Like I was saying: the life of an Annual Passholder (AP) is rife with ecstasy. You have the power to choose to go to Disneyland completely on a whim, with only the bare necessities. (Hah, I just heard something that I have never heard during Muppetvision before: during the big, patriotic musical number at the finale that goes catastrophically wrong, some of the wooden soldiers can be heard to be singing “It’s a Small World” for a brief moment.) You can go almost any day you want. The only catch: well, depending on which AP you purchase, certain days will be blocked off. That’s it? I can’t go on any Saturday during the summer? Shoo, they’re actually doing me a favor, as I would probably find myself getting increasingly frustrated with the large crowds on a peak day like that. So, really, there is no catch. They’ll only let you go on the “less busy” days, but you can go as often as you like for a year. Sweet deal.
Those aforementioned “trips on a whim”? This past weekend was a time for one of those trips. Melissa and I realized that we had no standing engagements (no vitally important ones anyway), and decided that Friday would be a day wasted if not spent at the Magic Kingdom. So we went. I gassed up my little box and we just went.
This was no ordinary excursion, mind you. That Friday saw not one, but TWO, count them, one two, landmarks: Melissa’s first AP, and my first time driving to Disneyland. This in itself could qualify for the wildest ride in the wilderness. Had we left from my house, it would’ve been a relatively simple drive down PCH, to the 405, to the 5, to Disneyland. This is the route I have grown used to, sitting in the back of the car on so many family trips to the Happiest Place on (spaceship)Earth. However, since I would be picking up Melissa, we would be leaving from Camarillo, and our journey would take us down the winding rapids of the 101. I turned to the one person who has been my companion through many dangers: Mapquest. Soon, I was entering addresses into the input boxes on Mapquest’s driving directions page. Entering the address for my starting location was easy, but when it came time for my destination, I drew a blank. Thankfully I had long ago stored up a seemingly useless trivia factoid in the back of my subconscious: Disneyland’s address is 1313 Harbor Blvd. It just sounds grand, doesn’t it? Anyway, soon I had figured out a treacherous path that would find me snaking through greater Los Angeles on a trek for the stars.
Melissa and I got a relatively early start, although not as early as I would’ve liked. Plus, she insisted that we make a pit stop at Jamba Juice before we got going. I should’ve mad her wait until Downtown Disney to get her precious Orange Dream Machine…hmm, sounds like a DCA eatery. Alas, I relented and allowed her to splurge. My treat of course. Then, finally, we were off proper.
With a flimsy piece of paper as our guide, we traversed the many laned concrete ocean-river, carrying us downstream into the heart of Southern Californialand. I made the mistake of letting Melissa choose what we listened to. With some amount of luck and a touch of serendipity I managed to guide our small black vessel through the many adjoining canals, and finally to Disneyland Drive, much like Odysseus and his trip back home to Ithaca in his black ship. Indeed, once we were inside the Main Street Opera House I remarked to Melissa that for the first time in a long time, I felt like I had come home. But that tale is yet to come.
Rising high above the orange groves…well actually, it only USED to be orange groves…stood the immense new Parking Structure. I call it the NEW parking structure because, well, the land that USED to be orange groves also USED to be…a parking lot. You know, looking at the Mickey and Friends parking lot now…it reminds me of a joke that Art Linkletter made while hosting the TV broadcast of Disneyland’s opening day festivities. Something about paving over the parking lot and adding a second layer. Now, fifty years later, they’ve done it. I was lucky enough to have moved to Southern California just a very short time before the new Parking Structure and DCA opened, which means that I was able to park in the old parking lot. Although, it could’ve only been a handful of times.
I paid the parking attendant and drove up the glorious concrete ramps to my parking space. The graceful Scion gently settled on the Donald level. Melissa and I ran through the final checklist, then descended our stairway to board the tram. The tram is familiar from my first visit to the park, but it’s route has changed. You see, that’s one of the biggest disservices that DCA has done to Disneyland: it completely ruined the approach and arrival at Disneyland. You used to disembark right at the entrance gates to the park, with Main Street Station looming over you. Now you get dropped off in front of shops in Downtown Disney. You can follow this company’s progress over the past half century just by comparing where the tram stop was then to where it is now.
