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Tom Sherwood -- April 2006 - Disneyland (Offsite)


Who:

Tom (46) – Infrequent visitor to WDW (1981, 1991 [twice], 1993, 1997, 2000)

Annette (44) – My wife attended a conference in Costa Mesa, which gave me an opportunity to tag along and get to go to Disneyland for the first time ever!

Introduction:

I’m a long time reader of Disney trip reports, but this is the first time I’ve ever written one! Because this is my first one, this introduction will be rather long. Feel free to skip down to the actual trip report if you prefer.

I’ve been a huge fan of Disney since a young age, and spent many a Sunday night watching Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color [renamed in 1969 to The Wonderful World of Disney]. I was especially fascinated with audio animatronics, and that fascination led me to love math and science, eventually leading to an engineering degree specializing in instrumentation and control. No, I don’t get to do things like animate pirates, but I do get to automate food production processes.

Living in St. Louis, MO, a trip to Florida or California did not seem likely. In 1981, though, I had an opportunity to go with my fiancé’s family to WDW. My wife comes from a family of 11, so it was a huge group going! Her father drove a station wagon full and I drove an AMC Hornet with the rest. We stayed at Fort Wilderness campground – their family in a tent and me sleeping in the back of the station wagon. My future mother-in-law was so sweet – she sewed screens that fit over all the windows of the station wagon so I could sleep with all the windows opened without any bugs. It was a magical trip! My future wife and I took in all the sights, rode all the rides, took her little brothers and sisters on rides (and got to see their excitement), visited “all” the hotels (there were only the Contemporary, Polynesian and the Golf Resort [renamed the Disney Inn in 1986, and then renamed Shades of Green in 1994], saw the animals on Discovery Island and swam at the Disney River Country. We were getting married in October of 1982, and while we were there we saw the preview for a place to be called EPCOT that would open the same month. We talked about returning for our honeymoon, but just starting to work after getting out of college didn’t afford us the funds to return.

Fast forward to 1991 – now married with two kids - Melanie (7) & Ken (4). Since it had been so long since we had wanted to go, I took off a little over two weeks for vacation. When I called to make our reservation, there was a little moment of silence when I told them we would be staying for 16 nights! I guess they don’t get that much. We drove down with our pop-up camper and stayed at Fort Wilderness Campground. We purchased Annual Passes, since they didn’t have a 16-Day Park Hopper. We had a fantastic time, but I will admit that by day 12 some of the magic had worn out. That many days in a row in 90-100 degree heat and 90% humidity had taken its toll. It didn’t help that we didn’t have AC on our camper, so we would only come back once it was pitch dark and the temperature had dropped down to the low 90’s. We were all dehydrated and tired, but we kept on. On our last day there, we went to all three parks: EPCOT, Disney-MGM, and the Magic Kingdom (just to say we did it). As we were leaving the Magic Kingdom, a lady got on looking flustered and stressed, so my wife gave the lady her seat on the monorail. The lady then told us she was just worn out after her third day of being there. My wife then told her that we were on day 16, and had just finished visiting all the parks!

In the fall of 1991, just my wife and I returned for our anniversary (since we had Annual Passes). We stayed at the Vacation Villas at Disney’s Village Resort [renamed Disney Institute in 1996, and renamed Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa in 2003]. We took this one at a slow pace and just enjoyed being there.

In June of 1993, with the kids now 9 and 6, we flew down to Florida on frequent flyer miles, and stayed for a week at the Wilderness Lodge. I had only reserved a Tree View room, but had asked for a room with bunk beds for the kids. When we checked in, they gave us a room on the top floor overlooking the pond and waterfall in the courtyard of the hotel! It was a gorgeous view – we could sit out there and listen to the waterfall, see the geyser go off, and even watch the evening water parade. A short walk out into our hall, and there was a seating area where you could watch the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom. It was a great trip, and we took a more leisurely pace.

In 1997, with the kids now 13 and 10, we went down to visit my wife’s parents, who had just retired and were spending the winter at a condo near Tampa Bay. This was a February trip, and leaving St. Louis in freezing temperatures, it was nice to arrive in Tampa to blooming flowers and temperatures in the 60s & 70s. After visiting with them and going to Busch Gardens, we drove over to Orlando for just two days, and stayed at the Port Orleans. Since we had such a short period of time, it went by in a blur.

In 2000, with the kids now 16 and 14, we decided to fly down on frequent flyer miles to be at Disneyworld in December so we could see all the Christmas decorations. This was a last minute trip, so we ended up staying offsite at the Holiday Inn Maingate, since nothing was available onsite. The hotel was only OK, and I would return to only using Disney hotels in a heartbeat. We enjoyed all the extra Christmas decorations and had fun on the trip.

