Disneyland Resort 11/17-11/19 Trip Report (Day 2)
It was little consolation to get an extra hour of sleep as a result of the non-magical opening time of 8am. When you were stepping off a ride less than seven hours prior, the morning can be a little blurry. This was especially so for Steve, who was still sleep deprived and decided to catch up with us later on. Our enthusiasm was still high and Megan and I were ready and out the door with breakfast snacks in hand a bit after 7:30am.
As anticipated, things were that much more active as we headed to the parks, aiming for California Adventure despite the 60 minute head start hotel guests had. We made it past the bus turnaround area, disappointingly sans background music, through the cluster at the bag check, and found the front gates at California Adventure open for business.
We were inside a bit before the scheduled opening, and I headed right for the Racers Fastpass line. The bad news was that it was longer than yesterday, and I joined it almost halfway down Hollywood Boulevard. My consolation was that they had yet to give out a single Fastpass. So while we lost ground with the standby line, we were on pretty much even footing here.
At 8am sharp, the Red Car Trolley began to shuffle down the street and the opening was broadcast over the P.A. system. It was just a few minutes more and the line began to move ahead of me. Megan was part of the rope drop back to the ride, and I caught up with her at about 8:15am, and we didn’t see much reason to mess with a standby line now already over an hour and a half. Instead, we pocketed the Fastpasses, and had only until 10:20am until they were valid - a full ten minutes earlier than the day before.
Instead we tried to get back ahead of the game, and the trip over to Paradise Pier was long but worth it as we found a still manageable wait for Toy Story Mania. I didn’t hesitate to get us a couple California Screamin’ Fastpasses, and we quickly joined the Toy Story line and spent much of the time filling in ever-opening queue sections. By the time everything had opened up, we were 10 minutes into it, and had made it all the way to the indoor sections. It’s just a few minutes in there and a few more past the glasses pick up and into the station.
Megan and I got our turn together here, and had mixed success with the easter eggs but posted respectable scores. I’m not sure if I’ll ever hit 200k ever again, I but wasn’t all that far off, and I sure do enjoy trying. Thinking we’d finish up with the pier, it was a bummer to see California Screamin down. We waited the few minutes for our Fastpasses to become valid, and still no luck. We opted to move on.
Without Steve along, it made sense to enjoy his nemesis in his absence, so we cut most of the way across the park via the Bug’s Land shortcut and found Tower of Terror to again be walk on. We took in the creepiness this had to offer, especially so considering Haunted Mansion’s seasonal mode. The series of sudden drops was a good substitute for the coaster action we had missed back on the pier.
Steve had since roused and entered the park, and after coming up just short in his effort to get a Racers Fastpass, he had to settle for meeting us and getting Soarin’ Fastpasses. We were considering an earlier lunch, so we only had a little bit of time left before we headed out, so we started back towards California Screamin’, saw it running once more, and made our way there.
Steve was without a Fastpass, so we pointed him to the single rider line, and he waited there and made his way into the station just as we were boarding. We were glad to have the on-ride audio back in action, and happy with the effort to get a ride here. Steve ended up just a circuit or two behind us, and we caught back up in the shaded plaza next to the carousel.
He was on his own for a bit longer as Megan and I went to redeem our Racers Fastpasses, doing so in the actual redemption window, for a change. Once again the express access was more than worth the effort needed to secure it, and we were into the valley and up to the front of the line with a rather pleasant stroll. Really, we had to wait a bit once we merged with everyone else, but that time was spent taking in the splendidly adorned environment. They really did quite a terrific job with the rockwork, and the placement of the station in a faux cavern is completely convincing.
The ride itself live up to additional scrutiny as well, though it was probably slightly less appreciated without having to work for it by waiting in line for hours. Still, it was nice to get to know the ride and try to catch some of its subtleties, even if there weren’t a ton to be found. This third ride found us back in the paint shop, and back in second place after the race. Our cohorts didn’t go too far to rub it in, though I wonder how many disappointed kids need to be consoled after defeat.
