Saturday, February 2, 2013

Going to the Promised Land: Part Two

Night at Splash Mountain

Let me tell you a little insider secret.
Turns out, Disneyland, far more than WDW is often crowded with local teens with too much time on their hands. Nothing keeps the hoards of emo, skinny-jeaned children at bay like pending rain. It was amazing.

My visit to Disneyland started a tad unceremoniously, I suppose. Especially considering how much I'd built up the momentous occasion in my head. I was talking on the phone with the Tofu Muchacha and the cab driver dumped me in this weird side drop-off area. As I walked the same direction as a couple of other folks, and suddenly there I was. At the main gates of Disneyland. There were no trumpets, there was no fanfare, but there it was. Walt's very own creation.

Maybe it's that it was dark and rainy, when I'm usually accustomed to entering the parks at opening, in the bright of day, and with all the accompanying music and celebrations.

Turns out, it didn't matter, because I was confronted with one of the iconic images in all of Disneydom.

Sleeping Beauty's Castle.

I was aware that the Disneyland castle was smaller than its Floridian counterpart, though the extent to that it was smaller was not something I was prepared for. It is small in comparison, but that didn't stop me from standing there, in front of the Walt and Mickey “Partners” statue, and just staring at it. There was the castle I'd seen a million on TV and in pictures, and with Walt riding a trolley in front of it. It was an exceptional sight.

This is where I had a choice to make. What do I hit first? I knew I wanted to start with something I couldn't experience in Florida, and as far as I was concerned, there were two main choices:

The Matterhorn, the classic bobsled coaster, was the most obvious. It's been there since 1959, and is the first of the many “mountains” of the Disney Universe. Expedition Everest is basically The Matterhorn's younger, slicker, scarier sister. Not only that, but The Matterhorn is the most visible physical feature of Disneyland from outside the park. It's an excellent choice for my very first ride at Disneyland. The downside to choosing The Matterhorn first was that I felt that one of the great features of The Matterhorn is that from her heights, seeing the rest of the park is possible, and I wanted to do that during the day.

The other major attraction I had in mind was one that is significantly newer. That was Indiana Jones Adventure. No Spring chicken, by any means, it's been around since 1995, but unlike some of the other major attractions, it's not particularly well-known outside of the theme park fan circles. The biggest reason I was intrigued by the ride is that it is regularly rated as the “best” ride at Disneyland by various theme park websites that aren't affiliated with Disney.

So it was toward Adventureland, and Indy, I went...

This is where I mention that the “Single Rider” option is maybe the greatest theme park invention ever. Far better than a fast pass. It's awesome. The TM and I even do it to avoid longer waits when we're together. Sure, if you wanna get one of those ride pictures, you may wanna sit next to your companions, or if you have kids, but for the most part you're riding a ride, you're not having a deep conversation. Seriously... consider Single Rider.


What I mean is DON'T do Single Rider. Ever. It's horrible. (yeah... that's the ticket).

Seriously, though, Single Rider is awesome, and I used it several times. The first was on Indy. I walked all the way up to where they were showing the pre-show screening, and I waited maybe a total of 15 minutes. That includes the very long walk through the queue.

So the ride itself is excellent. For those of you who've been to WDW and ridden 'Dinosaur' at Animal Kingdom, the mechanics are very similar. The ride cars are basically the same technology, where the car feels like it's going on bumpy roads and dipping into ditches and holes and cutting corners. I actually liked it a lot better than 'Dinosaur' in just about every respect. The ride felt smoother, while still being exciting. The theme is incredibly well conceived and carried out. The ride FEELS long, too, which is awesome. You know how you sometimes you wait for an hour for a ride, and it's over so quickly that no matter how exciting, it just feels like you wasted time? I felt the opposite about Indy. I would have gladly waited an hour to ride. (Incidentally, I know it's blasphemy, but I feel that way about Peter Pan's Flight. Even though Peter Pan is among my favorite movies of all time, and that ride is a classic, it's too short to wait more than 15 minutes.)

After riding it, I came to this realization that being an Imagineer is maybe not the unreachable star I've always believed. Not to say that I have a chance of being one, or even that I've got the compulsion to try, but maybe for the first time I noticed patterns. Rides being different versions of other rides. Technology from one thing being used with a new overlay on another thing. It becomes a little more accessible once you start to see the nuts and bolts a little more clearly.

But I digress...

Once I rolled out of Indy, I was exhilarated, and ready for more. I'd entered the park only 2 hours before closing, and I'd thought I'd only have the chance to ride one or two things in that time. The crowds were so light, my whole structure changed. I walked toward New Orleans Square.

New Orleans Square is a little bizarre, because I'm not sure it totally makes sense that it's there... you know... theme-wise. Not that it isn't cool, but I just don't totally get why Walt chose New Orleans. All of the other “Lands” are a bit more universal. Frontier. Fantasy. Tomorrow. And... New Orleans. I just feels oddly specific.

