Disneyland 60th Anniversary Entertainment Review

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Disneyland just kicked off its 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration with the new Paint the Night parade, Disneyland Forever fireworks, and World of Color: Celebrate. In this post, I review the new entertainment, plus take a quick look at enhancements to the Haunted Mansion and Matterhorn that helped kick off the Diamond Celebration. One thing is for sure after only a few days of the entertainment running in the parks: it’s going to be a busy summer and beyond, as all of these are pretty significant draws.

With that said, let’s start by taking a quick look at how some attractions have been and will be plussed for the celebration. I have a feeling that updated classic attractions will be a continuing trend for the Diamond Celebration. To me, this makes a lot of sense. Given the new entertainment for the 60th Anniversary and marketing push, this is probably an 18-month celebration, at a minimum. Being able to tout updates to fan favorites spaced over the course of the next couple of years will keep the celebration fresh and give locals a reason to keep celebrating (and buying tickets…and merchandise…and food…and…). To that end, the first updates are Haunted Mansion and the Matterhorn.

The Haunted Mansion finally got what was rumored to be coming for years: Hatbox Ghost. If you’re unfamiliar with the history of this character, here’s a primer. Adding Hatbox Ghost to Haunted Mansion after so many years seems like thinly-veiled fan service, and it probably is. But who cares? the figure is cool, the effect is awesome, and it’s a nice plussing for the attraction. Plus, is it really so bad that there are Imagineers with their finger on the pulse of what the fan community wants who are willing to lovingly embrace the history of the park? I think it takes some serious pessimism to view this as a negative.

The Matterhorn, on the other hand, has had some more serious criticism levied at it. Here, show scenes were added and changed to make it more of a story-based attraction rather than a fun romp. Now, the idea is that the abominable snowman is on the prowl, with some foreboding scenes and effects meant to build tension. I think this completely works, and love what was done as a whole. Unfortunately, the upgrades did not include any changes to the track or ride vehicles, so you’ll still incur some mild brian damnage during the ride, but I suppose that’s part of the fun–everyone knows cognitive abilities are overrated. ;)

Others have been critical of a scene where torn-apart bobsleds and Skyway buckets are strewn in the snow. This scene replaced crystals and a “Wells Expedition” crate that paid tribute to the late Frank Wells. I can see the point of not wanting ‘junk’ in an attraction, but I just don’t personally agree that it’s a big deal in this case. The scene clearly establishes the ferocity of the abominable snowman and foreshadows the peril guests might encounter if they continue on. To me, it fits the attraction and is appropriate in context. Now, there might have been a better or more subtle way to execute on this, but I think how it was done is just fine. I would have thought absolutely nothing of this scene had I not read the controversy on social media.

Now let’s take a look at the main draws: the new parade, fireworks, and World of Color… (more…)

T-Rex Cafe Review

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T-Rex Cafe is a dinosaur-themed table service restaurant in Downtown Disney at Walt Disney World that is aimed primarily at families with small children. It is literally set in a prehistoric world, with meteor showers and giant prehistoric creatures including dinosaurs and Woolly Mammoth. The cuisine is primarily standard American fare that will appeal to a broad cross-section of guests (menu). T-REX is a 1-credit restaurant on the Disney Dining Plan, but does not accept Tables in Wonderland. However, it does offer a 10% Annual Passholder discount.

To give some context to this review, I should probably introduce you to someone. Meet 8-year old…let’s call him “Lom.” A fan of dinosaurs since first learning about them via some seriously awesome fruit snacks (and trading cards that came with them) that he consumed like they were one of the 4 food groups (back then, there were only 4 food groups!), he experienced an event that forever shaped the future of the United States: Jurassic Park debuted in theaters. After watching–and re-watching…and re-watching…and–this masterpiece, he became obsessed with dinosaurs. Virtually all money he earned from chores was used to purchase Jurassic Park playsets; he made Jurassic parks out of LEGOs; he even created an “extra credit” mural in school that consisted of painting various dinosaurs and writing facts about them underneath (banish the thought that he was a teacher’s pet–one teacher made the incisive comparison of him to Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes, which was probably not praise). Suffice to say, dinosaurs weren’t just an interest, they were a way of life.

