Disneyland Resort 11/17-11/19 Trip Report (Day 3)
We awoke with one last day of Disney ahead of us, and did so slightly earlier than the day before, since we wanted to try to get a little better start. Steve was along for the ride this time, and it wasn’t yet 7:30am as we headed out of the hotel and down Harbor Boulevard. Instead of a nice, quiet weekday, we saw exactly what a holiday crowd looks like at Disneyland.
With only one security tent open, a wide line had formed back to where the buses dropped off even more guests. As we joined it, there was some activity in the other tent, and a good chunk of the line split off like ants being shaken off a stick. Either too tired or too skeptical to worry about jockeying for quicker access, we stayed where we were and eventually made it through.
Thanks to that bottleneck, it was actually rather simple to get into California Adventure, and we were pretty much following our footsteps from the day before. We considered having Megan use the tickets to get Soarin’ Fastpasses while I help a spot in the Racers line, but we didn’t want to risk getting blocked from the only ride we really needed to care about reserving.
I ended up in pretty much the same spot as the day before, and after the park officially opened for business, the line began to move, though noticeably slower than the day before. There wasn’t much to be done about it, and I was just glad I wasn’t just joining the end of the line now, which seemed to have turned the corner approaching Tower of Terror.
The park had already been inundated with people by the time I got our passes a bit later, so we weren’t looking at any morning advantage, beyond having the Racers passes, anyway. We gave the standby wait a token look, but had no interest in what was already at two hours. We’d take our chances on Paradise Pier.
There we saw an already busy California Screamin’ queue, which is a pretty unpleasant sign, but knew we could get Fastpasses for it immediately, and did so before approaching Toy Story Mania. It already had a full queue, but we bit the bullet and met the end of the line right in front of Mr. Potatohead, knowing full well what we were getting into.
We were also well aware of how susceptible this ride is to line jumping. I suppose it’s not all that surprising when almost all of the queue is right next to the midway, and the barrier is a simple low chain. There are even some places where the chain easily comes apart, and a crowd of guests outside the line wait for their group to come around before hopping in.
The cutter that took the cake was a father who was aiming to join his wife and kid at the freaking station, and even asked the attendant to let him in. Megan questioned the cast member about the policy, and he said so long as it was just one person joining others who had waited in the line, they really look the other way. You never know when someone needs to use the bathroom, right? And here I thought I was being responsible by dealing with such things prior to getting in line, but apparently I didn’t need to bother. Such things can get to you on your last day, I guess.
It didn’t tarnish the third and final ride, though. Megan and Steve went together, and I had all the targets to myself. It actually ended up being a wash not being able to activate most of the Easter eggs, but getting all those high value targets to myself. That especially rang true in the mine car scene, when I had all four tracks to myself with no waiting. I ended up below the 200,000 point plateau I aim for, but it was a solid 189,000 point effort.
Being the last day, it’s a good chance to fill in some of the diversions that had gotten put off, and somehow that led us into the queue for Mickey’s Fun Wheel. There had been a lot of construction to spy during our last visit, and I guess we were back here to check it out. Really I spend most of the ride uneasy about the car’s unnatural movement, but it’s enjoyable enough, even if wasn’t entirely worth the 25 minutes we waited for the swinging car.
Keeping the swing theme going, we kept on around the corner and joined the line at the bottom of the stairs for the Silly Symphony Swings. Eventually at the top we saw that even though the tandem line was meant for pairs, the rest of the people in the party ended up getting single swings, which is what our longer line aimed for. It was the kind of thing that was too insignificant to get upset about, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t notice. We’ll just have to use that shortcut ourselves next time. This time, we had a nice whirl over the pier and took in the views all around the lagoon.
Completing the circle, we balked at a 45 minute wait for Goofy’s Sky Skool, though noticed the elaborate new themeing. Instead, Megan and Steve took five as I headed to Soarin’ to get some Fastpasses, and even check out the World of Color situation on the way back. I knew we’d likely have reserved viewing passes for the early show that came with our lunch, but I decided to cover the bases and get some for the late show anyway.
Reunited, we joined a pretty busy Little Mermaid, though the ride made quick work of it in about 15 minutes. It was still a stark contrast from day one. The ride itself was pretty much the same though, and knowing what to expect, I was able to find it enjoyable and worth the revisit, even if I again failed to be blown away by it. There’s still a lot to see.
In what ended up being a little backtracking, we went back across the bridge to Paradise Pier and used our Fastpasses, shaking our heads at the 45 minute standby line. We’d never seen anything like it. This time we were able to ride together, and while the on-ride music mostly worked, it abruptly stopped and restarted from the beginning towards the end of the course. It was pretty funny as the soundtrack no longer echoed the ride action, and it was also a little unnerving when the launch music played as we pulled into the final brakes.
