Good morning. It’s our third day in the United States and we’re still staying at a cute little motel in Anaheim. We got rid of our jetlag, but instead we’re feeling something I could describe as a Disneylag. Here’s the thing: since I paid nearly 270 euros for a 3-Day Hopper Pass, I want to get value for my money. And that’s perfectly possible, because both Disney theme parks offer extra long opening hours during Spring Break. Yesterday for example, we arrived around 8.30 in the morning and we left just before midnight. And normally, we were planning the same thing for this sunny Wednesday. But there’s one tiny detail I didn’t think about: a normal human being just can’t handle 15 consecutive hours of Disney fun for three days in a row. Luckily, the excitement keeps me awake and I’m definitely ready for some fun at Disneyland, possibly the world’s best Magic Kingdom style theme park.
A nostalgic train station marks the entrance to this world famous theme park. Each year, many millions of visitors walk underneath it and they’re all here for a sense of Disney magic and care-free fun. That fun starts at Main Street USA, where you can ride a horse-drawn tram or you can get a pricy latte at the Starbucks shop. Main Street USA is the romanticized version of a classic American town, but unfortunately you won’t get rid of strollers and electric convenience vehicles. Those ECV’s are a typically American thing and you literally see hundreds of them at Disneyland. It’s a very uncommon sight in Europe or Asia but here, it seems perfectly normal to avoid any walking. Strange Americans… Anyway: it doesn’t bother me, because I just arrived at one of my most beloved theme parks. After I’ve taken some pictures of the area and the (extremely tiny) Sleeping Beauty Castle, I realize that I’m currently in the only Disneyland which is opened by Walt himself. I’m experiencing legendary theme park history at this moment. Live. Right here, right now.
Despite its surprisingly small total surface, Disneyland offers 8 different themed lands. After Main Street USA, the second one our route is the exotic Adventureland. That name is well chosen, because it turns out to be quite an adventure to navigate through the crowds and the stroller parkings in this area. Since this land always seems chaotically busy, Bottleneckland would be a fine name as well. This tight alley looks amazing, but it’s just very difficut to enjoy the colonial architecture while trying not to collide with toddlers and baby carriages.
Why is Adventureland that busy? It’s probably linked to the presence of two major attractions. The first one is Jungle Cruise, a ride which has been here since the opening day in 1955. Of course, you shouldn’t expect thrills or phenomenal special effects from a 60 year old ride, but it’s still lots of fun. At least, that depends on the Cast Member in your boat. I remember some really boring rides in the past, just because the so called Skipper didn’t interact with the audience. But this time, we’re lucky: our Skipper is a girl with a great sense of humor. And of course, the usual joke about the backside of water was included as well.
We once again search our way through hundreds of people and we arrive at Adventureland’s most amazing ride:
The Enchanted Tiki Room ehm… Indiana Jones Adventure. It’s difficult to notice this attraction’s huge footprint, as it’s almost entirely located beyond the berm. While standing in Adventureland, I can only see a sign, an outdoor queue and an ancient temple in the background. Don’t be fooled by this temple’s tiny size, because Disney hides an enormous darkride behind it. Once inside, we even have to walk several minutes to get to the ride’s station. The queue and the platform are extremely well decorated and the mysterious atmosphere is great. The ride itself doesn’t disappoint either, as it’s one of Disney’s most immersive attractions. This is an exciting tour through a cursed temple with several strong scenes and special effects. It’s fast, it’s intense and it’s incredibly good. I wouldn’t expect this ride to be already 22 (!) years old and I like this so much better than Universal’s typical 3D darkrides. Disney created a true work of art and I’m hoping that something similar will come to Disneyland Paris soon.
While walking from Bottleneckland to New Orleans Square, we’re hoping for less overcrowded roads. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. This zone is remarkably more spacious, but big parts of the pathway have been transformed into a gigantic queue line for Pirates of the Caribbean. Luckily we know that this darkride’s capacity is crazy, but it’s still remarkable that a 50 year old ride stays this popular. There’s a good reason why: this iconic darkride treats us with a quite long lay-out full of big scenes and superb audio-animatronics. Add a recognizable melody, some barrels of rum and a dog with a key to complete the great experience. ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ certainly doesn’t show its age. If we disregard the supersonic namesake at Shanghai Disneyland, this ride is actually just as good as the younger versions.