We met up with Steve and he was along for the ride for the last stop of the visit, using those Soarin’ Fastpasses. There was a bit of an external wait, even for us, but it moved quickly and we were on our way in about the same amount of time as usual. Sadly our streak continued and we were again on the bottom row, though at least we were in the center section this time. I think Steve was getting close to requesting the top row if we didn’t get it next time around; he seemed to be taking it harder than the rest of us. As we again saw, positioning is far from critical to enjoying the aerial tour of California, and it’s always fun to see how few destinations there are left for us to see in person.
It was pretty crazy to think that making it to lunch meant we were only at the ¼ point of the day. Still a bit before noon, we wanted to get to Downtown Disney for our only non-park meal, at the recently opened Earl of Sandwich. There we would rely on Steve’s recommendations since he’s visited the Las Vegas installation, but we knew we couldn’t go wrong with any of their famed sandwiches.
Thinking we were smart by continuing past Soarin and to the Grand Californian, we got a little turned around inside after making it to the soaring lobby. We ended up back outside and had to cut through the conference center before finding the familiar hallway that provides Downtown Disney access. In a rare instance of complete uncertainty, we came out and didn’t know which way to turn. With no map within sight, I guessed left since there was just more stuff that way, and when we came upon a guide we saw we had lucked out and were getting closer.
It required a trip past the Monorail to down near the ESPNZone, just short of the Disneyland Hotel. Needless to say, we were all eager for the bite, and I took Megan’s order as she scouted out a table. I was thrilled to see a classic Italian on the menu, and Megan and Steve both went with the chipotle chicken avocado. All was delicious, and it was a bonus to not have to endure what were rumored at usual 30-45 minute waits. I definitely see what all the buzz is about for this place.
I’m not sure if it ended up being any more efficient, but it seemed smart to take the Monorail to get into Disneyland. Nothing like enjoying a ride and using it to get someplace. First we had to wait through a short but slowly moving crowd to get into the station, and eventually one of the two bag checkers scanned our stuff and one of the two ticket takers let us in. They seemed to be a little understaffed.
Also on the inadequate side, we didn’t make the cut for the train that arrived as we climbed the stairs to the loading platform. With plenty of riders taking round trips from Tomorrowland, a ton of space doesn’t necessarily free up in the cars. I think there was still some room as they closed the doors and the gates, but I guess they were in a hurry to get the train dispatched.
It may have been for the best, as after we filled fully into the loading area, the next train was pulling in. Again, there was some extra space in our car after we boarded, but the doors were quickly closed and we were sent on our way. With more people than I’ve ever seen clamor for a ride here, I’m surprised they weren’t more diligent, but we were off. We sped along the front of Disneyland, spying the Indiana Jones show building, through the esplanade, up along Harbor Boulevard, with a quick wave to our hotel, and wound over Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. As expected, things looked busy.
There was just a brief pause as the train ahead of us was still in the station, but soon we detrained, and made our way down into the craziness that is the Nemo, Monorail, and Autopia logjam. Having just gotten here, we were behind the curve in the Fastpass department. Our proximity to Space Mountain corrected that easily enough, and I grabbed some while being wary of the hour plus standby wait.
Waits were up all across the board, as they usually are at this time of day, so we weren’t going to mess with too much before heading to the hotel for a siesta. We were, however, keen to get on a few things that wouldn’t require much effort, so we cut clear across the park and aimed for the reliable standard, Thunder Mountain. There we saw the standby line spilling into the extra queuing used during such peak times, but we were smart not to let that deter us. It ended up being right about 20 minutes and we didn’t take for granted how painless it was to get on such a great ride here.
In a similar coup, we headed up to Critter Country and Steve and I aimed for the single rider line for Splash Mountain. Again Megan passed, and again we took our precautions, but this time we snaked back up through the exit and across the back of the station to find the under publicized single ride line. Whereas Radiator Springs Racers single riders line has its own queue from the main marquee, Splash Mountain makes little mention of its.
As a result, it’s almost always empty, and we found just a handful of people ahead of us. What was still probably the longest wait I’ve ever encountered there, it took all of five minutes for us to get placed in otherwise full logs. I’m not sure where Steve ended up in his log, but I for one was glad to again get the last row, though I may have confused the stranger sitting ahead of me with my efforts to stay dry.
Turns out he was just a few longs ahead as I saw him take the first plunge off the top of the mountain into the show building. I followed along soon after and didn’t take for granted how terrific the ride is, nor how dry I again managed to stay while on it. We met back up outside the exit, and as we put our socks back on, a passerby commended on us on our strategy. We hope he spreads the word.
