Dennis Greenblatt -- May 2001 -- Disneyland
May 5-9, 2000
A Connecticut Yankee in Walt Disney's Court - Part one
This is a trip report for my May 2001 Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure four night visit. Living on the East Coast, I have grown up going to Walt Disney World. I was taken to Disneyland at the age of 4 (almost 5) in December of 1970. This past May 2001 was my first time back to Disneyland in thirty years and what a fantastic time I had. As an FYI, I was lucky enough to visit Disneyland Paris three times. Actually, WDW in December, DLP in March, and now DL in May. Three Disney locales in 5 months. It was hard not to compare and contrast the parks while at Disneyland since the other two were still fresh in my mind. How much of an obsessed nerd am I? Read and find out...
With the advent of the internet and a bunch of terrific fan-run websites, not only did the Anaheim locals get to watch the transformation of this area into a resort, but also many us around the country and world got to see the steel rise thanks to the efforts of some devoted Disney fans (MousePlanet, Laughing Place, Mouse Info, and DCA Central). I was among the many who checked the newsgroups for the local gossip and eagerly checked the fan-run sites to see if a picture update was posted. After Disney's California Adventure opened, tons of opinions and picture posting showed all who logged on, the results of Disney's efforts. Hearing the good and bad, I reserved my opinions until I saw if for myself. I remember the scathing reviews of Animal Kingdom when it first opened. After my eager initial visit, I decided it was my favorite park done to date. So, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the definition of what is "good" is personal for everyone. Well, after all this anticipation and reading the fan-run sites and official promotional material, it was time to book a flight and see the new Disneyland Resort for myself.
Where to stay? I am a fan of staying on-property at Walt Disney World. For me, the Disney experience is enhanced and the extra money for the Disney themed resorts is worth it. I wasn't convinced it would be the same for the Disneyland Resort. I was fully aware of the setup and didn't see the advantage of staying in a Disney run hotel, especially now that all the park passes were "hoppers". Previously, the only way to have a park-hopping ticket was to stay at a Disney hotel. Also, the location of the Disneyland Hotel and the Paradise Pier hotel seemed to be in less convenient locations than the motels on Harbor Blvd. I was only there for three full days and my only intention was to see the parks. An $80. per night motel on Harbor Blvd. seemed to be just fine. The Ramada Maingate Saga Inn was my choice and I was happy with it - a short walk to the Esplanade, a Denny's next door for breakfast, and a view into California Adventure from my outdoor walkway on the forth floor. This motel is in-line with DCA's Hyperion Theater.
Getting to the Disneyland Resort from my home in Connecticut was painless (and cheap! 218.00 r/t which was a lucky internet special). Hartford, Connecticut to LAX, Super Shuttle to the motel, and a quick walk to the gates. As the Super Shuttle took the exit from the freeway I couldn't believe I was actually here. The first stop was the Disneyland Hotel. My eyes were darting around looking to find all the landmarks I had been seeing on the fan-run sites - oh! there is the parking garage, the monorail, how cool was THIS!? I was very interested in how this place looked from the road after seeing countless of aerial shots from the Paradise Per hotel.
As I looked around, the reality of how surrounded this place is by the outside world took hold. It was the most unDisney-like surroundings I had ever seen. I was fully aware of the setup and had seen pictures and aerial shots but it STILL took me by surprise. There I am, in the Super Shuttle on a road driving next to California Adventure looking up at Paradise Pier with a chain-link fence and road in the same field of view - how bizarre! I am used to reaching Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in Florida by boat on a beautiful lake surrounded by themed resort hotels with sandy beaches and here I am in the Super Shuttle circling the block next to a chain-link fence stopping at various hotels and motels to drop off the people sharing my Super Shuttle ride.
People, no less, who were not here for the DL resort! Could you imagine! They are staying across the street in these hotels and can't tell the difference between the Splash or Space Mountain - or even care! Why are THEY here! What is this "convention" they keep talking about?! Don't they know they have the chance to see Walt's original with all it's wonderful history? Or a whole NEW Disney theme park to explore? At the very least, see the disrepair of the Tiki House for themselves, ride Super Star Limo to see if it really is THAT bad, check the sightlines from inside the park to determine if seeing the Hilton looming over DCA really makes a difference in the Magic? I mean, let's get our priorities straight people! We are at the Disneyland Resort! ... HELLO!?
Everyone in my Super Shuttle had been dropped off and I am the last remaining passenger. The driver has a hard time knowing where my motel is because they don't refer to it as "Saga", they know it as "Maingate". "Ahhhh" he says as he pulls in the driveway. Well, thanks to the Super Shuttle for the trip around the block and the "preview" of the area. I drop off my bags, buy my newly available park-hopping tickets at the motel desk and become determined to stay awake long enough for my only chance to see the much raved about BELIEVE fireworks show. With the time change, I will be up for 22 hours straight by the time I find my spot on Main Street to see BELIEVE - but I must do it - after all, it is all part of why I am here!
