Hey folks, I recently got some very helpful advice on these forums from some very friendly people regarding my first WDW vacation in TEN years, so I figured I'd share my experiences/insight/commentary from a recent weekend trip to DL/DCA. (PS - It's pretty epic, we had the run of both parks. If a picture is worth 1000 words, this would be equal to about 13 pictures It may be a bit easier to read over at Trip Report: Disneyland Resort - Saturday Nov. 15th - Sunday Nov. 16th 2008)
Disneyland Resort, Anaheim, CA
Saturday Nov. 15th - Sunday Nov. 16th 2008
Weather: Warm, smokey on Saturday, Hot and sunny on Sunday
Crowds: Light (for Disneyland)
We just couldn’t stay away. We tried to go to Magic Mountain instead. We tried to only go for one day. But the idea of not spending every second we were in Southern California at Disneyland just sounded too awful. Ok, so not really, but since we were bringing a first-timer with us on this trip it only made sense to get the full Disneyland experience. And for that, you need more than one day. Usually.
Now the ten months since our last visit were made a bit more bearable because of a visit to Disneyland Paris right in the middle. We also have the Disney trip of a lifetime (flying out to Orlando for a week at Walt Disney World) in January. That’s not to say we weren’t looking forward to this, it would be our last chance to bask in the history and the nostalgia of the original park, and that was especially important making the trip with someone whose whole Disney perspective is based on Florida.
I have no doubt we’ll be spending much of our week at Disney World seeing how it compares to our “local” resort, but this weekend we’d be doing it in reverse. I’d gotten past my “Orlando-centric” view some years ago, having first visited Disneyland in 1997, and Disneyland Paris in 2001. But visiting with someone who had never heard the phrase “Florida Project” meant taking the opportunity to enlighten him how the whole thing got started.
I’ve never stayed at a hotel on Disney property, so the whole “Disney is your entire vacation” concept we’ll experience in January will be quite a change. But for now, there’s absolutely no need to stay “on-site”, not when off site is just as close. Actually, compared to Paradise Pier, the Fairfield Inn Anaheim is considerably closer. I’ve always been wary of choosing a hotel based on its proximity to an amusement park, but after our modest success here earlier this year, we were more than satisfied to stay there a second time around.
There’s no question there is remarkably more to see and do in Orlando, but the advantages you get in return making a trip here are more than worth it. It all means I’ve gotten quite used to and quite comfortable with the convenience and efficiency of the Disneyland Resort.
David (friend) started down from Sacramento (ok, Roseville – but no one knows where that is) just after lunch and made it to San Jose right around 3pm. He ditched his car and we settled into mine for what is a long drive, long enough where every time we make it, Megan (my fiancee) and I wonder whether we should have flown.
Getting out of San Jose, where rush hour starts at 2pm on Fridays, was a little iffy, but once we made it past an accident and down to the one-lane pass to the Central Valley it was all clear. We were making good time and got to Kettleman City for the obligatory In-N-Out stop for an early dinner. But as with any drive to the LA area, the worst is usually yet to come.
By some sort of miracle, it never did. Traffic was certainly heavy and it was still quite stressful but it was a relatively smooth and uninterrupted shot over the Grapevine, through the valleys, past downtown and down to Anaheim. I love exiting on Disney Way and pulling up to the intersection with Harbor Boulevard that Tower of Terror looms over.
The goal of making it down in time to see the fireworks from the hotel balcony was miraculously accomplished, but as we stepped out of the car into the warm Orange County breeze, we were not optimistic. We checked in, dropped off our stuff, grabbed a drink, and headed up to check things out. 9:25pm came and went uneventfully, but we were not surprised at all. Instead we enjoyed the birds-eye view, pointing out all the landmarks. Space Mountain and Matterhorn dominate the view, but in the distance you can see the flash of Splash Mountain, and the Christmas lights on Haunted Mansion. Yea, this was going to be a fun weekend.
There are a lot of advantages to having a good strategy to manage your visit to Disneyland. Obviously saving time in line is first and foremost, but that has a lot of benefits. Less time on your feet, less frustration with crowds, ability to experience more attractions, and in the end, just getting more for your money. I do not take a visit to Disneyland lightly; I work hard the rest of the year and spent a lot of money on a trip like this – so it’s a huge priority to get the most out of the visit.
That being said, I don’t necessarily recommend this kind of hardcore touring for everyone. Those with kids, older adults, or a lack of interest in traipsing about the parks until your legs ache and feet are blistered may want to take a different approach. (Like I said, I like to get my money’s worth.) But if you want days full of as many attractions as humanly possible while avoiding waiting in line at all costs, then you should read closely.
Step one, be willing to get up at some unheard of hour of the morning. Being there for the first hour or two the park is open will allow you to experience the same number of attractions it would take you half the day to experience later on. This is especially true for early opening times – anything before 10am.
We were looking at an 8am opening, and since we were so close, we were out the door at 7am for a quick McDonald’s stop. I highly recommend eating before you get there – you’ll save money, have more energy to get through the morning, and save precious morning park time. We had a ridiculous 16 hours of park time both days, but the point was to avoid waiting in lines at all costs.
We were across the street just after 7:30am, and got in a small line waiting for the gates to open. For reference, it’s a good sign when the lines don’t stretch back to the Monorail, and for a Saturday (even a Saturday in November) we were in luck. At 8am on the nose the gates opened, and we were on our way into the park.
There are any number of strategies for starting your day, but ours was pretty basic – get on the important, low capacity, quick, non-Fastpass attractions first, and don’t go out of the way to get a Fastpass. I’m always pretty paranoid about huge morning crowds and end up rushing through as much as possible, but for reference the last time I went to a Disney park (Paris) I was also there for opening and the rope drop, but I still had to wait 30 minutes for the first ride.
No such issues this time around. There was the wonderful and surreal first walk up Main Street and a quick peek at the wait time board (everything read “Now Open”). Our first stop, Matterhorn Bobsleds. With no Fastpasses and a quick “experience time” (the total time from entering the queue to exiting, minus wait time) it was the best way to start things off – and something you won’t find in Florida.
We walked right through the queue house and into the loading area. Sitting as singles is the way to go. I’m sure plenty of (ahem, teenage) couples enjoy the quality time, but this ride is bruising enough when you’re not crammed into a seat with a second person. Our first ride wasn’t so bad – not especially smooth, but tolerable considering we were just starting the physically demanding 32 hours. Unfortunately the most surprising part of the experience was that the two ride ops loudly complaining about their shift schedules. One remarked to the other, “The scheduler has it out for me.” Umm, excuse me Disneyland employees, I paid a lot of money to come to a place where the whole point is to escape the real world. Bitching about your job is way too real-world for my tastes.
On and off in a matter of minutes, we went into the heart of Fantasyland to get through all the quick but popular dark rides. Peter Pan was first of course, this is the ultimate Disney dark ride. We all squeezed into a pirate ship and were off to Neverland. Gotta love the little touches, the hidden “P PAN” and “DI5NEY” in the blocks in the playroom, the moving traffic flying over London, the flight into the stars. Maybe not worth the 30-60 minute wait you’ll find here on an average day, but first thing in the morning, it’s walk-on like everything else.
