disney name tag, circa 2002 Orlando.
It’s day two of Florida’s version of Traditions and we started our tour of the Magic Kingdom outside the main gate. Our guide points out the usual stuff.
“There’s the train station…blah blah blah…berm…blah blah blah, [insert interesting facts that are irrelevant to this story here]”
Fast forward to our tour guide catching eyes with a little girl in a wheel chair wearing a princess hat and a birthday pin.
It was Princess Emily’s 15th birthday, although she looked nearer twelve. Down Syndrome had stunted her growth and given her a much more childlike appearance. Her sister, Sarah, afflicted with the same ailment but obviously much more mobile, was bouncing all over the place telling everyone how lucky her and Emily were and how Disney World was their favorite place on the planet. After a brief chat it was decided that the entire tour group was going to sing Princess Emily a round of Happy Birthday.
Randy, I think that was our tour guide’s name, told Emily to count to three so we would all know when to start singing.
“Onetwothree!” she screamed, excited and without pause, almost before he had time to finish his sentence.
After singing Happy Birthday we all took a moment to personally give Princess Emily our best wishes as her parents looked on with a mixture of one part pride, one part admiration, and one part barely restrained joy. Finally, we took a group picture with Emily and her family, got our hugs goodbye, and moved on to the next part of our tour confident in the knowledge that we had just created an experience that family would never forget.
Fast forward one more time, now three years later. I’d just quit working at the ad agency and decided to pick up some extra hours at Disneyland, where I had been working weekends, while I looked for a new design position. Suddenly, I found myself spending a LOT of time at the Many Adventure of Winnie the Pooh attraction.
One night a family came through grinning ear to ear while I stood out in front of the attraction playing greeter. Being a big fan of happy people, not to mention I was being paid to, I said hello.
Why is that important? Honestly? It’s really not…or at least it wouldn’t be if I hadn’t taken note of them for being so excited, because then I wouldn’t have realized it was the same family that came through the ride the next day. Or the day after that. And on the fourth day I was finally in a position where I had a chance to have a short conversation with them before I loaded them onto the ride.
“Wow, I can’t believe you guys are back again! This is awesome!”
“We love this ride!” exclaimed the smallest of two girls.
“That’s great! What are your names?”
“I’m Sarah, and this is my sister Emily!” the excitable shorter one continued to do all of the talking so I tried to draw out the older looking sister.
“Well hello Princess Sarah, Princess Emil…oh my god!”
I don’t know what made me call them princess. They weren’t wearing costumes and that was always my trigger for calling little girls “princess” in the park. But it was saying the name Princess Emily out loud that made me realize what was going on. In fact, even though they had made my day three years earlier and 2200 miles away, I would have been hard pressed to tell you what their names were until that moment. Then it all came back.
“You guys were in Florida…about three years ago. And Princess Emily here had a whole group of people singing Happy Birthday to her in front of the floral Mickey at the Magic Kingdom! I was in that group! I can’t believe you guys are here!”
Jaws dropped all around.
“Wow, Emily’s birthday was just a couple weeks ago! We usually go to Disney World, but with the 50th anniversary going on we wanted to come to Disneyland this year!” their dad exclaimed.
I put them on the next ride vehicle in complete shock and then sent them through a few more times without making them get out of the “beehive.” Just them being there made me so happy. They were all just as excited as I was (…maybe more, but that would be tough) when they realized that someone else had shared that moment with them too and needed to be in the mix. After a few more rides and multiple hugs from Emily and Sarah they went to go meet up with their mom with the promise of bringing her back for a visit the next day.
No sooner had I sat down in the office the next afternoon, just before my shift started, when the phone rings.
“Hey Brett, there’s a family out here looking for you.” a smile quickly cut across my face.
“Tell them I’ll be right there!”
Sarah saw me first, “Brett!” she ran up and threw here arms around my waist hugging me tight. Emily followed close behind and then, after we were done exchanging pleasantries, I got a hug from mom too. Then came the group pictures and the kisses on the cheek…more hugs…and finally I had to break away and go do my job. Apparently they expect ride operators to occasionally operate the rides at Disneyland.
After clocking in for my shift I made my way toward the loading area and as luck would have it Princess Emily and her family we just getting on…more pictures, more hugs!
While they were in the ride I told the entire story to Erik, that day’s lead, after which it took no convincing to get him to fill out an NSA for two princess crowns. For those non-Disney folk, NSA stands for No Strings Attached, which translates roughly to “free stuff.” Erik manned my position while I met them at the exit and said my goodbyes, leaving them with the NSA. About an hour later Erik saw them near the back entrance to the ride looking for me, he hadn’t spoken to them yet so he took the opportunity.
“Brett told me all about you guys, what a great story. It’s such a pleasure to meet — ”
Defeated, Erik took over my position again. Emily was back in her wheelchair and Sarah once again met me with a great big hug! They both looked amazing in the tiaras they had picked out on Disney’s tab and more pictures ensued. Emily’s mom said she would make me a photo album of their two trips and have a copy sent to Disneyland.
And with that, and two more kisses on the cheek from the sisters, they left again…this time probably for the last time. But at least they left me with a couple of days I’ll never forget. Ever.
A lot of amazing stuff has happened to me since I left Disney in 2007. I’ve seen every state in America, been interviewed on national tv, written comics, started my own company — and now it’s 2016 and I’m sitting on the floor of my five month old daughter’s nursery in Oakland, CA. Scarlett is asleep, pressed up against my leg, exhausted from learning to roll over and I’m trying not cry while remembering this family and thinking about my own.
If you happen to know them I’d really love to know how they’re doing. I don’t remember the parent’s names but I want to say they lived in Illinois or Ohio (I could be wrong about that too though).