August 2000 Update
(posted 8/11/00, last revised 8/12/00)
During a work trip to the Burbank area on Friday, August 4th, I decided to spend the weekend at Disneyland. This mini-update will discuss my observations of the park including the new Autopia remodel. But first...
Everyone always has something to complain about, or so it seems. I could start off this rant by discussing the California summer heat or the summer crowds, but I won't (everyone else takes care of those two just fine and besides, being from Texas the heat wasn't much different). I would like to briefly touch on impressions and how those of Disneyland are changing.
Forty five years ago Walt Disney applied his showmanship to the amusement park industry and Disneyland was the result. It set the standard for quality and continues to do so even today. Think back to that time. Forty years ago no one owned a telephone... (Wait for it!) ...they rented them from the phone company! These phones were built very rugged and you can still find them intact in second hand shops and even still in operation at, perhaps, your grandparents' house. How likely is it that a phone purchased today from Wal-Mart will be in one piece decades into the future? I know people who live in 100 year old houses, but I can't see many "modern" homes lasting that long. You still see 1960s Beetles on the road today, but how many New Beetles will be driving around in 2040?
Times change. I am troubled trying to think of anything made today that equals the quality and craftsmanship of yesteryear. Disneyland is no exception, and thus the reason for this rant.
I have two Disney sites I try to visit every day when I can. Laughing Place is a great source for news and links to other Disney sites. The classic Disneyland Information Guide is a series of updated reports on the status of Disneyland as well as general tips and pointers for seeing the park. D-I-G was my favorite Disneyland site before it became Mouse Planet and expanded so much it is now difficult to keep up with. However, I still check it as often as I can for the "latest news" and rumors. Regrettably, for the past year or so the reports have been more and more cynical with virtually no paragraph left without a stab at how Disneyland operates today. Indeed, these statements ring true since I have noticed changes in the park since I started visiting again in 1995. Yet, at the same time, many things continue to be the same if not better than before. In this report I'm going to try to offer a less jaded view of Disneyland as seen through my eyes this visit. Don't be scared by what you read. Things are bad -- some things are horrible -- but Disneyland is still doing alot of things very well.
45 Years of Magic
On July 17th Disneyland turned 45 years old and the park is well decorated because of this. After reading the D-I-G updates you'd suspect the park was nothing but chipped paint and trash. I found a few instances that did jump out at me (and this should never be the case at Disneyland), but overall I found things weren't anywhere near as bad as I feared. In fact, I had a very lovely time in spite of the crowds (which were far worse a few seasons ago during the "farewell" season of the Electrical Parade).
The Parking Structure
The new Disneyland Resort parking area is open and it is indeed massive. It can hold 10,000 cars, says the tram driver, and is big enough to house two aircraft carriers. You just won't believe how massively, mind boggelingly big it is.
The first thing I'll mention is the well lit area leading up to this thing -- also, thousands of trees and plants grow all around the new resort area making it the prettiest it has probably ever been. This is one thing that is by far better today than even before in Disneyland history. Ever see early pictures of the park before the vegetation grew in? You get the idea. Disney spent some money they've never spent before.
The garage itself is very easy to get around in, and though you may have to walk a bit farther to get to a tram now, it didn't seem very bad. The tram loads outside the garage at one corner (in a beautifully landscaped area), which means parking at the opposite corner can lead to quite a walk...however, it would be a fraction of the waking you will do once in the park, and certainly felt like less walking than visiting Universal Studios in Hollywood or Florida (neither has a tram service from their garage to the park entrance). Could it have been better? The answer is always yes. But so could Indiana Jones, one of the greatest things Disney has ever built. The Imagineers even wanted Pirates to be better. However, even with the extra walking guests may face, all the pros to this structure make it a wonderful new addition.
Red LED light signs give directions, park hours, and other details at the new two sided ticket booths (no longer operated by one person trying to handle both sides). If you want to save walking, head directly for the exit across the parking lot instead of following the edges like the rest of the tourists do <grin>. You will also be pleased by how cool your car is when you return compared to when it sat and baked in the open sun. All the parking area cast members I asked really loved the new structure. Try it yourself next visit -- ask any of of them if they'd prefer working at the old ground level area and see what they say :)
Disney's Construction Adventure
Though the types of rides inside this new park do not look impressive compared to Disneyland's, the layout itself appears very cool -- so much is already "complete" with paint and lights. Previously, this land was a worn down parking lot with huge buzzing electrical towers going across it. The center area between the two parks holds the ticket booths. Exiting the Disneyland Resort will be a new experience when you walk under the train station and look out on the entrance of DCA, including being able to see the "wooden" coaster and other tall rides. Fortunately, I didn't notice any of these tall structures from within Disneyland. I wonder how great of a view one will have into Disneyland from the tall rides at DCA when it opens? And will it be noisy? (In either case, it won't be as bad -- in my opinion -- as exiting Walt Disney World's Kingdom to the sight of busses and the scent of gas fumes.)
