View Full Version : Steven Varble – January 2003

Trip Reports
11-22-2005, 08:49 AM
Steven Varble – January 2003

* Time of Year: Winter
* Travel Method: Plane, Rental Car
* Resort: PPH
* Accommodations: Standard
* Ages Represented in Group: Adult
* Disneyland Experience Represented in Group: Frequent
* Comments: Steven is a frequent DisneyWorld visitor, and was interested in visiting the Disneyland Resort and seeing the new California Adventure Park. A planned 2 day trip turned into a 4 day trip, and he was even able to snag a discount rate at the Paradise Pier Hotel. The report features comparisons between the California and Florida resorts.

Participant: Steven, mid 30’s
Dates: January 11,12,13,14, & 19, 2003.

Happily for some, and sadly for others, my trip reports tend to be long. So, for the benefit of those who want to skip ahead, each day is listed with a heading of what was visited on each day. Feel free to skip ahead.

* Introduction
* Planning
* Day 1: Paradise Pier Hotel, Downtown Disney
* Day 2: Disneyland, California Adventure and First Impressions
* Day 3: Disneyland, Aladdin at DCA
* Day 4: Disneyland, DCA
* Days 5, 6, 7, 8 Other Activities
* Day 9: A Bonus trip back to Disney

I am a very frequent Disney visitor. If the Disney people keep a database of out-of-town visitors, they must love me! On a yearly or less basis, I end up at a Disney park.

I visited DisneyWorld a few times in the 70’s and 80’s as a child. Then, in College, I was accepted into the Walt Disney World College Program, and spent 5 months working and living Disney everyday. It wasn’t unusual to spend the days I wasn’t working visiting the parks. I also got used to visiting the parks alone before and after work.

With a fellow Disney College Program Alumni, I visited EuroDisney (now Disneyland Paris) just a few weeks after it’s opening. That park is still a favorite Magic Kingdom park, because of the extreme level of detail in the park. The Main Street area, with its arcades behind the shops, is by far my favorite Main Street of all.

In 1995, I visited Disneyland for the first time. What a different experience from DisneyWorld and Disneyland Paris! Just a park, surrounded by fast food places, cheap hotels, gas stations, and a giant Disney parking lot! But, the park was nice, and had a much more intimate feel than the other parks (a polite way to say: “Boy, this park is small!”). Plus, it had a few things that the other parks didn’t have, and some of the original versions of popular rides. Some better, some worse.

My last visit to Disneyland was in 2000, and the park had deteriorated. Everything seemed tired, worn out and just exhausted. I’d heard stories on various web sites that maintenance was being ignored, and I had to agree. I specifically remember standing in line for ‘Alice in Wonderland’, and seeing the decorative fiberglass leaves planted in the loading area peeling, with their rusty rebar substructure sticking out. Not good.

To escape cold winters, I tend to go to Florida or California every year. This year, I decided I would go to California, and while I was there, visit Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. I’d heard both good and bad about the new park, and wanted to find out for myself. Plus, it had to be warmer than home, so it was already getting positive marks for me just for the weather.

I decided I would fly to California, and rent a car. When picking the dates, I decided I wanted to be there in time to see ‘It’s a Small World Holiday’ before it was shuttered on January 13. I also wanted to see the ‘Electrical Parade’ in California Adventure on January 12. I’d hoped to see ‘The Haunted Mansion-Nightmare Before Christmas’ overlay, but couldn’t schedule the trip early enough in January. So, the trip was planned for January 11-20th, with the first 2 or 3 days planned for Disney, and the rest spent doing other things in Southern California. Airline tickets were purchased through Expedia on American Airlines.

For my hotel, I found a great deal at Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, which was discussed on Mousesaver.com (It’s a great website to find all the current discounts! Highly recommended!) Normal rate is up to $190 per night for a premium view room (overlooking California Adventure). Expedia offered a standard view room for $99 per night, with a 4th night free, for an average of approx. $79 per night. Other hotels around Disneyland were asking $55 or more per night, so I decided the extra $25 per night would be well worth the experience. I also decided since it was a slow time of year, I would risk not having a view, and ask for a room view upgrade when I arrived.

I also rented a car through Alamo using my Disney Club Card discount, and a code I found on Mousesavers.com. That worked very well, and I got the car for $139 for 10 days! That’s almost cheaper than a car payment for the same time period! Go Alamo!

Day 1, Saturday, January 11
Paradise Pier Hotel, Downtown Disney

I arrived at LAX right on time around 5 pm, and grabbed the shuttle bus to the Alamo location outside the airport. The temperature was in the mid 70’s, which was 40 degrees warmer than home, so I was already happy! The car that was waiting for me was a 4 door Daewoo Elganza. I’d never even heard of an Elganza, but it was much better than what I thought I would get for the price I paid: electric windows, door locks, tape player, etc…. Even the Alamo agent was impressed by the rate!

After having the checkout agent note some scratches on the bumper, I headed out to The Disneyland Resort (as it is officially called now). It took about 35 min from LAX to Anaheim. I could see the ‘California Screamin’ Roller Coaster’ and ‘Grizzly Peak’ rising in the distance! Oooo! It looked good, and helped build the anticipation. It sure looked different than my original trip 6 years earlier!

I followed the signs, and pulled up to The Paradise Pier Hotel. I didn’t want to waste money on valet parking my car, so a guard directed me to the parking garage behind the hotel. One new safety issue that has been implemented is that the guards check your car trunk every time you pull into the parking lot. Did it make me feel safer? No, not really, but they did keep track of who was coming and going.

Check in was smooth and easy, and I asked for a room view upgrade… and (drum roll please…) they said YES! I even asked to be high up, so I got a room on the 11th floor overlooking California Adventure.

