Disneyland Christmas Trip Report 2011 Pt 3

After leaving Carnation Cafe, it was time to get serious. We headed towards New Orleans Square, where our first stop was a bit haunted.

Surprisingly, it was Indiana Jones Adventure (which is on the way to NOS and is somewhat haunted, I think), not Haunted Mansion Holiday. Indy is always excellent, and this was no exception. I actually prefer the pre-show to the actual attraction, I think. That film is awesome. So clever!

After that, it was time to return to Haunted Mansion Holiday. We hadn’t experienced it in a few hours, which seemed like far too long of an absence.

This time, I pulled out the camera and went crazy. In case you have never experienced the attraction and want to spoil it for some reason, here’s a brief overview of the attraction:

You begin, as usual, by being led through the front doors into the stretching rooms (what, did you expect to enter through the chimney?!). Even from this early point, it’s obvious that things will be quite different, as the ghost host gives foreboding warnings about what lies ahead, in a poetic ‘Twas style.

The stretching room is quite different, with stained glass scenes from ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas hanging on each wall, before shattering (presumably they don’t really shatter, or this would be a costly attraction to maintain) and revealing scenes from The Nightmare Before Christmas. At the end of the stretching sequence, a large Jack Skellington face wishes guests “Happy Holidays.”

Over two-dozen Audio Animatronics figures are added for The Nightmare Before Christmas overlay and bright neon colors throughout the attraction make the Haunted Mansion take on new life. Animatronics include a man-eating wreath, Jack Skellington as Sandy Claws, Oogie Boogie, and many others. Madame Leota even becomes an ornament!

The icing on the cake is, literally, real icing, as Disneyland Resort Foods assists in building a gingerbread ouse that sits atop the dining room table in the Haunted Mansion’s Grand Hall. This gingerbread house is the centerpiece of the attraction, and is different every year.

For 2011, the gingerbread house stands six feet tall, consisting of 500 pounds of gingerbread and tons (well, not literally) of frosting. As the top of the house spins from “happy” to “sad” it becomes a gingerbread monster, showing its devilish glowing eyes and opening its jaws to reveal sharp teeth.

As the Doombuggies continue past the ballroom scene and enter the graveyard, they find it a little more chilly than normal. This is because the graveyard in the Haunted Mansion finale is covered with ghostly white snow. Trees in the graveyard are decked out with thousands of tiny orange lights, some of which have even tangled-up Jack’s ghost-dog reindeer.

Unsurprisingly, after our first ride-through, we immediately got in line and rode again. For some reason, the wait was back down to 5 minutes. We had heard it could approach an hour during busier days, and the next day was the first weekend of the Christmas season at Disneyland, so we knew Annual Passholders would be descending upon Disneyland. (No one in California works on Fridays–hippies!)

At this point it dawned on Sarah that she had been in Disneyland for several hours and had not yet experienced the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. I’ve said it once, I’ll probably say it again, but I don’t quite grasp how she thinks this attraction is so much better at Disneyland than it is at Walt Disney World. To me, they’re basically the same attraction, with a few subtle differences. This is clearly NOT one of the many attractions that’s better at Disneyland than at Walt Disney World. No matter what I say, she remains unconvinced, loving the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh at Disneyland, while being mostly indifferent to it at Walt Disney World. I guess, at the very least, at least she loves the version that never has more than a 5 minute wait!

From there, we headed over to Toontown, where we marveled at the City Hall tree that was rescued from Mickey’s front lawn at Walt Disney World’s Toontown. Actions like this make me wonder just how much money Disney actually saves by salvaging aspects of its parks for later reuse. Presumably there was some slight extra cost in salvaging the tree versus razing it with everything else, then there would be the cost of transporting it that could be quite high or low depending on whether it was placed on a truck already scheduled to take junk out to Anaheim or Burbank. I mean, I have no idea how much it costs to make a new fake tree, but it seems like it might not have been that much more expensive.

Now, I can definitely see reusing this tree if Disney were to market this as a preservation of history or an effort to be green (given the carbon footprint of moving the tree, this definitely wouldn’t be true). Talking points like these can definitely add value, but there was nary a Disney Parks Blog post or anything detailing the salvaging of tree. In fact, DisneylandNews.com indicated that the tree was new! At least when Disney went to those lengths to save the (much larger) Winnie the Pooh play area tree, it documented the whole process and made a big deal out of it. Fans like that sort of thing.

