Pre-trip, Wednesday, August 1
Okay, so I wasn’t going to write about my trip before I went, but I am so excited, and I just can’t hide it. 😉 I am leaving in less than two days to go to Disneyland for the first time. I am a pro (or so I think) when it comes to Walt Disney World, but California is a whole new animal to me. I have never even been to southern California before and thought it was long overdue now that all the major work has been completed as far as refurbishments and park additions between DL and Disney California Adventure. Specifically, I wanted to make sure Cars Land was done and that most of the major attractions I was hoping to experience, like Pirates of the Caribbean, the Matterhorn, and Indiana Jones Adventure were going to be open.
I went into this wide eyes wide shut. As I may have mentioned before, I’ve done little to no research for this trip. It is going to be an adventure, to which I am very much looking forward. I have never looked at a park map. I don’t know what attractions are there other than by what I have picked up by osmosis through tv specials and friends tweets and foursquare check ins. This is both exciting and frightening at the same time. I’ve grown up going to WDW since 1980, so I know it better than most places I’ve lived. It is home to me. I understand DL and DCA are similar to parks we have here, but different so it will be kind of like a Twilight Zone, deja vu but not kind of experience I’d imagine.
The little homework I have done is to ask friends questions like what attractions should I not miss at night, or what food should I make sure that I experience. I have friends who are Disneyland vets, so why not use their knowledge to help make sure I get the most out of this trip. Now, this is for the most part going to be a solo trip, but I hope to meet up with at least a few friends who either live in the area or are going to be visiting on overlapping dates. I am pretty independent, so the solo trip doesn’t bother me, but I hope I get to share some memories with friends because that would just amplify the awesomeness factor.
The Adventure Begins pt. 1, Friday, August 3
My flight out of Sarasota left, or was supposed to leave around 12:30, but we were delayed about 20 minutes (foreshadowing for all of my other flights on this trip). I headed to Atlanta on my way to SNA (aka Orange County or John Wayne Airport) on a full flight with little trepidation. I am not a fan of flying and had already gotten rid of my nervousness earlier in the morning, but had a backup plan in case I started to have a moment. The flight went relatively well and we ended up getting into ATL only about 10 minutes late, which was fine because miraculously, my departing gate was only a few down from the arriving one. I had enough time to grab a late lunch in a sandwich and some chips as well as a bottle of water since you no longer can get these on planes apparently (it’s been three years since my last confession … wait no, since I’ve last flown).
Again on a full flight and with an equipment change in ATL, my anxiety crept up since they reassigned my seat to a middle seat and nobody around me would change. One of my biggest issues with flying is I am claustrophobic and being in the aisle seat helps alleviate some of the stress I feel being packed in like a sardine in a flying tin can of sorts. So it ended up being necessary to take a xanax and have a drink so I didn’t have a complete panic attack on the 4+ hour flight. Things ended well and we arrived not too long after our expected arrival time. Since I didn’t check any bags I simply headed out to the ground transportation area to catch the SuperShuttle.
I had reserved the shuttle to my hotel online with a coupon, and it only ended up being about $17 round trip after I added a tip back in. It was a nice service, but I did have to wait about 15 – 20 minutes for the shuttle to come and then another 10 minutes for the other scheduled passengers, so just be aware of this in your scheduling. We were on our way and hit traffic as soon as we were on the highway, but it was still only about a 20 minute ride to my hotel and I was fortunate enough to be the first stop. I was happy with the experience since I am used to driving myself and I am generally not a fan of public transportation, but for the money this is a really great option.
When I arrived at my hotel, the Extended Stay America on S. Clementine in Anaheim, it was a few minutes after 7pm PST, so 10pm my time. I had planned on adjusting to California time pretty quickly so I had slept in that morning to try to help the process start. Check in went relatively smoothly and quickly and I was accommodated with both of my requests for a first floor room and near the lobby. I dumped my stuff, grabbed my backpack and park gear and was off on my trek to meet up with the Kilpatrick Family in Disneyland.