Sure, it could have been better, but think back to the opening of Epcot with an entire side with films and only a handful of "rides" at Future World. I bet DCA at least has Disney characters on opening, unlike Epcot's first few years of existence. Disney/MGM Studios also had very little its opening year: a tram tour, some movies, and the Great Movie Ride. Animal Kingdom was...well, a 3-D movie and a (very cool) Indy remake. See what I mean? When you look at what Disney has done in the past twenty years, DCA really has quite a bit more planned for opening season. Unfortunately, most of what it plans to offer isn't particularly "Disney". Still, I'd rather re-ride a Disney themed coaster mini-coaster than a mega coaster at Six Flags. Thrill ride enthusiasts will always take the "tame" coasters of Disney as jokes, though.
While I think DCA is going to be the least interesting of all existing Disney parks, I still expect it to be fun.
The Little Details
On Friday night, the first thing I noticed was a burnt out light on one of the lamp posts directly in front of the Mickey flower mural at the train station! Inside the Golden Horseshoe theater was also a burnt out light in their chandelier. These types of high profile things should never happen. No wonder the Disneyland Blues site returned.
On the flip side, I saw a cast member polishing the brass handles at a restaurant early Sunday morning, and another groundskeeper kneeling around a flower bed picking out dead leaves and other tiny things. It's easy to see the peeling paint at Innoventions from the second level, and easy to notice how paint has rubbed away in many queue areas, but it's less obvious to notice the things still being done because that is the point: you shouldn't notice. Decades ago the whole park would have been treated great, so yes, things have changed. Still, the entire park isn't just one large mess of peeling paint and burnt out bulbs.
It's not the SIZE of the line that matters: Disney's FastPass
All the attractions were running and lines were quite manageable. The only odd thing I noticed was a line at Star Tours during mid day (which D-I-G reports is due to lowered capacity). The Splash Mountain line is always too long for me during summer months (in fact, I avoid visiting any Disney parks in the June-August months these days). Everything else seemed about normal. Pirates and the Haunted Mansion actually had shorter lines than some of the peak times I saw during last year (not once during the weekend did I see either full queues being used).
Tarzan's Treehouse was a walk on (right up to the steps), and Rocket Rods was just over an hour while the single rider line reduced that wait to about 15 minutes. FastPass is operating at Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, Roger Rabbit, Autopia and Splash Mountain. I used it for Indiana, and was amused to find that my Sam's Club card did indeed make the machine spit me out a ticket. I wonder how much "abuse" this system would get getting if one of the #1 Disneyland fan sites on the net had not have told everyone that the system could be cheated this way? (Opinion: If you want to get support for a cause, you recruit others to assist -- perhaps this was reported to help the system be abused and send a stronger message to Disney?) For the record, I never held more than one FastPass ticket. In fact, I only used it once on Indiana, and once on the Autopia.
By the way, I believe FastPass is a good thing. I've been fortunate to experience it during "testing" at both Disney World and Disneyland and overall the only down side is that folks who don't try to get to a popular ride in the first few hours of the day might miss out on a chance. Of course, even in August the first few hours of the day were still so light I rode a half dozen "big" attractions (Indiana, Splash Mountain, Matterhorn, Mansion, Pirates, Pinnochio, Snow White, and a few others) without any need for a FastPass.
If you hate the lines, don't sleep in. Show up right at opening and ride until the the lines get too thick, then go relax at your hotel and return after the fireworks and do play again the final few hours. This has worked for me at every U.S. Disney park every time I have done it with the exception of "Magic Mornings" days when they've already filled the park with people before they let you in (grumble).
Overall, the crowds were heavy but certainly easier to handle than a few summers ago during the "farewell" season of the Main Street Electrical Light Parade.
The New Autopia
The Autopia update is another example of how great Disneyland can be when it tries -- the previous version remained the same "drive on a concrete path around a track" ride for decades, but today it's much more. Today it's a "drive neater cars on a themed concrete path which goes around a few props and scenes". The three new car styles are very nice, and the line itself is much more fun featuring 50s sounding commercial music. I even heard the Monorail Song -- I wonder if the other tracks might be of Disney origin? On the opposite side of the huge Chevron Autopia sign is a large full color video display wall which shows animations of the cards doing knock-knock jokes as well as other pun sequences like movie adverts for "Carzan". Each driver also receives a business card sized "drivers license" -- there is one for each of the three styles of new cars.
