September 19, 2016

Escape to Disneyland or California Adventure?

A day's escape to Disneyland or California Adventure? Which would you choose? Why?

I'm sitting here thinking about how much fun it would be to treat myself to a day at one of those Disney parks, and I really can't decide. So, maybe I'll just share a few thoughts and wait for some opinions from those who read this blog.

On the pro Disneyland side- It's "Walt's Park". You can almost feel his presence as you walk around. Not literally, of course, but in a sense of his influence, his love for the project and dedication to the craft of theme park design. I know when I enter the park, there's a more gentle, leisurely pace to my stride, and I don't run from attraction to attraction. I tend to look around more, take in the sights and listen to the sounds that "say Disneyland" to me: The whistle of the train, the sounds of the Disneyland band, the honk of Main Street's vehicles, and the toot of the Mark Twain. (Of course as nighttime falls, walking through the castle while "When You Wish Upon a Star" is playing makes for a very sublime and sometimes even a very melancholy experience.)

Imagineer Marc Davis' unused Pirates art.

The wealth of attractions in this little park offer something for just about everyone, but there's a couple that are enduring classics.  In addition to the attractions referenced above, a visit to Disneyland is incomplete without Pirates of the Caribbean, the Matterhorn Bobsleds, It's A Small World, and at least one of the dark rides found in Fantasyland. Lately, I always seem to be in the park when Jack Skellington takes over the Mansion. I miss seeing the original!

Honestly, as much as I love so many of the more modern day attractions, (I'm a huge Indiana Jones fan!) only one of the "post-Walt" rides give me the same classic Disney feel: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. It's a testament to the heart and soul of Imagineer Tony Baxter and his strong understanding of what made Disneyland an enduring love of kids of all ages the world over.

A nice little nook to explore inside the castle.

Here's the problem not living close by anymore. I always have to do a "best of" kind of visit now. Or at least, I just to may sure I see what's new, since I never know when I'll be back. When I am not short on time, I love wandering into places guests rush by on their way to the mountains: The Main Street Cinema, the Firehouse, and many other nooks and crannies in each land you just have to find for yourselves. (It's something that was missed when designing  Florida's Magic Kingdom but rediscovered later at the incredible Disneyland Paris.) 

Food plays a lesser role, and a simple box of hot popcorn, a mint julep in New Orleans Square, chocolate licorice, and a cool Dole-whip in the Summer are my snacks of choice. I could spend the day wandering around, treats in hand, watching the crowds. The only exception is the Mint Julep. It just demands that I sit on the patio in New Orleans Square and listen to some live jazz! Especially since I can no longer do it on the Mark Twain under the stars. (I'd trade Fantasmic for that opportunity anytime.)

(By the way, you'll notice I'm using concept art for this post. My friend Len Yokoyama is sending me his California trip report, so I'll just wait so you can see some incredible photos instead of my amateur ones!)

The great new entrance.

As wonderful as Disneyland is, there's times I just want to go to its younger sister, Disney California Adventure. What once was a relative disaster on opening day has now become a pretty terrific but very different park all its own. The park had its serious flaws. In fact, it was almost a reverse of Disneyland: there were so many little smaller charming attractions, the "E Ticket" rides and must-sees were clearly afterthoughts or at least missing on opening day. Soarin' Over California was the exception.

I really loved the elegant Seasons of the Vine film and going into the beautiful California Zephyr train for a treat. The hidden trail woven in throughout Grizzly Rapids and the small path by the winery called for exploration.  

Nowadays, the success of the park has changed its feel. In place of the old strip mall entrance which was empty 15 years ago, the charming Buena Vista Street should be a place to find the guests stopping to take it all in. It's chock full with the layers of detail that used to only be found in the other park. However, it's really an early morning mob scene as families of all types rush to Cars Land for their ride on Radiator Springs Racers, the new champion of Disney attractions. 

The change is not without solid reasoning behind it! I'd argue it is the first undeniable home run by the Imagineers since the original Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Walt Disney World. And the land surrounding this iconic attraction is every bit as spectacular as the attraction it hosts. My morning in this park begins with a quick ride on Racers followed by breakfast at Flo's. On the patio of course, while I watch the cars zip around the banked turn of the track. It's an almost otherworldly experience. I am no longer in the middle of Orange County. In this writer's not always so humble opinion, Cars Land accomplishes here what New Orleans Square does for guests at Disneyland: It provides a total atmospheric experience which makes the suspension of the current world a reality. Yes, it is that good! It will be the hallmark for which this crop of Imagineers is one day celebrated. 

The old Condor Flats Airfield- hone of Soarin' Over California.

Soarin' Over California is another must-do for me. It's as close to flawless as any of the original opening day attractions could have been - which isn't saying much looking at the slate of what was premiered. I also always ride the Little Mermaid and Monsters Inc

Mermaid? Yes. Not because its so excellently well done but because of my great love for the film and its music. (OK, and because Ursula is my favorite Disney bad guy!) The attraction does have its strengths- the Under the Sea segment and the giant Ursula are the highlights- yet I almost always walk off the attraction's clamshells thinking about what should have been. This could have been and should have been on par with Haunted Mansion, but it is still work the time spent to ride.

Surprisingly, there are some loved segments of a day at California Adventure which are centered around food. I've already mentioned breakfast in Cars Land. Next up would be lunch at the Wharf while I sit under the sun listening to the Mariachi Divas. I love the Asian bowls and their variety of sauces. (I recently discovered the Korean one. Yum!) This lunch setting gives me that Epcot vibe I can't get elsewhere on the grounds. I have yet to find the perfect dinner spot or the right treats, but once I do, the day will only get better.

What California Adventure lacks in layers of attractions it makes up for in this one simple way: The place just feels new. There's much to be said for that. Sure, there's also big gaps in the quality. Big gaps! Hollywood land is still a mess, and Paradise Pier looks much better, but World of Color aside, unfortunately, it still lacks attractions of much substance. The seaside carnival theme just doesn't work for me. Nor do endless films, which still make up too many of the parks' attractions.

So, there's how I'd spend my day escaping to either  Disneyland or California Adventure. How would you spend yours?

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)


Prescott Ryker said...

Like you I used to live close to Disneyland, then I moved out of state, and so on the two visits I have made since leaving California they have been filled with a sense of urgency that was completely unfamiliar to me! On our most recent visit we had a grand time, we got there right at opening, spent the morning at California Adventure and then the afternoon and evening at Disneyland. We did indeed make that mad dash to get our Radiator Springs Racers Fastpasses! The we headed over to do a rider switch on the new spectacular Soarin'! The Mrs. & the oldest son worked in a "final" ride on the Tower of Terror. I was with the one year old son and we rode the Red Car Trolley and just took in Buena Vista Street, was just wonderful. We regrouped at Radiator Springs where to the oldest son's delight we rider switched on Racers. We did a lot of meet and greets(The 1 year old is CRAZY for meeting the Characters) which we had forgotten(after several Disney World trips)were much more spontaneous at Disneyland. At Disneyland we wanted to ride "Hyperspace Mountain" which we did end up doing. Worked in Pirates (Haunted Mansion was already closed for the Nightmare Overlay), saw alot of parades...not so much by choice but the parades really bring traffic to a halt at Disneyland, we've been spoiled by Magic Kingdoms broad boulevards and byways! Spent a lot of time just taking in the ambience, it is so different from Magic Kingdom, which since living on the east coast is now our go to Disney Resort, but Disneyland is always "home"!

Mark Taft said...

Sounds like a great day!