The room was very nice. It was large, had 2 beds with subtle Mickey’s on the bedspread. There were framed Disney character artwork on the walls, and Disney resort shampoo and soap in the bathroom. It also had an iron, ironing board, clock radio, hairdryer, and even a mini-fridge built into the armoire with the TV. But the best thing was the view! I opened the curtains, and there was the Paradise Pier area of California Adventure all lit up below! Well, not exactly below, because I was about as high up as ‘The Maliboomer’ and parts of ‘California Screamin’.

Overall, the hotel was nice, and comparable to a nice Holiday Inn. It is obvious that it used to be a nice non-Disney Hotel. The exterior has been upgraded with Paradise Pier decorations and paint because it’s visible from inside California Adventure. The lobby and public interior areas are decorated with concept art of the Pier and new furnishings. But, it did not compare to the type of themed hotels available at Disney in Florida or Paris. It wasn’t bad, but did lack the all-encompassing theming and feel you normally get from a Disney property.

It was time to look around! Because I was arriving so late in the day, I decided ahead of time not to waste time in the parks, even though they were open late. Instead, I headed over to Downtown Disney to look around and find something to eat.

Downtown Disney was similar to Downtown Disney/Marketplace/Pleasure Island/Westside at DisneyWorld. Lots of shops and restaurants, and a few nightclubs, but no lakeside waterfront. Instead, it was one long street, with a large World of Disney store. I walked along the whole length, and checked out the entrances to both Disneyland and California Adventure, which sure looked better than when the parking lot was there! Lots of nice trees and fountains now landscaped the area, and occasionally the ‘Monorail’ would whisk by! There is something about the sound of it zooming by overhead that says you‘ve arrived!

I’d read on Mouseplanet that the take out window at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen was about the only good inexpensive meal to be found, without having to go into a sit down restaurant. From what I saw, I would have to agree, so I waited in line, and ordered a combo platter.

Here’s my first complaint: How come a restaurant that offers a limited menu of pre-prepared food takes so long to fill an order? It’s not like everyone in line was surprising them with what they were ordering! They only offer 5 or 6 things! There were 6 people ahead of me, but it took nearly 20 minutes! But the food was good, and you could get free refills on drinks!

I looked around a little more, and decided to head out and find a Target or Kmart to buy film and stuff for breakfast in the room. I’d sold film during my time working at DisneyWorld, and I knew to buy it BEFORE you get in the parks! I found a Kmart about a mile away, found film at a good Kmart price, and on the way out of the store, saw the Saturday night fireworks from Disneyland! Oh, that would have been good from my room!

I went across the street to a Food-4-Less and got bananas, pop tarts, and OJ for breakfast. For those of you who have never had the joy of shopping at a Food-4-Less, let me tell you it is quite possibly the ugliest chain of grocery stores I have ever seen. There are NO frills. It reminded me of a metal airplane hanger. I guess the prices were good, which is the point.

Back to the hotel, had my trunk checked again (that sounds lewd). I decide it’s time to face the inevitable, and buy my park tickets. In Florida it’s easy: I always buy a “Length of Stay” Pass, so I can go wherever I want for the entire time I’m there. At Disneyland, it wasn’t quite so easy. They had single day tickets, California resident discounts, Disney Club discounts, AAA discounts, and on and on and on. They had 2-day passes, but there was no park hopping. To get park-hopping privileges, you had to buy a 3-day pass. They were offering a 5 day pass for the cost of a 3-day pass (approx. $119), which sounded like a good deal, so that’s what I got. I’m glad I did, because ultimately I ended up using 4 days of the pass.

I was off my workout schedule, when I read that the hotel had a fitness center, I decided to try it out. It was very nicely equipped with weights, cardio equipment, etc. I worked out for about an hour, and then went to bed.

Thus ends day 1 at the Happiest Place on Earth.

Day 2, Sunday, January 12
Disneyland, California Adventure

I don’t normally wake up early, but when I’m on vacation I do. I got up at the early time of 9am, had breakfast in the room, and headed out by 10am. It was foggy, but the sun was beginning to break through.

Here was my plan: Since today, Jan. 12, was the last day for ‘Small World Holiday’, I would go to Disneyland first, then spend the rest of the day at California Adventure. My purchase of a 3-day/5 day pass made park hopping possible. Another reason for that decision was to avoid Sunday family crowds at Disneyland, and go to the less busy California Adventure.

Here’s a little trick to get to Disneyland faster from Paradise Pier Hotel. Instead of walking through the parking lot and Downtown Disney to get to the parks, it is quicker to cut through the Grand California Hotel. From the Paradise Pier hotel, just go out the front, cross the street, and walk through the lobby out the Downtown Disney entrance. It cuts a little off the walk, plus you get to enjoy the other hotel.

I walked through the gates of Disneyland a little after 10. There’s nothing like walking under the train station and into the Main Street Town Square. The images of cold weather at home vanished, and I was at Disneyland!

I headed directly to ‘It’s a Small World’. Normally this is not a ride I seek out to do first thing, if at all. Way too “cute.” But I wanted to see what they do for the holidays. You know what? It was actually pretty good! It is much better all decorated up for the holidays, with Christmas music being sung by all the non-Christian countries of the world. Even the mermaids had their own version of Jingle Bells (Jingle Shells). I think I saw that ride with whole new eyes, and enjoyed it for the first time in years!

I was also surprised to see another single rider. That’s the term for people like me who are in the parks alone, or a polite term for “loser with no friends.” I guessed the other guy was someone like me who was trying to catch the ride before it closed to be converted back into non-Holiday Small World.

The original plan was to then head over to California Adventure, but I noticed that Toontown had opened, and was pretty empty. Since I don’t like waiting in long lines, I decided to ride ‘Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin’. I jumped on the ride and took off. Then something happened that I always hoped would happen: the ride broke down!

