Christopher Wing -- November 2002 -- Disneyland
I've been reading MousePlanet for years, and I don't remember ever reading a trip report from a gay couple. Is this a first? In either case, it's high time there was one! Here goes...
Chris (29) - Self-avowed Disney parks fanatic. To give you an idea of my level of interest in Disneyland... Back in my teenage years, I used to literally hang out a lot at the Walt Disney Archives and chat with Dave Smith about the park. I got to personally handle Herb Ryman's original park drawing and Roy Disney's opening-day ticket. Van France and I were pen pals up to the day he passed away. I got myself excused from a day of High School once to attend the 35th Anniversary rededication. Currently, my apartment is decorated with framed blueprints of my favorite Disneyland attractions.
Kyle (31) - My boyfriend of nine months, an avid Disney fan (on an early date, we discussed memories of the food at Casa De Fritos). But, also a big roller-coaster enthusiast. He prefers Disney to Six Flags in terms of theming, but misses the "extreme" attractions at other parks. A New Yorker at heart, his favorite ride in the world is probably the Cyclone at Coney Island.
The last time I was at Disneyland, the California Adventure was just starting construction. They had the preview center set up in a little tent, and I remember looking at the model for Paradise Pier and thinking "Walt would HATE this!" Afterward I called my friend Van France (one of the original people behind Disneyland, founder of Disney University, and personal/professional acquaintance of Walt) and asked him what he thought. He agreed, and thought it "looked awful". My enthusiasm was not buoyed by the construction photos I saw online or the reviews posted here after the park opened. It seemed that all park resources were being diverted from Disneyland into DCA. Quite frankly, I was afraid to go back, worried about what Disneyland might have become in the wake of all this.
However, it had been 3 years since I had been to the park, and I was really aching to experience the old Disney magic, even if it was a bit tarnished. Kyle and I had wanted to do a trip to Disneyland for months, but our work schedules just wouldn't allow it. We agreed that we wanted to go in an off-season to avoid massive crowds. Finally, three days before the trip, we both managed to get the same weekend off and agreed to go. Well, sorta. Unlike me, Kyle had been to DCA, and he absolutely hated it. However, I was dying to see it just once so I could render my own opinion. Kyle said he'd rather fly back a day earlier than spend a second day in that park! Hmmmmm...
Prelude: Getting to the Park
I managed to score a last-minute deal at the Anaheim Marriott, which was a nice hotel, but they put us in a room close to the pool entrance and a housekeeping services room, so it was pretty noisy. But we got the room at 1/3 of the normal rate, and we knew we weren't going to be spending much time there anyway, so we weren't complaining. As for the air travel, Kyle flew down first to Orange County Airport. He isn't the type of person to do much research before going somewhere, so he got dinged with a $30 cab fare from the airport. I took the Super Shuttle from LAX for $14, which would've been fine except for the most obnoxious guy I've ever seen, who insisted that we drop him off at his home first, which turned out to not even be in the Anaheim area!
We took the Anaheim Resort Transit bus to the park at about 9am (an hour after opening). It was fast, clean and quick. It was also cold. It was wet and rainy outside, and they had to open the windows to keep everything from getting fogged up.
Cut to the esplanade. Very light crowd due to the rain. It's hard to tell which ticket windows are open, and the lines seem to be forming at random. Whoever set up the chains this morning didn't do a great job. There's a line at one window, but I go around to the back and find three more windows open with no line. Both Kyle and I are notoriously bad negotiators. Tell us "This is the best value," and we'll probably believe it. Even though we had intended to be at Disneyland for only a day (plus and extra day for only me at DCA), we got talked into the 3-day Park Hopper. Frankly, I'm amazed that we didn't walk away from the ticket window as Annual Passholders!
