David and I had planned a summer Disneyland trip with David’s best man and childhood best friend, Aaron Canepa, and his new wife, Abby, who had never visited any Disney park. The trip had been in the works for many months and we were scheduled to spend three whole days in the parks together in July. A few months before the trip, I made mention that a friend of mine from out of state (who had also never been to a Disney park) might plan a trip to California and I invited her to join us in Disney if the timing worked out. David was NOT happy about that which didn’t make any sense because he is normally extremely easy going. She did not end up making the trip so I quickly forgot about it.
Fast forward to July 11th and we made it to Disneyland! I had been a little suspicious that David might propose during this trip but I had told him on multiple occasions that I do not like castle proposals and I couldn’t figure out how else he would do it. He was not acting suspiciously and did not leave our group for any lengthy periods of time that would make me think he was “working things out”. I brushed it off and settled in to just enjoy our first day in Disney and we were having a blast!
Around 6pm, we were in California Adventure and David said he wanted to go back to Disneyland. All four of us started walking across the courtyard when David said he needed to use the bathroom. Aaron and Abby said they wanted to get a cold drink so we started walking to the Gibson Girl on Main Street. Before we made it to the Gibson Girl, David caught up with us and said, “Let’s go to Pirates!” I said that Aaron and Abby wanted a cold drink first, since we had already been on Pirates of the Caribbean two or three times that day. David was very adamant that we should go on Pirates again. I thought he was being really rude, but Aaron and Abby did not seem to mind waiting a bit to get their drinks, so we walked over to Pirates of the Caribbean.
After exiting the ride, David pulled me to the side of the walkway and Aaron and Abby walked off without us. David pulled a manila envelope out of his backpack stuffed with smaller letter envelopes that were numbered. He handed me the first envelope that started a scavenger hunt across the entire park! (Side note: When David and I first started dating, I left my sunglasses at his parents’ house and came to pick them up when he was not going to be home. David created a small scavenger hunt for me to find them and I loved it so much! Scavenger hunts have been our ‘thing’ ever since). The scavenger started in the French Quarter, snaked back to the Haunted Mansion, and brought us all the way back down Main Street to the park entrance. The last clue said to go back to where we were staying, get changed, and meet David at the castle. David had convinced me to bring a formal outfit under the guise that we were going to have a nice dinner with Aaron and Abby. We get back to our room, change and freshen up, and make our way back to Disneyland. While in the car on the way back, David kept anxiously checking his watch and complaining about traffic, which I thought was because he knows how much I hate leaving the parks for any reason. Spoiler: That is not why he was concerned about the time! As we are walking hand-in-hand down Main Street toward the castle, all I can think is how badly I do NOT want a castle proposal but I honestly could not visualize any other outcome. Since I’m so lost in my own thoughts, David asks, “Are you okay?” My verbatim response was, “If you do what I think you’re going to do in front of this castle right now, I’m going to be really upset.” Do you know what he did? He LAUGHED! That was not encouraging at all.
We finally arrive at the castle and there are hundreds of people already camped out in front for the fireworks show later that night, so David waves me around to the right side on the pathway beside the castle where Aaron and Abby magically appear and Aaron is filming. David looks at me and says “I know this is going to be our last Disney trip for awhile and I really wanted to make it special. So, MacKenzie Freed, will you….*fakes like he is getting down on one knee while I start saying “No, no, no!”*…go to Club 33 with me? I AM SHOCKED. I am convinced he is lying because there is just no way that is possible. We have wanted to go to Club 33 forever. My mom even called in every favor she had trying to get a reservation for me for my college graduation a few years earlier. It was just impossible. David shows me the email print-out with the itinerary from Club 33 Guest Services. He shows me his ticket, which says Complimentary Club 33 on the back. He pulls up the email exchange on his phone between himself and Club 33 and I still don’t believe it. David tells me it’s 7:55pm and our reservation is for 8:00pm and he asks if I want to walk over. Absolutely, I do!! We walk over, press the button, David offers his name saying he has a reservation for two and then I, still in disbelief, stare at the doorknob for what seems like an eternity. Then…THE DOOR OPENS and we are welcomed inside the courtyard in front of the stairs and I cannot even speak I am in such shock.
