Mickey Mouse and Pluto were among the first on Monday to salute the army of people who swarmed into Disneyland at 7 p.m. sharp.
In honor of those stationed in the Persian Gulf, the amusement park offered free admission to children, spouses and other family members of military service people assigned to Operation Desert Shield. The park will offer family members free admission again tonight.
Pat Deemer, her father and her two children drove from Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino County to take in the park. Deemer’s husband, Jack, an Air Force pilot, has been away for two weeks.
“This gives us a little something to enjoy while he’s not around,” Deemer said. “The rides help the kids forget about him being away . . . and it helps me, too.”
Marine Cpl. Rafael DeJesus and his wife, Lizette, hailed the free admission, saying it would give them good memories before he leaves Camp Pendleton. The couple brought their 15-month-old son, Jessian, for some family photos with Mickey Mouse.
“We want to enjoy ourselves before I get shipped out,” DeJesus said. “We want to be together as long as possible, and this is one way to do that.”
Disneyland officials say they scheduled the two nights for the military families to offset the difficulties encountered by Knott’s Berry Farm when it offered free Veterans Day admission to active and retired military service people. Disneyland announced the two-day event in November. Unlike Knott’s, Disneyland distributed free passes to 25 military bases in Southern California and Nevada.
Knott’s Berry Farm had been overwhelmed by more than 20,000 people who had heard about the free admission from advertisements throughout Southern California. Park officials were forced to turn away people at 1 p.m. and give out rain checks for admission.
Disneyland spokesman Bob Roth said Disneyland officials expected about 10,000 people each night. Tickets for the park normally cost $27.50 for adults and $22.50 for children.
“We’re in the unique position of being able to offer the families something special,” Roth said. “We all know they are enduring a difficult time and we want to do our part to make the Christmas season pleasant for them.”
About 2,000 Disney Co. employees volunteered to work the two nights, Disneyland President Jack Lindquist said.
Among those serving hot dogs and soft drinks to giggling children and happy adults was Michael Eisner, chairman of Walt Disney Co. Eisner donned pin-stripes as usual. But for this occasion the stripes were a bit wider than usual on his red and white pin-striped soda jerk cap and apron.
Eisner spent most of the night hitting the buttons of a cash register at the corner cafe on Main Street.
“We want to open our doors and contribute as much as we can to the families,” Eisner said between customers.
One of Eisner’s first customers was Marine helicopter pilot Lt. Michael Kaine, who was served two hot dogs and a Coke. The Marine had no idea that the soda jerk was Disney’s head honcho.
“Wow, that was great,” said Kaine after learning who served him. “Boy, you never know who you can bump into when you’re in the Marines.”