December 5, 2016

A Grand Californian Adventure: Part Three- Disneyland vs. Magic Kingdom

Editor's note: This is the last piece of a trip report from my friend Len Yokoyama.
Disneyland's Diamond Celebration marked 60 years of operation since its initial opening back in 1955. In honor of this milestone, the park dressed up Sleeping Beauty Castle in appropriate party fashion, and brought in special events such as "Paint the Night" parade. But other than the slew of commemorative merchandise, not much differed from a standard day in the park.

For most regulars at Walt Disney World who have never been to the West Coast version,  the size differential would be the first thing you notice immediately. The park will seem very small, almost miniscule, when compared to WDW. Sleeping Beauty Castle will do anything but overwhelm you. Its size, in comparison to Cinderella's Castle, will seem quaint in appearance. (I first visited DL in the 8th grade, and back then, the SB castle seemed huge to me. I was surprised how much bigger Cinderella's Castle was when I finally made it to Florida years later). Although WDW is the clear winner in terms of size and scope, there is something about the smaller, more intimate feel of Disneyland that cannot be overlooked. While both Main Streets are very similar, I prefer DL's layout for some reason. It feels more like how a small town main street would look and sound (again, it could be nostalgia playing a big factor in my preferences. I really love both parks for a variety of reasons).

A great President and a godly man.

"Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" has the dubious distinction of being both my least and most favorite attraction on Main Street. As a kid, I couldn't have cared less about a president or the civil war. As an adult,  I love and appreciate what this man did for our country during one of the most turbulent times in American history. It's a one-man show, so it cannot compare (spectacle wise) to the sheer majesty of the Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square. But I can always hear Paul Frees' incredible voice as he narrates the story of Lincoln combined with a beautiful montage of paintings, just before the curtain pulls back, ready to showcase an amazing lifelike replica of our 16th president.

I'm pretty much fearless now when it comes to asking cast members to pose for picture taking...LOL! But a special shout out for the gang at the Photo Supply Company. Sue and I were there to pick up our free 5X7 pic and I started talking geeky camera stuff with Marcus. Bella soon joined the conversation and I ended up asking the entire group (including Ryan and Brenda) to pose for a photo. They happily obliged and, staying in character, really hammed it up!

Big fan of Mary Poppins, but I always seem to have difficulty finding her during those "Meet & Greet" moments. On my first day at DL, I immediately ran into Bert, gussied up in his "Jolly Holiday" attire. I'm thinking Mary’s not far away, but after waiting around for 10 minutes, I realized she was a no show. 

From Emporium window- "C'mon everybody..."

-to beloved Attraction "... here we go!"

I headed to Fantasyland to get in line for Peter Pan. This is the one attraction where I start questioning the sanity of waiting 45 minutes in the blistering sun for a ride that lasts little more than a minute. I don't feel this pain in any of the other queues, so curse you Captain Hook! It's no secret this is one of the hardest rides to photograph and my first attempt was a total bust. After that disappointing experience, I headed back to Main Street, and lo and behold, Mary was coming out of one of the secret doors to meet guests on Main Street. I was fortunate enough to catch her before the crowds arrived, and was able to get some great shots…more than enough to make up for Peter Pan and co.

My all time favorite shop on Main Street is the Emporium. I always start and end my Disney park trips at this location. I hardly have time for shopping anymore since bit by the camera bug. But, I always make time to pick up one (and only one) t-shirt for each trip. I use to bring home 3-4 shirts in the past, but it's ridiculous the amount of clothes I have sitting in my dresser. I shouldn't even be buying any, but it's hard not to bring home something that commemorates the trip. 

"Master, are you sure this will be enough to build Pandora?"

Another thing that I truly love about the Emporium are its amazing window displays. Through YouTube, I knew Disney had created all new, highly interactive, rotating scenes of various Disney classics including Peter Pan, Cinderella, Frozen, and Aladdin. It was one of my goals of the trip to capture some images, but of course, I had totally forgotten and was only able to quickly snap a few shots as we were exiting the park. People were giving me strange glances as I was partially shooting and wiping down the windows at the same time! 

I make it a point to have breakfast at Carnation Cafe during the visit. The prices are pretty reasonable and the food is always tasty. Service is excellent...I've never had a bad experience. 

Big shoes filled?

