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Bill Lund -- February 2005 -- Disneyland (Offsite)


  • Bill, 50-years-old
  • my daughter Liz, 17-years-old
  • and 150 of our closest friends.

Introduction and the Plans:

My daughter’s high school choir and orchestra participated in Disney’s Magic Music Days at Disneyland. We live in Provo, Utah but there are a number of local choirs and orchestras that make the trip to Disneyland for this. It is about a twelve-hour drive from Provo to Los Angeles. The choir director also arranged for two workshops and other activities in addition to the Disneyland performance. The interesting part will be going backstage at Disneyland and working with some of their music professionals, the same people that put together the shows in the park.

Here are the plans

Wednesday, February 16 - There will be three buses full of high school kids driving twelve hours through the snowy desert from Provo, Utah to Santa Ana, California where we are staying. The buses leave at noon and someone thinks we’re going to arrive at our hotel by midnight. (Ha!) The good news is that we’re staying at an Embassy Suites so there will be two rooms and there are only two chaperones in my room, so one of us can sleep in the bedroom and the other on the foldout bed in the living room.

Thursday, February 17 -- Our first day at Disneyland. The choir and orchestra are holding separate workshops with the professional Disney music directors. This should take most of the afternoon, but the rest of the time we’re on our own! I’m supposed to meet with my boys at some point during the day. I’ve made arrangements to take my daughter and some of her friends to the Blue Bayou Restaurant after their workshop.

Friday, February 18 - We have an exchange planned with a local high school to perform with and for them. We then have a workshop planned at California State University at Long Beach and then we’ll attend “Ragtime - The Musical” in the evening. No Disney today.

Saturday, February 19 - Our second day at Disneyland. The choir and orchestra are scheduled to perform at the Carnation Plaza in the afternoon. The rest of the time is ours.

Sunday, February 20 - In the morning we are performing at a local church and then heading back to Utah. The plan calls for us to arrive by midnight in Utah. Again, I’ll believe it when I see it. Thankfully Monday is a holiday and we can rest.

February 16, 2005 - Provo, Utah

We are leaving at noon and taking buses to Los Angeles. Everyone I talk to about the trip says we must be crazy to be taking buses. Mr. Larson, the choir director and trip organizer was concerned about traveling by air because at the time they were making the arrangements it wasn’t clear whether Delta Airlines was going to be solvent at this point (they are) and we would have had to split up the choir and orchestra onto four planes since there is a maximum number that the airline will allow from a group on one plane. It is clear that Mr. Larson is an old hand at this. Even though we left at 1:00pm instead of noon as planned, we still arrived at our hotel in Santa Ana, California within minutes of our scheduled time (midnight). We left in snow (yes, it snows in the desert), stopped about every two hours for a break, and watched Disney movies all the way down.

The chaperones were comparing notes and I was surprised at the number of people that have annual passes. The chaperone I was sitting next to had been to Disneyland over New Year’s and was planning another trip with her family two weeks from now. All in all there were four people on the bus with annual passes, two more from the area met us at the park, and I heard of another family around the corner from us who also have annual passes.

February 17 - Disneyland Workshops

The nice part about staying at Embassy Suites is the full cooked breakfast they provide. The chaperone’s job was to actually get the kids up and moving in time for us to be out the door by 9:00am. The buses drove to the Pinocchio parking lot, next to the Mickey and Friends parking structure. At this point all of the kids, including my daughter, charged off. We all had to meet at 1:00pm to be escorted backstage for our workshop.

Some people think I’m crazy to be at Disneyland by myself, but I really enjoy it. I spent about an hour just in Town Square near the entrance, looking at the windows and noticing things. I’ve seen lists of the attributions on the Main Street U.S.A windows, but I’d really like to see a website with images and short biographies of everyone honored with a window on Main Street.

The new paint job on Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is very pink. One thing I noticed that was a little upsetting was that they have gilded the last remaining spire on the castle. There is a story that the spire on the square turret (west side of the castle) was not gilded to show that Disneyland would never be finished. I’ve also heard that it wasn’t gilded because Walt was having them gilded while Roy, his brother and the financial man behind enterprise, was out of town. Roy came home before the final spire was completed and put a stop to it. I don’t know whether either of these is true, but I liked the idea that Disneyland was not finished. In any case, they gilded that final spire.

Waiting for our 1:00pm meeting time to go backstage, I had a sticky bun from the Blue Ribbon Bakery (excellent!) and attended the Billy Hill and the Hillbillies show at the Golden Horseshoe. I hadn’t seen this show before and enjoyed it very much. Their humor was a little ribald - along the lines of the Hoop-Dee-Do Review at Disneyworld if you’ve seen it. It rained, some times quite hard, all day. Most of the high school kids would rather die than carry an umbrella.

