August 24, 2018

Theme Park Commando: Disneyland Resort in One Day- Two Parks, 26 Attractions

The date: July 5, 2018. I had one day to do both parks in California. What could I get out of Disneyland and California Adventure when I had 16 hours total? Would I be able to ride the new / revised attractions I wanted (Pixar Pier and Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout!), check out the progress on Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge and all the changes in Frontierland and still have a great time? The answer is "Yes!"  

What did I accomplish? 26 Attractions and One evening parade in Two parks with two sit down meals and two stops for beverage breaks. Oh yeah- 18 of these attractions were "E Tickets"!

How did I accomplish it?
  • One Day, Two Park Ticket bought in advance
  • Single Rider Lines
  • Getting to the Parks Before Opening
  • MaxPass
  • Mobile Ordering for dinner
  • Staying until (almost) closing time

Here's how it played out and my review on the new-ish Pixar Pier, the re-Imagined Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and an analysis of the Disneyland Resort.

Strategically, since California Adventure has far fewer attractions than it's older sibling and the two that were recently re-Imagined, I knew this had to be my first stop. 


Take a closer look.
Love of the parks draws people together.

I queued up at the gates at 7:00am that Thursday morning. My plan was to go Friday, but I had woken up at 5:00am, and it was one of those days that going back to sleep just wasn't going to happen. Good reminder that plans change- and I ended up very thankful as Friday, it turned out to be over 110 degrees! 

We were let into the park at 7:30am, and as I guessed, we were able to go only so far into the park. This meant I had the chance to take my time, take a long look at Buena Vista Street and the mess of area that is Hollywoodland.




It's not always a better park atmosphere in Florida.

After being at Walt Disney World and spending our last day at the Studios just four weeks earlier, let me say that I find Buena Vista Street a much more rewarding "first act" than I do Hollywood Blvd. Sure, it's shorter in length and built on a smaller scale, but it's done right: layers of detail, interesting buildings, and lush vegetation with an abundance of trees. All this creates a place to relax and soak it in. Having the Red Car Trolleys as an actual attraction is a plus. As one who often criticizes the suits for often cutting budgets and bringing guests less than great experiences, I'll be the first to admit they gave the Imagineers ample funds to build a great and welcoming area!


Hello Walt!

This makes Hollywoodland look all the worse with its remnant of DCA 1.0 and a less than cohesive blend into the immediate areas around the new hub of the park. Standing in line at the end of the street waiting to be released to ride Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout provided a clear reminder how much this portion of the park needs a remake. Be the changes Marvel inspired or not, for now, it's poorly lackluster. 

Full confession mode: I got very excited once we were allowed to get in line for the Guardians ride. It wasn't entirely new, but it was the closest thing I'd experience this trip to a brand new attraction. The building itself is just plain ugly, although I find it much better looking at night. Regardless of its convoluted backstory, it does not fit into the area in which its placed. 


Reminded me of that Michael Jackson statue
that was floated down those European rivers. 

Directed by the cast member to walk the entire length of the queue, I saw that the garden area was clearly a spot where it would have been better to rip the entire thing out and start new. 


Hollywoodland's (Rip Ride) Rocket

There's been many reports on this Bob Chapek demanded revision pushed into the hands of Imagineer Joe Rohde. I won't recap it, but as a big fan of the original Twilight Zone Tower of Terror... wait for it... I found the Guardians version to be lighthearted, fun, and rather well done under the circumstances. As much as the garden area is ineffective, the lobby seems to work, and the much talked about Rocket Audio-Animatronic is excellent! This truly unexpected surprise works well in the context of the story. The actual on-ride experience is as fun as always, but you never really forget you're watching a movie. 

The attraction's stronger than what I expected it to be, but the whole Marvel land expansion had better be much, much better than the rumored shooting attraction set in a California business complex. 

My rental car was much more fun!

I snagged a Fast Pass for Incredicoaster, but left Hollywoodland directly for a ride on Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters before using the single rider line for Radiator Springs Racers.  For the record, Mater's a better "B Ticket" attraction than either the Flying Tires or the Roadsters. Not surprisingly, Cars Land's centerpiece experience is still the stronger addition to Disney's West Coast resort since the Indiana Jones Adventure. 

Same great ride- poor overlay.

So, I guess it's time for an objective look at Pixar Pier and the Incredicoaster. That's hard to do as I have never been a fan of Paradise Pier or the entire concept of a carnival as part of a Disney theme park. 