The new, more contemporary Disneyland band performed on Main Street during most afternoons. There was quite a bit of controversy and lash back to the dismantling of the original group. I heard a lot of the band members had years of service only to receive a pink slip. It's seems even Disneyland is not immune to the cost cutting methods of corporate America. I'm not enough of a regular park goer to judge which band is better, although I thought this group brought energy, fun, and professionalism to their musical numbers.

While waiting for Paint the Night to begin, guests were treated to a show by the Disneyland 2016 All-American College Band! By this time, I had met Eddison Esteban, a fantastic photographer who lives in California (check out his Disney Resort Images page on Facebook). We were sitting down, a ton of photo gear next to us, as this lively group of college performers put on an incredible show!

Quite a beauty!

As night rolled in, a quiet hush enveloped the crowd (not really, but it sounds dramatic...LOL)! Then, a cacophony of sound and light suddenly explode to announce the start of "Paint the Night" parade! Sad to say, I'm not a big parade fan. I take a ton of images, but when it comes down to processing them, I find it a chore! Not sure why… the parade is visually interesting ... a cross hybrid between a traditional parade and the Main Street Electrical classic. Part of my issue is that most parades don’t have a strong narrative drive, so it ends up being just a series of floats to me. It’s the same problem I have with World of Color.

Compensating for size.

Just before the parade ended, Eddison told me to prepare to rush the middle of the street to set up our cameras for the fireworks. I was ready, but the ensuing madness and crowds proved to be very difficult and challenging. I nearly lost track of everyone, but somehow managed to set up my tripod in the middle of utter chaos (Eddison didn't even bother trying, he shot handheld). I didn't have a chance to shoot the aerial night show at WDW last Christmas, so I was looking forward to this opportunity. It did not go very well. Unlike WDW, where you can lock down optimal spots if you're willing to camp for a few hours, DL's smaller size severely limits options. I was informed that prime areas near the hub are now reserved for VIP guests. My question is, at the prices Disney charges for admission, why is every guest not VIP status???

Beyond the castle awaits Fantasyland. After experiencing the new version in Florida, this area feels more like the "Mini-Me" counterpart...LOL! I like taking character pictures so the Fantasy Faire is a no-brainer for me. You're guaranteed to meet at least 3 to 4 princesses in air condition comfort for autographs and picture taking. It's always awkward when a grown man stands in line for these things without any children or wife in tow (my wife Sue had still not arrived in LA).

Who needs Frozen?

The cast members who played Ariel, Cinderella, and Snow White were all great, (I went on two different times so the actresses changed), but something about it felt a little generic to me. I'm sure a young child goes bonkers over meeting their favorite princesses, so my opinion is irrelevant. I actually liked the costumes of the cast members more at the entrances with their medieval style garbs. I was also lucky enough to see both Brave's Merida and the combo of Rapunzel and Flynn Rider outside in the gazebo. Now, these appearances were more up to my liking. Both Meridas were spunky and playful (again I did this one twice with different actresses), but it was Flynn who really stuck out from the pack. With his hilarious expressions, this guy really got into the character! 

Along with these "Meet and Greets", Fantasy Faire also showcases a "Beauty and the Beast" stage play. The tented stage is rather small so guest accommodation is very tight. I waited in line for 2 hours to get a good seat for picture taking, but still ended up on the side (even though I was the 4th person in line, some of the moms were very quick.)! The play isn’t bad, but like the “Frozen Sing Along” at WDW, you have two comedians narrating most of the story, taking up big chunks of stage time (Belle is almost a secondary character). One of the comedians also plays the Beast, which is hard to overlook (since he's goofy for the majority of the show). I would rate this one a little better than WDW's Frozen, but not by much...

As Walt said- cleaner than the real thing.

"This should cover the Pandora overages!"

It's no secret that New Orleans Square is one of my favorite spots in Disneyland. As a kid, the place seemed wholly uninteresting to me other than it showcasing the still awesome Pirates of the Caribbean (sounds like a repeat scenario of the Lincoln attraction). Older and semi-wiser, I've come to appreciate the architectural beauty and quiet grace that resides here. 

Looks can be deceiving.

It's obvious Walt had a soft spot for NOS with his never to be occupied guest house residing here as well as the infamous Club 33. I had a chance to visit the actual French Quarters, so it's clear that this New Orleans (like Main Street) is a idyllic version of the real place, a place that fully existed in Walt’s imagination. What will always make this place extra special is that you won't ever see it in any other Disney park. I can't imagine Bob Iger and company investing time and money into a themed area that is somehow not tied into its animated characters and/or merchandising machine.

