We're back! I'll try to keep this as brief as I can. Long story short, my mother in law had an absolutely fantastic time. She had never been to Disneyland -- ever -- didn't even know there was a castle at the end of Main Street (shoot, didn't even know there was a Main Street).
She was a trooper -- I always arrive before park opening and you usually have to drag me out there by my fingernails after the park closes. Because of some heat and sunlight issues, I had to give my mother in law breaks in the mid-afternoon (having a rental car and staying at a Good Neighbor hotel on Katella turned out to be great advantages). Otherwise, she proved to be tougher than I thought.
The most difficult part of the whole experience was serving in a support role the entire trip -- there were things that she wanted to do that I never would have done...like using the Magic Morning opportunity to simply walk around and take pictures of flowers instead of getting on, say, Star Tours a few more times. It was an adjustment for me, but I knew going in this wasn't "my" trip, this was for her (and my wife).
One thing that never occurred to me about Disneyland is the collision of visual statements and ideas -- consider Main Street, for instance. I'm so familiar with the idea of a castle at the end of a street from the turn of the 20th century, I never stopped to think how startling that sight really is. Disneyland is visual hyperbole, with incredible sights piled up on top of each other. It really is overwhelming when you think about it, and the best thing about the trip (for myself) was seeing how a sophisticated adult experienced the park for the very first time.
My mother in law can be tough and serious, and is quick to form opinions. She had a laundry list of misconceptions about Walt Disney...a lot of urban legend stuff (like he was cruel to his children, was a misogynist, that sort of rot), so I was concerned the more cynical side of her and these ideas would sort of come to the fore and block her ability to enjoy the park. Well, turns out it took less than a minute after walking under the berm and seeing Main Street for the first time for the charm of the park to completely win her over, and she had a giant smile on her face that lasted the whole day.
It helped that I avoided the "early entry" park three of the four days we were there, so for the first two or three hours, we had the run of the place. "The Horde" really didn't show up until around 10:00-11:00 a.m., so we were walking onto rides for most of the morning. We began with Peter Pan, one of Walt's favorite rides, and a good way to introduce a newbie to Disneyland. My strategy was to start small, and then experience more and more complex attractions so the "wow" factor would only increase throughout the day. Because no one was there in the morning, we had no reason to use Fastpasses. We started with Peter Pan, then Dumbo, then walked to Adventureland and rode the Jungle Cruise, then Pirates of the Caribbean, then the Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, and then Winnie the Pooh (to dry off). We did all of this before 10:30 a.m.
Took the train to Tomorrowland and ran into our first line of the day...a 20 minute wait for Finding Nemo. This was fine because I took the occasion to tell her that my wife and I were treating her to the "Cultivating the Magic" tour. Her son owns a landscaping company and she has an amazing garden, and that smile on her face just got wider. For lunch we went to the Golden Horseshoe, and I grabbed one of the stage booths. The new show was fun -- but I missed Billy Hill (more on this later). Afterwards, we went for a Dole Whip and the Tiki Room (which she thought was "crazy", but she enjoyed it.
By then it was close to 2:00 p.m., and "The Horde" was in full force. The heat and the sensory overload had taken their toll, so I took her back to the Hotel for a break.
(to be continued)