After admiring the familiar tree for a while, we took a spin with Roger Rabbit. I think I enjoy this attraction more and more each time we visit. To me, this is a dark ride at its finest. It uses some 2D cut-outs, but in situations when they’re really logical. It immerses guests in the experience, and contains some fun gags and a lot of detail. I don’t even recall the last time I watched Roger Rabbit, but the attraction is certainly a lot of fun. I was surprised to read a decent amount of criticism of this attraction, but then again, people will complain about anything. People, Disneyland fans especially, seem to just like to whine about things that are new. Nothing is ever as good as what was made in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s to them. Anyone who, attempting to judge the attractions as objectively as possible, thinks Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride or Snow White’s Scary Adventures is better than Roger Rabbit’s Cartoon Spin is delusional.

After we got off of Cartoon Spin, unfortunately, Henry Work was en route. We tried to figure out a way to shake him, but he had us cornered in the back of the park! So instead, we just waited for him in Toontown, then headed off to Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters. Nothing exciting to report there, except that I probably won by a large margin.

As we headed towards Fantasyland, Henry noticed that Tony Baxter was walking in front of us (I guess he is useful after all (Henry, not Tony Baxter–obviously Tony Baxter is useful)). Sarah snapped a quick photo of him, and we debated going up and saying hi. We and Mr. Baxter went WAY back–he had fallen asleep next to us on a couple of occasions at Walt Disney World’s 2011 Destination D, and we had later talked to him about how Disney had butchered Figment. Yep, we were like old friends…

Since he seemed busy and we didn’t want to bother him, we erred on the side of leaving him alone. I’m still not sure we made the right decision, but it was at least the polite thing to do. I mean, given his current rumored status with the Company, how many more times will he be seen in the parks like this? We essentially passed on what was probably our last opportunity to meet him.

Luckily, a beautiful sunset was there to cheer me up, and we took advantage of the sunset by heading up to the monorail platform and taking some photos. By the time we headed back down, the sunset wasn’t really visible from the ground.

We decided to watch “A Christmas Fantasy” Parade over in Fantasyland because I wanted the lights of “it’s a small world” in the background of my shots. We soon realized this was where we’d be seated after we took the Holiday Time at Disneyland tour, so there really was no point in watching the parade from this location on that particular night. Plus, the parade ended here, so we’d be waiting a long time for it to get to this point. We were a little concerned that on a day that had been relatively slow, there were already huge crowds for the parade over an hour before it started. This did not bode well for the busier days to follow.

We decided to instead watch the parade from Main Street, which was probably not the best idea. Main Street was a madhouse! We had seen people staking out spots there a few hours earlier, and we thought they were crazy, but it turns out that they weren’t that far off!

We somehow managed to find a spot at the end of Main Street looking towards the Train Station, so we jumped on it. We would have to wait over 30 minutes for the parade, but clearly people camped out way in advance for this thing.

While the Annual Passholders keep Disneyland “honest,” this is one bad thing about them. They aren’t working with the same time constraints as vacationers, so they have no problem showing up after work, bringing a book or iPad, and camping out for a few hours waiting for a parade, fireworks, or Fantasmic. Vacation time, by contrast, is finite, so vacationers won’t wait the same amount of time.

As Cars Land inevitably draws more tourists to Disneyland (and it certainly will–otherwise it’s highly unlikely Disney would have greenlit such an expensive project), this is going to be a problem. Disneyland will either have to try to cut it’s AP-base, or will have to create World of Color-like systems to ensure that tourists and APs are on a level playing field.

I had been planning on creating a Disneyland Christmas time lapse video, so I set up Sarah’s camera on my tripod and prepared it for shooting. Unfortunately, I had never purposefully shot a time lapse before (I had made a World of Color one ex post facto out of photos I happened to take at World of Color) and it turned out that I didn’t know how to use my time lapse remote!

This caused a lot of problems, and I think I took about 200 photos on accident as I tried to figure out how to use the remote. Ultimately, after reviewing the first couple shots of the actual parade (after the marching band), I decided to scrap the scene, deeming the shots subpar. Unfortunately, we never ended up watching the parade again, and while the photos I had taken wouldn’t have been good-enough to post individually on Flickr, a time lapse video allows for a higher margin of error, and the shots I was taking would have been just fine.

