September 18, 2018

Eaten Alive

Its' a dog eat dog kind of world, isn't it? 

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

These couple of sentences from Paul's letter to the Philippians cuts me to the very core some days... 

September 17, 2018

Mary Poppins Returns- in Time for an Epcot Attraction

Just this morning, Walt Disney Pictures released the full official trailer for their much anticipated film, Mary Poppins Returns. While no one will ever fill the shoes of Julie Andrews, I must say that the performance of Emily Blunt looks to be quite faithful to the original tone, and therefore quite charming. 




Seeing Mr. Dick Van Dyke dance is an emotional thrill, sure to be one of the highlights of the film! Can't wait to see it!

Could it be that the trailer gives some insight to a potential dark ride at the Epcot's U.K. pavilion? I'd like to think so, but it seems the suits may have decided on a simple flat ride, a carousel, to represent one of their best loved movies. 




Check out the above video! Should they change their minds and let the Imagineers run free with an attraction version that would look somewhat like that of Tony Baxter's, I'd be the first to say "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!"
(Look here for an article.)


September 15, 2018

Tiki Saturday

Certainly, it's a Tiki kind of Saturday! As I finish up my last day's trip report for Walt Disney World, I thought I'd share an image not shown from my One Day, Two Park, 26 Attractions time at Disneyland on July 5.

The Enchanted Tiki Room has endured as one of my favorite attractions. Imagineering was just hitting its peak in those early years, but no one had an idea where it would truly go when the park debuted this show in 1963. 

On a hot day, I entered the garden waiting to hear the sounds of the tropics and watch the charming show. It was a fun house and still quite fun! I took many more photos than this, but especially once you enlarge it, it's still beautiful in there. If you want to read about my Commando day at the Disneyland Resort and pick up a few tips, go here.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

September 13, 2018

California Adventure's Spooky Transformation

Halloween Time at the Disneyland Resort keeps getting more and more interesting. Used to be the Haunted Mansion's Nightmare Before Christmas and Space Mountain's Ghost Galaxy were the only real holiday focused attractions to be found. Not any more!



In an smartly designed effort to disperse the crowds- all the more important next year when Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge has opened- the suits and Imagineers have cooked up fresh ways to get guests to go to California Adventure instead of Disneyland

Granted, the original Twilight Zone Tower of Terror would have been a (super)natural one for a makeover, but Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout! now get transformed into something called Monsters After Dark. From what I can see from on line videos, guests only get to see Rocket and Baby Groot in this version- a definite step down from seeing all the Guardians. That said, it still looks like a fun diversion for the locals. 

Not to be left out in the sun, Cars Land and Buena Vista Street are transformed into spooking looking locations as well. If you can't make it to California to see it all, take a great photographic tour from the folks at the terrific Westcoaster site. The pics are just terrific! Take a look at their update. Be forewarned, though. You'll want to read every update afterwards!

(Photographs copyright Westcoaster.)

September 12, 2018

Indiana Jones Still Rocks the Parks

Disney Imagineer Chuck Ballew created this thrilling piece of concept art for the Indiana Jones Adventure in 1995. Looking at this, you can easily envision what its like to ride this attraction and the sense of suspense and unexpected surprise all around you. 

Indiana Jones remains an iconic hero, and fans of the films and theme parks still go wild for this rough and tumble jeep journey deep in California's Disneyland. It's hard to imagine Adventureland without it being there, isn't it? Thankfully, West Coast fans don't have to worry. 

East Coast fans are still asking when Indy will make his Florida debut- and so are fans of Disneyland Paris. They should have received this epic ride and instead got a quick off the shelf roller coaster. Perhaps now that Disney owns the Parc outright, they'll invest the cash to bring the classic to life.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 11, 2018

Remembering Our Heroes

God bless the heroes that gave their lives on this day many years ago. Misguided cowards of Radical Islam tried to destroy the things that have always made America great: valor, honor, love of God and country, sacrifice and valuing others above ourselves. We will never forgot!

September 10, 2018

Olivia Newton-John: Top Ten and Beyond

What hasn't been said about Olivia Newton-John? Not only does she seem to be one of the nicest musical artists of the last several decades, her artistry goes far beyond what meets the eye. Here's a look at some of my favorites, Top Ten and More:



"Deeper Than A River" (1992): Though long past her hit making days, this country tinged ballad had all the right elements- and it had me looking once again at a vocalist I'd mostly forgotten at that point in time. Sometimes an artist's most interesting work is when they've moved on from Pop Radio hits.



