Lea Salonga’s Backstory: The happiest place on earth

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Backstory
The happiest place on earth

By Lea Salonga
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 18:28:00 11/12/2008; On Paper 11/13/2008

HONG KONG SAR, China—Last Monday, Nov. 10, a bunch of us headed out to Lantau Island to visit the Disneyland Resort—members of the cast and crew, my mom, and (yey!) my daughter Nicole, on her first visit to this wonderful place.

Shiela Valderrama-Martinez, a former Disneyland cast member, organized the trip. We took the MTR (note: the Hong Kong MTR is one extremely organized railway system, convenient, and an absolute pleasure to take everyday) first to Central, then on to the Tung Chung Line, which would bring us to Sunny Bay. I got single journey tickets for my little posse, got everyone into the train and off we went.

Beautiful sight

At the Sunny Bay station, we were greeted by a beautiful sight just across the platform: the Disneyland train! Its windows were the shape of those famous mouse ears!

The train seats were nicely upholstered in a deep shade of blue, and the interior was decorated with miniature versions of famous Disney characters. Closest to us was Tinker Bell, which Nicole pointed out very enthusiastically.

(All in all, the train rides took about an hour and change, plus a lot of walking to and from platforms, moving walkway rides, escalators, elevators.)

Alighting, we were transported to the early 20th century. It was a very open structure with dark green iron beams. Of course it was decorated in the unique Disney style, with mouse ears everywhere. We headed up the stairs and escalators to the park entrance.

This is where my daughter started screaming, “I’m ready, I’m ready!” She was chomping at the bit, pulling on whichever hand was holding hers—mine, my mom’s or the yaya’s. However, we had to wait for our host, Rony Fortich, park musical director. He met us at the gazebo by the MTR station, and off we went on the walkway that led to a fountain depicting Mickey surfing the water spouting of a large whale. My daughter wasn’t interested in going near it, but I took a photo of her and Abu with it in the background.

Rony and I thought it was funny that as we were walking the long way towards the entrance gates, “A Whole New World” was playing in a seemingly endless loop. It was a sweet and lovely coincidence.

Once inside the park proper, we headed down Main Street, where a marching band was starting to play. I knew that my brother had quite a few musician friends who had taken up employment in Disneyland, so I went over to check if any of them were people he knew. After they finished playing “Poor Unfortunate Souls” (Ursula’s song from The Little Mermaid), we posed for pictures. It turns out that one of them is the brother of one of FILharmoniKA’s French horn players. The whole band was made up of Pinoy musicians, which made me feel incredibly proud.

Tomorrowland

Our walk led us to Tomorrowland. It was time for lunch so we settled in one of the park’s many restaurants (our stomachs were calling for fried chicken, burgers and fries). Rony needed to return to work, so we said our goodbyes. We ordered our food and went outside to eat, looking at the more “futuristic” bits of architecture and watching the tourists go by.

Lunch was done at around 1:15 p.m. We headed to Fantasyland, to the Storybook Theatre. I meant to catch the 1:45 p.m. performance of the Golden Mickeys show, to watch two very special Pinoy artists sing—Cris Villonco and Chevy Mercado.

We fell in line at the theater, and spied a few other “Cinderella” people in line behind us. Once the doors opened, we filed in and tried to find seats close enough to the stage so we could see the singers’ faces.

Beloved characters

Disney magic was at its best in this show—so many beloved characters, live and in person, right in front of you! Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto, Belle and the Beast, Quasimodo, Ariel and Sebastian, Tarzan, Mulan and Shang, Lilo and Stitch. There are tributes to adventure, heroes and romance, all in a half-hour long awards presentation. A young reporter named Bebe (Shiela played this role during her time here) hosts the show, and in each tribute section, a different character gets up on stage to sing. Chevy played Quasimodo, singing “Out There” plaintive and wanting, with a voice clean and clear, and Cris was the Tarzan singer, performing “Son of Man,” while an incredibly chiseled Tarzan swung on vines above her. She sounded wonderful, as she always does. (I have to say one of her shining moments on stage was in Repertory Philippines’ production of “Hamlet.” Her Ophelia was moving and beautiful). Another surprise came in the form of Raymond Fegi (Ana Fegi’s brother), who played Shang that afternoon. I think the Fegi family has a monopoly on Disneyland, with Ana and sister Jing having performed in the park as well at one point or another.

Needless to say, I was incredibly proud of the Pinoy singers in the show.

After the Golden Mickeys, our next destination was It’s A Small World, one of the newest attractions. The last time I took in this ride was at the Disneyland in Anaheim, California, when I was about 10. I remember a really sweet ride, with strains of “It’s A Small World” playing in the background sung in different languages by children (well, not exactly) dressed in different national costumes. This ride would be the same here, but it seemed much more colorful and beautiful. The difference is, Disney folk, including Aladdin and Jasmine, made their way into the attraction here. The ride itself isn’t very long and doesn’t offer any loops or adrenaline-pumping action (actually, none of the Disneyland rides really do; Space Mountain is probably the closest you’ll get to that), but it was lovely. I think I took the most photos of this ride than of anything else.

Finally, we headed to Philharmagic. Mickey was about to magically conduct an orchestra, warning Donald to not touch his hat—the same wizard’s hat as seen in Disney’s “Fantastia.” Of course, Donald doesn’t heed the friendly warning, and finds himself in heaps of trouble… and in scenes from “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Nicole recognized Mommy’s voice when “A Whole New World” played in 3D. That was cute. This attraction, when it ended, led us right to a nice souvenir store. We got hoodies, a Mickey watch, a cool bag, a notebook and colored pen set for Nic.

One more time

We met up for a short while with Cris and Chevy. I had a dinner to rush off to, and my daughter was getting cranky. After a quick chat (with Rony stopping by to see us off), it was time to head back home. Nicole fell fast asleep in my arms on the ride back. She woke up in Central, where my mom bought her sweet pretzel sticks to snack on.

As short as our visit was, it was a magical day. Disneyland is one unique place where visitors can leave their cares behind and be a kid again. I have about three more weeks here in Hong Kong. I plan to make one more trip to this, the happiest place on earth.

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