Bill Lund -- November 2003 Ė Disneyland (DLH, Offsite)
Bill has shared two previous trip reports:
Through my work at a large academic research library in Utah, I attended a conference that was held at the Anaheim Convention Center from November 4 through November 7, 2003. Taking this opportunity to add a day to visit Disneyland seemed like a good idea, at least to me. My wife and children were a little miffed. I offered to take them along, but they didnít want to skip school or work. Originally I was looking at spending the entire weekend there, but the cost of doing so talked me out of it. The university paid for the hotel while I was at the conference, but I had to pay for the extra day, and of course, anything that is outside the bounds of the business trip. I booked the trip through AAA to get a deal they were offering on a stay at a Disney hotel and a 5 day for 3 day park hopper ticket, which also included the ability to collect multiple fastpasses for different attractions at the same time.
Iíve been to Disneyland by myself before, and donít have a problem with that. Hoping to maximize the ďDisney-nessĒ of the experience, I decided to book the Disneyland portion of the trip through AAA, staying at the Disneyland Hotel and getting a ď5 days for the price of 3Ē Park Hopper pass. Since Iíll be in the Anaheim area for 5 days, I will likely get to use all 5 days of the pass, even if only for a couple of hours in the evening on the days when I have the conference.
In brief, I planned to fly out Monday, as early as possible from Salt Lake, spending as much time as possible at Disneyland that day. Tuesday, I had the morning and evening free and spent it at California Adventure, attending a conference seminar in the afternoon. After California Adventure closed on Tuesday, I transferred over to Disneyland on my park hopper pass. Wednesday I had the conference all day and visited a friend in the evening. Thursday, the conference was during the morning and afternoon, while that evening,the conference had booked California Adventure for the conference attendees. Friday, the conference ended at noon and my flight didnít leave until 8:00 PM, so I had until about 5:00 PM to do as I pleased.
Rather than give a blow-by-blow account, especially since Iíve broken up the trip into so many small pieces, let me just outline my experiences.
Most of the time was spent in Disneyland. I found that as has been reported elsewhere, that DCA doesnít really have that much to do. I also found that Disneyland was much better for people watching than DCA. On my first day, since my flight arrived in Long Beach at about 7:30 AM (JetBlueís only flight from Salt Lake to Long Beach left at 6:30 AM!) I was able to get over to the Disneyland Resort by about 9:00 AM. I checked into the hotel but was unable to get my room since it wasnít ready. I was over to Disneyland and in line by about 9:30 AM. They had just started checking people through. I found that the process of checking peopleís backpacks and purses went fairly quickly.
Once through the gates I wandered around Main Street, picked up a sweet roll, and had found my way into the camera shop at the end of Main Street. I was standing by the door that led into the central plaza when a cast member asked me to move over a bit. She opened a cabinet right by the door, pushed a button, and about 10 seconds later the announcement welcoming everyone to Disneyland started. I asked if that was the button that started the recorded message and she just smiled at me. ďItís magic,Ē she said. I wonder if that triggers all of the pre-recorded announcements or only those dealing with opening the park?
Monday and Tuesday were quite wet and cold. Iíve always found this to be a mixed blessing. Literally, every ride was a walk on, even those indoors such as Star Tours and Indiana Jones. The bad side is that I didnít really want to go on the outdoor rides such as Splash Mountain or the Autopia. It was amusing to see people driving the Autopia cars holding umbrellas and trying to see where they were going.
On Monday I had made lunch reservations at the Blue Bayou. They started serving at noon and the anteroom was jammed with people waiting to be seated. I was given a table for two on the river, which is my favorite place to eat. I had heard from many people how good the Monte Cristo sandwich was, so I tried it. I have to say that it did not live up to expectations. I would not order it again. The atmosphere was lovely, as usual, and the service quite good. I chose lunch over dinner because the prices were up to 50% less than dinner for some similar items. I wouldnít write it off until I tried some of the other items. I know that some people love the Monte Cristo sandwich.
One of the things that I enjoy about Disney theme parks are the little, sometimes overlooked, nooks. Being alone this trip, I spent a lot of time people watching and looking for interesting things. The Disney Gallery had a display on the Haunted Mansion, covering both the attraction and the upcoming movie. I spent a lot of time looking at the exhibits, which described the original conception as a walk-through attraction, the conversion to a ride-through, and the links between the attraction as it is today and the movie. I find that people watching is best in New Orleans Square and on Main Street. People slow down more and are interacting with each other and the environment.
