Initially when Ron and Sara moved from Seattle to Orlando in 2003, they'd take their son Ben to the Magic Kingdom as much as three days per week. It would be 3 rides on Snow White, go do something else, 3 more rides on Snow White, get a snack, 3 more rides on Snow White... "Ben always rides Snow White's Scary Adventures in sets of three," Ron says. "I can tragically tell you from personal experience that it is possible to ride SWSA six times in 18 minutes."
Jump forward two years. Ben is 11 years old, and he's fast approaching a milestone in his riding career. The following narrative comes directly from Ron's April 17, 2005 blog post about his son's achievement...
Last weekend between Saturday and Sunday, Ben rode Snow White's Scary Adventures 33 times--bringing his running total to 987 and effectively ensuring that this weekend would see his 1000th ride. Everybody was very excited about this but Ben, who probably thinks in binary and doesn't see any particular value in the number 1111101000.
Ben Rides SWSA With His Mom
Aside from posting the running tally here in my journal, I had also posted occasionally about Ben on the WDW Magic forums. Several people suggested ideas on how to commemorate SW1K, and the one that I really liked was seeing if we could actually get Snow White to go on the ride with Ben.
I tried calling Guest Services, and was pretty much told that I should check in with them when we got to the park that day and they would see what they could do. Not a very reassuring stance to hang my hat on. When I posted my dilemma on the wdwmagic board, I was immediately contacted by someone who knows the stage manager of the Cinderellabration show, which features Snow White and which performs throughout the day at the Magic Kingdom. The biggest concern was that from a legal standpoint Disney generally does not allow costumed characters to go inside dark rides because of the potential liability. Much remained up in the air right up until late Friday night when I received a phone call from Graham Murphy, the aforementioned stage manager. Graham was able to arrange a personal meet-and-greet for Ben with Snow White immediately following the 11:40a.m. performance of Cinderellabration, after which she would personally escort Ben to her ride and join him for his 1000th trip. Needless to say, we were all very excited (except for Ben, who was sound asleep at that point).
Saturday morning, April 16th: Usually I don't take Ben to the Magic Kingdom until the afternoon, but because we had a commitment to meet Snow White at noon and because Ben still had a few more trips to get under his belt we left for the park just after 9:30. Going that much earlier presented several problems. First of all, it was just generally an unusual thing to do, and Ben is always thrown off kilter by unusual changes in routine. The next, more serious complication was that Ben wanted to stop for fries--but all of the typical fast food burger joints are still serving breakfast at that time of the morning, so no fries were available. From Ben's perspective, I was dragging him out of the house at a weird time and then refusing to even provide him with sustenance. He was understandably upset, and cranking up steadily. I knew if I let it continue to build that it was going to throw him off for the entire day. Fortunately I had a secret weapon stashed in the back seat of my car: pirate candy.
For those who don't know, Ben's all-time favorite treat to buy at the Magic Kingdom is the bottle of candy that they sell for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. He discovered it on our very first trip to Orlando three years ago, and it has always worked as sort of a magic talisman to calm him down and make him happy. At ten bucks a pop, it's not a talisman that can be whipped out on a regular basis, but it just so happens that I had made a special trip to the Magic Kingdom the day before to get one for him as a surprise. I had intended to give it to him for the 1000th ride, but it was obvious that I was going to have to spring it on him early.
At first when I reached behind his seat and pulled out the bottle, his response was essentially "I want fries, you idiot, not some stupid bottle of candy!!" He took it out of my hand and stuffed it into the front pocket of his backpack sitting on the floor in front of him and continued to complain. Then, like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, his complaints slowly tapered off and he took on that facial expression of, "...hey... wait a minute...." He looked down at the bottle, and then got a big smile on his face and snatched it up. Crisis defused.
