Our goal is always “last out, first in.” This is not a literal goal, but can be paraphrased as staying as late as possible and arriving as early as possible. On the last evening and last morning of our trip, we did pretty well with this, being the (literal) last ones out and (not-so-literal) first ones in. We arrived shortly before rope drop and as the crowd trickled in, I quickly shot two scenes for the time lapse (they’re the second and third scenes of the video, for those curious). From there, we quickly headed towards New Orleans Square when we arrived. As we headed down Main Street, I noticed a Disney Yellow Shoes (their in-house creative department) photographer photographing the clock on Main Street with a tripod that was around 9 feet tall. The photographer appeared to be David Roark. Some recognize celebrities in the parks, I recognize photographers.
I could walk right past someone from Dancing With the Stars or American Idol without having any clue who they were. To each his own, I suppose. Given that he was using a tripod to photograph the clock on Main Street, I figured he was shooting another time lapse. This left me feeling a little deflated, as I had spent a couple hours taking shots for my time lapse video, and I was likely going to be upstaged by his!
Veterans probably laughed at us as they headed towards Peter Pan’s Flight, Dumbo, Space Mountain, or the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, but we wanted to see Haunted Mansion Holiday. We could see all those other attractions on any trip to Disneyland. Who knew when we might next see Haunted Mansion Holiday?! In our defense, we’ve seen people arrive at rope drop at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and head straight for Stitch’s Great Escape. Yeah. Now who’s the fool?
Even writing this now, with a fair amount of time elapsing since our trip, I still get goosebumps when I hear the Haunted Mansion Holiday narration in my head. While a lot of people would love for this attraction to come to Walt Disney World for the holidays, there are also a lot who either don’t like it at Disneyland or haven’t seen it at Disneyland but have already made-up their minds that it shouldn’t come to the Magic Kingdom.
I feel I should address the latter group, as there’s no reasoning with idiots, but I will anyway. To judge something without having seen it in person is fundamentally wrong. It’s along the lines of complaining about an attraction right after it’s announced and all that’s released is concept art. I’ve heard all the typical retorts to this: “I know I wouldn’t like it because I don’t like Nightmare Before Christmas.” Neither do we. Song of the South isn’t my favorite film, either, but I love Splash Mountain. “It’s a matter of principle. Disney should desecrate the work of brilliant Imagineers with some loud and tacky overlay.” If you haven’t seen it in person, this is equivalent to judging a book by its cover. The Haunted Mansion is a classic, to be sure, but calling a 3-month overlay a desecration of a classic attraction is hyperbole at its peak. I know it’s pretty standard in the Disney fan community to have a hard and fast opinion about everything, regardless of whether you have any actual knowledge of the thing about which you have the opinion, but in most cases, if you have no actual knowledge, your opinion is invalid. At least it is to me.
To the former group that has seen the attraction and still doesn’t like it, I can at least respect your opinion, but I still disagree with you. I would hazard a guess that most of the people who don’t like it fall into the purist camp who believe that classics should be untouched. These people probably also don’t like Captain Jack in Pirates of the Caribbean. While I can understand this line of thinking, I think it’s antiquated, and represents an unrealistic (and in some cases unhealthy) way of looking at the theme parks. For better or worse, contemporary audiences are different than those of the 1950s, 60s, and even 70s. To expect the same type of attractions that were created then to be created now is to wish for constant disappointment. The corporate environment has changed, as have guest expectations.
Some of this is a bit tangential here as the Haunted Mansion has become an indelible part of American culture such that it still resonates with audiences today. However, the point still stands that expecting some of these purists need to be more willing to let their guard down and enjoy contemporary attractions that are well done instead of constantly questioning, “would Walt have done this?” No one knows what Walt Disney would have done today. No one. It seems many of these purists are so caught up in the past that they’re wholly unable to enjoy the present. Just because John Hench wrote X or Y about “continuity” or “theming” doesn’t make W or Z a bad attraction. (Personally, I think much of Hench’s musings ascribe meaning to the meaningless–much like literary critics who, ex post facto, try to extract symbolism from literature that, by the author’s own admission, has none intended.)
In any case, my point is not that everyone should love Haunted Mansion Holiday. Given the lines, it appears most do. My point is that before condemning it, people should at least give it a chance by experiencing it in person. While giving it a chance, rather than scrutinizing and attempting to find any possible way it’s thematically askew or ruins the continuity of the land, simply sit back and enjoy it. Gauge it based upon your gut reaction. The same holds true for any attraction. And, if you still don’t like it, well…it’s only that way for just over three months out of the year. During those three months, experience other attractions that you do enjoy instead.