"Suddenly" (1980): Yes, Cliff Richard and Olivia together. Always a winning combination.

"I Can't Help It" (1980): This duet with the Bee Gees younger brother, the late Andy Gibb. It unexpectedly draws you in.  It's the perfect match of breathy vocals from both and a very delicate but simply effective arrangement. A piece of perfect late night ear candy I still listen to on my I pod. Made my very long and lonely evening drives on a delivery route all the more enjoyable.

"Hopelessly Devoted to You" (1978): Did you expect I'd leave this out? No way! The Grease solo smash- still love it to this day. You just have to not like music to not appreciate the retro coolness of this record.

"Dancin'" (1980): This 40's meets 80's blend with punk rockers The Tubes shocked me upon first watch at the movies (Xanadu). But I just loved it immediately. Layer upon layer of Olivia vocals with a swinging beat and big band style. Guilty perfection. Who could ask for more! (Well, maybe a full version of the song with The Tubes edited out?!?)


Friends Olivia and Karen. 
Just imagine their once talked about duet!

"Summertime" (2004): From the Indigo-Women of Song project, an album often overlooked in her lengthy collection. I had wrongly thought we needed to leave the basement register vocals to Olivia's friend Karen Carpenter. I was wrong. Olivia hits bottom in a good way, and the end result is a perfectly respectable take on an American classic. A very nice listen than holds its own with all the other versions. 



"Make A Move On Me" (1981): From the Physical album. The keyboard works hard against a spunky and convincing Olivia begging for something better to do- "Won't you spare me all the charms, and take me in your arms." This song had men everywhere getting in line to take her up on the offer.



"Dancin' Round and Round" (1978): From the first album post-Grease, Olivia threw in this gentle country cut. She didn't leave old fans behind, she just brought new ones along with this newest release. All around a Totally Hot album.

"Lovers" (1975): To some, this was a toss away song and album. Yet this quiet tale of the effects of love lost was quite mature in the midst of songs about puppies, brotherly devotion, and summer love. It still holds up to this day.

"The Way You Look Tonight" (1989): After the failed attempt at cashing in once too many times on the nice-girl-gone-bad image (Soul Kiss), Olivia returned to a nice girl as a new mommy. The home project brought her one of her most beautiful albums, Warm and Tender. Nice, very nice.


"I Honestly Love You" (1974 and 1998) Both versions are classic. We all know the original, but with Babyface playing and singing in the background, their remake is just as great. Dare I say that the 1998 video is even better than the original?  

"You're the One That I Want" (1978): I couldn't help it. It's pure fun, pure magic- and who can resist singing along with the chorus?  C'mon. You know you want to.

Tapestry of Nations at Epcot

Epcot's Tapestry of Nations Parade- what a winner! Our family could not imagine a better way in order to celebrate the new millennium than taking a visit to Walt Disney World and its most futurist theme park. 




As you can tell from the video above by super fan Martin Smith, Tapestry of Nations had it all: a compelling score, creatively designed aesthetics and an enthusiastic crowd making it all a very lively event. Our family particularly loved the "clock drums". 

Traveling through World Showcase each evening, the parade made its way down the promenade. It was the perfect beginning of a perfect end to the day, a nighttime showing of the classic Illuminations show. 

(Photograph copyright The Walt Disney Company; Video copyright Martin Smith.)

September 4, 2018

Disney World After A Decade Away: Day Six- Animal Kingdom

Flight of Passage, Expedition Everest and Festival of the Lion King. These were the top items on our list for our second and final day at Animal Kingdom

In many ways, this was the day I was looking forward to the most. We were nearing the end of our trip as the following and last day we would visit the sorely truncated, currently under reconstruction, Disney's Hollywood Studios and its less than sufficient number of attractions. Then, sadly, it was off to the Orlando Airport. 


The size of the floating mountains 
match the size of the crowds.

We had a leisurely morning, letting everyone sleep in after a very long and wonderful day at the Magic Kingdom. Apparently, it just wasn't enough sleep for me.

As we strolled into Pandora to redeem our Fast Passes for Flight of Passage, the crowds were so thick it was almost unsafe. Wasn't too long until we got separated, and trying to find each other was very difficult- and worrisome when you have two little kids with you. 

