Disneyland Christmas 2013 Trip Report – Part III

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It was a busy weekend, so both Disney California Adventure and Disneyland opened at 8 am. I had gone to bed just after 2 am the previous night, and got up at 7 am to make it to the park by 7:45 am. Even though she went back before me, Sarah didn’t make it to Disneyland as early as I did.

Several of you have asked how I can function on so little sleep, and the answer is simple: caffeine. I used to not drink soda at all outside of our trips, making its effects more intense, but I now (sadly) drink it more regularly. The key to success isn’t just drinking a lot of caffeinated beverages, it’s drinking a lot of them and drinking them well into the night. For example, the previous night, I probably had a 32 oz Coke at 11 pm. Most people avoid doing this because it will keep them awake, but when you’re that physically exhausted, it doesn’t have much impact at night.

Instead, it’ll cause you to wake up earlier than you otherwise would’ve. This is the key–most people can stay up late, no problem, but can’t turn around and get up early the next day, too. I don’t know the science behind this (there probably isn’t any!), but my unscientific guess is that your body “overrides” the caffeine at night because it’s just too tired, but once that override is lifted (after you’ve had a bit of sleep), the lingering caffeine in your system can work its magic. At least, that’s my guess.

I hope there aren’t any medical professionals out there reading this, because it probably sounds absolutely nonsensical to anyone who actually knows what they’re talking about. I don’t know what I’m talking about, I just know what works for me. Nor do I actually “recommend” anyone else do this, as I can’t imagine it’s technically “safe” to consume this much caffeine in a single day. But what fun is it being safe…especially when there are theme parks to explore?!

Anyway, I got to Disneyland just before rope drop and set out to take some photos in the hub. Rope Drop at Disneyland is each of the lands being blocked, plus the inner circle of the hub. I have no idea when the hub is blocked off…perhaps Partners is considered an attraction? In any case, guests such as myself like to congregate against its rope to take photos of the empty hub.

Also for whatever reason, security Cast Members stand in this area of the hub. On this particular morning, the security guards were standing right between guests and Partners. These security guards essentially ruined a great photo op that guests could have enjoyed, and I don’t believe for a second that the security guards “didn’t know” they were in the way. (The numerous guests holding cameras up were probably a decent tip.) In fact, I’ve seen it happen before. I don’t think there’s a good reason for security there in the first place, but assuming there is, would it be too much to ask for them to stand off to the side to allow guests unobstructed photos of Partners and Sleeping Beauty Castle? That’s why the guests are at the rope in the first place with their cameras up–not for a glamour shoot of sharply dressed security guards.

My interactions with security at Disneyland have been much better in 2013 than in previous years, but this irks me. It’s totally unnecessary, and strikes me as one of those things they’re doing just because they can. An arbitrary exercise of “power,” in a way. Even if there are only a few bad apples (and to reiterate: this is definitely a very small minority), it still reflects negatively upon the whole bunch.

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Instead of a dead-on shot, I went off to the side and got this. But anyway, I digress. Once rope drop occurred, I headed to Space Mountain to ride it and grab a FastPass. My main priority was ‘it’s a small world’ holiday, but it just felt wrong to rush to that at rope drop. I should have anyway.

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There probably was no need in arriving to the park so early, because after riding Space Mountain and grabbing a FastPass, I only did Fantasyland dark rides and took random photos of things I could photograph any time.

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The Rocketeer popcorn turner is a favorite of mine.

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I scouted out this spot for a shot later that night…

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The seasonal popcorn turners are a nice touch.

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I mentioned the Center Street Flower Market in passing in Part 2 of this Trip Report, but now I’ll go into more detail about it. I don’t know why the Flower Market was added (my guess is to spruce up the park for Candlelight Processional) nor whether it’s still there, but I loved it.

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This is the type of detail that makes the Disney theme parks special. These little “corners” you stumble upon brimming with detail or a real ‘lived-in’ feel. With the closing of the Court of Angels, I’ll admit that I was more than a little worried that Disneyland’s leaders felt these types of things were unimportant (and I still am).

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It bothered me even more to hear from other guests who weren’t fans of the Court of Angels that it was expendable because it wasn’t popular. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I find this sentiment disappointing. Any loss–even of things to which I have no personal attachment–of rich details in the Disney parks disappoints me. I find it to be the erosion of exactly what separates Disney theme parks from the competition. Other parks do rides well–for countless years Disney has done the entire package well, and that entire package includes how everything is tied together via theming, environment, and detail. I get that one thing here or there is “just” that one little thing, but without the aggregate of those “little things,” you have nothing.