Anyway, there are basically a bunch of shops and restaurants in New Orleans Square, Club 33 is there (I'll talk about that more in a minute), and most importantly two of the great rides in all of the Disney Universe.... Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion.

I realize that both of those rides appear in just about every Disney around the world, so I wasn't sticking strictly to my plan of those rides only unique to Disneyland, but I'd also heard so many times how much better the Pirates at Disneyland was than its WDW brother. I was skeptical. Pirates is probably my favorite ride at Magic Kingdom, and I had a hard time imagining a “Pirates” iteration much better, or even much different.

Friends... I don't want to alarm anyone here, but all of us who are used to the WDW Pirates have been conned. Bamboozled. Scammed. Gypped. You get me?

It's been over a week since my first (and 2nd) rides of Pirates, and I still can't get over how much better the Disneyland version is. It's a significant disparity.

The most obvious difference is that the DL version has got to be a solid 5 minutes longer. This alone would be enough to make me choose the DL Pirates, because how awesome is 5 extra minutes of Pirates? Exactly.

Of course you're wondering what they did with that extra 5 minutes, and the answer is that they stuffed it chock-full of scenes that don't occur in the Florida version. The middle section of the ride is essentially the same. From when you drop down the 2nd slope and find yourself outside of the Fort where Barbossa is attacking, all the way through the scene where the dog is holding the keys. On either side of it, though, you have so much more meat. There's this great scene at the beginning where you have this abandoned saloon where skeleton pirates are totally partying, and on the other side, you havee the skeleton of the Pirate King in his bed. This reminded me a lot of the scene in the 4th Pirates Movie (which you'll recall I rated as the worst movie of 2011). It actually made me like the movie slightly more. At the end of the ride there's this GREAT scene where these pirates are precariously hanging out in this room with all these explosives, while the room is “burning down”. It might actually be my favorite scene of all.

The last major change is that the ride starts very much like the boat ride does in Mexico at Epcot, where riders float through this bayou scene, but there's a nice restaurant with diners on the other side. It sounds weird, but the atmosphere in there is spectacular.

I just... I loved it so much, and additional scenes, the “Bayou” overlay, and the additional time just pushes it so far past the Florida version, that you start feeling like you got robbed if you've only been to the one in WDW.
As I excited the ride, I ended up on this street in New Orleans Square right by The Blue Bayou, which is the expensive restaurant you go past on the boats. Immediately next door to that is Club 33.

The Entrance to Club 33
I can't really talk in detail about Club 33, because I don't know that much about it. It's a special, very exclusive club, at Disneyland that has been around for years. Has a long waiting list, and a high entry fee. You can't get in unless you're a member. And I gotta get in there. I must. (Read more about it here)

So anyway, giddy from my time on Pirates, and with just over an hour still to go, I walked over to check out The Haunted Mansion, only to find that they were having technical difficulties, and it was closed for the night.

I took this as my cue to head over to Splash Mountain, which I discovered was... Closed for the night.

So, after much walking and much wandering into corners and alleys and dead-ends... OH, by the way... People who say that The Magic Kingdom is the same layout as DL are just plain wrong. I could find my way through Magic Kingdom in the dead of night with just the sounds and smells to guide me. In Disneyland, I kept finding myself turning the wrong way and ending up at a service entrance or restrooms.

Eventually I found my way to Fantasyland, and sort of accidentally in front of another Disneyland-only attraction that I'd not even realized was still there... Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

I didn't ride Mr. Toad on my first visit to WDW, and he was gone by my second. All he left behind was the seething rage leveled by just about everyone that this “Classic” was being replaced. This was the first of two giant kerfuffles I can recall about rides at WDW, the other being the far more successful fit everyone had about Figment and Journey into Imagination, though some would argue the “New” version is so bad they may as well have left it gone.

Anyway, I figured I may as well see what all the fuss was over, and yeah.. it was pretty fun, and definitely dark for a Disney attraction (that whole bit about going to Hell is totally true), but all in all I was hoping for more. It's a really good dark-ride, and certainly better than the Winnie the Pooh ride that replaced it, but I mean... I guess it's only a classic due to its age.

After riding, I started making my way toward the exit. I was really tired, the park was closing in 15 minutes, and I knew that the next day would be a long and exhausting one. Still... I couldn't resist stopping in to Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, which is (as far as I can tell) no different than Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin. Still, it's a super fun ride and even though I'm patently awful at shooting those dumb targets, it's silly and loud and very enjoyable. They did have this awesome, and HUGE Buzz animatronic figure that, I guess, runs on the same technology as the Mr. Potato Head at Toy Story Mania. He was heckling the crowd, and his face was actually animated.

Once I was done with Buzz, I headed toward the exit, stopping in a couple shops on the way.

All in all, it was an amazing start to my weekend. Incredibly memorable, and exciting. I got to walk the roads Walt walked, and see Sleeping Beauty's castle. I rode the excellent Indiana Jones, and I forever changed my view of Pirates of the Caribbean.

A great start.

Stay tuned for Part 3, covering the highlights of my first full day at Disneyland.

1 comment: