I made the announcement on Facebook quite some time ago, but I’m past due for a more elaborate and wider-cast statement on the matter:
This summer I got engaged.
Her name is Kayla. We met at a bar. We both ordered burgers, so it sorta had to be fate.
But that’s not the main point of this post. The point is to share the tale of the actual engagement itself, which was — and I don’t want to brag, but the truth must be told — pretty much perfection.
See, Kayla is a Disney
freak aficionado. From her earliest memories of childhood she has loved Disney movies. She positively thrills to see that opening shot of the magical castle with Tink arcing over top. She’s forever dreamed of seeing the fireworks over Cinderella’s castle.
Yet she’d never been to a Disney park.
No fool, I decided the best place to ask her for her hand would be DisneyWorld.
And not just any ol’ trip to DisneyWorld. No, no. I intended to do this thing right.
It took quite a few months, but in the end I planned a bona fide blow-her-away trip. And before I get to the nitty gritty details, I must give a special shout-out to the good people of Disney, most especially Kathy Conte, the Special Occasion Location Coordinator who helped me pull this magical memory together.
Due to the advanced system of MagicBands, we checked in online and had our hotel “keys” already linked into our special-edition Star Wars MagicBands before we arrived on Disney property. So we were able to drive directly to our room and step right into our “royal guest room” in Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside resort. The look on her face was extraordinary when we walked in. She squealed. We spent the rest of the day and evening having a meal, walking the grounds, eating beignets, swimming, and just enjoying each other’s company.
The First Day
First morning started at Epcot, having a pre-park-opening breakfast at the Norway restaurant with a half-dozen Disney princesses. Meal wasn’t the best, but it was a very slick way to meet lots of princesses while getting a look at the clean and quiet park before the crowds consumed it.
The rest of the morning was spent hitting the best rides (with FastPass+ enabled speed) before we enjoyed a terrific meal in Canada (ordered their poutine, which was fabulous).
Then off we went to Animal Kingdom (Park-hopper passes and Disney transportation for the win!) to hit some highlights (mainly the Festival of the Lion King) and enjoy her first taste of magical Disney Dole Whip (with a rum shot, naturally).
We rounded off the day with a visit to Hollywood Studios, which was largely under construction. But we enjoyed Star Tours, a quick burger, and then VIP seating for a performance of Fantasmic. Glorious, and upon departing that fireworks extravaganza via the super-secret exit we were able to spill out onto the main street as the new Hollywood Studios Star Wars fireworks was doing its thing … plus be among the first out to catch a Disney bus back to the resort without waiting. Back at the resort, we enjoyed some time in the pool and hot tub (our feet sorta hurt) before turning in.
An awesome day. She said it was the best of her life.
Me? I kept thinking about the ring hidden in my luggage.
The Second Day
The second day we headed over to the Typhoon Lagoon water park for some relaxing and water-sliding. Got rained out halfway through the day, but not before we’d hit the Crush ‘n’ Gusher multiple times. Great stuff.
After changing back in our royal room, we took a boat down the river to Disney Springs, where we did more shopping than we probably needed but had a great time. Dinner was at Raglan Road Irish Pub, which was surprisingly tasty — with great Irish dancing to boot.
Kayla couldn’t stop smiling. And all the while, I knew there was a ring in my luggage.
The Big Day
So this was it: the Magic Kingdom and the bulk of my magical plan.
Gone un-noted in all of this so far — because it was definitely not part of my oh-so-nefarious manipulations — is the fact that we were doing all of this with me in generally debilitating pain. We didn’t know the exact diagnosis at the time, but I had a severely hemorrhaged disk in my back.
Kayla, to her everlasting credit, gamely soldiered on. We rented a wheelchair for me, and she spent an enormous amount of energy pushing me around the parks. No complaints. Nothing but smiles. Believe me, I already knew I had a keeper … but my goodness she’s incredible.
I did what I could, of course. I masked the pain with an emergency prescription of Vicodin when I had to do so, and I was on a solid dose of steroids … but it was still pretty blinding agony at times.
On this day, though, I took no pain medications. Because I had a plan.
We arrive before opening, Fastpass+ reservations in hand and a plan on how to smash through the park most effectively. It goes perfectly. We breeze through the rides we want. The weather cooperates. Lunch at the Be Our Guest restaurant is magnificent, and she even gets an extra surprise of a light-up goblet that “magically” is brought to our table.
I have a ring in my luggage.
Kayla, too, has her own little treat planned. Knowing how hurt I am, she has arranged for us to enjoy a massage at the spa at the Grand Floridian resort in the afternoon. It’s an astoundingly thoughtful gesture, and lord knows I need it at this point. It is truly the best massage of my life.
