The museum is set up in chronological order, each room representing a different era in the life of Walt Disney. It begins with his birth on December 5, 1901 and goes on to highlight his childhood in Marceline, Missouri, his teen years spent in Chicago, and his time served in Italy during WWI. You can see some early examples of his experimentation with film, including the Alice Comedies, and travel West with him on the Santa Fe Railroad. In the room detailing the early creation of Mickey Mouse, Kirsten and Michael found us. They gave me a beautiful book about the museum and asked us if we would be interested in touring the exhibit that they were currently working on, Water to Paper, Paint to Sky: The Art of Tyrus Wong. Of course, we said yes! I felt like such a VIP, especially when we went through security to get into the Tyrus Wong exhibit building. When the tour was finished, we thanked them and they took us back to where we had left off at the museum.
From there, we experienced the emergence of the Walt Disney Studios, Walt’s first animated features, and later films like Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. There was a special emphasis on Walt’s love of nature and animals, and we even got to see the real Carolwood Pacific, Walt’s personal miniature train. All of the cast members were so friendly and knowledgeable, and they said that they had been looking forward to meeting me! Apparently, Diane had been so thrilled to get my letter and told everyone about me. I felt so special!
When we got to the last room, I was shocked to see that we had been at the museum for more than four hours – Kirsten had told us that the average visit was about 45 minutes! We met up with Kirsten one last time and thanked her for everything. It was such an incredible experience, and I would definitely recommend the museum to anybody that loves Disney.
We left San Francisco that night and started toward Anaheim. On the way, we stopped at Sequoia National Park, which has some of the largest trees in the country! We arrived in Anaheim on August 3 and spent the afternoon exploring Downtown Disney and the Anaheim GardenWalk. For a girl that’s used to WDW’s huge Downtown Disney, Disneyland’s seemed like a miniature version of the real thing! We also went back to Downtown that night, and I enjoyed it more then. It was very surreal to be in Disney, but not the Disney I knew!
The next morning we drove to one of the park’s parking garages and took the tram to the parks. I was astonished to see that the only thing separating California Adventure and Disneyland Park was a relatively small stretch of pavement! Following Diane’s instructions, we went to the guest relations window and told the cast member that we had tickets waiting for us. She knew exactly who we were and told us that we had two days of tickets for each of us, which we were excited about.
That day, we visited California Adventure, and the next day we went to Disneyland Park. I loved the intimate feel of the park, and I could easily imagine Walt walking down Main Street. It was amazing to know that he had actually been there. I loved spotting all of the tiny details that I had read and heard about so often, especially in New Orleans Square. Even more special was the fact that we had been “sent” there by his own daughter. It was an amazing experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
We started back east after our two-and-a-half days in Anaheim, hitting other key points on the map: the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, the Petrified Forest, and Pikes Peak. We arrived home late at night on August 10. As soon as I had time, I wrote another long thank-you letter to Diane, telling her all about our trip and how much her gifts meant to me. I never heard back from her, and on November 20, 2013 I was stunned to hear that she passed away. Even though we never got to meet, I felt like we had a special connection that I will never forget. One of the things I wrote in my last letter to her was that she was her father’s daughter, and I think that I was right about that.