California Adventure, Disneyland, Anaheim, CA
Diana, MaceVindaloo, ScarletManuka
Illustrated with photographs by MaceVindaloo
This is Southern California, where one should expect to see the improbably or surreal. Like an ugly golden statue of Buddha riding on the back of a pickup truck. It somehow matches the improbable weather (90°F during the day, 50°F at night, all year round -- great for sleeping!) and the general oddness that is "normal" for this geographic piece of the globe. Good thing we were a bit sleepy en route, and we didn't think it was being kidnapped or something (see the tethers around Buddha's neck and shoulders???)
We'd heard that this "partner" themepark for Disneyland was simply a way to address the popularity of other theme parks like Universal and Six Flags. And Disneyworld with it's accompanying other parks and the Disney Cruises have been doing well as a multipark combo -- was this just another way to charge separate entry fees? Still, being a lifelong devoté of Disney, I had a hard time believing it wouldn't be well thought-out. At least the environment should be controlled so that you see what they want you to see, nothing to break the illusion ... some people believe this is a great evil, but I think it's simply careful and great showmanship.
The desire to control what the viewer sees and experiences starts in the parking lot. You know when you drive into a parking building, it's usually an ugly self-serve space ... you have to drive around and circle in order to find a space, then you get lost for a little while looking for a way out? And then when you leave, you have to wait in a line to pay? At Disneyland, you pay up front, so you can leave without queueing up to hand over more money. This is not a bad idea, you likely do not want to fork over MORE money at the end of the day, after all. Also, there were so many people in bright red jackets indicating where you should drive. They were not always helpful, but they were cheerful about it. Even when the woman driving the winnebago was told her vehicle could not be accommodated, and she'd have to part in an outdoor lot ... and yes, they'd give her her money back ... she was BELLOWING ... she really didn't want her money back. She wanted to park in the clean covered garage, even if it meant destroying the top of her big vehicle and the ceiling of the parking structure!
So they'd already ingrained into you that you should look for the people in red when searching for park staff. The parking was a little confusing, but each level was marked by a popular Disney character. How lost can you get? We were in "Donald Duck." Then you go down the escalators to get onto a shuttle tram. They were orderly, clean, etc. This is an important detail, yo! And instead of the zig-zag escalators, you took an escalator from your level straight down to the ground ... there were a lot of escalators, and a really nice touch. Less waiting!At least the place was nicely landscaped to look less like a soul-less parking structure. And you could see the promise of fun in the distance as you walked to the shuttles.
We were taken to Downtown Disney, the plaza between the entrances to Disneyland and California Adventure. Downtown Disney is available at no charge to the public, and it is comprised of shops, both Disney Stores and other shops in what amounts to an outdoor mall on Disneyland property. So get a bite to eat, etc. It's actually a nice place to maybe take the family -- the shops have to adhere to Disney rules and codes, including cleanliness inside and out. There are a lot of sidewalk cafés here, too. We decided to leave this behind and explore it a bit on the way out of the park instead. We were eager to buy our tickets!
We got in line and it moved quickly, and an aggressive friendly older guy kept trying to speak to us in our native language ... too bad no on in the party spoke that language! The ticket guy wouldn't leave alone thought, and we got pretty antsy about trying to run into the park before the masses overtook us. We had decided to do the newer park; having heard so much about it, we felt like we should before hating it. That's always a good policy for life, after all. Never denigrate on heresay!
It was "off season" but there were still plenty of people. Over the course of the day, we estimated 30- to 40-thousand people in the park ... was crowded, and because the ticket area and the entrance gate were the limiting reagent, we were pretty grumpy by the time we got into the park. Still, it was amusing seeing a reproduction of the Golden Gate bridge, placed on well-created rocks with the correct foreshortening, so that it looked real and at a distance. We rather liked the kitschiness of the Californated view ... oops, this is Disney, sorry!
We were hungry and still grumpy when we finally got in, and headed for the food express place off to the right. It was rigged to look like an airplane maintenance hangar. There was one cashier for every two lines, and even with that odd delay, the food wasn't ready ... At least we got a chance to look over the fast food menu and watch as the food went by. We discovered that the kid's meals (chicken nuggets or two mini-burgers with "Happy Face Fries" and a drink) were much better looking than the adult offerings. So we got those. The fries were rather spooky looking, especially when dipped "head-first" into ketchup!
