Sometimes, magic happens to the nicest of people.
When Amanda Powell of Carmel arrived in Disney World on the night of her 40th birthday, she had no idea that the next morning would be one of the most exciting events that her family had ever experienced.
Amanda is one of my very best friends, and I felt honored to help her plan this exciting trip—a milestone birthday celebration for Amanda and a first trip to Disney for her husband Eric and their three sons: Ben, Nick, and Rob.

Several months ago when we were in the planning process, I suggested to Amanda that they begin and end their vacation with the Magic Kingdom because there is nothing quite like walking down Main Street USA  as your first hello and final goodbye to the Most Magical Place on Earth. We decided that a 9:10 am breakfast at the Crystal Palace with Winnie the Pooh and Friends would be a memorable way to begin their first day in the park.

Amanda is one of those wonderfully organized people who is always early, and a trip to Disney was no exception. There was no sleeping in on the morning of June 16, and the whole family was on the first Port Orleans Riverside bus headed to the Magic Kingdom. They arrived a little after 8:00 a.m., and Amanda was greeted with a “Happy Birthday, Princess!” from a Cast Member from Maryland named Cat.  (All Disney employees are called Cast Members because they truly immerse themselves into their role in the Disney story which unfolds each day). Amanda told Cat that she grew up in Maryland, and they talked about familiar places of home. Because it was so early, Cat offered to take family pictures of the Powells in front of the train station and they all chatted together as the main entrance began to fill with hundreds of people.

After the pictures, Cat pulled Amanda aside and quietly asked, “I don’t want anyone else to hear me say this, but would you and your family like to open the Magic Kingdom today?” Not knowing what this meant, Amanda simply replied, “Will we be late for our 9:10 breakfast reservation?” Cat assured her that they would not be late, and she asked the family, now all a bit puzzled, to follow her through the main entrance and into the Town Hall area.  A bright red fire truck was waiting for them, and a jovial Cast Member named Edgar was the driver. A retired lawyer from New York, Edgar was now a resident of Orlando and was in his tenth year with Walt Disney World. “Cool,” thought Amanda, “a free ride down Main Street to the restaurant.” She was happy.

Edgar took the Powells on a leisurely ride down Main Street to Cinderella Castle and took photos of the family in front of the castle and in the fire truck.

All the while, Amanda thought that Edgar would simply drop them off at the Crystal Palace and the big surprise was that they would be able to eat breakfast early! Edgar kept driving, and they arrived at the train station again. More Cast Members were there to welcome them and they ushered the Powells up the ramp to the top of the station where a whole crew of Main Street Cast Members were in full costume and make-up. Amanda was confused, but instead of asking questions, she just decided to go with it.

A man in a crisp straw hat, white shirt, tweed vest and blue bow tie stepped forward and started giving Amanda and Eric instructions that included words like, “Forty thousand people ,” “Cross through this train car at my command,” “Dad stands next to Mickey Mouse,” “Make sure to wave” and “Don’t let the kids talk in the microphone!” Everything was a blur, Amanda remembers.  What was going on? She quickly realized that this unknown event was extremely important, so she did what all moms do in this situation: she pulled her boys in and said in a shouting whisper, “Be on your best behavior!”

Suddenly, lively music filled the air and the costumed Cast Members sprung into formation and began to sing and dance.   Amanda looked to the left and saw the Walt Disney World Railroad train coming into the station with Mickey, Minnie, Chip, Dale, Anna, Elsa and many other princesses and classic Disney characters aboard!  Absolutely incredulous, Amanda tried to remember all the instructions she had just been given. Coached by Cast Members on the sideline, the family walked across the train car to the platform to see tens of thousands of faces waving, photographing them and cheering!  “Good Morning!, she heard over the loud speaker, “Please help us welcome the Powell family from Carmel, Indiana, as they open the Magic Kingdom today!”  She and Eric and the boys stepped to the front of the train station balcony to wave at the crowds, and the magnitude of the moment finally began to sink in. The end of the song was punctuated by bursts of fireworks and colorful stream confetti.

So THAT is what it means to open the Magic Kingdom! Amanda and her family were in awe. They were escorted down to the fire truck again where a professional Disney photographer took photos of them in the truck and at the castle. The photographer explained that he had also taken photos from the ground level during the welcome ceremony and that they could view the photos later that morning.  Amanda was able to choose a complimentary 8×10 photo to commemorate their special day, and they were also given some extra Fast Passes to enjoy added attractions. Amanda gave Edgar a big hug and thanked him for making her birthday so special, and the Powells made their way over to the Crystal Palace to check in a full five minutes early. Their feet may not have entirely touched the ground for the rest of the day as they replayed the morning’s event in their minds.

Surprises that are truly out-of-the-blue are often the most special because you just don’t even know what to expect. When Amanda talked to her boys about their experience at the Magic Kingdom, her oldest son Ben said, “Mom, going to Disney World changed my life.” What an amazing way to get a first glimpse of Disney World—from the top of the train station at the Magic Kingdom. When you get a view like that, how can life ever be the same?