Eventually, we are led up to the dining room and offered our seats, all the while taking photos of absolutely everything. At this point, I am sufficiently convinced this is the surprise and am soaking up every moment. We begin dinner and David asks me from across the table, “Did I surprise you?” That is the understatement of my life. I am in utter disbelief that we are actually there. I am frantically sending photos to my parents so they can freak out with me. I told him I really thought he was going to propose and was excited, but this is more than a good enough substitute! About halfway through our dinner, the Fantastic show begins and the waitstaff opens the doors to the balconies so we can watch from outside. As we’re standing there watching, I just cannot help but look around, enjoying this surreal experience…and then I see a man pointing a camera up to the balcony and it looks strangely like my dad. I went back to watching the show but looked for the man again and could not find him. I mentioned to David that I could’ve sworn I just saw my dad but he brushes it off. Honestly, every middle-aged, bald dad at Disney looks the same (sorry, dad!) so we forgot about it and enjoyed the rest of the show.
After the show concluded, David and I wanted to take photos on the corner balcony. I walk to the corner and David says he will find someone to take our photo. When he comes back with a waitress to take our photo, we pose with our backs toward the park sprawling out below us and take as many photos as we can. Then David turns to look at me. He says, “I feel bad for making you think I was going to propose and then didn’t because I do love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” He knelt onto one knee and pulled out the ring and asked, “MacKenzie LaRae Freed, will you marry me?” The best moment of my entire life and the easiest answer I’ve ever had to give! After he put the ring on my finger and hugged me, David says, “By the way, that was your dad” and he points to the ground below us in front of the balcony where my mom, dad, Aaron, and Abby are standing, filming, and cheering!
Once we got back inside the dining room, everyone cheered and clapped for us and we were given a champagne toast complete with Disney celebration buttons with our engagement date on them. It was the most memorable day filled with Disney magic and the most perfect way to start our journey to wedding day!
I knew I wanted to propose to MacKenzie for a year before I even started planning the proposal. I started planning the proposal one year before I proposed. It took a lot of patience and planning. Mostly, because I had to wait for her to finish her time as Miss California. When we were in Atlantic City, NJ, I knew her time as a titleholder would end in June 2019. It was time to put my plan in action.
MacKenzie and I were getting a milkshake with a friend in Calabasas whose sister knew Roy Disney’s grandson. She mentioned that her sister had been to Club 33 (an exclusive, members only restaurant located inside Disneyland with a 10-year waiting list, $25,000 initiation fee, and $10,000 annual membership fee). She also mentioned that she knew someone who got engaged at Club 33. MacKenzie swooned at that proposal, and I knew I had to propose there. I also knew she would never suspect a proposal at Disneyland because (1) there was no way she would guess that I had Club 33 reservations, and (2) She knows that I know she HATES castle proposals (remember this; it will be important later). It was the start of a fantastic plan, but I had to add something to make it even more special.
Once I knew MacKenzie would give up her title in June 2019, we planned a Disney trip for July 2019 with my best friend, Aaron, and his soon-to-be wife, Abby. They were getting married in June, Aaron and I were graduating from college, MacKenzie was finishing up her year, and MacKenzie and I would be moving to Arkansas; it was the perfect excuse to go to the park (not that we needed one). All I had to do before that trip was get a reservation to Club 33. I asked everyone I knew for months. My close friends would ask their close friends. I knew that Pepperdine students were well connected, but it took 4 months before I found anyone with a membership. One of my close friends’ roommate’s grandpa had a membership. My friend’s roommates name was Alaina, and she was willing to help me out. Alaina was fabulous throughout the planning process. She was excited for me and helped me plan out a story to tell MacKenzie to get her to pack nice clothes for a dinner. Alaina told me about the Napa Rose restaurant in the Grand Californian Hotel. At one time, the Napa Rose had the same dress code as Club 33. I told MacKenzie that her, Aaron, Abby, and I should get a nice dinner at Napa Rose one night we were in Disneyland so pack a fancy dress. That is all the specifics I gave.