In case it’s not readily apparent, 8-year old “Lom” is me, circa 1993. Had this restaurant existed during my annual visits to Walt Disney World in the 1990s, I would have begged my parents to dine here. My mind would have been blown so hard I probably would have had to go to the ER. It would have been the highlight of my trip, and I would have evangelized to all of my friends back at school about “the most amazing restaurant ever,” imploring them to implore their parents to take a pilgrimage to this place that transcended its understated ‘restaurant’ label.

As an adult, I am still an avid dinosaur enthusiast. If I were ‘campaigning’ for a post with Imagineering, my platform would be “more dinosaurs” (and lasers). I can think of literally nothing at Walt Disney World that couldn’t be improved exponentially by the addition of copious amounts of dinosaurs. Frankly, I am distrustful of anyone who doesn’t think it’s a good idea to reallocate all of the money we spend on “science” towards finding ways to bring back the dinosaurs.

With that said, for all of my love of dinosaurs, I also dislike Rainforest Cafe. T-REX is by the same folks as Rainforest Cafe–Landry’s–which is also a restaurant group I strongly dislike (as anyone who has read my Yak & Yeti Review knows). I also have disliked Downtown Disney since Pleasure Island closed, although I find my position on this shifting as Disney Springs is taking shape and starting to look nice.

So basically, my intense passion for dinosaurs competed with three things I disliked, and the “dislikes” won out. UNTIL NOW… (more…)

Uber v. Rental Cars at Disney World

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Considering using Uber or Lyft at Walt Disney World instead of renting a car? This post covers my recent experience of ditching the rental car and instead relying on ride sharing services for transportation to Universal, from the airport, and to the Magic Kingdom and other parks.

For those unfamiliar with Uber and Lyft, they are relatively new “ride sharing” services that are essentially nicer alternatives to taxis that allow users to request rides via robust mobile apps. These apps show drivers in your vicinity, anticipated pick-up time, and have a host of other features. Why they are called ride sharing is beyond me, as you pay for the rides, and the driver is doing this as their full or part time job. They have both exploded in popularity in the last couple of years and have proven to be market disrupters that have wrecked havoc for taxi companies and have been politically controversial in some areas. (This will be relevant later in the post.)

This was actually a bit of a last minute idea, inspired by a commenter in my recent Tips for Renting a Car at Walt Disney World post who suggested the idea. I’ve never been overly keen on renting a car at Walt Disney World, as I enjoy the “escapist” experience of simply relying on Disney transportation (especially the “cool” transportation…I’m not looking at you, articulated buses), so I immediately jumped at the idea.

I already had a quote in with AutoSlash, and they had scored me a $151 rate on an economy car for the duration of my trip, which was a pretty good price, all things considered. I wasn’t sure if I could beat this by using Uber, but I figured if it was in the same ballpark, I would rather go with Uber (or Lyft…but I never ended up using the latter) so I didn’t have to bother with driving. With my rental car reservation cancelled, I was off to MCO with both apps loaded in my phone…and READY FOR ADVENTURE! Dun dun dun! 

Wondering whether this might be an economical or convenient alternative to renting a car or solely utilizing Disney transportation? Let’s take a look! (more…)

Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotel Review: Tropicana Inn & Suites

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Tropicana Inn & Suites is a Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotel located across the street from Disney California Adventure and Disneyland’s Esplanade. This review features photos of the hotel, plus thoughts about our experience of staying here. This hotel is best categorized as a budget hotel/motel, like many of the hotels on Harbor Boulevard, but at a higher price point than is typical of this class of hotels due to location.