Thanks to a busy Space Mountain, we still had a while before we could get more Fastpasses, but it looked like we’d have time before we took our break. With some time to fill in on a busy day, there’s no better place to turn to than the Disneyland Railroad. It would work out well since Megan had done some shopping in New Orleans Square, and we were ultimately headed to Main Street for the final showing of the Dapper Dans. To boot, the one leg of the circuit to skip would be the one we’d be missing with our ¾ turn, so good on us.
We rendezvoused just outside the station and climbed up to it as a train was pulling away. You can tell the park is really running at top capacity when another train pulls in just after it. We barely had time to point out the telegraph machine tapping out Walt’s opening day dedication. Getting the inward facing cars was nice, thus reinforcing ignoring the outside world, and we got a great view around the back of the Rivers of America, complete with animal and Native American displays, and surveyed some prime real estate for future expansion available back there.
Things at the Fantasyland/Toontown station were rather busy, as it’s a stop where lots of people want on, and few want off. We pulled out after the brief stop, through the Small World facade, and around the back of Tomorrowland, which we had zipped over via the Monorail just a little while back. The quick pause at that station gave us just enough time to give Steve a heads up on the dioramas we were about to see, and give it the World’s Fair context needed to understand the role it played in the inception of Disney World.
It was almost showtime, so we hopped off at the Town Square station without the Grand Circle Tour, and searched for the Dapper Dans. Their venue changes seemingly at random, so we started at the base of Main Street and worked our way up to the hub with our eyes and ears peeled. Coming up empty, we figured we’d try again back down, and I was lucky enough to spot a red vest and the trademark straw boater hat duck into one of the stores.
Turns out we caught them just in time, and as we entered the coffee shop, they kicked things off fittingly with Java Jive. The a cappella singing and quartet antics were a trip back and time, and I was glad we finally got to see an entire performance. We’ve known for a while they’re worth hunting down, but we only ever seem to run into them randomly, and halfway through their set. They hit the usual mainstays, threw in some Christmas classics, and finished full bore with Coney Island Baby. Great stuff, just too bad only we and a few others were able to cram into the shop to hear ‘em.
Our Fastpass window had just opened, and we were all in the mood for an afternoon treat, so we all set out together and I went for some Haunted Mansion Fastpasses while Megan and Steve joined a shockingly long line for a Dole Whip. I had no trouble slipping through the afternoon throng in Adventureland, but neither of the lines at the Dole stand seemed to be moving. Without making any progress during the entire Tiki Room garden show, we bailed on the snack and filed into the theater for the classic Disneyland experience.
This is another perfect place to go when the peak crowds are doing their thing elsewhere. It can also be a great respite from the heat of the day, but that’s not something we really had to worry about. It was still great to take a load off and the theater filled up about halfway as the tiki birds and polynesian flora serenaded us. It seems Steve finally realized where the Tiki Room theme song comes from. Some things can get in your head without you remembering how.
About at our limit of wall-to-wall people, it was an easy call to make our escape. As we headed out of the park, the day and half game of phone tag with David and Katie finally came to a close. They had a few hours left in their visit, and were up for some drinks back at the hotel. We stopped at a small convenience store at the Tropicana Inn along the way, got some essential munchies and got off our feet the second we got back to the room.
David and Katie joined us, and we shared some wine, salty treats, and the highlights and lowlights of our respective visits. Turns out they too had enjoyed Radiator Springs Racers, but while they avoided a breakdown, they were really soured by a brazen group of line cutters. I don’t think our Nemo encounter from last night was quite as bad, but we let them know they weren’t alone.
What was late afternoon when we departed had become full-on night time, or so it feels by 7pm when it’s dark and you’ve been up for 12 hours already. Our two-hour breather had served its purpose, and with just a little time left for the parks before catching their flight, David and Katie led the way back into the action. They first led us to the parking lot adjacent McDonald’s for a more substantive (but just as salty) food stop, and we soon followed the magical sights of sounds of Disneyland after dark back into the Magic Kingdom.
