I grew up in Southern California, so every time someone would visit us, I’d be the designated tour guide, which meant I got to visit Disneyland a lot. In fact, I can remember having a shoebox of ride tickets, ranging from the cheap “A” rides to the expensive “E” tickets of myth, the only thing that would get you on the coolest, best rides. Even in High School I would enjoy the park. My last visit was in 11th grade, when our high school marching band (I bounced between lead clarinet and tri-toms, if you’re curious) was invited to march in the Disney parade. That would have been 1979.
What this means is that the last time I went to Disneyland it was just Disneyland Park and it had a huge parking lot with trams getting you to the main gate. Not even a dream of Disney California Adventure. Disneyland was also surrounded by the blight of tawdry Anaheim with its tacky hotels and terrible restaurants leeching revenue from Disney visitors.
Visiting Disneyland was going to be a retro experience, a journey back to my childhood, a chance to compare what I remembered of the great rides (like the PeopleMover, Voyage to Inner Space, The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean) with what they’re like now, but visiting Disney California Adventure (henceforth “DCA”) was unchartered territory, a place with the Disney magic but something I’d never experienced or even seen.
My concern was that DCA wouldn’t have enough rides and amusements to keep everyone entertained for a day, something that proved true once we went through, but fortunately gave us extra time to go more than once on favorite rides, even lining up twice, 30+ minutes at a time, for the splendid Toy Story Mania!
From when we walked up to the entrance and got our tickets (thanks Disney! Please, read A Passage to Disneyland: The Backstory to catch up on things) we were all primed and excited for a fun day.
I’d bought Birnbaum’s Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2010 and the kids had been studying it, but in the end it seemed like we really just winged it without an aggressive hour-by-hour gameplan and I suspect that was part of what let us relax and have a good time, without the urgent drive to “get to the next ride before the line gets too long”.
We’d never been there before and what kid doesn’t love buttons? We stopped at Guest Services immediately upon entering and got some “1st Visit!” buttons that the kids wore enthusiastically. Me? I kept mine in our backpack so I wouldn’t lose it.
Then we walked through the entrance – a shrunken Golden Gate Bridge – and began our journey in the Disney version of the “California Adventure”…
The only thing I really wanted to check out was the popular Toy Story Mania! ride, so we immediately turned right upon entering the park. This took us past the Grizzly River Run, which we were all a bit reluctant to go on. Except my son. Who went on by himself!
Queue time for the ride was posted as an amazingly short 5 minutes and it actually was shorter than that. He went on, came out wet and grinning and then all three kids went, then I joined them, then my sister joined us, then they went again. All told, I went on it three times and my kids went on it about a half-dozen times, with my son winning the prize. With a five minute queue, it was less time lining up than being on this fun flume ride. I suspect that’s not true on a busy summer afternoon!
We then made it to Paradise Pier, a sort of nostalgic version of the great Pacific Ocean Park (which shut down in the late 60s during Santa Monica’s great gentrification). It’s beautiful and the fact that it used to be part of the Disneyland parking lot? Incredible!
There are two main attractions on the Pier: California Screamin’, a classic wooden rollercoaster, and Mickey’s Fun Wheel, the Ferris Wheel. I’ll admit it, I’m a wimp for rollercoasters so there was never any expectation I’d go on it, but after we stood and watched it start with a super-fast, intense launch from zero, we decided it looked fun “if you were into that sorta thing” and all skipped it.
I really wanted to go on the Ferris wheel as I dig ’em and appreciate the view, but somehow when we found there was a 20 minute wait, everyone decided we’d rather queue up for another shot at Toy Story Mania! and so it’s still on my to-ride list. Next time!
The most popular ride in the Paradise Pier area is Toy Story Mania, a ride that’s a great hybrid of the classic Disney dark ride and modern interactive computer 3D technology. In the ride you are in a little car with what can only be described as a pop-cannon in front of you. There’s a pull string on the back and when you “shoot” the gun sends a signal to the computer and a “bullet” shows up on the huge 3D screens. You then whirl around from screen to screen, each themed with a different midway shooting game.
That’s my sister with the groovy 3D glasses!
Each time you hit a target (balloons with a dart gun, plates with balls, aliens from Toy Story with hoops) you get points and the on-board screen shows your running tally. This, of course, was a subject of great competition amongst us and the first time I had the best score, 126,000 points. The second time we went on the ride my sister (in the pic above) scored the best, with me just barely below 100,000 points. I claim a gun that didn’t register every hit I made, but however you slice it, Toy Story Mania is a terrific fun ride, one you’ll undoubtedly go on multiple times if you’re like us!
We also went on the King Triton underwater themed carousel in Paradise Pier. Nice, a relaxing break for us and a favorite of my 7yo, though she’d loved everything we’d done to that point too. Then a lunch break at the Pacific Wharf CafÃ© where I had a quite decent bowl of vegetarian chili served in a sourdough bread bowl. Yum.
There were a number of rides at DCA that had long lines and that we opted to skip, including Soarin’ Over California, It’s Tough to be a Bug (which I’d heard was too scary for little ones and was afraid my little girl would dislike), and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The latter I’d have skipped anyway. 🙂
Instead we went to the Monsters Inc. ride, the first “dark ride” that my daughter experienced. (in case you’re wondering, the name refers to a ride where you’re sitting in a vehicle of some sort and zoom around from one darkened room to another, typically rather in a frantic manner. The most famous dark ride is at Disneyland, the Alice in Wonderland ride, and it’s great fun, but pretty intense for wee folk.)
Monsters Inc proved to be a delightful ride, very much in the spirit of the original dark rides, and very well themed to the Pixar movie of the same name. Better yet, the queue area had some hilarious posters and props, including the awesome, truth-in-advertising vending machine shown in the picture above.
My little one loved the ride and was in a splendid mood afterwards, a harbinger of us having some great fun in Disneyland when we went on more serious dark rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion!
A few more times on Grizzly River Run, a second shot at Toy Story Mania, and we were done for the day, having really enjoyed ourselves at Disney California Adventure. Is it a full day, 9am-8pm, with kids? It didn’t seem like it, but then again we also skipped some of the most popular rides and entertainments either due to our dislike of roller coasters or because of my concern about whether my kids would really enjoy the ride or not.
Still, an excellent introduction to the next day, our visit to Disneyland proper!