Why have I always wanted to be on a ride when it breaks down? Because if they can’t get it going again, they have to walk you out! In all my years of working and visiting a Disney Park, I never got to walk through a ride with the lights on. Well, after sitting for about 10 minutes, they came and got us out of our cabs and walked us out of the ride. The lights were on, and it didn’t look good. You can see all the scratches, spit and glop all over everything. Because it’s a dark ride, most of that isn’t visible with the black lights, but it sure is with the work lights on! It was interesting to get a good look at the effects and sets without spinning past them.

The only bad thing about the experience was my cab stopped right in the middle of the “Roger-got-bonked-on-the-head-and-saw-stars-spinning-and-heard-cuckoos” room. Unfortunately, the sound doesn’t stop when the ride stops, so I was stuck in what was quite possibly the loudest room in the ride until the ride operator ‘saved’ me. After we were led out, the ride started up, and we got to ride again. I was surprised to see that my single rider loser comrade I’d seen at ‘It’s a Small World’ was there as well.

By this time it was nearly noon, and I was ready to tackle California Adventure, so I headed out of Disneyland, and over to the new park. The only thing better than visiting a park you know inside and out, is visiting a park for the first time and discovering everything new. That other weird single rider person was at the gate as well, and I was starting to wonder if I was being followed.

After a quick scan of my ticket, I headed directly to ‘Soarin’ over California’. I’d heard this is the best ride in the park, and I wanted to get a FASTPASS to avoid the lines. Well, I was happy to see they had a single rider line, so I was able to go right in, and be seated almost immediately.

I REALLY liked this experience, which simulates hang-gliding over the sights of California. Everyone sits in long rows wearing seatbelts, and then all the seats in the room are silently lifted and thrust up into a large curved OmniMax-type screen. The seats move according to the movement of the film that is shown, and there are wind and scent effects to add to the experience. It was nice that even though you are 3 stories up in the air with your feet dangling, the experience doesn’t take advantage of the effect for a cheap scary thrill. The whole operation is smooth and well synchronized. I thought it was great, and one of the best things in the entire park.

After that positive experience, I was off the Animation Exhibit in the Hollywood Pictures Backlot. I thought this exhibit blew the Florida version out of the water. The lobby area was amazing, with the room transforming every few minutes to reflect the clips and still images of a different Disney animated feature. The exhibits were well done, especially the Sorcerer’s Workshop area. I won’t go into describing it here (this report is already WAY too long), but each room is fascinating to explore. The two theatre presentations are also interesting, one on Walt Disney, and the other a primer on animation. Again, a top-notch experience.

I was beginning to wonder if the bad things I’d heard about the park were wrong.

I headed to ‘Muppet Vision 3D’ (exactly the same as Florida) and then into ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire-Play It!’ It was actually exciting to see someone try to earn points in the Millionaire show. I didn’t make it into the top ten, but it was my first try. I’d heard there was a trick to working the buttons, so I decided to come back later to try again.

Overall, I decided I didn’t really like the Hollywood Pictures Backlot. It tries to emulate Hollywood by pretending the buildings are sets, and the rest of the areas are working backlots, decorated with bare metal I-beams, large swaths of concrete, and poorly done waiting lines. Everything off the main street feels unfinished.

“Don’t be critical,” the Disney people would say, “It’s supposed to look like the backlot of a Hollywood studio, and show the reality behind the magic!” It just looks cheap to me. I want my fake Hollywood to be hyper-real!

…and by the way, they should either re-open the SuperStar Limo ride, or replace it with something else. I don’t know why they have a ride closed in a park that needs rides. Is it really so bad that it’s an embarrassment to operate?

So, now that tirade is off my chest, I decide to check out the rest of the park. But, I’m hungry so I backtrack back to the Taste Pilots Grill, and have a great chicken sandwich. They put some kind of sauce on it that was great.

Now, I don’t take the parks in order. I just wander around, taking it all in. There were also NO CROWDS AT ALL, so I didn’t have to wait I line for anything. I stopped by ‘It’s Tough to Be a Bug’. Just like Florida, but without the big Tree of Life overhead. I think it is the best 3D movie in the parks, even though I have a soft spot for the Muppets. I think the audience reaction, with all the laughing and screaming adds to the Bug experience.

I passed through the Farm area. Lame, lame, lame. I grew up on a farm, and my backyard was more interesting. At least we had a tire swing hanging from a rope.

Then I went into A Bugs Land. That is a nice looking area! I didn’t ride a thing because it was all definitely for small children, but it was nice just to look around at all the attention to detail. I especially liked the bug lights. Why? Because I’m easily amused.

I wandered through the Pacific Wharf area - just a food court. Lame, lame, lame. Call it a food court, because that’s what it is. I also didn’t like the backs of the buildings facing the center “performance corridor,” which is the main drag running through the park. Large areas along the route seemed very empty. Maybe it will better when the trees get bigger? I did actually enjoy the ridiculed tortilla-making exhibit! Anything than ends with free food is OK by me!

Now it was time to visit the Golden Dreams show in the San Francisco area. Quite possibly, this area was the worst themed area of any Disney Park I have ever seen. Not a ‘land,’ not even quite a street. Maybe the word ‘corner’ is the most descriptive. The Golden Dreams theatre was even loosely themed, with most of the plain building very visible. The movie itself was pretty good, with a few in-theatre effects. As others have said, it’s like a mini-version of The American Adventure at Epcot, with the ending montage being a California Clone of the Florida Finale (a little alliteration makes these long reports more interesting!) It was good, but I had no urge to see it again unless it was just starting as I was walking by.

I was now off to the most controversial area in the entire park: Paradise Pier. It sure looked pretty from a distance, so it was time to find out for myself what all the fuss was about.