A word on crying children; youíre supposed to be having fun at a Disney theme park. When children cry, it usually means that some basic need is not being met, and frequently it is not necessarily apparent which need. Perhaps they are tired (remember a small child is taking twice as many steps as you to cover the same distance), or they are hungry, or it is just too much. It isnít going to kill you to return to your hotel room for a nap mid-afternoon, or stop for a snack. Even if the park closes as early as 8:00 PM, a crying child at 5:00 PM is going to ruin everyoneís enjoyment of the park. I have to recall when I took our five-year-old triplets to Disney World. Mid-afternoon I said we were going back to our room for a rest. The girls objected to this, but I assured them that we would just close our eyes for 10 minutes and then leave. Two hours later I was the first to wake up. Disney parks are tiring and full of sensory stimulation. None of us are used to it. Finding a hotel which is convenient to the park is, in my opinion, critical. That means that you do not want to stay at either the Disneyland Hotel or the Paradise Pier Hotel. More on that later.
Some of the big attractions were closed, including: Space Mountain (until 2005), Thunder Mountain, Itís A Small World (opened on the last day), whatever was in the space that Rocket Rods occupied, the Submarines. None of this is news, but I have to say that whoever called Tomorrowland a ghost town was right. Innoventions seemed to have closed down a lot of exhibits. The Segway wasnít there either, although I saw someone riding one in Downtown Disney. Iím not saying that you shouldnít go do Disneyland at this time, but Iíd take a careful look at whatís not available and make a decision based on that.
Overall, I probably went on the Indian Jones eight or nine times, sometimes just jumping the fence to ride again. The Haunted Mansion, with its ďNightmare Before ChristmasĒ overlay, was great. I rode that three times. And saw probably everything else that was open.
Food is always an important component of any trip for me. The Blue Ribbon Bakery on Main Street lived to up my expectations. The best item would either be the Pecan Sticky Bun or the large cinnamon bun, but I havenít had anything there that I didnít like. Some of the best food I had at Disneyland was at the Bengal Barbeque in Adventureland. If you havenít tried this you should. My favorite was the Safari Spear, asparagus spears wrapped in bacon accompanied with lemon and lime. The beef and chicken spears were also good. Although this is an outdoor restaurant with limited seating, the food is freshly cooked which is more than you can say for virtually any other restaurant at Disneyland. I also ate at the Rancho del Zocalo in Frontierland and at the French Market in New Orleans Square. Neither was particularly memorable.
Disneyís California Adventure
The high points of DCA are clearly Soaring Over California and California Screaming. The Aladdin show was closed (bummer!) but Itís Tough To Be A Bug and the Muppets 3D were both open. I canít say enough about Soaring Over California. The first two times that I rode I was in the front row. Although any one of the rows would be fine, sitting in the first row, in the middle section, is definitely the way to go. This is truly Disney at its best. This isnít a thrill ride, but the experience is thrilling. I really felt like I was hanging over the Golden Gate Bridge in the first scene. I wonít go into much more detail, but this is definitely worth the effort. Pay attention to the fragrances. I didnít notice these until my third time on the attraction.
California Screaming uses, I believe, the same technology as the RockíNíRoller Coaster at Disney Studios in Disney World. The initial launch is breathtaking, and you catch a lot of air time on the hills, but other than that it could be a ride at any amusement park. Frankly, the other rides (not attractions!) on Paradise Pier arenít worth the wait. Mulholland Madness is a tame wild mouse. The Golden Zephyer is boring and cold. I gave up on the others. What is Disney thinking? They canít open the Tower of Terror any too soon. They have to get more into that park to justify the ticket cost. On days that I was at Disneyland and DCA, it was very clear that the majority of people were at Disneyland.
There is an entrance/exit from DCA on the side near the Paradise Pier Hotel. If I remember correctly, it is to one side of Mulholland Madness. On Tuesday, I had to get from DCA to the Anaheim Convention Center at 1:00 PM. I didnít want to have to walk all the way back to the entrance and then around the park. At the Information Desk I asked whether as a guest of the Disneyland Hotel, which I was at that point, I could use that exit. The lady at the desk said that I could not. It was only for guests of the Grand Californian and the Paradise Pier Hotel. Ignoring this, I went to that exit and the person there was perfectly happy to let me through. To use this entrance you have to have a hotel key card. Again, supposedly this only works for guests of the Grand Californian and the Paradise Pier Hotel. My card from the Disneyland Hotel worked just fine. In any case, if that entrance had not worked, it would have been yet another reason to not stay at the Disneyland Hotel.
As I mentioned above, the conference had booked DCA for a party on Thursday evening. There were about 6500 people at the conference, plus paying guests. DCA closed at 6:00 PM on Thursday. We were supposed to get in at 7:00 PM, but it took a while to get everyone out of the park. Once they had cleared the park, they handed out special lanyards to us that identified us as conference attendees. We had to have our backpacks searched, but it didnít take that long to get all of us in the park. Everyone was herded to Paradise Pier where they had set up buffets, drink booths, and dessert carts. The only parts of the park open were Paradise Pier and Soaring Over California. There were cast members stationed at all other paths to keep us where we belonged. Even with 6500 people, the lines werenít bad, no longer than a ten-minute wait for anything. This is when I road most of the rides at Paradise Pier.
