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Darryl Musick -- February 2001 -- Disneyland


2/2/01

I really enjoy your reports and MousePlanet in general. Attached is a trip report for DCA. My son is in a wheelchair so it focuses on the accessibility issues as well as the park in general.

We went on Friday, February 2nd. The people on the trip were my wife Letty, my son Timothy, and myself, Darryl Musick.

We went by private auto and did not spend the night. Our ages are 39, 38, and Tim is 13.

Disney's California Adventure

It was a hot Friday and I'd been half dreading/half dreaming of going to Disney's California Adventure today. Our preview tickets were good from 2:00 to midnite so we took half a day off work to get there right at the start. Going today would by my wife, my son Tim (who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair), and myself.

We arrived at the new Mickey and Friends parking structure without any parking hassles whatsoever. We did notice that the handicapped parking was skimpy on capacity. A weekend and these spots would be gone in ten minutes

The trams have ramps for wheelchairs but we were directed instead to the accessible courtesy van and driven to the front gate. A huge line snaking into Downtown Disney greeted us sinking our spirits until we found that was for annual pass holders. We were directed to a much shorter preview ticket holder line. In we went...

Our first stop, as it should be for any disabled guest, was Guest Relations just inside the gate. We inquired about a Special Assistance Pass as we would in Disneyland. We were told that all queues were designed to be 100% accessible so we didn't need the SAP. Okay, we'll just use Fastpass then to avoid the lines.

With that in mind, we head over to the first ride we want to see, Soaring Over California. We head over to get a Fastpass and are told no, you need to get a SAP. We told them what Guest Relations had told us and were told we were misinformed....go back to Guest Relations and get a SAP. It's starting to look like our last visit to Disneyland where we had the humiliating experience of having to prove our son was disabled (like I'd really buy a very expensive electric wheelchair just to avoid the lines).

Back at Guest Relations we actually had to argue about it before we finally got our valuable SAP. Note to Disney: either make everything "100% Accessible", including Fastpass, or just give it up and issue SAP's to disabled customers without argument.

Okay, the whole sorry SAP episode is now behind us and Soaring Over California is currently broken so we'll return later.

Just past the Condor Flats, where the Soaring ride is, Grizzly Peak rises majestically above the park. The Grizzly River Rafts wind their way around and through this mountain. We make this our first ride. It's a quick walk to the dock for SAP and Fastpass holders. A special notch in the river allows cast members (Disney employees) to pull a raft out of the river to load disabled guests. I had heard that this was a more efficient way than Knott's Berry Farm's separate dock on their ride but I have to disagree. DCA's, while neat in execution, disrupts the regular line just a bit more than Knott's does.

The ride itself is quite a thriller with 2 drops, geysers and steaming fumeroles much like Mount Lassen. It gets you wet, but not as much as Bigfoot Rapids at Knott's. I do think this is the best river ride I've ever been on. The theming is excellent and the last spinning drop is just so much fun.

Next is a bathroom break and the bathrooms have big standard accessible stalls and quite a few lowered sinks. I had also heard there were not enough bathrooms here but I found them to be all over the place...no worries here.

We made a quick stop at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail where kids (at least non-disabled ones) can climb on cargo nets, swing on tires, and cross rope bridges. Kids in wheelchairs are limited to rolling over the pretty trail and going through a short cave where they can wade through a shallow stream at the exit. One funny thing here, and I have to agree with, is Tim wondered if it was supposed to smell like manure here.

Next, we wandered over to the Bountiful Farm section which is supposed to represent California's farm heritage with different crops growing all over the place. The Robert Mondavi Winery has a wine bar, deli, and restaurant here. I had heard much grumbling over Disney serving alcohol in the new park but this has long been the practice in Florida.

We found the winery very nice and refreshing. We enjoyed the wine demonstrations on the patio, the kitchen shop and deli, and then settled down with a nice glass of wine. We skipped the winery tour (we've done dozens of winery tours so I don't think we missed much). The very nice staff gave us some samples from the upstairs restaurant (yummy) and told us that the table on the patio are the best spots to watch the parade later. One saleslady was also helpful in telling my wife that she could get the same fine kitchenware outside the park for much less (this husband thanks you). The winery is a big hit with us.

Just across from the winery is "It's Tough to be a Bug", a 3-D movie show in the vein of "Honey I Shrunk the Audience" in Disneyland. It's a very enjoyable show presented underground in what looks like an ant colony. Wheelchairs go in through the Fastpass line as in just about every other ride here.

We took our exit from the farm through the Monterey section where the attractions are limited to a tortilla factory tour or a bakery tour...we'll come back later. On the other side of Monterey is the park's most popular area, Paradise Pier.

This area's theme is the beachfront amusement parks that used to line the California coast such as the Pike in Long Beach, Ocean Park in Santa Monica, and the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz (the Boardwalk's still there and definitely worth a trip if you'd like to see what those parks were really like).

Tim's been dying to go on the big roller coaster here, California Screamin', but when we get there it is closed. "Check back later" the ride op tells us.

Tim's disappointed but we soldier on to the Sun Wheel, a replica of Coney Island's Wonder Wheel. Although no one is there to direct you, wheelchairs with SAP's can go in through the exit.