First ride was the ‘Maliboomer’. The ‘Maliboomer’ is 3 tall towers, on which you are strapped in a seat and shot up the side. I liked it, but it was the same attraction found at other parks. There is a recording of a beach dude saying, “Welcome to the Maaaal-eh-Booooooomer!” I think I heard that in my sleep for a week. Again, hardly any line, and it had a single rider line, so I rode again, and was put on immediately.

So far, the Pier was neutral. Not bad yet. I walked back to the ‘Orange Stinger’, and there was NO line, so I jumped on. Whoopee…A chair swing…in a giant orange. Call your friends and family and tell them to get to California to ride a stupid chair swing! Yes, it’s the most elaborately decorated chair swing I’ve ever seen, but c’mon!!!! …and the ride only lasted 45 seconds or minute? Lame, lame, lame…

Then, the ‘Golden Zephyr’. Whoopee…another swing ride. It was more fun than the Orange Stinger, because you aren’t in a giant orange, and there are no doors. It just had a little cheap plastic belt similar to a life vest with a plastic clip. Not as lame, but not good.

Paradise Pier was loosing me, and falling into the negative category. Time to clear my head with a trip on the ‘Grizzly River Run’. It was going to get too cold to ride soon, so I decided it was time to try it, get wet, and go change my clothes.

Well, happy to report that it is a perfectly acceptable white water raft ride. Yes, I’ve ridden better, but I really liked the theming. You can’t deny that the Grizzly Mountain is a nice piece of fake rockwork! Also, I am happy to report that I didn’t get too wet, although the nice Australian family in the next seats did.

I used the back-entrance to California Adventure (in the route 66 area) to quickly head back to the hotel, change into warmer dry clothes, and head back to the park. The special entrance to California Adventure for Paradise Pier hotel guests is really a nice small perk! You can get to your room in minutes.

Mulholland Madness is right near the hotel park entrance, so I stood in the single rider line, and quickly got a seat. Hmmm…not much to this ride. I thought it would be better if they built it in a building, and you rode most of it in the dark. There was zip to zero theming once on the ride, except for a few road signs screwed onto the metal framing. Ok, I admit it! It was lame too!

I decided it was time to kick it up a notch and ride ‘California Screamin’, and I am pleased to announce this is a very nice roller coaster. Some are bigger, some are loopier, some are scarier, but it was nice smooth ride. I think what sent it over the top for me was the soundtrack that plays during the ride. It fits just perfectly the feel of the coaster! I liked it so well, I rode it again. No line.

I hadn’t yet gone on the giant ‘Sun Wheel’, and the line looked short, so I jumped in line. They put me in a car with two women, and we were chatting so much, we forgot that we weren’t in a stationary car. Suddenly, after we gone up about a 1/3 of the way, the car went SWOOSH and headed down it’s track, swinging back and forth. The women screamed, and I laughed. I thought the wheel was fun!

Now, I was waiting for the ‘Electrical Parade’, so I had to kill twenty minutes. So, I rode the ‘Maliboomer’ again twice, and walked by the ‘Orange Stinger’, with no line, and rode it again. Yes, I hate it, but when there is no one waiting its just goes against my theme-park ethic to pass it up. What was funny was the ride operators had gone through a position change, and the greeter said, “You’re the guy who was just on the ‘Maliboomer’?!” I can imagine it wasn’t hard to get to know everyone in the park personally that day, since it felt like there were only a few dozen of us!

I then walked the length of the ‘performance corridor’ to the front of the park to catch the ‘Electrical Parade’. Disneyland was open 2 hours later than California Adventure, so I thought it would be the easiest and closest way to beat the crowds to be near the exit once the parade was over.

Well, it worked perfectly. The lights dimmed, the music started, the people clapped, the parade came by, everyone had a wonderful time, the parade finished, and I rushed to the exit and beat the crowd. That is a nice thing about going alone is you don’t have to drag anyone behind you! By the way, the parade was very good as always. I had been at Disneyland during the “Glowing Away Forever” campaign, and actually believed them when they said it was going away forever. My fault for trusting the same management who thought it was a good idea to make “Cinderella II”.

My thoughts on my first day experiencing California Adventure… it’s OK. Parts are very good (Soarin’), parts are mediocre (Pacific Warf), and parts are ‘What were you thinking?!?’ (Orange Stinger). My hope is that parts of the park are meant to have a short life, and be replaced over the next few years with better attractions and better theming. I miss the immersive feel that the other parks work so hard to achieve. While in DCA, I always seemed aware of the world outside the park.

Back to the story… where were we? Oh yes….

It was about 8:15, and I dashed across the esplanade, and into Disneyland. I always forget how much better the park is at night! I decided I would do ‘Small World Holiday’ again, one last time before it was gone for the year. It was just like it was this morning, but the lights were on outside. For some odd reason, my camera actually took some decent nighttime pictures of the exterior with the multicolor lights. Usually, I just end up with a blurry mess.

In quick succession, I did ‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride’, and ‘Pinocchio’. The dark rides are so much better in Disneyland than DisneyWorld. I think it’s because they use more dimensional characters and sets. To be honest, the loss of ‘Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride’ in Florida is fine by me, because the California version is much better. I’d be upset if they removed all the Toad rides, but I’m glad they kept the good one.

Now, I was trying to find something to eat. You would think that at Disneyland it would be easy. But everything was closed. Everything in Fantasyland: closed. Frontierland: closed. New Orleans Square: closed. A lady at a snack bar said the only ‘real food’ restaurant was the Plaza Inn at the hub that served fried chicken meals. I’d eaten there on my last trip, and didn’t want anything that heavy, so I decided to find something later outside the park. I think it’s crazy there wasn’t more ‘real food’ places open. I guess the crowds were so low it didn’t pay to have more than a couple of restaurants running.