Across the courtyard we found Snow White (officially The Scary Adventures of Snow White, apparently because too many parents underestimated the fright factor). This ride is fun; try to find the holographic apple used as a result of too many people reaching out a stealing the original 3-dimensional prop. Also, watch for the witch to pop out of the window above the queue. The scary scenes definitely are a little on the “dark” side, but the strangest thing about it is the sudden and unexplained resolution. You go from the height of the conflict with the witch immediately to “And they lived happily ever after”. It could use some more denouement.
Next door is Pinocchio, and this one is a little tamer and a little less remarkable. Still worth it being walk-on, and absolutely essentially to consider Fantasyland complete. (We would NOT be spending precious morning time on it the next day.) Last in the courtyard was Mr. Toad and we hopped into our two-seaters for this lesser-known tale. Gotta love the head-on train effect, the bumpy rumble down the pier, and the extra-hot trip through Hell. It’s a shame WDW ripped this out for their version of Winnie the Pooh. Aren’t they supposed to be the one with all the room?
We made our way around the corner to Alice for another walk-on. Here three riders worked out well, as cars only allow a single adult up front. Easily the best Fantasyland dark ride after Peter Pan. Great characters, great music, great set design, and a few tricks. I love all those weird characters from Wonderland – the umbrella bird, the “tiger”-lily and dande-“lion”, the hammer birds, and of course the Cheshire Cat himself. It’s such a great trip down memory lane. I remember thinking even at a very young age how trippy the movie was.
Realizing the crowds were still non-existent, we took a chance and headed back to Space Mountain. It takes a while to get through even with no line thanks to the lengthy queue, so the 10 minute wait time we saw was really just for the walk from the entrance to the station. The ride was a great as ever, great anticipation through the first tunnel and lift – the spiraling effect is disorienting. The star effects are nice, but not overwhelming, and the ride action itself is fun – sudden turns, and nice dips and hills. No, not the most physically intense coaster at the resort, but a decent thrill and the top-notch Disney immersion you expect.
We laughed at the lameness that is Star Tours as we walked on Buzz. It’s a good thing we got on this before Midway Mania or else it would have been a big letdown. There’s something to be said for real-life scenes and targets though, and this will always be a must- ride. While I technically came out on top, apparently David didn’t understand that you could hit the same target more than once. He cried foul (as if I intentionally deprived him of this secret strategy), so stay tuned, a rematch would be in order.
With half the highlights taken care of we headed across the hub, with the requisite stop at the wait time board. Things were looking great – not a wait over 20 minutes (even for Nemo!) and we were over an hour past opening. We entered Adventureland and headed to the area’s main attraction and another Disneyland-only highlight, Indiana Jones. This is another attraction with an extensive queue, both in length and in themeing. It was almost a shame to zip right past all the detail, save for the pre-show room, where Megan noticed the “fake” projector whirring right next to the silent real one.
But no time to catch what was left of the queue as we continued to walk right on. Indiana was as fun as I remember, such a unique attraction. I suppose I could do with a little less jostling, but I think the ride action adds a lot to the experience, especially whipping around the curves and diving under the rolling boulder.
Out the exit and into the queue for Jungle Cruise we found our first wait of the day. With a dearth of boats and some unusually slow loading we actually had to wait more than 5 minutes. Jerks. It’s the principle of the thing, it’s supposed to be high capacity. In reality it was well worth the wait, always fun, even with the sub-par tour guide we had for our voyage. I could have done without the Madagascar references.
Finishing up the loop we headed into Frontierland and started with Thunder Mountain. We were greeted by yet another walk on and the beloved “This here is the wildest ride in the wilderness” proclamation. It’s the classic Disney attraction: a fun ride in a richly themed environment with tons of details. Highlights are the bats in the first cave (which are hard to see during the day), the yipping coyotes (which for the life of me I could not imitate accurately), and the dynamite goat. Don’t forget about Rainbow Ridge at the end of the ride, one of the many great throwbacks to Frontierland’s former tenant – the Mine Train through Nature’s Wonderland.
If we had been at all worried about crowds, we would have made a beeline for Splash Mountain, the last E-ticket attraction to check off at the Magic Kingdom. Instead we slowly worked our way along the Rivers of America, first with a quick stop in New Orleans Square.
Considering how Pirates can move crowds on peak days, we were not at all surprised to see empty boats. Now while there’s little question the original puts the abridged version in Florida to shame, the queue area leaves a bit to be desired. Sure, you’ll almost never spend any amount of time waiting there, but the transition from New Orleans to the Caribbean is not entirely clear. But on the whole, it’s truly sad to think Walt Disney never got to ride (having opened 3 months after his death in 1967), as it’s nothing short of his crowning achievement. It sure beats the wax museum he originally envisioned.
Next up was a first for all of us, the Nightmare Before Christmas rethemeing of the Haunted Mansion. We’ve missed the mansion the past two years as they close the ride to remove the seasonal treatment when we usually visit (early January), so it was nice to see what all the fuss is about. No question it is elaborate, it completely explains why they need weeks to dress and strike all the props for the change.
The holiday fun starts in the foyer with a new preamble, and things really get going in the stretching rooms – 5 new holiday paintings that “shatter” to reveal some Christmas terror. The new “Ghost Host” is Mr. Tim Burton himself and his narration is very close to the movie. Once you make it to the basement, you quickly see how impressive the overlay is. Characters, presents, snow, even smells; you will barely recognize the place. It seems like the only thing they didn’t change was the wallpaper.
Overall it’s visually stunning, and a nice temporary change of pace, but if I wasn’t headed to Disney World in January I would have been bummed that I didn’t get to hear the creepy organ music and Grim Grinning Ghost. Definitely a transformation you have to see to believe, and I’m glad I was finally able to – but it’s ok by me if they change it back now.
There was only one headliner left, and it was my personal favorite – Splash Mountain. Since we didn’t have a Fastpass we were happy to see only a 10 minute wait. I was surprised to see the queue at the bottom of the stairs, since that kind of wait is usually closer to 20-25 minutes. We figured out why the line was flying when we heard the PA remind everyone that both stations were opened. Turns out there wasn’t much demand for Fastpasses yet and their reserved loading station was empty, so they were allowing the standby passengers in and doubling the normal line speed. Gotta love the efficiency.
We lucked out getting the middle of the log – no need to draw straws to decide who would get the front. Yea, it was a warm day, but the water never lands harmlessly on your arms, it always seems to find its way to your crotch and into your shoes. Unfortunately no side-by-side seating like in Florida, but much of the ride is the same outside of that. There’s no frog to greet you right out of the station, and the show scenes feel a little rushed, but hardly enough to lessen the enjoyment.
The first portion of the ride is pretty uneventful, a few lifts, a few static scenes (watch for the owl and listen for the snoring bear.) Things don’t get going until after the first teaser drop which puts you right in the main show building. Then you get to enjoy the antics of all those former America Sings characters (Disney recycles). First it’s “How do ya do”, then a fun coaster-like drop into “Laughing Place”, and when Br’er Bear and Fox finally get a hold of Br’er Rabbit it’s “Burrow’s Lament” (which replaced a much less ominous “Sooner or Later”).