Part I: Disneyland
Again, the crowds were light due to the foul weather. Kyle and I rushed over to Indy where there was no wait at all. We rode through once, and it was pretty underwhelming. The ride got stuck right before the rolling ball at the end, and we just sat there for a while watching Indy dangling in front of us until they fixed whatever was the problem. After Indy, we smelled the Mickey Mouse pancakes at the River Belle Terrace and this reminded us to go over and make lunch reservations at the Blue Bayou. Still hungry though, Kyle got a churro over near the Mansion, and felt that it tasted "like one left over from yesterday". I gave him a brief recap on MousePlanet's churro expose from a few months ago.
Even though I desperately wanted to see Haunted Mansion Holiday, Kyle insisted we ride Splash Mountain first. He was afraid that the rain might stop and the crowds would swell, so we'd better get the E-Tickets over with early. (Ultimately, the rain did not stop until evening, and the crowds stayed very low.) I think the real reason though is just that Kyle is a big coaster enthusiast, and Splash is a lot more thrilling than the Mansion. As punishment for making me wait to see the Mansion, I made him sit in the front row on Splash (again, there was no line), and he got totally soaked. (I should mention here that Kyle pictured Southern California as a perpetually sunny place, and only brought shorts and t-shirts to wear. I on the other hand, being the more practical one, brought a waterproof jacket just in case. Since I also wore long-sleeves and layers of t-shirts underneath, I gallantly let him wear my jacket for the rest of the trip.) After the ride, we walked along the new Pooh area, and lamented the passing of the Country Bear Playhouse and the Mile Long Bar.
Finally, we got to do the Mansion, and it was great! They really did an amazing job, and I really liked the music. This was the first time either of us had seen the Holiday overlay, and we were both impressed. I for one was totally amazed that the person doing the narration sounded exactly like Paul Frees! I also loved the singing plants! Very funny! Our only negative comment was that the sound of all the effects and whatnot made the narration a little hard to hear in places.
We did Pirates next, which seemed a bit slower-moving that I remember it, and then we succumbed to the temptation of breakfast at Aunt Jemima's Pancake House, uh, I mean the River Belle Terrace. The rain had stopped long enough for us to eat outdoors, and we had a nice meal, except for the birds who were determined to share my food!
Big Thunder had a short line, but Kyle and I both agreed that the ride itself is too short and ought to be expanded over to the Glacier Peak area. We ambled over to Fantasyland. Along the way, Kyle told me how he missed the Big Thunder BBQ, and that it was really good eatin'. I had to take his word for it, not having ever eaten there myself. Somewhere in all this talk of food, we both reminisced about the wonderful food at Belisles. Situated on Harbor Boulevard, a few blocks south of the park, Belisles was an Anaheim institution where not-a-lot of money bought you a heckuva lot of food (the average entrée could easily feed four), and on top of this, the food was really good! Unfortunately it disappeared from Anaheim in the late 90's.
Anyways, Kyle was cold, so we decided to take in the sauna that is the finale of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. I've always wondered what little kids must make of this ride, which ends with a descent into the fiery pits of hell. Not the standard fare for kiddie entertainment. Maybe if I'd ever see "The Wind in the Willows" it would all make more sense. In any case, we were more than happy to journey through hell and back just to warm up a bit.
We finished up the rest of the dark rides. Alice and the Teacups were closed due to the rain. So, we headed over to It's a Small World. I was crestfallen when the lady at the ticket counter told us that Small World had not yet re-opened with the holiday overlay. But as we approached, I could see people riding. There was a line. I asked the cast member out front, "Is it open?" And she said, "Yes, it just re-opened yesterday." Hooray! I was jumping up and down like a little kid on a sugar high. Kyle was not so happy. Actually I think he's one of those people who thinks the ride would be vastly improved if the boats had Buzz Lightyear-style laser guns on board, but I knew he was happy that I was happy. This was also the first time either of us had ever used FastPass. We inserted our tickets, and immediately, our passes fell out of the machine onto the wet ground. Exciting!