Planning:

My wife was going to a conference in Costa Mesa, and I jumped at the chance to go with her so I could visit Disneyland, Hollywood, and Universal Studios. Our kids are now 22 and 19, and are both away at college, so this trip it was just my wife and I.

I’m an avid reader of quite a few Disney web sites, so I had been plotting and planning what were must sees: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Matterhorn, Monsters Inc, etc. (essentially all the unique rides that don’t exist in Florida). In addition, I wanted to ride some of the classics of both parks: Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, etc. I had read on-line that Pirates would be down for the movie makeover, and I was bummed about it because I had always wanted to see it.

Trip Report - April 20, 2006 – Getting There:

I used frequent flyer miles to get free tickets from St. Louis to the Santa Ana airport. From St. Louis, this was one of the few options open for non-stop flights to anywhere near Los Angeles. As it turned out, not only was it convenient to non-stop into Santa Ana, but since the airport is smaller, there were very little crowds or congestion. The Hilton at Costa Mesa is only about a 5 minute drive from the airport, and the hotel is very nice. We flew with some other conference attendee friends of my wife, and we all ate dinner at the hotel that night (a very nice buffet for only $12 each).

Trip Report - April 21, 2006 – Disneyland:

Since I only had one day to see everything and I wanted to see as much as humanly possible, I was up at 5:30 AM (while it was still dark outside) to leave for Disneyland. I took a shower, got dressed as quietly as possible since my wife didn’t have to get up until later, said a quiet goodbye, and left by 6:30 AM for the adventure of a lifetime!

I had mapped out my route the previous night, driving across different streets to get to I-405, then CA-55, and then finally onto I-5 north. Traffic was heavy for this early in the morning, and it was a little confusing with lanes appearing and disappearing. Soon, though, I saw a sign to turn off for Disney Way. Getting in line at the “Parking Garage” sign, I had to turn off my car, as the garage wasn’t open yet. At 7:15 AM, they started taking money. Once I got up to the ticket booth, I payed, and then they handed me the parking ticket and a little piece of paper. Reading the paper, it said that I now needed to drive through the Disneyland streets to get to the actual parking lot! The Timon lot was closed for the day so I had to drive up to the Mickey & Friends garage – LOL.

Driving up Harbor Blvd, I craned my neck back and forth trying to take it all in – Paradise Pier Hotel, Grand Californian Hotel, Disneyland Hotel, monorail….overload! Making it to Mickey & Friends Garage, I parked in the open parking out in front of the big multi-story structure (being about the 40th car on the lot). Hiking over to the tram, I once again craned to see everything I could – the back of Disneyland, walkway by the monorail, downtown Disney…more overload!

I walked over to the ticket booth and waited in a very short line of 3 people. By 7:35 AM, I had purchased my one-day park hopper ticket and walked over to stand in line to get in. They opened shortly before 8 AM, but when I made it up to the turnstile, they told me what I had was not a ticket, but was only the receipt. Aieee! Back over to the ticket booth to wait in the now much longer line of about 20 people. When I made it to the window and started explaining, they knew immediately what happened and had my ticket sitting off to the side (I had grabbed the receipt, but left the ticket sitting there). I thanked them and off to the turnstile again. As I was entering the turnstile, the Disneyland Band came into the front area – what a wonderful group! They were energetic and sounded great.

Passing under the train track, I read the sign I’ve seen in many photos, “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy”. I got goose-bumps. I called my wife and left her a message on her cell phone to tell her I got here safely.

My first priority was to get to Indiana Jones, as this was a must see. Cutting through the hub (look at the castle!), I made my way to the left and Adventureland. Just following my map, I found myself standing near the entrance to the Jungle Cruise, but why are there CM’s all standing in a row in front of the path leading off next to it? It took me a minute, but I finally realize it’s because Indiana Jones is down. Darn!

Walking on I see Pirates (closed for adding the new movie scenes) and Rivers of America (look at the Columbia). I then saw the Haunted Mansion and decided this would be my first ride of the day (a walk on this early in the day). I notice all the little details (like the stretching room actually being an elevator taking you down below the berm), and just get a huge kick out of riding a classic. The effects were great – such a wonderful mixture of fun and spookiness. In the attic scene they had sheets over a lot of the props (when I got back home I read about the update they were in the middle of making to add the pictures of the bride and her many husbands).