But don’t worry, Br’er Rabbit has a plan up his sleeve. It’s a surprisingly nerve-wracking lift up to the final drop, thanks mostly to those creepy buzzards forecasting doom and the vivid shadows of Br’re Fox preparing rabbit stew. The drop itself really isn’t overwhelming, thanks to all of my coaster riding my biggest concern is always attempting to stay somewhat dry. On this run the big plunge wasn’t bad at all, it was the wave over the side on the first drop that soaked my shoes. There’s a little lull to survey the damage and then you’re in the final scene, the climactic Zip-a-dee-doo-dah. Just a quick preview of your photo from the drop (so long as everyone kept their shirt on) and a final scene of our hero laughing it up and we’re back at the station. I could stay on this thing all day.
Instead we headed for a bench and I finally got a chance to wring out my sock. Gross. Next door is the often overlooked (and somewhat underrated) Winnie the Pooh. At WDW this one is a highlight – having replaced Mr. Toad and utilizing the Fastpass system. But here, it always seems deserted. After passing a group of 11 in the station area (who goes around a park in a group of 11 people!?) we were off to the 1000 Acre Woods. (Is that right? That’s where they lived??) Some neat effects, especially the flood scene where there’s actually no real water used. Goes to show this latest generation of Imagineers can still do dark rides, and makes me really look forward to The Little Mermaid (but more about that later).
The fact that it would only be getting warmer and that Megan would later have to step out for presentation for class were perfect reasons to grab a Splash Mountain Fastpass. With the way wait times were stacking up so far, it didn’t look like there was going to be an especially huge need for them, but since we were right there it was worth it even if it only saved us 5 minutes.
Having all of the marquees under our belt, I was able to take it down a notch and grab a breather. As we headed back to the center of the park from the Critter Country dead end we really noticed the ominous orange sky as flurries of ash began to rain down. Along with warm, windy, dry days in southern California come wild fires and we were apparently directly downwind from the nearby fire in Anaheim Hills. We probably should have taken our respite indoors, but I think we were all preoccupied by the eerie scene.
Instead we got ourselves a quick snack at the Royal Street Veranda of fritters and big cookie and a soda. It’s in a really great area to people-watch at the intersection between Frontierland, Adventureland and New Orleans Square. Wanting to continue the respite, we continued on to the Tiki Room. Timing it right we caught the end of the garden show and were the first ones into the theater. It was actually good-sized crowd and a considering the number of chuckles throughout the show there must have a bunch of first-timers too. Always a “must do once – and no more than once” attraction.
Across the hub with another reassuring visit to check out wait times we figured it was now or never with Star Tours. (Not because of the empty queue, but because it was unlikely that each of us would all be willing to ride again later on). Before the ride I ran up to get a Fastpass for Space Mountain – as telling as the 15 minute wait was the fact that the return window was less than an hour away. Maybe the trip wasn’t entirely necessary, but I suppose that’s the trick with Fastpasses on a “quiet” day – it’s hard to predict if they’re really worth the effort.
Regardless, we found a surprisingly full queue for Star Tours, but with only one lane open it moved quite quickly. I love the queue for this, and the theme and story really is terrific. The only problem is the ride itself – it just doesn’t do it for me. Simulators have never been a favorite of mine, but after experiencing their potential on Soarin’ this thing has always been a sub-par attraction in my mind. The screen is small, the ride action is jarring, the movement synchronization is sometimes awkward. This one needs some serious retooling, and I don’t think slapping in a new film is going to make much of a difference.
Megan had to head back to the hotel so we figured we’d head up to Toon Town for the credit on Gadget’s Go Coaster. We sadly walked by a closed-for-rehab Roger Rabbit Spin, usually the only area highlight for those sans kids. Gadget was surprisingly walk-on, and with that I was finally convinced how smart it was to pick this weekend to visit. Not wanting to deprive Megan of any fun, we had a leisurely lunch at the River Belle Terrance. Now part of the reason I was so surprised about the lack of lines was because they park itself was not empty. Sure, it was way short of the wall-to-wall people packed in during actual busy days, but we were dodging strollers and oblivious teens left and right. We must have timed lunch wrong because while there wasn’t a wait to get the food (no lines for food at any point, actually) the indoor seating area was packed. I suppose it was because of the ash storm still going on outside and the climate control inside, but it took about 5 minutes before we were able to squeeze into a table. Food was good, we both had pulled-pork BBQ sandwiches.
Considering Megan’s disdain for wetness it made sense to use those Splash Mountain Fastpasses while she was preoccupied. A smart move getting them, they’re always worth it between noon and dusk, and there’s no ride where their psychological value is more clear as the Fastpass line walks parallel (and past) the standby line from the entrance all the way into the station. Another awesome ride and no soaked shoe this time around.
The plan was to meet up with Megan either at the entrance to California Adventure or back at the hotel room if we were looking for a break. We still had some time so we picked up a new set of Fastpasses for Space Mountain as we cashed in the ones I got earlier. This is another one I could ride all day.
Feeling a little beat we thought a visit to the hotel would do us well, but in order to stay efficient we popped into DCA to grab a Fastpass for Soarin’. It’s worthwhile to keep in mind that the systems aren’t linked between the parks, so you can immediately get one in the park you hop to even if you had just gotten one in the park you left. I entered first with no problem, but David got stopped because his pass came up as expired. I was trying to be careful keeping track of the tickets (I had Mickey, Megan had Minnie, David and Donald), those things don’t come cheap and there’s little Disney is willing to do if you have issues with them. Fortunately the ticket-taker handed it to a supervisor who returned in a matter of moments saying it was ok. I’m not sure how she knew or what she did to check, but we were off to retrieve the Fastpass wondering what we’d do if that happened again.
On the way out we were stopped by one of the many survey-takers and you can imagine how much I enjoy giving my opinion. Only problem was that the questions were all about this specific visit to this specific park, and our visit had been all of 10 minutes. Oh well, I don’t think I was much help to their research department with all those “Did not experience” answers.
We made our way back to the room and took a load off. Also, there was wine. We had 7:20 dinner reservations for Blue Bayou and wanted to get through DCA so we had about an hour to relax. We did just that and we were back on our feet and back into California Adventure. We felt like relaxing a bit more so we headed to the Terrace Wine Tasting, but not before I made a quick side trip to Tower of Terror for Fastpasses. Nothing like a quiet drink on the patio to help reflect on all the fun.
With passes for two of the three headliners in hand we wanted to check out the action on the pier. We knew we had to hit Midway Mania at some point, and since our window to get a Fastpass for California Screamin’ wouldn’t start for 30 minutes, the half hour wait at Midway Mania worked out perfectly. Granted none of the standby waits for the Fastpass attractions was over 20 minutes this was all a little unnecessary, but as you’ll see during day 2, a Fastpass addiction is hard to fight.
It was finally time to see the Mr. Potato Head barker first-hand, and it was even more impressive in person than it is on YouTube. Unfortunately, he’s visible to only the very beginning of the queue, and much of the 30 minutes was spent in a very uninspired courtyard. I’m not sure if this is merely the result of the nearby construction, but I hear Orlando has a much more impressive queue area. Oh well, considering it was the only place we’d see a wait all weekend, we could make do.
We picked up our 3D glasses just before the station and were finally able to get an up-close view of the ride vehicles. The technology of this ride is astounding, the controls of the vehicles, the controls of the games, and the synchronization the two need for the game-play to appear seamless. It’s always a joy to experience a new Disney attraction and this would be no exception.