For my final ride of the day, I chose ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. Excellent ride. Because it was late, the crowds were low and I was alone, I had a boat all to myself. It was a weird sensation to ride through alone, sitting in a little boat between a battling pirate ship and a fort. You look around and think “Boy, they’re wasting a lot of electricity and fake fog just for me!” Last time I’d been to Disneyland, I’d ridden Pirates with just me in the front of the boat, and an amorous couple sitting in the back. They appeared to be doing something normally only done in private, but I decided it was best not to turn around and find out for sure.

The park was closing, and they were politely asking everyone to leave, so I headed to the Monorail Station in Tomorrowland. I’d never ridden the Monorail in California before, and was surprised to see they were smaller (shorter in height). From the ground they look the same size! It zipped out of Disneyland, through California Adventure behind a bunch of buildings, and through the Grand Californian Hotel, and within a couple minutes, it dropped me off in Downtown Disney.

I decided to walk over to the Disneyland Hotel, to see what had been done there with the recent ongoing remodeling, and if I could find something, ANYTHING to eat. It was about the same as a few years back, and the Croc Bites snack bar was closed. So, I walked back to my hotel and grabbed the car keys to find a place to eat outside Disneyland.

Here was one of my big “What are they thinking?” things of the trip. At DisneyWorld, there is no need to ever go off property. There are lots of choices to get something to eat, up until very late at night. They bend over backwards to get your money. Here, it was 10pm or so, and I couldn’t find anything to eat. I’d already eaten at the Jazz Kitchen, and I didn’t want fried chicken from Disneyland, so I was in my car LEAVING. I was TAKING MY MONEY TO GIVE IT TO SOMEONE BESIDES DISNEY. I would prefer to give them my money! That doesn’t happen in Florida. After driving around in circles a bit, I ended up at McDonald’s across from Disneyland on Harbor Boulevard eating cold fries. Some way to end the day….

By the way, when I drove back to the hotel, they checked my trunk again.

I was surprised to see they had turn down service at the hotel! They had turned down the beds, turned the radio on to a jazz station, and left chocolate on my pillow! It’s nice having touches like that I didn’t expect.

And thus ends day two and the Happiest Place on Earth.

Day 3, Monday January 13
Disneyland, California Adventure

Well, I woke up about 8:30, and it was another foggy day. But again, the sun was trying to break through.

It was actually my birthday, and I had decided to spend the majority of it at Disneyland. But I wanted to see the ‘Aladdin’ show, so I planned for a mid-day break at California Adventure. I’d seen castmembers passing out ‘Aladdin’ FASTPASS/Reservation Tickets under the Golden Gate Bridge in DCA, so I decided to head there first.

So, by 10am, I was at the back door of California Adventure, and walked through the park to the front where I could snag a ticket. I picked one up for an afternoon show with no hassle, and walked out the gate over to Disneyland. Possibly the shortest time I’d ever spent in a park (maybe 10 minutes).

Once in Disneyland, I noticed again that there were extremely low crowds. I had picked the dates to capitalize on that fact, but it seemed almost excessively empty. So, rather than running directly to a big E-ticket attraction, I decided to do some shopping. Shopping in the morning is a big no-no if you are in commando mode park visiting, but there was no one there! I was looking for monkeys for my niece’s birthday, and Adventureland features a great selection.

Well, right across from the monkey store was ‘Indiana Jones Adventure’. Wait time was zero, so I decided this was how I would start my day. This ride is very good! I like it every time I ride. On my last trip, there had been some non-functioning effects, but this time everything seemed to be working, except for one dark room where nothing happened. You just sit there and listen to scratchy bug noises. Hmmm… wonder what we’re supposed to be doing? Maybe that’s it!?? But a good ride anyway.

Then, onto ‘Splash Mountain’. Again, no wait…at all…none…and it’s nearly noon. The Florida incarnation seems brighter, bigger, and fresher. But it was still good, and I didn’t get too wet!

Now that it was time for lunch, I was hoping I’d have better luck finding something to eat than the night before in Disneyland. I’d seen in the guidebook that at The Golden Horseshoe, Billy Hill and the Hillbillies were to perform. They served lunch, so that would be a good option. For those of you who have never had to eat alone often, it is a blessing to have something to watch or read while you eat. Since I didn’t have a newspaper to read during lunch, a Hillbilly show seemed to be a great alternative!

Well, like everything else, the theatre was mostly empty. I got a hamburger and fries, and took in the show. I loved it! There were maybe 30 people watching the show, but the performers didn’t seem to mind the small crowd. They did comedy and music, and the audience clapped extra loud to make up for our small size. I would highly recommend The Golden Horseshoe for a great way to do lunch. (Actually, the food was kinda bad, but the show was great)

Being in the old west, I had an urge to ride the ‘Disneyland Railroad’. So I headed over to the train station, and got “all aboard”. The train ride was nice, even though I realized I was riding in a cattle car. I hoped they weren’t taking us to market, although that would explain the weird hamburger they served me for lunch. Again, the comparison to DisneyWorld cannot be avoided. I was surprised to learn again how much of the Disneyland train ran through tunnels and buildings and through exposed backstage areas. However, they do their best to dress it up, and even though it’s corny and makes no sense, the Grand Canyon Diorama and Primeval World are fun.

After a complete tour, I headed over to Tomorrowland. ‘Star Tours’ had no wait, so I decided to take a space flight. This ride needs some updating. It just doesn’t do it for me anymore.

Since there were no lines, I decided to take advantage of the fact and do ‘Autopia’. Normally, I wouldn’t bother, but I wanted to see the updated track and theming. Plus, it’s different from the Florida version (Indy 500 theme). Well, the line was longer than it looked (I had to wait 10 minutes! Outrage!) but the ride was fun. There were lots of humorous touches in the signage and statuary. I can see why it’s still popular.

It was time to head over to the ‘Aladdin’ show at DCA. They’d told me to get in line 45 minutes early. Well, I’m not one to follow directions, and I know that when you’re a single, you can always squeeze into some good seat at the last minute. So, I arrived about 15 min before the stated time, and got in line.

