SWSA Final Night, Part 4 - The Big Ending

This is the fifth in a series of six blog posts about my son and his experience on the last night of operation for Snow White's Scary Adventures at Walt Disney World. To read the entire series from the beginning, start with SWSA Final Night - Prelude. Thank you for reading.

The crowd was still cheering as Stacey led our group away from Snow White's Scary Adventures following the official last ride. Just like a few hours earlier, we were taken to a spot in front of The Friar's Nook in order to wait. We watched as Disney security helped guide the remaining guests out of Fantasyland, and as the park quickly emptied out we learned that Stacy had another gift for Ben - a photo CD with more than 80 pictures taken during Snow White's visit with Ben along with four prints of some of the best shots. Ben particularly liked the one from inside the ride with Snow White. I particularly liked the one showing Ben laughing and happy.

Ben describes his day in precisely 1,000 words

As we waited, Ben's grandpa said his goodbyes and left for work. Our remaining group consisted of Ben, his mom, videographer Robert Lughai, Finnish Snow White afficianado Kenneth Sundberg, and me. After a few minutes Stacey came back and said that the park guests were all clear, and that we could go back and finish the rides to get Ben up to 3,500. I really want you to take that in for a second -- Walt Disney World was keeping the ride open for an additional 25 minutes exclusively for Ben. It was already nearing 11pm, and I have to imagine that workers were standing by to begin decommisioning the ride and putting up the construction walls that had to be in place before park opening the next day, and here they were letting my family and friends back on the ride for no other reason than to actually finish with a milestone number. That's not "above and beyond", it's just a whole new dimension of amazing.

The atmosphere as the five of us loaded into the mine cart was completely different from earlier. Where earlier it was a huge event with hundreds of strangers, this had become an intimate affair shared among just a handful of trusted compatriots. We had the entire ride to ourselves, and our interactions became downright surreal. Ben was still giddy with joy, and with no other guests to bother we felt free to have full-voiced conversations throughout the ride pointing out little detail bits that we loved. On one of the early laps, Ben's mom mentioned that she had always wanted to touch the wishing well but had never tried because the CM operating the ride is right there and she didn't want to get kicked out of the park. So of course on the next lap I looked her straight in the eyes and reached out to touch the well as we spun around. She couldn't reach it all from her seat, and so on the next go-around she traded places and finally had her wish fulfilled.

I think it was after the second lap, at ride number 3,495, that we realized that we didn't need to be lugging around all of our backpacks and such. (Spending hours in the park with a special needs child requires a variety of supplies, and I had been lugging around that backpack all night). With no other guests to worry about, we just piled up our belongings next to the unload station and carried on. After each lap we would have to exit the cart, and then walk around to get back into the very same cart again. During each transition the cast members would count out the next ride number - like the slowest New Year's Eve countdown ever. Around the 3,498th ride Ben's mom looked at me and said, "I think he should go on the last ride all by himself."

My heart nearly stopped at the notion. In eighteen years, Benjamin had never been truly alone. Sure, he might be alone in another room in the house -- places that were absolutely safe, and quickly accessible by a guardian if anything should happen. But he had never, ever been somewhere completely unsupervised, completely unobserved and unobservable. I almost said "no" immediately. But in my heart I realized that his mother was right. Ben is legally an adult. There was a lap bar to prevent him from exiting the ride vehicle. He would be fine. Almost certainly. If ever there was an opportunity to try letting him go on a ride on his own, this was it. And it was a way to make the final ride really and truly special. By the 3,499th ride we were in agreement, although my stomach was still twisting in knots at the idea.

And then it was the moment of truth. We all exited the cart. Ken stood off at a respectable distance, allowing us to have this moment as a family. Robert collected his camera and set up to film Ben's last ride. We led Ben over to the loading zone, gave him a big hug, and then told him to go ahead. He looked a little confused at first, and then smiled in disbelief. With his iPod in one hand, a single earbud in his left ear, and with his camera in the other hand he embarked on the very last ride. We waved and blew him kisses as he rounded the wishing well, and then he was through the doors and completely gone.

I turned to Stacey and said, "There are cameras in there, right? There's somebody in a security room somewhere that can see everything that is happening?"

"Nope!" she replied cheerfully, "but there are intrusion matts everywhere, and in any case the lap bar will keep him in the cart."

I looked at my watch, and then looked at the exit doors. Empty cart after empty cart paraded by, and I had visions of those doors opening to a cart empty but for an iPod and a camera perched on the front seat. The headlines the next day would read "Autistic Boy Disappears from Disney Ride". I imagined a vigniette several decades in the future, a grizzled old maintenance worker saying in hushed tones to a new employee, "...and to this day you can hear his ghost moaning in this building, mourning the loss of his favorite ride..."