Another fan favorite.

Besides POC, New Orleans Square is home to my favorite restaurant...the Blue Bayou Restaurant. I wouldn't say the food here is outstanding. I actually don't remember what I ate prior to this trip, but did order the "Count of Monte Cristo" sandwich and gumbo. I barely ate a quarter of my meal, not having much of an appetite (after an early breakfast) at 11:00 in the morning. Why book such a reservation knowing I wouldn't be ready for lunch? 

The concept has been duplicated, 
but the results never surpass the original Blue Bayou.

My main goal was to photograph the restaurant while still relatively empty. Because the dining area is so dark, I wanted to set up my tripod to get some long exposure shots. A cast member was kind enough to sit me close to the outer edge, but I found it difficult photographing the bayou itself. Overall, I was happy with some of the shots I got, but even the earliest slots have guests raring to go.

Yesterdayland- and not 1967.

Tomorrowland and Adventureland always get the short ends of the stick whenever I'm visiting here or Magic Kingdom. As opposed to my earlier feelings, Tomorrowland (along with Fantasyland) was one of my favorite lands growing up. But the outdated and constant "catch up" mode of this “futuristic” land has left me underwhelmed and disinterested.  I think Space Mountain is a very overrated "E-Ticket" attraction...the novelty of riding in utter darkness long since vanished. I would love to see a TL based on the retro late 50's idea of sci-fi that was so prominent in the Disney television shows. America was very optimistic in terms of space travel and exploration, and it would fit in with Walt's romanticized versions of the west, Main Street, and the far corners of the earth (jungles, islands, etc). 

My Adventureland photos are nearly non-existant. Not sure why I never shoot this area at night. Living in Hawaii, you would think I'd gravitate towards the Polynesian area, but it's quite the opposite. If I ever get back to DL, this land will be top on my priority list. One exception is that Aladdin and company frequently hang here for "Meet & Greets". I'm a huge fan of the movie, so I make an effort to stop by for some photos.

Another Tony Baxter masterpiece.

Frontierland is surely the most neglected land in all of Disneyland. I think upper management would totally do away with this place if it wasn't so etched into the park's iconography. In my wildest dreams, the Imagineers get the green light to produce Marc Davis' never built Western River Expedition...a major attraction that would put this neglected area back in the forefront. But the reality is  the old west has little appeal to the younger generations (and I can understand why). I do think Disney has to make a decision about this land sooner rather than later. They need to either recommit themselves to revitalizing the place or go forward in a totally different direction (I'm hoping for the former).

Not docked for too much longer...

The Rivers of America is a pretty quiet place, especially now since the Mark Twain is dry-docked while Star Wars land is being built. All of the trains are out of commission too, so no Grand Canyon tour for me...sob, sob! I was hoping to have one last meal at Big Thunder Ranch, but by golly, didn't get to do that either. In fact, I'm getting a bit bummed out typing out all the stuff that was either closed temporarily or permanently! It's a good thing that I could still take pictures of the train and boat at night, since riding them was out of the question.

Southwestern charm.

Right behind Frontierland, is one of the best restaurants in Disneyland...!Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante! I can never remember the name without googling it, but the dining experience was outstanding. 

Overlooked by most of the crowd, but the atmosphere screams California.

I've had breakfast there where they offer both American and Mexican cuisine. I opted for the Chorizo and Egg Burrito which was bueno uno! What is even better is that drink refills are FREE! Yes, that word does exist (on a rare summer night when the moon is a ghastly purple shade) at a Disney park...believe it or not! At night, this place looks magical...almost surreal. Visit here if you get a chance!

All in all, I had a grand time revisiting this old favorite of mine. Many of the later parks have surpassed Walt’s original through size, scope, and advancements in park technology. But like a an old jacket or your childhood home, some things will always retain a sense of magic and nostalgic aroma. 

Sue, Len, and some goofy guy.

Thus ends the last part of my Disneyland trip report. Mahalo to Mark Taft  for giving me space on his blogspot.  Thank you to any of his readers for putting up with these untimely interruptions. If the Lord and Mark is willing, I’ll be back sometime early next year with a report (and the usual photos) on the Aulani Resort during the Christmas season. Until then, stay safe and God bless everyone!

(Photographs copyright Len Yokoyama.)

1 comment:

Len said...

Mahalo again Mark for allowing me to express myself on your amazing blog! Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! May the good Lord continue to bless and watch over you and your family in 2017!