Ron Harman -- July 2002 -- Disneyland
My wife and I separated two years ago. I mention this here because, to some extent, this trip with my daughter was a milestone marking the end of a healing process for both of us. Erin is my best friend, and now the most important person in my life. She knows I love Disneyland, and has been there more in the past fifteen years than I have, but this was our first vacation with just the two of us.
I fell in love with Disneyland when I was twelve. I had a souvenir map on my wall all through jr. high, high school, and college. My apartment now has framed Disney art, Disney plush (Mickey and my personal favorite - Jiminy) and an old Mickey tie hanging on a door filled with Disney pins purchased on Ebay. We honeymooned at Disneyland in 1981, and have been back three times as a couple and family. My wife's sister and mother now live in Huntington Beach, and the last two visits have been short day trips during a family visit. So this was the first time I've taken Erin on a real Disneyland vacation.
I never have worked at Disneyland. You could say that life intervened. For those of you who don't know me from MousePad, I work at the Oregon Zoo as a retail supervisor. This is the closest I can come and stay in Portland. And of course, Disneyland does have my resume. (I am also an actor and singer... hence the day job.)
Now you should meet Erin. She is fifteen years old, about to start her sophomore year at Portland's Metropolitan Learning Center. This is an "experimental" school started in 1968. Yes, it is a somewhat "hippie" environment. The emphasis is on expeditionary learning, the staff is all on a first name basis, and there are no grades given. Erin is a free spirit who has thrived in her first year at this school. She is very creative and articulate. She is also a theatre kid who has grown up backstage with theatre and opera such a natural thing to her she was surprised in first grade that other kids had never even seen live theatre. This, combined with a Disney oriented household makes her eager and willing to embrace magic.
So the two of us kissed Mom goodbye on Monday, and hopped a light rail train to the airport.
Having spent the last couple of years on MousePad, I felt I was pretty up-to-date on changes and trends in the park. Here are just a few of the things I was prepared for:
I won't go into to much detail here. Basically, for a Disneyland vacation I need three things: a bed, a shower, and easy access to the park. The Anaheim Plaza was a good choice - it had all three. It also had a very helpful staff, good facilities and a pleasant, family atmosphere.
Oregonian Culture Shock
There are some things that take some adjustment coming from your northern neighbor. This was Erin's first real experience with sales tax. She never really appreciated what a luxury it is to see a price on an item and know that that was how much money you were going to be asked for at the register.
Personally, I had forgotten just how beautiful the women are in California. I wasn't very good at being single twenty years ago, and am still getting used to the idea. I tried flirting a couple of time, but was so bad at it that Erin didn't even notice.
One more thing. I very quickly remembered exactly why bottled water is so popular in southern California. Do any of you actually drink that swill that comes out of your faucets?
Highlights and Impressions
Most of you know the parks at least as well as I do. Instead of going into a play by play here, let me just hit some high points, and maybe help you see things through our eyes.
This is the reason we came. From the moment you step onto the Esplanade, hear the music and see the wrought iron of the gates, there is a tangible, pithy feeling in the air. The prevalent thought is "We're here...we're actually here!" A friend with connections got us cheep three-day park-hoppers, and a helpful cast member at the info booth explained that they were actually our tickets, not coupons or vouchers, so we could bypass the ticket windows.
A note on the "Guide to the Magic" maps that I've read so much debate about. If you are not using them to actually navigate (as most new or infrequent guests are) you may not realize that they are meant to be folded in half, so that on one side you have Disneyland, on the other DCA. Oh, you did figure that out? Okay, just thought I'd mention it.
Okay, some attraction notes:
Indiana Jones (Four rides) Indy was the first ride we went on, mainly because it was the first one we reached. We had gone on it last time, shortly after it opened. Going through the que too quickly I felt we missed a lot of the incredible detailing, so after the first morning we took our time. I was disappointed when the spiked ceiling failed to descend. We also never took the time to view Salah's film, and I wish now that we had.
Splash Mountain (Four rides) Laughed more on this one than any other ride in the park. I think this is the one ride that has it all: thrills along with great peaceful passages, wonderful theming and a strong, clear story line. The second time we rode, as we rounded that nice peaceful curve around the briar patch, another log flew down the drop. Out of the blue, a couple bucketfulls of water drenched me! I thought this was one of the peaceful moments!!
FastPass Splash also quickly convinced us that Fast Pass is our friend. Crowds were healthy but manageable all week, and Splash was the only line we saw with longer than a 35-minute posted standby time. Not only did our own FastPasses let us use our time more efficiently, but I really feel that the program keeps the standby lines more doable. (Also, thanks to MousePadders for the tip on "free FastPasses" at Pirates and Haunted Mansion!)