Surely it had been three minutes by now, and still those doors steadfastly refused to open. I realized that I was holding my breath, as I noticed abstractly that Robert had set up his camera shot to get the perfect view of Ben's exit. Finally, after what seemed like hours, those doors swung open and there was my happy young man still clutching his iPod and his camera. We all let out a cheer as the mine cart rolled to a halt, and then Benjamin got big hugs all around.

And that is how it was that Benjamin's actual last ride was a huge milestone. Not because of the big round number, and not because he was the last guest to ever go on the ride, but because that final ride was the first step on a terrifying and exhilerating new adventure. All alone in that mine cart, Benjamin took his first giant step towards independence. Three minutes alone on a dark ride may seem like a small thing, but for our family it was a tremendously magnificent feat. Of everything else that happened on that remakable night, that is the thing that will be burned into my memory forever.

Music and Lyrics Copyright ©2012 Lokheed Enterprises
If the above player does not work, you can listen to the song here: Benjamin's Lullaby (a.k.a. All Is Well)

Next Up: SWSA Final Night - Epilogue

Travis Denman
Thank you for sharing this remarkable story.
Wow. Thankyou so much for sharing this. What an inspiring, awesome, story. I'm a mum of two young girls in Australia with a slight obsession with WDW, despite probably never getting there...Just telling you that so you can see that you, your son and his mum have inspired people very far away. I wish you well xx
Amazing story there mate. I've been reading the final night blogs in the last hour of work everyday, and it lifts me up.
I'm so glad Ben got such an amazing ending.
Also a WDW obsessed Aussie here.
Amazing. So happy for Ben and for all of you. Thank you for sharing your magical boy with us.
Julie Anne
How perfect that Ben got to be the last rider on SWSA. I've loved getting to read about Ben's experiences on SWSA's last day. Thanks for letting us share in such a great day.
What a perfect ending. So much symbolism. Ben's rides on SWSA have changed his live. It is such a perfect ending to his life with SWSA, but really truly a begining... a new chapter. That is what SWSA has been for him. So many new experienes and doors have been opened by his Disney experience. So perfect.

This is what Disney is about! It is this stoy that shows the "magic." I am so proud of Disney as a company. This is why I love Disney.
Jeff Sichta
Spectacular experience! That was very brave of you and his mom to let him go on the final ride by himself!
What an amazing story. Thank you for sharing it with us!
Diane Lopez-velarde
I'm at work having lunch while reading this and I can't stop the tears of happiness for Ben's solo ride. I can't thank you enough for sharing this private milestone with us SWSA fans. The ride will be sorely missed. Thanks Disney for making Ben so very, very happy.
Wow! What an amazing story...You have kept me on the edge of my seat & I have had to come back daily to see what happened. Thank you so much for sharing. And that is why I LOVE Disney!!! Blessings to you & your family.
Thank you for sharing this. Ben was the first person I thought of when Disney announced this closure. I am glad to know Disney gave your family a great experience.
Wonderful. Thank you for sharing. May God bless Ben and your family.
I've been on the disboards for years and never saw anything about Ben. I've ready this blog over the past couple of days with tears in my eye. Congratulation to you and your family! It's obvious the love that you have for your son. I'm so happy that he was able to reach his goal of 3,500 rides and make that step into independence. Disney did a wonderful thing! Thank you for sharing this beautiful story with everyone.
Carrie K.
Okay, now I'm having to explain to my kids why I have tears streaming down my face. Thank you so much for taking the time to write about that last night in such detail. Such an amazing story - and it is so heartening to read about the truly good people who embraced your family and made that night so special for Ben.
Well written story about a loving and devoted family. Congrats to Disney for remembering that no matter how big they get, making memories is still number one.
Thank you for sharing your wonderful story and I am so glad Ben's last ride on SWSA was his first ride too. My son has autism and sounds very like Ben, he is 13, and SWSA was one of his favourites. We live in the UK so the last time he rode it was two years ago and he will miss it in our trip this August, but he knows it has closed and is taking it well so far. It helps that his absolute favourite ride,(the one we have done around 600 times) is actually The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, so we are good for a while! ...but next time someone asks me why we love WDW so much I will be able to direct them to this blog - it resonates so much with me and explains the Disney magic so much better than I can, thank you.
I have enjoyed your story very much.Thank goodness I was reading it alone(didn't want to explain the tears)What a wonderful memories for you and your family have.
wonderful story. It is good to hear the good side of such a large company. I hope Ben finds a new favorite ride to enjoy.
John Reynolds
I was there that night. My wife rode with three of my kids while my youngest son 1 1/2 years old slept I the stroller. I heard the cheers at the end of the night but thought it was for people cheering the ride. That is what makes wdw so special these absolutely magical moments. The cast members are absolutely heros in my book and your son is the lead of this real life fairy tale. I don't know your son but he has brought joy to my heart. Thank you for sharing your story.
Thank you thank you thank you for sharing this story with all of us. I cried the entire time I was reading the whole story from beginning to end. I have obviously never met you and your family but felt the love you all share. I love Ben's big smile and obvious joy. Thank you again for the joy that I was able to have as I shared in the magic that Disney can bring to the hearts of kids and adults.
What an amazing story! I am a huge Disney fan and am a Special Education Preschool teacher. I cried tears of joy throughout your story. Disney Is such an amazing place and they truly do care about all of their fans. I could hear Ben's laughter and feel his glee as I read the story. You and your wife are amazing people to have moved to Orlando for your son, and helped him reach his goal of 3500 rides. WOW! I can also imagine how scary it was for you to let him go on alone. He will never forget this day. I wonder what ride he will choose next?
Bless you all and thanks for giving me the best story to read on a Saturday afternoon!
This was, without a doubt, one of the most amazing stories of Cast Member magic I have ever read. Thanks so much for sharing, I have been bothered with dust allergies all day. This can only explain why tears are pouring out of eyes.