In the interim time, we decided to check out Toon Town, which looked much better with new paint, although parts of the backdrop were still peeling. They did a nice job with the holiday décor. We rode the Car Toon Spin, mostly as a consolation for the fact that the Teacups were closed (although it really is no substitute). Oddly enough, there was a line outside the building, but no line at all inside. This appeared to be the result of having the FastPass "merge" point right at the front door. Given the weather though, it seemed wrong to keep people standing out in the rain when there weren't any FastPassers in the short line.
Gadget's Go-Coaster was open, even though it was supposedly also closed due to the weather. It was an even shorter ride than I remembered. Afterward, we took some pictures of each other against the holiday backdrop of Toon Town, and Kyle started taking a picture of me from a very odd angle. I asked him, "What are you doing?" And he said, "I want to get you with Matt Damon in the background." What? I looked behind me, and across the street, there was a guy who clearly was not Matt Damon, but could've been a close relative. Kyle and I paused for a moment and (mentally) drooled a little. Don't get me wrong, we're in a very loving and committed monogamous relationship, but like any red-blooded American male, when you see someone stunningly good-looking, you can't help but do a double-take. In straight terms, I guess it would be like a man trying to take a picture of his wife, while trying not to notice that Claudia Schiffer was standing just behind her.
In any case, it was time to take advantage of our FastPass and head over to Small World Holiday. The FastPass turned out to be something of a disadvantage though, because it was also the wheelchair line, and the loading process was taking forever on our side. Kyle had that look on his face that said, "Why do you want to see this again?" Once on board, we both noted how nice the exterior looked in its original white color scheme. We also wished they'd return Tomorrowland to its original white. Remember when everything in the future was supposed to be all clean and bright and minimalist? At what point did someone decide that the future would actually look like some cheap off-the-Strip hotel in Vegas? Anyway, I loved the Holiday theming in Small World, especially how they managed to weave the carols in with the regular song.
We passed by the Matterhorn and were amazed at the extent to which they're knocking holes in the structure. The Motor Boat dock still sits there, now as a dining area for folks chowing down on their turkey legs. The Submarine Lagoon still sits there, silent and empty. So much space going to waste! Aaarrrrgh! We got our FastPasses for Space Mountain and headed back over to New Orleans Square for lunch.
I should note here that we had both forgotten our watches, cell phones, pagers, etc. back at the hotel. In my case, I stuck all that in my luggage prior to going through security at the airport, and simply forgot to take it all out again. FastPass and dining reservations without a watch is no fun! Some of the FastPass areas had clocks, but most of the time I had to keep asking people for the time.
To me, lunch at the Blue Bayou is as much a part of visiting Disneyland as walking down Main Street or watching the Mark Twain paddle around Tom Sawyer's Island. And no lunch at the Blue Bayou is complete without their famous Monte Cristo sandwich. Mmmmmmm! Just writing about it now makes my mouth water. They were a little doughier than I remember, but still just as tasty. Kyle, unable to resist dessert, also had the Chocolate Pecan Pie. It was very rich, as promised, but not that chocolatey. Unfortunately, the sandwich, pie, breakfast and churro were all now shaking hands in his stomach, and he had that bloated, "my lunch is just sitting there like a rock" feeling for the next few hours.
I suggested that we go back to the hotel and take a break. Maybe pick up our watches and get another jacket along the way. But Kyle didn't want to lose our FastPasses for Space Mountain. We headed over and rode the ride. To my surprise, he actually felt better afterward. Neither of us could make heads or tails of the satellite dish strapped to the top of the big orange glowing orb in the middle of the ride. I always thought the big orange orb was supposed to be a planet. I don't know. Either way, it looked weird.
