Two Mondays ago I went to Disneyland for the first time since I was six. I’ve been to Disney World, the one in Florida, many times since, most recently in college. But I was very much looking forward to returning to the company’s original park in Anaheim.
The occasion was that a friend and his girlfriend came to town, and the friend knew a Disney Imagineer — a guy who designs the attractions — who got us in for free and knew everything there is to know about every ride, such as when it was built, how many people flow through every hour, and the ways they maximize that flow. Like how on one ride people get into Car A, then it moves forward to allow Car B to pick up passengers as Car A is getting checked by a second set of cast members (that’s what they’re called at Disney) to see that everyone’s belt loops are in place. As opposed to people getting in and having their belt loops checked at the same station, while people wait in line angrily. The Imagineer also clued us in on how to best use the park’s “Fast Passes” — passes you can pick up at machines located near the entrances to the busiest rides, which give you a reservation to come back later at a specified time, skip most of the line, and hop on the ride. They’re fantastic.
Here’s a rundown of what we did:
-Space Mountain. As good as ever. I felt like I did when I got laughing gas before my wisdom teeth were taking out — I had a smile on my face the whole time and there was nothing I could do to erase it.
-The Indiana Jones ride, where you’re in a jeep, was trying to be a thrill ride aimed at teens and older people but I just thought it was bumpy and nothing special. The best part was at the end when you thought you were going to get run over by the big ball from “Raiders.”
-The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland, which I read through at Barnes and Noble beforehand, implied that Peter Pan was a classic ride that would appeal to people my age. But they were wrong. Yes, it looks cool when you fly over London and see all the lights lit up. But it’s not worth the wait.
-Pirates of the Caribbean was very disappointing. I don’t know how they got such an entertaining movie from such a boring ride. Basically, the town gets taken over by pirates, the pirates get jailed, they escape, but Jack Sparrow finds the treasure first — or so I was told afterwards by our Imagineer friend. I wasn’t sure of the perspective of the ride — I thought we were supposed to root for the townspeople, especially since Jack Sparrow — the Johnny Depp character, who has (since the movies) been inserted into the ride — initially appears to be against the pirates and helping the townspeople. But it seems he’s just out for the treasure. And we’re supposed to be rooting for the pirates. It’s all very confusing. And boring.
-Haunted Mansion was also quite boring. The best part was when the cars tilted back slightly, so I could lie down and rest.
-The big drop on Splash Mountain was one of the highlights of the day. We didn’t get that wet, which was fine with me. Here’s my question: this is a relatively new ride and they based it on the film “Song of the South,” with Brer Rabbit popping up in places. Doesn’t Disney want to forget that movie, since they still get flack for Uncle Remus being a racial stereotype? Though I did think that playing “Zip A Dee Doo Dah” after the drop was a fun touch.
-I don’t know why, but I have a soft spot for Big Thunder Mountain. I think when I was a kid I liked underdogs, and, as I envisioned it in my six-year-old head, BTM never got any respect compared to the more popular Space Mountain and the showier Matterhorn, a big, snowy mountain. So Big Thunder was fun.
-We had dinner at the Blue Bayou, a dimly-lit New Orleans-themed restaurant in a great setting, next to the Pirates of the Caribbean river
-Innoventions was a fun attraction in Tomorrowland with a lot of very advanced video games that have do-gooder themes like solar energy
-The Matterhorn was special because, as I still remember, it’s the only roller coaster at Disneyland and not at Disney World. Doing it at night made for some cool glow-in-the-dark effects and fun views of the park.
-In the relatively new Buzz Lightyear ride, as your car moves through “Toy Story”-themed rooms, each person has a gun and you try to shoot at various shapes and rack up points. I did ok the first time. The second time I think my blaster was broken. You have little idea what you’re shooting at, since your gun creates a little laser-pointer-style dot on what you’re pointing at, but there are two dozen laser pointer dots flying around and you don’t know which one is yours.
-We also took a midday trip to California Adventure, Disney’s park next door to Disneyland, which looks more like a generic Six Flags kind of park and seems to be trying to appease the teenagers who have outgrown Mickey Mouse. The attractions we saw there:
-This generic roller coaster that was ok but mainly gave me a headache.
-An amusing 3-D movie based on “A Bug’s Life.”
-A water ride with the circle-shaped boats. We got a little wet, not much.
-This really great presentation in which the turtle from “Finding Nemo” appears on the screen in computer animation form, and talks to the audience, asking them questions, and then responds. The hundred little kids in the audience didn’t seem to realize what a huge leap forward in technology this is, but to me it was pretty cool. Though the turtle’s surfer dude accent got annoying quickly. I wondered what Sean Penn would say when told that his character Jeff Spicoli was still being emulated two decades later by a computerized talking sea animal.
-Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is the only ride to get five stars from the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland. And it deserves it. It’s one of those towers where you’re strapped in and they take you up really high and then drop you, but with Disney special effects magic to heighten the experience. You start out walking through this spooky hotel, thinking it’s all very corny and no way am I going to be scared by any of these creepy guys in top hats who look like Jefferson Mays from the play “I Am My Own Wife.” Plus, I was skeptical as to whether “Twlight Zone” was the correct branding. While on line, I said, “’Twilight Zone’ is about mystery, and there’s no mystery here. Basically they’re going to pick you up and drop you.” But there is eventually one crucial surprise. They strap you into a seat in the hotel’s “service elevator” — a room with about 20 other people — and you’re watching this video about going into the Twlight Zone and there’s some outer space imagery, and then you’re suddenly raised up to the top of the tower. And then the genius part happens: they open the doors and you look out on Disneyland. Then they drop you. And it’s amazing. What I realized is, opening those doors made it all the scarier, because it connects this creepy “Twilight Zone” hotel world with the real world, making the creepy world seem all the more real.
Our day was exhausting, as I left my apartment at 7:30 AM and didn’t get back until after midnight. But Disneyland did not disappoint.