We were up early the next morning–being used to waking up at 6am and adding to that a 3 hour time change will do that to you–arriving to Disneyland well-enough in advance of 8 am rope drop. Unfortunately, it was a dreary, overcast morning so that meant I kept my camera holstered for most of the morning.
Henry was also there, and we plowed our way through most of Fantasyland within the first hour of the park being open. Our timing ended up being such that we would have been the last two elephants on Dumbo, but somehow there was not one available for Sarah and I when we went around to board, so instead we just took photos of Henry. When the Cast Member told us we could just wait for the next one, we passed on the opportunity, saying our friend was really the one who wanted to ride it. We took a lot of pictures of Henry as he rode; I wonder what the Cast Member thought of this. That Henry, he sure is special!
After hitting the better part of Fantasyland and a couple attractions in Tomorrowland, we headed for the Blue Ribbon Bakery on Main Street. Feeling dedicated to the cause of sampling more Christmas foods, I ordered the Holiday Brownie. Sarah, not feeling so dedicated to the cause (or possibly confusing the Harold the Yeti who inhabits the Matterhorn for a Christmas character, which somehow makes a snack with a similar name related to Christmas?), ordered a Matterhorn Macaroon. My snack ended up being an uninteresting and mediocre brownie, whereas her snack ended up being a freshly made, delicious, and unique mountain, so I guess she made the right call. In general, most of the holiday snacks that were widely available were not nearly as good as the ones sold at only a couple of locations. This should come as no surprise, but hopefully it helps someone reading this. (Shameless plug: for full reviews of many of Disneyland’s top Christmas snacks, check out my eBook, A Disneyland Christmas, which is now FREE for Amazon Prime members!)
We were still fairly hungry after our snacks, so we decided to split a small meal of real food at the River Belle Terrace on our way to Haunted Mansion Holiday. The food there was okay, but I’ve become convinced that Counter Service breakfast in the Disney theme parks is a waste of time and money. It’s all largely scrambled eggs, bacon, [insert random item], and a biscuit, all of which I could prepare just as well as Disney. It’s worth knowing that I prepare just about all foods with a microwave, so this is hardly a resounding endorsement of Disney’s breakfast foods.
It was time for Haunted Mansion Holiday after breakfast. One of the main reasons we hang out with Henry, as I’ve mentioned in the past, is his knowledge of the parks. He won both D23 Destination D Scavenger Hunts (Walt Disney World and Disneyland) and it shows. Some might consider this commendable, but recent studies have shown that the mind is finite. Henry is, literally, filling the valuable space in his mind with obscure Disney theme park knowledge. Actually, no matter how much I try to feign insulting him over this, I just can’t. No matter how you slice it, knowing a lot of obscure Disney facts is a great use of mental real estate.
The reason I mention this now is not to arbitrarily praise Henry (that is contrary to this site’s mission statement), but because thanks to Henry’s knowledge, a Haunted Mansion butler took us over to the old cemetery and let us look at the place. It was neat, and cool seeing something that I don’t think we otherwise would have known even exists.
Next, it was time for another trip aboard a Doombuggy into Jack Skellington’s version of Christmas!
After Haunted Mansion Holiday, we headed over to Pooh’s Corner, where we contemplated buying some really overpriced snacks. However, since we just had purchased some mildly overpriced snacks, we opted against spending $9.95 more on an apple that was decorated to look like a snowman. To be fair, this was a really cool-looking snowman, but I still would have had a difficult time justifying such an expensive snack purchase. Some of the other snacks here actually looked pretty good and didn’t seem too overpriced, but we also weren’t hungry, so we didn’t purchase anything. As best I could tell, this is probably actually a great location to find delicious Christmas snacks, as most of the items seemed fairly unique. Especially the Tigger Tails dressed as snowmen.
We also wandered around looking at Christmas souvenirs. Unfortunately, since we don’t know any Cast Members at Disneyland, we’re unable to purchase items with a 40% discount at Christmas. Fortunately (for us at least, unfortunately in general), most of the items sold at Christmas in “DisneyParks” are incredibly generic, are sold on both coasts. There are some minor exceptions and cases where items that are otherwise exactly the same say “Disneyland” instead of “Walt Disney World,” but by and large the holiday items are the same on both coasts. Due to this, I only ended up purchasing a red “Disneyland” script shirt with pie-eyed Mickey wearing a Santa hat (this same shirt was last year’s “value shirt” and sold for–I think–$12.95; this year it was $21.95!). I figured I’d buy the rest of the junk I wanted in Walt Disney World a couple weeks later.