When it was time for our workshop, everyone met underneath the railroad trestle leading to Toontown. From there they walked us through Toontown, to the large gates and cast entrance on the north end of the park. It is interesting to see the abrupt change from themeing to nothing as you go backstage. We walked past a number of ride vehicles (Haunted Mansion doombuggies, Jungle Cruise boats, Splash Mountain logs, Grizzly River Rapids rafts) to a large covered area. You could see the Toontown hilltops which are behind the facades of Toontown itself. There were also fireworks launchers just below the tops of the hills. On the wall were large maps of the entire resort showing how to reach the different performance venues from backstage. There was a surprise for me in this on Saturday.

Today we weren’t performing for the public but having a workshop with Brent Pearce, who has worked for Disney a number of years and has been involved in movies and productions in the park. They escorted us to one of the rehearsal halls for this. The choir had learned the finale to Fantasmic at home and he worked with them. It was amazing to see the difference between just singing the notes and what he was getting them to do. They must have spent five minutes working on the word “true,” punching the “t,” dropping down to almost a whisper for the vowel and building to full volume for the end of the word. They also worked on “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King. Most of the choir was doing the chant, the chamber group did the vocals and two of the kids were selected to sing the lyrics. Once they were practiced, they were recorded and the CD was given to the choir director. All of this took about two hours. The orchestra had a separate workshop, which I did not attend, but I understand it was similar.

Once we were done here, we were escorted back out to the park and we had the rest of the day to ourselves. My daughter, a friend of hers, and I went to the Blue Bayou for lunch. I had the prime rib, which was excellent. We then wandered around, going on the Jungle Cruise, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Star Tours, Indiana Jones Adventure, and the Haunted Mansion. At one point I took my daughter into the Village Haus Restaurant in Fantasyland to show her the off-center exit sign. Above the main doors to the restaurant is an exit sign, which normally would be centered, but due to a support beam it can’t be. Figaro, the cat, has a rope tied around the sign and is trying to pull it to the center. (Go into this restaurant at Disney World and Figaro is there giving you the thumbs up, showing that he got the sign moved over after all.)

Disneyland closed at 10:00 PM and we actually got everyone back to the hotel by 10:30 PM.

February 18 - Orange High School and California State University at Long Beach

Today we had to get everyone up for an 8:30am departure for Orange High School where we had an exchange planned. The rain was quite hard today. We heard on the news that Los Angeles normally expected about 9 inches by this point in the season and they had had 29 inches so far. We listened to their chamber choir sing and I was very, very impressed. They were a small group of about 15 people. I didn’t write down the names of what they performed, but their first piece sounded like early chant. They also did two gospel pieces with soloists. They have toured in Europe and around the U.S. It was very good. We performed a couple of works without accompaniment and then the orchestra joined us.

After that we went to the MainPlace Mall in Santa Ana and turned the kids lose to find their own lunch. We only lost two of them! (Fortunately, it was not my bus that left two kids at the mall. We always did a roll call before leaving.) From there we went to California State University - Long Beach (CSULB) and had separate workshops for the choir and orchestra. I didn’t stay for these; opting instead to walk to the library and chat with some of my colleagues there (I work in the library at Brigham Young University in Provo).

After the workshops we returned to our hotel where the tour arranger was providing pizza. Our choir director had worked through a local tour arranger who specializes in music performing groups, such as ours. He did an excellent job. Everything worked exactly as planned. After dinner we returned to CSULB to attend the dress rehearsal of “Ragtime - The Musical”. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the performance. As we were leaving the theater it started to pour. Five minutes earlier and no one, except the stragglers, would have gotten wet. As it was, we were all soaked to the skin.

February 19 - Disneyland Performance

Today both the choir and orchestra were scheduled to perform at Disneyland at the Plaza Gardens Stage, just off the hub. Our original plans had been to leave the hotel at 8:00am, but everyone was so tired, the director selected to postpone that for an hour and leave at 9:00am. (Departure times were always a little wiggly. The majority were almost always there on time, and then we had to wait for the stragglers.)

Since we didn’t have to meet the Disney escorts until 1:00pm, we had the morning free. As we arrived at Disneyland, there was a cloud burst. The kids all opted to get off the bus, but all of the adults refused. There was so much rain that it was two inches deep in the parking lot. It couldn’t drain fast enough. If you got off the bus in that, even with an umbrella, you were soaked in three steps. The adults waited ten minutes and it stopped.

