Francesca Street, CNN
Renata Bastos always wondered if she might find romance at Disneyland.
“On one hand, it feels almost impossible and surreal. On the other hand, it makes perfect sense. Where else was I going to meet the love of my life, if not at Disney?” Renata tells CNN Travel today.
For Renata, Disneyland California is a home-away-from-home. She grew up some 20 minutes from the Anaheim resort. As a kid, she enjoyed many sunny family weekends soaking up the magic. As a teenager, she spent long Saturdays wandering the park with her school friends.
By 2012, 20-year-old Renata was at a crossroads. She’d just got back to the US after an extended vacation to her birth country of Brazil. Reconnecting with her Brazilian culture and family was healing and revealing. Renata decided concentrating on herself, her family and her friendships was key to this stage of her life — romantic relationships were firmly off the table.
With that in mind, Renata organized a big trip to Disneyland with her extended group of friends — an opportunity for a catch up after her time away.
On the morning of Friday, January 13, 2012, Renata and her friends streamed through the Disney gates. They spent most of the morning people watching on Main Street U.S.A, and laughing and screeching as they rode the park’s roller coasters.
By mid-afternoon, Renata and her friends broke off into smaller groups to accommodate everyone’s interests, but planned to reunite at Jungle Cruise, the water-based ride in Adventureland. The friends figured there was enough of them to take over a whole boat, to maximize the fun.
When the group eventually reunited in the Jungle Cruise line, they’d grown in number. One of Renata’s friends had got chatting to some guys she vaguely knew while waiting for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and she’d invited them to join in the day’s fun.
Among these newcomers was Brian Mehl.
Brian grew up in a Disney-loving family, and, like Renata, spent much of his free time as a kid and teenager at Disneyland.
Renata and Brian actually grew up in the same town. But as Brian was a bit older, and they’d attended different high schools, the two had never crossed paths,
Like Renata, Brian was at a crossroads in his life in January 2012. He’d just left his job, and was questioning what came next.
Waiting in line for the ride, the two groups of friends started chatting with a third group, the cast of a local production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” In the end, the three groups boarded the boat in tandem.
“So we did succeed at having our own private little cruise on the Jungle Cruise with just our now extraordinarily large group of friends,” recalls Renata.
Swept up in the fun of the ride, and the excitement of meeting a bunch of new, like-minded people all at once, Renata only zeroed in on Brian when the group disembarked the boat.
“I was like, ‘Oh, wait a minute, I decided I wasn’t gonna date anyone, but he’s kind of cute. I’m going to talk to him,'” she says.
But there were so many people in the group, and so much going on, that her efforts weren’t very successful.
“He couldn’t care less about me. He was completely oblivious. It did not work at all,” says Renata, laughing.
Brian insists this isn’t true. He remembers meeting Renata that day. He thought she was “a bubbly fun person,” he says.
As the day drew to a close, plans started to form for the group to watch their new friends in “Rocky Horror” the following evening.
Renata jumped at the chance to host a pre-show party at her house, hoping Brian might come along.
But the following day, as she got ready for the evening, prepping her costume — a silver corset, jeans and cat ears — Renata began to have doubts.
“He’s not just going to show up to a complete stranger’s house,” she recalls thinking.
But he did.
‘Rocky Horror’ romance
“I decided to go because it sounded like a fun time,” says Brian. “Meeting new people is always a fun thing to do.”
Renata was thrilled.
“I was shocked to see him. I didn’t actually believe him when he said he was going until he showed up,” she says. “It wasn’t until then that I thought that maybe I had a chance with this guy.”
“So we went to ‘Rocky,’ and again, I orchestrated so I would end up sitting next to him.”
Amid the raucous audience interaction at “Rocky,” Renata and Brian flirted. As the night went on, it was clear the interest wasn’t just on Renata’s end.
“There was definitely a physical connection,” she recalls.
“If I’m going to be honest here, there was not a lot of chatting. There was some dancing and some kissing. But he had my number and started texting me the next day.”
It was over text that the two realized how much they had in common. The messages started, and didn’t stop.
“I think that’s what started our big connection, that we started talking constantly right after ‘Rocky,'” says Brian. “I don’t think I ever had anyone truly communicate with me so much day to day.”
As well as a mutual passion for Disney, both Brian and Renata shared a love of winter sports. Over text, Brian told Renata he was trying to get a group together to go out to the mountains for a day trip the following weekend. He invited Renata to come along.
When no one else committed and it ended up just being Renata and Brian, alone, they were both secretly pleased.
“We did a lot of the typical first date stuff, the getting to know you stuff, but instead of having those conversations across a table from each other we did it on a chairlift,” recalls Renata.
“It was a really fun first date. I remember just talking,” says Brian.
After the day of snow sports, Renata and Brian made plans to go see “Rocky Horror” again. This time, it would just be the two of them. Afterwards, they hung out all evening.