We did Innoventions next, and while I was rooting for us to get the "Home" preshow, we got instead... "Sports." ("Ooh, how exciting," he said with a 50-gallon drum of sarcasm.) As we experienced the surreal spectacle of a robot with Robin Williams' face and Nathan Lane's voice talking about the future of sporting goods, I thought to myself, they cannibalized America Sings for THIS?!? Kyle wanted to try the "design your own roller coaster" thing, but after about 20 minutes of watching one girl trying to grasp some basic laws of physics after designing a coaster that simply refused to find its way back to the launch platform, we gave up and left. Outside, one of the CMs was doing double duty as a barker for the attraction. He summed the whole thing up as, "Free PlayStation Games Inside!" Nuff said.
Honey, I Shrunk the Audience was bland as usual, and we seemed to be sitting in a part of the theatre where neither the mice nor dog sneeze effects worked very well. However, the CM at the attraction did a very good job setting the scene for the show and staying in character as he directed people to the exits after. Star Tours had no line at all, so we did that pretty quickly. It's still a great ride, but it is showing its age a little. I hope they make a couple of new "films" for it, like they've been hinting at for the past 10 years.
Now that we had seen almost everything in Disneyland that we wanted to see, and twilight was falling, Kyle suggested we go to DCA for the Electrical Parade. And maybe a ride on Screamin' and Soarin' (What does DCA have against the letter "g", by the way?). Maybe we could get dinner there also? Check out the hotel, too? It all sounded reasonable to me, especially considering earlier he said he didn't want to set foot in that park. Finally, I realized he was actually proposing that we do both parks in one day! Now, I'm still a young guy, and I'm in great shape, but the breakneck speed of the morning was starting to get to me. And, now, he wants to do the whole of DCA in a few hours? All the same, this would save me a day on my pass... and I did want to see the Electrical Parade again, so I said yes.
Part II: Disney's California Adventure
Everything here was done double-fast and in the dark. So I unfortunately didn't get to see a lot of the park. I won't give a complete synopsis in the interest of time, but here's basically what we did from about 4pm to about 8pm. It was still raining lightly, and the park was almost empty (even though it was a Saturday night).
Soarin' Over California - Very cool, but a little disappointing. We were in the dead-center of the screen. It annoyed me that I could feet dangling above me, blocking the top of the screen. The smells also seemed out of whack. Aside from the oranges, I really couldn't identify the rest. The ocean smelled the same as the pine trees, for example. Still it was a nice ride. I got a few laughs out of the pre-show video however, when they're flying over all the names of the cities. They started with cities like (whoosh) San Diego! and (whoosh) San Francisco! and (whoosh) Monterey!, but then there were (whoosh) Camarillo! and a few other non-destination cities. A few people around us laughed when I suggested that they also do (whoosh) Bakersfield!, (whoosh) Fresno! and (whoosh) Torrance!
Grizzly River Run - Really beautiful scenery. I liked it a lot more than Kali River Rapids in the Animal Kingdom. It's cool how you get spun around as you fall. We rode with some kids in full rain gear who had been riding through five times in a row! Kyle wished they could've had some audio-animatronic mountain goats or something to make it look more Disney. I really liked the lookout areas near the ride also. We actually got much less wet here than on Splash Mountian.
Maliboomer - Kyle went on this, and I watched. The 10 minute wait took 20 minutes. Only one of the three towers was running and the loading process was very slow-going. Afterward, he said it wasn't scary enough, even though I was getting sick just watching.
Orange Stinger - Another one Kyle went on without me. I could've done it, but I had a slight headache and didn't want to make it worse. One thing that struck me was that the ride was SHORT. I didn't time it, but I think it was about 30 seconds max.
California Screamin' - Even though he knows I hate non-Disney roller-coasters, Kyle managed to get me on this. I should clarify that I don't really hate roller-coasters; it's more a sense of abject terror. I look at a roller-coaster and I can immediately think of 1000 things I'd rather do instead. Call me a wimp. I don't care. Still, I did go on it and it wasn't as bad as I expected. It was a very smooth ride. But I was still too scared to remember any of the details, and I screamed too loudly to hear any of the music. Next.
