We made it to the Park on January 8, 2011, which was a cold, gray day---perfect for taking in Disneyland.
It turned out to be a pretty nice trip.
We took along some friends of ours who recently got annual passes.
For the first time in a very long while, we sat down by the Rivers of America and took in the Fantasmic show, complete with its new dragon.
We stayed in place afterward and watched the new "Wishes" fireworks show, which combined the old "Wishes" show with some of the best parts of the 50th Anniversary display.
All in all, we were pretty impressed by the view of both shows from the edge of the Rivers of America.
What was best of all, we were able to take a nighttime cruise on the Mark Twain before it shut down for the night and the Fantasmic shows.
This cast member's name was Ryan, and he said, "How many of you would like to come up to the Wheelhouse?"
"Four," I answered without missing a beat.
"Four it is," said our tall Captain.
Ryan, for the record is 6 feet, 7 inches tall by his own telling.
(His capped head nearly banged against the low roof of the wheelhouse when we finally got up there!)
In any event, our friend, Maria, had never been in the Wheelhouse of the Mark Twain.
She was in for a treat.
Ryan led the way through the little door marked "Private."
We entered the "Captain's Quarters," which is a small room that has a bed, a night stand and a ladder that leads up to the vessel's helm---the Wheelhouse.
The ladder is narrow and as steep as you can imagine.
I remember in younger days, sliding down the railings with both hands on my way below.
My days as a steamboat captain on the Mark Twain have previously been mentioned here in my essay, Disneyland Musings - Volume 3 - Nights in the Wheelhouse.
When you get to the top of the ladder, you step through a gate (that has since been installed since my days on the Twain) and out toward the Mark Twain's massive wooden steering wheel---the helm.
You step to your right and there is a small writing desk with the Mark Twain's official guest book on it.
As is the custom, each visitor signs their name in the guest book.
Maria and the girls signed their name and I took the plumed pen (which is flimsy and very difficult to write with) and signed on the next page.
Captain Ryan grabbed the P.A. microphone and announced our departure.
He then directed the girls to do the whistles and bells as the Mark Twain pulled from the dock.
Ryan looked nervous for a moment.
With the years fading in an instant, I was suddenly back in 1987, and I leaned past my youngest daughter and grabbed the wooden handle of the bell rope---the shortest of the two ropes pictured just above the little girl wearing pink in this photograph.
I pulled down on the handle briskly and then lifted my hand to get the ship's bell to rock back and forth.
Then - two whistles!
I grabbed the steam whistle's handle at the end of its rope and gave a strong downward pull.
The whistle bellowed long and loud.
Another, longer pull on the whistle announced our departure, followed quickly by five more bells.
We were off.
We rounded the bend at New Orleans Square.
We sounded two more whistles (as is customary) when we were passing Fowler's Harbor.
This time, my older daughter helped. She pulled down on the handle of the steam whistle and gave the two blasts.
Runs in the family.
As she stood at the helm (on a two-step box to assist in getting her tall enough to see), I cautioned our youngest to be careful not to crash the boat.
Her small hands clutched the massive wheel as she stood on a stool and tried to see which way to turn next.
Her older sister helped.
"Dad! Which way?!!" said the little one.
"Right! Turn right!! Watch the ducks! Don't hit the canoe dock!"
She steered with concentration and determination.
Ryan was a gracious host.
Our friend Maria was enthralled.
The view was splendid.
The river calm.
It was dark outside and Ryan grabbed the handle of the vessel's spotlight and shone it on Indians and wildlife as we floated past.
"Here's our two moose---Mickey and Minnie," he noted as he lit up the large quadrupeds.
Groans filled the wheelhouse.
This ain't Jungle, Ryan!
The girls loved it.
Especially the one in the pink scarf and "Jungle is 101" t-shirt.
He read the back of my shirt with the web address.
"Uh. Thanks," he said.
Okay, so, it isn't NBC News or Yahoo, but, come on, it isn't THAT bad!
We thanked him as we floated over the river.
As we began the final turn towards home and the landing, Ryan told the girls to ring the bells and sound the whistle once more.
We pulled to the dock and the vessel came to a stop.
"Thanks, again! We really enjoyed the trip, Ryan."
"No problem, you're welcome any time."
We climbed back down the ladder and out the Captain's door onto the deck.
Next it was down the stairs and off the boat.
We were the last ones off.
I turned and looked back at the Mark Twain, sparkling there in the cold evening darkness and felt quite satisfied.
The old girl and I have never lost our connection.
It felt great to take the helm again---if only for a little while.