I only had one meal at DCA, at the Pacific Wharf Café. This is an extension of the Boudin Bakery exhibit. They serve salads and soups in sour dough bread bowls. I ordered the Shrimp Louie salad and was very pleased. The salad was very fresh and delicious. It was a little odd to serve it in a bread bowl, but it worked. The soups also looked good and fresh. I didnít try any of the other restaurants so I canít comment on them.
Frankly, I was usually too tired to spend a lot of time in Downtown Disney in the evenings. One thing I would recommend is catching breakfast there if you are staying at the Disneyland Hotel. Both the La Brea Bakery and Ralph Brennanís Jazz Kitchen Express are open in the mornings. One morning I had beignets at Ralph Brennanís and they were out of this world; fresh, hot, and covered in powdered sugar! I canít recommend them enough!
I also wandered into the Lego store to get a gift for the son of a friend I was visiting on Wednesday. They have a great selection of Lego collections. In the back they have perhaps what every serious Lego enthusiast needs, bins full of Legos in every size, shape, and color for sale in bulk.
I think that my stay at the Disneyland Hotel was perhaps the most disappointing part of the whole trip. You have to realize that I will argue long and hard that staying at a Disney resort at Disney World is very important. I thought that would also be true at the Disneyland Anaheim Resort, but it just isnít. The room I had was fine, the Disney pixie dust was everywhere, but the problem was in getting to and from the parks to the hotel! When I was a child walking from the hotel (which was closer to the park than it is today with the two storey buildings) to the entrance of Disneyland was considered too far. They had trams that took hotel guests to the front entrance. Not more than about 6 years ago I took my family to stay at the Disney Pacific Hotel (now the Paradise Pier Hotel), again there was a tram to take you to the front gate. Today from the Disneyland Hotel you have two choices: catch the Monorail to Tomorrowland or walk. If youíre going to California Adventure, you have one choice, walk.
The walk from the Sierra Tower, where my room was, to the plaza between the two parks was about 15 to 20 minutes. I have to guess that it is perhaps 1/3 mile. At the end of the day, that is 1/3 mile more than I think a paying guest of a Disney hotel should have to walk. Frankly, if you were to stay at the Hilton, Marriott, or any one of a number of hotels in the area, they provide a shuttle from loading areas near the plaza directly to your hotel. The Embassy Suites, for instance, sends a shuttle every 30 minutes. Thatís not much worse than the Monorail, which runs about every 25 minutes since there is only one of them running. The shuttles pick you up fairly conveniently near the front entrance and drop you off right in front of your hotel. Better service, in my opinion, than youíre getting from the top dollar Disneyland Hotel!
From my perspective, one of the reasons to stay at a Disney hotel is convenience to the park. Both the Disneyland Hotel and the Paradise Pier Hotel have completely lost that advantage. Unless you have the funds to spring for the Grand Californian, you will find that virtually any other hotel within the area will be more convenient and provide better access to the parks that the Disneyland Hotel.
Embassy Suites, Anaheim South
For the conference end of my trip, I transferred to the Embassy Suites, Anaheim South hotel. This is a new hotel about two (very long) blocks from Disneyland. I would not recommend trying to walk it. I think AAA said it was a little over a mile. They have a shuttle that comes every 30 minutes and picks you up right in front of the hotel and drops you off in the ďwhiteĒ tram section. The room was fairly quiet, although I find that Embassy Suites could do a better job of sound proofing between rooms. The breakfast was the usual very good buffet. I personally believe this hotel (and likely many others in the area) are a better situation than either the Disneyland Hotel or the Paradise Pier Hotel. This hotel was as pleasant, quiet, and certainly much, much more convenient to the park, despite being over a mile away.
I probably spent too much money on this trip. There was no reason to stay at the Disneyland Hotel for twice the cost of the Embassy Suites, Anaheim South. I doubt that I actually got three full days of time at the parks, but I would likely have purchased the 5 days for 3 ticket in any case due to the conference location. I like the idea of adding Disney to an existing business trip in the area, but in the future Iím going to cut back on expenses.
In any case, until the Disneyland Hotel gets its act together, I will not likely stay there. The Grand Californian would be nice, but pricey. Eating at Disneyland is at best a problem, but I heartily recommend the Bengal Barbeque and the Blue Ribbon Bakery. I didnít have anything else that I thought was worthwhile or memorable. The Pacific Wharf Café at DCA is also quite good. If you plan an entire day at DCA, you might find yourself wondering what to do by mid-afternoon. Having a park hopper will be useful to jump over to Disneyland especially when DCA closes. There was a stream of people leaving DCA heading for Disneyland when DCA closed.Bill Lund