Somehow, I manage to get out to Disneyland about twice a year. It’s never for as long as I’d like, though usually enough to catch up on whatever has changed. My latest Anaheim fly-by was just this past week, on a delightful Sunday and equally pleasant Monday. This would be my last visit before Disney California Adventure’s transformation wraps up (and is unwrapped) in June, and I could barely wait to see how things were progressing. I’d set Monday aside for DCA, based on the time I had each day, though on reflection, Sunday at Disneyland Park? Was I nuts?
I arrived in Anaheim a tad later on Sunday than I’d hoped, after a long brunch with family down in Costa Mesa (the 55 north to the 5, exit at Disney Way, park in Puumba). I’d left my admission purchase until the last minute, as I hadn’t been sure what my schedule would allow. Big mistake! It took a half-hour to make my way through the queue at the ticket booths! Come on, Southern Californians, buy a resident annual pass already (it’s such a deal!), and leave the ticket booth to out-of-towners.
And that was just the start. I was expecting a typical, fair-weather weekend madhouse, and mad turned out to be an understatement. By the time I’d made it to Town Square I was ready to duck for cover. It’d been a while since I’d last seen Mr. Lincoln (first time was in ’64 at the NY World’s Fair), so I slipped into the Opera House to see the latest Animatronic re-animation of the Great Emancipator. Mr. President has all-new clockworks, and the results are better than ever. I can’t be sure, but I think he was tapping his finger in time to the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
I stepped back into the sunlight and nearly stumbled over the Main Street Strawhatters, playing their hearts out on trumpet, trombone, clarinet, snare drum, banjo, and tuba. It’s just not Main Street without live music, so I had to stop and groove for a bit. Finally, I made my way down the street past the construction screens hiding the Carnation Café expansion project (and former Blue Ribbon Bakery), past the new Jolly Holiday Bakery (on the old Plaza Pavilion premises), then over to Tomorrowland for Star Tours, hoping for a FASTPASS. I had a 7:00 pm dinner date near the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, so an 8:40 pm FASTPASS Return for Star Tours just wouldn’t do. I wandered over to Space Mountain and copped a 5:30 pm FP instead. Then, back to Star Tours Standby.
While I’m not complaining, it so happened that MousePlanet was holding the first of two springtime MouseAdventures (they have a fall edition, too). This is MousePlanet’s legendary team scavenger-quest around Disneyland Park – Jennifer and I competed once, back when they had only one springtime Adventure (nothing succeeds like success). There were dozens of four-person teams with clipboards, clues, and ID cards hanging from their necks, crisscrossing the park, pausing every so often to confer and ponder the next clue. As a dedicated theme park scavenger hunter, I just had to smile, but I wonder how many tens of thousands of park visitors were totally puzzled?
Would you believe I hadn’t experienced the new Star Tours at either Walt Disney World or Disneyland? I had to make up for that, and am I glad I did, despite 60 minutes of creeping along in the standby queue. I once rode the old Star Tours at Walt Disney World 24 times in one day (Star Tours Marathon during Star Wars Weekends, way back when). If all they’d done was replace the old, gritty analog video with digital high-def (which they did), I’d have been happy, so toss in the quality of the 3-D effects, greatly improved motion simulation, and the new story lines, and I was over the moon (of Endor) with happiness. They say that the new, randomized story system can produce 54 different “tours.” Well, 2 down (I rode again on Monday), 52 to go. Bring back the Star Tours Marathon! Now, if they would only award frequent flyer miles…
By the time I’d re-emerged into the sunlight of Planet Earth the queue for Finding Nemo Subs was way too long. So, I made my way over to my favorite Disneyland land, New Orleans Square, to catch the New Orleans Bayou Bash, four, three-day weekends and one five-day “weekend” of Mardi Gras (to paraphrase Pogo, for those who remember former Disney animator Walt Kelly’s comic strip, Fat Tuesday falls on a Sunday this month). No land knows better how to party than New Orleans Square, whether in the fall for the Halloween-through-New Years decorations and Haunted Mansion Holiday, or, as it turns out, in late February and early March. The jazz bands, including the Royal Street Bachelors, are out in force, making the Square even more musical than usual. Characters wear Mardi Gras garb, Princess Tiana and friends sing and dance up a storm down by the riverside, and the restaurants serve-up a bunch of special menu items. Oooh weee!
There was extra madness to my method – I can’t leave New Orleans Square without a visit to the Pirates and the Grim Grinning Ghosts – neither of those queues took more than 45 minutes, not too shabby, all things considered. After that, I wended my way through Frontierland and into Fantasyland the long way, back behind Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Which Fantasyland dark ride would I sample this time? It had to be unique to Disneyland… Mr. Toad? Pinocchio? Even Snow White will be unique soon, as Walt Disney World’s version is set to close at the end of May. Well, the queue length at Alice in Wonderland was neither too tall or too small, and I’d recently seen the Tim Burton movie, so down the rabbit hole I went. By the time I emerged, it was time for my very important date with Space Mountain. So, I was off, past the scaffolding-clad Matterhorn, another example of the mountain of construction work going on in Anaheim.
I thought it was called FASTPASS, but by late Sunday afternoon, even the FASTPASS queue at Space Mountain was backed-up for 20 minutes. All was forgiven, though, because I just love that fast ride in the dark, especially after its 2003-2005 re-build. I was still grinning as I headed out of the park and caught the bus back to the Puumba parking lot.
Next installment… DCA Monday!