Walking further on, I get in line for Splash Mountain. The queue is a lot shorter than I remember for the MK version (but without the shadow Brer Frog that sings). Being a lone rider, they asked me to come forward and put me in the back of the log with four women who were all traveling together. They were so busy chatting while we rode that they didn’t even realize I was in the back of their log until we’ve gone down the first small drop! I enjoyed Splash Mountain, but it seems very abbreviated compared to the MK version. The drop into the “Laughing Place” was so small that it really wasn’t hardly noticeable. The drop at the end, though, was everything it should be. I got plenty wet and was whistling “Zip-a-Dee Doo Dah” as I got off.

Walking out the exit, I saw the empty queue for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. My daughter had always been a big Pooh fan, and I enjoyed the MK version of the ride. I had heard this version was not as good, but thought I would give it a try. I know it’s shorter and has less “stuff” in it, but I think I enjoyed it just as much. Pooh is always such a sympathetic and lovable character, and P-P-Piglet always cracks me up. And don’t even get me started on the dark humor of Eyore – “Thanks for noticing”.

Time to track back to Indiana Jones! Coming around the corner – all the CM’s are still in a row blocking it off. Rats!

As long as I’m here, up Tarzan’s Treehouse I go. I took some pictures of myself at the top, with the Rivers of America in the background. The non-animated Tarzan characters don’t do much for me, but I did enjoy all the construction details, the music, and the film clips.

Exiting out the bottom, a glance over at Indiana Jones showed no change, so off to the mountain I go – Big Thunder Mountain Railroad to be exact. I liked the small miniature houses and the theming while standing in the queue. Once on the ride, I realize that there is significantly less area here than at the MK, so the ride is a lot shorter. The twists and turns, though, are very tight, and it’s a very exciting ride! I really loved the corkscrews.

I decided it was time for Fantasyland, so I took the winding trail behind BTMR. There was very little line at Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, so in I went. This is another unique DL ride I had been looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint. From the moment the ride started, it was like being a kid again – the dancing Pinocchio puppet, the huge Stromboli glaring at you and then throwing you into the bird cage…. And when Jiminy Cricket told us to follow him down the road and we veered off, I felt like you could have just as well have followed him. The scene where the bad boy turns into a donkey was really well done. It was a great ride!

I decided that up next was Snow White’s Scary Adventure. We had been on this ride at the MK, but the kids had been young and I spent most of the ride with damage control and crying children. I thought it would be nice to experience the whole ride. Once again, it didn’t disappoint. I was drawn into the story, and enjoyed many of the special effects.

Another unique DL ride I had been looking forward to was Alice in Wonderland. The line for this ride was pretty long and seemed to move really slow. But by the time I got on it, it was another adventure in fantasy. Down the rabbit hole, and encounter with a talking door knob…. Really well done and enjoyable! By now you can probably tell that I love well done dark rides – animatronics and music and special effects – but more importantly a good story. To me, it’s what makes any Disney ride so special.

Walking into Tomorrowland, I suddenly realized I was feeling very tired and hungry. It suddenly hit me that I had been so excited to come to Disneyland and had been running around so much that I had yet to eat anything for the day. No breakfast and no lunch and it was already around 2PM. No problem. A quick trip into the lines at Club Buzz, and I had a hamburger, fries and a Diet Coke. Since I was so hungry, it actually tasted great. While sitting there eating, I really felt bad for the young lady with the microphone trying to organize things on the Club Buzz dance floor. Everyone just walked through the area completely ignoring her trying to get them to dance.

Next up, I went into Honey I Shrunk the Audience. This had been a big hit with our family when it was new at the MK, but it seemed dated and worn out to me. The snake that comes to visit you, though, startled me just about as much as the first time.

Out of the exit and there was a percussion group dressed up as janitors entertaining. Stood there until the end of their set – they were quite talented (especially with how hot it was). Once their set was over, I went around the building into line for Space Mountain. The outside queue gave you plenty to look around at, but it still took a good 50 minutes or so to get inside. Blasting off into intergalactic space, however, soon made the wait seem inconsequential. Wow! Another wow! What a great thrilling ride! I enjoyed every swooping, rolling, falling, rising moment of it. It is so much longer than the MK version, and it was smooth as everything. Wow!

Onto Star Tours. I’ve always been a big Star Wars fan, so a trip to the moon of Endor (by way of the Death Star) is always fun. Just like I remembered it.

Time to check out the Indiana Jones line again! Why are the CM’s still standing there? Will I ever get to ride?

As long as I’m there, I go into the Enchanted Tiki Room. I loved the Tiki’s out in the courtyard, and loved watching the younger kids run over to each one as it became active. Once inside, the classic Tiki Room had me singing along with the birdies. I still like this better than the “Under New Management…” at the MK (although I do like the smoothness of the animation of the main animatronic Tiki god and Iago).