I wish the Hyperion Theatre had a lobby. They make you wait outside in a cattle pen, and then you get ushered inside in a rather disorganized manner. I had chosen to sit on the main floor, so I could be up close. I got a seat dead center about 5 rows back.

The theatre seemed very nice, although spare on the interior decoration. Again, it was using the “We’re-a-Hollywood-backlot-so-it’s-Ok-if-it-looks-unfinished” theme. But, the theatre was very large, and very comfortable.

The show started, and it was good! I’d heard they were trying to do a Broadway caliber production, and they didn’t achieve it, but it was still very good. Some of the numbers, like Aladdin’s entrance into the city, and the “Friend Like Me” number were very well done with great costumes and choreography. I design sets, so I especially liked the large colorful sets. The show moved along quickly, and hit all the highlights of the movie, plus added a few of it’s own.

Overall, I thought the show was probably one of the best live shows I’d ever seen at a Disney park. Years ago at the Disney MGM Studios, they had a show called ‘Dick Tracey’s Crime Stoppers,’ which I always loved. Before or after work at DisneyWorld, I used to stand in the back of the ampitheatre and watch the show. It was Disney’s early attempts at upping the quality of their theme park shows to something beyond people in mice costumes dancing to a pre-recorded track. I thought ‘Aladdin’ was the next step in the continuation of that trend. The production values were very high, and I think it was a very good addition to the park.

As I was leaving, I thought I’d better do ‘Soarin’ Over California’ again while there were no lines. Again, I really enjoyed it. I could do that ride all day!

Time to head back to Disneyland. First stop on this second stop in the park was ‘Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln’. I thought it was good. They use headsets, with special binaural sound, which was a little gimmicky, but it was nice they were trying something to extend the life of the show. You are now a visitor to Civil War photographer Matthew Brady’s studio. It would be shame to see the show completely removed.

Then, I was off to Fantasyland, and rode ‘Mr. Toad’, ‘Pinocchio’, ‘Snow White’, and the ‘Storybook Land Canal Boats’. Our canal boat was almost entirely young couples without kids, and they were in the right mood to have fun. So, it was a fun ride.

Time to head west; I jumped on ‘Big Thunder Mountain Railroad’. This ride seems so similar to the ride in Florida; it was hard to tell much difference. I think it might have a little smaller footprint, so the track runs a bit tighter, but overall the same.

It was now dark, and I wanted to try the ‘Jungle Cruise’. A good cruise is dependent on a good skipper, and my boat had a woman who did an OK job, but you could tell she’d been there all day. She did her best with the corny jokes and bad puns. I always wonder if this ride was originally scripted to be so sarcastic and corny, or if the current script is a result of evolving public taste. Obviously, the ride would be very bad, and probably gone, if the skippers acted as though what was along the riverbanks were real. But, maybe the audio animatronics were new and amazing enough when it first opened to actually impress.

‘Indiana Jones Adventure’ again had no line, so I had to do it again. Then I walked over to Tomorrowland to see the space exhibit (Not much there). I looked around the shops for gifts for my nieces and nephews.

It was a little after 6pm, and I was supposed to meet my friend Jim from L.A. for supper, and he was arriving at 7pm. So I headed back through Downtown Disney to the hotel. Jim worked with me at DisneyWorld in college, and had gone with me to the opening of EuroDisney, so he is knowledgeable about most things Disney. He hadn’t been to Disneyland since they had turned the parking lot into the second gate, so he was interested in seeing what had been done. Jim has lost some of his pixie dust (a term for people smitten by all things Disney), but was still impressed by the Grand Californian Hotel. The lobby is amazing, and he too noted that he’d never seen a marble floor designed to match a carpet (!).

There were no crowds, so after a quick tour around Downtown Disney and the hotel, I suggested supper at the ‘Storytellers Café’. It is a casual sit down restaurant at the Grand Californian. I had the swordfish, which was very good. The restaurant was very attractive, decorated in the arts and crafts style, and had many phrases by authors incorporated into the interior design.

Funny thing: our waitress asked me if I was a Disney castmember! I tend to be very friendly, and I guess she thought my behavior was Disney-like. Actually, I think I’m probably friendlier than most Disney employees, but I’ll take it as a compliment!

Which brings up another comparison between Disneyland and DisneyWorld. I think the Florida employees are friendlier. Not sure why, but my theory is that more of the California castmembers are people who see working in the park as just another job. My experience in Florida was that many of the employees were people who had moved to Orlando specifically to work at Disney. I worked with a lot of retired people who moved from colder climates, and lots of college students who had always wanted to work at DisneyWorld. So maybe the Florida castmembers are more emotionally attached to their jobs? I dunno.

After we ate, we wandered around Downtown Disney a bit more, and then Jim headed back up to L.A.

In returning to the room, I found that the turndown service had happened again, but they had also left a plate of Rice Krispy treats for me. They were in the shape of Mickey heads, with the ears dipped in chocolate. They had also had left a copy of Family Fun magazine and Disney Magazine. It was a nice simple surprise - usually referred to as a little Disney magic!

Thus ends day 3 in the Happiest Place on Earth.

Day 4, Tuesday, January 14
Disneyland, DCA

Originally, I’d planned on only spending 2 days at the Disneyland Resort, and the third day doing other things in Orange County. But, I was enjoying my time, so I decided to start at the parks, and see how the day developed.

I woke up again around 8:30am, and by 10am was at the back gate of DCA to snag an ‘Aladdin’ ticket. But, they weren’t giving out tickets, because the shows were probably going to be cancelled.

So, instead I walked back through the near empty park and rode ‘California Screamin’. Great way to start the day! Then, the ‘Maliboomer’ and ‘Mulholland Madness’.