Queue highlights include walking through a round building and seeing three HUGE windows in the center portion showing animated claymation cards reflected into a 3D background (think about how old video games used to do this with the screen below and a background on the front glass). The short movie clips ran for about a minute before looping, which was almost too long considering how fast the line moved past them. The three segments included two cars at a red light with the rear car wanting it to change green, then when it did trying to get the front car's attention (which, of course, took longer than the light stayed green). Next were two cars on a campout complete with a story about he birds and the bees (bees get in your grill, and the birds attack when you least expect it). The final window was two cars talking at a gas station. The technology for this is a reflective pain of glass (think Haunted Mansion ballroom) in front of a 3D prop set, with large TV monitors (at least one segment uses two monitors) playing the image of the cars back so they appear to be "in" the set. Very cool and convincing. I have a picture I will upload that shows how the TVs work.
The new track (which combines both the former Fantasyland Autopia and Tomorrowland Autopia tracks) goes through a few newly themed tunnels and a very short off road sequence that looks like a mud road. As you drive over a puddle area, water squirts up as if the car splashed it. A "Car Park" features bronzed statues of an old Midget Autopia car, a Mr. Toad's vehicle, and a few other items such as a "Hot Nuts" vending cart featuring mechanical nuts rather than, say, almonds. Very cute details. Several billboards are seen along the track which have limited animation to them (and most tie in to themes played on the video wall above the queue).
Overall, this new Autopia is far more interesting and fun than what existed for the previous 45 years. It's sad to think that some find it more interesting to gripe about how the external sign was originally supposed to be a mechanical animation but "budget cuts" prevented it. I've ridden the old Autopia perhaps once and thought it was "okay", but I'd ride this new one again because it has enough details along the way to deserve a few more trips through.
Mental note: Can someone find out what happened to the new neon Autopia sign they created for the New Tomorrowland?
The Autopia FastPass station is located around the corner from the Hatmosphere shop next to Innoventions. You go up one side and go right down the other to exit, making it a great location since it is of the way from crowds.
ODV: Out Door Vending
What is with all these ODV carts? I don't know if there is truly many more of them, but I saw at least a few in places I was not used to seeing them, like the new (nicely themed) white wire frame cart near Coke Corner. The problem was the merchandise -- what does a remote controled metallic silver barking dog and light wands have to do with Main Street USA? Very little of the Main Street ODV merchandise fit into the area at all. Oh well, at least the cool two layer Mickey balloons are still around.
On the plus side, the ice cream stands have a cool sign that has replicas of the different treats with description and pricing -- much nicer than the old paper signs with the pictures on them. If we could just get more "fully themed" ODV carts like those found in Adventureland, and the cool drink stand in New Orleans Square, it would be neat. Those bland "generic" boxes are just tacky.
Innoventions itself is flying a few new banners promoting the different "zones" inside, but I noticed nothing majorly different than when I went in 1999. (Yes, I know things have been updated, but how much updating can you do to a room full of computers playing the same games?) They were really trying to increase the excitement level with the greeter position (that lets you in to the building) doing a whole spiel with the audience (she was quite good, but loud) but it didn't help. I wonder how they are doing attendance wise? It had a packed crowd during the two zone preshows I watched, but they were not running every zone intro even on a Saturday.
The Harbor Galley is gone, and is rumored to become a McDonald's location very soon. They have removed all the tables and chairs from around the location, and it appears my beloved popcorn shrimp is not available elsewhere.
The exit area of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln contains DCA preview pictures and a model. The mural with the "hidden" Mickey behind Walt is gone. I hope they just covered it up.
The pizza sandwiches are still gone from the Pizza Port, though at least this time someone gave me an acceptable reason: poor quality control from the provider. That's good to know, though it seems Disneyland could find someone capable of making those unique sandwiches I still haven't found anywhere else.
Over near Big Thunder Ranch I noticed the signs have been taken down, though the BBQ place still serves (after 4pm, which must make dining there easier than suffering through the heat of the afternoon). In March I ate there for the first time and it immediately became my favorite place to sit down and get full. For $10 you can really fill up on barbecue, corn on the cob, beans, cole slaw, and a drink. If you see Maggie working, tell her Al says hi. I noticed the "fire circle" in the middle of the eating area has been covered with boxes of things. Maybe this was due to too many kids playing in it, which was the case my previous visit.
Billy Hill and the Hillbillies are still doing the same show I first saw them doing years ago, but they have returned to the Golden Horseshoe. The show is still funny, and one day I'd like to pick up their CD. On Sunday afternoon I still was able to walk right in and empty chairs were still there during the performance.
If it's broke, FIX IT!