Unbeknownst to her, of course, I have this plan of my own … and it revolves entirely around us being back in the Magic Kingdom for a dinner reservation. I have told her that I want us to go back to the resort put on some nicer clothes than our “Hi, I’m a Disney tourist” outfits. That way, I say, we can get a nice picture in front of the castle and around then the light will be best and blah blah blah so we just really need to get back to the Magic Kingdom at this certain time and that’s the totally key thing, babe.
I told her I didn’t know what we’d do for dinner, but we’d have time to pick something up somewhere relatively easily … as long as we got back to the Magic Kingdom at this certain time.
The massage, as I said, is fantastic. And afterwards we are offered full-run of the spa: whirlpools, sauna, all kinds of good things. This is exceedingly great stuff, except that I have absolutely no way of reaching Kayla (the spa is gender-separated for obvious reasons), and I’m in a bit of a time-crunch. Because of The Plan.
I zip through the after-massage spa things myself, then I find myself sitting alone in the lobby watching with increasing anxiety as the clock ticks us closer and closer to The Plan.
I become acutely aware of the fact that I have a ring in my luggage … and not on my person. This wasn’t going to be a problem since we were going to go back and change, but if Kayla takes much more time …
Thankfully, she emerges relaxed and re-invigorated before I have a coronary on our engagement day.
Acting like I have no care in the world, I lead us back to the resort for a chance to change into our “picture” clothes. As we are there, I slip the diamond ring into my pocket. Because I’m smooth like that.
Back at the Magic Kingdom, to my great relief back on schedule, we make our way toward the culmination of the Plan. Kayla steps into a Swarovski crystal shop. She sees a stunning crystal glass slipper and loves it. She says she’d like to get one someday. I smile, and I nod, because the Plan is a good one.
In our nice clothes we have our picture taken in front of Cinderella’s castle. Kayla, simply put, is on cloud nine.
Me? I have a ring in my pocket.
As nonchalantly as I can manage, we walk up to the base of the castle that she’s dreamed about since she was a little girl. We walk up — lord, she’s beautiful — and step right up to the check-in for Cinderella’s Royal Table restaurant for my reservation.
Folks, if I could bottle the sheer elation with which she hugs me in this moment, I’d be a billionaire. She squeals with joy.
Me? I have a ring in my pocket.
Pictures with Cinderella. Up the spiral staircase to the banquet hall. Then over to our table: intimately set for two, in the middle of the wide glass windows overlooking the famous carousel. They are, quite literally, the best seats in the house.
Kayla is bouncing. Her dream of eating in Cinderella’s Castle is going to come true.
Me? Yes, I have a ring in my pocket.
The meal comes. Princesses start making the rounds. The waiter clears our dishes. Kayla notices that a Disney cameraman is lingering near us, but she thinks he’s just taking some pictures of Cinderella.
He’s not. And I know this, because I have a ring in my pocket and a Plan.
Our waiter didn’t take our dessert orders. In retrospect, Kayla will recognize that this was odd. Instead, he comes out from the kitchen with a covered platter. “The chef,” he says, “has made you something special.” He sets it in front of her and pulls the cover to reveal a beautiful crystal glass slipper — the very same she loved on the way to the castle — on a bed of red rose petals.
The photographer is snapping pictures. He captures the look on Kayla’s face when she thinks that this — a glass slipper — is the biggest surprise of her trip.
And then I get up. I take a knee. And at last, from my pocket, I draw out the diamond ring that I disobeyed my doctor’s bed-rest orders to have built from scratch back in Charleston.
In this moment, I don’t even feel the pain.
She says “Of course.” They bring us special deserts. The photographer I arranged continues to snap pictures. Cinderella congratulates us. Kayla desperately tries not to cry. Strangers congratulate us. I’m pretty sure a number of men in the room hate me.
And I don’t care. Because the Plan isn’t even done.
The Big Finale
Remember how she’d always dreamed of seeing the fireworks over Cinderella’s castle?
I mean, you don’t think I’d forget that, do you?
She’s weepy with joy as we leave the magical engagement. Arm in arm we walk through the park. Everywhere the throngs are gathering to watch the fireworks spectacular. I know she wants to stop to watch it, too, but I tell her I want her to see them in a more relaxed setting. I ask her to trust me, and she does.
She stares at her ring, beaming, as we take the monorail back around to the other side of the lake. We exit as the sun is getting lower in the sky.
And there we board a ferryboat for a ride back across the lake.
Not just any ride, mind you. This is the Ferrytale Wishes Dessert Cruise. All the dessert you could want — selected from some of the iconic resort desserts — along with an ample supply of all-you-want alcoholic drinks … all to be enjoyed as the ferry sails across the beautiful lagoon to a front-row view of the Electrical Water Pageant. And then, oh yes, the boat parks in perfect position to view the fireworks over Cinderella’s castle, reflected in the wide waters of the lagoon.
It was for this moment that I didn’t take any pain-killers that day: her eyes streaming with tears, we toasted a new life together with sparkling wine.
We kissed, and in the end that was all the magic we needed.