The next hurdle became obvious as we approached the entrance to the Magic Kingdom parking lot. You see, when you arrive at the park around two in the afternoon you are part of a trickle of cars drifting into the park. No big deal. But when you arrive at the park within an hour of opening, you are part of the mass migration into the most heavily attended theme park in the world. It has been a very long time since either of us have been a part of that chaos, and honestly we were both a little thrown. We were parked in the Daisy section of the parking lot, the furthest back on the west side, and in the time it took us to walk from the car to the tram loading spot that lot was filled and cars had already filled up more than half of the next section that was opened up and there was no sign of them slowing down. The standing crowd was too large for us to make it on the first tram, so we had to wait for the next one to come along. Me, I was worried about how it was going to take substantially longer to actually get into the park then usual and worried that Ben was going to be completely overwhelmed by the crowds and the noise. Then I glanced down at Ben, who sat calmly on the tram holding his bottle of pirate candy and smiling in anticipation of going on his favorite ride. Figures.
The monorail ride was uneventful, aside from being much more crowded than it usually is when we arrive in the afternoons. We pulled into the Magic Kingdom station and Ben literally leaped out of his seat to head out to the Magic Kingdom gates. Passing through security and the turnstiles was a breeze (I am constantly amazed at just how good Disney is at moving very large numbers of people very efficiently--they should contract out to the people who run airports). Ben hit Main Street briskly, with a real bounce in his step, and we were off. Across the hub at the bottom of Main Street, into the Main Street Confectionery, through the two adjacent gift shops, and then back onto the street. Threading through the outside of the main hub at the top of Main Street, deftly avoiding the crowd of people watching the morning's first performance of Cinderellabration in front of the castle, take the quiet side path past the rose garden, then across the walkway towards Cosmic Ray's with a quick hard left at the last moment to follow the pathway past the Wishing Well and up into the courtyard behind the castle. A quick stop in front of Sir Mickey's to sit down on his favorite bench, and then he was on to his first ride of the day on Snow White's Scary Adventures.
Normally I only allow him to go on it three times in a row, and then he has to go do something else. On this morning, however, we were seriously behind schedule and had less than an hour before we were supposed to meet up with Graham. I allowed Ben to do five straight laps on the ride, and somewhere around the third or fourth lap Kris [Ron's partner] arrived to join in on the festivities. It was after the fifth ride that Ben said the word that struck terror into my heart: "Monorail." After only five rides, and with less than a half hour until he was scheduled to meet Snow White in person, he was ready to leave the park. Oh crap.
Ben led us back down the pathway past the wishing well, and as we emerged in front of Cosmic Ray's I quickly convinced Ben that we should go in and get some fries. He thought about it for a second, and then grudgingly agreed. Crisis temporarily averted. Twenty minutes later, after devouring his order of fries, we were once again headed back to Fantasyland and another two rides on SWSA. We were still six rides short of where we needed to be, but at that point I was resigned to slightly fudging the numbers for the sake of decorum. It was time to hook up with Graham, and go meet Snow White in person.
I have to say that Graham was every bit as good a guy as he seemed on the phone. He is the epitome of the Disney Cast Member, friendly and outgoing, and doing everything he can to create a magical experience for the guest. The work he did on Ben's behalf is something that means the world to me, and he will be getting a personal thank you letter from me in the next few days.
Graham took us over to the castle breezeway where we would wait for Snow White to emerge. Around this time two other members from the wdwmagic board arrived to shoot video of the event, although Ben's mom was nowhere to be seen. More on that later. Ben was getting antsy and asking to go take a monorail. I was squatted down on the floor with Ben sitting on my knee, talking quietly to him and telling him how good he was being, and that he just needed to wait a little bit longer. I had my back to the door from which Snow White emerged, but I still knew it the moment that she appeared: Ben suddenly went rigid, stopped breathing, and became absolutely silent. Imagine the person you most respect and admire in the world, and then imagine that this person suddenly appeared in front of you. Ben was awestruck.
Snow White walked right up to Ben and said hello, telling him how happy she was to meet him. Ben finally took a breath. When she knelt down and opened her arms, Ben leaned right in and gave her a big hug.
Ben Meets Snow White
Most of that visit was a blur to me; I remember Ben being completely overwhelmed (but in a good way), I remember Kris taking pictures while other people where shooting video, and then Snow White asked Ben if he would like to go see her ride.