Taking the moderately more direct side entrance, we returned to the craziness of Cars Land. This time, the standby wait indicator showed an eye-popping 150 minutes, an absurd number we didn’t even see at Tokyo Disneyland. We even had to fight the crowds and held our Fastpasses up high as we siphoned into the empty path. Even the single rider line was full, and posted at 90 minutes itself. I think we savored this last ride here about as much as we savored this easy access to it.
Once again we made it to the merge point with just a few folks ahead of us, and were soon joined into the station queue and aboard for our final visit to Radiator Springs, save for how we have to walk through it after we get off the ride. Anyway, while we avoided the wait, it still had required a good bit of effort to do that, and I took it all in and thought to myself that it was definitely worth what we had gone through, but there was no way I would endure the current standby wait for it.
I look forward to the day where it’s possible to get a second round of fastpasses, or that we’re at the park early enough to do so. I can’t imagine seeing a wait anytime soon that’s below an hour, but so long as you get one of the first Fastpasses of the day, it’s not impossible to get a second set. That would have to wait until the future, as would the other rides in the area. Not that the Flying Tires and Junkyard Jamboree didn’t look entertaining enough, but we didn’t even consider the 40-60 minute waits we consistently saw for these glorified carnival rides.
A later lunch was scheduled for the new and acclaimed Carthay Circle Theatre, as skipping a formal dinner would let us enjoy the nighttime entertainment without conflict, and give us a few less expensive meal options. Don’t forget, you can buy alcohol in this park. We still had some time, and while it was nice to be able to spend a chunk of time hanging out in California Adventure and staying entertained, I knew our evening in Disneyland would be more pleasant with some Fastpasses.
Here is where our abuse of the system was most blatant. With my accomplices, we left California Adventure and entered Disneyland, for the sole purpose of collecting Fastpasses we had no intention to use anytime soon. I took a brisk trip into Tomorrowland and went for Space Mountain, glad to see them still available but not surprised the return window was for a good bit later in the day. If nothing else, it started the Fastpass clock in this park too, and I’d be able to score some more after lunch, assuming we would be so ambitious.
Back over in California Adventure, we finished up the last of our pre-lunch clock with the old Fastpass retrieve-and-use at Soarin’, since it was conveniently at the front of the park, and a likely final stop at the end of the day. We were touching down from the flight right at 1pm, and it was an easy walk out the exit and across the entry plaza to check out exactly how much California Adventure had classed itself up.
The outside of the theater is lovely, though not especially ornate. It’s regal, but far from ostentatious, and if anything it’s understated compared to the facades found just down Hollywood Boulevard toward Tower of Terror. Inside is definitely the glitz of the 1920s era, but even this is refined and subtle in a way that lets you notice it without grabbing all of your attention. The furniture, artwork, and interior styling is spot on, and almost encourages you to breathe a sigh of relief as you escape the clamor of the park outside.
I checked in and took a seat in the lounge, and the invitation to relax included a full bar and wonderful drink list. We didn’t have time for a full round of cocktails, but made our orders and were soon whisked upstairs to the dining room. Some other time we’ll have to do drinks and hors d'oeuvres downstairs, but right now we were getting the full meal treatment.
The main dining room is quite a spectacle, though we were taken around to one of the many side rooms, which had a bit less flash. Still, it was stylish and comfortable, and our attentive servers made us feel like we were in the center of the action. Our drinks soon arrived, and we perused the intriguing menu.
I’ll spare the bite by bite details; it suffices to say, everything was absolutely top notch. The duck wing appetizer was a highlight, and my veal loin was picture perfect. Steve and Megan enjoyed their respective swordfish and pasta, and it should go without saying we had some wonderful wine pairings. The staff was all over it with their recommendations, and even encouraged us to do some impromptu tasting to decide.
It was one of those meals that reminded us that fine dining can be an experience unto itself when it comes to Disney. This lunch was easily on par with any of the most memorable restaurants we’ve visited at Disney resorts, and even gave some of the finest spots a run for their money, including Steakhouse 55 here, and Citricos, Jiko, and Chefs de Paris at Disney World.
Sated in more ways than one, we thought we’d continue the relaxation back at the hotel. First though, it was close enough to our route to pop into Disneyland again for that second illicit set of Fastpasses. This time I left Megan and Steve in Town Square and they perused the Opera House while I used a cleared Main Street that was prepped for the imminent parade. It really was the easiest time I had all weekend getting into the park.