I guess we're stuck with this carnival.

As an Armchair Imagineer, after the very successful relaunch of California Adventure and the great reception to Buena Vista Street and Cars Land, I'd have let the guests come for a year and then close down the Pier for a major retheme / rehaul. The suits waited longer to do this, but I'd say the project was a failure.

Using MaxPass, I walked to the pier. Screamin' / Incredicoaster remains a great ride. Really a rush- and I still love it. After their theming rework, it now includes a quickly done cover story that removes the continuity of thrill as you're interrupted by dialogue on the lift hills and the visuals of baby Jack Jacks on sticks. (WHO approved that???) 

Other areas seem improved (the main entrance to Pixar Pier and the band shell), ignored (the coaster still needs a paint job and the Fun Wheel needs a real roof over the queue), or made much worse (the chicken stand is a disaster). Part of my frustration with the carnival land is there's no where to get away from the crush of the crowd because in contrast to other parts of the park, the pathways are narrow here and there's no side streets or charming nooks. It really is like a carnival midway in the worst sense of the word. Including no shade- and for such a long stretch of walkway through the park. 

The new paint scheme doesn't help matters at all. Any sense of sophistication established with the Hotel del Coronado vibe that was there after the first refurb has been traded for a garish, in your face, circus look. In other words, it's been dumbed down to the lowest level in order to sell more merchandise to the kids.  May I ask, "What does California have to do with that?" Ugh.

 Nicely done change!

On my way to see the new-to-me Grizzly Peak Airfield (aka Condor Flats), I jumped into a two minute line for Little Mermaid. Quickly, the interior of California's version is easily superior to that of the attraction in Florida's Magic Kingdom. Enough said.

As a fan of the original Condor Flats, I found the Imagineers did an excellent job bringing the airfield out of the barren desert and into the forested mountains. See, they can do it right when they are allowed to do so.

                           
Note to the Pixar Pier Imagineers:
It's the little details that enhance the theme,
not slapping the characters on every available surface.

Wandering around, the area felt as if it were entirely brand new. This was an unexpected and very pleasant surprise. I enjoyed the new Soarin' film for what it was, but I would certainly be open to having both films available for a ride. (MaxPass again.) Walking out of the area on my way to Disneyland, I noticed how well the new entrance to the area transitioned from the Carthay Circle. It just felt right. (Six rides, including three "E Tickets" so far.) I'd return for Paint the Night later in the evening.


Where is the castle?

By 10:30am, I was standing in front of the Bengal BBQ waiting for my delicious but expensive Kalua Pork Sandwich. More than enough for two- but I was so hungry as I hadn't eaten since being up at 5, it went down easily. Let me back track a bit.

Walking into Walt's park felt like going home. BUT I have to admit to my Florida friends reading this, the castle is small. Charming, yes, but from Main Street, it just about disappears from sight. Remember, I'd just come from the Magic Kingdom one month before this visit. It all feels warm and cozy but more like a cottage than a mansion with a blazing fire a la Beauty and the Beast.


It's cute but it's no Crystal Palace. 

After regaining my energy with food, drink and some time in the shade, it was time for some attractions. Just then I realized just how jam packed the park is with one great adventure after another. 

I also quickly remembered how small the walkways were. Not just in Adventureland but all through the park. This contributes to the intimacy of the park, but all day long, this fact alone made me question the sanity of park executives. Who decided to bring in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge here instead of biting the bullet and Imagineering that third park? The place s going to be crushed with people, and my bet is that the guest satisfaction levels will drop. 

Because this article is about doing so many rides in one full day, I'm going to give it to you in list form below. If you want to read my humble observations about the park changes- and why my next visit will be Walt Disney World instead of California, continue reading after the list. Here goes...


Apple screenshot
ending at 11:34pm on July 5.

Disneyland:  

Disneyland Railroad
Columbia
BTMRR (3) (Two Max Pass, one regular line)
Pirates (2)
Haunted Mansion
Indiana Jones Adventure (single rider)
Space Mountain (single rider)
Jungle Cruise (MaxPass)
It's A Small World
Main Street Cinema
Enchanted Tiki Room
Matterhorn Bobsleds (single rider)
Disney Gallery
Tarzan's Treehouse
Roger Rabbit (MaxPass)

Disney California Adventure:

Luigi's Rollicking Roadsters 
Paint the Night
Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout
RSR(2) (single rider)
Incredicoaster (MaxPass)
Little Mermaid
Soarin' Around the World (MaxPass)
Grizzly River Run (single rider)


Thanks for reading on! Let's pick up on some thoughts about those park changes.