In a previous trip report, I nicknamed Disneyland Resort ‘The Darkride Capital of the World’ and my opinion didn’t change. It’s not just about quantity, but I’m also amazed by the high quality level. Two Grande Dames of the darkride business are within New Orleans Square. Just a few steps from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, you’ll find the entrance to the well-known Haunted Mansion. This attraction is two years younger than it’s neighbour, but that’s still very old in the world of darkrides. Normally there are two options for an antique haunted house: demolition or an uninteresting ‘upgrade’ with laser guns. Disney however kept this one in the original state and I’m thankful for that. This is a one-of-a-kind beauty which I honestly enjoy more than the overpraised ‘Phantom Manor’ in Paris. In fact, ‘Haunted Mansion’ is scarier and funnier at the same time. And above all, it’s a true pleasure to finally see the famous Hatbox Ghost with my own eyes. What a great special effect!
It’s a hot day in Los Angeles. The sky is blue and the sun is shining in full force. With a temperature of about 30°C, it’s no surprise that 50.000 Disneyland visitors are searching for a way to cool down. The ultimate refreshment is given at Critter Country, the area where Splash Mountain is located. At noon, the wait for a trip to the Laughing Place climbs to 90 minutes. Luckily, hardly anyone shared our idea of getting a Fastpass this morning and that’s why we’re able to board within a minute. You certainly recognize that awesome, proud feeling while walking past a huge queue line with a Fastpass ticket, don’t you? And our ride on ‘Splash Mountain’ is lots of fun, too. This attraction is gigantic in every way: it features three splashdowns, the ride lasts approximately ten minutes and we meet more than 100 animatronics. During the construction in the late 1980’s, everybody knew that Disney wouldn’t build just an ordinary log flume. But I guess that very few people expected it to become this huge. Thanks to its size, the high level of theming and the surprisingly long lay-out, every waterride-lover should be amazed by this ride. And so was I.
Opposite to ‘Splash Mountain’, we visit a small-sized darkride about Winnie The Pooh. It’s fun, but it may be a huge disappointment to those who have travelled to Tokyo. No, this family ride certainly isn’t as marvellous as ‘Pooh’s Hunny Hunt’ in Japan. While leaving Critter Country, we notice the silence at ‘Rivers of America’. There aren’t any rafts to ‘Tom Sawyer Island’, the giant river boats remain docked and Fantasmic’s legendary dragon will not come alive tonight. This corner of Disneyland is currently undergoing major changes, as a preparation for the upcoming ‘Star Wars Land’. I’m not into this movie franchise, but concept drawings show an outstanding new zone with two extraordinary rides. To be continued in a Future Far Far Away, because construction will take at least another two years.
Whoever wants to be on a prime location for construction pictures, should take a ride on the nearby Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The view of a giant construction site may be disturbing to some, but this remains a very decent family rollercoaster. Although this version lacks the wonderful setting of its European brother, it’s a considerably smoother and less noisy experience. The only resemblance between this Californian and our European ‘Big Thunder Mountain’ is the durability of some special effects. Even in Anaheim, it seems to be difficult to provide smoke on the third lifthill. That’s sad, because this explosive scene is meant to be the climax of the ride. However, I do prefer the Californian version. That’s mainly because of the queue, which usually seems a lot shorter than in Paris.
In general, I spend very little time in Fantasyland. This area may even seem overcrowded during low season, so you can imagine the madness on a Spring Break day. I have to admit that Fantasyland is cute and quite romantic, but the pathways are also very narrow. Don’t even try to take a leasurely stroll through Fantasyland in the afternoon, because you will get stuck between thousands of people. Furthermore, it will be difficult to find the queue line leading to the attraction you want to visit.
