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After being in Orlando for nearly a week, visiting Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and attending the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Home Entertainment Celebration at Wizarding World of Harry Potter (more on that in a future column), the first thing I wanted to do when I got home was head to Disneyland. There’s nothing like a trip away from home to make one love home all the more. And though I already full and well appreciate Disneyland, my night at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom really hammered home just how very good Disneyland is at providing magic for its guests.

Though I enjoyed my time at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, I think Disneyland spoiled that party quite a bit for me by setting the bar way too high. Based on how Disneyland celebrates Christmas, I expected the Magic Kingdom to be even bigger, grander, better. But sadly, it was not. I mean after all, when the debate about which park is better comes up, it’s always pointed out how grand Cinderella Castle is and how much roomier and gorgeous the Magic Kingdom is, etc., etc.

Well … Disneyland is never more magnificent than it is at Christmas time. The halls are decked to the nines in every nook and cranny of the park. Sleeping Beauty Castle simply takes one’s breath away (and it looks gorgeous day or night). The Very Merry Christmas Parade is beautiful and is accompanied by memorable music you walk away humming once the parade is done. Small World? A glittering confection of pure delight is how I’d describe it.

So I was taken aback walking on to the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street and seeing Cinderella Castle looking rather plain and unadorned, no wreaths, no garlands, no snow, no evidence of Christmas at all. Christmas didn’t show up till dark when the castle’s lights came on. It was very pretty then but it didn’t take my breath away. To me, it seemed kind of corporate pretty, like the castle was only doing the minimum required to get by. Pretty but with no heart.

Main Street, itself was very festive, I especially liked the candle wreaths in the garlands strung across the street, but where was the Christmas tree? The dinky little things in Town Square surely can’t be what passes for a Christmas tree in the Magic Kingdom. Somebody please tell me that a more appropriately scaled tree will, at some point, show up in the Magic Kingdom because there was nothing like that the night I was there.

And I was shocked to find that once you leave the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street, there isn’t really much in the way of holiday decor. What is there basically consists mostly of red and green spotlights. I truly expected the Magic Kingdom to knock my socks off and instead, I walked away feeling sorry for the park because it doesn’t seem to have the know-how to celebrate the way Disneyland does.

What I was impressed with though, is the cast members. They looked fabulously festive in special holiday costumes. Everyone I encountered was warm, friendly, cheerful, and eager to help if needed. I loved that all night long hot chocolate and yummy cookies were handed out and were plentiful. I loved getting to see the Country Bear Jamboree once again (but didn’t understand why the Magic Kingdom couldn’t be bothered to switch it out to the Christmas version) and I loved getting to ride the People Mover, two attractions gone from Disneyland that I surely miss. And … (Duffy haters get ready to throw slings and arrows) I really loved visiting Duffy.

Set up near City Hall on Main Street, Duffy’s photo op was very festive with the bear was all dressed in Santa attire. There was a pretty substantial line to say hi to Duffy, which I was pleased to see. I had my own Duffy with me to shoot photos for a storybook I’m making for my grandson (because I don’t like the storybook Disney has come up with - I want something more charming and whimsical rather than a corporate pitch for “buy more bears”), so we got in line.

Once Duffy spotted my Duffy he went crazy and tried to “bearnap” him. It was comical and awfully cute. Duffy tried to tuck little Duffy under his shirt and when that didn’t work he tossed little Duffy behind him into the planter assuming a “where’d he go” look as he backed up against the planter to make sure little Duffy couldn’t be seen. Then Duffy went into a whole pantomime routine trying to persuade me that little Duffy had flown off and was gone. After a few minutes of this, Duffy ‘fessed up and produced little Duffy, posing for a photo with him.

All this was good fun and made for a magical moment, and I appreciated that despite the line of folks wanting photos, Duffy took the time to play and did not make me feel like he was just a vehicle to pump people through to sell those expensive photos. As an adult, I will remember that moment for quite a long time. If I was a child, it surely would be a magical memory that’d stick with me my whole life. If this is how Duffy is in Japan, I completely understand his popularity there. The people handling the Duffy marketing in America would do well to take a look at stuff like this and throw some whimsy into their marketing campaign, that bear can be lots of fun if you let him work his magic. 

