An Anteater’s Journey Through Disneyland
If you told eight-year-old me that I’d be regularly going to Disneyland after class for churros and parades, I would think it’s either a lie or a fantasy. But alas, this is my magical reality.
Rumor has it that UCI is the second happiest place in the world because of its proximity to the first. Disneyland is about seventeen miles away from UC Irvine — a twenty minute drive to Anaheim on OC’s various freeways without traffic. While Irvine may be a more quiet suburban area, Disneyland offers a space for leisure unlike any other. Here are three major ways Disneyland has given different experiences of joy to a few different Anteaters.
The Joy of Employment
Disneyland’s presence as Orange County’s largest employer can definitely impact an Anteater’s life. Take UCI alum Natasha Roberts, for example, who has worked with The Walt Disney Company for the past six years. Robert’s journey with Disney first began when she was a part of the New York Satellite Program, an illustrious opportunity offered to BFA Musical Theatre students at UCI. The program required Roberts to attend a professional audition in LA, which resulted into a job offer. Initially, Natasha was unsure if she could handle being a full-time student. However, the proximity made the magic possible Natasha went on to perform in Mickey’s Soundsational Parade and the nighttime spectacular, Fantasmic!
Working for Disneyland hasn’t taken away the beauty of the parks either. Roberts says, “My favorite thing about being a cast member is being able to experience magical moments that I would never see as a guest: watching Christmas decorations being placed on the castle during rehearsals in an empty park at midnight, bonding with other cast members watching Fantasmic! at 5am while the sun is rising, or riding Space Mountain three times in a row between parades. Feeling that magic for myself and then being able to bring it to others, even if it’s for a brief moment, is why I’ve stayed with the company for so long.” Natasha is now working as a contracted performer in Tokyo Disneyland Resort, spreading Disney’s wonder across the world.
A Celebration of the New
While the picturesque beauty of the the Sleeping Beauty Castle remains steadfast, there is an exciting element of change that Disneyland promises. My disney-bound experiences evolved as my life and social circles at UCI changed. For example, when I became a part of Soulstice League — a comedy-sketch group — we would go to Disney and use wait times as an opportunity to learn about each other. As we snaked through the lines at Space Mountain, we would answer questions like “What would your perfect future be like?” or “What memory would you want to relive?” While wait-times are often frustrating, they are also a fantastic opportunities to start meaningful and fun conversations with new friends. Those days always ended with our friend group appreciating each other on a greater level.
Beyond friendship, I witnessed my Soulstice League captain, Lorn Enriquez, use Disneyland as a playground for one of their longtime passions: cosplay. Enriquez has been a cosplayer for many years, a hobby where fans create elaborate costumes of their favorite fictional characters. Lorn could not resist the opportunity to cosplay as Sigyn, the wife of their favorite Marvel super-villain, Loki. These interactions became so frequent that Loki recognized Lorn. Lorn relishes in the memory of their unexpected friendly connection to Loki, saying, “I’m glad Loki indulged me. He actually remembered me the first day we met…The last time I saw Loki, he was surrounded by kids and still made a beeline towards me - that’s Disney magic.”
Reliving the Joy of Childhood
As a SoCal native, I’ve had the privilege of growing up going to Disneyland. Disney’s nostalgic quality allows me to connect to my own inner child. Being an university student, while rich with fun memories, is an innately adult experience. As an undergrad, I find myself thinking non-stop about student loans, my career, and the unknowable future. Disneyland serves as a place of rest and joy, even on difficult days.
Tiffany Fuentes, longtime annual pass holder, describes this best. She says, “I got my Disneyland Annual Pass just before my freshman year. I saved up money for it for years, knowing how much it would mean to me when college began. I thought, ‘No matter what happens at school or how difficult it might be in the beginning, I know I would always be happy here. Even when I started a new life at UCI, I found a home at Disneyland.” For any current and potential Anteaters out there, I hope you get to experience Disneyland as your magical home soon.