Melissa was eager to get her AP, but she wanted to do it right. We went to the guest information booth where a single girl was dealing with two guests. We got in line behind, thinking that whatever their questions were, it couldn’t take too long. Then the attendant pulled out a park map, opened it up, and began pointing, saying “This is Disneyland, and this is California Adventure, our new park…”. Needless to say, we got right out of the line. Then we queued up in the ticket booth line. It didn’t take long for us to get through the line and up to a window with a man who sold Melissa her passport. Finally it was hers. She wept uncontrollably, and I just walked away, pretending that I didn’t know her. Not really, but we were both happy that she had her AP finally. With our AP’s in hand, we headed straight for the entrance gates of…
California Adventure? Yep. Call Ripley’s. But Melissa had never been to the park before (except for a few hours on Grad Night during which we rode California Screamin’ more than ten times) and there were some priority items on our to-do-list for the day that necessitated that we be in DCA. We joined the queue into the park, and it wasn’t too bad of a wait. Melissa was in front of me. An older man CM took her paper ticket and scanned it in. He took the liberty of personally handing her the schedule of parades and shows and explained to her how to read it. Still giving us his introduction spiel, he handed me a park map. But then I handed him my AP, he looked at it and said, “Oh, hey, Robert. You should know (all that)”. See what I mean about the perks of being an AP? Its almost like being in Club 33, except you can’t get all liquored up. Well, theoretically.
Our first stop of the day was Soarin’ Over California. In my opinion, the only “Disney” ride in that park before Tower of Terror opened up, and that’s the truth. I unabashedly enjoy Soarin’ (Except for the ‘ …why can’t you be ‘soaring’? And also I am bewildered by the paper airplane in the ride’s logo), and it is definitely my favorite ride music from any Disney ride. I knew Melissa would like it because we fly right over her house…at least that’s what it looks like. After that, we watched Golden Dreams, It’s Tough to Be a Bug, and rode California Screamin’ before heading into the Hollywood backlot area of the park. Our first stop in the Hollywood Backlot was something on our priority itinerary: The Walt Disney Story movie that screens in the animation studio. A version of this film used to play in the Opera House before Lincoln gave his speech. However that attraction remains named “The Walt Disney Story: Featuring Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln”. It was a real sweet but short documentary, with a lot of footage that I had never seen before and a lot that I had. Melissa and I both enjoyed it quite a bit. The only sour spot is that it is “hosted” by Eisner. I should’ve put my bumper sticker on my car. We explored the animation studio for awhile, having fun in the Beast’s library and re-dubbing some animated scenes with our voices. Quite a lot of fun, if I do say so myself. And I do. Then we went on one of my favorite attractions, “Muppetvision 3D”. This 3D show has been a personal favorite since I fell in love with it as a child in Walt Disney World. I was quite excited when I heard that they were bringing it to DCA. A good show as always, although we missed the riotous pre-show. From Muppetvision we finally left the sun parched and barren landscape of California Adventure to get lunch. We ventured across Harbor Blvd seeking the patron saint of hunger.
Filled to our heart’s content, we traveled back and made our grand entrance into Disneyland. Once again, Melissa got shoved into the park like worthless cattle, while I got a sincere, personal greeting. We bee lined it to the Opera House, where I made my comment about it feeling “homey”. Indeed, in my last few visits to Disneyland, Great Moments has become one of my favorite attractions and I always go multiple times. When Melissa and I arrived in the Opera House, the scant others who had wandered in before us sat watching the quick Walt Disney short that plays for a few minutes prior to the audio preshow. I was just meandering around when I heard Melissa trying to quietly hiss my name so as not to disturb the guests enjoying the film. I turned to her to see what was up. She jerked her head in the direction of a young woman leaning against one of the glass display cases in the center of the room. The girl had a Cast Member nametag was clearly waiting for the guests she was guiding to watch the film before leading them on again. More importantly, she was wearing a jockey uniform. Pretty huge, huh? Oh, you don’t get it? Well see here, every year there are Disneyland Ambassadors. The earliest ambassadors represented the park while chatting it up with Walt on the Disneyland TV show. Usually attractive young girls, they have been carrying on the tradition since the fifties. What always struck me though, was that the official Ambassador uniform seemed to be a jockey-esque outfit, complete with riding boots and a whip. Every time I saw footage of an ambassador, they were wearing the uniform. And now, here in front of me, was a young lady wearing such a uniform, exactly like those I had seen worn in all kinds of archival footage and period photos. Melissa urged me to approach her, but I was too shy. Finally she went forth and asked her if she was an ambassador. She replied that no, she was just a tour guide, but that she was a finalist to be an ambassador next year (which would be pretty huge…being a (or even THE) Disneyland Ambassador for the 50th anniversary. I wished her luck, then went to admire Walt’s formal office.
Ok, this has gone on too long. High lights of the visit:
- All the scaffolding is off of Main Street, and the touched up shops look gorgeous
- We saw the sub in the lagoon, and took pictures
- Rode the monorail!
- Viewed Matterhorn construction work
- Rode Splash Mountain
- And ALMOST got to ride Indy
One low point: the Mint Julep bar was closed. Maybe that is the catch of the AP: you can only go on days when there are no Mint Juleps being served.
Later on we went back to DCA to eat ice cream and watch the Electrical Parade. Then homeward bound. I missed the days where I could nap in the back of the car while someone else worried about the driving.
All in all, a great day out in the Magic Kingdom.