The premise here is pretty simple, just like Buzz Lightyear: your job is to use your gun (in this case, a cannon) to hit as many targets and score as many points as you can. The twist is that you’re playing carnival games - virtual, interactive, 3D carnival games. While the 3D effect wasn’t especially overwhelming, both the games and the interaction are damn impressive. You’ve got a pie-toss warm-up right out of the gate, then egg-toss, darts, plate-breaking, ring-toss, and finally suction cup arrows. You’ve got a big range of motion with your cannon, and you’re cheered on the entire time by the whole Toy Story gang.
I’ve often thought the game gets in the way of the scenery on Buzz Lightyear, and that’s not a concern here. There is no scenery – this isn’t a dark ride. If there’s a simple way to describe the experience, it’s like riding a video game. There’s strategy, easter eggs, and like any good gaming session, the potential for some moderate soreness. Oh, and the main reason I enjoy this game/ride – I finally found one I can win.
Having timed it perfectly, we picked up the Fastpasses for California Screamin’ and started making the rounds to redeem them all. For those keeping track at home, yes, I had gotten the Fastpass for Soarin’ some 3 hours ago, and yes, the window had come and gone. He’s there thing...they don’t care. Let me clarify, I had heard that the redemption window isn’t strictly enforced. Actually, it is barely mildly enforced. Now I can’t be sure if this leniency was a result of light crowds or unusually lazy inspectors, but we found there to be little notice, let alone resistance.
We’d truly abuse the system the next day, but for now we were just skipping the line for Soarin’. This ride still gives me chills. I’ve ridden it over a dozen times, watched videos of it online at least that many times, and I’ve got an mp3 of the soundtrack on my cell phone. But there’s nothing like getting lifted up and being surrounded by that gigantic screen. It really goes to show what an effective simulator can do.
We headed across the entry plaza towards Hollywood Boulevard to visit Tower of Terror. Seeing as there was no standby wait, we felt pretty silly handing in our expired Fastpasses. ToT needs at least a 20 minute wait for the Fastpasses to be worth it, as they only get you into the lobby just before the pre-show.
I almost feel like we’re missing out on so much of the themeing, even if there is a wait you’re only in the lobby for a few minutes, and you’re pretty well separated from all of the fun stuff. Not that the basement area isn’t creepy, but there isn’t nearly as much to notice down there. (I know you don’t go down anywhere, but I love how it feels like a basement even though you’re obviously still on street level.)
The ride is as great as ever, and always makes me wonder why Mailboomer was ever built. I’m greatly looking forward to the extended version in Orlando, but even this version delivers a good thrill with great immersion. You’d be hard pressed to find an attraction with a more cohesive and well executed story.
Another of the most immersive rides at the resort is the nearby Monsters Inc., easily the most overlooked and underrated attraction you’ll find. I can barely imagine the disappointment the former Superstar Limo must have incurred, and I’m glad I was never subjected to it. Its complete overhaul to become Monstropolis was a very smart move, and you’d otherwise never know it wasn’t the original tenant of this building. You can smell the ginger in Harryhausen, you’re blinded by the search lights of the Child Detection Agency, and you are even personally taunted by the malevolent Roz.
To hit the last of the highlights we worked our way back across the park to California Screamin’ to cash in those Fastpasses. I suppose the main complaint I’d make about this park is how there are few lesser attractions in between the headliners. Over at Disneyland the marquee attractions are certain spread out, but there are any number of things to do on the way from one to another. The only ride between Monsters Inc. and Cal Screamin’ is a detour to A Bug’s Land, but a 4D film wasn’t a priority just yet.
We lucked out into the last row and my habit of requesting of the front may be coming to an end. This is thrilling all over. I don’t know that it exactly conforms to the Disney ideals of a well-themed experience, but seeing as pleasurable thrill ride is what they were going for, no one can say they didn’t succeed. The launch, the score, tons of glass-smooth maneuvers, it’s great that they have an objectively top-notch coaster to offer. Perhaps it’s just a little message to Knott’s and Six Flags that they can compete. Ok, a very little message.
With dark settling in and our dinner reservation approaching we decided to head back to Disneyland with time for a couple of stops. But there was time for a couple quick beers, and we’d figure we’d finish them on the way out and across the Promenade. We weren’t 10 steps outside the exit when we were stopped by a security guard. They weren’t after our beer, but informed us that drinking was only permitted by their liquor license in the confines of the park. They escorted us back to the entrance and opened the stroller gate so we could finish our drinks inside. That has to be one of the only times people have been kicked INTO an amusement park because they were consuming alcohol.
We finished up and made our way into Disneyland once again. First was to use the Fastpasses we’d gotten (much) earlier for Space Mountain. Those effects are much more noticeable a night, the star fields are vivid and even more disorienting.
Making sure David didn’t miss one of the unique Disneyland highlights, we caught the Disneyland Railroad from Tomorrowland to take us to dinner in style. On this first leg we got to see the Grand Canyon and Primeval World dioramas, as I gave an overview of how important the 1964 World’s Fair was to the development of the theme parks.
Riding halfway around the park to the New Orleans Square station we were right on time for dinner. On our last visit to Blue Bayou we made sure to ask for waterside seating. It was nice to do that, and it was worth the extra wait the one time, but I don’t know that I’d do it again. We didn’t this time, and after 5 minutes we were taken to a perfectly lovely table only a row or two back from the water.
The meal was spectacular once again. While I’d kill for a bottle of wine with food like this, the series of Cokes I drank were probably a smart idea considering we had 4+ hours to go until closing. We had the shrimp appetizer this time, and it was just as good as the crab cakes. Unfortunately I didn’t venture out on the entrée – those short ribs were just too good to skip. Megan had the mahi mahi, and David the jambalaya. Everything was stellar, always one of the best meals you’ll have at an amusement park. More than anything, it left us really looking forward to all the great cuisine waiting for us at Disney World.
Nothing beats a night ride on Splash Mountain, and as with all the dark rides that use black lights, you are able to see so much more in each scene with your eyes adjusted to the night. Fortunately it was still a dry 75 degrees or so, so no one was in danger of catching pneumonia. The Fastpass was completely unnecessary once again, as the wait time plummets quicker than the temperature does. Not too wet this time, but another awesome ride. I’m so bummed this is going to be down for rehab during our WDW trip.
We stopped by Haunted Mansion next door, and laughed at the Fastpass kiosk as we walked on. I suppose it gets slammed during the holidays, but the light crowds and a week and a half to go before Thanksgiving left it predictably walk-on. Fun, especially after dark.
Wanted to keep the streak of great night rides going, we hit the main attraction after dark – Thunder Mountain. With a little standby wait (10 minutes) that I had no interest in waiting in next time around I quickly got some Fastpasses and we were on board in almost no time. Here the bats in the first tunnel are much more visible, and the rest of the ride is a blur of gas lamps and wildlife.
The no-so-secret shortcut took us back into Fantasyland, and another perfect after-dark ride, Mad Tea Party – more commonly known as the Tea Cups. I’ve never actually ridden this ride during daylight, and the area is just aglow thanks to the colorful lanterns. Man, I thought things were blurry on Thunder Mountain. Once we were able to cram our legs in and get things going it was dizzifying.
In what was probably an easy decision to make, the fireworks had been cancelled much earlier in the day. While the wind had died down it would have been exceedingly insensitive to shoot them off tonight. Disappointing, but at least they called them off earlier and didn’t crush everyone’s hopes with a last minute cancellation. Besides, there was always tomorrow night.