A bunch of us went on The Twilight Zone - Tower of Terror (I still like the one in Orlando better), Soarin’ Over California (GREAT!) and California Screamin’. From there we went to Disneyland, had lunch at the Bengal Barbecue (in Adventureland), and killed time until 1:00pm. By the way, I really enjoyed the Bengal BBQ. My absolute favorite was the asparagus wrapped in bacon. It isn’t a large food service location, but it’s great. If you haven’t tried it, you should. My daughter and I had a couple of pictures taken in front of the castle.

At 1:00pm I met the choir, verified that my charges were present and left them. Given that the Plaza Gardens Stage is in the middle of the park, I assumed that they were going to go backstage, change into their performance clothes and then march through Toontown, Fantasyland, and the hub to their performance venue. I was surprised to find that they were coming out through the passageway between Rancho del Zocalo and the hub.

They had prepared a number of arrangements of Disney tunes, including several from Mary Poppins. Just at that point Mary and Bert showed up and hammed it up with the crowd. I don’t know if that was planned, but it was fun to see them there. They also did songs from Mulan and I don’t remember what. They ended up with a patriotic medley. The whole performance lasted about 30 minutes and about 50 people stopped by to listen.

When the choir was done, they started marching back through the backstage passage they had arrived in. I decided I wanted to see what was going on, so I joined them. In the passage between the Plaza Gardens Stage and Rancho del Zocalo, there is a cast member entrance. This leads to a passageway between Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the rides and restaurant of Fantasyland. Again, the contrast is very stark as no effort in themeing is made. (I guess I understand that, but it also explains why we were told that under no circumstances would we be permitted to take any pictures backstage. In fact, if we were caught doing that, they would confiscate our camera!) This area behind Big Thunder had cast member areas for breaks and eating. There were a number of screens that prevented the guests from seeing this area.

At the end of this passage is the walkway for guests from Big Thunder Mountain to Fantasyland. They had stopped the traffic here and escorted the entire group out of one door into another - backstage. Here things got interesting. In front of us was a tunnel, that I later decided went underneath the “mountain” that was formerly the end of The Skyway. Then we entered a plaza that had two more tunnels; one leading to the Festival Arena and the other leading under the railroad to the backstage area behind Toontown. Here we went back to the same location prepared for Disney’s Magic Music Days that we had been to on Thursday. Everyone changed back into casual clothing. Another Disney rule was that we were not to wear the performing outfits into the park, except to perform.

From here, we separated from the rest of the group, and my daughter and I went to see “Aladdin - A Musical Spectacular”. What a great performance! The genie is obviously a stand-up comic. He was doing a great job ad-libbing. At this point we were tired and just wanted to have a nice quite meal. I decided that I wanted to try the Storyteller’s Café in the Grand Californian. I had the spinach salad with blue cheese, pecans, pears, and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. My entrée was the salmon and my daughter had the roast chicken. The food was very good, but the atmosphere was very noisy. I suppose that is to be expected.

We had time to kill so we went shopping in Downtown Disney then went back into Disneyland to ride Pirates of the Caribbean, the Jungle Cruise, and Peter Pan’s Flight. On our way out I noticed that there was no candle burning in the window of Walt’s apartment above the Fire Station in Town Square. I went into City Hall to mention this. They responded that the apartment was being refurbished, but they had left the light on for Walt. Now that I think about it, why would they be refurbishing the apartment other than a general tidying up for the 50th celebration? Hmmm… By the way, I’m not a “don’t change a thing” person, or a “but Walt wouldn’t have done it that way” person. I think that Walt Disney was first and foremost a businessman who would have done what was needed to keep Disneyland fresh and in top form. We may not agree with what current management thinks is needed, and they in fact may be wrong, but I don’t think Walt Disney would just freeze Disneyland.

February 20

Today we had to get everyone packed, breakfasted, and in the bus by 8:00am. At 9:00am we performed for a local church, doing four numbers as a part of the service, and then everyone was back on the bus for a very long drive home. We stopped a couple of times, once to pick up 156 boxes of Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner. The weather cooperated with us until we were about 50 miles south of Provo where it turned very nasty. Still, we arrived home by 11:00 PM.

Final Thoughts

  • The Disney Magic Music Days are a great experience. I’d highly recommend it to performing groups who are interested.
  • The Storyteller’s Café is quite good, but not a good place to get away from the noise. For the price of the meals there, I would have preferred a better atmosphere.
  • Our hotel was not in my control, but it confirms to me the necessity of staying within easy access to your hotel room. On Saturday I would have returned to our room at some point to rest. As it was there was no respite.
  • The Bengal Barbecue is great. Don’t miss it!
  • Billy Hill and the Hillbillies at the Golden Horseshoe are a good opportunity to sit, enjoy a snack or refreshment, and see a great show.
Bill Lund


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