Disneyland with Daffystardust! (Part Two)
After spending most of our first full day in Anaheim in Disney’s California Adventure, day 2 was earmarked for a full-out assault on Walt’s original park, Disneyland! Having seen the crazy crowds from the night before, I was braced for extraordinarily long lines and some mildly claustrophobic conditions, but I was definitely excited about spending significant time in Disneyland for the first time since I was in preschool.
Once again we will be joined in spots by my sister-in-law Tara. You’ll find her contributions in “quoted” sections. Thanks for playing along, Tara!
My Brother’s family let me put together our initial touring plan, and I had what I thought was a very reasonable approach to the morning already mapped out. Then a couple of unexpected things happened. First, I started to second-guess my initial decision to have us grab our breakfast on the go at Jolly Holiday Bakery after our first couple of rides. I’m sure this approach would have suited most of us just fine, and it would have kept us moving during those key early hours when lines are shorter, but I had not factored in the picky eater in our group. When I looked at the breakfast menu at Jolly Holiday again on my phone that morning, nothing there looked like it would appeal to my nephew, so I made the decision to change that plan at the last minute. Almost literally at the last minute. We were already inside Disneyland’s gates, but the ropes into the different lands had not dropped yet. Carnation Cafe is a pretty unanimous favorite among Disneyland locals, so I went onto the Disney website and searched for an 8:30am table for 4 there and made the reservation on my phone while I stood there waiting to power walk towards Space Mountain. It was that easy. I can’t imagine having that much success with last-minute reservations to a fan favorite restaurant at Disney World.
I don’t think there’s any way you could have done that at WDW. It is getting harder and harder to get reservations there. I was lucky to get lunch reservations for our Labor Day trip ..but at Hollywood Studios…not Magic Kingdom.
I was disappointed that there was no opening show at the Magic Kingdom side of Disneyland. One of my best and favorite memories of WDW is taking JD there for the first time when he was not quite 3 and watching his face as the songs began on the train platform and then when the train came down the track and Mickey Mouse got off. I’ve probably seen that show 10 times since then and I still get goosebumps. I would have thought that Disneyland would have one as well. So, there’s a point in Disney World’s column.”
Our first concern was experiencing the west coast version of Space Mountain, which I had been told would become a very long wait if we didn’t knock it out early.
Space Mountain is one of those Disney attractions that is iconic enough to be represented in multiple parks around the world. In addition to its iterations in Florida and California, there are versions in Paris, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. Any time that’s the case, Disney parks fans will always want to know which one is the best, especially here in the U.S. where you’ve got Anaheim fans and Orlando fans stumping for their own sentimental favorite. On the previous day we had only really duplicated Soarin’ which is also at Epcot in Florida. We had decided to skip the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in California Adventure in order to get our late afternoon break (from what I understand, the WDW version is better anyway) and we never do the Bugs show at Animal Kingdom to begin with.
We all agreed that the newly refurbished Soarin’ Over California was technically superior to its Florida cousin, but it was still pretty much the same ride. As someone who demands execution as well as inspiration I still say that is a point in Anaheim’s favor, but we didn’t really start comparing in earnest until we had ridden Space Mountain
There’s not much to see in that video, but trust me, this was another score in the Disneyland column. Some riders prefer the single seat row rockets in Disney World, but I don’t really see either seat configuration as a definitive advantage. For me, what set Disneyland’s Space Mountain apart were its lighting and effects. Those red lights you see above move slowly in a semi-circular path from one side to the other, creating a slightly disorienting effect that causes the rider to think he is tipping to the right. This effect sets you on your heels a bit and makes the plunge into deep dark space that comes just moments later all the more thrilling. It had this effect on me on both of my rides on this trip, and the follow-up ride in the front seat made the surrounding stars during the dark space portion of the ride pop into view even better. A slow down from hyper speed accompanied by fatter traveling lights is also a finale that is at least as good as what you get in Florida. I can’t remember the last time I couldn’t wait to get back on Space Mountain.
I loved the graphics in the tunnel and the optical illusion of tilting. I really felt like we were turning upside down. One thing I noticed that was missing at Disneyland was the interactive video game section of the queue. For rides that have long stand by waits, it really does make your time seem to go by faster. I thought the overall ride at Disneyland was smoother…which is something I appreciate since the jerkier rides tend to give me headaches that can ruin my day. Also, the last several times we have ridden Space Mountain at Disney World there’s been one light on that sort of ruins the whole deep space effect. Not sure if there’s an ongoing maintenance issue or if it’s just an oversight. Although, I will say that I’ve always wanted to ride Space Mountain with the lights on…just to see what it looks like.”
The second thing that happened to upend my original touring plan for the day was the unexpected temporary closure of the Indiana Jones ride. Since this meant that FastPasses were not available, we were going to have to toggle forward on our list once we were done with breakfast at Carnation Cafe. We made the walk from the rear of Tomorrowland to the heart of Main Street U.S.A. with a speed that we’re not used to at Disney World, but we were seated pretty quickly even though we were a little early for our 8:30am reservations. We waited a little for my Brother to return with our next FastPasses to Splash Mountain, but once he returned we were able to place our orders and we received our food reasonably quickly. That’s when I looked up and saw someone I recognized addressing me.