What we saw and heard, however, was complete madness surrounding the second showing of the parade, and crowd control doing all it could to both manage and contain the stream of guests just wanted to get into the park and away from the craziness. David suggested taking the train to get into the park, but instead we piled in front of the Opera House to wait for a break in the parade to cross onto Main Street.
Once that chance came, all hell broke loose, and we were split up and had to fend for ourselves. Megan went up ahead as Katie and I ducked into the shops on the east side of Main Street and headed up. Now more than ever did we wish for a dedicated promenade, a la Disneyland Paris and rumored to be added here someday. Headed to Frontierland, we still had to get across the street, and at the base of the hub there was another crowded crossing. We waited impatiently, and then went with the flow, with the density easing as we made our way towards Thunder Mountain. There we found Megan already waiting, and soon David made his way. We were worried we had lost Steve for good, but we were relieved when he found us just a few steps behind David.
At this point, David and Katie only had time for a couple things, and they wanted to end the visit in good fashion. As you’ve surely learned by now, the best place to get a great ride with an easy wait almost any time of day is Thunder Mountain, and after putting down a couple bottles of wine between us, the 20 minute wait flew by, as did all the wonderful mine ride scenery. I also saw no reason not to get us some Fastpasses there. We weren’t the ones leaving, after all.
Not that they hadn’t gotten their fill, but our friends seemed intent on getting one more memorable attraction in. They weighed their options, and I was more than pleased to hear them opt for Splash Mountain as their finale. It was cool by Southern California standards, but nothing we weren’t willing to take on. Besides, some of my favorite Disney park memories are walking on to Splash Mountain far later and in far colder weather than any sane person would dare.
Megan and Steve were those sane people, and the rest of us aimed for one of those classic night rides. The queue was entirely empty and only a few other braves souls were ahead of us in the station. As it was, we got our own boat, and given balancing issues, were sent into the middle of the boat. I was a bit wary, but the weight of the boat is another important variable in the wetness equation, and being half loaded was a good way to go.
Up and out of the station, we were around the front, and able to spy more than a few empty logs take the final plunge. We climbed the wheelhouse lift and took in the terrific view as we rounded the top of Chickapin Hill. Moments later we were down the first drop and among all the southern charm. After all the classic show scenes, we prayed for dryness (as the onride photo attests) and landed at the bottom of the briar patch plunge with no real water damage, and plenty of time to reorganize ourselves.
That would do it for David and Katie, and we met up with Megan and Steve for our farewells. We’d be seeing them for ski season up at Tahoe soon enough, but it’d probably be well into 2013 before our next coordinated park visit. It’d probably be better coordinated than this, but it was still great to catch them for the time we did.
They were headed for the airport, and we were headed for dinner. A few places were still on my “never been” dining list, and one that seemed interesting was the Carnation Cafe. We went through Adventureland to it’s supposed location just outside it on the hub, but it turns out that was the new Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe.
In a rare park map consultation, we found it a good bit further down Main Street, where we also discovered that it is actually a table service place, and one that takes advance reservations. There wasn’t nearly the demand here as at Blue Bayou, but we were still looking at a 30-45 minute wait to be seated. We passed, despite the signature fried chicken on the menu, as our earlier snacking wasn’t going to hold all of us over.
Somewhat frazzled by the confusion, we ended up back at the Jolly Holiday and decided their menu of mostly sandwiches would suffice. I was happy to be hitting a place I hadn’t been, and Megan was glad to avoid a wait - even though her special order avoiding horseradish on her sandwich ending up taking some extra time to prepare. The meal was good enough, decent entrees with the kettle chips being rather tasty.
Our only plans for the evening were around the nighttime entertainment. We’d be back at California Adventure tomorrow for an encore of World of Color, but today we were giving the Christmas fireworks a shot, as well as a showing of Fantasmic. There was still an hour until the earlier of the two, so we went into Tomorrowland to use the Space Mountain Fastpasses I had gotten just after lunch.
Steve was having a hard time believing Captain EO was as bad as we were saying, as he remembered enjoying it as a kid. I told him I had, too, but kids are dumb, and George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola should be embarrassed by it. We agreed that seeing was believing, so we temporarily put off Space Mountain and joined the waiting area for EO as the “making of” pre-show started.
