I was spending the week of May 18th working in San Jose (Northern) California so I decided to check into airfare for a short weekend trip down to Orange County to visit The Happiest Place on Earth for the grand opening of the new Tomorrowland. For about $100 I was set, so I arrived at John Wayne airport around 6:00 p.m. on Friday evening and made my way to the park by 7:00 p.m.
Thanks to the wonderful Hotels Near Disneyland website, I was able to make reservations early (and thus avoid driving around at 1:00 a.m. trying to find an affordable hotel with vacancies) and although my first few choices were booked (Econolodge's 1-800 claimed rooms were available, but the local hotel number said they were full -- buyer beware!) I was able to get a room at the Alamo Inn. I have stayed here twice previously and it's a decent no-frills hotel, and much cleaner than Zaby's and another (owned by the same group) hotel nearby. Alamo Inn has cleaned up a bit, adding new card-key locks to all the doors since this past summer. The only real complaint I have is that they never seem to have rooms for what their sign outside says -- instead of the $32 rate, I was charged $38.
Thanks to Project Insomnia's excellent Disneyland Parking FAQ and various postings on alt.disney.disneyland I was ready to expect the worst! Disneyland has the entire parking lot closed down while construction begins for the new theme park Disney's California Adventure. Parking is now down at the far southeast corner of the lot or off site north of the Disneyland Hotel at the new Pinocchio section. The advice I had was to park there rather than fight the crowds heading through the main Harbor entrance. This turned out to be a good thing. I parked and a tram arrived within five minutes and within another five I was at the main entrance. During the week I would pop out to my car various times with ease, and I did this during park opening, afternoon, and evenings with no problems. I expect if crowds are significantly higher than Memorial Day weekend during the summer that things will not go quite as nice.
Parking has gone up to $7, and there is no way to walk to your car from the park. Special handicap parking is close to the two stops the tram makes (the lot is divided into rows 1-25, with the tram stopping in front of row 5 and 18) and there are loading ramps at each. The tram drops off south of the lockers and southwest of where the covered bus pickup area used to be. For parking in the Lion King sections (Timon and Simba?) there is a very confusing array of awfully colored lamp posts and road cones -- you have to see this to believe it! I didn't do more than wander over there briefly to take some photos, but in general I tend to agree with the word on the 'net that it looks pretty odd. Oh, also, the new larger trams are nice and feature a red light sign in the front car showing "welcome to Disneyland" type messages.
Since my 1997 Annual Passport expired on the 10th of May, a friend of mine met me at the ticket booths to help me buy a new pass using his Magic Kingdom Club discount (10%, the same I would have gotten if I had renewed by mail). The first (nearest the outside lockers) ticket booth is now exclusively for annual passport business. The bank building on Main Street still takes photos for the passes.
While in line at the passport processing center, I noticed in the window was a Peter Pan display that features a subtle Hidden Disneyland Attraction in it -- look on the wall for a picture of Splash Mountain!
Like everyone else, our first stop was Tomorrowland. My friend had arrived a few hours earlier (just long enough to get through the Rocket Rods line once) and he was nice enough not to spoil anything for me. As we walked down towards the hub, large areas were roped off while big camera booms were in place for the UPN television special airing later that evening. Two large light signs stood near the new rock structures at the entrance of the area and various sections were roped off for camera lights.
Even though I feel I know this land very well, it seemed totally foreign to me with all the construction walls gone and nothing as I remembered it. Everything has a great metallic gold/green appearance and my impressions of this update well exceed those I had when Disney World updated their Tommorowland in 1994 -- and I was very impressed by that. From looks, this is my favorite Tomorrowland here in the states!
Since everything was crowded, we walked around and checked out the scenery then decided to get something to eat at the new eating place. Redd's serves salads, pizza, special pocket sandwiches, and other treats where you pick up a tray at the door then just load it up and pay at a register. Allison was the cashier I met up with this evening (then again on Monday) and she is an excellent example of a happy Cast Memeber who seems to love working for Disneyland. If you see her, say hello for me will you?
It seemed appropriate to have pizza, which I did. It was very filling and, although typically expensive, at least it was tasty. Drinks may even have free refills here since you pretty much serve yourself. For desert I had a chocolate brownie kind of thing which was also excellent. To save money, groups can purchase an entire pizza for around $25 and bring the cost per slice down dramatically. There are also "happy meal" type spaceship box dinners for kids. Word has it that if you order one you can request a "clean" box to take home for a souvineer.
Seating was both indoors (where Mission to Mars used to be) with various attraction posters on the wall (from Imagineer Tony Baxter's personal collection) and also some outdoor seating near the former Space Place serving counter. The area was well kept up and I enjoyed the experience very much.
Originally created for Epcot in Florida, Disneyland has a new updated version of this 3D film, based on the movie trilogy. There is a new preshow on TV monitors just outside the theater which is based on a news broadcast and brings back Eric Idle in his Imagination Institute role. They have some new jokes as they show last year's winning invention and, fortunately, you don't have to listen to True Colors for fifteen minutes anymore on a slide show.