It’s a little strange to recognize someone you’ve never met or had any communication with. Oscar Martinez has been working at Disneyland since 1956 (59 years!), its second year of operation and has been at Carnation Cafe since 1967, the year my older Brother was born. I’d read a couple of profiles of him on Disney fan sites, so I knew who he was and asked if I could have a photo with him and he obliged immediately. He sat and we talked for several minutes. He told me about his experience moving to California from Arkansas as a young man with his longtime girlfriend who later became his wife and about how busy and crowded everything seemed to him there at the time. The noise of the restaurant threatened to drown out his voice, but I was able to lean in and understand what Oscar was telling me. Just google his name and you will read countless stories of how Oscar has made people’s visits to Disneyland special with a kind word and a smile, or even in one case an impromptu cooking lesson. He is one of those unique things that make Disneyland a great place.
I was amazed that you knew so much about who Oscar was. I had no idea, but he was fascinating to meet and listen to. He has literally seen it all at that park. I really couldn’t hear much of what he was saying and wish I could have. I’m so glad he took the time to sit down with us and visit. I chose my standard “If it’s on the menu, I’m ordering it” breakfast of eggs benedict and it was fabulous. I have not had the pleasure of having breakfast in the park at WDW since we normally grab something at the resort before we go or in the car on the way, so this was a rare treat for me and I was way more relaxed about it…especially since Mike had gone to get the fast passes!”
The meal at the Carnation Cafe was delicious too, with Oscar’s own potato recipe serving as a highlight. So often with a standard breakfast you will get “home fries,” which are potato chunks that never really appeal to me, but these were thinly sliced potatoes in a thin savory sauce that I devoured completely and happily. None of the regular eggs and meat breakfasts I’ve eaten at Disney World have been nearly as satisfying as what I got that morning, and I for one, was really glad I’d changed our plans. But it was time to get moving again!
Our next target was Splash Mountain and we had FastPasses in hand. They might have saved us three or four minutes in line because even with our full sit down meal the park had not yet started to really fill up, but I am never one to scoff at three minutes saved. Splash Mountain itself, while having some small differences from the Disney World version (the animals mourning for Brer Rabbit was kind of odd), was still a fun ride that checks off just about every box in what you want from a theme park attraction. It has dynamite theming, a lot of charming audio animatronics, great music, and some decent thrills. This is truly a great attraction no matter which version you prefer. The only possible negative is if you don’t want to get wet, and thankfully despite some indication that might be a concern, we all walked off of Splash Mountain without truly significant soaking. I think we called this one a draw in the grand scheme of things.
With Indiana Jones still down, we ended up back over at the Haunted Mansion since Tara had not ridden it with us the night before and I had made no attempt at capturing it by camera at all. The line wasn’t much longer than the walk-on it had been Tuesday night. I think I may be in the minority overall in preferring the exterior of Disneyland’s Mansion, which was based visually on the Shipley Lydecker house that once stood in Baltimore, Maryland.
I do think that the exterior of Walt Disney World’s is better. It is designed to look like a large estate…and looks the part. I thought it is also spookier looking that Disneyland’s.”
The Mansion’s outside is not its only difference when comparing it in Florida and California. A Mansion fan starts noticing things as soon as they walk in the front door. The entry lobby in Disneyland is smaller and does not feature the changing portrait which is in the WDW entry lobby. Some other differences appear once the stretching room goes into action. For one, in Disneyland the room is actually an elevator, meaning that the room is moving down as it reveals more wall and the paintings extend to show humorously morbid fates for their subjects, whereas in Disney World the ceiling moves upward. I couldn’t find any pictures to prove this second point, but it was my observation that the wooden lower portions of the stretching room’s walls were taller than what I am used to in Florida. Both of these differences contributed to what I considered an improved stretching room experience. The effect simply worked better to my eyes.
The differences kept coming as we walked from the stretching room to our waiting doombuggies. First, as we exited the stretching room, the changing portraits made their appearance on the wall to the right instead of members of WDW’s “Sinister 11” portraits. I have to admit to missing the Sinister 11 in my Haunted Mansion rides at Disneyland. At the end of this short hallway were two busts who watch you as you go by. This is a low-tech effect that appears in the library scene in Florida’s Mansion, but because you have more control over your own positioning due to walking rather than riding and you get closer to them, it actually works a little better in Anaheim.
The area in which you load into the doombuggies is pretty different also, in part due to meddling California safety inspectors. Disneyland’s loading room had initially been designed as a sort of “negative space,” with very few decorations in a very dark room with black walls intended to make the guests feel like they were crossing over into the world of the supernatural by getting into their doombuggy. Unfortunately, some pencil pusher came around and declared that the room was too dark for guests to traverse safely by foot and the lights had to be brought up a little, spoiling the effect. What you have now is a room that is obviously painted black with very few decorations and Disneyland hasn’t done anything to spruce the space up at all. My Brother and Tara proclaimed that the area did a better job of funneling riders in an organized fashion, which I can’t argue with, but the aesthetics of the room are definitely a step down from the fully decorated loading area in Florida.
This is where a Disney World regular may start to look around wondering if they’ve missed something. At Disneyland, your doombuggy immediately climbs some stairs to the endless hallway effect and the chamber of doors sequence. In Disney World, on the other hand, there is a series of other rooms which helps to make the transition into the “plot” of the attraction more gradually and just provides a longer, more detailed ride in general. These rooms include a reproduction of the changing portraits hallway, a library scene with moving books and watchful busts, and a music room with a ghostly piano player prior to climbing the stairs. When the stairs are climbed, WDW riders are greeted with an M.C. Escher style room with stairways traveling in all different directions and footsteps appearing and going up and down them. It is only after going through all of these areas that a Disney World rider then encounters the endless hallway effect which is the first thing seen at the top of the stairs in Disneyland.
From here on, the rides follow the same basic trajectory, with a spook taking a sort of swipe at you as you pass a clock with 13 hours and a trip through Madame Leota’s séance room where she causes the Mansion’s ghosts to materialize fully. The ballroom scene is similarly identical, but on this trip the ghost lying under the table was not appearing. I’m assuming this was a maintenance issue. From there we passed into the Mansion’s attic and closer to the most hotly-anticipated returning spook! Since extensive refurbishments on both coasts, their attics have been mostly the same, with only Disneyland’s spectral keyboardist offering a slight variation.
What was of real interest was the return of the notorious Hatbox Ghost! Imagineers in Anaheim have extended their attic a bit and added an updated version of the legendary figure whose head toggles back and forth between his shoulders and the hatbox he holds. The character was yanked out of the attic after the Mansion opened to the public way back in 1969 because they couldn’t get this signature special effect to operate the way they’d hoped to. Because his removal was so late in the game, he showed up in promotional materials, including both versions of the story and song books I remember from my childhood. Because there was no internet back in the late 60s, there was actually a good bit of confusion as to whether ol’ Hatty had ever been seen by the general public. Some people claimed that he never even got installed in the first place. It wasn’t until a few years ago when a home movie was found in somebody’s attic (natch) that there was real proof that the Hatbox Ghost had indeed been seen by everyday visitors to the park before his removal from the attraction. His reinstatement in the attic had occurred just a month prior to my own visit and it was indeed a momentous occasion to get the chance to see him. I even made it one of the squares on my Disneyland Bingo card. Unfortunately, I could never manage to get a really good photo or video of him. Here’s the best I could do:
My poor camera work could be argued to add to the mysteriously spooky quality of the new figure…but who are we kidding? Here’s much better video taken by Theme Park HD.
They not only have much better equipment and expertise, but were lucky enough to encounter the Hatbox Ghost with timing that allowed them to capture both his head disappearing from his shoulders and returning there. Despite my excitement about his return to the Mansion, I do have some nitpicks about how he turned out. One is the fact that you usually don’t get to see both ends of his signature trick. There has been some talk about him being a little too cartoony, and while I don’t disagree with these complaints, I can’t say it is a significant issue for me. Something I did notice, at least for me, was that the attention I was giving to the Hatbox Ghost resulted in a different transition into the graveyard scene. Typically at Disney World this is one of my favorite moments in the ride. I begin to hear the strains of the upbeat version of “Grim Grinning Ghosts” as I exit the attic and can quickly see a steady stream of sheet ghosts rising in the distance. This moment consistently hits my personal “joy” button. But with Hatty in place, the attic scene is extended and attention remains forward as you pull away from a ghost who you have come very close to. I rode the Mansion three times on this trip and this was the result I noticed each time. It’s also why I’m not a particular fan of the Snow White style spooky trees with faces which greet riders just outside Anaheim’s attic.
Although there are some mild differences in Disneyland’s graveyard scene (the scene is a little closer to your doombuggy and the spectre standing inside a tomb to your right just before the opera ghosts does not have one arm up), I would not judge it to be better or worse than the same scene in Disney World. I will claim an affinity for the traditional puppet versions of the hitchhiking ghosts that Disneyland has maintained over the fancy computer effect that was added to the Mansion in Disney World some time ago. This latter effect is too busy visually and too often just doesn’t work. I’m guessing first time riders are confused by it sometimes. The original puppet effect is sufficient to sell the gag that a ghost will “follow you home” and looks more three-dimensional to my eyes (well, that could be because it is three-dimensional instead of computer animation trying to look three-dimensional). Besides, as the wonderful Long Forgotten Haunted Mansion blog points out, Disney World’s artists botched the ghosts to the point that they don’t even look like one another.
This is a point in favor of Disneyland’s Mansion. I’m not going to even discuss the new interactive queue at Disney World, which jumps the gun on the ghosts being silly spooks. I will take the opportunity to say that the supposedly less interactive queue in Disneyland offered me the chance to do this–
Although I did manage to spot one of Disneyland’s famous feral cats one morning while standing in line for the Indiana Jones ride, it was in the process of fleeing the scene and I couldn’t even reach for my camera by the time it was gone…so this will have to suffice to “X” out the “Sing ‘Everybody Wants to be a Cat’ to a Cat” square on my Disneyland Bingo card.
So which American Haunted Mansion is better? That’s kind of a tough one. As I’ve mentioned here, some of the special effects at Disneyland look better to my eyes, but the Mansion at Disney World contains more scenes, making the show’s transitions better. I’m going to give the slightest edge to Disney World due to this last point despite their recent subtractions by addition.
Okay, so I know I just spent quite a lot of time on that. What can I say? I’m a Mansion nerd.
I will come down on the side of WDW winning this one. I really like the redesigned outdoor queue and with a 9-year old in tow, we always walk through it. I missed the “staircase” room from WDW…I always find it fun to follow the footsteps. I think the Madame Leota area is bigger at WDW as well as the attic. The only two things I liked better about Disneyland’s was the Hatbox Ghost (mainly because I’ve heard a lot about him from you) and also the way they funnel the crowd to get onto the buggies. I will admit, however, that I am not the Mansion nerd you are.”
Let’s cut to the chase here. Disneyland’s version of Pirates of the Caribbean is superior to the one that got shoved into Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in 1973 because visitors were surprised at its absence. Far superior, and for the primary reason I rated Disney World’s Haunted Mansion higher. Despite a much less detailed queue than in Florida, the ride itself includes more scenes and an improved transition into the core of the attraction. I enjoy Pirates of the Caribbean every time I experience it at Disney World, but it is clearly truncated in comparison. Aside from the first scene, which takes passengers both through a Louisiana swamp and past the Blue Bayou restaurant, the following talking skull (above) and flume-like plunge leads to a comparatively extended caverns sequence. The longer of the two drops in Disneyland’s version is one of those things that seemed bigger in my memory, but is still significantly steeper than the perfunctory drop at Disney World. Another advantage in Anaheim is that the parameters of the show building are masked more expertly, with no evidence that there is anything but actual night sky above your head during the main show scenes. Meanwhile, I have been consistently aware of some sort of metal vent or emergency light on the ceiling of the main Florida Pirates show building since I first saw it in October of 2013. This one really isn’t close.
With the primary attractions of New Orleans Square out of the way, we decided to go back and check on the Indiana Jones ride again. This is one of the unique Disneyland attractions we were all really looking forward to experiencing and I have to admit that I was concerned that whatever problem they were having with it might extend through our stay. So when they opened the standby line moments after we rounded the bend into Adventureland, we couldn’t believe our luck. This is the sort of good fortune at a theme park that fancy strategies and touring plans can’t create.
Sometimes there’s no way for something to live up to the expectations that have been built up by repeated glowing reviews and positive word of mouth. Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye was a mild disappointment to me, but I really don’t see how it could have impressed me the way it was supposed to. The queue is detailed and excellently rendered, with fun little touches that keep guests entertained during their wait. Since I knew about the rope labeled “Do Not Pull,” I didn’t hesitate to give it a tug. My party was initially surprised, but then enjoyed the resulting sound effect in which an archaeologist apparently plummets to his doom. There’s a similar gag outside the show in Hollywood Studios in Florida.
The ride system for Indiana Jones is pretty much identical to that of the Dinosaur ride in Florida’s Animal Kingdom, as a jeep vehicle with suspension issues bounces you around through a dark, dangerous environment. You dodge poison darts and humongous snakes and zip across a rickety bridge as the cursed temple you’ve inadvertently tripped the defense systems to attempts to stop you before you…do…something. I know there’s usually some sort of treasure inside one of these cursed temples, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what either we or Indy accomplished other than getting away with our lives. Based on a quick internet search there is apparently a very complicated plot with several different variations you can experience on repeated rides. I really only noticed one different piece of dialogue at the end of our second ride. The whole attraction was fun, but very loud, which may be why I never could figure out much beyond the fact that I shouldn’t be looking some statue in the eye. If you’re at Disneyland you should definitely check it out, but I’m not sure Indiana Jones Adventure really belongs in the rarefied air its most ardent fans put it in.
We’ll have to look for that well gag at HS in September. I’ve never noticed it before. I didn’t like this ride at all, which was surprising to me because I really like the technically similar Dinosaur ride at Animal Kingdom. While the artistic design of this ride was impressive, I felt rushed through it and we were thrown around a lot more on this ride than on Dinosaur. I was glad to only ride it once.”
Up next was another duplicate attraction, the old west runaway mine train ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Like Splash Mountain, I have to consider this a draw with the same ride in Florida. It has some unique elements, so a Disney World regular who visits Disneyland should absolutely give it a spin. New effects at the end of the ride were added just last year to make it look as if the mountain is about to be dynamited just as you climb the final hill. Also, there’s a goat chewing on a stick of dynamite.
I agree that this was a draw. Disneyland had the dynamite and the goat (which brought me flashbacks of an old Andy Griffith episode)…Disney World has the upward track that seems like it’s rocking side to side. But, the two rides were very similar.”
Disneyland is more committed to the whole Big Thunder Mountain theme in general, with a family-style restaurant nearby that serves barbecue chicken and ribs with appropriate sides and a dedicated petting zoo featuring a cow and two sheep, but mostly…
All the high-tech and iconic attractions I’d flown across country to see and I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to pet a couple of goats. Thankfully I took advantage of the provided sink to wash my hands, because lunch was not far away.
The Big Thunder portion of Disneyland opens directly into Fantasyland, with absolutely no gradual transition, which is not typical in Disney parks. Moments after crossing over into the world of Snow White and Pinocchio we ran across another one of those wandering characters we had not yet gotten used to seeing. This time it was that nutty old Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland, and he gladly stopped a moment for a photo.
That’s another big difference I noticed about the two parks…the characters. Unless they are going to or from their designated meeting spot, you will never see them just wandering around the park at Disney World….Star Wars Weekends at HS excluded. Usually, at Disney World if you see one walking through the park, they have at least one “handler” with them and will not stop. They might high five you on their way, but the handler will quickly move them along.”
Crowds were finally really starting to pick up and we found it out when we got to the line for the Matterhorn, which has no FastPass available. The queue for the Matterhorn has only minor switchbacks near the loading area and then takes off down the edge of the man-made mountain, so if you’re coming from the north side of the attraction you end up finding out how long the line is by walking its length. When we finally found the beginning of the line to ride the Matterhorn, the posted wait time nearby quoted a “60 minute” wait time. I was of two minds about the situation. A full hour is longer than I am typically willing to wait for any attraction when there are other rides nearby with shorter wait times that have yet to be experienced. On the other hand, with no personal experience to draw from at Disneyland, it was very possible that this would be the shortest wait we could expect until the following morning. Also, both of the wait times apps on my phone were quoting shorter waits for the Matterhorn. My nephew was not feeling indecisive about the situation at all, so we stayed in line and hoped for the best. I’m glad he insisted, because our wait turned out to be closer to 40 minutes.
The Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction is another one which has had a recent upgrade. When we lived in California as kids, the Matterhorn had no yetis at all, and for roughly the last forty years has been home to an abominable snowman nicknamed “Harold.” Prior to the official 60th anniversary, Disneyland shut down the Matterhorn, causing my Brother’s family a little consternation. But the ride was open again on our visit, with brand new yetis!
These new guys are much more fully articulated than the previous ones and are actually kind of scary, especially since you are rolling right past them. The Matterhorn was the very first steel tube coaster ever, but it retains the fun it must have given riders when it premiered back in 1959. It is still a little rougher than most modern steel coasters though, so Tara came off the ride a little shaken up and was not feeling great. She claimed that it was the combination of the Indiana Jones ride and the Bobsleds that did her in.
The bobsleds definitely rattled my brain a bit! But, I actually thought it was a really fun ride and would have enjoyed it immensely had it not resulted in a massive headache! The animatronics were great and startling enough that I can only imagine that’s what they were going for with Expedition Everest.”
Before heading to lunch, we made our way to another legendary attraction, this one brought over from New York’s World’s Fair of 1964. My nephew, who had seen Tomorrowland in theaters, kept up hope that the gentle boat ride would prove a passage to an exciting futuristic place. No such luck for his part. Disneyland’s version of this celebration of the world’s children boasts a far more impressive exterior building with the classic Mary Blair styling which is tucked inside the show building in Florida. Here is an example where Disneyland’s geographical location works in its favor. There is far less daily rain in California, making outdoor loading and rides more reasonable at Walt’s original park, while adjustments have had to be made in the much more precipitation-heavy area of central Florida.
Speaking of loading – If both sides of the line at Disneyland’s It’s a Small World appear to be the same length, you should join the line on the right. The reason is that the left line includes guests on scooters and with other mobility issues. This makes loading and unloading take longer. I’m happy for those guests to experience the great attractions in a park like Disneyland, but for the rest of us, we’re looking for any advantage we can get. Join the line on the right.
Back in 2008, Disneyland’s version of the ride received an extensive refurbishment which included the addition of Disney cartoon characters appropriate to the different cultural areas. For example, the three Caballeros shown above appeared in the South American portion of the ride. Characters like Peter Pan and Alice show up in the British scenes and Lilo and Stitch hang ten in a Hawaiian area. Seeing the characters is fun, but I’m not really sure how I feel about the change overall. Should a ride about the children of the world include aliens, mermaids, and flying boys? I guess we’re not supposed to think too deeply about these things.
I have to admit, it’s been a long time since we’ve ridden It’s a Small World. We have not ridden it since WDW refurbished their version a few years ago, so I really can’t compare the two. That’s one of the drawbacks to the new fastpass system at WDW…we aren’t going to “waste” one of our three precious fastpasses on a ride like that and we certainly aren’t going to wait in a long stand-by line for it. On the old system, we might have done it early in the day because we could always get a fastpass for something else later. Not going to happen now.”
When I started planning for this trip, one consideration that came early was where we should eat and what. I kept getting raves about the fried chicken at the Plaza Inn, but most of these were from people who I knew to be from places like Indiana and California. What the heck do those people know about good fried chicken? It was only when a friend from North Carolina who has moved to California and frequented Disneyland gave it a thumbs up that I grudgingly made the plan to try it out. In fact, I put it on my Disneyland Bingo card.
Like most things in Disneyland when the crowds aren’t crazy, the Plaza Inn was within very reasonable walking distance from where we were and we walked in and grabbed a tray with pretty much no wait. I went straight to the station marked as “chicken” and announced what we were there for, but that since we are from the South we would be pretty judgmental. The lady there took these proclamations in the good fun they were intended and confidently offered up the much-hyped poultry. I was lucky enough to have a table open up just as I finished paying for my meal, but otherwise the indoor seating appeared to be pretty full despite the Plaza Inn not seeming to be very busy.
Everyone in my party claimed to enjoy their meal, with universal appreciation of the pictured mashed potatoes. The fried chicken was probably better than we had any right to expect at a theme park, which has to label it as success. In the grand scheme of things, I’d call it above average, but not the transcendent meal I’ve seen some people call it. Despite excellent breads in general throughout Disneyland during our trip, the pictured biscuit was not worth a second bite, an impression that was shared by our entire group. Overall, I’d recommend the fried chicken meal at the Plaza Inn for anyone visiting Disneyland and wanting something more than a sandwich, but less than a full table service meal. Just manage your expectations, and you’re likely to really enjoy it.
I thought the fried chicken was pretty good. The seasonings reminded me of my grandmother’s fried chicken, so I was a fan. I’d pay money to be able to get their recipe for those mashed potatoes, though. They were fantastic!”
Unfortunately, Tara still wasn’t feeling well after the rough rides at Indiana Jones and the Matterhorn and decided to take a mid-day break back at the hotel, leaving we three boys to our own devices. We took a two-pronged approach to the situation, experiencing attractions we knew Tara had no interest in, like the Jungle Cruise and Autopia and quickly knocking out squares on my Disneyland Bingo card.
That included a round trip on Disneyland’s version of futuristic single-rail transportation (“Monorail! Monorail!”) and you can see what the view looks like from the platform where you wait for it above. That’s a very Disneyland photo right there. None of that stuff is in the Magic Kingdom in Florida. While we waited, both my Brother and I looked around and noticed a trim track with a gold-colored rail running around Disneyland’s Tomorrowland unused. He accurately guessed that it was the remains of their version of the PeopleMover, a very popular attraction for some Disney World regulars, but neither of us could figure out why there was a golden rail involved. In the category of creepy Facebook surveillance, somehow the social media giant managed to overhear this conversation and provided the answer on my newsfeed the following evening. Apparently, Disneyland’s Tomorrowland went through a series of ill-considered updates, one of which included painting Space Mountain a bronze color and installing a fast-moving rail ride in place of the mid-century styled PeopleMover. The Rocket Rods attraction that went along with the “Discoveryland” theming never really worked as well as they’d hoped and was constantly closing down due to technical issues.
That looks pretty fun, but the attempt to model its Tomorrowland after Disneyland Paris’ Jules Verne-influenced version did not go over well with Anaheim’s visitors and the whole idea was scrapped. Space Mountain is white again, but the abandoned PeopleMover/Rocket Rods rail route is still hanging out in plain sight and the spinner ride Astro Orbiter is now relocated to a strange spot at the entrance of Tomorrowland. These leftover oddities definitely indicate the difficulty both of the U.S. parks have had with maintaining a legitimately themed Tomorrowland, but with a superior Space Mountain and the presence of the Nemo Submarines, the monorail, and the nearby Matterhorn Disneyland still has a substantial advantage over Tomorrowland in Florida.
Our circuit on the Monorail, which has newer and more attractive trains than in Florida took us outside the park and near the Downtown Disney area, a fact that would prove our undoing later that night.
On our return to Disneyland, we marked off “ride the monorail” from my bingo card and decided to head over to Adventureland for the Jungle Cruise ride. Disneyland’s version of the classic attraction is a little shorter that the one in Disney World, with no dark indoor temple portion, but has a piranha effect that is a fun addition, and our skipper was probably a little better than any of the skippers I’ve experienced in Florida. This is not surprising, considering the bigger pool of talent you can find in southern California because of the film industry there.
Our next idea was for me to wait in the long line for Dole Whips for us while my Brother and nephew went to get FastPasses for another ride. To their credit, Disneyland had a system for taking orders and payment in this line that made the wait much shorter than it looked like it would be. So I ended up standing on the bridge to Adventureland holding two Dole Whips and a bottle of water for quite some time.
When the other guys arrived, they were understandably surprised to find me nervously sweating with a mostly finished Dole Whip in one hand and a moderately melted one in the other hand. They had actually considered walking up into the Tarzan treehouse on their way back. I was pretty glad they hadn’t. Still, a Dole Whip is a tasty treat, and this was another square I got to “X” out on my Disneyland Bingo card.
We took some time to call my Mom, who was in Alaska on her birthday. It was really nice to hear her voice from a place where she was having a good time and let her hear our voices where we were too. Part of me wished I’d planned on doing the whole trip which would have included Alaska for a few days and some time with Mom.