There wasn’t much trouble getting a seat, as we came nowhere close to hitting the theater’s capacity. Still, it’s usually an enthusiastic crowd here regardless of size, given the fans Michael Jackson has. That’s what ended up redeeming the show for Steve, as he enjoys the dancing and singing of MJ at his peak, where he certainly was around the time this was created. I still was not convinced and would be ok never visiting this again in my life, thanks mostly to the painful acting and dialog. Even Steve couldn’t help but cringe at some of that.
I wanted to kick myself as we exited and found that Space Mountain was closed. We’d been having such good luck with rides today that I forgot the mantra of always going on the headliner first and hitting the peripheral stuff later. That we lost a ride on Space Mountain because we impulsively hit Captain EO was salt in the wound.
For some reason, we didn’t go anywhere. People were making their way out the exit, but not in the huge numbers I’ve seen for the lengthier breakdowns. I can’t say that was true insight, but as I suggested we head towards the entrance anyway, the wait time indicator sprang back to life, and it was back in business. I’d also like to think that having cast members only at the entrance and not turning people away at the beginning of the corridor was another subtle indication, but it was really just luck that it reopened so quickly.
Apparently the delay didn’t give the group ahead of us enough time to learn about the Fastpass system, as the crowd, easily a dozen strong, was turned away for not yet being in their return window. A kid in the adjacent standby queue thought he was smart to say how his line looked like the faster of the two, but clearly he had no idea what awaited him at the top of the ramp. He took a right into the meandering queue and we took a left for the direct route into space. As I suspected, the breakdown hadn’t really deterred all that many people.
The wait in the station was far lower than usual, and we were on almost as quickly as our first ride the day before. Given the demand here (the Fastpasses were long done for day) and our complete lack of interest in waiting anything close to the posted 40+ minutes, this looked to be our sole extraplanetary excursion for the day. With that in mind, we soaked up the immersive show this ride surrounds you with and went with a classic “This guy!” for the photo.
Upon reentry, we had about 15 minutes until the fireworks, and we knew that was the exactly the amount of time we needed. It’s always seemed a waste of time to camp out for them, especially since we never felt compelled to cram ourselves in front of the castle or center ourselves perfectly in the hub. Still, you’re better off getting settled at least a few minutes before the show so as not to miss any of it.
We could see the crowd control measures in full force as the sidewalk around the hub was now being operated as a counterclockwise traffic circle. That was fine by us as we went with the flow around the front of the hub and towards the west side of the park. That’s exactly where we’d want to be, as Frontierland was our post-pyrotechnics destination. We exited the stream under the ropes into the hub and found a seemingly suitable angle that didn’t require any toddler trampling. Just minutes before the show everyone was asked to stand, and we were even able to back up a bit when a taller gentleman rose and blocked Megan’s view.
Once the show starts, you can see exactly how good your view is. Ours was not the best with a sizeable tree blocking a portion of the shells set off in the distance, and we definitely weren’t centered. At the same time, no one was too upset, and that was mostly because this was the least impressive fireworks show I’ve ever seen at Disneyland.
I often chastise the show Disney World puts on at their Magic Kingdom, as I compare it to the extravaganza Disneyland does every day. That’s every day except around holidays, and this Christmas themed show was not up to the standard the park itself had set. Nevermind the achingly saccharine theme song - I’ve never been so happy to hear even the cheesiest Christmas songs that broke it up - it did nothing else than pummel you with music and throw a few fireworks skyward.
None of the elements the Remember, Dreams Come True show uses to dazzle the audience, spinning sparklers, projections on the castle, or using the Matterhorn or the hub itself as a launching point for shells were used. Tinkerbell didn’t even bother making an appearance. I don’t care how crazy it makes me seem, but it’s not fireworks at Disneyland without Tinkerbell dangling from that damn guy-wire.
Normally the rather short 15 minute run time would elicit another a complaint, but I was almost glad when it came to an end. Maybe I was just being a grinch, but even the simulated snow sent from above wasn’t going to placate me. It was all that much easier to get back to the task at hand and separate ourselves from the slowly dispersing horde.
We did that painfully at first, again surrounded by people who were content to stand around mindlessly at the end of a show, but soon much more easily once we got across the Adventureland bridge and made the immediate cut over to Frontierland. There, we were among the first fireworks viewers to get to Thunder Mountain and I got us new Fastpasses before using our old ones.