So, all in all I’d have to say in regard to Disneyland vs The Magic Kingdom that bigger isn’t necessarily better, it’s detail and quality that counts. I guess if you don’t know the difference you might not notice but I’ve seen the way Disneyland puts on a show and for my money the Magic Kingdom doesn’t compare. I’ve heard arguments that it’s the park you grew up with you’ll love best but I’m not sure about that. I love Disneyland Paris just as much as Disneyland, so I don’t think that’s it.

I left Walt Disney World having no desire to return any time soon. Except for food and the party ticket, I didn’t spend a dime at the Magic Kingdom as there was nothing I wanted to buy there that I couldn’t get at Disneyland. I came away from the Magic Kingdom feeling that it’s run by accountants who care more about the bottom line than the show. Disneyland feels like it’s run by showmen, and the show makes all the difference in the world. And from what I can tell that attention to show makes a difference in the bottom line too.

Speaking of which … Have you had a chance to visit the new Disney Gallery exhibit, All Aboard... A Grand Circle Tour of the Trains of Disney, yet? It’s pretty special so be sure not to miss it on your next trip to Disneyland. And as you enter the Gallery don’t forget to look up at the sign above the door. What I said about Disneyland knowing how to put on the “show” is very evident in something as small as that sign.

They could easily have thrown something attractive up, but they went the extra mile to produce a spectacular sign with a train engine that has a headlight that actually lights up and a smokestack that actually belches smoke just as a proper train should. Very nice touch Disneyland, thank you for those things, they’re greatly appreciated!

While we’re talking about the Disneyland trains I wanted to make a mention of a Disneyland Blog post just in case you haven’t seen it yet. It’s one you need to read, a nice interview with Disneyland cast member Nate Lord, who has a pretty special connection with the Disneyland trains:

Last week I had the opportunity to meet Nate Lord, grandson of one of Walt Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” Ward Kimball. Nate is one of our steam train engineers on the Disneyland Railroad, and perhaps by a little more than coincidence, often operates his grandpa’s namesake train – Engine #5, the Ward Kimball. Kimball, a Disney Legend and animator who contributed to such Disney classics as “Cinderella,” “Pinocchio” and “Dumbo,” had his very own backyard railroad, and shared his love of steam trains with his grandson, Nate.

Q. Do you credit your grandfather with your passion for steam trains?

A. He certainly was an influence. He lived in San Gabriel and had the first backyard steam train line, the Grizzly Flats Railroad. His second train was a wood-burning Baldwin named after my mom, Chloe, and we would often operate it together. He also had two huge rooms attached to his garage lined with train models, and in the center of each was a track layout where we would run the trains together for hours.

Q. How did your grandfather get his Disney start?

A. Walt Disney was hiring at his studio and my grandpa dropped off his portfolio. He wasn’t necessarily looking to be an animator, but Walt opened his portfolio and saw this drawing of two men running, and from that one drawing Walt hired him as an animator. I think identifying talent and placing it in the right spot was something Walt was really good at.

For the rest of the interview visit this link.

While we’re on the subject of trains, here’s one that’s a holiday tradition and it’s making a few stops in the proximity of Disneyland this weekend. You may want to get a toy to donate, grab the kiddies, and go see the Metrolink Holiday Toy Express:

Santa’s glittering train, the Metrolink Holiday Toy Express, is once again preparing to travel from city to city to entertain families and help to collect toys for the less fortunate. This year’s 32-city tour, which passes through six counties (San Bernardino, Riverside, Ventura, Orange County, Los Angeles and San Diego counties) brings a brightly packaged gift – a 450-ton train decorated with holiday displays, a musical performance and 50,000 twinkling lights – and of course, Santa! 

Families who come to the station to enjoy this special holiday treat are encouraged to bring new unwrapped toys. Local firefighters typically collect more than 100,000 toys for the ABC7/Spark of Love Toy Drive during the season on nights the Holiday Toy Express is in town. These toys are distributed in their local communities to families who may not be able to provide gifts this holiday season.

This Saturday, November 19th, the Holiday Toy Express will be stopping at the Anaheim (5:00 PM), Santa Ana (6:15 PM), Tustin (7:00 PM), and Orange 7:45 PM) Metrolink Stations. For more information and a complete list of dates & time of all the Holiday Toy Express stops, visit this link.

