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On June 20th, 2002, after almost eight years of dating, I asked Amanda to marry me. So how did I do it? Well, that's kind of a long story...

The Inspiration
The story begins in December of 1999. Amanda and I were at Walt Disney World for the Pleasure Island New Year's Eve celebration. While we were there together (jpg), I came to realize that there was something magical about all the Disney parks, especially when you are with the one you love. The Magic Kingdom, in particular, seemed to be like a page from a fairy tale. Since Amanda has always been my princess, and princesses deserve fairy tales, when it came time for me to propose, the Magic Kingdom was the first venue that popped into my mind.

I did some checking on the Internet to see if I could uncover some of the more romantic places in the Magic Kingdom that may present a good place to propose. That is when I discovered that Disney actually had an engagements department. After talking to the Disney people I decided to reserve the Rose Garden in front of the castle for a private viewing of the Fantasy in the Sky fireworks. The problem was, I needed to pick a day for the event, and then devise a way to get Amanda down to Disney World without suspecting anything.

The Plan
Picking the perfect day was not an easy task. I had to find a time when Amanda and I could get away from school for a few days. With her working on her Ph.D., time off is rare, but I tentatively decided on June 25th because I knew I would not have classes in the summer and Amanda would only be working in the lab during the summer months. So when Amanda announced that she would be working in Dr. McAllester's lab, I called Dr. McAllester to verify that Amanda could take a vacation. I explained what I was planning so she would understand how critical it was that Amanda be free for that week in June. She assured me that she would let Amanda go on the vacation and offered to help out in any way she could if any other problems came up related to Amanda's schooling. Well, as luck would have it, when my school's course schedule came out, I found myself being forced to sign up for a summer class that started the week of the 26th. So I ended up rescheduling the engagement to the previous week.

Next came the hard part, finding a good reason to head down to Disney World was not going to be easy. After a lot of thinking, I came up with a plan to make the whole event appear to be a work related function sponsored by my employer. To pull this off, I had to make everything look official. To start, I created a fake memo(pdf) from my company that detailed a new cultural exchange program we were initiating and I attached a fake schedule of events(pdf) that would take place during the exchange program kickoff. I told Amanda about the new program and told her that she could come along as my guest. She said she was not sure because of her work in the lab, but she would check with Dr. McAllester and let me know. A couple days later she told me she was able to come on the "business trip" (the earlier phone call to her instructor probably helped in this area).

Now I just had to make sure I did not blow the surprise. In an effort to keep the appearance that the trip was business related, I continued to give her new memos. I made up a dress code(pdf) for our employees so we would not offend our make believe foreign guest (which ended up forcing Amanda to buy a new bathing suit because she did not have any one-piece suits to wear). I made up a fake confidentiality agreement(pdf) that my company sent her and asked her fill out and return. I created a buddy list(pdf) that assigned each of our employees a buddy from our foreign counterpart (the names were actually taken from the credits of a playstation game!). I also had people from work e-mail her for information and even call her answering machine. All of these things added together made for a convincing case that the trip was indeed business related.

The Big Day
When the big day came, Amanda was to hop on a plane in Pennsylvania and meet me at the airport in Orlando. I was going to arrive earlier than the rest of my company because my employer did not want Amanda to sit at the Orlando airport all by herself for seven hours waiting for the chartered company flights to arrive and the flight she was on was the latest flight of the day from Harrisburg, PA to Orlando. In actuality, I left the Grand Rapids, MI airport at 5am, with the engagement ring sewn into the inside of my back pocket (remember where the ring is for later), and met her flight in Pittsburgh. I told her that I paid an extra fifty dollars and changed my flight so I could fly with her (this was one of the things that I was going to use as an excuse if she started to suspect something was up).