Suffice to say, I learned a ton from making the time lapse video, and although people seem to enjoy it, when watching it now, I see so many places I could improve it. I suppose that’s the nature of experimenting with new things–you are afforded the opportunity to learn! I’m sure I’ll think the Walt Disney World Christmas time lapse video I make is great right after I finish it, but in a couple of years, it’ll look amateurish to me. That’s exactly what happened to me in 2008 after I started taking photos of Walt Disney World. I was really impressed by what I had created. Now, I think very little of those photos. (In case you haven’t seen the finished video, you can check it out here.)

The parade itself was okay. It wasn’t as good as Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade, but then again, Disneyland’s parade was included in the price of admission. Given that, I would certainly take it over Walt Disney World’s parade!

It also turned out that we stood in a location that wasn’t the best. Directly in front of us, the parade floats were lit in incredibly harsh purple, blue, and pink lighting. This wouldn’t have been so bad if we were just watching the parade, but for photos, it was terrible. My only recourse was using my 70-200mm lens and shooting the parade floats as they were still under the more even lighting of Main Street. Of course, since I would be shooting past all of the floats and characters closer to me, most of my shots were obstructed. Not a very successful photography outing.

After the parade, we figured we’d have time to do one attraction before the fireworks. First, the second Act of Wintertime Enchantment was about to be shown, so we headed to the Castle to watch that. Surprisingly, we were right behind the “front row” of guests at the roped off area in front of the Castle. Given the early arrivers for the parade, I figured people would run to this spot as soon as they could after it opened up following the parade!

We aren’t ones to normally wait a long time for fireworks, but when these “front row” guests who were right in front of us left after Wintertime Enchantment, we decided to forgo the one attraction and just wait for the fireworks. We had an hour to go until the fireworks at this point, which was a long time, but given our spots, it wasn’t that bad. I seemed to recall Disneyland photographers saying this spot usually fills a couple hours or more before the fireworks. We figured this might be our one shot at a good location with a moderate wait, and depending upon how busy the weekend was, it might be my ONLY shot at photographing the fireworks.

While fiddling with the time lapse remote for the parade, I had mastered most of its features, so I set the tripod up at a moderately low level, dialed in the settings I wanted, and took a seat on the ground with the remote. I couldn’t really see my camera from this location, but I had a great view of the Castle and fireworks, and my primary concern was enjoying the fireworks, anyway. If none of my shots turned out, so be it.

It wasn’t long before the fireworks started, and right away, I knew I’d love them. That’s because the opening song was instantly recognizable to me as being based on (or having a similar melody as? I don’t really know, I know very little about music–my point is that they sounded alike) “Remember the Magic,” the 25th Anniversary song of Walt Disney World. I had many fond memories of that song from my youth, so it was awesome to hear a variation of it in fireworks at Disneyland! Even if it did have a (shudder) country sound.

“Believe… In Holiday Magic” was an enjoyable show, mostly from a storytelling perspective. From a pyro-perspective, no fireworks in Disneyland are ever as impressive as Walt Disney World due to airspace restrictions, but the shows are always as or more impressive because they make up for what they can’t do with fireworks bursts with great show.

Believe… was no exception, as the musical segments and portion of the show after the finale were especially impressive. The finale was easily my favorite portion of the show, as singer Kellie Coffey performed a stirring rendition of White Christmas, which concluded with snow falling in Disneyland, and all of Main Street being illuminated in brilliant white LED lights. It was truly impressive, and hearing the audience’s collective reaction was great.

We sat around for a few minutes after the show, expecting mass chaos (like always occurs in Florida’s Magic Kingdom) and hoping to avoid it by waiting a couple minutes. When we finally did get up to leave the hub, we were surprised that no one else was around. Either crowd control after the fireworks is better in Anaheim, Guests don’t wander aimlessly like half-baked cattle, or both.

Much to our chagrin, Disneyland was only open until 8pm that evening. Given that the fireworks started at 7:30pm, we had little time to queue up for another attraction before the park closed. We didn’t intend upon doing that, anyway, because we still hadn’t seen “it’s a small world” holiday lit up in all of its Christmas splendor.

It’s a good thing we arrived back there right as the park closed, because I think I could have stood back there staring at those beautiful lights. They were mesmerizing. Walt Disney World’s Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights still takes the cake for the most jaw-dropping light show. Some people might say one isn’t better than the other, but rather, they’re “different.” That’s BS. It’s not even a close call. That said, the “it’s a small world” holiday lights were still beautiful.