Most of our crew finally made it to the station at the beginning of the queue, and we expected to do the child swap option as we already knew my granddaughter was about two inches too short to ride. But we couldn't find half of them. And I was just told they could not walk the Fast Pass line with us, instead we would have to split up and take two separate times through to get the five of us all to ride. I was not happy at all, and I made it known. Surveying the swelling crowd to find our other half, I blurted out "This is ridiculous!" It was not my finest moment and a not too subtle reminder that God still has a lot of work left to do in me.

Now for the real rant. Think about this: Disney suits know they are going to have massive crowds for their top drawer stellar projects. Especially when they go into sorely under built parks such as Animal Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios. Why, oh why, then do they stop short and design the area by throwing in one mega "F Ticket" attraction, one with much less in desirability and call it good? Listen- if you think Pandora is a mess to navigate, just wait until Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opens in one park with so few attractions and in another park with narrow pathways and much smaller acreage. Rant - and warning -over.

Incredible detail wherever you look.

Sharing the bad news with the other half of our group, we split up and entered into the queue. Even with our Fast Passes, it took about 20 minutes to get on the attraction. Compared to the three hour plus wait for those in the Standby line, it was a breeze. 

As we got closer to beginning the ride, my wife was apprehensive, my grandson excited, and I was skeptical. Would the actual ride live up to all the hype about it? Let's be honest, nobody does hype like the Disney publicity machine. 

Surprisingly, the answer is "Yes"!

Pandora's centerpiece Flight of Passage is at once a beautiful, thrilling, and atmospheric attraction. Is it worth the sometimes posted four hour wait? No. Actually, in my mind nothing on the property is- or at any other theme park for that matter. But it is stunning in its scope and scale. There's not a single piece of it I would dissect and redo another way. The Imagineers outdid themselves with this new attraction. Was it due to the demands of James Cameron, the film's creative source? Perhaps. Regardless, Flight of Passage is the new must see on the Disney property for good reason. 

We all loved our flight.  My grandson and I were able to ride twice, and the second flight was just as thrilling and repeatable as the first. Now only if Na'vi River Journey had that same repeatability!


It's new home- where it always belonged.

Escaping the crowds of Pandora, it was time for the Festival of the Lion King, a favorite of my grandkids for two reasons: First, they loved it last visit, and second, they love the animated series based on those characters. I found I preferred Nemo, but there's no denying the performers put their heart and soul into the production.


Still a crowd pleaser!

Our first day at Animal Kingdom had a big disappointment: my favorite Walt Disney World attraction was down for a good portion of the day. Thankfully, today, Expedition: Everest was up and running! 

Even the approach to the attraction is compelling!

My wife and I were the only two in our group that had ridden it. Our granddaughter was too short this trip, so my wife took her for a treat and a bit of shopping while the rest of us rode. (She's a trouper! Not once did she complain about waiting or about being too small to ride.) Our Fast Pass wasn't for about a half an hour, but the line was pretty short, so we decided to go for it and hopefully ride twice.

One of this daughter's all time favorite attractions is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. (In fact, it's become a family joke to take a picture of it and send it to her when one of us visits the parks and she's not with us. Even family friends have gotten in on the act. Of course, nothing beat the time we sent her one from Disneyland Paris... while she was battling a blizzard back home!) 

Anyway, I've long described Everest to her as "Big Thunder on Steroids". So, she was thrilled to finally ride it for herself, having passed it up last trip to focus on the rides all four of them could do together. 


So, off we went, the two younger men rode together and my daughter and I took the row behind them. I couldn't really see my brave grandsons's face to read how he was doing. I mean, the climb up this mountain is high- and the exposure to the open air makes it seem even higher than it is. And what about that backwards segment? It's very different than watching a video of the ride, something we'd done many, many times prior to the trip, just to see if he was ready. 


A T-shirt from Grandpa commemorating his first ride!
(Her's too- but no T-shirt.)

Needless to say, everyone thought it was a winner! My daughter declared it to be a "serious roller coaster", and she loved the drop down the mountain into the major winding turns around it. As for my grandson, he wanted to ride it again- this time with me. I was very happy to oblige. 

The Maharaja Jungle Trek. A beautiful hidden gem.

We had time for one more attraction before it was necessary to leave the park and make our late afternoon lunch appointment at Disney Springs. We opted for the trail through India to see some bats, tigers, and actually, one of the most beautiful remote spots in all of Animal Kingdom. 