Actually, simply calling it a budget hotel at a higher price point is probably a little dismissive. It’s nicer than a budget hotel and has solid rooms and a reasonable slate of amenities. It also compares favorably with other similarly-situated hotels on Harbor Boulevard that are about the same distance from Disneyland. It’s certainly not the Waldorf Astoria, but for what it is, it’s a solid option, as you’ll see.

Truthfully, Tropicana Inn does have a fair amount of history that makes it a great place to stay. It was actually where Darwin and Clarence “Doc” Tropicana launched the world’s first juice stand back in 1834–at the time they served only prune juice!–that eventually grew into the world famous Tropicana Orange Juice Co. Actually, that isn’t ‘truthful’ at all; I have no clue what the history behind this hotel is, but I’m going to go ahead and assume it has something to do with orange juice.

In terms of location, only 4 or so hotels beat its distance from the parks. It is less than a 10 minute walk from the hotel to the turnstiles at Disneyland, which makes it closer to Disneyland than the Grand Californian, Disneyland Hotel, and Paradise Pier Hotel (although the Grand Californian is closer to Disney California Adventure), so perhaps this is a bit of a technicality).

Tropicana Inn & Suites is one of the 39 Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotels, which is frankly a bit of a meaningless distinction as some truly crumby hotels are “Good Neighbors” and all having that status gets you is the ability to book a vacation package with an inflated room rate. Whoop-dee-frickin-doo. You can get an idea of how it stacks up to the competition, plus our overall comparison of the benefits of staying off-site versus on-site in our Where to Stay at Disneyland post.

So what are the pros and cons of staying at Tropicana Inn & Suites? Let’s take a look… (more…)

Best Disneyland Forever! Fireworks Views

Blog post with a map of the best Disneyland fireworks viewing spots, and photos from those locations!

Watching the Disneyland Forever fireworks can be the highlight of a trip, but crowds and other viewing obstructions can make finding the best spot to watch the fireworks difficult. With the Disneyland 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration now underway, it seems like a good time to share some of these locations, as well as some alternate places to go if you want to avoid the heavy crowds on Main Street.

Note that this blog post was updated in May 2015 after viewing several showings of new Disneyland Forever! fireworks. The sample photos and map are the same as those prior to this update. The only change to the map that should have been made is an upgrading of the entirety of Main Street to a “Good” location thanks to the new projections on the buildings.

As with my “Best Magic Kingdom Fireworks Views” post, you should use discretion before blindly following the map, and not to do anything stupid like standing behind a tree even if it falls into a “Good” zone on the map. This is doubly true with the Disneyland Forever! fireworks. I don’t have a perfect “tree-memory,” so if you pick a spot that is yellow or green on the map and a tree blocks your view of Sleeping Beauty Castle or the sky above it (and to a lesser extent, the Matterhorn), that’s not actually a good spot. The trees don’t retract into the ground when the fireworks start.

While Disneyland normally mixes up its shows more frequently depending upon the season, for the duration of the 60th Anniversary festivities, it appears that Disneyland Forever will run in favor of the other shows. Normally, Magical! is shown in the summer; Halloween Screams runs during Halloween Time at Disneyland; and Believe… In Holiday Magic is shown during Disneyland’s Christmas season. All of these run much more than their Walt Disney World seasonal counterparts. Still, I’ve seen these shows numerous times, just not from every conceivable spot in the park.

The map plus the various sample photos from these locations should give you visual thinkers a great idea of what to expect from different fireworks viewing places in Disneyland on Main Street. Just like the Magic Kingdom fireworks, all of the Disneyland fireworks shows were designed to be viewed straight-on from Main Street, USA. However, Disneyland also has a number of good alternative views, which can be great to avoid the throngs of locals who show up after work and camp out at the best spots for hours prior to the fireworks (something too time-consuming for tourists with limited vacation hours). After I go over the specific Main Street, USA views, I’ll touch upon some of these quiet spots and offer my thoughts on them.