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The point is this: when I see a loss of detail, I complain. However, when I see an addition of detail, I applaud. To some, both reactions are overreactions. (At least they are consistent with one another, right?) But these are my priorities when it comes to the parks. When I saw the Flower Market, I applauded and had some of my faith restored.

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I know Flower Markets have existed in Disneyland and Walt Disney World in the past, but I thought at this point, they only existed in the pages of ancient souvenir books. I was ecstatic to see this nod to the past, but it wasn’t just that. I was ecstatic to see something that gave life to Center Street.

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There were guests wandering the market, looking at flowers, and generally having a good time. Most (or all) of the flowers aren’t real (although I could swear I saw some that were!), but that doesn’t matter. They look nice, and it’s a better fit for Center Street than a random ODV or cart selling glow toys.

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On the way through the FastPass queue in Space Mountain, I snapped this photo of a blue alien-dinosaur egg. I discussed these in our Disneyland Secrets post, but to reiterate, they’re one of my favorite secrets/mysteries of Disneyland.

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I then headed back to ‘it’s a small world’ holiday. I tried to find a unique way to photograph these awesome wreaths back there to no avail.

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I decided to use my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens for the ride, as I wanted to capture some details and close-ups of the figures.

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Candle close up.

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I’d prefer that the Disney characters in the ride aren’t explicitly acknowledged by name. I’d rather have them as inhabitants of the ride that just “happen” to resemble specific characters. That’s probably just me.

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My least favorite scene of the attraction, but the lighting was good.

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The finale room is so awesome during the holidays, and a playground with the 70-200.

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Processed this photo in a soft focus, Orton manner as it seems like that goes with the whole “peace on earth” thing.

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The snowflakes make for a nice backdrop.

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The strings of multi-colored lights in the distance make for an even better backdrop, as they provide great bokeh.

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Not sure if this is supposed to be a Hidden Mickey or not. Probably is, right?

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My favorite photo of the ‘small world’ bunch.

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Basket-head-balancing is such a lost art.

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Is the goose a Christmas gift, or is it wearing the bow as a fashion statement? Also, did the girl just jump out of a cake, or are the candles traditional head-wear in her area?

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Moving on from ‘small world’, I did some other stuff, then rode the Disneyland Railroad.

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I make a lot of half-joking remarks about loving dinosaurs, but in all seriousness, I find it downright shocking (and a bit disappointing) that Disney doesn’t do more with the dinosaurs.

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I think dinosaurs are a perfect fit for theme parks (see Jurassic Park): they are loved by children, somewhat mysterious, and dinosaurs have great range in that they can be utilized as either “heroes” or lovable villains. (Unlike pirates, which are actually pretty reprehensible when you consider them in real life, dinosaurs are only “bad” to the extent that humans want them to be for storytelling purposes.) Humans are intrigued by dinosaurs, and we know just enough about them to pique further interest, but not enough that they’re completely understood by the general public. As one final plus, they look awesome and are cool. Prehistoricland should have been an opening day land at Disneyland, if you ask me.

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Next up was Jingle Cruise. I didn’t see a wait time for it, but the line is usually short. I didn’t realize the upstairs queue was open!

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It was my first time seeing the upstairs queue, so I can’t really complain. Although I would have preferred not to have waited 30 minutes for it.

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Jingle Cruise is garnering some mixed (at best) reviews, with some being really negative, but not many being really positive. I was pleasantly surprised by Jingle Cruise, but I can understand the criticism. In the queue, I think the Imagineers tried to toe the line between subtle decorating and over the top Christmas, trying to fit everything within the contrived storyline of the Jungle Cruise.

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Therein lies the mistake: adhering to the contrived storyline. This is something the Jungle Cruise itself doesn’t even do. The Jungle Cruise is the most self-aware Disney attraction in existence. It constantly breaks the fourth wall, and the skippers frequently make quips that reference other parts of Disneyland. That’s the essence of the Jungle Cruise, and while there is some inconsistency with elements of the script suggesting that it’s a real cruise, it’s mostly presented as an act.

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The story that’s been presented for Jingle Cruise, the queue at least, doesn’t fit this. The skippers are “homesick for the holidays.” To me, this seems wholly unnecessary in light of what the attraction actually is. However, this framework makes it necessary for the queue to be more restrained. Which makes it seem underdone.

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In any case, unnecessary “story” and the too-subtle queue are my only knocks on Jingle Cruise. I thought the script was hilarious, with a number of great holiday jokes that work perfectly. It helped that our skipper had great timing and perfect sense of dry humor. He even kept things rolling at the end when there was a considerable backup of boats waiting to dock.

