This past weekend, I flew out to California for the dual purpose of visiting my friend Amy (who has recently relocated to SoCal) and making my third-ever trip to Disneyland. Yes, I moved to Florida last year to be close to Walt Disney World. What’s your point? 🙂
I flew out on Friday mid-morning, and thanks to the magic of TimeZones, arrived in the early afternoon, even though my travel time was nearly 10 hours. Amy kindly picked me up at SNA, and our first stop was lunch (as I’d stupidly not brought any food with me on the planes) at In-N-Out burger. I then got to see Amy’s new place, we went shopping for a bit, and later that night had a nice walk over to the nearby mall-type area for games & dinner at Dave & Busters.
On Saturday morning, we woke up bright and early and made the 15 minute drive to Disneyland. After getting off I-405, it was a bit confusing trying to figure out where to go. I was assuming that the parking lots were actually attached to Disneyland Property (my previous two visits were both at hotels within walking distance of the parks), so we were following signs for “theme parks” , when we should have been following signs for “parking”. In any event, we eventually found the Toy Story parking lot, a couple blocks from Disneyland. About a week earlier, I had upgraded my WDW Annual Pass to the Disney Premier Passport, which is a premium Annual Pass for both WDW and DL. So I was able to use that at the parking lot, to avoid the $15 parking fee. We parked, applied sunscreen, and then walked over to the waiting shuttle buses. And right there before we got on the bus was a Cast Member with a pin lanyard and a pin trading board. Yay first pin-trading of the trip!! The whole concept was still a little bizarre to Amy, but I’ d given her a lanyard of pins of her own when I arrived. 🙂
The shuttle dropped us off at the Esplanade. We walked through bag check, and crossed the Esplanade into Downtown Disney. We both wanted some breakfast before getting into the actual parks, so we stopped at La Brea Café. In my memory, this was a counter service place last time I was here, but apparently it either changed or my memory was off, because it’s now Table Service. In any event, we were seated instantly, and enjoyed a nice meal to start our day.
Next it was back through bag check and to the ticket sellers. Amy bought a SoCal resident 2-day park hopper, for the not-at-all-bad price of $114. Upon hearing that it was her first time to Disneyland, the CM selling the tickets presented her with a first-timer button, and me with an “I’m Celebrating” button (as I was celebrating her first visit, of course). Even though Disney California Adventure was scheduled to open at 10am, by 9:40 or so I noticed (while we were waiting in line at the ticket sellers) that people were entering the turnstiles. So we didn’t exactly make rope drop, but were still there real early in the park’s day.
Our first stop was Soarin’ Over California (after buying Amy a pouch for her pin lanyard). Of course, this is effectively the same attraction as exists at Epcot in Walt Disney World, but with two distinct differences: 1) The queue is both smaller and cooler, and 2) the projection is digital rather than film, making it crystal clear, unlike Epcot’s dirty buggy dusty scratched abomination of a presentation. Seriously, WDW? Get on that, would you? As the ride started up, we discovered that Amy’s dislike of heights extended to simulations of heights as well. Even with that being the case, she still seemed to have enjoyed it. I call her first Disney attraction a success.
Next it was allllll the way over to Paradise Pier to ride Toy Story Mania. Even with it being so early in the morning, it already had a 40 minute posted wait (I timed it – it turned out to be 38 minutes). Here we have the exact opposite situation from WDW – the queue is completely boring and nondescript, and almost entirely outdoors. In WDW it’s not too bad waiting in the queue because there’s so much to look at. Here, you’re looking at pavement and ropes. Regardless, the actual attraction was a lot of fun. I was beating Amy after the first two games, but somehow (and I still don’t quite get it) she actually ended up on top, besting me in her first ever attempt on the attraction, whereas I’ve played/ridden it probably 100 times or more. What the heck?
Next was a pair of decisions that if someone were to ask me to explain, I’d be unable to do so. Due to Amy’s dislike of heights, and seeing the speed and height which is attained on California Screamin’, we decided to skip that coaster. That wouldn’t be so mysterious if not for the fact that we decided NOT to skip the giant swinging Ferris Wheel. Yeah, I don’t get it either. We got on the wheel with a 3-person family in our car, and began the ascent. Everything was mostly okay going around slowly as other cars were being loaded. When we got back down to the ground, Amy thought we were done, when in fact the ride was just starting. Now we went up at speed, and the car moved front and back, and swung back and forth. That… was too much. As soon as we got off, Amy’s dislike of heights got the best of her. We made the decision then and there that there would be no more heights this trip.
So our next stop was over to the Zephyrs, which is kinda like a carnival-type swing attraction, if all the swings were actually 10-person long tubes. They didn’t rise more than a few feet off the ground, so that was okay with everyone involved. We then went over to Grizzly River Run to get FastPasses for later. Here we encountered one of many really excellent Cast Members, who was willing to help us out when the machine tried to eat Amy’s ticket. With our FastPasses in hand, we made a stop at the counter-service place near Soarin’ to have some lunch. We both got the Wild Blue Yonder burgers, but Amy got hers without the “tangy steak sauce”. I mocked her at the time, but it turned out she made the right decision – the generic A1 was a little bit over powering on the burger. Overall though, not bad.