Toontown needs to stay.

Disneyland is still an amazing place where you can feel the spirit of Walt. I find it in the more intimate scale of things; the sweet and gentle innocence of a more simple Fantasyland, and a park size that feels like an experiment and not the guaranteed success of those parks which came afterwards. Yet, although  you can sense the years given how lush the park is with full grown trees, there's  buildings that need to be demolished in Tomorrowland and other changes neededDisneyland is a park in transition.




Photos of a re-Imagined Frontierland 
and its Rivers of America.

At the very top of my Disneyland must-see list was the total transformation of the Rivers of America in preparation for the Star Wars invasion. To shorten the river was a mistake in my opinion, but in execution, I found it to be a unexpected success. I rode the train, sailed aboard the Columbia and walked around every pathway leading to and from the Galaxy's Edge taking photograph after photograph of the changes. The cruise seemed only slightly shorter from a time perspective, but it was noticeable we weren't traveling as fast as we used to. The trip was far more interesting with all the activity and set pieces on the riverbanks. Once the trees really grow in, it will be even better- and all the new waterfalls are great. Additional water features are always a win as far as I'm concerned. Aside from the lost opportunity of traveling on the train through a sparkling new version of Rainbow Caverns, I'm a happy man. New sights. New sounds. New excitement. 

After thoroughly checking out all the changes, the heat won me over. I'm not ashamed to say it, but I walked into Starbucks on Main Street and ordered three drinks: an iced Vanilla Latte, a Very Strawberry Frappuccino (it wasn't), and a big cup of cold water. The small nook back in the library area was my home for the next half hour as I recharged my cel phone as well as my stamina. 

Refreshed and ready to go again, I popped into the surprisingly busy Main Street Cinema for a short bit, surveyed the changes in the Disney Gallery, and then I jumped on board the train at the Main Street Station for a grand circle tour. Then it was back to a couple of my favorites.

Beautiful and serene mansion on the outside...

My list of must do adventures continued with the (happily) classic version of the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, two of my most loved attractions ever. 

The queue for the ride through the gardens was hot but beautiful. The magnolias were in bloom, and the lengthier wait (20 minutes) gave me a chance to really look around and enjoy it all. I had just seen the classic version of the mansion in Florida and was so happy to do so without the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay. I am usually in Southern California in October these days, so it has been close to a decade since I've seen this beloved classic in its original mode. The famous Hat Box Ghost was well done and no more startling than the new Constance in the attic. Although the eerie attraction was in top condition, I found the actual trip through the mansion was better in Florida. There. I said it. It's not always better in California. Usually, but not always.

A Fast Pass casualty.

Pirates could do without the politically correct changes, and it needs a better queue than the one that blocks Adventureland from the rest of New Orleans Square. The attraction was in top shape. Gone was that mist screen and the filmed images. Good choice. The pirate / skeleton with octopus was well done and a nice surprise. I also noticed some island soldiers on top of the fortress fighting against Captain Barbossa. Are they new? And are they from World of Motion at Epcot? The revised auction scene is much better here than in Florida, but it's still doesn't make sense. Pirates auctioning what they've stolen? Interesting choice. 

One quick and sweet story. My second ride through Pirates, I sat in my row behind a family that was probably from Brazil based on the Portuguese they spoke. It was easy to tell it was their first trip. In contrast, the family behind me spoke a mix of English and Spanish, and they had two little kids who probably hadn't been on the ride before. 

At every turn as we cruised along, I heard the Brazilian family ooh and ahh and saw faces of amazement as they looked right and left. When we were going up the waterfall at the end of the ride, they made an audible and unified sigh of disappointment. I thought they were going to applaud. Their faces spoke of amazement and wonder over what had just been witnessed. The local Hispanic family was behind me, but I could hear from their conversation and the giggles that the younger kids loved the thrills and sights and their parents enjoyed taking them on what was probably their first ride. 

Both these families reminded me of how right Walt was to build a lengthy and impressive family ride that wasn't a coaster but still had thrills all could enjoy- and to do it with a terrific mix of technology and good old fashioned showmanship including the iconic theme song. For so many reasons, Pirates remains the ultimate statement of Disney Imagineering excellence even 50 years after its debut. This exemplifies the ongoing power of Disneyland. 


Tomorrowland needs a full rehaul!
It's the embarrassment of all of Disneyland. 