I think a lot of the criticism of Jingle Cruise is a result of it not being the tried and true, familiar Jungle Cruise. I think Jungle Cruise often receives more credit than it’s due in terms of comedy, with many guests substituting their senses of nostalgia for the attraction for actual funniness. Not that it isn’t funny, I just wonder how many first-time guests who get the humor think it’s as funny as the average Disney fan does.

If the decor is expanded next year (just don’t throw Santa hats on the animals) with more done in the queue, and maybe a bit more on the boats (is it not feasible to have Christmas lights on them?), and I think Jingle Cruise will stand with Disneyland’s elite holiday overlays. Even now, I consider it a very solid first effort.

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Sarah met up with me after Jingle Cruise, and we got in line for the opening of Plaza Inn.

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Back in 2011, we had the Plaza Inn Yule Log, pumpkin version. Pumpkin is sold closer to Thanksgiving, before the chocolate/coffee version becomes available. I covered the pumpkin version in our Plaza Inn Review.

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Given the 2+ year gap between having the two, I really can’t say one is better than the other. Both are delicious. Both are must-do snacks if you visit Disneyland in November or December.

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Sarah next to the Victorian Christmas tree in Plaza Inn.

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We decided to head out to go over to Disney California Adventure to see Viva Navidad! during the daytime, but as we headed for the exit, we noticed people lining up for the parade. Our favorite spot for parade viewing was open, so we decided to grab that and wait for the parade, instead. While we were waiting, Guy showed up.

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Disneyland has local groups perform as “pre-parades” quite often. On this particular day, this was the group. Their outfits were great.

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A teddy bear that isn’t Duffy!

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Before this viewing, I wasn’t a fan of A Christmas Fantasy Parade at all. I thought it was aged, and lacking as compared to Walt Disney World’s Christmas parade. I still think it’s a bit long in the tooth, but I think I was hard on it.

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These snowflakes are not in ‘Once Upon’ and they’re awesome!

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Went with the soft Orton processing again. Wish she were turned just a tad more towards the camera.

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It has most of the cool elements of Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade. Toy soldiers, reindeer, gingerbread men, skiiers, etc., are all there.

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The big difference, I think, is ambiance. I wasn’t a fan of ‘Once Upon’ when I saw it during the daytime the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and I’m not a fan of A Christmas Fantasy during the day.

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Christmas is about ambiance, I think. That ambiance includes lights and snow. Both of these are key elements that are missing from the parades during the day.

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After the parade, we headed over to Cafe Orleans to see if we could adjust our reservation. Following that, we met up with our friends from Tours Departing Daily to chat for a bit. If you’re not familiar with their blog, you absolutely should check it out. They release a daily ‘Disneyland in HDR’ photo that can best be described as fine art photography. I’m a big fan of well-done fine art HDR photography and although I’m not much good at it myself, I love to see good fine art HDR by others. It takes real skill and finesse to get right, and to me, they are the standard-bearers of this in the Disney photography community. We chatted for a bit before parting ways–they had a top secret project to complete and we had ice cream brownie desserts to book! Given our shared affinity for empty park photography, we’d see them later that night, anyway.

Actually, Guy and Sarah went to do that while I headed across the Esplanade to the Candlelight Processional check-in. Candlelight Processional works a bit differently at Disneyland than Walt Disney World. It’s only held two nights per year (with the exception of last year) and takes place in Town Square with the performers at the Train Station. Only invited guests have seats…everyone else who wants to watch stands outside the seating area, with some people camping out for prime spots on benches literally all day. We were fortunate to have been invited to Candlelight, so I had to pick up our tickets to it.

We then met back for our meal at Cafe Orleans. No excuses this time–we finally were going to dine here! I’ll have a full review of Cafe Orleans soon, but suffice to say, we’re a bit embarrassed we had not previously dined here.

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We started out with pommes frites. They were delicious.

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Sarah ordered the N’awlins Vegetable Ragout. It was delicious.

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Guy ordered the Chicken Gumbo Crepe. It was delicious.

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I debated between the Monte Cristo and the Seafood Herb Crepe, ultimately ordering the latter. It was delicious.

If you’re going to Disneyland between now and whenever I get around to writing the full review, here’s our advice: EAT THERE! It’s right up there with Carnation Cafe and Plaza Inn as my top restaurants in the park. (We’d also recommend Blue Bayou if only for the experience of eating in the bayou alongside Pirates of the Caribbean.)

After eating, Guy and I went over to Disney California Adventure to grab World of Color FastPasses while Sarah headed to the hotel to get a coat. We reconvened at Big Thunder BBQ for the dessert that Guy described as a sea of superlatives.

