Monday, January 16, 2012

It All Started with a Mouse

I'm not a big fan of amusement parks and touristy places. My travel preferences hardly ever include massively commercial destinations robbed of any local flavor. I've done the whole all-inclusive vacation once and that will be my last, thank you very much. BUT, I confess that I am a proponent of doing things you have instant unreasonable abhorrence for and of going somewhere you have never been before.

For Christmas, one of the presents I got from The lovely Dutch is a 3-day Park Hopper to Disneyland and the adjacent Disney California Adventure Park. We're spending New Year's weekend at Disneyland.


Don't get me wrong. I was thrilled about it and I didn't have to be drugged and then dragged to the car to go. I just had pretty low expectations. New Year's Eve at Disneyland, I am certain, will be MANIC.

We got there on the afternoon of NYE and decided to check out the main drag of Disneyland first. Despite the crowds, entrance to the park with the hopper tickets was very seamless. Hand in hand, we entered Disneyland, and my socks were instantly knocked off. It was as if I was transported into a dream. We walked towards Main Street, which mimics the downtown of a small and old American town. As if on cue, the Christmas Parade started. A ballerina was twirling gracefully on the first float and right behind was a Christmas car with Pluto waving to the throng of entranced crowds. The colors were bursting and alive. The music surrounds you in the most delicately tickling way.

My eyes widened like plates and I cannot believe it. They have instantaneously transported me back to that happy, uncomplicated, "in the present moment" place. I am love. I am joy. I am uncynical. I am trusting. I am in the Happiest Place on Earth.

I am a child once again.

And Walt Disney "imagineered" it precisely so, and all these thousands of people - performers, mascots, sound directors, ride operators, cleaning ladies, restaurant workers, balloon sellers - EVERY SINGLE EMPLOYEE - worked their butts off to make sure I feel exactly that.

On the drive back north on I-5, while The lovely Dutch takes a nap, I ruminate. It's hard to believe that the magic of Disneyland all began with a mouse. At the end of my weekend at this land of imagination and childish joy, I am shaking my head part in disbelief, part in amazement. How can all of that have been possible?

In my befuddled state, a serenade interrupts. It's quite simple, and what I experienced in the last two days make it downright compelling.

The dream that you wish do come true...


For the sake of Disneyland virgins, I will not reveal too much. But I could not help sharing some pictures and unsolicited advice.

1. But Park Hopper tickets in advance. Your local Disney Store should have them. If you plan on being in SoCal for more than a few days for the amusement parks, the Southern California CityPass is a steal at $279.
2. Be prepared for throngs of people everywhere and waiting times of up to an hour at the popular rides. So it really pays to do your research in advance. Nerd it up a little with The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2012, for about $10 at Amazon. Disneyland Touring Plans is an online resource that even allows you to map out itineraries and print them out. Lastly, there is a free iPhone app called "Mouse Wait" which lets you track wait times. Woe to Blackberry users, this app has not (yet) been designed for you.
3. Take advantage of single rider line at The Adventures of Indiana Jones and Splash Mountain. You'll only queue for an eighth of the time the other patrons will.
4. FastPass it whenever you can, especially on Space Mountain and California Screamin'.
5. Toy Story Mania is INSANELY RAD. And Tower of Terror.

6. Actually, California Adventure, Disneyland's surrogate sister, is a beautiful park! It has some fantastic rides and the lines are shorter! Cars fans, watch out for Radiator Springs opening in the summer!

7. World of Color is a spectacular show not to be missed! I believe the BEST way to see World of Color is front and center. You can get limited access to this "preferred viewing" area only by buying a dinner package either at Ariel's Grotto or the Wine Country Trattoria. I recommend the Wine Country Trattoria. The food is surprisingly excellent, with fresh and healthy options! With wine, the tab will run about $60/head.

8. The line at "It's A Small World" can get prohibitive. The best way to still see that attraction from a different perspective is to get on the Disneyland Train. It goes right through it.

9. Don't skip the parades. So much art, creativity, and imagineering went into every single float and performance. Each one of them exuded passion! And watch them at night, when the lights are all aglow!

10. I don't think I need to warn you that Disneyland is crowded. It's amazing though that you don't hear people get annoyed. Children rarely cry. It's like there's this happiness blanket around! But do take breaks. The cappuccino and pastries at Blue Ribbon Bakery on Main Street are decent. Care for a quick cat nap? Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln right at the mouth of Main Street in Disneyland is perfect for this! (I speak from experience.)

11. Beware. Seeing Disney characters will make you squeal like a little girl. Guys included.

12. Bring sunscreen, screams, loads of energy, and tons of giggles! Don't forget to brush up on those old Disney tunes! :)

Thank you for the magic and the memories, Walt!

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