It should be noted that famous cast member Maynard helped open up this attraction in a new "mad scientist" character. He really got into the role (as much as he does for the Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise and Tiki Room) and even managed to find a way to duck behind the curtains for an impromtu puppet shut, this time using those little green guys in the claw machine from Toy Story. Go Maynard! He was, as usual, funny and gracious when it came to being in photos.
The theater itself, which seats about 500, is a mirror image of the Florida version. You enter from the left site of the theater and the screen and podeum are on the right hand side. The movie is the same, but there are several enhanced effects, specifically when the shrinking beam goes crazy and zaps portions of the surrounding walls. Very nicely done and noticeably better than the original! Unfortunately, this attraction suffered many extended downtimes during the weekend.
The cast member at the end of the line, Emily, had a tag on that said "I Am Smarter Than You" which I found funny but she said many had not agreed.
While waiting for lines to get shorter, we checked out an excellent and informative NASA exhibit which featured full scale models of the Mars rover, Pathfinder, and the ship it landed in as well as a video showing all about the mission. There was a 3D poster to look at of the Mars surface (just like NASA in Houston has), and hands on exhibits such as NASA's web site and a scale that showed how much you would weigh on different planets. It was very well done and cast members were onhand to answer questions about all the displays. Frankly, I am amazed Disneyland didn't just turn the area into another merchandise outlet!
Speaking of that, Tomorrowland has some of the best stuff for sale, from the new collector attraction pins featuring many long gone items such as the Flying Saucers all the way up to the new Rocket Rods. There are pins for just about everything in the park, and things that haven't been in the park for ages! The price was a reasonable $6 each, with discounts for Premium Annual Pass holders and Magic Kingdom Club members.
There are now t-shirts, pens, buttons, hats, wallets, backpacks, beanies, and just about anything else you can imagine for the attractions in Tomorrowland! No more of the stuff you can find at any K-Mart or Disney Store! Several logos were available, and I picked up a special edition "Grand Opening Day" Tomorrowland t-shirt as well as a Space Mountain shirt. Way to go Disneyland merchandising! One of the managers of the shop, Chad, said it was difficult to keep the new stuff in stock and even offered me a number, 1-800-362-4533 (x7557), to use for ordering extras after I got back home.
The custom attraction soundtrack CD kiosks were in full swing. For $20 you can pick out up to ten tracks and have a custom disc made for you! Selections include music from the Haunted Mansion, and even safety spiels from Big Thunder Mountain. Many bits are available from long gone attractions as well, such as America Sings and the Wizard of Bras shop (?). I bought three, and spoke at length with one of the owners of Digital on Demand, the company who owns the patents on this technology. Look for them to increase the selection to 250 and also bring these things to the other Disney parks.
In tribute to the old rocket ship that used to stand in Tommorowland as part of the Mission to the Moon/Mars attraction, the Moonliner returns, although about 10 feet shorter than the original. At its base is a futeristic soda stand where they "launch" coke bottles into the air to serve them. It is certainly the coolest soda place in the entire park, and home of a new Hidden Mickey which you can find on the side of a shipping crate behind the stand.
Where the old Rocket Jets used to be they have removed the elevator and added fancy new "radar dish" attachments. Every fifteen minutes music plays and the thing spins and comes to life as it is "searching space for alien life." The music is from The Rocketeer and although neat, it was only marginally interesting. Maybe they will add some lasers or special lighting effects later.
The new Rocket Jets are apparently based on the same one in place at Disneyland Paris. They look fantastic, but are no longer on the second floor so the experience is close to the ground just as Dumbo is. Still, they are neat to look at.
The first part of the queue is where the waiting room used to be for CircleVision. No more seats, but you can see repainted People Mover buggies as well as Rocket Jets and the old Monorail! There are blueprints from WED and WDW Imagineering of various ride vehicles such as the Space Mountain Sled, Atomobile (Doom Buggy), and others. The room was blacklight giving everything a Tron-like feeling. Looking at the blueprints was very neat -- you would be amazed at how much stuff is actually under the Haunted Mansion cars! Being surrounded by the classic vehicles was also pretty cool. A large projection screen was also there, but no preshow on it yet -- just a new Tomorrowland logo.
The movie room now runs a compilation of new and old footage featuring Walt Disney introducing segments on transportation, and various bits taken from the old movie (played high speed with a Primus-sounding soundtrack) and clips from the Timekeeper movie in Florida/Disneyland Paris. The line is also worth mentioning as it spirals IN which is very confusing. It seems as if you would dead end, but a clever switch back makes every other line go the opposite direction. This was very baffling and unique!
The air conditioning was out from time to time and, on Saturday, the movies were shut off (probably due to the heat they generated) and you could sense things were still being worked on. Sunday there was an extra bit of narration explaining about the ride on "test vehicles" that was about to happen. I went through this four times, I believe, and each time there was something a bit different. I expect things will be different when I visit again later this year.
