I had been pretty neutral on all things Disney while I was growing up, and as a young adult I didn’t seek out any Disney entertainment. I had been to Disney World once when I was eight or nine, but that was pre-Epcot and all I remembered was loving Peter Pan and hating Space Mountain. But in 2006 when my kids were five and two, I had the chance to go to Disney World again. This time, it was a whole new experience. Not only did I enjoy the rides and attractions myself, but I also saw them through the eyes of my children. I realized that the idea of Disney is to put together a destination that offers something for everyone. Sure, a few rides are for grown-ups only, and a few are really just for little kids. But the vast majority of the rides and attractions are for people of all ages, from babies up to great grandparents. This is what Disney does well. Sure, it’s an artificially created environment, but you’re surrounded by nice, helpful employees, fun rides, interesting attractions and, at Epcot especially, really good food. That trip to Disney World changed my general view on Disney.
I still had never been to Disneyland, though. But a couple of years ago, my stepdad, who is a huge Disney fan, took the kids and me along on one of his many trips out there. I loved it. The kids loved it, and they were finally old enough to remember the experience. We had all gotten annual passes, so that year we went two more times. Disneyland is a much lower key destination than Disney World. You can see everything at Disneyland in a few days, and you won’t be walking nearly as much. Things are just more compact.
After our year o’ Disney, we didn’t go to Disneyland again until last month. We’ve learned that February is the best time of year to go. You may get a little rain (which we did one day), but the crowds are quite minimal if you go in the middle of the week.
Since we had all been to Disneyland so many times before, we knew which rides we could skip and which were our favorites. We each have slightly different favorites, so we made sure to hit them all. There was also one new ride that we just… had… to… ride! My contact at Disneyland also suggested some rides and attractions that focus on technology, so we made a point to visit most of those, too.
The folks at Disneyland have redone Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. This attraction was originally created for the State of Illinois Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. It later opened at Disneyland, but closed down after a while. For its reappearance last December, they improved Lincoln’s movements to be more life-like, and adjusted some of the speeches and audio. My stepdad and I really enjoyed this show. It started with a video describing parts of Lincoln’s life. Then the curtain went down, then back up, and there he was sitting in a chair. You could tell that he was an Animatronic figure, but his movements were very smooth, including his mouth. He read some of his writings, then he sat down again. The backdrop slowly turned to night and patriotic music played. The clouds reflected the setting sun and the stars came out. At one point, the clouds and stars made a pattern like the U.S. flag, complete with the appropriate colors. The show basically described what it was like to be president at such a time as the Civil War. Lincoln’s movements were quite impressive, but it was most interesting from a historical perspective.
In the anteroom before going into the show, there were a lot of displays to browse. There was a model of the Capitol building, a portrait and a bust of Lincoln, models of a few rides, many original Disneyland tickets and photos from some rides no longer in existence, such as the People Mover. (Fortunately, this ride is still in existence at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom as the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, but I wish they’d bring it back to Disneyland!)
Since the last time we went to Disneyland, they had completely redone the inside of the Innoventions building in Tomorrowland. Now it holds the Innoventions Dream Home, along with other related activities. It also has a very entertaining show with ASIMO, the robot from Honda. I’d never seen ASIMO in person before, though the general model has been around since 2000. Honda has improved ASIMO quite a bit over the years, and we were all impressed at its capabilities. It can walk forward and backward, kick a ball, climb stairs, run forward, access the internet and do a wide variety of other tasks. It can not, however, run backward. My son made sure to ask. This show was wonderful for all ages. We were all very impressed and enjoyed it.
After visiting Disneyland so many times, we have several favorites which have percolated to the top. At Disneyland, in no particular order, our favorites that we keep going to time and time again are:
- Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters – Always a lot of fun. You shoot at targets to bring down Emperor Zurg, who is fighting against Buzz and the little green three-eyed aliens. You can compete to get a high score. If you’re lucky, the ride will momentarily stop at some point, allowing extra time shooting at the targets.
- Gadget’s Go Coaster – This is a fun kid-sized roller coaster that was as packed with adults as it was with kids.
- “it’s a small world” – This classic Disneyland ride was also created for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Since our last visit, they had added a new USA room, since only Hawaii had been represented before. They also added Disney characters to a lot of the rooms, like Pinocchio to Italy, Ariel to an under the sea area, Lilo and Stitch to Hawaii, etc. The characters were neat to find, but for me it took away from the original theme. It tied the ride in with the rest of the park, though.