Golden Dreams - Kyle refused to see this, so I watched it while he took another two rounds on Screamin'. Well, it was a beautiful theater. Next. Actually, it was a nice film, but it felt totally out of place at a Disney theme park. How many park guests are going to recognize David Hockney, anyway? If you've ever been to the State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, it's got pretty much the same feeling as their movie. The montage at the end felt like a very watered down version of the end of The American Adventure at Epcot.
It's Tough To Be A Bug - Nice, but an exact carbon copy of the one at Animal Kingdom, without the spectacular Tree of Life to keep you entertained in line.
A Bug's Land - Very good job on the theming. I didn't go on any rides since I'm a little old for this type of thing, but I enjoyed walking around under the clover (plus it kept out a lot of the rain).
MuppetVision 3D - Again, an exact duplicate of the one at Disney MGM in Florida. I loved the movie the first time I saw it, I loved it this time, but nothing new.
Superstar Limo - Closed. Darn it. Having met the real Joan Rivers, I was looking forward to seeing whether the puppet version looked any less alien. (Sorry, Joan)
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire: Play It! - By the time we got to this section of the park, the last show had already played.
Animation Complex - Very Cool. Much nicer than what remains of the animation complex at Disney MGM. (Have you EVER seen people actually working there? I haven't.) One Man's Dream was a very nice, dignified film (except for the introductions by Eisner). The Sorcerer's Workshop was one of the coolest things in the park. I expect things might be very different on crowded days when a zillion people are cramming into the exhibits, but on a "dead" day like this it was great! I loved the "set" of the Beast's Library. It was just really cool to see something that you've only ever seen in 2D suddenly in 3D. The thing with the books is basically now available on the "Beauty and the Beast" DVD. I loved Ursula's Grotto, and I discovered that I can do a really good Phil Harris impression singing "Bear Necessities." Didn't have time to see Drawn to Animation, but I got the feeling it was similar to what's featured in Florida. The Lobby was spectacular, by the way.
Overall Impressions: Well, It was a quick zip through DCA, with no time to stop and discover anything (good or bad) that wasn't right in front of me. It was also night time, so a lot of things like seeing buildings outside of the park weren't an issue. Perhaps for this reason I didn't hate DCA nearly as much as I expected. Maybe I had been reading the negative reviews on MousePlanet too much. I totally agree that DCA is a "half-park/full-price" situation, and $25 seems like more than enough in terms of admission, let alone $49. But, I was expecting it to be repugnant. Instead, I just thought it was boring and empty. I still feel that Paradise Pier is a monstrosity and should be town down. I'm amused to see that Avalon Cove is now serving burger-and-fry theme park food along with a few nicer selections. Not exactly Wolfgang Puck, is it? The Pacific Wharf section felt lifeless and boring. And the Bay Area? Uh, you mean this 40 foot section of walkway is supposed to be its own "land"? The Winery looks like it fell out of the air like Dorothy's house in The Wizard of Oz and just landed in the middle of the park for no reason at all. But, I have to admit I loved the Rapids, Animation and Soarin'. Overall, I thought DCA was just a whole lotta nothing. They have lots of room for improvement. I hope they take advantage of it.
Part III: Back to Disneyland
Unfortunately, due once again to the rain, both the Electrical Parade AND the Fireworks were cancelled. It stopped raining earlier in the evening, so I think the real reason they were cancelled is that there would've been no one around to watch either. With no reason to stay in DCA, we headed back over to Disneyland and re-rode our favorite attractions: Pirates, Mansion, Big Thunder, Indy (which was now glitch-free and much better the second time around). There was a crowd gathered around Rod Miller at the Coke Corner, and we stopped and listened for a bit. "Sitting right there," I whispered to Kyle, "is a 100% certified Disney legend." Even so, I can remember watching Les Brown and his Band of Renown at the Plaza Gardens many summers ago with my mom and dad, and I can't help but miss those days.