The dessert was supposed to be ready when we arrived, but instead, we waited for 15 minutes (to be seated) only to find that it hadn’t been started yet.

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The good news was that while we waited, I got to enjoy one last performance of Billy Hill & the Hillbillies.

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I can’t claim to be a long-time Billy Hill fan. The first time I saw them was during One More Disney Day. Every trip since, though, I’ve made a point of seeing them.

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While things like the Flower Market reinforce to me that some decisionmakers running Disneyland “get it,” the choice to force out Billy Hill demonstrates that some don’t get it.

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I’m not at all a fan of country music, but I love Billy Hill & the Hillbillies. Their act is about family-friendly yet sharp humor (that connects on an adult level, too), engagement, and cleverness. They are the perfect act for Disneyland and the perfect example of how family-friendly comedy doesn’t have to be overly corny or cheesy. It’s hard to articulate exactly why they are good, but they are just a flat out fun act to watch.

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I have a lot more photos of Billy Hill & the Hillbillies, and plenty more thoughts on this, but I’ll save those for a dedicated “farewell” post. They deserve that much, just as the group deserved to end its run in the Golden Horseshoe. I’m just glad I got to see them one last time.

We didn’t have enough time before Candlelight Processional, so we had to miss out on what sounded like a glorious Christmas dessert.

It’s a good thing we decided to cut our losses, as navigating the chaos to get to the front of the park was a challenge. We’ll pick up with thoughts and photos from Candlelight Processional in the final installment of this trip report…

If you’re planning your own trip during the Christmas season, you should check out our “Ultimate Disneyland Christmas Guide,” which will give you tips for visiting, right down to snacks to try and when to experience certain holiday offerings!

As for figuring out the rest of your Disneyland trip, including what to pack, whether you should stay off-site or on-site in a Disney hotel, where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland trip planning guide!

For more Disneyland tips, special offers, and news, subscribe to our newsletter!

Your Thoughts…

What do you think of the Main Street Flower Market? Do you agree or disagree that the details are what makes the parks what they are? Ever dined at Cafe Orleans? Thoughts on Billy Hill & the Hillbillies “retiring”? Hearing from you is half the fun, so if you have additional thoughts or any questions, please share them in the comments!

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26 Responses to “Disneyland Christmas 2013 Trip Report – Part III”

  1. Tammy says:

    Cafe Orleans has always been one of my favorites. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the restaurants that is only open seasonally. I have been disappointed on multiple visits to find it closed. A must do for me when it is open.
    It also seems like their menu changes fairly regularly. Not a bad thing unless you have a favorite they don’t have the next time you visit.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Is it still only open seasonally? I can’t recall ever having seen it closed, but maybe I’ll use that as an excuse for why we’ve never been in the past! ;)

      It seems like a lot of Disneyland menus (or parts of them) change regularly. Caters to the local crowd better. I like it!

      • Andy says:

        No, Cafe Orleans is open year-round, not just seasonally. It does close earlier than other places, though and doesn’t open until lunch time since it doesn’t serve breakfast. Off the top of my head, I don’t think there are any restaurants in Disneyland that currently operate on a seasonal schedule.

      • Tom Bricker says:

        Thanks–you’d probably know better than anyone.

        No seasonal restaurants is quite the contrast to Magic Kingdom, or even DCA of a few years ago when you had elusive restaurants like MaliBurrito that almost never opened.

  2. Chad says:

    Go, Tom, go!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Haha, this is easily my fastest turnaround time on a trip report. However, I promised THREE trip reports before Christmas, and this is only the first one, so I still have some serious work to do!

  3. SkipperKelly says:

    Being a former Jungle Cruise skipper myself, I had high hopes for the Jingle Cruise. I haven’t had a chance to experience it myself but I’m sad to hear that the reviews are so mixed.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I think a big part of the negative reviews are that it’s not the “classic” Jungle Cruise. Some of the regular version’s jokes have achieved a sort of iconic status with Disney fans, when in reality, they’re only mildly funny. Jingle Cruise’s jokes are funnier (I think), but they lack that iconic status.

      Another big thing is that many people at home are “reviewing” the attraction based on YouTube videos, almost all of which were shot on the first day the attraction was open…after the skippers had very little practice with the material. Personally, I don’t think that’s fair to the skippers at all. Would you want to be graded on your first day at ANY job? With Disney bloggers, unfortunately, there’s always a race to be the first to post photos/videos of everything…

      No, it’s not perfect, but I thought it was significantly better than what I’ve been hearing from others.