As we left Critter Counter, Henry had to take an important phone call. Apparently its common with young people and hipsters like Henry, but his methodology of using his earbuds to communicate on this call was new to me. At first I thought he was talking to me, which wasn’t the case. Many attorneys I know use those blue tooth earpieces, and I find those similarly confounding. I’m sure many of you are reading this and thinking, “okay, grandpa” or wondering why I’m including these superfluous details in the trip report, anyway.
We wandered towards the front of the park in what Sarah later described as amusing fashion. She took a few photos of Henry and I, as he kicked rocks as he talked and I photographed…who knows what. I don’t find them all that funny, but you might beg to differ.
After a lot of aimless walking, we finally headed towards Main Street.
After a while taking photos there, we headed for the exit, and then to Disney California Adventure. This was our first visit to DCA during this trip, and first time using the new Disney’s Hollywood Studios-inspired turnstiles and using the temporary entrance behind Soarin.’
The turnstiles looked really nice, although I still think it was a curious decision to utilize the exact same design that was used for Walt Disney World’s Studios-park. Certainly there were other potential designs that would have fit.
I was quite impressed with the temporary entrance, which was quite nice given its temporary status. I mean, it wasn’t so cool that I felt compelled to photograph it from every which way, but it was more than just minimalistic. I was actually a bit surprised that some of the “pardon our dust” type signs along the corridor seemed almost as if they were pleas. I don’t remember what any of them said verbatim, but they were along the lines of “bear with us for just A LITTLE longer, we can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel!”
While I’ve heard a lot of people say they don’t intend to visit Disney California Adventure until its grand makeover is complete, I’m glad we’ve visited prior to completion. It has been neat to see the park massively transform before our eyes, and I would have loved to see it before a lot of these changes occurred. I am oddly fascinated by Superstar Limo, and I think some of old Paradise Pier would have been interesting to see. I like spotting the old Sun Wheel logos scattered throughout Disneyland. Although part of this is probably because I enjoy “extinct-Disney.” For whatever reason, it just fascinates me, whether the extinct attractions are terrible, amazing, or somewhere in between.
Speaking of terrible, we did Goofy’s Sky School first because Ariel’s Undersea Adventure (or whatever the subtitle for the Little Mermaid dark ride is out there) was down.
I wasn’t expecting much from this attraction. It’s my impression that this is just a placeholder and something better will be added as soon as funds allow. All I expected was a mild re-theming to make it less-garish and fit the theme of Paradise Pier better. So, as you can see, my expectations were fairly low.
Somehow, this attraction failed to live up to even my lowest expectations. By far the coolest aspect of the attraction is the little bulletin board in the queue. There are some neat details there. However, it’s upon close inspection of that board that things start to fall apart. Goofy is operating a sky school, apparently, because he needed to convert his farm into one. There’s more to it than that, but that’s all that’s really necessary for this critique.
So Mulholland Madness was removed because its ostentatious appearance and theme didn’t fit the new Paradise Pier, which was going for a classier look. Yet somehow a chicken farm would fit on Paradise Pier? Piers in California had a good number of chicken farms?! (Or sky schools, for that matter?)
I’m normally one who will play pretty fast and loose with where attractions fit. I don’t mind Monster’s, Inc. in Tomorrowland and Avatar in Animal Kingdom doesn’t bother me, either. However, to spend money to remove one thing because it’s ugly and doesn’t fit thematically only to replace it with something else that’s ugly and doesn’t fit thematically just doesn’t make sense at all. In fact, it’s a downright waste of money. Was it worth the money just to add Goofy to the thing? To paint it all baby blue? I really don’t understand how this was a logical solution. Maybe I’m missing something, but the whole chicken farm aspect just seems idiotic to me.
It wouldn’t surprise me if someone responds with some critical aspect of the backstory I’ve missed that gives it the appropriate theme for Paradise Pier, but I looked at those boards pretty closely and couldn’t find anything. If I couldn’t, chances are most other guests couldn’t, either. The sky school theme alone wouldn’t be nearly as irritating, but the chicken farm? Why?!