We next rode the Jungle Cruise, which in my opinion is always better at night. It was nice to see that the guide is still getting the rhino's point, the backside of Dr. Albert Falls' water is still on display, and Trader Sam is still offering his daily special, two of his heads for one of yours. The jokes are ancient and corny, and I still crack up every time.
We just missed the last performance of the Enchanted Tiki Room, but the CM was nice enough to let us in through a side door, so we could slip into the back row and no one noticed. I was surprised to see that it was pretty packed inside. I hope that spells good things for the future of this historically important Disney attraction.
Not having eaten dinner at DCA, we were scrambling to find anything open this late in Disneyland. The French Market was about it. (Due to the light attendance, I don't think that Café Orleans or Rancho del Zocalo opened at all that day.) All the food at the Market was Nightmare-themed, and we both had the "Chicken Six Feet Under" which was six BBQ legs standing on end in a mound of painfully instant mashed potatoes with fried onions on top. The food was... well... what I was expecting for the French Market at 10pm. We both chewed on the chicken (which had been sitting so long that it was falling off the bone) and ate our salads and left the rest for the garbage. On the one hand, I felt guilty about leaving that much uneaten food, but on the other hand, I felt mad about paying so much for so little that was actually edible. As we were dining, Kyle was surprised to see a cat dart across the outdoor seating area. I mentioned how feral cats were used to control the rodent population. He seemed intrigued, but I tactfully refrained from telling him the story I read once on MousePlanet about the rat scurrying across the translucent ceiling of the very restaurant we were now dining at.
For our final ride of the day, we were hoping to catch the train from Tomorrowland over to Main Street before leaving (so we could see the Primeval World and the Grand Canyon, but we were too late. By the way, is it me, or is Autopia practically engulfing the path to the train station? Anyway, we made our way back through Main Street and saw Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. It was the new show with the headphones - a little gimmicky, but I liked it. You did feel more immersed in the action. And, I kind of like an attraction where you have to use your imagination a little. I should mention that the CM here was also very enthusiastic and professional. (Especially impressive at the end of a very long, low attendance day.) It was also interesting to see a crowd gathered for this attraction, when I'm so used to being the only one in the theatre. I guess we can owe the renewed interest in or nation's political heritage to the events of 9/11. With all this renewed patriotism, you'd think Disney would be smart enough to restore "America the Beautiful" in the CircleVision theatre. Seems like a natural to me. And I'd think it would be pretty darn cheap too. Oh well.
Back out on Main Street, the shops were closing at closing time instead of an hour later, no doubt because the park was nearly empty already. Leaving Disneyland is always sad. But I was glad I came. True, there are a lot of closed attractions, empty tracks, vacant lagoons, but the essence of Disneyland, the idyllic beauty of it was still there. For the most part it looked as I had remembered. The walkways were still clean, the paint was still fresh-looking, and the attractions still inspired my imagination.
We took the last shuttle back to the hotel (again, quick, clean, no problems), and collapsed into bed, totally exhausted. Two parks in one day. It can be done! Next morning, Kyle tried haphazardly to negotiate a return trip to the airport. After spending a few minutes on the phone with the Super Shuttle people (who apparently didn't know where the Anaheim Marriott was), he gave up and opted for the Airport Bus, which cost $11 one-way to Orange County Airport (and required no advance reservation since it runs on a fixed schedule). We checked out around 11am. No line at the desk. Then we hiked down Harbor Blvd. to a restaurant called Millie's (next to the Fairfield Inn) for breakfast. Somewhere Kyle had read that they had good, cheap food. It was okay in a Denny's sort of way, but nothing great. We then high-tailed it back down Harbor to the Marriott to catch the bus. Ironically, the bus ran a circuitous route that ended up right back at the Fairfield Inn before heading to the airport. Oh well. The bus got us there in about 20 minutes as promised, so everything worked out in the end.