Instinctively, I shot over to Thunder Mountain and got some passes there, though had I had any sense, I would have gone for, or at least checked on another round at Space Mountain. While it feels more reasonable to have Fastpasses for each, there’s no question we’d have gotten way more value if we had doubled up on Space Mountain. It was pretty obvious that the option there would have been gone after our break, and we’d seen quite well how tolerable Thunder Mountain is.
Not really rueing the decision, I slipped back down Main Street with the parade not more than a few minutes behind me, and we met up. Unfortunately, Mr. Lincoln showings were on hiatus because of the parade, so we felt owed a little something. I can’t say exactly what prompted us to stick around, perhaps we were all a little buzzed from lunch, but we watched the parade. The whole damn thing.
The floats moved slowly and the music was only slightly less grating than the fireworks theme from the night before, but it was over the top in the wonderful Disney way. The classic toy soldiers were a nostalgic site, and the decorations were elaborately done. Of course the characters were in full force, which was a bit wasted on us, but even we were excited to see Santa at the very end. Granted, the best part of the parade was when a random viewer yelled out, “HEY SANTA! IT'S ME, BUDDY!” I’m not sure if the kids got the Will Ferrell in Elf reference, but I’m sure they appreciated what otherwise seemed like some noteworthy enthusiasm.
We rode the departing wave right back past the Opera House, under the train tunnel, and out the front, though it was just us three by the time we got back to the room. That was for the best, as we were down to just one bottle of wine anyway. Another much needed and much deserved two hour break would have to do to charge our batteries for the home stretch. It was some 43 hours down, and six to go.
Thanks to the entree plus appetizer-or-dessert deal we partook of at Carthay Circle, we possessed passes to a reserved viewing area for the early World of Color Show. With just a couple hours to go before that started, we headed for California Adventure one last time, and made a beeline to Monsters, Inc. for a revisit. We were looking at a much longer wait this time around, in that there was one, but even the 15 minutes we faced is no trouble for one of our favorites.
As it turns out, Megan wanted to pull the trigger on purchasing a souvenir she had spied earlier, though it was back across Paradise Pier, probably the direct opposite side of the park. To join her in part of the journey, we went back to Soarin’ and took a final flight there, via our last Fastpasses for the park. Steve’s dreams came partially true as we were ushered into the second row of the middle section. I couldn’t say if the improved position really adds much to the experience, as I was pretty much maxed out on happy for every second of it.
Afterwards, Megan continued on her way, with her WoC Fastpass in hand, and we would meet her in our viewing area closer to showtime. For now, Steve and I had some time, so we went to the resorts most bearable 3D effects show, It’s Tough to be a Bug. Steve had seen the Pixar film, but hadn’t yet experience the attraction, so it was a chance to see what all the buzz was about. Sorry, sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Really there isn’t much buzz here anyway. We arrived into the underground lobby with a couple minutes until the next showing, and there was only a smattering of other people. It’s not surprising considering that it’s not the most compelling attraction, perhaps too scary for little kids and too uneventful for older kids. What we were doing there, nobody knows. I think Steve enjoyed the puns, gags, and general antics (oh, god, no, pun certainly not intended), at least enough to not immediately punch me in the face as we exited the theater. That Hopper animatronic remains pretty impressive, at a minimum.
We headed out with just enough time and were pointed to the reserved viewing area by some helpful cast members. There we reunited with Megan, and found ourselves a spot behind some short people (including kids). It seemed that if you’re going to take in the early show, getting a reserved spot like this through the dining promo is the way to go. Not that I wouldn’t have preferred a Racers Fastpass, but this was no time to be greedy. We were about to be treated to a great viewing angle with so little effort spent to get it.
Being a couple levels further back, what you lose in proximity you gain in a much wider view of the action. With the “stage” being longer than a football field, it’s a fitting analogy to watching a game in person. There’s a pretty direct tradeoff between being close to the action, and getting a wide view of the field. I can’t say I have much of a preference either way; being able to see end to end in your field of view is nice, but there’s a good thunder to being up close. As it worked out, we got each over the visit, and that’s probably the best way to go.
Of course the show was again over the top, and if anything it was nice to be part of a larger crowd enjoying it. I’d say it’s tough for a show that doesn’t resonate on a nostalgic level, as its hard to say something like Main Street Electrical Parade is anywhere close to being as technologically impressive, but it’s in a whole different category in terms of a personal connection. But all the Disney characters and iconic scenes help a lot with that, and to be honest, since it’s already been almost three years since our first viewing, I’m able to look back on that fondly. All together, it’s something I finding myself enjoying more each time, and don’t think that’ll abate anytime soon. In my eyes, if gives a lot of Disney’s famed nighttime entertainment a run for its money, and is becoming a classic experience in its own right.