Okay, the Disney Theme Park Gospel According to Tom is over. On to some more attractions! Next up was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. We basically only did this next so we didn’t feel bad for arriving so early only to do attractions that probably still wouldn’t have waits at 10 am. From there, I made a stop at Big Thunder Ranch to shoot a time lapse scene of the reindeer. the “Keeper of the Reindeer” probably didn’t quite understand what I was doing with a tripod taking constant photos (seemingly) of her, and but she didn’t seem too creeped out by this. Rather than doing the sensible thing and explaining that I was photographing a bunch of lazy reindeer eating and sitting around for a time lapse video, I said nothing. I think it was one of those cases where the explanation might be even more odd than her assumptions. “So you want 300 pictures of these fat reindeer sitting around…for a video…on YouTube? Uhh…okay….”
I bumped the tripod a couple of times during this scene, but I didn’t bother reshooting. I just wanted to get the heck out of Dodge. It was uncomfortable just standing there like a weirdo with my tripod. Of course, the entire while, Sarah was nowhere to be found–it always seems a little less awkward when it’s both of us. Having her beside me is a little reassuring to others, I think. One of those, “well, he can’t be THAT crazy, because at least one other human is willing to interact with him” type deals. But, I had to bear with the discomfort because I had a disproportionate number of night scenes already shot for the time lapse, so I needed some more daytime material. I was just happy that I got my scenes shot without having to explain myself to the white hats.
Next up was “it’s a small world” holiday. No point belaboring this attraction’s excellence. If you’re just joining, you could probably read just about any of the previous installments and find me gushing about that attraction.
Never being overly concerned with efficiency in walking, we crossed back to the other side of the park to ride Indiana Jones Adventure with FastPasses we acquired earlier. Along the way, I photographed some remnants of Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland.
We breezed through the queue, making grandiose plans for what we’d do before leaving the park. After boarding and beginning the attraction, we came to a screeching halt in one of the opening scenes. The lights came on and all of the sudden maintenance workers appeared from behind some skeletons. Apparently our vehicle had hit a water bottle, causing the attraction to breakdown. All the while they were there, I was taking photos, and they never said anything. I was a bit surprised by this. Of course, we were stopped in one of the few dead spots (notwithstanding the pun) of the attraction, so all I really could shoot was a bare wall. Still, I was going to get some pics!
After about 15 minutes, they reset the attraction, and we finished it at a slow pace with the lights on for a good portion of the ride. They asked us if we wanted to go through again, and we responded “yes.” What could go wrong, right?
At this point, Sarah realized she had lost her Tigers hat. We poured a 40 below the ride vehicle in honor of our lost friend, which caused another breakdown. Obviously the 40 part wasn’t true, but as we rounded the same corner where we had previously stopped, we could feel the attraction, for lack of a better term, mis-firing. This time, we came to a screeching halt on the bridge.
Presumably right at the same time, Sarah and I began reeling, realizing that this might be the exact spot where she lost her Tigers hat. Did we just cause an attraction to breakdown?! I again began taking photos, while Sarah peered all around, looking for her mischievous hat. Someone eventually asked the ride ops why the attraction broke down again, and their response was that it didn’t properly reset.
We weren’t quite sure if this was a real explanation, or the “Rizzo the Rat, ‘they’re stupid tourists, what will they know’” answer given in lieu of a more detailed expalantion that most guests probably wouldn’t understand, anyway.
Rather than resetting the attraction again, the ride had to be evacuated. This was a long process. A ladder was used, and we walked to each ride vehicle in a long line along the wall, got the next vehicle full of guests out, then repeated the walking process. I’m not complaining, though, as we got to walk through the entire first half of the attraction.
We had several first-timers with us, and I impressed them all by telling them that there would be a skeleton ahead wearing Mickey Mouse ears. I knew this skeleton was there based upon information passed along from Henry, but I had never been able to spot it myself. I was a little nervous about making this proclamation before we arrived at the scene, but once we turned the corner and it was there, I was to this group as the Claw was to the Toy Story Aliens. Okay, maybe not quite. Maybe it was more like Babe Ruth calling his shot. Except better. Whatever the case, I was relieved that it was still there, and happy to finally see it myself!
As we neared the load/unload area, a Cast Member, for the first time, told us “you can’t take photos during this.” Better late than never, I guess? I was pleased that they waited so long to make this announcement.
At the exit, Cast Members handed us FastPasses good for 4 people each that could be used at any attraction that day. The only attraction we’d have time for after this would be Haunted Mansion Holiday, so we gave our FastPasses to a couple visiting for the first-time. The man had been especially entertaining while we waited, so we figured they “deserved” them. The couple did lose points because they lived in California and had never visited Disneyland, but we realize not everyone is a Disney-zealot like us.
All in all, our Indiana Jones Adventure took over an hour. Given that we stopped on two different ride-throughs, this actually wasn’t that bad. It was a neat experience, too, so I’m not complaining.
Next up was lunch at Rancho del Zocalo. I had wanted to get some eggnog or gingerbread beignets in New Orleans Square, so while Sarah ordered our food at Rancho, I wandered around NOS trying to figure out where I could get them. Turns out they were (supposedly) only available at the table service restaurants. Oh well, back to Rancho I went!