The walk from my hotel was about a mile, but with stop lights and crossing streets took about 20 minutes to get to the esplanade between Disneyland and DCA. As I came around the corner from my hotel onto Disney Way, still blocks away from the park, I spotted the Matterhorn at sunset and almost started crying on the sidewalk. I held it together and got to DL without any trouble, took my picture in front of the floral Mickey by the train station and headed on to Main Street USA.
Now I’ve walked under the train tracks and on to Main Street in WDW literally hundreds of times. Nothing could have truly prepared me for what I felt that first time at Disneyland. It was the same, but different. Just like everyone says, it is smaller, but quaint. It is like an identical cousin, but not. City Hall is relatively in the same spot, but much smaller. The same with the Emporium and the Fire Station, but then there are things like uniquely named shops like the Magic Shop or the Fortuosity Shop that are totally different. The Cinema is about where our cinema used to be. It reminded me of a line from one of my favorite movies, Sleepless in Seattle, “It was like coming home… only to no home I’d ever known… It was like… magic.”
For those of you who know me well, it comes as no surprise I started crying right there on Main Street. An overwhelming surge of nostalgia for Walt and the company’s humble beginnings came over me and I shed a few tears before moseying towards the hub and Partners statue. My first impression of Main Street itself is that its buildings are shorter in stature, but felt more like an actual Main Street if that makes any sense. It had a more kinetic feel than I get at WDW, a sort of electricity. Maybe it was because it was a Friday night and a popular time for locals to swarm to their beloved park, but it felt like it was buzzing all around me.
After I finally made it to the hub to see Sleeping Beauty’s Castle (it is so cute and pink), I found myself chatting up some guest relations CMs standing guard of the reserved fireworks seating section for Club 33 patrons. They were very curious about WDW and had lots of questions for me and were eager to answer any questions I had about the Disneyland Resort. One of the CMs in particular, Garrett, was very friendly and anxious to supply me with tips. Realizing I had been talking for almost half an hour, I tracked down the Kilpatricks and their friend (now my mutual friend) Gretchen to take a seat and wait for the fireworks show Magical to start at 9:30.
Ah, Magical. It truly was. We sat in the street around the hub eating churros my first night waiting for the show to start with Main Street music playing around us. Ryan, Sally, their kids affectionately known as Her Majesty, 6, and the Hobbit, 10, and Gretchen and I watched the show from the right side of the hub based on Ryan’s excellent recommendation so as to see some of the unique show elements of this fireworks production. It is something you just have to see! Tinkerbell flies, but in a different way than at WDW, and Dumbo flies. Being that it is above Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, Flora, Fauna and Merriwether even get in on the act. One of my favorite moments reminded me of Shelley and me discussing cotton candy preferences as well as other things when they debate between the colors of pink and blue for the fireworks.
Once the fireworks concluded, my friends decided to head out since they had been in the parks going all day having arrived several days earlier. I told them I was going to stick around for another couple hours til the park closed at midnight, but I would coordinate with them to hang out the next morning. They went their separate way and I headed to find Pirates of the Caribbean, which is my favorite ride at WDW, but I had been told DL would blow me away. Since I was in such a daze coming in to the park and forgot to pick up a park map, and I had done no homework, I had to stop and ask a CM how to get to Pirates since the park layout is a bit different and we don’t have a New Orleans Square, which is where I at least knew it was located.
Working my way through the masses in Frontierland heading to get in place for the second of three Fantasmic shows along the Rivers of America, I finally made it to POTC. It was about a five minute wait at this time (around 10:15pm) and I tried to absorb as much detail as I possibly could. The queue is much shorter than our winding and cool caves that serve as refuge from the warm Florida sun and common showers we encounter. The setting is different, appropriately starting in a bayou with quiet sounds from nature and fireflies flickering around the boats. As you gently float on, you pass by the Blue Bayou restaurant on your right hand side, which is open to the ride, similar to how San Angel Inn in Epcot’s Mexico is situated adjacent to Gran Fiesta Tour. The ride is familiar to one coming from WDW, but longer and definitely different in parts. I thoroughly enjoyed this version, but still love the one at home.