Walking from the motel up Harbor Blvd. to the pedestrian crosswalk that leads into the Esplanade, I have a chance to absorb the surroundings further. I notice all the motels and eateries on the street have uniform signage. The street is heavily landscaped. A towering line of palm trees run down the street. Harbor Blvd. is one MAJOR road - almost a highway. It has three lanes in each direction separated by a heavily landscaped divide. Across the six lanes of traffic and divide, I see the chain link fence that helps to create the boarder of Disney's California Adventure. The area along the boundaries have several plantings. They will help "beautify" the resort at street level as the years go on and the landscaping fills in further. This road will look better each year. Oh my GOD! There goes the monorail running RIGHT ON Harbor. I am NOT in Orlando anymore. Standing at the crosswalk, I glance up at Space Mountain. Hmmmm, this is reminiscent of getting off the RER at Disneyland Paris and seeing the hotel along with their Space Mountain from the train platform. Finally, I cross Harbor Blvd. into the resort, past the guest drop-off area and on to the Esplanade. I am now here gawking at the letters spelling out CALIFORNIA and the entrance to Disneyland! I can't believe I am FINALLY here!
A Connecticut Yankee in Walt Disney's Court - Part two
The game plan is to see BELIEVE tonight at Disneyland. Without hesitation I enter Disney's California Adventure immediately - after all, it is the newest park. I can't wait to experience a whole new Disney park. My last "new Disney park experience" was in 1999 with Animal Kingdom and I am ready for another fix! I have faith that the Imagineers won't let me down. Even if the "budgeteers" reportedly limited their visions, I have confidence. California Adventure is in their own backyard - so to speak - and I can't believe they will allow themselves to be embarrassed. Especially on their own turf! (Ok, now I have visions of "West Side Story" with Pressler in one gang and Braverman in ... oh, never mind).
Here I am mesmerized by the SUN fountain watching the programmed water effects. I watch the waves while sipping my coffee from the Burr-bank Bakery. As a Starbucks fan, this is one good cup o' joe - none of that Maxwell / Denny's weak excuse for coffee. Burr-bank Bakery had a fix-ins bar complete with sugar in the raw... ooooo, CLASSY!! (By the way, wasn't I supposed to be heaving with nausea at the smell of roasted coffee in the entry plaza? Oh well, I didn't notice it.) I was kindly informed by the CM that I can have free coffee refills all day if I save my cup and receipt. THANKS! Little do they know what a caffeine junkie I am! Back to the SUN Plaza... Interesting Goudy-esque seating that engulfs the area like the waves of the ocean. I am happy. Nice eye-candy all over, new things to look at, and FREE coffee refills - life is GOOD! I am still buzzing on the reality of being here! (or was it the caffeine?)
Getting hungry, I go to Hollywood and Dine. I had a yummy sandwich and coke - Disney Club discount and nice surroundings. The reports on the websites and newsgroups are not exaggerated. The stores and eateries are VERY well done. Top notch. Hollywood and Dine has several "sets" for the eating areas complete with overhead studio lighting and registers themed to prop cases. It is really nice! I am having fun. Yes, my lunch is expensive but what ISN'T in a theme park. This simple sandwich took care of my lunch AND dinner needs. I remember the $7.00 tuna sandwiches at Typhoon Lagoon. I was angry at the price until after I realized that tuna satisfied me for lunch AND dinner, not bad. This sandwich accomplished the same.
As I am sitting in the SUN Plaza, the Eureka! Parade starts. This parade was enthralling. Great energy, performers, music and floats. This reminds me somewhat of Epcot's Tapestry of Nations parade. Especially the body-worn puppets and the live drumming on the floats. I noticed the "puppet people" here don't reach out to touch the audience like the Tapestry of Nations performers. The only odd thing about the parade was how it stops for a while before picking up again. The performers just sort of wander around clapping. It gets some of the mopey guests a bit more active. Overall, I loved the parade and made a point to stop in Guest Relations to tell them so. After reading how many people stop in to complain, I thought they would appreciate a "happy" guest. I walked into Guest Relations in time to see them handing a free pass to a Guest who apparently wasn't happy with the DCA experience. As he left, the Guest Relations CM looked at me and asked how she could help me. I told her I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the parade. There was a brief delay before her face brighten up and asked "what it was" I liked about the parade. She reached for a pad and pen - we talked. I think I helped make her day.
Back to the Hollywood Backlot to catch Super Star limo. I decided to "play" with the CM to see how he would react. I have read numerous times on the newsgroups that the California CM's are much more personable than their Florida counterparts. (Side Note: By the end of my four night visit, I must agree. There is a reason for the difference and it was explained to me by a Disneyland CM). As I walked into the Super Star Limo queue, as asked the CM out front if this would "make me Star?" "You are ALREADY a Star" he says with a wink. FABULOUS! I am in a good mood and still having fun. I spent some time in the queue listening to the recordings and giggling. The airport terminal announcements you hear are cute. I had to wave people to go past me. They looked confused as to why I was just hanging out in the queue. Super Star Limo was a fun, corny, well-done Fantasyland-style dark ride. There is nothing wrong with this. The gags were funny. The Haunted Mansion spoof gave me a good laugh. Why were so many people trashing it on the newsgroups? Perhaps because there isn't a heart warming animated film to connect this ride with your emotions. Bottom line - I was amused.
I skipped Muppets because I have seen the show in Orlando since 1989. I checked out the queue and it looked funny. This Hollywood Backlot area felt more like a movie set than MGM does. I loved the "make up" trailers set up by the bathrooms with the director-style chairs in front. Great picture spot. This little street here felt like a pocket-sized version of the elaborate street in Orlando's Disney-MGM Studios.