During a ride through Pirate's I noticed the fiber optics added to the treasure skeletons hand were out. The next day they were working again. I'm very glad to see maintenance fixed a minute detail like that. Everything else seemed to be working fine, though one ride through on Sunday was a bit eerie in the auction scene -- all the left show elements (the auctioneer, the red head, etc.) were frozen and silent. All you saw/hear were the right side pirates with their "we wants the red head!" spiel. As our boat exited, I mentioned this to the hostess and she immediately hit the phone almost as in a panic. I didn't wait to see if they took the ride down.
Space Mountain went down a bit, and I heard Big Thunder being reset during the day. Rocket Rods had numerous times when it was stalled, but that is no different than any other visit I've seen since they opened it.
Can someone write me if you visit and see about the light post in front of the Mickey flower mural? I'd bet they fixed that the same night...but I'm prepared to find out they still haven't.
Although I had seen part of the new fireworks show back in March, this trip I managed to get a proper viewing location directly in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle. The new pyrotechnic display has been enthusiastically received by almost all who have seen it. Unlike shows of the past, this performance does not start with Tinker Bell flying down past the castle. In fact, quite a few things are done differently from the past.
First, the close access to the castle an hour or so before the performance. Why? Because in this show, there is a brief sequence where fireworks are launch from the castle! Also, new launch areas have been installed and "waves" of fireworks now shoot up from the horizon behind the castle. Overall, the actual fireworks display is nothing new -- things go up, explode, and the audience goes "ooh" and "ahh". However, the addition of the new horizon area fireworks is pretty amazing.
The begining of the show features a really cool new tinker bell type effect that is really amazing. A ball of light suddenly appears in the sky and zips around, darting here and there. Magic on a grand scale -- in fact, I'd never seen anything like it.
SPOILER ALERT ON HOW IT WORKS: Two large posts rise into the sky to the left and right of the castle, blocked by trees so you wouldn't see them unless you looked. (I recall noticing these in March and wondering what they were for -- it appears they can be collapsed somewhat during the daytime. Does anyone have details on this?) From the two towers is a thin wire which is used to manipulate a ball of light -- as both towers pull in on the wire, the ball goes up. If one releases while the other reels in, the ball moves horizontally. I'd imagine a very nice computer setup is doing the controls of this. The effect is wonderful. END OF SPOILER ALERT ON HOW IT WORKS.
The soundtrack is an orchestrated mixture of classic and new Disney tunes. For instance, "Topsy Turvy Day" from Huntchback is mixed directly with another Disney classic (for some reason I want to say "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast, but my mind seems to think it was actually a tune from Mary Poppins). Missing from the new audio are bits from Indiana Jones and other non-Disney properties the former show featured. (Yes, I realize the Lucas tie in with two of the rides in the park, but really -- what does hearing Star Wars music on Main Street have to do with Disney magic?)
Near the end, Tinker Bell does make an appearance. Remember the opening of the Disneyland TV show where Tink flys down to the Castle, waves her wand and the castle lights up in sparkles? They do it for real now! As tink flies past the castle waving her wand, dozens of pulses of light flicker from all over the castle making it sparkle. Kudos to Disneyland for innovating something new in what otherwise would just be the same old fireworks display.
A special hidden Mickey makes an appearance towards the finale. Three large white bursts of fireworks form a near perfect set of head and ears circles in the sky. Tip: you should be towards the front of the park to properly see them line up. All the folks line up on the street outside the parking garage will get to see most of the fireworks, but probably don't come close to getting the full effect of viewing it with the castle below.
About the only thing I'd like to see added to the Disneyland version would be some of the specialty fireworks they use at Florida's Magic Kingdom -- some of theirs burst into heart shapes. Also, the Florida music features mixes of the Haunted Mansion theme song as well as Pirate's of the Caribbean. With those being my two favorite attractions, I certainly wouldn't mind hearing their songs at Disneyland, too.
Some special edition anniversary merchandise was available, including new wall maps of the park. During the actual 45th celebration, a vintage park mape was made available which reflected how Disneyland was planned to be built, including Edison Square just to the right of Main Street. Also, an attraction called the Haunted House is listed in the area the eventually became New Orleans Square. The maps sold out, but you can still get them if you know where to check (I was fortunate enough to pick one up this trip).
Speaking of the Haunted Mansion, the Disney Gallery above the entrance to Pirates sells mini versions of the attraction poster for $35 each. You know the ones -- you can see them inside Pizza Port and in the tunnels under the trains at Main Street. Well, oddly enough, there are large versions of the stretching portraits available also for $35 each. (Framed versions are several hundred dollars each.) All four portraits are available and they look great. I believe they are prints of the original artwork done by the late Marc Davis.
To be continued...?
Hopefully I'll find the time to proofread this, edit it a bit, and expand on things later.
Don't believe all of the negative hype. Things at the park are probably the worst they have ever been with upkeep and staffing, and there is obviously less to do in the park today than even a few years ago, but it still can be more magical, fun, and amazing than anywhere else.