Coming out, still CM’s, so onto the Jungle Cruise. The Captain was good and had me laughing a lot. It always amazes me how serious and deadpanned so many people can be while riding the Cruise – did they forget that they’re on vacation?

The hamburger from earlier had worn off, and it was time for a more substantial meal. I made my way over to Rancho Del Zocalo for some chicken tacos. They were really good and hit the spot. I enjoyed the seating area of the courtyard.

As long as I’m this close, I head back around to check on Indiana Jones. It’s open! Yay! Into line I go. The queue is just amazing – from the bamboo and sculptures outside, to the tree roots hanging down from above, to the trap rooms inside, and the use of story telling continuing throughout. The ride itself was a herky-jerky edge-of-the-seat ride through the creepy interior of the ruins. I loved every moment of it! The main room with the huge skull was particularly fantastic.

I decided it was time to hop over to DCA, so out to main street. Walt Disney’s Parade of Dreams was just making it to the hub, so I stood back by the planters and watched the parade. I loved all the classic characters. Near the end I went down main street before everyone would start coming back up it. Got my hand stamp, and on to DCA.

I must say that the entrance mural is actually better looking in person than in photos. It’s always just looked tacky in all the photos I’ve ever seen, but when you can see the texture of the tiles up close, it makes it seem flashier and more interesting. It’s still a weird way to make the entrance to a park, but I liked it. Entering into the hub, I caught the beginning of the Block Party Bash, so I found an empty spot and watched. It was only OK.

Made a beeline over to the new Monster Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue! The posted time was 60 minutes, but I decided I really wanted to see it. (Side note: when I returned to St. Louis and checked on-line, the wait for the next day had been over 120 minutes because it was the last day for the 2-fer promotion – talk about getting lucky and just picking the right day). I loved the posters in the queue, and got a kick out of the sign on the ticket office (all monsters that breathe fire must sit on the outside of the bus, all monsters that ooze slime must clean up after themselves…). The ride itself was really nice – I loved the spilling drinks in the restaurant scene, the great animatronic Mike, Sulley and Boo; the appearing and disappearing Randall, the moving doors… It was just great to see that Disney can still make a great dark ride (especially after reading about what a dog the old Superstar Limo ride had been).

Time to cut back across the hub for another “must see” – Soarin’ Over California. Wait time was listed as 80 minutes, but I knew this was one of the few rides with a single rider line, so I asked the CM near the door. He gave me a small slip of paper and sent me up the separate queue. I love airplanes and aerospace stuff, so I tried to look at all the pictures and plaques as I walked down the queue – not enough time (as there was no one in the single rider side). Once down to the split, they sent me to the right and there were only three other people at the front of the single rider area. As they loaded the next set of chairs, they fit all the single riders in. Even with me taking my time looking at the displays in the main hall, it took only about 5 minutes from the time I entered the building until I was seated – gotta love the single rider line. I had expected this to be a great ride based on everything I read, but nothing can prepare you for the feeling of soaring – the smoothness of the motion, the feeling of immersion, the emotions brought up at the sheer beauty – I loved it!

When I had been in line for the Monsters Inc ride, I had seen the marquee for the Aladdin stage show, so I cut back across the hub. I approached the doors at the marquee, but realized it’s just a set of fake doors (which is the handicapped entrance). I veered off and saw the real entrance quite a distance away. I got in line for the Orchestra seats and waited for awhile – people watching families and friends. Made me wish my wife and kids were with me, but I knew going into this that this was going to be a strange experience being by myself. The doors opened and I found a seat near the center (just behind the horizontal aisle cutting across the theatre). Nobody in front of me to block my view. I must say that I really just expected a simple truncated version of the story (like Hunchback at MGM). I was pleasantly surprised to find it was much more like a shorter version of the Broadway Beauty & The Beast (which had come to St. Louis). The cast was wonderful (especially the Genie), it was well staged, drew me in, and the flying carpet blew me away. Wow!

Coming out of the theatre, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was right there, so into line I went. The wait was really short (maybe 20 minutes). Soon I was in Library (with flashbacks to the MGM version). The boiler room was a lot bigger with stairs going to an upper level. When I got to about 50’ from the end, they asked for any single riders so they pulled me forward and loaded me last on an elevator car – middle front seat – what a great view. I missed the elevator not pulling out forward into the hall from the elevator shaft, but otherwise had a lot of fun.

I hoofed it over to the Muppet Vision 3D. This was always one of my favorites at MGM (I’ve always been a huge Muppet fan). The pre-show was just as entertaining as always (I guess it’s been long enough that I forgot the corny jokes, so it was a hoot). The show was wonderful.