Still not knowing where I was going or what I was doing, I found myself exiting pirates and being deposited (after the obligatory exit through the gift shop) right in front of the Rivers of America mere minutes before the second showing of Fantasmic was about to commence. I took this as a sign to go with the flow and found a spot standing right behind the roped off reserved seating area that had a great view directly facing the stage. This show, like the version in Florida is focused around Mickey and the battle of good vs. evil. There are a few show elements here that are different like the dragon, sailing ship Columbia with the pirate fight between Peter Pan and Captain Hook, we have Jafar and they don’t, no Pocahontas in California, and the Mark Twain is a much larger steamboat for the ending, but seemed to have fewer characters than ours.
I kept ambling along, sticking to the left after the show, and ran into the Haunted Mansion. The ride is pretty much the same, except for a few minor details. Next I encountered Splash Mountain in Critter Country with about a five to ten minute wait and said what the heck. Sure it is about 11:30 and only in the mid 60s, but I hardly get wet at home, so I’m sure it won’t be much different here. Wrong. I was wearing jeans and they stayed wet up until the day before I left. I had never gotten that wet on any ride at WDW ever. The primary difference is in the logs. In DL, they are singles, whereas at WDW you sit two per row. At DL the log seemed to move faster between the scenes and I got wetter on some of the smaller drops leading up to the big drop. I think at WDW there is a more cohesive story to the attraction. In California there seem to be a few scenes here and there and then fast log ride between them. Expect to get very wet if you ride this. You’ve been warned.
The last ride I had time to experience was the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Again, an attraction that is pretty similar to what we have at home, but with some minor differences. I will say the Disneyland version seemed a bit trippier, for lack of a better word, than the Florida version. This was a walk on, which was a nice way to end the evening as it was now 3am back home.
I made my way slowly back the way I had come into Critter Country, through New Orleans Square, but opted to return through Adventureland as opposed to through Frontierland. The nice thing about Disneyland is that it is a bit more compact than the Magic Kingdom. You don’t have the long walkways coming off of the hub. In fact, it is kind of shocking to see the Astro Orbitor a) right off the hub to the right of the Partners statue at the entrance of Tomorrowland, and b) to see it on the ground as opposed to above the Peoplemover.
Realizing I hadn’t eaten anything since the second half of my sandwich from lunch about six hours earlier, I figured it would be a good idea to get a snack before heading back to my hotel. At the request of Shelley, I had a Mickey pretzel with plastic cheese and a cherry Coke, the good kind, with real syrup like from a soda fountain, from the Refreshment Corner. This is located about where Casey’s Corner is at WDW and offers similar fare of hot dogs, pretzels, sodas, etc. The outdoor seating area has a nice view of the castle and enjoys the sounds of Main Street. It is nice that they announce at the end of the night when the park is closing that the shops on Main Street are open for another hour for your shopping enjoyment. This came in handy later in the trip.
First Full Day – Saturday, August 4
The next morning I was pretty much already adjusted to west coast time and made my way to Disney California Adventure a bit before 10am for my first full day in the park. On my walk in I communicated with the Kilpatricks decided to meet them at California Screamin’ since they had an extra fastpass they were graciously offering me. I took my time admiring the beauty of Buena Vista Street as I entered the park. It was like stepping into old Hollywood, and I was in heaven. The details were incredible and I can imagine on my next trip I will spend much more time exploring each little nook and cranny of this section of the park. While meandering through the park, I remembered to pick up a map this time, I happened to catch the Red Car Trolley News Boys performing with none other than Mickey Mouse in front of the Carthay Circle Theatre. What a way to start my day!
While heading in to the park that morning, I decided I wanted to experience every single attraction between the two parks. On the park maps, there are almost 100 listed (96 actually) and I wanted to do it all in the time I was there. This didn’t include of course the nighttime shows like Magical, Fantasmic, World of Color or parades, those were bonuses. The only things I opted to skip were things that cost additional money like the games on the boardwalk at Paradise Pier in DCA and the Frontierland Shootin’ Exposition and Starcade in Disneyland. Game on!