Which brings us to...
Pirates of the Carribean (Five rides) I rode this the year it opened, and it still amazes me. I don't like the re-writing of the chase scene - it just doesn't make much sense. I mean, if I had been at sea for a while, would I be chasing women because I was hungry - FOR FISH??
I do like the fog in the battle scene. It gives a great morning attack atmosphere. It also covers a multitude of sins. I remember a lot more cannonball splashes near the boats.
A few of the only annoying guest behaviors of the trip happened on Pirates. First there was a kid in the boat ahead of us with MICKEY flashing on the back of his hat. It was like following the Coast Guard through the Spanish Main. On another ride, a passenger in the row ahead of us was recording video using a swing out view screen. I asked him to please use his viewfinder when I realized I had spent half of the time in the caverns staring not at the surroundings, but at his view screen! (Mesmerized by glowing box...) He was very good about it, and I thanked him as we left the boat.
Haunted Mansion (Five rides) Does anyone else tend to do these two as a pair? It seems we always did one followed by the other. Erin commented on this. She thought it was because they are so similar in quality and execution. I told her it was more likely because they are just so close to each other.
After my time on MousePad, I was again prepared for the worst. I want to hear Paul Frees doing the narration in the elevator, not Melinda and Connie from the GAP, thank you very much. Fortunately, I only heard two people doing this, mostly under their breath. The screams during the blackout got pretty intense, but that I can live with. Also, of the five times we rode, three were interrupted my those pesky spirits.
Have you ever thought about the acting challenge of Little Leota? No body movement, not even head movement. Watch her face sometime. She does incredible stuff!
These two still have to be my favorite rides in the park.
Jungle Cruise (Two rides) This is one of many things Erin had never been on. When you're there for a day visit, you tend to focus on the e-tickets, and some of the classics slip through the cracks. We took one ride early in the afternoon. It was enjoyable, and the skipper was funny, just not great. He recited his spiel too fast to understand a lot of the time. One of my favorite things to do is take the Jungle Cruise in the evening, so we also did this. Much better time - the dusk atmosphere of the ride really adds to the experience and the skipper (Joey) was so on! His Steve Irwin was particularly unexpected - as well as the subsequent copyright infringement joke.
Enchanted Tiki Room Okay, here I am forced to agree with the (seemingly) prevailing opinion on MousePlanet. What would it take to update, or even maintain this classic? The cockatoos (girls) in particular looked awful. They were dirty (white does show it!) and only partly functional. The singing tikis were also visibly out of repair. Even so...
Erin loved this show. Cheesy? Yes. Culturally inaccurate? Definitely. Dated? Probably. Enjoyable? An emphatic yes from my They Might Be Giants fan! Would've seen it a second time had time allowed.
Big Thunder (Three rides) I actually liked the new safety gates in the loading area here. We both thought they were well done and didn't detract from the theming of the area at all. Tried the goat trick, but must've missed something in the execution. One of my favorite things on Big Thunder is the spinning possums, and I pointed them out to Erin the second time we rode.
Matterhorn (Two rides) This is another Erin had never done. We waited about forty minutes the first time (this gave me a chance to visit the nearby smoking area), less the second. I do think this one needs FastPass badly. The unshaded que makes it more tedious than other waits. The ride was great, but seemed rough - is this just showing it's age? The abominable and ice cave scenes looked great, though.
Space Mountain (Three rides) Erin's favorite going in. We only used FastPass once, the standby lines were never more than 30 minutes - posted. Even then, we were in and out of the ride in about 25. When I was here last, the soundtrack had just gone in and I remember it really added to the ride experience. This time it was gone completely. It also seemed that some of the effects on the lift were not as profuse as I remembered.
Star Tours (Two rides) With FastPass this was a walk on, but spent about twenty minutes in the somewhat deceptive standby line one evening. I think this is one of those cases that the queue theming is missed by going through too fast. Slowed down and let people pass to let Erin look around. The ride itself is still fun, although the film seemed to show its age. Seems that this would be a rather economical ride to update.
Fantasyland Darkrides I'll lump these together, although I really shouldn't. One of the lessons we learned quickly was to hit this area in the morning. Peter Pan and Toad especially get long lines late in the morning, and they continue all afternoon. The back of the castle was Erin's favorite area in the park, even with the construction barriers around the carousel area.
Our family has a long history with Peter Pan - Erin's mom has worked on local productions at two different theatres in Portland for almost twenty years - almost 300 performances - and never gets tired of the story. Love this ride - it has all the magic the story calls for. We waited in line three times for this one. We decided that a small fog effect is needed around the London rooftops at the end of the loading area.