Our GRR FPs weren’t ready yet, so we walked on over to the Hollywood Pictures Backlot area, and rode Monster’s Inc – Mike & Sully to the Rescue. While waiting in the queue line, we made friends with a pair of ladies who had somehow been to Disneyland many many times, but never to Disney California Adventure. How is that even possible? Anyway, we passed the time waiting in the queue talking about all things Disney (both DL and WDW), and I mentally put my fingers in my ears singing “LA LA LA” when they suggested that Downtown Disney could use a strip club featuring the princesses “after hours”. Gahhhhh. Monster’s Inc was a fun little ride, and by the time it was done, our GRR FastPasses were ready, so we walked back across the park.
I am not exactly a Disney novice, so I came prepared for this water-based attraction, with two galllon-sized ziploc bags. For reasons surpassing reason or logic, Grizzly River Run’s rafts do not have the central compartment to store belongings that it’s WDW cousin, Kali River Rapids, affords. So we crammed all our can’t-get-wet stuff (cellphones, camera, wallets, even Amy’s Kindle) into the bags and boarded the raft. This ride is SO much better than KRR, it’s almost embarrassing. I know Grizzly was built after Kali, and it’s obvious that the Imagineers took guests’ complaints about Kali into account when they built it. There might not be any kind of storyline like Kali has, but it’s more than made up for by the multiple drops and splashes and the overall just-more-fun’ness of the attraction.
After reassembling all our belongings from the plastic bag, we once again crossed the park over to Hollywood Backlot, this time for Muppetvision 3D. And here I screwed up in my role as Disney Tour Guide, as Amy told me when we entered the theater after the pre-show that she was confused and annoyed why we were spending time “watching TV”. I’d apparently neglected to inform her that we were sitting down for the pre-show while waiting for the real attraction. Oops.
The rest of the afternoon and early evening is something of a blur. I know we did the Animation Academy (we drew Cheshire Cat, which was a new one for me), saw the Aladdin stage show (the flying carpet sequence has been removed, instantly lowering the show’s must-do’ness in my mind), and experienced the new Little Mermaid attraction (a fun new dark ride, that I’m looking forward to opening in WDW later this year), but I have no idea in what order we experienced them.
In any event, around 6:30pm, it was dinner time. We’d made reservations at Ariel’s Grotto as part of the World of Color package. Oh My God. So very good. The prix-fixe menu was fantastic. It started out with a trio of appetizers for the table, including a lobster and shrimp salad, steamed veggies, fresh (hot) sour dough, garden salad, cheeses and prosciutto, and more that I’m not remembering. Then came the main course. I’d ordered the deceptively named “Santa Maria Style Tri-tips”. I was expecting some steak tips. What came out was a heaving helping of sliced steak, steamed veggies, and mashed potatoes. It was actually more steak than I could eat (which for me, is saying quite a bit). And then it was followed up with desserts for the table. A huge platter of all kinds of desserts, including a fudge cake, strip of white chocolate, chocolate crunch, fresh raspberries & blackberries, macaroons, and more. This was one of the best meals I’ve had at any Disney restaurant, on either coast.
I don’t remember how we spent the next couple hours before World of Color. I know we did Tough to be a Bug at some point. Maybe this was then? That was a fun one, the special effects completely took Amy by surprise. We’d also done the Bakery Tour, but I think that was before dinner, because I remember remarking that we’d just seen how and where they make the sourdough rolls that we were served.
We eventually made our way over to the preferred viewing area of World of Color. I had only seen the show once before, back in 2010. So I don’t really remember how much of what I saw this time was new or just hadn’t been firmly set in my memory. But either way, the show was fantastic. It is truly amazing what they could do with the giant water fountains, screens, some pyrotechnics, and the projections. I don’t remember the projections onto the centerpiece of California Screamin’ before, nor do I remember the Pirates of the Caribbean sequence, so they were both welcome surprises. Amy’s one-syllable review of the show afterwords: “HUH!!”. I think that meant she enjoyed it. 😛
We debated calling it a night right then and there, but I convinced Amy of the logic of going over to Disneyland and riding the Finding Nemo subs (it doesn’t have FastPass, and has long lines all day long, so I didn’t want to take the time to do it tomorrow). We entered Disneyland Park and played the roll of salmon swimming upstream, as it seemed like everyone in California was trying to leave (the fireworks had just ended) as we were arriving. We eventually made it up past Main St and into Tomorrowland and over to the subs. Once we finally got there, there was no more than a 10-15 minute wait. The undersea voyage was fun, if a little reminiscent of the Seas with Nemo attraction in Epcot.
After Nemo, we both decided it was definitely time to head home. We left the park and walked over to the shuttle area. Very efficient here, as they had a line of buses waiting to go. As soon as one filled up and took off, the next one pulled into its spot. Much better than waiting for the WDW Resort buses. Amy drove us back to her place, I converted her futon into a bed-like structure, and collapsed. 🙂
This post ran longer than I thought. I’ll post a part 2 later today or tomorrow, covering our Disneyland park day. I’ll also make a post with some observations about some unexpected differences between WDW and DL.