Did I mention this is a Saturday and I feel like I have the park to myself? One thing about visiting a park before it gets popular are the lack of crowds and a chance to see the "show" as the Imagineers initially intended - before it is tweaked to suit the masses. Good for me because I was able to do a quick walk-around before It was time to leave and enter Walt's original for BELIEVE. My quick walk-around revealed what *is* here, *is* well done - no doubt! Two things felt odd: the vast spaces and seeing outside the berm. The vast spaces just may need some time for the landscaping to fill-in. I still had trouble with the fact I could see outside the berm. Damn! And to think I didn't like seeing a roadway from inside Blizzard Beach in Orlando! I will never bring THAT up again! I just hope Disney decides to add to their mountain range for the California Adventure expansion to help hide the berm. I'd rather look at another beautiful mountain than the Hilton. My quick walk-around also revealed one last big surprise: this place is A LOT smaller than the picture postings on the fan-run websites make it look. Paradise Pier felt intimate in person. People on the newsgroups say Paradise Pier looks good at night, and they are right.
I head out to "park-hop" my way over to Disneyland. I should be exhausted but I am so happy to be here that I am awake and ready for more! Entering the gates, I thought I was fully prepared for how small Disneyland really is but I am STILL taken by surprise. I knew the castle is small but until I was actually standing in front of it did I realize HOW small. Not that any of this is bad, mind you - just different once you finally see it in person for yourself. Main Street here seemed more intimate. PORCHES! I loved the porches! This seems to be unique to Disneyland. Paris has a lot of depth with its' balcony / roof / molding work (not to mention it's smoking billboards). I found it refreshing to still be surprised by a Main Street. All three I visited really have their own unique charm - but WALT walked down THIS one! How cool is THAT?! What's this!? A Magic Shop? Cinema? Penny Arcade Machines?! Nah... can't be. I am having an Orlando Magic Kingdom flashback circa 1975. This is so wonderful! Disneyland has managed to keep the integrity of their Main Street. Other initial shockers included how small City Hall was - inside and out. I walked inside and it seemed like I could stretch my arms out and touch the walls. It felt like a kiddie playhouse compared to Orlando and Paris.
Oh! The trees! This place should be called "The Disneyland Forest". I have never seen such a landscaped Magic Kingdom. (Animal Kingdom in Orlando feels similar with its lush foliage). The foliage here in Disneyland created such an intimate feel. It was a real contrast to California Adventure across the Esplanade. Of course, since the Frontierland tree fell the night before, I eyed them ALL suspiciously. (Did I miss the optional safety gear for rent at the entry gates?) Flashback to the night before. I am lying in bed watching TV and hoping I can wake up at 4am to catch my flight to LAX when the news segment about this tree comes on.... (yes, we saw it on the news here in Connecticut) great... I mutter.... not another incident!
OK, first order of Disneyland business - RIDE INDY! Where is the Adventureland entrance? WAIT! Am I seeing this right?! The entrance to Adventureland and the entrance to Frontierland are only steps away from each other. Practically right NEXT to each other. MAN, this place is small. But why does it "feel" so big? It is evident shortly after minimal wandering around that Disneyland is incredibly compact. For example, The Tiki Room is almost part of the Hub. I notice it shares a building with the Plaza Garden that IS part of the hub. Weird.... I am NOT in Orlando anymore. (A side note: I never did get "Disney feet" here - a first for me visiting ANY Disney park).
Back to INDY. After all these years of reading the raging debates on the newsgroup over "is it a better ride than Islands Of Adventure's Spiderman" or better than DINOSAUR - it was time to find out for myself. I am not completely unfamiliar to the ride system as I have been on DINOSAUR in Animal Kingdom several times. I have also read repeatedly that DINOSAUR is an embarrassment next to INDY. Ok! Ok! - Enough! It is time to see the infamous queue and ride the "best ride on the planet" - which *drum roll* IT MOST DEFINITELY IS (IMHO)! Oh my GOD! I was stunned! INDY had such a swooping range of motion compared to DINOSAUR. Why was DINOSAUR toned down a while back? INDY can do it, why not DINOSAUR? (It's like... Why is it always Marsha!? Oh, Jan!). The show effects, the scenery, the ride was amazing. Believe the hype. I do have a question for the Disneyland regulars. When I moved the pole in the queue, the thunder clapped but the spikes didn't move down from the ceiling. I thought they were supposed to, no? I also stepped on every diamond stone - was something supposed to happen? One thing is for sure, I am glad I didn't miss the queue as a result of FASTPASS. They two lines seem to be integrated. This queue reminded me of the Pirates queue in Paris. The Paris Pirates queue is also very long and elaborately themed - though not AS much as INDY.
It is getting late, I am feeling the effects of lack of sleep... MUST stay up, BELIEVE is soon. I stake out my spot on Main Street, DAMN those trees! Block my view will ya! How bout I *push* ya over this time, see how YOU like it.... getting punchy... yes, I am tired. The crowds are turning into white noise in the background for me. This place is PACKED. (Again, in sharp contrast to California Adventure across the Esplanade. Oh well, someday soon DCA will have its own crowds.) I notice people here seem to take this show very seriously. A group in front of me "conduct" with the show's soundtrack throughout the fireworks. The opening was really eerie - how do they do THAT? It was a good show but I wasn't blown away by it. I was expecting an ILLUMINATIONS-type presentation and instead got a slow moving "one at a time" firework display. As the show went on, the fireworks were used in full spreads and achieved very impressive results. I guess it was more emotional than a spectacle. My eyes were barely able to focus at this point so I can't fairly judge the show. I did tape the whole thing and appreciated it more after I watched it again. I wasn't disappointed that I stayed to see it.