When I came outside, it had turned dark, and I thought I better have something to eat. Just around the corner was Award Wieners, so I grabbed a quick bratwurst and fries. It was neat sitting there at night just watching people wander by. I always enjoy evenings at the park – people seem more relaxed and less hectic, the lights always make the park just sparkle more.

Re-fueled, I headed off to It’s Tough To Be A Bug (we’ve never gone to Animal Kingdom in Florida, so I’ve never seen this). On the way, the Electrical Light Parade was going on, so I found a spot just outside the entrance to ITTBAB to watch it. Still magical and beautiful. So much kinetic action and I like the music. Near the end I slipped away and found only four other people inside the ITTBAB waiting area. By the time we went in the main theater, there were maybe only ten people. I loved the audio animatronic Flik – such fluid motion, and the 3D film was fun. Having read on-line about the wasp stings, I leaned forward and avoided the pain. I must admit the spiders dropping down were quite scary, and I can see where this would have led to quite an episode when my kids were younger (my son was especially afraid of anything with eight legs).

Heading out, I knew my time was getting short, since DCA was closing at 10PM. I went down through the bakery and wharf area, and enjoyed the view across the lake of all the pretty lights. Knowing I had very little time, I decided to go into Golden Dreams. I enjoyed the show, but I can understand why there is little attendance. The show doesn’t have the same emotional pull as the American Pavilion at EPCOT, and it’s staging makes Whoopi kind of a creepy, show-up-everywhere, oddity. I think it takes away from the actual history of California (since it makes Whoopi responsible for calming everyone after the earthquake, making them find the gold, etc). Just my opinion.

It was now 10PM, and the announcement came on about closing for the night. I cut through the Redwood Creek area to enjoy the scenery – it’s easy to imagine at night that you really are walking through a mountainous area, full of waterfalls and streams. Across the Esplanade and back into Disneyland.

My target was the Matterhorn Bobsleds. Earlier in the day, when in line for Alice in Wonderland, the lines had been HUGE for the Matterhorn, with wait times of more than 90 minutes. Even this late at night, the wait time was still 50 minutes – but I enjoyed standing there at night looking at the beautiful lighting on the Matterhorn (and not having to stand out in the hot sun). Once loaded into the bobsled (front seat), we started our trip through the alpines. What a great ride! It’s extremely smooth and seemed to be moving fast. The surprise of the yeti and the other bobsleds popping out of nowhere onto parallel tracks, as well as going in and out of the mountain to the darkness outside (and quick views of different areas of the park all lit up), combined for a fantastic experience.

Time was really getting short before the Midnight closing, but I had purposely saved Peter Pan’s Flight for last. Ever since the first trip to WDW with my then fiancé (now wife of almost 24 years) this ride has always embodied a set of emotions – excitement and fantasy, of being something small in a large beautiful place, of something shared with her. Even though I was by myself, I wanted to immerse myself in that feeling again. It didn’t disappoint as I flew onto Neverland…

As I left the ride, it had crossed the Midnight time, and my day was coming to a close. Passing through the castle, I just tried to enjoy the moment, lingering while watching the colored lights on the castle. I took pictures for lots of people standing in front of the castle who were trying to get a picture with their whole group. I then made my way down main street to the stores to buy presents for my wife and kids (that I had scoped out earlier in the day when passing through). I stopped in the Main Street Cone Shop for an ice cream to eat on the way out. I even just enjoyed the tram ride back to the reality of the parking lot – my last Disney ride of the day! As it turned out, my non-Disney ride back to the hotel would be the longest ride of the day, as I got off at the wrong exit, got turned around, and didn’t make it back to the hotel until about 2AM.

Summary:

If you somehow made it to the end of this extremely long trip report, I hope I haven’t bored you to tears.

It was one full day at Disneyland and DCA!!! Somehow I had managed to take in 23 rides and shows between the two parks, watch 3 parades, stop and listen to all the street musicians who wander around, and just enjoy soaking up the atmosphere and taking it all in. There was plenty more to see and do, but I just ran out of time. Unfortunately, I don’t know if I’ll ever get another chance to head out to California, but I’m extremely glad I was able to make it this time.

I knew it would be tough visiting Disneyland by myself. I kept wanting to share the magic and fun with my wife and kids. Don’t get me wrong – I had a fantastic time – but I did miss sharing this with them and having this as a common part of our family history. I appreciated my wife letting me tag along on her conference so I could go to Disneyland and DCA.

Walt Disney was an amazing man whose legacy is still alive and well. I was fully entertained for the whole day, being thrilled and touched, and in awe of the experience.

Tom Sherwood
tgsherwood@att.net

 


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