Instead we stuck around in Fantasyland a bit longer with a run on the Matterhorn. This one was definitely more jarring, about what I remember. I guess my body was wearing down after some 14 hours of Disney. We headed across the back of the park again into Frontierland for the late showing Fantasmic!. With about 15 minutes until show time we were pleased to be able to take a load off on the pavement as we waited. All the memories from the first time I saw this flooded back, as Disney so expertly elicits, even though the first time I saw this was 10 months ago.
Seeing as we were just outside the entrance to Pirates we headed right in as soon as the last pyrotechnic went off. I’m not sure how much of a rush there would be, but we wanted to be ahead of it. At this point in the evening I found myself yawning through much of the ride but still enjoyed every second of it.
To wake ourselves up enough to make the walk back to the hotel, one last spin on Thunder Mountain was in order. That side trip to get the Fastpasses earlier was a complete waste, as the wait didn’t start until after the queues joined (just after the bones at the bridge). There wasn’t much time to lament the bad decision as we were on and off and back on our feet in no time. We were spent.
But 10 minutes before closing is no time to pack it in, not when there’s a popular ride with no wait to hit. We dragged ourselves to Nemo, which we had skipped earlier because it just takes up too much precious early morning time. Besides, most of the annoying children were long gone by now, it was like adult swim.
I really enjoy this ride, the immersion here is literal as you head underwater. I suppose so many people waited so long to go on this ride since it opened that it’s gotten somewhat of a bum reputation. No, it’s not thrilling, and if you don’t know or care about the Nemo characters, it’s probably downright boring. But if you’re just happy to be back in the subs and you enjoy what Pixar does, I think you’ll like it, too.
We dragged ourselves down Main Street and across Harbor Boulevard to the hotel, and had no need for sleep aids this night. We were so exhausted we didn’t even bother setting the alarm for the morning.
Don’t worry, we didn’t sleep half the day away. We weren’t as on top of things as we were on day one but I ended up waking up on my own at 7am. I was able to recruit Megan to join me for another morning of fun, but David was not nearly as enthusiastic (or conscious). Not wanting to “leave him behind” I woke him up enough to make sure he didn’t mind missing out. Yea, he was perfectly fine with it. I did grab his ticket to make sure he would be included on all the Fastpasses I was going to acquire.
Since we were just barely behind schedule we caught the café opening at 7:30am and grabbed a bite. Some juice and a pasty is a great way to get you ready for a morning of rides. We were out the lobby and in line at the gates just before 8am, and we were happy to notice that the crowd was even lighter than yesterday. Awesome.
After the positive results pushing the Fastpass system beyond what it was intended for, we weren’t going to hold back. We hiked up to Space Mountain and grabbed a pass before heading into Fantasyland. The general morning touring plan still applied, low capacity, high popularity rides first – but since we were expecting the park to stay pretty deserted, we really just did whatever we felt like doing.
And that started with Alice, of course. This is the only ride in Fantasyland we go out of our way to hit more than once per visit and usually end up doing so with a full queue. Another walk-on experience was fine by me, and we figured we’d double up on Peter Pan as well while we were at it. Only a slight pause to allow the 20 or so folks ahead of us to board, and we were aboard.
The plan was to hit everything David wouldn’t mind missing, so we headed around the back to Thunder Mountain and gave it a quick spin. We were seated towards the back and found it to have a good kick. Not violent, but there was definitely some character – even a pop of airtime here and there. The helix between the second and third lifts is easily the highlight.
We strolled about remarking at how ridiculous these light crowds were. How or why people visit during peak times is beyond me. Sure, I was bummed Roger Rabbit was closed, but c’mon – no lines at Disneyland? That’s what dreams are made of, right? We walked on Indiana Jones and enjoyed the ride, though a few of the effects were strangely missing. The fireball in the eye was out, and many of the lighting effects (bugs in the headlights, rats in the mist) weren’t going. It was strange being in complete darkness during these scenes. The dart corridor was still working, so I was happy.
I made my way up around the river to Splash Mountain, as it was almost time to grab another Fastpass. With no lines the return windows were always 30-45 minutes away, so it was possible to grab multiple passes in as many hours. I actually had to wait a few minutes until they were available to us. I guess I was getting ahead of myself.
The two of us took a ride on Haunted Mansion and enjoyed not being crammed into a doom buggie. There really are a number of cool moments on this. I liked the man-eating wreath, the pumpkin angels, and the encounter with Jack himself. On the other hand, I was bummed to see the singing busts gone. What they put in their place was a funny change (no more spoilers here) but after a few rides they just didn’t live up.
We wanted to head over to California Adventure in time for it’s opening at 10am, so we had a just a little more time to spend. We visited Pirates and then got a Fastpass for the road on Thunder Mountain.
There was a similar absence of lines over at California Adventure, though it had just opened. We took a right and picked up Fastpasses for Soarin’ before we jumped into the empty queue. Some bad math by the queue attendant on this one, as the row we were loaded into only had a seat for one of us. We were about to bail and wait for the next show when we saw a couple of empty seats in the last row. Not quite the same with legs dangling above your head, but better than having to wait for a ride that had no line.
The one ride we wanted to be sure to get a Fastpass for was Grizzly River Run. I had recruited David to bring along our bag of ponchos (from the previous visit) whenever he came to and decided to make his way over. What you get on Splash Mountain is a spritz compared to the drenching you’ll likely encounter on GRR. Even light crowds can bunch up at a water ride on a hot day (no more wildfire haze to keep things “cool”), so the Fastpass would likely be worth the effort.
It ended up being a good bit of effort, as the window for the next available Fastpass wasn’t for another half an hour. It wasn’t exactly on the way to come back to this side of the park, but then again nothing is on the way to anything else in this park – and you really notice it the more tired you are. We decided to head to Paradise Pier and work our way back along the boardwalk to get it anyway.
All the way across the park we found ourselves walking on California Screamin’. Boy those back-and-forth queues are torture when there’s no wait. We were up the stairs and into the station and even with only two trains running we were able to walk onto the back row by request. Yea, I’ve decided I really like it back there. What was I thinking last time?
There was a good 15 minute wait for Toy Story Mania (so that’s where everyone was!), and since we knew David would definitely want to ride it again, we walked right by and made our way around the empty lagoon. The construction on Sun Wheel was well under way, it’ll be nice to see Mickey’s face the next time we return. In fact, changes were being made all over the place. It’ll be exciting to see how all the improvements pan out over the next few years. But more on that later.
There was no one on Maliboomer so a quick ride was in order. Fun, especially when you get the resort view side – but those “scream guards” are just so weird. I guess they’re not invasive or uncomfortable, but there’s something unwieldy about them. On the plus side, it’s fun to convince first-timers they’re for catching vomit.
We finished up the loop and headed to GRR past the Palace of Fine Arts and took a left down the San Francisco block. It’s just not San Francisco without the ridiculously steep hills, having this on a level grade is just inaccurate. We timed it well and picked up the Fastpass, bringing the total to five. We’re not bad people; we’re just trying to be efficient.
We wanted the Fastpass tri-fecta, but we again had a little while before we could get the next set. With only one marquee left we headed into Hollywood and walked on Tower of Terror. This is one of those attractions where anticipation helps and the lack of the line somewhat takes away from it, but I wasn’t about to take the emptiness for granted. You definitely lose something after your 9th or 10th time around, but the immersion is always enjoyable – not to mention all the dropping.