Eventually I found my way to California Screamin’ and met up with my friends. Ryan, Sally and I rode while Gretchen took the kids. This was probably my favorite ride at DCA! It is a great roller coaster that launches you from one side of Paradise Pier to the other towards Mickey’s Fun Wheel (of Death, okay not really, but if you’ve seen the video of the swinging cars, you understand). There is a loop and it is a really nice length on the ride, longer than most other Disney coasters it seems.
We met up with the rest of the group near Grizzly River Run to get fast passes for World of Color. I noticed that the standby queue said it was only ten minutes and asked if anyone wanted to ride. All were game except Her Majesty who needed a little convincing it wasn’t a scary ride. Luckily, Sally noticed some lockers near the fast pass machines that are free for two hours! This was perfect since most of us had backpacks or purses we did not want drenched. Sally and Gretchen were smart and decided to don ponchos for the ride, at least to sit on, while I was more reckless. Of course I ended up being the chosen one who got more soaked than everyone else. It was a fun ride and now makes me excited to try Kali River Rapids when I get to the Animal Kingdom next time.
I again parted ways with the Kilpatrick clan and Gretchen to do some exploring on my own. First I went to Cars Land to pick up some fast passes for the three attractions there. One thing I noticed about both Disneyland and DCA is that they do not tend to enforce FP times like WDW is now. This made things a little bit more flexible for me, but I wouldn’t count on this in the future. Continuing my trip the way it started, I chose to explore things organically as I came to them without using a map, so this next brought me to A Bug’s Land. I loved the theming of this area of the park and thought it was neat to have a whole land geared towards little kids. I couldn’t really think of a correlation like this in WDW, but think it would be neat to adopt something like it, maybe in an area like Dinoland. I rode Flik’s Flyers, my favorite of the rides here, which is similar to Dumbo where you are up in the air flying in a circle, but you don’t control your altitude. Next I went to Francis’ Ladybug Boogie, which is like a mini version of Mad Tea Party, followed by Tuck & Roll’s Drive ’em Buggies (bumper cars for kids). The last attraction I did before lunch was Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train, my second favorite in A Bug’s Land. It is a small train that travels through some food Heimlich has eaten and they are scented. It is so cute!
For lunch I opted to visit the Pacific Wharf area of the park, which is themed after one of my favorite cities, San Francisco. There are great choices like Mexican, Chinese, Ghirardelli and where I ended up, the Pacific Wharf Cafe. They offer great salads, sandwiches and soups featuring bread from the attached Boudin Bakery, which was one of my favorite places I visited when I went to San Francisco. Their sourdough bread is amazing! You can smell it baking in this section of the park and it just draws you in with the enticing scent of freshly baked bread. I had the clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl at the recommendation of my friend Becca Braunstein, and it was delicious!
After a heavy lunch like that I thought it best I lay off the rides for a bit. I was also trying to coordinate meeting up with my friends Lee Dralle, Colin Buchanan and Rich Beltran that afternoon. They said they would let me know when they got in the park and we’d try to connect. I decided a post meal drawing lesson at the Animation Academy would be the perfect way to let my food digest. One thing that I thought was really cool was that they posted a sign outside the Animation building listing which characters they would be drawing in each class for the entire day. This way if you had already done a character you could skip it and come back for a different one. As I may have mentioned a few times before, I adore the Animation Academy and try to do it each time I’m at DHS, at least once. So, it occasionally (almost every time) becomes a challenge finding a character I haven’t drawn before. It gets to the point where the instructor just ignores me when polling the class to see if they’ve drawn characters before. I asked the CM about it and she said that it was something brand new that they were testing out listing them up front. I hope we can bring this to Florida as it is a great idea. I noticed they were going to be drawing Jack Skellington next, which is a character I have not yet had the opportunity to draw, but I did make him my pumpkin carving a few years back for Halloween.