Snow White Asks Ben to Ride
Ben took off like a shot towards SWSA, and I had to physically slow him down to get him to wait for her to keep up. We got to the ride, and the crowd in line let out a collective gasp. Children were pointing, calling out "Mommy! Mommy! It's really Snow White!!"
Park Guests Look On As Ben Walks With Snow White To The Attraction
Ben was escorted directly to the front of the line, and then sat in the front row of the mine cart. Snow White sat down right next to him, and began pointing out things in the mural next to them. Ben was squirming in his seat. To someone who didn't know him, he probably seemed very uncomfortable. What I saw in him was that he was simply beside himself, unable to believe what was happening. He studiously avoided making eye contact with her, but he kept giving her sly little sideways glances whenever he thought she might not be looking.
Ben Riding Next to Snow White
Throughout the ride, Snow White kept talking to Ben about everything that was going on while Ben kept studiously looking at everything except her. Of all the hundreds upon hundreds of trips through SWSA that I have gone on with Ben, this was by far the most magical. Soon enough the ride ended, and Kris was there to snap a photo of Ben and Snow White emerging through the final doorway.
Ben With Snow As They Emerge From The Ride
Upon exiting the ride vehicle, Snow White stayed to talk to Ben for a few minutes longer until it was time for her to leave to prepare for her next performance at Cinderellabration. As she was about to leave, she said goodbye to Ben and blew him a little kiss. He immediately blew a kiss right back at her, and then turned and sprinted to get back on the ride for another trip. I thanked Graham and Snow White profusely and then dashed over to catch up with Ben.
Snow White Says Goodbye To Ben
He did another two laps on the ride (I think because he always does three in a row, and needed to finish that pattern), and it was right about then that his mom finally showed up. She was in tears, completely distraught about missing the big event. Apparently she grabbed the wrong pass when she went out the door, and although she arrived at the park early she was unable to get through the turnstiles because she didn't have a valid pass. She begged and pleaded with Guest Services, explaining what was happening, and they finally were able to verify her identity and that she had a valid pass and let her through the turnstiles. Unfortunately, she had been delayed long enough to miss the entire thing.
Ben was happy to see her, but was still pretty overwhelmed by everything that had happened. He made it very clear that he was ready to go, that he wanted to go take a monorail. The four of us (Ben, Sara, Kris and I) worked our way back towards Main Street, and back down to the Main Street Confectionery. It was there that something very unusual happened. Normally Ben stops there on the way out of the park, picks out some candy, and then we go. This time he walked through the shop and then found a quite little niche at the front of the store in a bay of windows that looked out onto the town square. He sat there with Sara for a good ten or fifteen minutes, just kind of decompressing. The events of the past hour were really quite a lot for him to digest, and he needed a little quiet time to get his legs back under him.
Ben Digesting His Ride With Snow White
Then he seemed to decide that hey, we didn't really need to leave after all. He led us all in a little parade right back up to Fantasyland. Eight more rides on SWSA, interspersed with rides on Small World and Peter Pan, and he spent a total of nearly five hours in the park. Sara got to ride alone with him for the actual 1000th ride (see photo at top of post), which I suppose was a small consolation but at least it was something. Ben was dog tired, and honestly so was I. We all dragged ourselves home and spent the rest of the evening more or less on autopilot. Ben was sound asleep by 9pm, and slept like a rock all night long.
All in all it was a very good day.
A few weeks after the 1000th ride, a private "meet and greet" with Snow White and Dopey was arranged for Ben by another cast member.
Ben's achievement makes it into print! Author Bob Sehlinger included Ben and his parents in the description of Snow White's Scary Adventures for The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2007. The blurb continues to be included in subsequent editions as well.
Three years will pass between Ben's 1K and 2K rides, but his next milestone will bring the Disney cast members out in droves to celebrate. To be continued in the following post...
The above account and images (except where noted) are from email correspondences with Ben's father Ron and from Ron's blog. Used with permission.