It truly is a shame when I hear folks go to Disney's Animal Kingdom without taking a small segment of time to experience the Jungle Trek or Gorilla Falls nature trail in Africa. These are some of the smaller attractions that take you away from a theme park and out into areas that feel remote. They certainly don't replace the need for larger show stoppers, but they are ones that are so worth the effort to experience. Think of them as the smaller walk through exhibits at Disneyland, adding atmosphere, value, and variety to an already solid line up. If you're an animal lover, these are something worth your time. If you're not but love Disney theme parks for their immersion, then you truly have to experience them to understand what love and care Imagineer Joe Rohde and his team did in bringing the animal world to life. (Want to know more about the amazing story behind Animal Kingdom? Read my seven part - to date- in depth series on the creation and evolution of the place. It's part trip report, photo journey, historical perspective and art gallery just filled with concept art. Part One begins here.)

We ended our time at Animal Kingdom by slowly walking through the lands as we journeyed back to the exit. Our destination: the highly rated Morimotos at Disney Springs, my daughter's pick for a sit down restaurant. As we stayed at the park longer than we intended, a ride in a Minnie Van was well worth the expense. 


Beautifully designed and executed environment!

What can I say about Morimoto's that you haven't already read? The Iron Chef's Disney World location serves up expensive and sumptuous food in an elegant and modern environment with touches of the old world hidden in places you'd least expect. From appetizers to entrees, the place and the plates were a treat for all your senses. Would I dine there again? Absolutely. If I had rated our restaurant choices on food alone, this would be the winner.

I think her name is Bunga.
Her beloved possession- her only souvenir- 
and only available at Animal Kingdom.


The rest of our evening was spent at Disney Springs, walking around and enjoying the wonderful atmosphere. Having taken the water taxis to Old Key West and elsewhere, it dawned on me that part of what makes Disney World so special is the abundance of travel options and resort hotels to visit as well as four very different parks. Cruising along the waterways day or night is just so special! Something you cannot find in California. 

Well, one more day to cover, and that would be our half day at Disney's Half Day park, yes, Hollywood Studios. We'd just miss the opening of Toy Story Land, but I still have an abundance of stories to tell. See you then!

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

September 3, 2018

Goodbye Bugs and Hello Marvel!

Today concludes the last day of operations for A Bugs Land at California Adventure. Making way for a Marvel themed area, the charming mini land unfortunately also had a very temporary looking set of carnival attractions that appealed to the preschool guest and their parents. Not compelling, but it was a quick answer to those who complained California Adventure 1.0 had little to offer the youngest guests. And they were right! It also had very little to offer everyone else...

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)  

September 2, 2018

Paradise Found

Live and unretouched, a photograph from my sister and brother-in-law's time in the beautiful state of Hawaii. God has blessed those islands! May I be found worthy at the end of my life because of my faith in Jesus to enter paradise- but also let me match His words, "I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do." (John 17:4) - and please God, let heaven look like Hawaii, too!

September 1, 2018

Tokyo Disney Sea Placeholder

Even the quickest off the shelf additions end up looking pretty terrific if they are planned for the Tokyo Disney Resort. Case in point, Raging Spirits a quick and dirty clone of the Indy coaster over at Disneyland Paris. Looks spectacular, but there's nothing unique about the coaster track at all. Just better set dressing...until something better comes along to take that space.

(Photographer unknown.)

August 29, 2018

Expedition Everest Fan

Recognize the shirt? Not one week after our return home from our incredible Walt Disney World vacation, my daughter sends me this photo of my grandson wearing the Expedition Everest T-shirt I bought him as a gift for conquering the mountain with me! He loved it, rode it twice and became of fan of my favorite Florida attraction. (I know, I'm working on Day Six of my trip report. It's getting closer.) 

There's something about this photograph that touches me deeply. Maybe it is just the sweet guy he is and the fine young man he is becoming.

August 28, 2018

The Disney Who Paints

Ever heard of Jethro Disney? He's the Disney who paints, and from what I'm told, is a relative of Walt himself. This painting above is called "Equally Yoked" and it sits on the wall in the home of friends of mine. She told me the story herself and how it came to be. Does anyone else out there know more about Jethro?

August 27, 2018

Hugging the Tree Planter

We hit quite a sale on trees today. Five Aspens and one Maple later, we were home. Our youngest son decided to bless us by digging the holes for them and planting them. What a gift! In the last few winters, we've list several older established trees due to heavy snowstorms. We figured it was time to begin adding trees or we'd soon end up with a barren back yard!

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.)