We immediately began taking photos back here. I was a little nervous as this is where I previously had my encounter with security, but thanks to some advance planning, I didn’t anticipate any encounters like that again. (Knock on wood!) Still, it was in the back of my mind. Luckily, there were no issues that evening, and I went to town with the camera!

After taking a decent number of photos, we headed towards Main Street. Henry somehow found us there, and he was itching for us to get going, as he wanted to head to Trader Sam’s. He mentioned that the park was playing host to a private party for a radio station, and as soon as he said that, a light-bulb went off in my head.

The previous night as we were heading to our hotel on the SuperShuttle, I heard mention of a private event at Disneyland and “winning tickets.” At the time, I assumed it was merely in regard to the Annual Passholder event that had taken place earlier in the week. We had received an invitation to this event, and thought long and hard about moving up our trip, but ultimately decided against it due to change fees. When I heard that radio spot, I thus tuned out, because hearing an event recap would be like salt in the wound.

In retrospect, it appeared the much more likely scenario was that the radio station was giving away tickets to this event. Had I just paid attention, we might have won! We had not, so instead we began scheming as to how we might obtain an invitation on the spot. I mean, it looked like a HUGE event, and surely the radio station had some empty spots.

Sarah spearheaded this movement, as it was our first day in the park, and 8pm seemed entirely too early to leave. I didn’t hold out much hope that we’d be able to find a way into the event, and I didn’t even try to gain us admission. Instead, I just shot around Main Street, taking advantage of the beautiful blue sky (why this sky wasn’t so beautiful during the fireworks or while we were back by “it’s a small world” holiday was beyond me).

In no time at all, we left the park. It was pretty clear that day guests weren’t going to be allowed to stay around long, so we figured we might as well leave. Plus, Sarah thought maybe there was someone outside the park to whom she could speak about being a part of the radio event.

She didn’t end up talking to anyone, which was quite relieving to me as I didn’t want to be part of some awkward conversation, but now, I wish she had. It was a large event so it’s likely there were some no-shows or tickets still available, and the worst they could say was no.

In the grand scheme of things, it ended up not being a big deal, as we had an amazing time at Trader Sam’s. Out of all of the things that opened this summer at Disneyland Resort, I think my favorite was probably Trader Sam’s. It was what I’d describe as Imagineering high art. It’s not a big venue, and it probably would have been just as profitable without all of the attention to detail, but those little details make it such an amazing place. It’s difficult to describe to someone who has never been, but suffice to say, it has intangible “character” about it.

Sarah and I didn’t plan on drinking anything that night, as we wanted to be able to get up and head to Disneyland bright and early the next morning before the weekend crowds started arriving. However, Henry is the king of peer pressure, so we found ourselves splitting an Uh Oa!

“Peer pressure” might be a bit of a strong term here. As soon as Henry mentioned that the drink had a table-side presentation and fire, we were sold. Sarah loves things with table-side presentations and I love fire.

The drinks kept rolling after that, as did the food. Among the three of us, we ended up sampling a large portion of both the specialty drink and food menus. All in all, it was a great time. So great, that we would find ourselves heading back again on a subsequent night. I think it’s now one of our favorite hangouts at Disneyland, in fact!

After we left Trader Sam’s, Henry wanted to show us some wallpaper and other random things in Disneyland Hotel. He is a big fan of the hotel, and perhaps doesn’t understand that others may not care quite as much about new flushing mechanisms on the toilets, but it was cool to see all of the references to Adventureland and Frontierland throughout the hotel. Some of the suites looked awesome.

From here, Sarah and I made our way back to our hotel, seeing some guests of the radio party as they left the event. From the sound of things, a large number were still inside Disneyland, as the place was “bouncin’.” The pain was blunted a bit knowing that we had an awesome time at Trader Sam’s!

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11 Responses to “Disneyland Christmas Trip Report 2011 Pt 3”
  1. Meredith March 15, 2015
  2. Jeff Lynch April 8, 2012
  3. Tracy February 17, 2012
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  4. Spekkio December 25, 2011
  5. Jenn December 17, 2011
  6. Melissa December 16, 2011
    • Switts December 17, 2011
  7. switts December 16, 2011
  8. Michelle Schaefer December 15, 2011
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