The Hotel
Upon arrival into Orlando, we were picked up by a towncar and brought to the Caribbean Beach Resort at Disney World. The driver was supposed to be holding a sign that said "Cummins Michigan," which is the company I work for, but instead he held up a sign with my name on it, or rather something that sort of resembled my name. Anyway, when we checked in at the Caribbean Beach Resort, besides the normal stack of paper that every visitor gets, we were given a letter with an invitation(pdf) and map(pdf) to an ice-cream social and private viewing of the Fantasy in the Sky fireworks. This was supposed to be one of the special events that my company had planned during our stay. The invitation was written in both English and Japanese to make it look more realistic for our our company function. We also received some custom Disney T-shirts(jpg) with the fake event information on it. These were arranged by Stacey Wilkin in the Disney Engagements department.

The Magic Kingdom
After dropping off our luggage in the room, Amanda and I headed for the Magic Kingdom. Of course on the way to the bus stop, it happened - the one thing I had been worrying about since I had set the date--it started to rain. I was not concerned about walking around the park wet; however, I was not too enchanted with the idea of proposing in the rain. At this point I knew I would have to accept my fate and make the best of it, besides, it was only 2pm and the event was not schedule to take place for another eight hours. It could stop raining by then.

We spent the next five hours enjoying the park at a leisurely pace. We rode a few rides and did some shopping. We knew we were going to the e-Ride Night the next day, so we really did not need to do the big attractions right then. At 7pm we went to the Crystal Palace for dinner. As we left the restaurant, I saw that a miracle had occurred--it stopped raining! Amanda and I decided to try to get on another ride before the "ice-cream social." On the way I tried to take a few pictures of Amanda and found myself with dead batteries....worse yet the spare set I had thrown in the camera case had not been charged! I told Amanda that we needed to buy more. She couldn't understand why I needed them or why I would pay the outlandish price for them. She told me that we had plenty of pictures, and I should just recharge them when we got back to the hotel. Of course we did get new batteries, but we came really close to not having any pictures of the big event.

By this time, it was 9:30pm so we pulled out the map and started walking towards the castle. On the way we stopped at the lavatory, where I attempted to get the ring out of the pouch I sewed to the inside of my pants. Unfortunately, the ring did not want to make this an easy task. I ended up having to take my pants off and I had to use my teeth to cut the threads that held the little pouch! (If you were there that day, now you understand what I was doing.) Once I had the ring, I rehearsed what I was going to say one last time (I had been practicing for the last few months, but as any guy will attest, about 10 minutes before the proposal he is so nervous it is amazing he remembers his own name). When I was done rehearsing, we continued our hike to the Rose Garden.

The Proposal
When we got to the entrance, which had been roped off, Stacey (from Disney Engagements) asked us for our invitation and then let us in. She told us that we were early and that the other people from my company would be arriving soon. As we were walking down the path to the gardens, I let Amanda get a few feet in front of me and I handed Stacey my camera. When we got to the base of the path, two assistants took our jackets and our backpack. In front of us, there was a Victorian style loveseat and a small table (these had been moved out from under the roof as it was not raining any more). On the table an arrangement had been made with a dozen long-stem red roses (the best quality I have ever seen), a glass slipper, truffles, and personalized Mickey and Minnie toasting glasses. Even at this point, Amanda still was not quite sure what was going on. I walked her over to the loveseat and had her sit down. Then I got down on one knee, at which point Amanda understood what was actually happening, and I asked Amanda to start a new chapter in our fairy tale together. (I am not going to tell you exactly what I said...sorry!) Amanda replied with a simple "yes" as that was all she could get out while still trying to catch her breath. Even though the Rose Garden is mostly secluded, a few people nearby caught on to what was happening and they all cheered when they saw us kissing.

The Disney cast members came back into view at this point and congratulated us. As Fantasy in the Sky began, they poured the sparkling apple cider (no alcohol allowed in the Magic Kingdom), and placed the Mickey and Minnie wedding ears on us. Amanda and I sat in the loveseat, the happiest people in the world, and watched the fireworks display. We stayed for a while after the show, and let the park clear out. Main Street was almost empty when we finally walked back towards the main gates, hand in hand, stopping every few steps for a kiss.

The moment Amanda waited almost eight years for.

Amanda and I sitting in the love seat at the Rose Garden, for our private viewing of the Fantasy in the Sky Fireworks Extravaganza.

A kiss in the Rose Garden with Cinderella's Castle in the background.

More pictures from our Disney trip

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