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – This ride always brings me back to the many hours my sister and I listened to our Winnie the Pooh records as a child. It follows the Winnie the Pooh movie storyline.
- Peter Pan’s Flight – This is possibly my most favorite ride ever. I’m not sure what it is that I love so much, but there’s just something about flying out of a window and over nighttime London that continues to bring me joy. Oh, and the kids love it, too.
- Storybook Land Canal Boats – I’d never heard of this ride before our first Disneyland visit. You ride in a little boat around Storybook Land to visit miniaturized houses belonging to Disney characters.
- Space Mountain – My son was finally tall enough for this ride this visit, so the kids and I rode it together. Since it is very dark inside, I wasn’t sure how he liked it. I expected to have a crying child at the end, but when it was over, I turned to look at him and he yelled, “Again!” I needn’t have worried!
- Alice in Wonderland – Another one of Disneyland’s “dark rides,” Alice (along with Peter Pan and Pooh) is one of the few that aren’t scary.
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant – Somehow we always ride Dumbo. It’s fun to control the height of your elephant.
- Matterhorn Bobsleds – This is another fun roller coaster, which unfortunately was being refurbished during this trip.
- Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion – We always ride these, since they’re some of my stepdad’s favorite rides. They are a bit creepy for the kids and me, though, but we go along anyway.
At California Adventure, we first headed to the new ride, Toy Story Midway Mania! It is a lot like Buzz Lightyear Astroblasters in that you’re in a car that moves around and you shoot at things. However, for this one you wear special glasses that allow you to see the things you’re shooting, and the shooting mechanism is completely different. The ride is a lot like old fashioned midway games. As with Buzz, your arm will be very tired when you’re done. We all loved this ride and it was fun to compete with yourself and others.
My Disney contact suggested we head to Blue Sky Cellar, where they have displays of all the new attractions coming to the park. I never would have found this spot had I not been looking for it. It’s tucked away just off one of the restaurants in the park. I really enjoyed seeing the conceptual drawings and little miniature sets of the rides and attractions that will arrive over the next couple of years. One thing that was highlighted here is the World of Color which will be unveiled this spring. It will be a big Disney light show with illuminated water spouts (similar to the Bellagio in Las Vegas). It looks like it will be quite dramatic.
At California Adventure, our favorite rides are:
- Mulholland Madness – My son was finally tall enough for this crazy roller coaster. Holy moly did both my kids love this one. I think we rode it six or seven times on our visit.
- Soarin’ Over California – We first saw this ride at Disney World, but our son wasn’t large enough to ride it yet. The ride contraption is something akin to a giant Erector set in front of an IMAX-type screen. Sound, motion and scent are all integrated into the experience.
- Toy Story Midway Mania! – See above.
- Jumpin’ Jellyfish – This more-fun-than-it-looks ride is always worth a ride or two.
- King Triton’s Carousel – I like this carousel better than King Arthur’s Carousel in Disneyland (in Fantasyland) because the creatures are much more comfortable.
- Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue! – Another “dark ride,” this one follows the plot of the movie quite well.
- The Boudin® Bakery Tour and the Mission Tortilla Factory – You know, for the samples. I also learned during this trip that the deli next to the bakery sells whole loaves of Boudin® sourdough bread.
- California Screamin’ – The only real roller coaster in the entire park, this one is quite good. The ride is so smooth and thrilling. My daughter was finally tall enough to ride, and she liked it enough to ride it twice.
I always thought California Adventure seemed a bit incomplete, but Disney is remedying that situation by adding all sorts of new things, starting this spring and continuing through 2012.
Great for Folks of All Ages
There are plenty of rides and attractions that we love at both of the Disneyland Resort parks. Unlike some amusement parks to which I’ve been, the Disney parks are nice for people of different ages to go to together. Older people can rest while the younger ones run around for a while, or everyone can ride things together. There are thrill rides, kid rides, everyone rides, princesses, Jedi, shows and parades. Disneyland really is a multi-generational place, so if you’re looking for a destination that can include many members of the family, it’s a good choice. Seeing the look of wonder on a small child’s face when they fly in a pirate ship over London on the Peter Pan ride, or hearing the excitement in their voice as they decide where to go next… It is moments like these that you remember for for the rest of your life.
* Note: We did receive free tickets for one of the four days we were at the park.