The kid meals also came with plastic lunchboxes, which we saved for small children we happen to be related to. A word of advice, bring a backpack with you (which the park security will check over at the entry gate), and bring sunblock, change of clothing, a jacket and enough space for accumulated stuff. Like the lunchboxes. The jacket comes in handy since Los Angeles IS a desert, and though hot and sunny during the day, it can get chilly at night, dropping in temperature as much as 40 degrees!
So we were still grumpy, despite admiring the man-made sedimentary rocks used as path definers throughout the park. We'd been in line for nearly 2 hours ... we wandered over to a hangar-looking building with "Soaring Over California" and the sign said, "85 minutes." There was something called "Fast Pass" where you can apply for a ticket that reserves your "seat" to a ride or presentation for a particular time, so you don't have to wait in line -- you can wander off and do something else. There was a separate line for these Fast Pass holders; seems like a good idea. But we were grumpy from having waited so long, so we waited on that line, anyway.
It actually took less than 85 minutes, maybe 30 minutes. The clock might have been broken ... once we got into the quonset hut, we got to stare at the walls with their displays of photos and old plane parts. The history of flight in California was outlined, and it actually was fascinating. But the line was moving faster than we could read and point at everything, and before we knew it, we were in a room with rather scary looking, bare-bones machinery, suspended from the ceiling. We'd been given instructions to pack away our stuff onto the netting below our seats and to wear the spring-loaded safety belt. The room darkened and we were lifted up and pivoted ceilingward and the big IMAX screen gave us a glider view of scenes of California! Unlike normal IMAX films, your seat moved, the breeze moved and your feet dangled over the mountaintops!
Too soon, we were back on the ground, exhilarated! All the grumpiness was gone, and suddenly we felt like we were in a park designed and maintained by Disney!
In much better moods, we walked down the path and found ourselves in a river mill environment with people sitting in a circular inner tube type of thing, being cranked up a sluice, then dumped down. Everyone was drenched! We really felt tempted to get on the 60 minute line, but decided that getting doused too early in the day might result in the "itchy jeans" syndrome, so settled for watching the screaming riders splash and spin and bounce around in the water.
Further down, we saw a boardwalk with what looked like a carnival. It was a section called Paradise Pier, and it even included a corndog kiosk! We had a huge corndog with very crunchy crust. I don't know why it came with a bag of chips, but the drink was welcome. We walked around munching on our fried hotdog on a stick and decided to wait in line for the "Sunwheel." That's a sort of Ferris Wheel with an extra twist -- about a third of the gondolas stayed put on the perimeter of the spinning wheel, like a normal Ferris Wheel. But the other two-thirds were mounted on rails, so as the wheel spun, the gondolas slide along this elipse, speeding up as it reached the short end and swinging out into space! It was thrilling, and I really wanted to go on a few more turns. You could choose between the static gondola line and the moving gondola lines. The latter were much longer, of course.
Like any good boardwalk, there was a midway where games of skill were offered. It did cost extra to toss a ball into a can, or to knock down some pins, or watch dolphins race like horses, or play skeeball. But being Disney, it was $2 for a bunch of tries, not $7 like the portable carnivals one comes across. And also being Disney, it was clean, the hawkers were tidy park employees, and you had no danger of getting ripped off. In fact, the hawkers didn't even handle your money -- you inserted your cash into a plexiglass box, the hawker pushed a button where it dropped into a locked box, then gave you the balls to throw or the fishing rod to attract magnetic fish to, etc.
And the games were such that just about everyone won a prize. One game required you to toss a softball into a huge fruit basket. If you got two in, you had a choice of one large stuffed frog, or three small ones! Rules are posted for each of the games; the fishing one read, "Eveyone wins a prize!" and they meant it. Bigger prizes were tougher to get, but we did see many people walking around with them, so it was obviously possible.
There were plenty of other rides, including the twirling thing that were fitted with swings or rocket-like seats. But the best of all was "California Screaming" -- a rollercoaster. Unlike conventional coasters where the riders are winched up a slope then dropped down the other side, the cars were launched off a semi conductor, and the speed was controlled throughout the ride with more semiconductors along the track. No feature went on too long, everything seemed to be timed and calculated for maximum thrills. The Mickey Mouse silhouette outlined a circular loop of track. Unlike many thrillseeker rides, this ride didn't go backwards. I have no idea why people think going backwards is fun? It's as if they edited all the dumb and bad stuff out of a rollercoaster ride and created this one. The track was painted to look like a wooden coaster, but it was actually steel, didn't rattle or wobble at all. They also took the de riguer photo of you as you came out of the loop-de-loop. When you got off the ride on wobbly legs, you could lean up against the photo kiosk and buy the photo of you screaming your fool head off!