After the movie room, you enter a blacklight tunnel (with a subway style map on the wall showing the current route and "future expension") which goes below ground and then comes up under the loading platform (which was formerly gotten to by a moving walkway). The walls were pin stripped once again giving a Tron grid-like feel, though the tape was already starting to peel off even on opening day! I hope they do something a bit more permanent later.
The ride itself is claimed to be the fastest in the park reaching 35 miles per hour (about 10 more than Space Mountain) and the cars zip along the old People Mover track speeding up and slowing down while on board sound effects (computer noises, tire screeches, honks, etc.) play in time to the action. Each ride is a bit different and you can see this by watching the cars along the track as they speed or slow in different areas each time. The ride passes through the Innoventions building, Space Mountain, Star Tours, and above Redd Rockett's, giving a neat view of Tommorowland before heading out for a tour around the Monorail and Autopia tracks. Very exciting, with a few light duty effects already in place during some of the dark tunnels you pass through.
I would like to see this when they get it complete. Right now the effects are not all in place. Only one of the cars has the iluminated "stripes" on it, and some didn't have audio working properly. Overall, this may not be as fun as Space Mountain, but I believe it will end up being a "must ride" when the lines are shorted, right up there with the Matterhorn and Splash Mountain.
Most of the other attractions at least had new paint jobs or new neon signs. At the Autopia and Train Station fancy new signs are present (including one at the station promoting a time trip to the dinosaurs) and the Monorail has a fantastic moving neon strip that is difficult to describe but wonderful to watch. The Submarine Voyage is untouched, but a new covered tarp with a flag of an "A" with a King Triton spear through it said to be a hidden reference to a new Atlantis ride the Imagineers want to build there. (There are many rumors about this right now...)
Innoventions in the former America Sings/Carousel of Progress building is still not ready (July 4th?) but the outside looks great including a new mural. Speaking of murals there is one above the NASA display which has things such as the old Rocket Jets, House of the Future, and Submarines included in it.
Various street vendors walk around now with backpacks shaped like jet packs that they serve colas from -- neat, if not unusual. Street entertainment such as the trashcan players and a lady pushing a strange "biowave reading robot" around was also seen through the weekend. She entertained the Rocket Rod line of folks by "monitoring" a little girl (as the machine played her thoughts, Sugar Sugar) then her parents (The Love Boat theme song). A few people down the line and she found someone thinking Born to Be Wild (which is also used in a high tech version inside the Rod's preshow movie).
Space Mountain broke down at one point (while I was in line) and they had to reset it (a long process involving releasing cars one by one) and while it was down you could feel the vibrations that the Rocket Rods made as they passed through!
There is so much more to mention here, but I've already typed more than alot of folks care to read, so let me move on... Basically, I give the new Tomorrowland high scores!
Face painters everywhere, now not painting Mickeys. Maggie said they wanted to make it more Lousiana themed. Live entertainment was also abundent and within a 10 minute period there were two brass/jazz bands, a sax player, pianist, and mime all in the area! Fantastic. Also, the eating counter just below the Disney Gallery now has steak and vegitarian Gumbo which was FANTASTIC. Hint: Save some money -- if you don't like the "bread boules" they come in, order without. Instead of $4.75 for the gumbo, it will come in a plastic bowl for $3! Clam chowder is also excellent there and, also, cheaper without the bread bowl. Also, like all places that have coffee, refills are free so hang on to your cup!
The park decided to stay open until 1:00 a.m. instead of midnight due to the crowds, and Fantasmic had TONS of people (full shows) every evening. Do they really need to update this show when it draws these kinds of crowds?
A recent rehab has added or fixed tons of the fireflys in the buyou, as well as returning the shooting star (which left after the contraversial rehab last year). Much more fog is now in the ship battle scene, and new colored lighting has been added to the caverns (and lights removed from the first drop which is now in total darkness). The treasure rooms are polished up and the pirate on the pile of gold now has fiber optics sparkling in his hand.
I only noticed Pirates down one time this weekend (there were certainly many more downtimes than any previous trip I have ever made to Disneyland). However, a recently added pirate (between the horse and the goat) was not working one of my trips through the Caribbean... By the way, congrats to Cast Member Thomas who was very, very enthusiastic about his boat loading job.
Indiana Jones had several downtimes over the weekend an the "ball room" didn't seem to work right any time I went through it (the walls were not moving to create the illusion of backing up).
The Indian Village that you see from the Mark Twain and the Columbia now has smoke from all the teepees and the fires. Very nice touch!
The Fantasyland Theater has a new large white tent tarp over it which is really bothering many folks since you can see it all over the park. I didn't notice it until someone pointed it out to me -- and yes, you can see it from the train station behind and to the left of the castle. However, you can also see the Matterhorn which is probably the largest structure in the park from many places as well. Unfortunately the tent doesn't quite look as classy as the mountain does :-) Let's hope they plant some trees or something to hide it a bit better.