As the show finished, I tried to run to INDY again. In doing so, I felt like a Salmon swimming upstream. Can you say CROWDS?! No deal on the INDY thought... better to just go back to the motel and enjoy my first full day at the Disneyland Resort well rested. And that's just what I did. Tomorrow is Sunday and I look forward to a day-time Disneyland visit and meeting up with some very nice ADDer's (the celebrities of the Disney fan-run sites will be here and I can't wait to meet them and THANK them for keeping us non-locals up to date on Walt's original, turn resort, over the past years). Back at the motel I am standing on the fourth floor outdoor walkway looking into California Adventure. The sight of Paradise Pier was a nice last visual for the night. Off to bed, still happy... I can't believe I am HERE!
A Connecticut Yankee in Walt Disney's Court - Part three
Up early and on to Denny's for a quick breakfast. I am wasting no time for this is my first full day here in the Disneyland resort. This is Sunday and I am planning on meeting up with some of the people responsible for those terrific fan-run websites that have been so good to me over the years. I went downstairs to call my contact - 11:30am at the AAA center to the left of City Hall, GOT IT! See you there...
Entering the Disneyland gates, I headed right for INDY. Still mind blowing!
Off to Fantasyland to actually *see* it in the daytime and without the mass of people from the night before. Now it really hits me how much this looks like Disneyland Paris but on a MUCH smaller scale. The attention to detail and charm blew me away! WHY, oh WHY can't Florida adapt this?! This is what Fantasyland should be! The place oozes charm and feels like a living storybook. I have said it before and I will say it again (apologies to the Bob Gurr fans) - Florida's Fantasyland looks like a tacky roadside carnival compared to Paris and California. PLEASE fix Florida! I remember my reaction to Florida's MK when I first saw it at seven years old. "California is prettier" I said aloud. (My grandparents had taken me two years earlier.) My mother was shocked at my statement. You ungrateful BRAT - I think were the words. I wasn't unhappy, just stating facts. I knew even then. It is THAT painfully obvious. Apparently it was obvious the Imagineers as well since the third Magic Kingdom created was Disneyland Paris which adapted the same look as California. Maybe someone knows the order of events better. DLP opened in 92 and the DL Fantasyland make-over was in 83 - so, which came first? The remake of CA? Or were the designs done first for Paris?
I hit the dark rides with the early morning light crowds. TOAD!!! I get to ride Toad again since Orlando scrapped it a while back - LOVE IT! Snow white is outstanding - better than Paris but Paris has a better Pinocchio. Peter Pan is about the same with Paris. HOW COOL! I get to experience a ride that is unique to this park - Alice in Wonderland. Riding it, I am having flashbacks to Paris' Alice's Curious Labyrinth. This is a cool dark ride. I notice the teacups have less ride vehicles and no roof as I make my way to It's A Small World. I enter what the park calls "Small World Mall". It was explained to me that this area was one of the viewing stations for the now defunct Light Magic. It is a pretty area that is now used as a meet and greet area.
I stop dead in my tracks to gawk at It's A Small World, taking time to remember how this opened in 1964 at the New York Worlds Fair. It is this sense of history through out Disneyland that gives me chills. Walt himself worked on these projects. Mary Blair is in my mind as I just saw an episode of Vault Disney on the Worlds Fair. The clock strikes the quarter hour and the tower opens! WOW! Again, why was Florida denied this beautiful facade? Paris got it! (Why does Marsha always get the nice things? Oh Jan!). I have just enough time to ride this before I meet up with the internet celebrities next to City Hall. It's A Small World is another ride that has it's own unique charm for each park. They are all different. Here, the ride is in an elevated trough that runs through the show building rather than the other two Small Worlds which take place in "flooded" buildings. It was very odd to look down over the edge of the boat and SEE the floor. Not that this is bad. It offers a different type of visual. Perhaps more graphic. The area below the "water line" is utilized for more show scenes giving more opportunities for color. The sets are also closer to you and more intimate. You never have a chance to "pull back" your view as in Florida. Florida enters large rooms where as California meanders through tighter spaces - different. The ride includes more flickering lights integrated in the show sets similar to Paris. I loved the underwater Mermaid section to California's Small World - COOL! I am giddy and still trying to believe I am actually HERE!
Running back to Main St., I snag a coffee, listen on the 1800's party line and head out to the AAA meeting area. Moments later, the one they call FAB rounds the corner! WOW! I am so psyched I get to meet her and I was not disappointed. Great gal! Soon after the rest of the Laughing Place gang show up. Ooooo, I am star struck... well, this *is* California. Doobie is an apparent sweetheart and his wife Rebekah is a doll. Others also show up - Dave and his charming girlfriend and more. I am so psyched! How cool is THIS?! I finally get a chance to tell these people in person how much I appreciate their website efforts. I brought some original "E" tickets from 1971 with me to give them as a way to say thanks. Not much, but I am sure they liked them. Fab and Doobie go off for a few hours with other people who arrived shortly thereafter and I hang out with Rebekah and the gang.