Mr. Toad was one of our morning rides, and it was just as I remembered - compact, fun, with a very clear story line. Pinnochio and Snow White were walk-ons in the morning - and perfect a start to our second day. In the afternoon we braved the line for Alice, and it turned out to be not too bad. The ride itself was fun. I hadn't been on it for years, and it was another first for Erin.
We don't do teacups. While in line for Alice, I watched a group of teenaged girls hanging out at the teacups exit gate. When the ride ended and the previous guests were exiting, they nonchalantly went through the gate and onto the ride! I was at a loss, and in the middle of the Alice line, so I couldn't point it out to a CM, but we did discuss it. Erin was as shocked and disappointed as I was.
Storybookland Canal Boats (Two rides)This has always been one of my favorites, but again, Erin had never been on them. I purposely didn't tell her anything about the ride, just let her experience it as it came. She was enchanted. Our hostess was everything you could want on this ride - cute, sweet and enthusiastic. Her microphone wasn't working, and Erin thought it was very cool that she just sat crosslegged on the roof and told the story. Our second time was at night (I love this ride at night), and the CM wasn't nearly as much fun - the narration sounded rote - stilted and somewhat forced.
One of the things I don't know that I will get used to is seeing guys working this ride. It just doesn't feel right, although this is one of the rides Erin thought I would be great at!
Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin (Two rides) The only time Erin really showed her age was when she wasn't really interested in spending much time in Toontown. We used FastPass both times on this ride, but the second time we slowed down to enjoy the cue area. I really feel this ride begins in the line! I love the alleys and windows, and you miss so much if you just blow through the cue.
Disneyland Railroad (Three rides) Okay, I'm a sucker for this one. I spent three summers at the zoo on the train station platforms, so I have a certain affinity for the attraction. Also, by friend Ben, a Disney retiree who works for us now is an old steam train guy. (Walt actually called him that!) We never did the full loop all at once, but used the train to get from point A to point B. I was surprised by Erin's reaction to the dioramas, which I've always felt were kind of cheesy. She actually loved them, and would have ridden through again if we had had the time!
Okay, I've spent enough time on Mouseplanet to know that the new park has its problems. I also didn't want to form an opinion of my own until I saw it for myself. Even though we had three-day park hopper tickets, we only spent about four hours in DCA on Wednesday. Why? Here is a possible reason for the low attendance at the new park that I haven't heard discussed: It was taking time away from Disneyland. Sure, I would have liked to spend more time there, exploring and learning the ins and outs of the place, but time is precious. I knew what I wanted to see, we saw it, then we crossed the esplanade back to the park we came for. That being said, if we had had a fourth day, we both agreed that we would've gone back for more time.
I think the park has potential. Maybe not as another Disneyland, but certainly as an alternative to Knotts. All in all, I think of it as a good candidate for a new land, with a monorail, omnibus, or even autopia connection to the original park. I don't know how I would feel about were I a local, but as an out-of-town visitor, I would just rather spend my precious, limited time at Disneyland.
These are the experiences we did have:
Soaring Over California WOW! This was a treat. We got in the front row, towards the center, and loved it! Definitely a hit with both of us. I purposely didn't prepare Erin for most of the things in DCA, and as she had no idea what to expect she was really blown away. I do wish that the cuts between scenes were smoother, maybe a nice swoop through the clouds or something. And, although I could see where they were going theme-wise in the cue area, the industrial feel of the place left me cold.
California Screaming We actually went on the big 'coaster while we waited for our FastPass time for Soaring. The wait wasn't bad - about thirty minutes, and the cue area nicely shaded. It was a nice rest. The ride itself was great. I'm not a big coaster fanatic, but to me this seemed like a well designed ride. It was long enough that the wait seemed worth it, with very few slow moments that I can recall. I was a bit put off be the sandy non-theming in the last spiral. Again, I see what they were trying to do, with the whole beach-and-palm-trees thing, but it didn't come off as theming. To me it just didn't look intentional.
Another note here: Doesn't the placement of the cameras seem a little weird? I mean, on Splash the camera shoots as you go down the big drop - the climax and signature moment of the ride. Here, they get your picture at the end of that long spiral at the end. Just seems like an odd choice to me.
Grizzly River Rapids I really enjoyed this. Well, it was hot after all. The cue theming was appropriate, and we moved through it very quickly. I found the turntable loading area fascinating. The ride looked great, and moved at a good pace. I was disappointed in two things. The last drop was nowhere near as big as I had anticipated, and the ride could've been a bit longer. I hate it when it seems to be over just when it has begun!