Tamales available during the holiday season at Disneyland Resort. Tamales are a Southwest holiday tradition, and Disneyland gets into the spirit of the holiday season in Frontierland at Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante and in the Pacific Wharf at Cocina Cucamonga by offering these authentic foods.
There, we ordered the seasonal carne asada and tamale combination platter for $11.99. The meal contains a chicken tamale, re-fried beans, Mexican rice, sour cream, guacamole, and pico de gallo. I wasn’t quite sure how this was a Christmas-food, but it was advertised as such. I later learned that it’s a traditional holiday-time food in Southwestern cultures. Turns out my narrow-minded definition of Christmas foods as things we eat in the frigid Northern states is not all-encompassing!
We also ordered the Tres Leches Cake. Literally, this translates to “Three Milks Cake.” Given that it contains three different types of milks–evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream–this name is unsurprising.
Tres Leches Cake isn’t necessarily a traditional holiday dessert, but it had festive holiday sprinkles added to it and the presentation was in the form of one of Santa’s Reindeer, so I gave it my stamp of approval.
From there, it was back to Haunted Mansion Holiday once more, then towards Main Street as we prepared to leave Disneyland. We still had some time, so I stopped for some ice cream at Gibson Girl.
As soon as I walked in the door, I knew what I was ordering. There it was on the sign, “The Peppermint Stick Ice Cream with Crushed Candy Cane Ice Cream Cone.” It looked glorious.
And so it tasted. As I lapped it up like some combination of a cat and a toddler that has trouble accurately hitting his mouth when he consumes, food, I went over to the clock on Main Street, where David Roark looked like he was about to take down his tripod. I waited a bit for him to finish what he was doing, and went over and told him I was a big fan of his work. He was a bit taken aback, I think, presumably because he probably rarely has people approach him in the parks like that. (What can I say, I’m a geek.) It was pretty obvious to me that he was shooting a time lapse given that he had been photographing the same clock for over four hours, but I asked what he was doing, anyway.
He responded that he was working on a time lapse and the shot of the clock would be few seconds long, at most. He seemed like a nice guy (especially given that I likely had ice cream all over my face like some slob), although I didn’t stand around and chat long. I said nothing about my own photography as I highly doubt he knew who I was, but in retrospect I wish I would’ve talked to him for a little longer.
The video he was working on, it turned out, was the One More Disney Day teaser video. It turned out awesome. Much cooler than my Disneyland Christmas time lapse video, but to be fair, he is a professional photographer with years of experience who spent 4 hours on one three second scene, whereas I am an unpaid amateur vacationer who rushed through all of my scenes because the purpose of the trip was to vacation. Not exactly a level playing field.
I wandered around Main Street for a bit before finally finding Sarah. She tasted the ice cream, and was quite impressed. We took one last look at Sleeping Beauty Castle, and reluctantly headed out.
We were leaving not because it was time for our airport pick-up, but because we had to be out of our room. We rushed back and barely made it out of the room at Candy Cane Inn in time. We would have just sat there, but for the fact that I accidentally scheduled our pick-up at Del Sol Inn. Luckily, Del Sol Inn was right across the street from Disneyland, so when we arrived across the street from Del Sol Inn at the temporary parking lot with around 45 minutes to go before our pickup, Sarah agreed to let me head back into the park to get her an ice cream cone (most of it was gone by the time she tasted the previous one–this was by design on my part!).
This was quite the moral victory for me–one more visit to Disneyland! I wandered around a little, then got her ice cream and headed back out. When I returned, I still had 20 minutes until the bus arrived. So I headed back to the esplanade and into the park to take one last look at the Castle (Sarah had her ice cream, so she was content staying with the luggage).
With 10 minutes before our van was to arrive, I returned to her bench, and we walked to Del Sol Inn. After a few minutes, the van arrived, and it was completely full. The driver threw our bags one on top of the other and didn’t pay attention as other luggage began to fall. Seeing this, and being concerned that the camera gear and laptop in my carry-on might be damaged when this guy opened the door, I grabbed it to set at my feet in the van.
The guy turned to me with the creepiest toothless face I’ve ever seen, and mumbled “CAN’T DO THAT, I NEED VAN SAFE FOR PASSENGERS!” and yanked the bag from my hand. It took everything to restrain myself from reacting, but I let it go. Much to my dismay, the only seat left was in the front, next to him. He moved his junk off the seat, and I boarded the van. It was an unpleasant ride, and not just because the van stunk. The entire time, I was worried about my laptop–and all of the photos from the trip on its hard-drive. You’ve seen the photos here, so obviously everything turned out okay, but I’m not sure if we’ll use SuperShuttle again.
At the airport, we did the normal airport thing, boarded our flight, and returned to Indianapolis. It’s always a long flight home after any Disney trip, but at the end of this great trip, it was especially long. Christmas at Disneyland was truly amazing. It also didn’t help that the flight from California to Indianapolis is especially long.