What better to see Disneyland than with a group of diehard fans who know it like the back of their hand? Their love of this place shows as we talk about the park, the history, Walt and how it compares to other Magic Kingdoms. I find out this meeting is commonplace. Every Sunday is their chance to put "faces" with "names" they see on the discussion boards. This group is a wonderful representation of the hospitality I encountered all throughout my Disneyland Resort trip. The CM's were the best as I mentioned before. (It was explained to me the reason is California has "Leads" and Florida doesn't in their Cast Member system). So, on your next DL trip, stop by and say "hi". The MousePlanet group meet on Sundays as well. As we passed their group, I asked Rebekah if that was the MousePlanet group and she brought me over to introduce me (I told you she is a doll!). I had a brief time to meet Al and thank him for his website. I also told him I don't necessarily agree with his approach but it doesn't stop me from reading and respecting his determination and beliefs. Anyone that devoted, you have to respect them! (I forgot to give him his "E" ticket, Arghh!). I wish I had more time to pick his brain and talk. He seemed like a real nice guy - very pleasant.
We were off to see they park and they seemed to enjoy seeing it through my eyes as it was all new to me. Hey... there goes FAB and Doobie! Hi guys! Per their recommendation, we saw Animazement. Great show. I enjoy the shows when people actually SING. I have little patience for the "Puppet Head" shows with a soundtrack. For that reason, I love Hunchback at Orlando's MGM. I wish the Beauty and Beast show would rely less on a soundtrack. I mean, if you are going to do THAT, at least make the stage articulate more. If you can't give us real talent, give us elaborate sets! Talent is a key word in California. It *is* an entertainment town and it shows in the quality of Disneyland's talent.
Our visit comes to an end as I need to nap in order to stay awake for the FANTASMIC show. The time change does mix me up a bit and a nap is in order. THANKS to the Internet celebrities and they all made my day! They left me with some other helpful tips and recommendations for my remaining days. Time for my nap!
A Connecticut Yankee in Walt Disney's Court - Part four
After my nap I wanted to focus a little more on Disney's California Adventure before it was time to "park-hop" my way back to Disneyland for FANTASMIC! Past the oversized letters, I enter through the tile mountains (which have an impressive amount of detail) and grab my coffee at Burr-bank Bakery. The Eureka! Parade is about to start and I take my place. Yep, still makes me rock - only this time I chase it down after it passes me to see more. Good stuff. I hear a confused family from California asking each other what the parade had to do with California aside from the kids on dirt bikes and roller blades. Huh? are they for REAL?! Oh well, guess they didn't get it.
Since I had read consistent raves on the newsgroups and websites on the Animation Exhibit, I headed there first. I was stunned by the Animation exhibit. What a well done attraction. Yeah for them! Walt Disney Studios (the Paris park) will be lucky to get this. I don't know how they will do the Mushu show in multiple languages though. The "meet the animator" show (or whatever they call it) was slick and amusing. In Orlando, we get a little more personal with an animator and sometimes get to ask questions. This California show left no room to converse. It would have been nice to have *some* time to ask questions. I am sure it is easier on the Animator this way. In the Sorcerer's Workshop, there are stacks of white paper strips to make your own animation. You see, there are open cylindrical pieces that spin. The idea is to look through the slots as it is spinning to see the still pictures inside animate. (Similar to the spinning pieces in Disneyland Paris outside the Honey I Shrunk The Audience attraction). You are able to place a metal template on top of the strip of paper and draw your images (using the example shown as a guide) and place it in one of this open cylinders and spin to watch YOUR own drawing animate! VERY COOL! The Beauty and Beast Library is also well done. My book told me I was most like FLICK! The place is just amazing. This is a true GEM in this park.
After checking out the stores I head out to ride Soarin' over California. Ack! Lines too long, let me go to the Warf area. Nice little area. Aside from the two tours, this is essentially an eating area. I took the tours. The tours were nice. No less exciting than some of Epcot's World Showcase attractions. I loved the little shadow-boxes embedded in the walls of the Tortilla Factory tour. They are three dimensional little sets that have a projection on top (glass?) that make it appear as if the projections are actually in the little sets. I first saw this in Disneyland Paris at the end of Small World. It is a room you exit through that is sponsored by French Telecom. Built into these large Small World-like set pieces are these little shadow boxes showing things about communication. Cute - hey, better than a gift shop.
I start to get the sense that Disney's California Adventure is part MGM Studio and part Epcot World Showcase. It feels more adult. I understand people asking for comp passes as the only other park they have here to compare it to is the phenomenal Disneyland. For the same price, I assume people would expect the same type of park from California Adventure. From my WDW Florida "park-hopping" mentality, a weaker park is not as noticeable when we have three other parks to fill-in for the missing entertainment. All four parks in Florida are part of one ticket. If you don't like one of the parks, become bored, or one particular park is too crowded, just go to another one to amuse yourself - no big deal. Here it IS a big deal. I get the sense that California's don't get this park hopping mentality. If Disney's California Adventure is not JUST AS entertaining, they feel ripped off. Hey, Disneyland has had 50 years of development! Give this place a break!
I feel Disney did make a mistake by not implementing this park hopping idea for the Disneyland Resort sooner. Hey, hang out at DL and go to DCA for a nice dinner. Most people use Epcot's World showcase as an evening dinner hot spot at WDW. They certainly don't go for the rides. World Showcase is more about mood, atmosphere, great dining and a GREAT evening show in the lagoon. (California Adventure could easily become this). This park is geared to the adult dining crowd. They need the evening entertainment to make it happen. I am sure it will all come to pass sometime soon. The bottom line is this place is new and needs time to develop. I can't wait to see what is planned for the available 30 acres. What *is* here in Disney's California Adventure, *is* well done - no doubt! Orlando's MGM started out as a half day park and now it is one of the more popular parks. The same will happen here. I guess the critics recognize this but their argument is "don't charge the SAME price as Disneyland". They have a good point. Regardless, I enjoyed this place.
Why are so many people upset that WESTCOT was never built? Wasn't it just a west coast version of Epcot's World Showcase? If that is true, don't people realize that there aren't really any RIDES in World Showcase (Maelstrom, movies, a boat ride, and the best is the American Adventure). Some Florida locals mock it as being a mall. The women who drove my MEARS shuttle during one of my WDW visits, laughed and asked why she should PAY for the privilege of shopping and eating? So, that being the case, why aren't more California locals happy that Westcot was NOT built and California Adventure, with it's variety of themes and rides, WAS built? What am I missing? Someone please explain.
Back to the park and Paradise Pier! California Screaming really took me by surprise. GREAT! I repeat, GREAT coaster! The Pier reminded me of Florida's Boardwalk resort on steroids. This was the area I felt I would not like. The pictures on the fan-run websites did not sell me on this "land". When I finally got to see it in person, I thought it was better. Still, seeing the berm bothered me. The kinetic energy is here and I enjoyed the Sun Wheel, and Maliboomer. The Burger Invasion is a pretty area. Very MGM feel to it - think Echo Lake.
Making my way back to the SUN plaza, I meander through the Grizzly area. Very Wilderness Lodge feel to all this - very well done. Didn't ride GRR though, not into getting wet right now. Kali in Animal Kingdom left a bad taste in my mouth when it comes to Disney Raft rides. I had hoped Kali would have done for raft rides what Splash did for flume rides - no such luck. Past Golden Dreams (never saw it - next time) and on to Condor Flats to see Soarin' which has gotten RAVE reviews. Enter the queue - COOL pictures - feels very MGM - preshow video and enter the flight room. VERY cool looking contraptions. Gave me a buzz of excitement. The lights dim and the wing above you lowers... cool! Up and off to the movie! Many times during this movie, I picked my legs up without thinking. The film looks good (except for the bird size dust specs on the lens! Yes, the reports ARE true) and the smells add to the excitement. LOVE IT! It is a comfortable Disney style attraction that ANYONE can ride unlike the jarring "teen excitement" of Universal's Back to the Future ride. Don't misunderstand me, Back to the Future still rules in my mind for best motion simulator experience. But I get nauseous on Back To the Future and the motions are rough. Disney's ride is smooth and not nauseating. I checked out the eateries and same great attention to detail. This used to be a parking lot? Come on! Great stuff here!
Out of the park back to Disneyland for FANTASMIC. I take my place and get ready for the show. People say it is better - I thought it was just different than Orlando's MGM version. Give and take. This one rocks a little more and the Columbia visual is outstanding. The dragon destruction is better lit and played out here in California. I don't recall the fiber optic lights chase up the dragon wing and the green lightening shapes in Florida. It is done really well here. Mickey's finale is better in Florida. I also like Florida's little Steamboat Willy boat better than the full size Mark Twain. (Gasp! Did I really SAY that?!) The characters seem to get lost on the bigger boat. California's FANTASMIC does seem to have more magic in a sense that the show takes place in an area that you have interacted with all day and at night it magically becomes this incredible show. It Florida, it is obviously staged.
This trip to the Disneyland Resort is special for so many reasons. One of which is all the people I get to meet for the first time. Not only did I meet the internet celebrities, but also I get to meet a long time pen pal from the newsgroup from New Hampshire. Brian is a fellow video fan and we met when he was looking for Disneyland Paris home video. Brian has an extensive collection of attraction video going back many years. It is nice to see all the "now gone" attractions such as Horizons, Journey Into Imagination, Mickey Mouse review and so on. I did an exchange of my Paris home video for his Tokyo stuff that *he* got in trade for Walt Disney World stuff. Ahhh, what a nerd web we weave! Anyway, we became friends and he was real supportive during my chemotherapy last year - GREAT GUY! He is arriving Monday and I will get to hang out with him until I leave Wednesday morning. While Brian is here, we are meeting up with a CM (that he met on the newsgroups) for the first time. Brian will also be meeting a friend of his who lives on the West Coast that he hasn't seen in MANY years. So, the underlying theme of this trip is making new friends and meeting up with old friends. All, revolving around our love of Disney. It is THE PEOPLE that are really making this trip special. Off to bed and I am excited to meet up with some new people tomorrow!
A Connecticut Yankee in Walt Disney's Court - Part five
Ok, I am getting into the groove and loving this "warm California sun"! Boy it IS hot here isn't it? Getting up early to use today for my early entry option. During breakfast I decide my plan of action. I really want to explore Downtown Disney and the Grand California Hotel. This morning, I will take a quick walk and take the monorail into the park - gotta ride the monorail! This trip has been great so far.