Out into the wilderness in especially short order thanks to it being our first non-standby run of the day here, we gave ourselves plenty of time to work with after the great night ride. Our options were to use the last 30 minutes before the last showing of Fantasmic to find a place to see it, or risk getting stuck with a subpar view by taking a run on Pirates first. Since it had worked so well for the fireworks, we took our chances and went with the latter.
You didn’t need to check your watch to tell the hour was late, as we got in line for Pirates and found the end just outside the building. It’s always a little risky coming here towards the end of a long day, but I was as entertained as much as ever, despite the series of yawns I was having a hard time fighting. It was nothing compared to the coma I would have gone into had we opted for Small World instead.
With 10 minutes to showtime, the timing worked well, but we were now going to need to find a last minute spot. Our post-show target was Haunted Mansion, and while we had Fastpasses, we knew that its line can also get jammed up at the end. We headed in that direction, and were rather shocked to see one of the raised areas in front of the French Market all but empty. Here we’d get a nice wide view of the show, and were able to take advantage of the railing while doing it. Sure there were some trees and lamp posts, but it was all but unobstructed to the center stage.
Pretty much the one thing we did skip at Disney World in January was their performance of Fantasmic. It really is the runt of the three versions, and while we can’t imagine anything Disney doing ever topping the unbelievable rendition Tokyo DisneySea puts on, the one here is a classic, and admirable for how seamlessly it fits into the park.
The theme song is beyond enduring, the story is lighthearted, and it covers all the Disney bases as we explored Mickey’s imagination once more. It definitely is an exciting highlight to see the (no longer newly implemented) animatronic dragon in action, and while it does little more than sway menacingly after setting the water aflame; it’s nothing short of an Imagineering feat to improve the show.
The show came to its manic end, and as expected there was a bit of a bottleneck trying to get in the Haunted Mansion queue. With our Fastpasses in hand, things were soon sorted out in our favor, and we were among Jack Skellington and his fellow Halloweentown denizens. A well-timed delay even found us right in front of him just before the graveyard for more than a minute or two, and it was great to get an extended view of what’s easily the most interesting animatronic character in this version.
We were already a good bit into the last hour of the day (literally), so we pressed our luck with a return trip to Thunder Mountain, and found the Fastpasses were still ever so slightly useful in cutting a waning standby line. The quick sprint into and out of the mines takes just a matter of minutes itself, and we headed around the back into Fantasyland with enough time for a quick visit.
Having gotten pretty good at gauging waits, Megan assured us that we’d have time to hit Alice in Wonderland with enough to spare to again close out the night on Star Tours. I was slightly less confident, and with every exit entering accessibility limited group I winced a bit. Turns out we traversed the ever-fading queue in 10 minutes, and could enjoy the journey without needing to worry being late. The White Rabbit is fun to visit here, but it’s no way to visit an amusement park by emulating him.
Trying to be direct, we took the path between Alice and Matterhorn towards the hub, made a left into Tomorrowland, and came to our destination with minutes to spare. Joining the queue, we found the same reasonable wait as the night before, thus guaranteeing another post-midnight exit. That’s the way I like it.
Steve got his first viewing of the revamp, and Megan and I filled in what seemed like the last of the randomly presented scenes. Pretty good after only a couple rides here and in Florida. We got stuck in the last row again, and I’m convinced I’ll never get selected as the spy, but it was definitely worth the trip.
We still had the modest schlep back to the hotel ahead of us, and while our feet ached, we paused for a bit to watch a custodian doing a character drawing in water on the sidewalk in the hub. It’s hard to describe, but this unexpected bit of artwork is actually rather impressive, and our artist got a nice round of applause from the small audience. I can’t imagine it photographs all that well, especially at night, but it was cool to see it done in person for once.
Beyond that, there wasn’t much need to linger beyond the noticeably slower pace we were now taking. We’d have tomorrow night for the customary Main Street shopping, and right now we wanted to get every possible minute of sleep ahead of our last day. As we’ve seen first-hand time and time again, nothing eases the sadness of leaving a Disney park like overwhelming exhaustion. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have 16 hours of park time left ahead of you.
Coaster Count: 331 (268/63)
Favorite Steel, Wood: Montu, Thunderhead
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