“For me that was the moment,” says Renata. “We stayed up all night talking, and that was when we really connected, and we realized that we both have the same goals in life, the same interests.”
“That was that,” says Brian, who says that meeting Renata gave him a feeling of certainty and clarity he’d never felt before.
Renata says she felt the same way. And this was only cemented when they introduced their parents at, of course, Disneyland.
“It just felt comfortable and natural,” says Brian. “It wasn’t work.”
A Disney proposal
The first test of Brian and Renata’s relationship came two years in, when Renata accepted her dream role with the Disney College Program. The job involved her relocating to Florida, to work at Walt Disney World, for six months.
“These six months apart are going to be the ultimate test,” Renata recalls thinking. “If it doesn’t work, then it’s not supposed to work, and it’s fine, and we’ll break it off — and good thing we found out now, instead of investing, you know, another three more years.”
Brian helped her move, and the couple turned the drive across the country into a two week road trip, stopping off at landmarks and making the most of the time together.
“But if it does work, if after six months apart, we come to the conclusion that we still want to be together, then that’s kind of it, that we found the person and from there on, our relationship is going to shift into a much more serious tone,” Renata remembers thinking.
During their six month separation, the two busied themselves with work.
“Life just happened and we just rolled through,” says Brian.
When Renata came back, the relationship did shift. The couple decided to move in together, and Brian started cooking up plans for a memorable wedding proposal.
The location was a no-brainer: Disneyland, of course. The Californian park was where the two met, and it had a special resonance for their families, too.
Renata had told Brian she liked the idea of a big proposal, with all her loved ones in attendance. So when Renata’s extended family were in town from Brazil, it was the perfect opportunity.
The group made reservations at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel for a “character breakfast,” where diners brunch accompanied by actors dressed as beloved Disney characters.
Brian got Renata’s sister involved, and the two did some research. They learned that if people propose at Disneyland, the characters are instructed to move out of any photos.
Brian knew Renata better than anyone, and he knew Renata would love her favorite characters to be part of the moment. So Brian and Renata’s sister cooked up an idea: Brian would make a “marry me” sign and while Renata took a photo with her favorite Disney characters, cartoon chipmunks Chip and Dale, Brian would hold up the sign in the background.
In the moment, these logistics proved a little complicated. Renata missed the sign altogether, and only realized what was happening when Brian got down on one knee with the ring.
Still, when she put two and two, she was delighted.
“It was really cute,” says Renata now. “And then we all went to Disneyland.”
Fast forward two years, and Renata and Brian returned to the Disneyland Grand Californian Hotel to get married.
It was a dream come true for Renata.
“Since I was little, I used to say that I was going to get married at Disney,” she says.
Her dad used to point out that she’d need to marry someone who loved Disney as much as she did.
“If they don’t want to get married at Disney, they’re not the right person,” Renata would respond.
Now, here she was. She’d found the “right person.” She was marrying someone who loved Disneyland as much as she did. And Disneyland was where their romance had begun.
“Everything was perfect,” says Renata, who took Brian’s name, becoming Renata Mehl.
“It was awesome,” agrees Brian.
At the wedding, the two had several Disney characters in attendance, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, as well as Renata’s favorites Chip and Dale.
Afterwards, the couple took advantage of Renata’s Disney employee discount to fly to Walt Disney World Florida and honeymoon at the park’s Grand Floridian Hotel.
They enjoyed a morning train tour before the park opened, a firework cruise and dinner inside Cinderella’s Castle.
10 years later
This year sees Renata and Brian celebrate 10 years since they first met at Disneyland. They’ve grown up together in that time, supporting one another as they’ve found their way.
They still enjoy going to the theater together, and getting out in nature. They recently took up paddleboarding, and enjoyed a hiking trip to the Grand Canyon.
And they still love Disney. The couple still live close to Disneyland California and say they never get sick of going there.
Renata chronicles their Disney adventures on her Instagram account, @MagicallyRenata. Their goal is to visit all the Disney parks across the world, with Disney Tokyo and Disneyland Paris topping the list.
Renata and Brian hope to have kids together one day, and they would like Disneyland to be as much a part of their future children’s lives as it is theirs.
“I think for me, there’s so much nostalgia, when it comes to Disney,” reflects Renata. “I grew up on it. I was very lucky to get to go to Disneyland from a very young age. And so every time I’m there, there are just all these little callbacks to my childhood. But also, I’ve formed a new respect for it as an adult.”
Brian agrees, suggesting the magic of Disneyland is it’s a place where adults can indulge their inner kid.
That said, the two admit they might be a bit biased. Sure, Disneyland was special for them before 2012. But then it became the place where their romance began, and took on a new resonance.
While Renata suggests “right place and the right time” played a part in their meeting, she’s also a Disney lover, so fairytale endings are her thing. She likes to think there was more at play than just coincidence.
“I think we still would have met. I think there’s a little bit of destiny there,” she says. “It was meant to be. One way or the other we were going to run into each other.”
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