One of the most unforgettable childhood memories I have was visiting Neverland Ranch when I was 13. When Michael Jackson passed away, I reflected back on that magical day and it brought a smile to my face. It’s been many years since I was there, but it stills feels like yesterday.
I was invited to the King of Pop’s kingdom to celebrate the birthday of one of his nieces. We traveled from the Jacksons’ Encino home in an unmarked car with tinted windows. Security made sure no one was following us as we drove up the coast to Santa Barbara County. I wish I had my own photos to share, but no cameras were allowed.
The Neverland I remember was far different from what you may have seen on TV in the subsequent days after Michael’s death. It was full of life, color, and warmth. The happiness was palpable. You could feel it from the moment you set foot on the property. The sun was shining over the hills, there was music coming out of trees (literally), and birds were chirping.
We pulled into the majestic gates and saw lakes and bronze statues of fairy-tale characters. I kept wondering if Michael was there at the time, but there was no sight of him. What I did see was the closest thing to being in a dream. There was an amusement park, zoo, video arcade, train station, and so much more. Imagine Disneyland, except everything is free and there are no lines.
First, we were taken to the movie theater to watch the short film for “Ghosts” from the King of Pop’s Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix album, which the public had not yet seen at the time. In the lobby of the theater was a concession stand where you could consume as many sodas and king-size candy bars as you wished. The only thing holding you back was self-control.
After the screening, we headed to the zoo to check out the reptile house and farm animals. There was a menagerie of animals, including monkeys, goats, pigs, snakes, frogs, ponies, llamas, lions, and kangaroos. The day we were there, one of the giraffes gave birth.
After the zoo, we had a BBQ lunch in a tent nearby the theater. I don’t recall the food being extraordinary, but I wasn’t there to eat. I made up for it by getting my hands on as much cotton candy as I could. There were candy carts all around the property.
Next up was the amusement park, the highlight of the day. We rode the bumper cars, ferris wheel, carousel, swing ride, and my favorite, the Eyerly Spider, which had arms like an octopus that spun you up and down. I must have ridden it over ten times!
From there, we were off to the train station where hot chocolate, desserts, and a wall full of TV screens with Nintendo 64, awaited us. The train, named after Michael’s mother Katherine, pulled into the station. We boarded and were taken to the two-story video arcade nearby the residence. I played Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, tested a flight simulator, and bounced on a trampoline until it was time to go home.
I left with one souvenir, a lollipop with the Neverland logo of a child sitting in a moon. The lollipop disintegrated over the years, but the memory will last a lifetime.
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