December 2001 Update
After hearing about the amazing Haunted Mansion Holiday rehab at the Magic Kingdom, I decided that this Christmas season would be a great time to take in the sights and sounds of The Merriest Place on Earth.
It is amazing how much things have changed in the past ten months! There are plenty of new shaded areas, seating for the formerly standing-room-only Hollywood stage, and so much more. Here is a run down of items that I noticed:
This trip was cold and wet. Ironically, the weekend I was at Disneyland it was colder there than back home in Iowa. Go figure. The park was in excellent shape, as it should be since it's not even been open a year. The numerous changes listed above were all welcome, though it's apparent this park may need a yesterland.com type site dedicated to it to document all the things they shut down as they figure out what works and what doesn't.
I took my first ride on Mullholland Madness. It was fun and short but I wasn't blown away like I was when I rode my first Mad Mouse ride at Kennywood in Pennsylvania. Their version sits four across and the cars rotate. Theirs was also indoors and features a storyline and limited animated characters during the ride. If Disney had done as much for Mullholland as Kennywood did for its ride, I'm sure Disney fans would be up in arms about how cheesy and tacky it is compared to Pirates or the Haunted Mansion. It's sad, really. It wouldn't have taken that much to make an "off the shelf" ride like this coaster into something much more impressive. The ride itself is themed with crazy road signs and billboards, but that was about it. The cars are cutely painted -- some look like highway patrol cars, others look like woodies (surf station wagons)re was a hippy inspired vehicle. Nice touches, but this is an attraction I can honestly say doesn't seem to have any true "Disney touches" to it.
The new character shows were interesting. Monsters, Inc. involves a set being driven up to an area just outside the winery and Cannery Row area. It appears to be part of a child's bedroom complete with posters on the wall and a Who Wants to Be a Millionaire lunch box on the floor (watch for those Disney Details(tm) here). Sulley and Mike come out of the closer (door) and Mike explains why they have brought this bedroom from Des Moines, Iowa (cool, but everyone makes fun of Des Moines) to California. It is hoped they can make it big in Hollywood. It's a cute show and afterwards they do a meet and greet for photos with the audience.
There was also a very involved looking show involving Goofy and his son Max that was made to be a movie set for a new beach picture. I didn't get to see it (it was canceled the one time I was there on time) but from a distance it looked pretty good. There were alot of props.
Minnie Mouse also makes an appearance now at Condor Flats for a photo session. The theme is that she's just landed a plane (which you never actually see -- they bring her in from the backlot). It is obvious that Disney has done alot of fill this park up with character experiences. There were tons of walkaround characters throughout the park, including a disturbing clone of Goofy we saw new the Sunshine Plaza just moments after leaving him in another area. Spooky :-)
At the Hyperion Theater, Steps in Time is gone and an abridged version of Blast! is playing. Blast! is basically high school drum core on steroids. Band instruments, percussion, flag drill teams, and more. If you hated drill team or school bands, it might still be worth a look. It's pretty amazing. Once again, the Disney faithful are being hypocritical -- they seem to spend all their time blasting this park because it has so many "off the shelf" things that were not Disney designed. Well, previously, the show Steps in Time was 100% Disney songs. It was pretty much universally hated (though I really enjoyed it). Now Disney brings in a complete outside show that doesn't even have Disney music in it and everyone loves it. I don't get it. I really don't. If it sticks around, I'd like to see Blast! put a show together that uses Disney music.
Superstar Limo is still running in spite of rumors of a remodel coming soon. Cindy Crawford's animated character wasn't blowing perfume smoke when I rode it, though. Can things already be breaking?
Pacific Warf seemed to have a band playing every time I went by. Their Rita's drink stand has margaritas now -- for those who love the experience of walking around Epcot with a drink, DCA is finally starting to catch up. In spite of what people seem to think, just selling alcohol doesn't mean you'll put up with drunks. It's not a bar, and the Disney prices make it very expensive to get sloshed at the park.
The Christmas decorations were very pretty. They had a nice Santa making appearances near the foot of Grizzly Peak, and the new LuminAria nighttime lagoon show was fairly neat. The show features water based fireworks and large projection screens which rise out of huge "presents" on the water. There was nothing ground breaking at this show, but it did have one very nice element. During the show (and on a video loop after the show ends), Christmas cards made by park visitors get shown on the screens. In the San Francisco area you could go into a building and draw a card then they would "scan" it in (through a very complete prop that was 100% Disney fantasy at its best). My card didn't make it, unfortunately. I would imagine there were many locals who came again and again trying to get a card shown out on the water. Nice show, but I could have done without the kid video in the middle. Didn't they try that with Light Magic a few years back?
The Rocket Rod was not sitting around at the Hollywood Pictures Backlot -- did it get put to use somewhere, or is it part of the group that is supposed to be sold off for scrap metal? Ah, fun rumors.
I got to dine at the Winery Vineyard Room. A very limited and expensive menu. Honestly, my tastes are too shallow to enjoy a place like that. Thanks to a wonderful friend, Elizabeth, the meal had a discount. It's really great to have friends who work for the Mouse. It turns out that she is also the one who came up with the Blue Bayou birthday song which is currently being used across the way in New Orleans Square. It's a small world, after all. (Mental note: have next birthday at the Blue Bayou to confirm her story...)
On this trip I tried to eat at a different place each time which I was mostly successful at. It was still impossible to get a sit down breakfast at the park, though. The Soap Opera Bistro no longer has its wonderful breakfast offering. Pity. That was one of my all time most favorite Disney experiences. I'll have to try lunch or dinner there during my next trip.
More notes to be added if I think of anything later...