Here are some looks at what you can expect from each numbered location on the map… (more…)

Napa Rose Chef’s Counter Review

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Napa Rose in the Grand Californian Hotel is the best restaurant at Disneyland Resort. Blue Bayou, Carthay Circle Restaurant, and even Club 33 all pale in comparison to Napa Rose. A big part of this is likely that Napa Rose is the only restaurant of those I’ve mentioned not located in a theme park. While it still has a bit of a captive audience in terms of tourists visiting Disneyland Resort, it’s not nearly to the degree of the in-park restaurants.

Given that the Orange County and Los Angeles foodie scene is among the best in the country, Napa Rose really has to bring its A game to attract locals who aren’t heading into the parks. I mean, this is an area with some of the finest Pop Tart culinary creations known to mankind. When restaurants throw down the Pop Tart gauntlet, you know it’s on. Although Napa Rose doesn’t have any gourmet Pop Tarts on its menu (yet), it has basically responded with the sage words of Barney Stinson, shouting “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED” with regard to the competitive Orange County foodie scene.

In so doing, Napa Rose has demonstrated that it can run with the big dogs, winning a variety of awards since first opening, and being recognized as one of the top restaurants in Orange County by the likes of Zagat and other restaurant critics. Interestingly, the restaurant only scores an 81% on crowd-sourced Urban Spoon, but in glancing through those reviews, many seem to focus either on price or are tourists used to large portion sizes. No question, Napa Rose is an expensive restaurant serving smaller portions–this is pretty much a universal truth among fine dining locales. In other news, the sky is blue and Snoop Dogg likes to party.

We’ve already covered the regular menu at Napa Rose in a separate review, so for this review we will focus solely on the Chef’s Counter experience… (more…)

The Essence of the Disney Parks’ Magic

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Now that I’ve “Aired My Disney Parks Grievances,” I figure it’s time to show the other side of the coin and share why I enjoy the Disney theme parks so much. Shockingly, no, I do not go because I get some misplaced sense of enjoyment out of other guests catching my ire. Most of the time, the little pet peeves I mentioned don’t even phase me; they’re just little, fleeting moments. I’m guessing this is true for most people. While America’s national pastime is complaining (sorry, baseball), I think we all mostly enjoy life or, in this case, the Disney theme parks.

For the most part, what I’m going to list here as the “essence” of what I find endearing about the parks is what makes the experience “complete.” Sure, the parks wouldn’t be what they are without amazing E-Tickets like Splash Mountain and Tower of Terror, nor is there anything quite like stepping onto Main Street and seeing Cinderella Castle in the distance, but I view those things as the foundation of the experience.

There are literally hundreds of different things about the parks that put a smile on my face and make me a hopeless Disney “addict,” but instead of simply posting a laundry-list without much explanation for each, I want to focus on a select few, saving the two most important things for last… (more…)

Paradise Pier Hotel Review

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Paradise Pier Hotel is an official Disney hotel at Disneyland Resort with a 4-star rating, themed to a beachside boardwalk of the 1920s. It’s typically the least-expensive of the three official Disneyland Resort hotels, but it’s also the farthest from the park, and offers the least in terms of style and amenities. This review features photos of the Paradise Pier Hotel guest rooms and common areas, plus my thoughts on the hotel, and whether I’d recommend it.

Some people are fans of Paradise Pier Hotel. I am not one of those people. In fact, I honestly figured we’d never have a review of the hotel because I refused to pay anywhere near rack rate at this hotel and the type of insane deal necessary to convince me to stay here seemed unlikely. By stroke of luck, a family member of ours happened to get bumped from Disneyland Hotel for a recent convention and ended up at Paradise Pier Hotel, so we joined her for part of the stay. Hence this review.

The good news is that the experience at Paradise Pier Hotel was better than I expected. The bad news is that my expectations were incredibly low, and I still don’t recommend the place. It’s a nice-enough hotel, but it simply doesn’t offer good value.

Why is my opinion of Paradise Pier Hotel low? Well…how much time do you have? ;) (more…)