In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a major deal, and will hopefully be only a minor blemish on what is otherwise shaping up to be an impressive reboot of Disney California Adventure, but it was still perplexing. Plus, at least it’s (supposedly) only a temporary fix. Here’s hoping Disney didn’t spend more than like $15 on that fix (something tells me it was significantly more than that).
We had to wash the taste of that atrocious attraction out of our mouths somehow, and the new restaurants at Paradise Garden were calling our names. As we headed over there, we saw that Silly Symphony Swings was just unloading and had no line. We didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity for a true 0 minute wait for it, so we hustled over for a quick ride.
After the Swings, it was time for Paradise Garden. These restaurants were incredibly well done, and the food looked delicious. In comparison to Goofy’s Sky School, these were the Haunted Mansion of Disney restaurants. With nothing as a baseline, they weren’t quite that impressive, but still looked pretty impressive.
Sarah was pretty hungry, but I ultimately convinced her that we should actually wait to eat there. It was the middle of a dreary day, and from what I understood, the location was beautiful at night and had live entertainment on weekends. It made perfect sense to come back the next day during the evening!
As we exited, I noticed that there was no line for the Golden Zephyr and it was still boarding, so we scurried up and took a spin upon this attraction that is seemingly only open around 12% of the time. (Slight exaggeration.)
We then passed by The Little Mermaid, which was still not open, so we headed over to the Hollywood Pictures Backlot and rode Tower of Terror, which was fun, of course. I took a photo of the on-ride photo not because of my idiotic face that I make in about 85% of on-ride photos that we take, but because of the little kid behind me. I wish I could have found him to high-five for that great shot. Someday, that kid will change the world through the power of sarcasm. Mark my words.
After that, we headed for the exit. Or so we thought. Despite reading about the temporary exit several times prior to the trip and actually entering through it only a few hours prior, we still tried to exit down (future) Buena Vista Street. It took us a while to figure out what was up, but luckily we passed by Paradise Pier (somehow) in our attempt to exit. Sadly, this would not be the last time we got lost attempting to exit California Adventure during this trip. We’ve been to this park over 10 times, yet we couldn’t follow a temporary exit path. Shame on us.
I mention it being fortunate that we passed through Paradise Pier, and this was because The Little Mermaid dark ride was back up!
I had heard a lot of negative things about this attraction, but had refrained from reading anything in detail about it. Basically, all I knew going in was that it was supposedly too bright and Disney was quite proud of Ariel’s life-like hair. As with all attractions, the first pass-through was photo-free.
Perhaps my expectations had been substantially lowered by my knowledge that it hadn’t been well-received by fans, or perhaps Goofy’s Sky School had left an indelible mark on me and lowered my mental bar for attractions. In any case, I was not disappointed by Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.
The attraction featured many nice looking Audio Animatronics, some beautiful sets, and some excellent supplementary characters to really give a lot of detail and depth to scenes. As I saw it, this was the natural evolution of the Fantasyland dark ride. It was a long attraction that used more modern technology to tell the story.
Sure, it was mostly a condensed version of the film (or a “book report” attraction as some naysayers call it), but I can show you plenty of Fantasyland “classics” that these same characteristics. Sure, it’s fairly modest as far as technology goes, but I can point to a whole host of online critics who have complained about past additions by Disney being technology-heavy at the expense of storytelling. Here, the technology works well to tell the story without being so heavy-handed that you marvel more at the technology than the story it’s telling. Sure, not ever figure is an advanced Audio Animatronic and given the purported budget of this attraction, it’s surprising that there isn’t more, but Disney has never released an official budget for the attraction and without that number, I have a difficult time saying it overspent.
Overall, I found it really awesome to be riding through an attraction that, more or less, of which I had seen a simulated ride-through several years earlier. It was also cool to see a dark ride modeled after an attraction from the Disney Renaissance, which was the era of Disney films released as I grew up. Beyond that, I thought the details were impressive and the art direction solid. I would have loved to see something more grandiose and comparable to the large-scale EPCOT Center dark rides, but to be honest, I’m just happy Disney is again building dark rides for American audiences and not just high-thrill or 3D/interactive attractions.
After The Little Mermaid, we headed back to Disneyland.
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