When I stepped into the lobby of the Animation building, my jaw just about hit the floor. It is a huge open lobby with gigantic screens of varying sizes circling the room. Music and images play, both stills and animated, from Disney films, immediately immersing you into the environment of animation. It was breathtaking! This became one of my favorite places to hang out. It was beautiful, cool, and there are benches all around the lobby and plenty of floor space if those seats are occupied. A few moments later, I regained my focus and found my way to the Animation Academy queue. Surprisingly, there were very few people lined up only a couple minutes before the class was scheduled to start. When the time came, we filed into the classroom, which is setup kind of like a college lecture hall with tiered bench seating. A lot more guests can be accommodated in these classes, but there were only about a dozen taking the class. Unlike Florida, there are no drawing desks for you to sit at, everyone gets a lapboard. The class went by quickly and I did a passable job for a first attempt at the Pumpkin King.
As you exit the Animation Academy, you are funneled past an area called Character Close Up, which is currently featuring a Toy Story Zoetrope. I was instantly mesmerized by the spinning animation and stopped for a few minutes to watch as it slowed down. I could see the characters carefully positioned slightly differently around the circle so when it spun it appeared as if they were moving. This was so cool showing some of the early stages of animation and movie making.
About this time I was getting texts from both Lee and Colin trying to track me down. I met Lee outside the Animation building before we headed to Dancin’ with Disney to find Colin and Rich. I liked this attraction for what it was, a fun dance party inside in air conditioning with some of your favorite and some more obscure characters. Why we have something like Club 626 outside in Tomorrowland invading the entire land and not something cooler inside in Florida, I have no idea. We briefly met up with Colin and Rich and then decided we would meet up later as Lee and I were heading to go see the Aladdin show and they opted not to.
Oh my goodness, the Aladdin show was incredible! The production quality is unlike anything we seem to have at WDW. I would love to see something of this caliber come to DHS with either Tangled or the Princess and the Frog. The show follows the basic plot of the movie and includes some of the more popular musical numbers as well as some that were cut from the film. If you get the opportunity, I would highly recommend catching this show at some point during your trip. Genie is hilarious and injects current pop culture references, which keeps the show fresh and new each time.
Lee was craving a snack after the show so we popped in to the Carthay Circle Lounge to grab a light bite and a beverage. He ordered the Spicy Chicken Roll and the Vietnamese Twice Cooked Beef Taco and I tried a bite of each. I loved the cilantro flavor of the chicken roll, which was similar to a Vietnamese spring roll served cold. The tacos were awesome! The beef was marinated and served with a fantastic pineapple-mint salsa. I knew I would be coming back to visit again after having tried these great appetizers. Keep in mind that the menus downstairs in the lounge/bar area are different than the one upstairs in the restaurant.
Following the practically perfect rest and food stop, we decided to head to The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure since I had yet to check this out and I’m anxiously awaiting ours opening here in the next few months. I really enjoyed this dark ride and it was a nice way to help me get more pumped up for the one we are getting at the Magic Kingdom. Lee and I explored the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, bounced on the bridges, I almost fell, and a good time was had by all. Next we headed back to Hollywood Land and rode another fun dark ride Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the rescue. This attraction follows the plot of the Monsters, Inc. movie and did a nice job staying true to the story. One of my favorite details is that you can smell the ginger and soy sauce when you are passing through the Harryhousens scene!
Next we went back in to the Animation building for a bit to explore the Sorcerer’s Workshop, which is where you can go into the Magic Mirror Realm, Beast’s Library, and Ursula’s Grotto. Here we were able to see animation, experience which personality yours matched up with of classic Disney characters, and could record voice overs for classic scenes. Colin and Rich wanted to meet up, so we headed towards Cars Land since I had a fast pass for Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree. This may have been the sleeper hit and possibly my favorite in Cars Land. You sit in the back of tractors with 2-3 people total and go in circles and then get flung onto another circle, similar to the tea cups, but you are whipped around the turns. It was so much fun! Lee and I went in one tractor and Colin, Rich and their friend went in another. Since there was space between Lee and me at each turn we would slam into each other. At first it was unintentional, but then we kind of played it up a bit. So much fun!