It was near lunch, so like the previous day, I decided to go to the Golden Horseshoe over at Disneyland. Today ‘The Golden Horseshoe Variety Show’ was performing, so it would be different than the previous day. I ordered a hot dog, sat down again with a very small audience, and caught the show. It was very, very good. Possibly, it will be one of the happiest lasting memories of my trip. The guys who do the show do very good, using simple humor, which for some reason I found very appealing. It was just a mix of dumb jokes, music, and silly magic acts. I was sitting there thinking, “I want their job!”

After the show, I headed over to ‘Peter Pan’s Flight’, even though the lines had been short everywhere else, ‘Peter Pan’ had always been long. Any experienced Disney guest knows that! But it was shorter than usual (only a 10 minute wait), so I grabbed a ride over London.

Then, onto ‘Space Mountain’ (crowd so low I had an entire car/train to myself), ‘Honey I Shrunk the Audience’, ‘Splash Mountain’, ‘Indiana Jones Adventure’, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, ‘The Disney Gallery’ (art gallery currently showing artwork about the Haunted Mansion) and ‘Tarzan’s Treehouse’.

Then, while passing by the ‘Enchanted Tiki Room’, I noticed a show would be starting soon. So I headed in. Hmmm… the show in Florida had been updated because people used to walk out in the middle of the show. Singing birds just don’t hold most people’s attention anymore. DisneyWorld added Iago from ‘Aladdin’ as a new “manager” and some other theatre effects and animatronics. Well, this show hadn’t been updated. It was sadly dated. I guess I enjoy it because I know the history, and how it had been the first show of it’s kind, etc. But most people don’t know all that, so it just seems like a dumb singing bird show. I’ve often wondered if it would better as elaborate themeing for a restaurant?

At some point during the afternoon, I was in Toontown, and after wandering through Mickey’s house, I ended up in his movie barn waiting to meet him in person. I normally avoid character interaction, because a) It’s just me, b) I feel stupid, and c) I think its weird. But there I was, so I might as well.

I was ushered into the room and there he was! Mickey Mouse! He was dressed up as the orchestra conductor from one of his early-animated shorts. Mickey’s assistant offered to take our picture. That’s when it got a little…well…weird. Not bad weird, just weird. While she was taking our picture, Mickey was rubbing my back, up and down, and up and down, and up and down. Mickey seemed to really like me! So, I ended up with a really nice picture of Mickey and me, and a memory seared in my brain of a mouse with big white gloves lovingly rubbing my back!

I walked back to DCA to see if ‘Aladdin’ was going to have any performances. The answer was no. It was still officially in previews, so I guess I couldn’t complain.

Instead, I walked over to the Golden Vine Winery and wandered into the ‘Seasons of the Vine’ show. They cast member working the show seemed surprised to have a guest, he invited me into the theatre, and I got a showing all to myself. It was actually very well, done, and it described the various activities in a winery throughout the year. It was about the 5th attraction I’d experienced all alone while on the trip. This was the lightest attendance I’d ever seen.

It was getting cold, so after a quick trip to the hotel to change clothes, I headed back over to Disneyland on the Monorail from Downtown Disney. I hoped to find supper, earlier in the day I noticed most of the restaurants were open. Well, by the time supper came around, they were all closed! ARGH! Why do they make it so hard to eat in this park!! Mexican - closed! French - closed! I ended up eating the Plaza Inn, and had the chicken dinner I didn’t want. But the portions were large. Plus you could get free drink refills. I don’t think they have free anything in Florida!

I had to eat quickly, because the ‘Parade of Stars’ was going to start soon. I normally avoid the parades, because that’s the best time to ride the rides with short lines. Since there were no lines, I might as well see a parade. The crowds were so low; I was able to grab a front row seat on a bench near the castle by King Tritons’ Garden.

The parade was OK. It highlighted all the various characters, using nice floats and lots of guest interaction. But, it didn’t pack the punch of the ‘Electrical Parade’, or other events known as the “kiss goodnight.” Those are events that send the guest home smiling, like ‘Fantasmic’ or the Fireworks show. The parade was more of a “pat on the head” goodnight.

Well, I had about and hour left on my final night in Disneyland, so I rode ‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘Mr. Toad’, and ‘Snow White’ in rapid succession with no line. Then, I rode ‘Big Thunder’, and finally decided on a stuffed monkey for my niece. I bumped into a manager who had talked to me the day before, asking if I had ever found that monkey I was looking for. I was surprised that she remembered me! But again there weren’t that many people there!

The park was closing in 5 minutes so I dashed over to ‘Indiana Jones Adventure’ for my last ride of the night. I was in the second to last car of the night. I thought it was a nice way to end my final night at the Disneyland Resort.

After lingering/loitering in the emporium on Main Street after the park had closed (shops on Main Street stay open about an hour after the park closes) I finally walked out under the train station, and left the Happiest Place on Earth. It always makes me sad to leave the park for last time.

I consoled myself by wandering around Downtown Disney and the ESPN Zone. And I finished up my gift shopping at the World of Disney store.

I headed back to the hotel, and went to bed, with the lights of Paradise Pier glowing outside my window.

Thus ends Day 4 at the Happiest Place on Earth.

Day 5, 6, 7, 8

I checked out of the Paradise Pier hotel on Wednesday morning, and headed out to the real world up in L.A. Goodbye view!

It had been mentioned at check in about the Expedia reservation not including “resort fees.” This was a charge of $8 per day of my hotel stay for the privilege of staying in the hotel and parking my car. Yup, I was at Disneyland! They always have their hand in you pocket!