Time to perhaps plan a visit to Disneyland? The Evil Queen still lurks in the windows of towers...
I followed your story over on WDWMagic for years, and even corresponded with you once, as we were planning to make our very first visit to WDW and our youngest is also on the spectrum.You were so helpful with suggestions on how we could make WDW work for our son. I immediately thought of Ben when I heard the ride was closing. What a tall handsome man he has become! I am so glad his last experience with SWSA was such an amazing one. A lifetime will not be long enough to savor all the treasured memories you have of this experience. God bless all of you as Ben moves on to the next phase of his life.
I was directed by another blog and was warned that I would need tissues. I thought the story was lovely and touching, but I wasn't teary. Until the end. As the mom of a child with Asperger's, I recognize the small victories and how we sometimes underestimate what they can handle while trying to navigate the rough waters of what they can't. I felt your anxiety at letting him try something on his own, and the joy of knowing that they can make it through. Thank you for sharing this story. It's a nice reminder that there are amazing people in this world, and that our own kids are the most amazing of all.
He got all that and not a prop yanked from the ride too?
Ben has been to Disney World more times than any kid could dream of but when his favorite ride at DW is closing, he's given a lavish party. High functioning autistic kids from poor families who find out this story would feel gypped.
First thing: you might consider your use of language and the usage of the word "gypped". I'm sure you don't mean anything by it, but it is an extremely offensive word based on an ugly racial stereotype. Words are powerful things and should be used with care.

Second thing: There is no question that Ben has been extremely fortunate in his time spent at Disney. Over the years we have been continually awed and amazed by the things that Cast Members have done for our family, both large and small. We are eternally grateful for the joy they have given our son, and have never expected anything from them beyond basic customer service. I am always happy to help any other family bringing a special needs child to Disney, and have done so on numerous occasions.

I don't post these stories because I think my family is special or better than anyone else. I write them because I think they are interesting stories that may be meaningful to others. If someone feels envious, that is certainly not my intention.
I just inadvertently deleted a comment, and don't know how to get it back. Here it is reconstructed from the notification email I received:

What a great read. Truly captivating. No wasted words and each paragraph conveyed great emotion.I don't know about the logistics involved, but maybe you could write a short novella about Ben's life and what SWSA has meant to him, what it has taught him, what it has meant to you as a family, what (something like) SWSA could mean for parents of autistic children, etc.I don't know of your time commitments, but maybe a Kickstarter project would help get the ball rolling?Nice job.
In response to that: Yes, I am writing a book about Ben. It will realistically take me until 2013 before I have it ready for print, but I will be adding information here on the website for people to sign up to be notified when it is ready.
I have a Down's son and have been going for a dozen years. We'll miss the ride, but I'm so pleased to hear your wonderful story. And the Disney park staff are the best in the world. Thanks to you all.

Ben and Snow White

Ben and Snow White

About Shmoolok

The word "shmoolok" is a mashup of the longtime computer handles for my wife and myself ("Shmooby" and "Lokheed", respectively).

I originally created this website to be a place for my family to connect, but it has since grown into something a little different.

As for me -- I am a father, a husband, a son, a software developer, and a writer. On any given day I am not sure how good I am at any of those particular things, but I do try my best.

Thank you for visiting my website.

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Benjamin's Lullaby

Popular Entries

There has been an influx of new readers to my blog. If you wound up here looking for stories about my son's ten year romance with Snow White's Scary Adventures, here are the major blog posts you will want to read:

SW1K - The Full Story

SW1K Redux

SW2K - The Full Story

SWSA Final Night - Prelude

SWSA Final Night, Part 1 - The Beginning of the End

SWSA Final Night, Part 2 - The Fairest One of All

SWSA Final Night, Part 3 - Counting Up, Counting Down

SWSA Final Night, Part 4 - The Big Ending

SWSA Final Night - Epilogue

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