We are lucky. During our last day at the Disneyland Resort, some categories of annual passes are blocked out. And believe it or not, but the Fantasyland situation suddenly gets bearable. We even get to ride a few of this land’s popular darkrides without the usual queues. We choose to ride those attractions which don’t exist in other Disney theme parks. The first one is Mr Toad’s Wild Ride, a hysterical and quite pointless trip to England. Fortunately, the second unique darkride is a lot more interesting. Alice in Wonderland reminds me of Rollercoaster Tycoon, although theming is nicer in real-life than in the computer game. This ride got a pretty big upgrade in 2014 and it features some great projections ever since. It used to be a classic and simple blacklight-ride like ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘Snow White’, but nowadays it’s obviously superior.
As a thrillseeker, ‘Matterhorn Bobsleds’ may be your only reason to visit Fantasyland. Unfortunately, this double rollercoaster is undergoing refurbishment during our visit. With this legendary ride closed down, It’s a Small World suddenly becomes the main draw of Fantasyland. If you always hated the catchy song, then you’ll meet the source of your anger here in Anaheim: this was the very first version of the world-famous attraction. And although the soundtrack gets stuck in your head for quite a while, I still enjoy a ride on ‘It’s a Small World’. In fact… let’s call it some kind of guilty pleasure. This version is even particularly nice because of the Disney characters which have been added to some scenes. The only let-downs are those antique boats and a very outdated ride station.
Disney is well known for its world class entertainment. Here at Disneyland, the main show is set within the ‘Fantasyland Theatre’, right next to ‘It’s a Small World’. The current performance is called Mickey and the Magical Map and I like it a lot. At first, the show seems a little childish and flat, but afterwards there are some amusing scenes with impressive live singing. During the afternoon, there’s even more high-quality entertainment thanks to SoundSational, a parade which has been here for quite a few years. Music is the central theme and it’s one of the more cheerful parades Disney ever created. Especially the ‘Princess and the Frog’-float is great thanks to the movie’s catchy theme songs.
Over to Mickey’s Toontown, a zone that could be described as a cartoonish extension of Fantasyland. It’s certainly not my favourite area in the park. Those bright colors remind me of ‘Seuss Landing’ at Universal Orlando and it really doesn’t fit within Disneyland. Luckily, Toontown is hidden behind the railroad berm and you can’t see those colorful houses while standing in another land. The longest wait times of Toontown can often be found at Mickey and Minnie’s meet and greets, but that’s no must-do for us. We also skip ‘Gadget’s Go Coaster’: this very unsophisticated rollercoaster has been added to our coaster-count a few years ago, so there’s no need to queue again. The only ride I definitely want to ride, is Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin. This character is practically unknown in Europe, but I still enjoy this unique attraction. There’s only one problem… although I’ve ridden this darkride quite a few times in Anaheim and Tokyo, I just can’t figure out how the storyline goes. It’s so chaotic and loud that it becomes a meaningless experience in a vague blacklight environment. Luckily, that environment is filled with cleverly designed effects: especially that black hole at the end is amazing. In fact, ‘Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin’ proves that you don’t need to understand a darkride to like it. And in my opinion, this ride is even a little underrated.
If we should decide to rename Adventureland to Bottleneckland, then Tomorrowland could be renamed to Yesterdayland. Even though this area is popular and generally very busy, it’s a visual disaster. Europeans often complain about the fact that ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Buzz Lightyear’ don’t fit within Disneyland Paris’ Discoveryland, but we seem to forget that Discoveryland is simply stunning. Disneyland Anaheim should be jealous of that European Land of the Future, because this Californian counterpart is filled with concrete buildings and old-fashioned planters. The unused tracks of an old ‘Peoplemover’-ride make this area even uglier.
The most unique experience in Tomorrowland is Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, a beloved ride since 2007. I understand why it’s that popular: you won’t find a similar ride in other parks and the colorful theme works surprisingly well. But I do hope you don’t suffer from claustrophobia, because this submarine’s seats are cramped and you need to stare through a tiny window for 15 minutes. This long duration and the minimal comfort create a low repeat value, but ‘Submarine Voyage’ is nevertheless a fine ride.
Disneyland is currently building Star Wars Land, but why? During the ‘Season of the Force’ event, a big part of Tomorrowland is already transformed to an improvised Star Wars Land. This transformation comes with classy banners, a 3D promotion movie and Hyperspace Mountain. To experience the latter, you need a good amount of patience or a Fastpass. ‘Hyperspace Mountain’ is having the longest waits in the entire park, so we choose to get those Fastpass tickets. That way, we get to skip the extreme queue of 130 minutes. Lucky us.