Because this is a Disney Trip report, I’ll skip the next 4 days. But the highlights of the days for those of you visiting Southern California were:

1. The Grove Shopping Area in Hollywood/L.A.
2. The New Cathedral in Downtown L.A.
3. Santa Monica Pier and 3rd Street Promenade
4. Arc Light Cinema in Hollywood (the best place to see a movie)
5. Hollywood and Highland Complex
6. Santa Barbara
7. Santa Barbara Museum of Art
8. Amoeba Music
9. Pig and Whistle Restaurant in Hollywood
10. Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood
11. Old Town Pasadena
12. Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena
13. Mel’s Drive-In on Sunset

Also, I got cast as an extra in a ‘1-800 Dentist’ commercial. I’ll be coming soon to the small screen near you!

Day 9, Sunday January 19
Bonus trip back to Disneyland

Well, my plane was leaving LAX at 1am on Monday morning, and it was about 6pm on Sunday night, so I had some time to kill. “Hmmm,” I thought, “I have 2 more days left on my park pass, and it’s only about 45 minutes to the airport from Disneyland, so why not!”

So, I headed back to Disneyland for my final night. I parked in the Downtown Disney lot, because you get 3 hours of parking for free, and I thought I’d only be there that long. I decided there were a few favorite things I wanted to do again, so I’d go to both parks.

I went in the main gate of California Adventure, and my first thought was WHAT HAPPENED? The place was packed! People everywhere! I went first to ‘Soarin’ over California’, and there was a 2 hour wait! And they weren’t taking Single Riders in the single rider line! Plus, all the FASTPASSES were gone! RATS!! Skip that!

So I walked over to Paradise Pier. ‘California Screamin’ (they seemed to have lost a ‘g’ on a lot of rides in this park) and it had a 45 minute wait! ARGH! So, I walked over to the ‘Maliboomer’, which had a single rider line, and rode it twice in quick succession. Then I jumped in the single rider line at ‘Mulholland Madness’.

But there were people EVERYWHERE! Then I figured it out… it was a holiday weekend! Martin Luther King day was Monday, and this was Sunday, so not only was there the larger weekend crowd, but it was a holiday weekend crowd. Lines were long, but it was still nice to just be there.

The ‘Electrical Parade’ was about to start; I headed to the main entrance, so when it ended, I could dash over to Disneyland. It was very “Electrical” as usual, and I said goodbye to DCA.

Well, Disneyland was packed, of course, and all the FASTPASSES for everything were gone. Using my finely tuned theme park skills, I decided to focus on rides that loads lots of people quickly and usually had no lines. That means one ride: ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. And of course, it had no line.

I also decided during my 4 day absence from Disneyland that my niece probably already has similar monkeys to the one I bought her, I decided to return the one I’d spent 3 days looking for earlier in the week. It was the first time I’d ever returned anything at a Disney park, and I’m happy to report it was totally painless. Then of course, I bought more stuff for myself!

I had about a ½ hour left, before I had to head to the airport. I walked by the information ride time location to see if anything had a short wait time. As I was leaving, the lady hosting the booth said, “Are you a single rider? because I have a single FASTPASS left for ‘Indiana Jones’!” Yes! I guess the booth has a few fastpasses to give away to guests to use throughout the day.

So, my final ride of the trip ended up being ‘Indiana Jones Adventure’. It was a nice way to end the trip, getting attacked by giant snakes, rats, and poisoned arrows. After the ride, I dawdled again in the Emporium, and actually left a little later than I had planned. Goodbye Disneyland!

I arrived at the airport, returned the car, and got to the waiting area about 15 minutes before they began loading the plane. The plane left on time, and in a few short hours I was back in the cold Midwest, where mice don’t wear white gloves, and our Main Street is mostly empty and lined with gas stations.

It was a good trip!


To wrap it up, the big question is: How is Disney’s California Adventure? Is it a good addition to the whole resort? My answer: It’s fine. Not great, and not nearly as bad as I had imagined after reading all the dour things written about it on various websites.

It seems to be a good start to something that will eventually turn out to be a good park. It reminds me of the early days of the Disney MGM Studios Park, which started as a whole lot of nothing, and has over the last 10 years become a nice park.

However, DCA will have to overcome a rather limiting theme (California) that has little appeal. I’m not sure why a park has to have a theme anyway. I don’t think of Disneyland having an overall theme, but rather themed by lands. Walt seemed smart enough to make the lands varied enough to hold anything he wanted. DCA doesn’t seem to have that luxury.

Also, Downtown Disney is a very nice complex. It adds a strong nighttime component to the resort experience.

As far as the hotels go, besides the Grand Californian, they pale in comparison the experience and value you get from the resorts in Florida. If you haven’t stayed at a Disney resort in Florida, you wouldn’t understand how special they are.

Overall, I like the expansion of the resort. The clutter is gone around the park in Anaheim, and the entire area has become a much more appealing destination. I think there is still a lot of work to do to make it an attractive vacation spot for people outside of the Southwest, but it’s an excellent start.

Will I go back? Hmmm… maybe a day trip to Disneyland while in L.A., but not an extended-stay like this trip. California Adventure needs a few years to find it’s place and add some unique attractions, then I’ll return.


* Upgrade to a park view room at the Paradise Pier Hotel.
* Extremely, ridiculously low crowd levels for the first 3 days.
* Soarin’ Over California, California Screamin’ Roller Coaster, Animation Exhibit, Indy, Pirates (all good, unique rides)
* Aladdin on Stage at California Adventure
* Shows at the Golden Horseshoe in Frontierland


* Closed Restaurants
* Extremely high attendance on 4th evening
* Stupid Carnival Rides at California Adventure
* Lack of original rides at DCA. Most recycled from Florida parks.
* Charged a resort fee at Paradise Pier. Yes, Disney is too greedy. I’m OK with it, as long as they use the money to make it a better place to visit.

Lessons Learned:

* Ask for a room upgrade!
* Without a discount, Disneyland Hotels may not be a good value.
* Don’t visit on holiday weekends
* Go during the slow time of year, and you’ll get to do a lot more!

See you next time!
Steven Varble