It also was the perfect capstone to our time at the revitalized California Adventure. The undeniable improvements and expansion we finally got to see in person only compounded the enhancements we’ve seen over the past few years. Perhaps the newfound fervor will ease back a bit once repeat visitors have gotten to take in all the changes, but I have no doubt that until the original park does something noteworthy, California Adventure is going to remain a hot ticket. It may have taken a decade too long for the ball to be back in Disneyland’s court, but as a guest we can only hope success feeds success. And hey, maybe we will see that third park in our lifetime after all.
But we weren’t going to get ahead of ourselves by taking three more hours at Disneyland for granted. Thanks to our earlier legwork, we had reservations waiting for us in Frontierland, and we figured that was a good place to start for a quick tour of the area and a closing loop of the park. That, and if luck was on our side, we’d be able to score some final Thunder Mountain Fastpasses.
We found some waiting for us at the machines, used the ones we got earlier in the day, and slipped through the busy queue with ease. Our ride coincided nicely with the beginning of Fantasmic, as the early showing marked 30 minutes from the end of our World of Color show. We were able to hear and even see some of the action from the various peaks, and the slow run off the final lift gave a great view of the Columbia about to take center stage.
Out the exit, we headed in that direction to catch Pirates, and glimpsed for a second a fully interactive Captain Hook, no longer caught in the rigging as he was during our show the night before. A sneak peek like this is a fun treat, having invested little in what can be some nice views, but you’re in a non-stopping zone and cast members are quick to remind you. I have to say, that’s got to be one of the least pleasant employment options here at the resort - outside of a kitchen anyway.
We were allowed, nay encouraged, to stop nearby at Pirates of the Caribbean. It was great to see the shortest wait of the visit, with the line starting just at the entrance inside. From there it’s mere minutes before you’re casting off, and we passed a silly active Blue Bayou and said our farewells to all the bloomin’ cockroaches.
It’s always a tough call during a visit, and especially in the last few hours, to decided whether to cast a wider net and hit a range of lesser attractions, or to keep going back to the headliners. Not that we don’t usually strike a balance, but we seemed to be headed full on towards revisits for the rest of the night. I don’t think that’s anything to complain about, but that left off a few fun things that we do from time to time. I’m thinking of the castle walkthrough, either of the storybook rides, Mr. Lincoln, the Tarzan Tree, Main Street Cinema, and Roger Rabbit. Only that last one is what I’d consider a major attraction, but they are all quintessentially Disneyland, and some are even one-of-a-kind. It’s the attractions like these that give Disneyland its heart and depth, and we’ll be sure to catch them next time.
This time however, we were going to stick with what we knew well after almost three days. From Pirates, we crossed the bridge into Adventureland, and revisited Jungle Cruise. The line was much shorter this time around, but the frequency of boats was also way down. It ended up being about 15 minutes, only slightly lengthened by the Cast Member who invalidated my earlier observation of the left line moving faster by letting those in the right queue take up extra spots, leaving us ashore for the next sailing.
That would be pretty soon, and our high hopes for a great skipper, whom we were seated right next to, never really panned out. In his defense, even the standard groaners elicited nothing audible from the full boat, but he wasn’t throwing out anything beyond the usual anyway, so I’m not going to stick up for him beyond that.
Given the location of the Jungle Cruise exit, we took the cut through to Frontierland and used some Faspasses to get our ridiculous ninth ride of the weekend on Thunder Mountain. I can’t say much varies from one ride to another, but that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. More rides is way better than fewer, especially on a favorite like this.
Time was dwindling, but it looked like we’d be able to make a quick tour of Fantasyland before finishing up in Tomorrowland. Around the back of Big Thunder Mountain, we finally snagged that last dark ride, a bit surprised to see Pinocchio rather busy at the late hour. It’s probably not the most noteworthy in the area, but it has its charm for sure.
Succumbing to Megan’s wishes, we headed towards the back of the part and revisited Small World. Here things were nice and quiet, and we even got treated to the short projection show, though I don’t think we quite got it - - it seemed a bit superfluous. At least there was nothing superfluous going on inside Small World, as each and every character and decoration is critical to telling the wonderful Christmas story. Still, even if you’re enduring a ride here, you’re still at Disneyland, so we weren’t actually going to complain.