On the way out we stopped in the exit gift shop and checked in with David. I tried his cell and no luck, it’s a good thing I brought a copy of the hotel information with me. Long story short, but he was alive and well, but taking his time. The plan would be to meet him after lunch. We were hungry ourselves and decided to eat in the area so I could get that last Fastpass on Tower of Terror. Who knows, maybe there would be a line for it later.
Before we got a bite, we enjoyed Monsters Inc again. We were definitely making up for the fact that this was down for rehab in January and there’s no sister attraction in Orlando. I’m glad this won’t be the only real Disney dark ride in the park for too much longer.
Lunch was at Award Wieners, and we both got hot dogs of course. Megan wasn’t up for the chili dog meal I signed up for, so she had me order her a kid’s meal while she took a load off in the shade. You can definitely tell you’re getting older when you order a kid’s meal and the cashier doesn’t even flinch. On the plus side, I was happy to see some healthy options – apples instead of fries. It was a tough call but I made the smart choice. Something about having a meal with a chili dog and fruit is very odd though. We enjoyed our lunch nearby in what used to be the outside waiting area for Muppet Vision 3D. Much of the queuing has been replaced by tables and chairs, but all the entertaining props remain.
I went back around the corner to get the Fastpass for Tower of Terror, and we hit the max – six Fastpasses. Don’t worry, we’d begin redeeming them soon. David was supposedly about to start making his way over, so with a few minutes to kill (we didn’t want to head towards the back of the park just to have to walk back to the front to give him his ticket) we checked out the Blue Sky Cellar. Entering from the winery terrace, you’ll find a small building packed with Imagineering effects of every sort that map out all the changes coming to California Adventure.
While things have improved somewhat at the second park, Disney is pumping over $1 billion into some serious changes. One big addition is already in operation, Toy Story Mania, the first step in this new master plan. The next few phases are already in progress, including the rethemed Sun Wheel I mentioned, the modification of the lagoon to “perform” a new nighttime spectacular a la Illuminations at Epcot, and a facelift for the Paradise Pier games area to match the new Victorian theme you’ll see on Toy Story.
And many of the changes are yet to come. The rightfully overlooked Golden Dreams will be completely gutted and transformed into Voyage of the Little Mermaid, a new Disney dark ride opening in 2011. An entire new section called Cars Land will feature Radiator Springs Racer, a dual track E-ticket attraction akin to Test Track at Epcot, opening in 2012. Architectural changes will also transform the entire entry area and Hollywood area, complete with a new 1920’s Holylwood theme. Gone will be the Golden Gate as well.
The Blue Sky Cellar documents most all of this, with tons of sketches, models, and a short video tying it all together. So lots of changes to look forward to, mostly the new nighttime show, the Little Mermaid and the new Cars ride. It will be a while before everything is complete, though so only time will tell if it “turns things around”. I, for one, like this park. It’s got a few of the best attractions in the entire resort and I had always felt it does a decent job of highlighting the diversity of California. And while these changes were initiated to address subpar attendance figures, I always attended. I am hopeful these changes will only enhance my enjoyment.
With still no word from David we were happy to stop by next door and grab some wine. The scorching sun was taking its toll and we had to hunt to find some shade. We wandered until we found a seating area on the weird border between Bug’s Land and the Pacific Wharf. They sure could use a hub here.
David finally made his way to the park and after meeting him at the front the three of us began the final loop of the park. First off was GRR, and I was only slightly vindicated in hunting down that Fastpass when we saw the 15 minute wait. Either way, I had been tipped off earlier of the existence of lockers just outside the entrance and when we saw that they were free for the first two hours, I jumped at the chance to have dry socks to look forward to after the ride.
We dumped everything in the locker and skipped the line. As Megan and I threw on our ponchos a standby guest remarked, “Hey, that’s cheating!” I just shrugged as we passed by the line as I thought, “If ensuring dry underwear requires cheating, than so be it.” The otherwise wonderful turntable seemed to be having issues, but since there was a large party ahead of us we were allowed to bypass to fill in a boat ahead of them.
Usually these rides are all about rolling the dice to see who’ll get pummeled with water. This ride has that in spades, plus some amazing themeing and one-of-a-kind maneuvers. The lift is unreal, I’ve probably ridden 100 coasters that don’t go that high. Lots of waves and splashes over the side, a few waterfalls, and a surprising amount of boat-bumping. I guess there was a back-up up top as those collision were the most jarring part of the ride. The final drop is great, as they get you spinning as you make the plunge. The final stretch is a bit anti-climactic; especially with the water canons I seem to recall unmanned, leaving those sans ponchos wet, but not drenched.
Megan and I were all but dry. We were able to enjoy a nice mist on our faces and arms, but nothing in a place that wouldn’t dry quickly. We picked up our possessions from the locker and continued the loop. There was some air-drying on Mulholland Madness, David’s 6th and final new coaster for the weekend. We were greeted by a scant 5 minute wait surrounded by what little themeing there is (road signs, mostly) while it lasts. This will become Goofy’s Sky Skool as part of the big upgrade.
For some reason David wanted to hit up Maliboomer, and Megan was smart to head for a climate-controlled shop to look for souvenirs. There was still no line, but an elderly gentleman ahead of us didn’t understand that assigned seats meant that your son might not be able to document every second of your impending journey. Here was Disney going too far (for my tastes) to give someone their memorable experience as he had to rearrange all 12 waiting riders to allow this guest a view of the midway, and thus his son a view of dad. I know I should have just relaxed, but it was hot, and I was trying to be angry at Disney for having such a generic ride. I won’t be sad when this one is gone – to be replaced by parachute drop towers. See, lots of changes – though not all of them notable improvements in my mind.
We timed it so we could get a Fastpass for California Screamin’ before riding Toy Story and would actually be able to redeem it immediately after. Back up to six Fastpasses, we hopped in the full queue and were onboard in less than the 30 minutes we expected. This time around David wanted to take me on personally – as he was convinced that his partner last time around stole all his targets. Megan and I parted and the contest was on. One majorly sore arm later I repeated my victory and scored a mean 177,000 points, thanks in large part to teaming up on getting the easter egg in the ring toss game. We got all the aliens simultaneously and the rocket launched, exposing a robot that would pay off points for every ring you shot into its open mouth. It was much more efficient than trying to get those damn things around the other targets.
The timing worked out perfectly as we were able to bypass about 5 minutes worth of wait on California Screamin’. If they have two stations going this is another great Fastpass attraction as they get their own side. Otherwise it’s good, but not necessarily great as the lines merge at the bottom of the stairs, leaving up to a 3 or 4 train additional wait. If that’s the case, it’s definitely better than Space Mountain or Thunder Mountain, but nothing like Splash Mountain. I was so glad to see this up and running every time we saw it, it rounds out my top 3 with Space and Splash.
We decided we’d want one more ride on it before we headed out to spend the evening in Disneyland, so we got another round of Fastpasses and kept on our way. Mixing in a lower-key attraction we entered the queue for the It’s Tough to be a Bug 3D show. I know it’s not quite as amazing as the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, but here it winds underground giving guests the impression of being a bug heading into a subterranean lair. Inside the pre-show room you feel like you’re in the root structure of a tree, bug-sized as you read all the pun-filled movie posters and listen to bug-produced theme songs. I know this isn’t a marquee attraction, but it’s nice to see these Disney touches for what’s little more than a diversion. The film itself is fun, assuming you’re familiar with the A Bug’s Life characters. It’s one of my favorite Pixar films, highly underrated as I’ve found.