I knew I wanted to make the proposal extra special somehow, so I had to do something specific to MacKenzie and me. I planned a scavenger hunt. I carefully planned a scavenger hunt that lead MacKenzie throughout Disneyland, back to the AirBnB, back to Disneyland, and then to Club 33 (more on this later). I made detailed instructions and entrusted Aaron and Abby with orchestrating it behind the scenes (FYI they crushed it).
MacKenzie has very strong preferences about rings. She wanted something unique. I worked with Peter at INTA Gems and Diamonds (a Miss California sponsor and good friend of MacKenzie’s) to create a custom ring for her. Peter and I used different aspects of several different rings to come up with the design for MacKenzie’s ring. I wanted to add unique elements to the ring that would hold significance to MacKenzie, and Peter was a huge help with that. I had a California Poppy flower engraved on the inside of the band to represent MacKenzie’s year as Miss California. I also had two aquamarine stones added to the bridge on either side to represent MacKenzie’s eyes, my favorite color. When it was getting close to July 2019, I told MacKenzie I was going to LA to get lunch with a friend. That friend was Peter, and I got the ring.
Leading up to the proposal:
One month before the proposal, Club 33 calls me to confirm my reservations and talk about how I want to propose. They explained that the balcony outside is a nice private area where a proposal could be intimate. Their accommodation was phenomenal the entire time.
Two weeks before the proposal in Fresno at Miss CA when MacKenzie was giving up her title, I talked with her parents. They give me their blessing and ask about my plans. I tell them the whole plan and when it is happening. Her parents wanted to be there for the proposal, and they will help me film it when it happens.
Leading up to the proposal, MacKenzie (unknowingly) actively tried to sabotage me the whole time. First, she tried to invite another friend to the Disney trip on the day the scavenger hunt and proposal was supposed to happen. I protested by saying that “it should just be you me Abby and Aaron for this trp.” Thankfully, she decided not to invite anyone else. Second, a close family friend, Jen Yeszin, wanted MacKenzie to go to Florida that week to help Emma, Jen’s daughter, at a pageant. I immediately texted Jen saying, “YOU CAN’T TAKE MACKENZIE TO FLORIDA I HAVE RESERVATIONS AT CLUB 33 AND I AM GOING TO PROPOSE!” Jen was understanding but she had already offered the trip to MacKenzie, and she didn’t know how to take it back. Thankfully MacKenzie decided not to go since she already missed Aaron and Abby’s wedding and did not want to bail on them again. Finally, on the day before the proposal we were staying in Huntington Beach to spend some time near the ocean before moving to Arkansas. When we checked out of the hotel and arrived at our AirBnB for Disneyland she realized she forgot her nice jumpsuit in the closet at the hotel in Huntington Beach. Since Club 33 has a dress code, she could not get in without a nice outfit, not to mention I want her to like what she is wearing for our proposal pictures. We call the hotel and they say they will go look, but it is taking a long time. We go to a nearby mall and can’t find anything good. Eventually we separate and I call the hotel and say, “I need this outfit. I am proposing tomorrow and that is what she needs to wear.” The front desk associate says “OH MY GOD! I’ll be right back!” The associate runs around and finds the jumpsuit, so we go back to Huntington and get the dress. We were not off to a great start, but Aaron and Abby arrive at the AirBnB shortly afterwards. We catch up with them and MacKenzie asks Abby about what she was going to wear to our nice dinner at the Napa Rose. Aaron and Abby know that we aren’t going to get dinner there, but Abby brought a nice outfit just in case MacKenzie asks (she rocks).