Another ride we hadn’t hit since day one was on the way to Tomorrowland, so we took another bobsled run on Matterhorn. The wait was even shorter as people blindly queued for the left side while the right station dwindled. We were happy to get two runs here, especially with the easy access thanks to unobservant guests and an otherwise occupied queue attendant. Being seated in the front car seemed to alleviate some of the roughness, but it’s hard not to feel all the bumps and jolts at this point in a visit. I’d still say it’s worth it though, as it really is a treat to ride at night.
Getting into Tomorrowland proper, it was finally time to hand over our last Fastpasses of the evening, the ones for Space Mountain that I had gotten just before lunch. I get the feeling our touring approach seems both masterful and maddening at the same time, but I never find myself able to make a visit and not try to maximize our time. Perhaps it comes at the cost of relaxing and soaking up a park that’s a dream just to sit in, but I honestly think I do my best appreciation while doing something. It may come at the cost of thinking about the next ride while on the current ride, but I’ll just chalk that up to anticipation.
I suppose if there’s one nice thing about finishing out the visit, you’ve got a small amount of time in the park where you don’t have to think about getting the most out of your time. Beginning to think back on all we had seen and done, we were pretty content as we slipped past yet another standby line and took on Space Mountain for a fifth and final time. Not once did we have to wait here.
As expected, we were off the ride, took a picture of the anachronistic pay phones (this being Tomorrowland and all), and had a few minutes left at our disposal. We weren’t feeling the urge for a third consecutive nightcap on Star Tours, so it seemed like Nemo was a reasonable option, despite not being Steve’s favorite.
Most of his ire comes from him enduring an exceedingly long wait back when the ride first premiered, and was generally underwhelmed by the experience once the wait was over. I like to think the ride offers a mostly positive experience, and when you’re able to walk on like this, it’s the best chance you’ve got of thinking it’s worth the effort.
After the ride, I don’t think he completely came around, but I’ll take indifference over ire as a pretty good improvement. I was just glad the volcano scene was again functioning, and the clock struck midnight just as we pulled back into port. I tried not to think about how the boarding and unloading process here was so similar to what we’d be doing at the airport in about 8 or 9 hours, but it’s hard not to be a little melancholy.
Still ahead of us was the customary and bittersweet final stroll down Main Street. We helped break up the march with lots of window shopping, and even a couple purchases here and there. It’s hard to find stuff that isn’t over the top, but still represents the park, but Megan and Steve did a nice job. Let’s just say most grownups are less interested in merchandise with the slew of Disney characters than they are in souvenirs that represent the park itself, and tastefully so.
They don’t bother with turnstiles this time of night, and as we exited through the opened gate at the very front of the park, I couldn’t ignore the siren song of running back in and trying to find a particularly strategic bush or shrubbery to wait out the night behind. As we had seen all weekend, it was just a few hours until opening anyway. I’d even help clean up.
But reality isn’t best parted with for too long, and we took the last few steps on Disney property and were back at the hotel for what would be another abbreviated night of sleep. I had previously booked a cab through the front desk, so we’d be good to go in the morning, but it’s no surprise that waking up for the flight back home was that much harder than the past few short nights.
When it comes to traveling, the least you can hope for is it to be uneventful. Our cab was ready for us at 7:45am and we tried not to spite the groups already headed for the parks as we headed for the airport. Traffic was passable, despite a rather nasty accident but thanks to the HOV lanes, and Steve took his separate flight, reuniting for the drive home back from SFO just after noon. The jump back to reality was abrupt as I actually had to head into work for the afternoon, but the whole return to the non-whimsical world was eased by a rather relaxed Thanksgiving week. That’s what we fought the crowds for, right?
So that would conclude my eighth visit to Disneyland, and our seventh together in fewer than six years. As I’ve described, it was a definitely a different place, and the experience of visiting has changed the most drastically since California Adventure was added to the resort. We’ve enjoyed the series of changes over the years, and to see the culmination was a treat to behold in person. I’d just like to behold it with slightly fewer people next time.
Thanks to amazing visits to Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland in the interim, it wasn’t so hard to go almost two years without coming here, though it was certainly great to be back where it all started. Of course it’s impossible to leave and not think about when you might be back next, but a trip that’s significantly less hypothetical (i.e., already booked) has us headed back to Asia, and to that elusive Disney park in Hong Kong.
So while we might not return to the land that Walt built for a while, we’re already looking forward to our visit to the fifth Magic Kingdom, and thus completing the set by having been to all eleven Disney theme parks. We are well aware that both the good fortune and the mild obsession required to accomplish such a feat does not go without notice. Like any trip to any Disney Resort, they aren’t things we dare take for granted.
Coaster Count: 331 (268/63)
Favorite Steel, Wood: Montu, Thunderhead
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