I’ve always wanted to live in an old Victorian house, a wish I’ve yet to see come true. But at least I can visit one when the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society opens the Howe-Waffle House for their annual Holiday Open House:

Get into the spirit of the season as you explore the beauty of this Victorian home with your family. Beautifully decorated for the holidays, celebrate the sights and sounds of a Victorian Christmas, and sample delicious savory snacks and sweets.  Enjoy refreshments and view Santa Ana's Victorian gem, all decked out for the season at our free open house. Meet friends, old and new, as we celebrate the Society's accomplishments, give hearty thanks to our members and supporters, and begin the season with a generous helping of Holiday cheer.

The Holiday Open House at the Dr. Howe-Waffle House and Medical Museum takes place on Saturday December 3rd, 2011, from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM at 120 Civic Center Drive, West in Santa Ana, CA. For more information, call (714) 547-9645, or visit this link.

Disneyland may be the most magical place, but it isn’t the only place with Santa and snow. If you’ve never visited the Grove up in Hollywood at Christmas time, you may want to put it on your list of things to do this holiday season because it’s a ton of fun to see. Last year Santa took up residence there in a most fantastical confectionery house, reindeer hung out, and each evening, it snowed every now and then … and unless you want to pay for a photo, it’s all free:

We're filled with holiday cheer - celebrate the season at The Grove! Come see our 100 foot tall white fir Christmas Tree with more than 15,000 lights and 10,000 festive ornaments. Did you miss the Tree Lighting? Catch it on TV on Thursday, November 24 (Thanksgiving Day) at 9 PM on KCAL 9 in Los Angeles, and on CBS in New York.

Every night snowflakes float from above in a magical snowfall at 7:00 PM and 8:00 PM from November 14th through December 31st. And while you enjoy the snowfall, listen to the merry melodies of holiday brass and other joyous musical performances and entertainment. Don’t miss your chance to sit with Santa and go home with photos you’ll always treasure. Plus, Pet Photo Night every Tuesday at 6pm until closing.

Where else can you take your doggie for a photo with Santa? The Grove is located at 189 The Grove Drive in Los Angeles, CA (right next to the famous Farmer’s Market off of Fairfax and Third). Hours vary, for more information, visit this link.

D23 just published their list of upcoming events. Some of them are far off in the future but registration is coming soon for the following one, and it sounds pretty interesting:

For the first time ever, Disney fans are being invited to the historic Smoke Tree Ranch to experience the splendor of the California desert and the charms of “The Ranch” just like Walt Disney did over 50 years ago. Smoke Tree Ranch has been likened to Walt’s own “Laughing Place”—a peaceful retreat in beautiful Palm Springs that he and his family frequented and spent many weekends and holidays, which has been named one of the world’s 10 “exclusive hideaways” by the Robb Rebort. In 1954, Walt sold his vacation home at Smoke Tree Ranch to help finance Disneyland, later purchasing another home in the community in 1957. Over the years, Walt helped his daughters learn how to ride horses, enjoyed recreational activities, and enjoyed a peaceful desert environment where he could retreat from his busy work life. Walt’s love for the resort was symbolized by a stylized “STR” emblem emblazoned on his necktie, as seen today in the beloved “Partners” statue found in the Disney Parks.

It’s pricey at $825/person, but a visit to the Smoke Tree Ranch may just be priceless for the select Disney fan. The D23 Smoke Tree Ranch Roundup takes place January 23rd, 2012 through January 25th, 2012. Tickets are available starting November 21st at 10:00 AM PST. For more information on the D23 Smoke Tree Ranch Roundup, visit this link, and for a list of all the upcoming D23 member events, visit this link.

Okay, that wraps it up for today’s Pressing Matters. I’ll be back soon with a report on the Harry Potter Home Entertainment Celebration where I had the time of my life and got to talk to Potter stars, Rupert Grint, James & Oliver Phelps, Katie Leung, Warwick Davis, David Bradley, and the director of the last 4 Harry Potter films, David Yates.

If you want to know what I’m up to, you need to follow Pressing Matters on Twitter. You never know what you’ll find there — food, museums, shopping, Disneyland! Follow along as I search for the all the latest Pressing Matters & tweet about what I find:


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FTC-Mandated Disclosure: As of December 2009, bloggers are required by the Federal Trade Commission to disclose payments and freebies. Sue Kruse and Al Lutz did not receive any payments, free items, or free services from any of the parties discussed in this article. They pay for their own admission to theme parks and their associated events, unless otherwise explicitly noted.

© 2011 Sue Kruse