For those of you unfamiliar with this type of ferris wheel, there are the normal stationary gondolas but in the middle of the wheel are free-wheeling gondolas that slide back and forth on a roller coaster type of track.

One neat feature here is that both types of gondolas have bee built to allow wheelchair riders to take their chairs onto the cars. The orange ones are accessible and swing, all the red (stationary) cars are accessible. We went on a swinging gondola and were treated to a real thrill. Every time we'd swing out, we would find ourselves staring straight up at the moon.

Next was Mulholland Madness, a wild mouse rollercoaster. A ramp takes you up to the station and a lift takes you back down. This is another thrilling ride but is just like any other wild mouse coaster in the world.

The whole Paradise Pier area is nicely themed but is a sanitized version of those old beachfront parks (Disney himself said that was what he was trying to avoid when he built Disneyland). Next we had back to Soaring Over California (yes, we have now done a round trip of the park...and it is much smaller than it's older sibling across the way).

Soaring is now open and we are ushered inside. This is a real E-Ticket ride here even if it's not scary in any way.

You buckle into your seat under your hang glider wing and are whisked up into a thrilling flight over some of the state's most scenic spots like the Golden Gate Bridge, Yosemite, and Malibu ending up flying through Disneyland's fireworks show. This earns my wife's top pick for the day.

After Soaring, we head over to the Hollywood area that's sits off to itself on the east side of the park. It's a lot like MGM Studios in Florida.

We took a quick ride on the Superstar Limo ride here. The good news is that the ride vehicles are wheelchair accessible. The bad news is this is the cheesiest ride within both parks.

We missed the animation exhibit (which I hear is fabulous) and headed out to Downtown Disney for Dinner.

Dinner tonight would be at La Brea Bakery. Just one word, delicious! I had orechetti with spanish chorizo and my wife had the roasted chicken. Tim had the kid's chicken tenders meal. A great dinner at a not too unreasonable price sitting under the patio heaters watching the world go by.

Back in the park we head back to the San Francisco section and take in the Golden Dreams movie. This is a pleasant little film showcasing highlight of the state's history. The film does highlight some of the negatives of the state and might frighten or confuse younger children who think everything is very happy in the park. I liked it, Tim liked it, and my wife says "so-so".

Next, back to Paradise Pier where we ride the Zephyr, a rocket swing ride that flies you out over the water. Fun but short. They do have one ride vehicle that has a fold out transfer board making life a little easier for us here.

Getting off the ride, we notice that they are testing the coaster. We head over there and a ride op tells us if it can run half an hour without breaking down, they'll open it back up. We decide to wait.

When the ride opens, we get another taste of Disney's "we know what access is better for you than you do" attitude and confusion again. First a ride op tells us she will personally escort us up the queue, then she disappears. Another finally lets us up the Fastpass ramp with all the Fastpass holders. We are told to wait on the exit platform and somebody will be with us. After waiting about ten minutes, a manager asks us if we are waiting for someone else on the ride. "No, it's just us" I tell him. He tells us to head back to the line where we will have to take an elevator to cross the track to the loading platform. No one wants to let us on the elevator. Finally, we get on and over to the loading station.

The ride op who was going to "personally escort" us is managing the head of the line. She asks us if we got up okay. I tell her we've been on a wild goose chase but, here we are, let's go. She guides us to a gate that will not allow the chair to fit through. Finally, I just lift Tim on board.

The ride itself is great. The powered launch is a real thrill and the coaster itself is smooth as glass. When we exit, our chair is waiting for us back on the exit platform. Why couldn't we just get on there in the first place? Disney, please get you act together for accessibility...you're a world class company. I know you can do better...every other amusement park in Southern California just beats the pants off of you for dealing with disabled guests.

We cap off the evening with another glass of wine, a tortilla from the factory tour, and rummaging through the souvenir shops on the way out.

So what's our take on the new park?

The Pros:

  • Nicely themed (and yes, we have heard that true blue Disney philes think is doesn't measure up...we think it does)
  • Physically, great accessibility (as opposed to how the employees treat you). Good bathrooms, roomy pathways, and lots of ramps.
  • Some wonderful rides. Best raft ride in California. Coaster in top 5 (Ghostrider is more thrilling at Knott's, but this is a must ride). Soaring is that Disney E-Ticket that's like no other.
  • Great food and drink.

The Cons:

  • Terrible guest communication as regards to access. Disabled guests will get the runaround and it's...just...not...necessary! Disney should really hang their heads on this.
  • High prices for ...everything! From admission to the park (same price as Disney, currently $43 dollars always the highest of any Southern California park), to food and drink to souvenirs.
  • Low parking capacity. We didn't have a problem on a Friday, but on weekends watch out!

Is the park a hit. Yes! Don't let the poor employee communication regarding access deter you. If you need it, just demand an SAP till they give you one and then just enjoy the park. The Pros definitely outweigh the Cons here. Just plan your trip accordingly (again, head on over to MousePlanet for more advice), bring lot's of money, and just give yourself up to fun.

Darryl Musick

darryl.musick@usdoj.gov


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