originally published 7/17/13
By MICHAEL FORTUNA, DAILY SUN STAFF WRITER
THE VILLAGES — You never know who you’ll meet at the Happiest Place on Earth.
During the second weekend of Disneyland’s existence, a then-7-year-old David Heath found himself and his brothers getting their picture taken with Walt Disney himself.
“Oh, yeah, that was a very big deal. Very few people ever got to meet him,” said Heath, of the Village of Buttonwood.
The Heaths were about to take a trip on canoes by Tom Sawyer’s Island when his dad noticed Disney. They recognized Disney because they had seen him on television.
“We watched ‘The Mickey Mouse Club,’” Heath said. “On Sundays, it was Disney and Ed Sullivan.”
As Disneyland celebrates its 58th anniversary, opening on this day in 1955, Villagers recount their first trips to this magical place.
Many magical times
Heath, who was 7 at the time, traveled from Pasadena to Anaheim, about an hour away, with his brothers and parents. The trip was a big deal for the Heaths.
“Our family never took a vacation,” Heath said. “We didn’t make a lot of money.”
Heath said he spent a lot of time running around on Tom Sawyer’s Island and especially remembers going on the Jungle Cruise. His father had worked as a tool and die maker in the same industrial complex where the audio-animatronic animals were made, so he was especially interested in the ride.
When Heath was in fifth grade, his family moved to Anaheim, living about a mile and a half away from the Disneyland Hotel.
“We could see the fireworks every night,” Heath said. “It got to be routine.”
Heath went to the park several times throughout high school and college. He also had friends who worked at Disneyland and let him into the park.
“We could go all the time,” Heath said.
Heath has kept several ticket books he and his family bought through the years. During the first part of Disneyland’s existence, visitors purchased an admission ticket to the park at the main gate and also purchased a coupon book, with certain coupons designated for certain rides.
The “A” tickets were for the smallest or least-popular attractions, such as the street car or the King Arthur Carousel, while the “E” tickets could be used for such rides as the Submarine Voyage, the Monorail, It’s a Small World, the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, the Jungle Cruise and the Enchanted Tiki Room.
“The E tickets had all the good rides,” Heath said.
In later years, the Heaths’ daughter and son-in-law, Rena and Richard Mills, who worked for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, managed to secure a reservation to Club 33 — the exclusive, secretive restaurant in New Orleans Square.
“It’s a really nice restaurant,” Heath said. “It’s expensive.”
It’s tucked in next to the less secretive Blue Bayou Restaurant, where you can see the boat rides for Pirates of the Caribbean float by.
That happens to be one of Heath’s favorite rides.
“It’s just a neat ride,” Heath said. “It’s the song. You can’t stop singing that song. It’s a well-done ride.”
His wife, Cheryl, said her favorite ride is Peter Pan’s Flight.
“It’s got a long line, even today,” David said.
Cheryl first went to Disneyland in 1958 when she was around age 12; she was living in Buena Park, Calif., at the time, about 8 miles away from the park.
“We were ‘Mickey Mouse Club’ freaks,” Cheryl said. “We had a club in our neighborhood. We’d meet in one of the girls’ garages and dance all the dances and sing the songs.”
Visits to Disneyland were much anticipated and enjoyed by Cheryl.
“It was always magical,” she said. “I felt special. It’s like another world, even today. I feel 12 years old when I go today.”
“Especially when you’re going to the Magic Kingdom,” David added.
The feeling came full circle when David and Cheryl took their own children to Disneyland for the first time. Once, they took their then-4-year-old son, Garrett, to the park at night so he could see the Main Street Electrical Parade. A lighted turtle lowered its head toward Garrett.
“My heart started beating,” Cheryl said. “That was so cool.”
Their granddaughter, who is 1 1/2 years old, has been indoctrinated,as well, but at Walt Disney World.
“She’s been three times already,” David said.
“We get to see it through their eyes,” Cheryl said. “You’re reliving your youth.”
She’s going to Disneyland!
At age 4, Betty June Farkas awoke to a wonderful surprise one morning.
It was 1958. Farkas, who was living in Los Angeles, learned that her paternal grandparents, along with one couple and her older brother, William, all were going to Disneyland.
“I was just in awe,” said Farkas, of Village Santo Domingo. “We did a lot of things that day.”
They drove to Anaheim in a Volkswagen and spent the whole day there. While she enjoyed rides like the Jungle Cruise and the Enchanted Tiki Room, Farkas said her grandparents limited what rides she could go on.
“My brother got to go to the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse; I couldn’t because I was a girl,” Farkas said. “We went on Tom Sawyer’s Island and did the canoe ride. Billy got to use the oar.”
They visited a store on Main Street U.S.A. that contained a large vat of pickles.
“Billy and I got excited,” Farkas said. “‘We want a pickle!’”
At first, her grandfather shot down the idea, saying they would get sick, but he let them eat the pickles.
On the way home, Farkas got sick.
Around 1968, Farkas was visiting the park for a cousin’s birthday. As they were standing inline to board the Jungle Cruise, a group of people made their way to the head of the line.
“I thought, ‘Who do these people think they are?’” Farkas said.
It turned out to be Robert F. Kennedy and his family.
Farkas remembers the ticket books, especially the ones with E.
“You got to have the E ticket,” Farkas said. “I was always going back to the booth to get more E tickets. We’d come home with A, B, and C tickets. We always had a ton of those at home.”
In 1985, Farkas and her partner, Rose Farkas, went to Disneyland as part of its 30th anniversary.
“That was a fun time,” Farkas said.
Of all the rides past and present, Farkas points to the Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland as her favorite.
“I like Indiana Jones,” she said. “(The ride is) fast, it moves all over.”
Since coming to Florida, Farkas has continued the magical experience by going to Walt Disney World.
“I like the fantasy (of the Disney parks),” Farkas said. “When you’re there, you’re in that world. You can really lose yourself.”