Disneyland Paris is currently awaiting the addition of its own ‘Hyperspace Mountain’, but it’s been there for quite a while in Anaheim. One thing is certain: I’ll be a happy boy if the European version becomes as good as this one. Wow, what a great ride! I always adored this coaster because of the smoothness, the remarkably long lay-out and its tight curves. But the ride was mostly dark, except for some stars. This Star Wars version is different. We are becoming part of an intergalactic battle that was realized by using projections and lighting effects. That’s why ‘Hyperspace Mountain’ is more than just a simple overlay: this is a totally new experience. It’s not necessarily better than the normal ride (I really miss the wonderful Michael Giacchino soundtrack) but I’m happy that I’ve tried them both.
I don’t like ‘Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters’ and I’m not a huge fan of Star Tours – The Adventures Continue either. However, thanks to the short queue, we give ‘Star Tours’ another try. Thanks to its 3D-upgrade, this simulator-type ride has become a lot more interesting. Furthermore, it’s fun to see different storylines every time we ride it. But to me (definitely not a Star Wars enthusiast) this attraction just feels like it doesn’t belong here. And I think that feeling will only get stronger after Star Wars Land’s official opening.
It’s Home. This slogan is printed on dozens of banners at Downtown Disney and that’s all because of the return of Main Street Electrical Parade. Disneyland Resort is so proud of this parade and its repetitive song that it’s presented twice each evening. Honestly: I don’t care. I adore Disney shows and parades, but ‘Main Street Electrical Parade’ isn’t my cup of tea. The last time I saw this parade in Orlando, I truly felt sorry for its corny appearance. I just can’t understand that the amazing ‘Paint The Night’ was replaced by this rusty parade, but the Californian public seems to love it. Three hours before the first performance, every prime viewing location is already taken. I recognize this entertainment-madness from Tokyo Disney Resort, but I haven’t seen this kind of behaviour in the American parks before. Anyway… I just enjoy the shorter wait for most rides during parade times.
In between both parade performances, Main Street USA is home to another popular nighttime show. Fortunately, Remember… Dreams Come True is a lot more spectacular than ‘Main Street Electrical Parade’. Disney filled this 15 minute long show with lasers, castle projections, a flying Tinkerbell and an enormous fireworks display. In fact, this is a musical trip along some of Disneyland’s most iconic rides and it features some goosebump-raising scenes. ‘Remember… Dreams Come True’ is not as stunning as last year’s ‘Disneyland Forever’-fireworks, but it’s still a perfect way to complete a wonderful Disney day.
Most people walk towards the park exit after the fireworks, but real fanboys stay until midnight. We really want to follow them for another ride on ‘Indiana Jones Adventure’ or ‘Hyperspace Mountain’, but we’re just too exhausted at the end of our second and third day. And honestly, queues can still be remarkably long in the late evening hours. It seems like the resorts in Anaheim and Orlando work in an opposite way as the Asian Disney parks. In Tokyo for example, parks immediately get crowded in the morning, but they quickly get empty after the nighttime entertainment. Americans seem to sleep a little longer, but they tend to stay until closing time. That’s why you should really try to get to the American parks early: a lot of major rides are nearly walk-on during the first hours of operation. In other words… you get significantly more value for money at 8 AM than at 11 PM.
Disneyland isn’t the most relaxing travel destination. You have to deal with big crowds, crying babies and long queues for rides or restaurants. But despite these disadvantages, Disneyland is still one of the world’s best theme parks. A major strenght is the willingness to improve. This park has reached a considerable age, but they’re constantly evolving towards the future. Good examples are the upgrades ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ received. On the other hand, Disneyland isn’t perfect, as can be seen at the unattractive Tomorrowland. Disneyland certainly isn’t the most beautiful theme park on Earth, but that’s not necessary at all. They make up for it with an undescribable charm which can only be found here in Anaheim. If you haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about, then please book a flight to Southern California and enjoy the splendour of the Disneyland Resort. This truly is The Happiest Place on Earth.