      • Lauren says:

        I was in Orlando for 2 weeks after Thanksgiving and I could tell by our last day the skippers seemed to know the jokes better and had more confidence than they did the first day of our trip when it was still kind of new. So I think you might be right that a lot of the reaction might have been when it was still new and they were still learning the material. I agree it was much better than I was expecting after the reviews I was reading, and I liked having something a little different from the usual jokes.

  4. SkipperKelly says:

    Also I second your love for Cafe Orleans. I too didn’t recognize the awesomeness of this place until well into my Disneyland visits. It’s delicious.

  5. Kevin S. says:

    We loved the Flower Market. It was a pleasant surprise walking in on it while making our way through the shops. I agree these details set the Parks apart from the rest.

    I’m sad about Billy Hill & the Hillbillies retiring. While waiting in line for Santa, I had time to chat with a cast member. He said that they are all pretty broken up by it as well. They have even supposedly started a petition even.

    I had Cafe Orleans for the first time the day after your visit, and while we loved the food. The service was quite lacking. We had an evening reservation, and we were understanding when they had to sit us outside even with the gusting (since it was very busy). What we did mind was the time it took to get our food and the lack of attention by the waiter. In short, our time their was slow and cold. But perhaps I caught them on an off day.

    Our Jingle Cruise skipper wasn’t really into her spiel. So that was disappointing. But maybe I caught her on an off day too.

    Nice photos! We had the same idea about the Yule Log, and I have the same photo (and angle) of my wife near the Victorian Christmas Tree at the Plaza Inn. Anyways, keep up the good work!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I’ve seen the petition–it was shared by Billy Hill on their FB page. Given that, this is clearly not a “retirement” in the normal sense of the word. Too bad.

      After several consecutive lame skippers, we were about to give up on Jungle Cruise. Then, in October, we had an EXCELLENT skipper. Now, another good one. That attraction totally depends upon the skipper. It’s really make or break. The scenery alone is not impressive enough.

  6. Derek says:

    We were there before turkey day and were able to enjoy Plaza Inn and Cafe Orleans. The Yule Log was not my favorite, though I did finish it. Probably one of my favorites was the chicken waldorf at Jolly Holiday Bakery. Thanks for all the photos and info.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Whoa…you didn’t like the Yule Log?! That’s like not liking free money, dragons, or freedom! ;) Kidding, of course, I guess it’s not for everyone. Sarah doesn’t share my enthusiasm for it, although she still likes it.

  7. Emily says:

    The candles on the head (from small world) is part of Santa Lucia day (St. Lucia) which is Swedish holiday/tradition that also falls in December (it is semi linked to Christmas I believe).

    • Kaitlin Olivero says:

      Yes! Was totally going to say this! I am Swedish and for all of our Christmas pageants, I played Santa Lucia with my candled-wreath head :)

  8. Kayla says:

    Other people have already covered most of my comments on this installment, so I’ll just generally add that I love the photos from this trip report! I don’t think I’ll bother to look at the photos I took last week, I’ll just scroll through your TR instead.

  9. KCmike says:

    How many more installments do we get?
    Did you get to check out Mickey and the Magical Map?
    I, too, am loving the fast turnaround on the trip report here. Nice touch by Sarah sporting the Tokyo Disneyland T-shirt.

  10. Kevin says:

    “Prehistoricland should have been an opening day land at Disneyland, if you ask me.” Because the one dinosaur-themed land the Disney company did turned out so great? :)

    I think you made a wise choice with the seafood crepe. I love all things fried, and especially a Monte Cristo. But after eating the Pommes Frites I’m ashamed to say I couldn’t make it through the sandwich. (Allthough the remainder did make a wonderful breakfast the next day.)

  11. Matt says:

    I’m having sooooooo much trouble finding the blue eggs in tomorrowland!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I don’t know if some have been removed or if the plants there have grown and concealed them, but they’re tough to spot now. Go up in the FastPass queue for Space Mountain and look down.

  12. Kimberly says:

    The flower market has been aroudn with different flowers since at least September when we renewed our annual passes, so as far as I know this is a year round thing.

    We went on the Jingle Cruise the Thursday before it offically started and several times in November and December and they kept adding little bits to the decorations (on the ride not so much the que). Also there were different “story lines” used to different degrees over the 5 or 6 visits. I learned that the over lay and the story will contiue to grow in the coming years.

    Also as a note, We have been having very good skippers recently even playing with me and chaning it up because I know the script so well like introducing the rocks rather than the back side of water because that is my faviorate line and he saw it.

    Thanks for an awesome trip report I look forward to seeing Disneyland and the other parks through your eyes.

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