Animation Building Saw the artist's show and did some of the interactives. The lobby is beautiful! As empty as it was it seemed positively cavernous. Both of us are actors and singers, so Ursala's grotto was our favorite. We did very well, actually. I wished they had the option of purchasing a short video of your performance. (I can't believe they haven't at least considered this!)
The highlight of our time at DCA was without a doubt Blast! Again, we are a theatre family, and this performance didn't disappoint. I played in a corp as a kid (okay, I went to one rehearsal before the Columbians folded) and have followed drum corps on and off for years. This was Erin's first experience with anything like this, and she was enthralled. I was also a big Chuck Mangione fan in high school, so "Land of Make Believe" was a treat - even more so given where we were.
ODDS AND ENDS
The All-American Collegiate Band was on hand, and having a great time. As an old band player, it is great to hear and see these kids just playing and having fun. They had been playing at the train station in the afternoon when we returned after a quick nap at the hotel. Thursday, we heard the music, and assumed that they were there again. As we passed through the tunnel, however, I noticed a difference. "Erin," I said, "That's a Corps!" Sure enough, as we entered Town Square, there they were - green uniforms and plumed hats. Not just any corps, it was the BY-GOD VANGUARD!!! (For the DCI-impaired, this is roughly analogous to showing up expecting a good municipal fireworks show, and discovering that it has been replaced with "Believe....") We stayed for two numbers - if it had been Tuesday instead of our last day, we would've stayed longer. Just what Blue Fairy put that particular cherry on my sundae I'll never know!
Eats We determined to have a light breakfast and one large meal a day, as an economy measure. We broke from this right away. After riding Indy Tuesday morning, we looked at each other and decided, "We're hungry!" The River Belle Terrace was perfect for breakfast. A casual, early morning overlooking the Rivers of America, and hey! Erin started her Disneyland experience with a Mickey pancake!
We did have Lunch Wednesday at the Rainforest Café in Downtown Disney. I'll admit, it was nice to have a beer on a hot day, and it made a nice break. It also gave us an excuse to ride the monorail, something I had never done.
Thursday was our Blue Bayou day. I've always loved this place, and am a sucker for the monte cristo. Erin had her first one. Everything was great with the exception of our table. We were right by the entrance, at the second table - right at the foot of the stairs that lead upstairs. Not the best seat in the house!
Downtown Disney Easy to sum up - I loved this! Especially the Disney Store. Okay, we did some shopping in the parks - the Emporium, the Adventureland Bazaar (I love my Mickey petrogyph shirt! Basically a whole shirt of hidden Mickeys!) the Gag Factory - but I loved not having to do last minute shopping on Main Street. We just casually strolled down Main Street and out the gate. Then we strolled over to DD to browse and people watch. Also, our late flight home on Friday gave us that day to just shop.
Every night was crowned with true magic. If there were any doubt or lingering disbelief that we were really here, it was dispelled after dark. Of course I mean the emotional double-whammy of Believe, There's Magic in the Stars and Fantasmic. We discovered the first night that inside the hub is not the best viewing for Believe... Not only are trees in the way, but all of the speakers seem to be pointed outward, making the soundtrack hard to follow. The second night we watched from the Fantasmic viewing area. Nice, but not how it was intended to be seen. Thursday night we were in a perfect spot - on the street just to the Tomorrowland side of the hub.
All three nights we were down front for Fantasmic's second performance. Whether we were just lucky, or maybe it was because there was just the two of us, we walked casually from the hub and found seating front and center, at or near the back of the front section every time. Frankly, I can't believe the gallery balcony could be any better than this.
I have a difficult time expressing the impression these two shows had on both of us. I can only say that looking down and seeing the tears of joy on my little girl's face erased all doubt that I had made the right decision in splurging on this trip. And when she looked up and saw my eyes misting up, she reached for my hand, and we were as close as we have ever been.
And that is what this trip boiled down to. We laughed together and cried together. We held hands more than we have since she was little. I think she understands my reluctance to grow up better than before. (She once said, "Dad, your inner child is just very close to the surface!") We've promised to come back in two years. She will be a young woman then. But now that doesn't scare me. Now I know that she gets it. That being an adult is not the same as being a grown up. That wonder is as important a part of life as food and air and love. That magic is real, and is more powerful than cynicism and despair, and that innocence is not a virtue reserved for the young.
Erin and her group of friends are fans of anime. She carries a notebook that she draws characters in . She's really very good, actually. On the flight home she took out that notebook. She set her Mickey plush in front of her and proceeded to draw a very good Mickey face. I asked for that simple pencil sketch. It will be framed with my Disneyland 2002 pin.
I will never forget this trip.