We had to head back out the entrance of A Bug’s Land to get to Tower of Terror (an annoyance that will supposedly be fixed as part of the capital improvements) and here our greed finally caught up with us. As we handed in our expired Fastpasses we were finally greeted by an attended who both noticed and cared. We were given a stern look, a terse description of how the fastpass system works, and eventually allowed to pass after an awkward silence.
I don’t know, maybe he was trying to stay in character and having a little fun with it, but to me it really felt like we were being lectured. Not to suggest that we didn’t deserve this treatment, but I take issue with the lack of consistency. If you’re going to have a policy, enforce it, or don’t have it. There was no, “Well seeing as there is no line, it’s ok this time.” Obviously I understand how the system is based on ride reservations for a given time window, but considering the lack of crowds it seemed entirely unnecessary. I suppose the worst part about it was that the Fastpass saved us nothing. The lobby was completely empty, and we would have been in the exact same place in line had we put the passes in our pocket and entered via standby. Duh.
The ride helped us forget all about this unusual encounter, as we said goodbye (for now) to the slightly shortened version and looked forward to the original at the Walt Disney Studios. There was no sister version to look forward to in Orlando for the next ride, seeing as Monsters Inc. is unfortunately one-of-a-kind (at least in the western hemisphere). We’ll miss this one, but at least I won’t have to be berated by animatronics anytime soon.
In attempt to not leave anything out (ok, so we missed Orange Stinger and Golden Zephyers for the five seconds they were open), we went next door to Muppet Vision 3D and, having just missed a seating, got to enjoy all the pre-show antics. We must not have been the only exhausted guests, as the entire crowd ended up sitting on the slanted floor. This show fits snugly below Bug’s Life and above Honey I Shrunk the Audience (which we intentionally skipped) in my eyes. Everyone loves the Muppets, and the mix of real life characters (the old guys, the penguin orchestra, that poor, poor employee who has to play “Sweetums” show after show after show) is a nice touch. But there’s just something lacking with attractions like this.
With the loop all but complete we headed back to California Screamin’ before Soarin’ to save a wee bit of walking. Slightly nervous that we’d be busted yet again, we handed in our Fastpasses and we, nor the printed time slot, were given so much as a second glance. Obviously with no counterpart in Orlando we were sad to be taking our final spin. This is easily the best Disney coaster I’ve ridden, though there’s a new one in Florida I keep hearing about that I have yet to ride. Instead of missing this one, I will look forward to being able to make that comparison.
Rounding out the visit, we cashed in the Fastpass for Soarin’ and took a final flight. Walking out of this one was made a lot easier what with the clone at Epcot, even if it is weird that their version still only shows California. Thus ended the longest uninterrupted visit to the park in the history of humanity. Well, maybe not, but we were there for a good six hours or so, or at least some of us were. Considering the crowds this weekend, there was no way this park could be considered a “full-day” park, and I’m completely ok with that.
We rambled across the promenade and checked back into Disneyland. It wasn’t quite dark yet, but we were starting to think about dinner after the light lunch. Seeing as this was David’s first visit of the day, and that Megan and I had skipped it during the morning session, we headed right to Space Mountain after a visit to the wait time board. Old habits die hard, and it seemed especially silly considering the weekend we were having.
The same could be said for getting a new set of Fastpasses for Space Mountain right before we redeemed the ones from first thing in the morning. That’s right, these passes had expired some nine hours ago and no problem from either attendant. Interesting. The voyage into the cosmos was a thrill, and there may have been some clapping along to the awesome ride soundtrack. It’s catchy like that.
Despite having seen three different Monorail trains (the “Million Dreams” Mark V, and both brand new Mark VII’s) zipping by the previous day, we hadn’t seen the new models at all on Sunday. We hiked up the seemingly never-ending ramp to the Monorail platform and waited a good bit. I thought about asking to ride in the front seat, but considering my age and the fact that I don’t have any children in tow I felt a bit weird about it. We crammed into the Mark V model and zipped along the route. Remarking that Disneyland was not built with tall people in mind, David seemed to have trouble grasping that this was a ride, and not a mass transit system.
We had already decided to exit at Downtown Disney for dinner and a quick shopping stop. I smartly checked with an attendant who confirmed my suspicion that only the one train was running, disappointed we wouldn’t get to check out the new one, but also realizing it could be a long wait for the return trip if we missed it.
Not looking to unload a bundle we skipped all the table service restaurants and opted for Napolini, the “to go” version of the sit down Naples Ristorante e Pizzeria. Megan and I had a couple of pressed paininis and David went for some pasta. Not to shabby for a place most people probably overlook, and it we enjoyed the quite, low-key break. After dinner Megan headed for some Haagen-Dazs and David continued his hunt for a coaster shot glass for his collection in the World of Disney. He was unsuccessful, even with my help. I’m convinced such merchandise doesn’t exist.
Having worked most of the way back to the park entrance we decided we’d give David our version of the Walk in Walt’s Footsteps tour, or at least the portion of which took place inside The First Fifty Years lobby. We shuddered at the “what if” drawings of Walt’s “train park” by the studios in Burbank, studied the model of Space Mountain and marveled at the donkeys that used to tour Frontierland. Can you imagine? What a horrible rider per hour rate those things must have gotten.
We were ushered into the theater and enjoyed another screening. I can never get enough of this stuff, we even have the “Walt Disney Treasures - Disneyland - Secrets, Stories & Magic” DVD. We went back around to the entrance to view the gallery a bit longer, and David seemed to enjoy taking his time. I’m glad, it bothers me when people don’t appreciate the original. I’m not sure if they’ll be redoing this now that the 50th anniversary has come and gone, but I hope all this stuff finds a good home and remains on display in one form or another.
It was getting dark and less cold, so it made sense to head up to Splash Mountain and give it one last ride. Again we used completely unnecessary Fastpasses and had one more run through the briar patch. With the light crowd came an empty front seat, and David once again manned up. I, on the other hand, had no interest in any evening wetness, so I dug out the poncho I had been carrying around all day and spread it neatly over my lap. I tried to soak up (no pun intended) the music, the sights, the whole feel of the ride seeing as the WDW version will be down for rehab during our visit in January. It’s a major bummer, but luckily it’s the only headliner that will be out of commission across the four parks.
Continuing our run of last rides we visited the decked out Haunted Mansion. If anything, I was slightly happy to be leaving this one behind. I haven’t seen the regular, old US Haunted Mansion in years. The holiday overlay was very impressive, but the original is beloved for good reason.
The Florida version of Pirates will come up short, it’s the only version I’ve ever seen without a restaurant in it! So we rode the original one last time. We could definitely feel the weekend catching up to us. We had been exhausted for most of day one, and almost all of day 2 and here is where I really felt it. I was still able to enjoy the ride between yawns, but partly because it was wonderful to be sitting for so long.
Knowing I wasn’t going to get any sympathy for being tired from running amok at Disneyland, we pressed on. We exited out New Orleans Square and across the bridge to Adventureland. Now of course the entire park is stunning after dark, and over these two days we’d have almost 12 hours of complete darkness to enjoy. Adventureland might be the best land after dark, something about the tiki torches and gas lamps right from the jungle. I’ve never been to Animal Kingdom after dark and this made me really look forward to it – even if all the animals will be asleep.
