Today’s blog post is a serious one. Recently, mom and I had a very scary experience that I wanted to recount, in part because I don’t want someone else making the same mistake as us. The situation I’m about to tell you about involves the Disneyland Resort Express. If you are planning on visiting Disneyland, or anywhere that requires transportation using people you do not know, please read on.
For the last three years, mom and I have visited Disneyland. The first two trips went smoothly enough. During both of them, we rode the Disneyland Resort Express (watch out for the fake Disneyland Express, which is a scam and not the same thing). This is a bus line associated with, but not run by, Disney, though they do use buses painted with Disney characters to make them very obvious to spot. They are used to transport guests between the LAX and SNA airports and various hotels, including all three Disney hotels and some of the resort’s Good Neighbor Hotels.
Every time we went before, the bus was always waiting there by the time we got outside after our flight. They often were not ready to leave yet, and we, along with multiple other groups of people, would wait for a short time before we were able to board the bus and get our 20-minute ride to the Disneyland Resort.
This time, things went…differently. When we exited the SNA airport, the bus was not yet there. That was okay, we thought, because the previous two buses had always technically been early. A man talking to another man in a parked taxi watched us as we walked by, and we proceeded to the benches at the bus station. A man sat on one bench, and a woman sat on another. Normally, groups of people, usually families with excited children, are waiting. The ticket booth was closed and locked. This seemed odd, as it was always open before, but we already had tickets, which were always given to the bus driver anyway.
As we waited, I looked around, only to notice the man talking to the taxi driver, now joined by another man, was watching us. There was a very odd vibe in the air. The people at the benches were very solemn, and though a shuttle was parked in front of them, no one got in.
The bus arrives. The driver sets down a stool to make it easier to board the stairs. He acts surprised that the ticket booth is closed. He looks at our tickets, but does not take them. We get into the bus, but no one else does. It is early, and the park isn’t supposed to be as crowded as our previous two visits, so we wonder if this is why no one else is joining us on the bus. As we sit down, I notice the bus is dirtier and more worn out than previous buses, and a towel is stuffed into the air vent on the left side, towards the front. The sign that says, “Gratuities are appreciated” was also missing.
When the bus driver begins to leave, he leaves the door open and goes forward, only to back up, and repeat the process. He takes a long time to finally get the bus going. I wonder if the bus door is broken, until he finally closes it, and we’re on our way.
I know the drive takes a little while, and I don’t exactly expect to recognize the scenery because, well, I don’t live in the Los Angeles area and have never spent much time here. But we pass the sign for Anaheim and Riverside. We keep driving and driving, and I start paying more attention to the signs. Each sign says Los Angeles or Long Beach now. Mom, who is sitting in the seat in front of me, is clearly paying attention to the signs now, too. It is at this time that I realize…she notices that something is wrong, as well. It’s not just me.
It feels as if the bus driver is purposely trying to get us lost and confused. He changes roads far more than seems necessary. The drive is taking longer than it should, and I only see signs for Los Angeles. I start making a plan in my head. I need to confirm that the bus driver is trying to take us somewhere else, and once I do, I need to communicate with mom that we need to figure out when to escape the bus and how. I look up at the emergency exit on the roof, realizing that it is too high for me to reach, let alone climb out. I decide that I will push my bags out of the way, to the seat beside me, so that I can escape quickly, and I will try to ram my way through that flimsy bus door and jump out onto the freeway if I have to. I might not survive. I might get hit by a car. But I will not let this man take my mom and I wherever it is he has in mind.
Deliberating on what to do, mom gets out her phone. I watch the screen, trying to confirm that she has plans of her own. Nothing happens. The screen stays white. After several tries, she tells me that her Internet is not working.
Maybe it’s a coincidence. Maybe not. We’ve had Internet on our phones in the middle of nowhere. But not in the middle of the greater Los Angeles area? Something seems suspicious.
I check my phone, and I tell mom that my Internet is working. The bus driver turns his head. He is clearly listening in on our conversation. I keep my voice casual. I don’t want him to know yet that we’re on to him. I tell her, my Internet is working, try my phone. She, flustered, insists that she wants the Internet on her phone to come back.
She admits now that she doesn’t know why she was so insistent on this. But even at the time, I could tell she was worried.
Suddenly, mom’s Internet returns, and the bus driver starts driving back in the direction of Anaheim. It’s not long before we arrive on Harbor Boulevard, but I’m not convinced everything is okay until we start heading for the gate at the Disneyland Hotel. (Now that we’ve greatly slowed, I plan to escape the bus if at any time he does anything suspicious.) Here, there is one lane with a guard that the guests go through and one lane for the buses. He goes into the wrong lane, the one with the guard, despite the fact that he’s driving a Disneyland bus. It takes some time before the guard lets him through.
The bus stops at the hotel, and we get out quickly. The bus driver, who had gotten out first, tells us to give our ticket to the man on the nearby bench. We have never done this before, as the bus driver has always taken it every trip prior. The man on the bench notices that we have given him the wrong ticket (the ticket to the airport, not from the airport), a detail the bus driver should have noticed. After giving him the right ticket, we head into the hotel, relieved and confused after our recent experience.
We have since discussed this situation in great detail with my dad, and all three of us believe the bus driver was taking us somewhere and only stopped when he realized we had either caught on to his plans or had possibly gotten word out about our situation using our phones. Dad also says it would be very easy for the bus driver to have jammed our Internet signal, with the fact that I was sitting one seat farther back possibly the only reason I didn’t experience the same loss of Internet. It might have been the same reason mom’s Internet returned once he heard us talking.
Furthermore, we have since looked up directions from SNA to Anaheim and SNA to Los Angeles, and as far as we can tell, he definitely seemed to have taken the latter route. The trip back to the airport (there were a lot of people on the bus this time, or else we wouldn’t have gotten on) was also far more straightforward and took 20 minutes, despite heavier traffic. During the trip from the airport, I believe it was 30 minutes by the time we realized that something was wrong.
We have since contacted the Disneyland Resort Express about the situation. Our guess is this man got an old DRE bus that was no longer in use and planned on using it to kidnap women who were alone at the bus stop, considering his suspicious behavior and how confused he seemed by things that should have been obvious to real DRE drivers.
I acknowledge that this is speculation, and I have no proof that he was definitely up to no good. But our recent experience has made me further aware of the importance of being safe. So I want to emphasize, especially to any solitary or small groups of women travelling alone, NEVER ever get on a bus/shuttle alone, even if it looks like the real deal. And even if there are other people, be very careful that this is indeed the right vehicle and that there is nothing suspicious about the driver. I recently heard of a group of people travelling to the Queen Mary whose bus driver started driving in the wrong direction, forcing his passengers to jump out the windows when he refused to stop or turn around.
Just…be safe and trust your gut instinct. If something feels off, trust that feeling. It’s better to be inconvenienced due to your caution than to end up hurt or worse. Don’t take risks. They’re never worth it in the end.
We believe there is a good chance that God saved our lives that day, using something as simple as a lost Internet signal to open up communication between my mother and I, communication that made the bus driver put a stop to his plans. I don’t know what that man was planning. I don’t know why he changed his mind when he did. But we’re grateful to have come out of our potential ordeal unscathed and all the wiser.