Colin and company were ready for dinner so they went to Flo’s V8 Cafe. Lee and I weren’t ready for dinner yet since we had our afternoon snack, so we walked to the nearby Blue Sky Cellar, which typically shows what Imagineering is planning for the future. At this time, however, they were showcasing information all about Cars Land. They were even showing one of the cute shorts featuring Mater and the story of how Radiator Springs was founded, which I believe can be found on the Mater’s Tall Tales dvd or blu ray. After walking around for a bit we decided to go hang out with Colin and Rich while waiting for Shboom, the lighting of the neon in Cars Land that takes place each evening right around sunset.
Once the neon was lit, I said good night to the guys and made way to meet up with the Kilpatricks and Gretchen (I feel like this is a band name from the 60s, anyways) to get our spots for the World of Color. Now this was one of the things that I was most anticipating on this trip. I had been on media blackout regarding it. A friend once started playing the music from it and I just about put my fingers in my ears to get him to stop so it wouldn’t be ruined. I watched no video, listened to no music, and wanted to just experience it, so I did something very hard for me, I put my phone away. I took no pictures, video, didn’t tweet, facebook, whatsapp or text. I just was. I had been warned that I would cry, again I’m a bit of a sap. The show did not disappoint, and yes, I did cry, three different times (as well as the two subsequent times I watched the show). It was incredible! The technology is absolutely amazing. I was entranced by the fountains at the Bellagio when I went to Vegas, but this, no pun intended, blew that out of the water. We watched from the yellow section in the wet zone, and thanks to Ryan and company getting there early, were only the second row standing behind the railing against the water. Oh yeah, and you do get wet, even if you aren’t in the wet zone.
I hadn’t done Luigi’s Flying Tires yet and the FP line for Radiator Springs Racers was over an hour wait, as opposed to the standby line at three hours, so we all went for a spin on the tires. This ride was more fun than I had anticipated. It definitely takes teamwork and coordination to move together with the person in your tire. Think of it kind of like a Segway, except you are sitting down, and you lean in the direction in which you want to go. Then they throw large beach balls in the mix and you are on what seems like a giant air hockey table with jets of air coming from below to help you fly. I have heard in the last few days that they have since taken away the balls, which seems interesting to me. Hopefully they will bring them back as they were often the motivators for people to move in one direction or another.
Having completed the other attractions in Cars Land, we then returned to see how the FP queue was doing for Radiator Springs Racers. My friends had done it already during the day, but had wanted to try it at night, which looked infinitely cooler to me, so this is why we waited to try it out after dark. The line was slightly shorter, but it still took us a good 35-45 minutes to get through the FP line. The ride was great! I loved having different elements of the Cars films, especially loved the loop by the waterfall with the score playing from when Sally and Lightning are going to the Wheel Well for the first time. You get to travel through Radiator Springs and see all your favorite characters and then you get lined up to race another car side by side. We won our race, which made the waiting all the more worth it. The only bummer was the camera on our side of the ride wasn’t working so we couldn’t get our in ride pictures. Oh well, it was still a blast, especially since we took up the entire six person car.
On our way out of the park we had the Photo Pass photographer take a few pictures since the Kilpatricks purchased the Photo Pass Plus (a great deal at $70, especially if you are doing a character meal where the pictures there are usually $30 each). We parted ways again and I decided at 11pm I was hungry and Disneyland was still open so I went to get a very late dinner. I made my way to the end of Main Street to the Jolly Holiday Bakery to get a combo that Katie Siloac-Lotoczky and Lee had both recommended: the toasted cheese sandwich and tomato soup. Now I don’t know what they do to this sandwich that is essentially a grilled cheese sandwich cut into strips, but it was absolutely heavenly. They are perfectly designed to be dunked into the tomato soup for your eating enjoyment. It was the perfect meal to end another magical day.
Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of my adventures coming up in the next few weeks!