With a substantial wait coming before the FastPasses they’d gotten, I saw the opportunity to knock out a couple of more tasks. First up was the Disney family crest that adorns the front of Sleeping beauty’s castle in Disneyland. This is one of those touches that most visitors don’t notice, but makes Disney nerds happy.
One of the really unique features at Disneyland is the presence of an actual attraction inside their castle, a walkthrough telling the story of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty film. It includes some fun special effects, like a door which shakes violently from the other side when you try its knob. This one startled, but pleased my nephew. The walkthrough also offers some time out of the sun and dumps you right back behind the castle pretty close to where you first started.
Another Disneyland Bingo activity was waiting for us right behind the castle at the King Arthur Carrousel. In 2008 Disneyland had honored Julie Andrews’ contributions to the Disney company by dedicating the lead horse on this carrousel, “Jingles,” to her and painting images onto the horse for the occasion. We identified the horse in question and happened to come up just short of joining the next ride, so we were at the very front of the line for its next spin. This suited us fine, since it would give us plenty opportunity to locate “Jingles” and get a picture before the ride began. As we stood there, watching the horse go round and round, my nephew asked if he could ride the horse in question. I had planned on riding it myself, but I didn’t really feel any great need to, so why not? Sure kid, ride the horse.
When the carrousel came to a stop and the gate was opened for us, Jingles was at the exact opposite location from where we were, so my Brother and I walked in opposite directions to find her. This was no problem and I quickly took the above photo of the distinctive Mary Poppins-inspired markings. But just as we were about to find our horses to ride, a little girl wearing a princess dress came upon the scene and asked very politely if she could ride the Mary Poppins horse. We apologetically explained that my 9-year-old nephew had asked to ride the horse and jumped onto our own steeds. At least I hope we were apologetic. Mostly I think we were just being expedient. When you promise a child something you try to deliver.
Since it had been the Matterhorn Bobsleds which had knocked Tara out for a chunk of the afternoon, we reasoned that if we wanted to ride it again, now was the time. The posted wait time again proved to be a pretty significant overestimation.
When we got out of the ride, a parade was going by, so we stopped to look at it. This was when I realized that I was in need of a rest myself. I told my brother I was going to the shaded seating just outside Space Mountain to sit down and took off in that direction. When my core temperature gets too high I find that I have to respond to the situation or I can get miserable quickly. My Brother probably recognized my demeanor, so this was no problem. I found the spot I’d mentioned and realized that it was an outdoor seating area for Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port, so I went inside and bought a lemonade so I could take advantage of a seat with a clear conscience. My Brother and nephew joined me several minutes later and Tara was not far behind. They all decided to go ahead and eat there, but I wasn’t hungry yet and I sure wasn’t going to waste a meal on Disney pizza. The extended time seated in shade did me good though, and as they finished their pizza I started to focus again on my Disneyland Bingo tasks.
My nephew was working on a huge Iron Man cookie filled with cream cheese frosting, so I began searching for the dinosaur eggs I was pretty sure were very nearby where we were seated. After a couple of walks up and down the outdoor entrance ramp to Space Mountain I still had not found them and my Nephew had joined in on the search. Only once I’d asked three different cast members did I find one who knew what I was talking about. “Yeah,” she said, “they took those things out a couple of weeks ago. They didn’t tell us why.” So just like that, any chance of completely blacking out my Disneyland Bingo card died. My Brother tried to convince me that since I’d done the leg work and stood where they should have been, I should have given myself an “X” in that square. I doubt anyone else here would have accepted that reasoning.
From there, we crossed the park back over to New Orleans Square and visited some pirates again. New Orleans Square is the part of Disneyland park that really won my heart. And why not? As packed tight as the rest of the park is compared to the parks at Disney World, it is even more so. This sounds like a criticism, but to my eyes and ears this was a point in its favor, along with Disneyland in general. The park and area has a lived-in feel to it that makes it seem more like a real place than like an artificially rendered theme park area.
New Orleans Square not only sports top notch theming, but two of the most classic and best attractions in the history of the company (Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion), and is nestled along the banks of the Rivers of America with plenty of waterside walking and dining space.
After completing another ride on Pirates of the Caribbean we still had time before our second trip into Splash Mountain via FastPass, and I was now hungry, so the rest of my crowd was kind enough to watch me eat a big burrito at the Mexican restaurant Rancho del Zocalo.
I have read reviews of this restaurant that said that the food was waiting on warming trays, which suggests the sort of heat lamps we grew up getting our fast food burgers from under. Nothing could be further from the truth. I watched a member of the team at Rancho del Zocalo build my burrito and plate themselves. The entire meal was hot and tasted fresh. Maybe it’s because I’m from the East coast, but I thought this was every bit as good as most sit-down Mexican restaurants in my area. The tortilla was particularly soft and tasty. In the end, my meal was so large that I was unable to finish it, but that was in spite of its quality, not because of it. I would definitely recommend Rancho del Zocalo to anyone who visits Disneyland and wants a large counter service meal.
That burrito looked fantastic. A little bummed we didn’t make it back there for a meal on Day 3. Since we are tentatively planning another trip out there anyway, I’ll have to remember to put it on our agenda!
Tara agreed to wander over to Toon Town to get us all FastPasses for Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin while we took advantage of our Splash Mountain FastPasses. When we finished our ride we walked over to the railroad station in New Orleans Square (I know! It’s weird there’s not a station right there at Splash Mountain, right?) with the intention of taking it over to Toon Town and joining her there. Before we go over what happened next, let’s take a second and appreciate the detail and beauty of the railroad station at New Orleans Square.
Maybe those buildings are functional in some way, but this is one photo I can point to as an indication of the superiority of Disneyland in general and New Orleans Square in particular. This has Walt’s fingerprints on it.
Unfortunately, we will now be covering what was probably the primary drawback to the Disneyland resort in our experience. I received a text from Tara while we were waiting at this station telling us that Toon Town and everything in Fantasyland was in the process of closing down. Clearly this was because of the coming parade and fireworks. Disneyland does not have the gift of space that Disney World does, so these sections of the park are closed down during fireworks to be sure that burning detritus does not come floating down on top of guests. I understand the reason for the policy, but it is, in fact, a negative for the park. As Disney World regulars who have little interest in fireworks, we are used to taking advantage of the crowds running into the hub by sticking to riding attractions and being rewarded with shorter lines. This strategy only really works in Disneyland if you find yourself on the West side of the park south of the Rivers of America. So instead of us joining Tara in Toon Town, she joined us on the train. My Brother and I had seen the crazy crowds the night before, so having covered most of the rest of the park pretty extensively, we agreed that this should be the end of our day at Disneyland.
Then we managed to outsmart ourselves.
My Brother and I had made the tentative plan to visit Trader Sam’s for a couple of drinks some night during our trip, so we figured this was the time. Since it was late in the day and our feet were a little sore we came upon the bright idea of riding the monorail out of Tomorrowland to the Downtown Disney area. But was the monorail open? Well, there goes one right there whizzing past us! Clearly the monorail was open, right? Nope. My Brother and I had gotten off of the train in Tomorrowland only to find a cast member standing in front of the monorail entrance telling us it was closed for the evening. This was pretty frustrating. Frustrating enough that my Brother sputtered “We don’t care about the fireworks!!” at the poor guy. Frustrating enough that we were thrown enough to wander towards the crowds on Main Street rather than turning around and trying to catch the next train out of Tomorrowland. Maybe we had just gotten off the last one, but we didn’t even give ourselves the chance to find out.
We wandered back into the belly of the beast. Not only was the exit from Tomorrowland to Main Street crowded, it was not moving at all. I asked a nearby cast member if we could use the same hallway behind the Plaza Inn we had used to get into the park the night before. No dice. Apparently that hallway was only for guests entering the park. The hallway for guests leaving the park was over in Adventureland. We would have to wait it out. Well…we had the option of ungraciously and forcefully squeezing through the milling crowd for several yards which I availed myself of for a short time until my Brother talked some sense into me. Once the parade was done with, the hub was opened up to crossing guests and we made our way to that hallway in Adventureland. Neither of us was happy about the situation. For my part, I was rueing the missed opportunity to see inappropriately paired dinosaurs fighting again.
I did take advantage of the opportunity to poke around the corner and take a photo of the light they keep glowing in Walt Disney’s personal apartment inside the park over the fire station. I could take small solace in the fact that I’d crossed out another square on my Disneyland Bingo card.
I was feeling a little beaten, and if my Brother had suggested just going back to the hotel I would have readily agreed. But at this point he was the one on a mission. A tropical drink had been promised and a tropical drink was to be had. So we walked the length of the esplanade and Downtown Disney, then wandered the grounds of the Disneyland Hotel a bit before finding Trader Sam’s.
This was to be our glowing oasis in the Disney desert that our evening had become, offering to quench our thirst and to raise our spirits with some clever theming.
Unfortunately this place was crowded too, and almost entirely with large overenthusiastic frat boys who were yelling loudly right near the only table that had been available when we entered. These were the kind of frat boys who still thought it was clever to sing “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” to girls in a bar. And they did. Seriously. I checked the date on my phone to see if it was 1986. I’m sure this mob of testosterone fueled megaphones were having the time of their lives, but it was the kind of fun that sort of cancelled out any other fun in its general vicinity. It’s really too bad, because I got the feeling that on a different night I could have really enjoyed Trader Sam’s. That would be a night in which I could have felt comfortable walking around the place checking out the decorations on the walls, mostly created to help tell the story of the eponymous Sam. The night we were there was not that kind of night. We each ordered a drink and then got the heck out of dodge. But hey, that’s another “X” on my bingo card!
I was almost completely done with every task! I admit that at this point I was still holding out hope for the chance to sing to a real cat that would skitter out of our view so quickly the next morning.
Posted on July 7, 2015, in theme parks, Walt Disney World and tagged Big Thunder Mountain, Carnation Cafe, Disneyland, Disneyland Bingo, Dole Whip, fried chicken, Haunted Mansion, Indiana Jones Ride, It's A Small World, Jingles, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Oscar Martinez, Pirates of the Caribbean, Plaza Inn, Rancho del Zocalo, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Trader Sam's. Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.