Indiana Jones was ominously aglow and with the overestimated 15 minute standby wait, we enjoyed another spin, even with the same special effects issues. I have the vaguest memories of Dinosaur (from back when it was Countdown to Extinction) and while it didn’t have nearly the same effective and beloved story as Indiana Jones, it was still fun. We’ll see if I still think that’s the case. With the first Fantasmic! showing approaching we wanted to finish up Frontierland for a bit with a ride on Thunder Mountain, and got new Fastpasses as we redeemed the ones from the morning. This being a popular night ride we figured we should give it an extra spin, and we were able to pass a few minutes worth of wait in the standby line. Our invigorating ride showed yet again why this is easily the best after-dark attraction.
Taking the quiet passage to Fantasyland we found a delightful shortage of crazy children as we walked onto the Mad Tea Party. We found it much easier to fit in if we all angled our knees to the left, plus that provided extra leverage as we spun the wheel counter-clockwise. But the real purpose of the visit was to take a ride on the Storybook Canal Boats, as David seemed oddly eager. It was a nice diversion though I always feel strange going on this without kids. I think David’s expectations were back down to normal after the ride.
We headed into the hub to see how things were lining up for the fireworks, and the fact that there were folks staking out spots was a good sign. We didn’t really feel like waiting a half hour on blacktop, we rode the nearby Buzz, allowing for the rematch. It looks like my new-found skills on Toy Story are domain specific as I again had to settle for second place.
Having passed a few minutes we decided it was time to camp out for the fireworks ourselves. We found a spot by the railing on the outside of the hub but were quickly shooed away and told that was to be a walkway. Realizing we weren’t going to find a secret comfortable spot, we took a seat on the blacktop closer towards the center. Then the announcements began, “Due to winds at high altitudes...” Damn, I could understand the situation yesterday, but there didn’t seem to be wind anywhere. No, I know I don’t have a weather balloon, but this was torture.
We heard the announcement half a dozen times, and we expected the worst. About 10 minutes after the scheduled start time, they were officially canceled and we made a beeline for Matterhorn. We didn’t forget how close this was, and we new most of the newly dispersing crowd wouldn’t either. We walked right into the station and had only a few minutes wait before we were riding up the mountain. It’ll be kind of sad when I laugh at this after riding Everest, but for now it’s still a fun classic worth riding. Smart move, the line had swelled by the time we were exiting.
Looking for a bite we worked our way back into Frontierland and Megan and I rounded up a giant turkey leg, and David had a chowder bread bowl. We found a nice spot outside in the seating area between Stage Door Café and River Belle Terrance. There we enjoyed our late evening snack and rested up for the final surge. Once they began the pre-Fantasmic! rules spiel for the area we figured it was time to head out.
Again we headed to Thunder Mountain as we avoided the incoming crowds and had another great night ride. We looped around into Fantasyland one last time and the area was all but empty. We headed right for Alice, my sentimental favorite and the best Disneyland-only dark ride. There’s not much a chance they put in one of these at Disney World in the next month or two, is there?
It was time to finish the night over in Tomorrowland. Realizing the park was almost vacant, we took the opportunity to go on a ride I had never deemed worthy of any sort of wait. Seeing as there was no such wait, it was time to ride Autopia. Megan sat out, and that was probably smart seeing as the gas pedal required so much force I had to switch off on my tired legs to make it all the way around the surprisingly long track. I have no idea how kids can handle that. Or maybe I was just completely wiped.
We couldn’t go without riding Nemo once again. We were in a mostly empty sub as we entered the underwater world. I’m interested to see how Epcot incorporated these characters with actual fish in The Living Seas, but for now I was able to appreciate the resurrection of the submarines and I’ll feel grateful when we pass the sad paved over lagoon at Disney World. I hear it’s a playground now. Lame.
We were stuck in the sub for a good ten minutes after the ride had ended, even after the exit music had run out. It’s a good thing no one was claustrophobic, but instead of freaking out David had the smart idea of using the seemingly unnecessary floatation pads as a pillow. I bet we could have been asleep in seconds if there had been a little more leg room. We were finally sprung a few minutes before midnight.
There’s no more fitting way to end a visit than by riding Space Mountain. One last flight into space to take you so far away from reality you feel like an astronaut, even without all the boring endurance training. We even posed for a memorable on-ride photo that would have been captioned, “Holy crap, space is crazy!”
Ok, so the true fitting end to a day at Disneyland is to go shopping on Main Street. We slowly meandered out of Tomorrowland and went up towards the castle for some night shots. After a dozen or so picture modes we got a few that we liked, and then pointed the camera down Main Street to try to capture the glow. Then it was time for the shopping spree - Disney plus Christmas is a dangerous combination.
As Megan hunted for Disney ornaments and David sat, I peeked my head into Main Street Cinema. I know most people pass by here without a second look, I’d bet many don’t even realize you can actually go in. It’s such a great reminder of how the whole thing got started. So many people out there have disdain for the monolithic conglomerate that is the Walt Disney Company. It’s easy (and sometimes justified) to rail against the homogenization and commercialization of media, entertainment, and merchandise. Walking it here is a quick escape from all that. It was started by a man who drew cartoons for children’s enjoyment. It just so happened that this man had a keen knack for knowing what would sell, and an attitude that if you’re going to do something, have the best minds in the game help you to do it better than anyone else.
I tracked down Megan and was unable to help her decide between two ornaments, so we just got both (one would be used as a souvenir). She wanted to look some more, so I joined David on a bench outside the Emporium next to the ginormous and painfully fake looking Christmas tree. We noticed a cast member dressed in Frontierland stroll by and remarked how unlikely you would be to see that in Orlando (thanks to the utilidors). Comparing and critiquing to the end, I guess.
I suppose we were just too exhausted to be sad as we made our way under the train station and out the gates for the final time. The last few minutes we were awake were a blur, trudging up Harbor Boulevard and immediately passing out when my head hit the pillow.
With a wonderful noon check-out time we were finally able to catch up on sleep. We caught our breakfast at the café, though with all the glow of Disney gone, I noticed that it would have been a significantly cheaper and better meal ad we walked the 100 feet across the parking lot back to the McDonalds. Oh well, live and learn. We gathered up our stuff, checked out, and hit the long road back to San Jose.
It’s always a little heart-wrenching to head up to I-5 passing by the monorail and the fake skyline of Toon Town and merge onto the interstate. That’s when the real world finally hits you. Sure, a day in the car beats a day in the office, but it’s merely a temporary buffer between the magic and everyday life. We finally hit some slow traffic heading into downtown, but were clear the rest of the way, making it into the Bay Area just short of 5pm. David had another 2 hours to get up to Roseville, but staved off ending his vacation until rush hour traffic lightened up. Poor Megan, she had to go to work!
I imagine the joy I find in visiting Disney parks is more than obvious. I just wish there was a cure for the post-vacation letdown, which is equally as extreme. The advice I often hear is simply to plan your next visit, and while that seems simple enough, it strikes me as merely offering the addict more to be addicted to. Then again, I’m not really in much of a situation to have to pine away counting the months until my next visit. Sure, it may be a while until we make it back to the original Magic Kingdom, but there’s that Disney resort in Florida to check out first. I might have a few things to say about that.