Part of the reason I wanted to go to this park was because I hadn't seen the Electric Parade for many, many years. The last time, it was still at Disneyland, but it had been moved to California Adventure. The 1970s era technology to create the various floats was noticeable, but in a pleasantly nostalgic way. It was charming! There were some new floats, and the costumes had been rigged better with electric lights than before. It was a nicely choreographed, nicely timed parade. We'd been advised by the photo kiosk guy that there was less of a crowd at the end of the parade. The people watching the start of the parade were waiting to run off home. It was the last event of the day, and the park rides shut down just beforehand, then the lights of the park die down.
So before the Electric Parade, we walked around the rest of the park and visited as much as we could. There is a path through the park called "the Entertainment Corridor," where performers would entertain the crowd. There were bands set up to play Beach Boys concerts (the Paradise Pier area actually piped out the same tunes played on a calliope throughout the area!), a trio of drummers playing their "precision drum routine" on trashcans, a Dixieland band, etc. Like the midway, they don't extort money from you, and you feel totally safe and nothing is dirty about this entertainment.
We also investigated Bugland, meant for small children and their tired parents. There was a lot of stroller parking, with more gentle rides here, decorated to look like "found" objects -- the junk humans cast away, which bugs pick up to create structures for their world. There are tunnels made of "cereal boxes," the lights are tall stalks of ... clover? Everything is from a bug's point of view, of course! There were also a lot of Department of Agriculture type displays explaining what sort of crops grow or don't grow in California and why. We got our picture taken with an oversized ant, who signed autographs, too! (How do they see out of those costumes?) We also smelled familiar odors in the darkness, and following the smells led us to herb plantings, with a bug sculpture guarding the spread. There was also an array of sprinklers that would squirt randomly; one sprinkler rode on a round track and emitted a fine spray along it's radius, like an irrigation array. Kids enjoyed running ahead of it. And so did one overheated member of my party (who is WAY bigger than a standard kid, by the way!)
There was also a marketplace where bread was baked for the park comisssaries, tortillas were pressed and cooked. These are called "line rides" where you walk a line, from station to station to watch a videotaped explanation of what's going on at that point. It was rather strange that a number of things were closed, perhaps because it was the off-season? (The "closed rides" thing was actually something to consider; at Disneyland, Space Mountain, the Dumbo Ride, and the Indiana Jones stuntshow were all closed! Thus, another reason to go to California Adventure instead.)
We were walking back along the goldmine "bear country" water ride and saw "waiting time: 2 minutes" ... who could resist? So we ran through, jumped into a rubber tire and got thoroughly drenched! The vehicle is designed to carom off the sideboards, pulled forward by a railway style track underneath the water. The ride is also designed to create a big splash at the bottom of every incline. As we rode this as the skies darkened, the Los Angeles desert's nighttime climate was coming into effect and we were really, really cold! This is where the change of clothing came in handy! Or, maybe we should have been doused when it was hot and sunny?
We also went to the "Hollywood Backlot" area. Again, a lot of it was closed, but we did manage to get into the Muppet Show in 3-D feature. They gave you glasses that made you queasy. The best part was Statler and Waldorf on the balcony; they and the penguin orchestra were animatronically controlled. Still, it was nice to sit in comfy chairs as things were flown toward us and the voice of the Swedish Chef blew up the theater. Nice effects, but lame show.
The food available at the park wasn't good. We wrote about the corndogs and the kid's meals and they were okay, but we were struck by the lack of inspiring food choices. You hear about the food at Disney World, I had wanted to try the smoked turkey drumsticks! But there were none to be found. Obviously, the food here is not equal to the offerings at the bigger park in Florida. Also, having that Downtown Disney thing does obligate the management to provide customers to the purveyors. California Adventure closes at 9pm on Saturday (off season), while Disneyland closed at midnight. So there wasn't the exodus crush you might expect, and so we opted to stop for a late dinner at La Brea Bakery.
We got home really wiped out, barely managed to crawl into bed before falling into a solid slumber. Overall, it was a great trip, and we don't have a lot to be unhappy about. We won some stuffed toys, didn't buy any souvenirs, bought marginal amounts of food ... it's said that the average visitor spends about $80 per person (whether man, woman, or child), but even including our tickets into the place and the midway games, I know we didn't hit that. We got the two day passes, for $96 per person, so for one day, we might have spent $60 each? Not bad for great entertainment, and for restoring our faith in Big Brother Disney to supply an experience unmatched in quality by any other theme park! I felt safe, happy, sated ... just hungry!
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