I forgot to mention I also spoke with another Disneyland celebrity last night while leaving FANTASMIC - it was the notorious MAYNARD!!! I saw the name tag and did a double take. "You had an article in the Disney Magazine!" I say. Yes, that's me he says almost like here we go again "and the internet.. " I laughed and kept moving. He was trying to do his job and I didn't want to bug him - this place was mobbed coming out of FANTASMIC and the teenagers didn't help things. ANARCHY in the DL!! They are jumping over benches, ignoring authority and so on. This Magic Kingdom truly feels more like a neighbor hangout than a tourist / resort destination. I could tell all these kids have been here way too much and know all the ins and outs. Along the same lines, Disneyland still feels like it has its innocence and traditions. Walking past the Carnation Gardens seeing the people dancing was wonderful. How many times have I seen THIS on Vault Disney. Well, it still happens here - nice.
The plan is to walk Downtown Disney to the Disneyland Hotel. I start out noticing the tram dropping people off from the new Mickey Parking Structure. What's in the background? What is that camouflaged building? Oh, INDY... That's right. Man, this place is compact. Downtown Disney was beautiful. More garden / Art Neuvou / Art Deco than Florida's pop culture counterpart. The planting are in place to add to the garden-like atmosphere. This too will only get better as the years go on. Nice place. The fountains are abundant and are programmed with fun water effects. They are also low enough to encourage kids to play in them during the hot summer days.
Stepping into the Grand California was stunning. What a work of art. As the sign over the coffee bar says: Nature is the source of all inspiration. This seems to be the underlying theme for the creation of Downtown Disney and the Grand California hotel. Staying here would offer a Walt Disney World resort feel. You are truly surrounded by Disney. I don't see that the case as much for the Paradise Pier of Disneyland Hotel - perhaps I am wrong. Out of the three, the California Hotel is tops. I spent time going through the hotel enjoying all the craftsmanship. I went up to the fifth (?) floor per the suggestion of a hotel CM to see the outdoor balcony. Downstairs, I made my way to the Storytellers Cafe - STUNNING! The grounds of the hotel are big. What is that big grass area? Corporation events? Room for Weddings? I am sure that SOMETHING is planned. A space that big can't go unused especially where land is so precious. Walking out of the hotel back to Downtown Disney, I pass a window display showing the Lion King models for the Broadway production.
On towards the monorail. I can see the bridge over the major road leading to the DL Hotel. It has a mini-berm on it to shield the fact that it is a bridge. Very well done. You would miss it if you didn't pay attention. WOW! A BIG blue Mickey hat in the background. Something I can look forward to next December in Orlando's MGM. The DL Hotel looks like a typical Holiday Inn style hotel from the outside. The lobbies and such were all done over and are top notch, but if you look up at the guest rooms, there is no mistaking this building has been around for a long time and has been updated for today. Odd to see coming from a WDW resort hotel mentality. The Grand California is more like WDW resort hotels. Here is the monorail station. It looks better in person. I thought how ugly it looked in the pictures posted on the fan-run websites. What were they thinking? How cheesy looking.... NOT! It works with the Rainforest Cafe. The garden theme holds true with the leaves as the roof, the leave indentations in the cement - nice.
Boarding the monorail, I am surprised how different the inside looks from it's WDW counterpart. The windows open, the seating is better, and it doesn't have that WDW SMELL! You know, the overwhelming stench of pine. On the way to the station it was really odd to see so much backstage. Ah, we are here... Tomorrowland! It all looks so good, very Art Nuevo. Beautiful astro tiles and other details. I MUST ride Space Mountain with it's soundtrack and different track layout. As people say, GREAT RIDE! The SM in Paris still takes the cake but it is rougher. California's felt more like a roller coaster. In Florida, you hang on for dear life - quick and jerky. I have read it is more like DL's Matterhorn. I came back to Red Rocket's Pizza Port for lunch and had a great meal. Yummy pasta!
Toontown is unique to DL and was a lot of fun. The outdoor interactive gags were a hoot. In Florida, it is a very small area and not as elaborate. If Disneyland has been able to expand past the tracks, why can't WDW? (How come Marsha always gets to expand? Oh Jan!) Frontierland had some beautiful colors. Well done. New Orleans square was a good as any of Epcot's World Showcase pavilions (only smaller). It was odd how the Rivers of America Area all sort of blend into one land. It really is a common meeting place for Adventureland, Frontierland and New Orleans Square. Oh... this is NOT RIGHT!!! Why is Splash right next to The Haunted Mansion? (This is some Seinfield bizarre-o land.) I check out Splash. It is a cute attempt compared to Florida. (Dare I say, almost BAD). The ride goes so fast and it is incredibly dark. The story, as everyone has already said, is better in Florida. Can you imagine seeing other flumes going down hills while INSIDE the show building? Well, you DO here - again, all very odd. Critter Country is well done and nice set off all by itself. I loved the hungry bear restaurant on the edge of the Rivers Of America. I have seen video of Tokyo and they seem to have something similar. DAVY CROCKET CANOES!!!!!! I never had the chance to do this before and I am NOT passing this up. I was NOT disappointed. While I am here I run over to the Haunted Mansion. What a beautiful Fastpass queue! The ride was pretty much as in WDW - great! I spent some more time in California Adventure before hitting the bed. Had a GREAT TIME again. DCA grows on me more each time. Tomorrow I will meet up with Brian to spend my last full day at the Disneyland resort with him and Mary. We are meeting his DL CM friend as well. This is all very exciting. This makes me wish I made the big RADP meet at WDW but alas, I keep missing it. Perhaps next year.
Tuesday morning - up early - Denny's breakfast and off to meet Brian and Mary at the letter "C" in the Esplanade. Meeting Brian was great! We got along well and had fun. One early bonding experience was a horrifying incident on Small World.
There we are in our Small World boat, just loaded in our row, when a family was directed to the seats in front of us. The mother was clutching - no, wrestling - with her 6 or 7 year old son who was screaming like someone was trying to murder him. This kid had terror in his eyes you couldn't imagine. Now, what do you think happened? Did she take him away to calm him down? No..... she literally wrestled him in his seat, visibly struggling with this kid who wouldn't let up! We were horrified. It looked like boarder-line child abuse. Here we are waiting until the mother got him to sit before the CM launched the boat. Why didn't the CM tell her to leave? It was bizarre! So, the boat is moving, you hear the Small World song getting louder, and the kid's screaming is intensifying as if he is on his way to be burned alive! We are speechless with our mouths hanging open - at which point, Brain suggests that this is some kind of punishment the mother devised knowing the kid had a fear of small dolls. OH MY GOD, I just lost it and from then on we couldn't stop laughing! The kid settled down and by the time the boat exited the building, I looked at the kid and he was..... yes, you guessed it.... SINGING ALONG! You had to be there.
We hit the jungle cruise (great open boat Disneyland has) and others including Pirates. The CM we met up with, who also was a FANTASTIC guy, told us it was "Happy Hearts" week at Disneyland. This is a discounted ticket program for the disabled. So, lines moved a little slower. The advantage was, the rides lasted longer as well. For example, Pirates was so backed up, I can't believe how long we were in the show building. All this time going quickly past the show scenes I wished the boat would move slower - well, I got my wish! We had a wonderful time getting really good looks at the AA figures. The same applies to The Haunted Mansion, Small World, and so forth. The people seemed to be enjoying themselves. What a nice program.
Making our way to Fantasyland, we went into the Villain liar to shop. What a great AA of the wicked queen begging the children to set her free with the promise of candy - how wicked! We stashed the purchases in the lockers on Main Street. I noticed the Dentist door with the recordings coming out of the windows. Paris does this a lot. I don't ever recall this in Florida. It seems simple enough to do, why can't Florida implement it?
Time to "park-hop" to Disney's California Adventure. This is my last day (Tuesday) and Brian's first full day. Before I left, I wanted to see HIS reaction to the park. He agreed it seemed like a hybrid of Epcot's World Showcase and MGM Studios.
We needed a break from the "warm California Sun" and cooled off during a Steps In Time show. We all liked the show. The sound was incredibly. It all seemed very state of the art. We got into a conversion with a Hyperion CM. She mentioned how many AP's come to see the show WAY TOO MUCH... if you have THAT much time on your hands, volunteer or something was the sentiment. This place has so much potential.
On the way out of the park, it closed at eight, we were approached by a CM who invited us to STAY for another TWO HOURS!!!! WHAT!??! Apparently, a group rented out the park and invited any guest who wanted to stay to enjoy the park was welcomed! HOW COOL WAS THIS? On my last I got an extra two hours at California Adventure! We ran to Soarin', Screaming and rode each many times. At one point between the two areas, we stopped and looked at each other as we noticed we were the only two people we could see! This was WAY BEYOND having the park to yourself... it was downright creepy (but FUN of course). As the years go on, an opportunity like this will be RARE! I just consider is some of that Disney Magic! Well, time to go back to the hotel. Tomorrow I leave to go back home. I had SUCH a good time experiencing Walt's Original and the new park. Especially meeting all these wonderful people.
Some final closing notes:
The CM's here ARE outstanding. After initial greeting and an exchange of polite small talk I carried on about my business thinking the pleasantries were over. To my surprise, the CM would take that extra step and continue the conversation. WOW! They do go out of their way. The same hold true for a DCA CM. She was so good in helping me with my purchases we got to talking. She is planning a WDW trip and I offered to mail her some home video on the resorts to help her decide where she wants to stay and some WDW park and transportation maps. SURE! she said and I mailed the package last week. It felt good to go that extra step on my part as well in an effort to say THANKS to the CM's.
I look forward to another visit once DCA is built up some more and DL gets a new E-Ticket. This place is truly special and worth a visit. My three full days (and a good part of another day) was well spent. I didn't even get to do all the attractions. I will save them for next time!
Florida's WDW is still tops as a true destination resort. Four parks, three water parks, a massive Downtown Disney, Pleasure Island and the best resorts. But Magic Kingdom to Magic Kingdom, DL wins - no contest. (I still like Florida's Tomorrowland better). Paris ranks as the best designed and it is a mini WDW in a sense that it lives on its own land. DL has so much packed into it and with the combination of being Walt's original, it must rank number one.
Disneyland also felt like the most international park. All announcements were in Chinese (or Japanese, I don't know), Spanish, and English.
Well - I have gone on enough. I hope I answered some questions, gave a helpful point of view and entertained a bit along the way. These trip reports ARE a lot of work and it was so nice of many of you to write and say THANKS... it made me feel really good! This newsgroup forum has a BUNCH of terrific people - of course! We all love the Disney parks! Thanks for reading!