Operation Club 33:
The day of the proposal starts off as an ordinary day in Disneyland. Aaron, Abby, MacKenzie, and I are having a great time. When it is almost 6pm, We decide to leave Disney California Adventure and go back to Disneyland. In the courtyard between the parks, I leave the group to “use the bathroom” and MacKenzie takes Aaron and Abby to get a cold drink. I was actually meeting up with MacKenzie’s parents to give them a spare ticket. When you get Club 33 reservations, you get complimentary tickets for everyone in your reservation party. MacKenzie didn’t need one, so I gave the extra one to George. MacKenzie has no idea that her parents are in the park. I meet back up with the group and say that I want to go on Pirates of the Caribbean. MacKenzie says, “Wait, Aaron didn’t get his drink.” I respond, “He can get it later.” This sounds rude but Aaron was only saying that to keep MacKenzie away from her parents in the courtyard. He knew it was time to get rolling. We go on Pirates of the Caribbean, exit, and I hand MacKenzie an envelope. Aaron and Abby run off to the next spot on our scavenger hunt. MacKenzie opens the envelope and reads the clue. The scavenger hunt takes her from Pirates, to the haunted mansion, by the Club 33 door, and down Mainstreet. The whole time, Aaron and Abby were one step ahead. We finally catch Aaron and Abby on Mainstreet close to the entrance to the park. This clue asks MacKenzie to leave the park and go back to the AirBnB. I was nervous about this one. MacKenzie loves Disneyland and she HATES leaving the park for any reason. I knew it would be tough to convince her to leave. But, she reluctantly went back to the AirBnB. There was a clue in the AirBnB telling her to dress her best and go back to the Castle in the park (remember how she hates castle proposals?) We are both dressed nicely and are walking down Mainstreet towards the castle and she says something along the lines of “I hope you’re not doing what I think you’re doing.” I laugh and say nothing. We get to the castle but there is a large group of people sitting in front waiting for the fireworks, so we go off to the side. I say, “This is good enough.” MacKenzie, worried I am going to propose in front of the castle says, “Is it really?” We find Aaron and Abby by the castle and Aaron starts filming with his phone. I look at MacKenzie and say “MacKenzie Freed, will you….” MacKenzie worryingly says “No no no.” I finish with, “…go to Club 33 with me?” I pull out our reservation confirmation from my pocket, show her my email, show her my complimentary Club 33 park ticket and say, “We have reservations in 10 minutes.” We walk over to Club 33. Both of us are in disbelief honestly that we will actually get into the Club despite the fact that I have been coordinating with them for a month. Nevertheless, we get to the door and I ring the bell. “Club 33, how can I help you?” come through the intercom. “I have a reservation for 2 at 8pm under David Goehring” I respond. Nothing…. Nothing…. It feels like an eternity, but then…. THE DOOR OPENS! We are welcomed into Club 33, and MacKenzie is losing her mind. She is so excited. I explain shakily that she didn’t know we were coming until 10 minutes ago. I can barely believe it myself. They offer us warm towels, take our picture in the Court of Angels, and usher us upstairs. The host takes our bags and takes us to our tables. It’s beautiful. The ambiance is incredible. We start our 5-course meal. MacKenzie says to me “You know, I wouldn’t have said ‘no’” referring to me proposing in front of the castle. She even said she was a little disappointed I didn’t propose. But I knew what was coming. After course number 2, the staff opened up the doors to the balcony. The Disney show Fantasmic was starting. We were watching Fantasmic from a dark balcony when MacKenzie says “I think I just saw my dad.” I respond “Oh, that’s weird.” I texted our group right away and said, “Hide better! MacKenzie thinks she just saw you.” When Fantasmic ends, MacKenzie and I move to another balcony with better lighting and I go find a waitress to take our picture. I also go and get the ring from my bag. We start taking pictures out on the balcony when I say to MacKenzie, “I feel bad that I made you think I was going to propose and then didn’t… because I love you and I do want to spend the rest of my life with you…. So, MacKenzie LaRae Freed…. Will you marry me?” The photographer captured all of it. She said “Yes!” I then pointed out to her that her parents were here and that was her dad she saw earlier. There was a small cheer from her family and a few others down below the balcony. We went back inside the restaurant to more applause and a champagne toast from Club 33. They also gave us celebratory Disney buttons with Club 33 stickers on the back. We ate some more dinner (although we were both on edge and overly excited, so we didn’t finish everything), took pictures throughout the club, and went down to see her family. We spent the rest of the night going on rides, taking pictures, and spending time together. It was the best start to our own Happily Ever After.