Single rider options and MaxPass really helped me get some great "E Ticket" rides under my belt in very little time. Big Thunder, Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones, and even Space Mountain were a breeze. The ride in the white-coned shaped mountain was incredibly smooth and sharp, and I was on in less than 5 minutes. (By the way, Launch Bay is just a glorified museum and home to some meet and greets.) The daylight ride through the wilderness was fun, but two rides in a row at night with only three or four minutes wait -and with fireworks going off the first time- solidified the status of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad: It is my favorite roller coaster in both of the California parks. I never tire of riding it! The thrills are there, and the setting and execution of the ride are top notch. We loved it in Florida (if only it had been a part of Thunder Mesa and it's unbuilt Western River Expedition), it's an amazing attraction in Paris, and back home in California, it remains a family favorite. 

Loved my visit to the Enchanted Tiki Room!

Ditto for my journey on the Disneyland Railroad-
and the Jungle Cruise. 


After a few more attractions, it was time to head back to California Adventure for a wrap up tour before capping the night off back at Disneyland. Last minute, I decided to swap my MaxPass for Grizzly River Run so I could ride Big Thunder at night. It was a smart choice as I waited about 15 minutes for the single rider line to reopen and found myself on the very wet side of a spinning raft in less than two minutes once it did. By this point, the line was almost two hours long for GRR if you didn't go single rider! Count that in as a concession to the heat and the fact there are relatively few attractions here.

I took time for a short dinner stop and used digital ordering to get a quick meal at the Lucky Fortune Cookery. Bypassing at least 15 families in line at dinnertime, I had my hot and very tasty chicken bowl in less than 5 minutes. Yum! This has become one of my go-to places in California Adventure as I loved to eat on the Wharf and people watch. 


Getting ready for the sun to go down 
over the Cadillac Range.

Finishing my tasty meal, I made a beeline for Radiator Springs Racers, with the single rider line taking about 30 minutes. The full queue was in use for the regular line, and Fast Passes were gone for the rest of the evening. 

Walking through Cars Land is such a satisfying experience! Perhaps its just that it shows the Imagineers still have what it takes. I walked the back way past the revamped Tower attraction. It looks much better in the evening. I did not ride it again, as I wanted to hit Paint the Night before heading back to Disneyland, and my timing was close. 



Electrical Parade Take Two.

I stood on the park entrance side of the Carthay Circle, enjoyed the very bright parade and moved as fast as I could from the park over to Disneyland. Just had to meet my Fast Pass time at Big Thunder. 

As I quickly headed out, I surveyed the park. Buena Vista Street is short but perfectly sets the mood, walking in or walking out. With Marvel on its way, I'm skeptical they can pull off the great sense of atmosphere they created when they brought Buena Vista Street and Cars Land to life. It needed the transformation, but now it seems as if they may ruin it. California Adventure is a park in transition once again- and from what I saw this trip, this isn't necessarily a move in the right direction.



Fantasyland at night is charming!

Back to Walt's park to wrap it up. So, I was late getting to my Fast Pass appointment, missing the ending time by ten minutes due to the evening shows and the very thick crowds being it was July 5th. The good natured cast members understood and let me on for two quick rides in succession. Backtracking a bit, I then walked around the river bend, glancing at Pirates and Mansion from a distance and took a quick walk through Adventureland for a few quick photos and went back the way I came.

Moving quickly down the frontier trail into the beautifully lit Fantasyland village for It's A Small World, the ride reopened just moments after I arrived. Yes, I'm a grown man, but I love this ride. Even though I'm all too aware of my shortcomings and definitely sinful (but forgiven) nature, I regain just a bit of childlike innocence every time I ride. 

I was just beat by this point as it was after 11pm. I could have struggled with the crowds, walked through Tomorrowland and taken that MaxPass for Buzz, but I was whipped. Heading back to the castle, I saw Mr. Toad had no line, so I jumped in. About three riders from the front, the cars stopped and maintenance came in, signaling it really was my time to go home.

Hot but happy.

There you have it! Almost 16 full hours in the parks, and I had an amazing day! More than enough new photographs and stories to tell for awhile. Now with the news that the 4th hotel is being delayed, the Disneyland Resort remains in transition. Downtown Disney feels disrupted while California Adventure is clearly remaking itself one again. Yet for all its faults, Disneyland is still the undisputed theme park king of the Golden State. One thing is certain- I know I'll be back, but I'll give things a few years to settle down.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

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