My internet is down tonight (said through tears and gritted teeth) so I’ve elected (pompously) to give you the ‘Best of ODNT.’ Those of you who are actually friends of my personal Facebook page may remember when I wrote about a family trip a while back. Last year, for Mardi Gras 2011, we vacationed in Southern California, briefly passing through Anaheim and Disneyland. Following that trip, I wrote about the similarities and differences of the older park to its younger, fatter-yet-more-popular cousin, Walt Disney World, in Orlando, Florida. Where, coincidentally, we just visited for Mardi Gras 2012, one year later.
And with my internet (and thus also my laptop) down for the evening, I can think of no better time to revisit this old friend than tonight. So, without further ado, I give you … Disneyland vs. DisneyWorld. Give it a read if you haven’t already. I promise it’s WAY catchier than the crap-assingly-dull title I just threw at it.
Oh, but before I go … I just want to say a very special thank you to my new internet & phone carrier for cutting off our OLD service before sending us the NEW modem enabling us to reconnect to their service. And for dropping our call THREE times when we tried to remedy this little snafu. Excellent first impression. I look forward to many, many more resolution-less incidences of fighting with your surly customer service reps over the phone in the years to come.
And now, on with the show …
Since so many have asked, I kept a list as we traveled and have the following observations to share about the two iconic theme parks.
(1) Transit – There is none! We stayed in a DL hotel (I don’t think there are many but ours was very nice) and, from it, you’re able to walk (Walk!) to both of the theme parks. There was no need for a shuttle, bus, ferry or anything. The only monorail there serves as a ride in the park! Loved that.
(2) Hours – Much shorter than WDW. Maybe it’s the time of year. Maybe it’s that our days there were weekdays. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m from NOLA. But I was really surprised the park closed at 8pm. And when I say closed, I mean some of the rides started shutting down earlier in different areas of the park. Kiosks went unmanned and were covered with tarps. Some areas were so desolate and dimly lit as it got later that we avoided them and found another route to our destinations. Employees were lining the streets waving and offering everyone a very purposeful ‘Good-bye!’ Shops were closing their doors. Shops?!!? They are SO missing out on revenue here. I was very stressed knowing we had to get to the stores to get our crappy t-shirts before 7pm! Of course, the flip side was …. we were NOT at the park until 11pm … only to arrive back at the hotel and have the kids beg to go swimming at midnight. With the early hours, there was PLENTY of time for swimming. Seriously, if you don’t want to stay all night, it’s your ticket out!
(3) Fireworks – In keeping with number two, there are none on the weeknights. Fine by me but seemed strange by WDW’s punctuating moment each night.
(4) The centerpiece – Both parks have statues of Walt and the mouse in the middle of their Magic Kingdoms. Behind each of the statues can be found the park’s Princess Castle. The Disneyland castle is associated with Sleeping Beauty and WDW’s with Cinderella. And not unlike Sleeping Beauty’s position as a cultural icon as compared to Cinderella’s, the Disneyland castle is WAY smaller than WDW’s … and it’s located on the same level as the rest of the park … making it very hard to use it as a landmark with which to navigate my directionally-challenged self through the park.
(5) And since I didn’t have the castle as my north star, I would greatly have appreciated signage … of which there is very little in the park … pointing me to the different lands. Seems like they’re on every corner at WDW but rare at DL. Maybe this is only a problem for a simpleton like me.
(6) Maybe it was the time of year we traveled (early March) but there – were – no – lines. I mean … you could literally walk directly on many, many of the rides. What took the longest was making your way through the long empty mazes clearly intended for the throngs of people who weren’t there. The longest we waited for any ride was 15 minutes and it was due to a problem in removing a handicapped person from one of the rides. We LOVED the short lines but I felt a little sorry for Disneyland. And perhaps because of the lesser number of visitors, there was also a lesser number of picture-worthy creatures. The only ones I saw there were Goofy and Chip & Dale. There were rumors of Disney’s newest Princess (Rapunzel from ‘Tangled’) but I saw no part of her or her long tresses while there.
(7) Space Mountain – DL’s was very cool. It seemed a little longer, possibly a little more intense and featured double-seaters, rather than the single file rockets available at WDW. Sidebar – Whenever I zoom blindly through the pitch black darkness of that ride, I can never get over my intense fear of decapitation. I fear that something could have gone wrong … in the dark … on the ride immediately preceding mine and thus my head will inevitably be ripped off with no warning, landing in the lap of the rider behind me. So, while the ride itself isn’t too intense a roller coaster ride for me, my irrational fears usually keep me pretty occupied on this one.
(8) Pirates of the Carribbean- DL’s is definitely longer. I’d heard that in advance as it’s the original ride. They say it’s 17 minutes. I didn’t time it and have no idea how long the WDW one is. There’s even a dining area that overlooks part of the ride, sort of like in ‘It’s a Small World’ in Orlando. It also features the new Jack Sparrow/Johnny Depp animatronics, which far surpass the technology of the original characters … and are pretty fun for the moms, too.
(9) It’s a Small World – DL’s is very similar but your ride begins outside which is a little different. From there, you cruise from room to room and see dolls from around the world just like in WDW. You also see characters from different Disney movies in each of their applicable countries. The kids enjoyed spotting Alice in Wonderland, Lilo & Stitch, etc. along the way.
(10) Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage – Anyone remember the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride that was always broken down in Orlando and has now been replaced by a lame racetrack? Well, the submarine ride still exists at DL and it’s been renamed and retooled to incorporate Nemo. It was fun and different though it was the ride that had us wait the longest that day (see number 6). It’s not appropriate for anyone struggling with claustrophobia. It’s a tight squeeze in a little metal caplet for about 10 or 15 minutes. ( I tried not to focus on my entrapment while inside.)
(11) Storybook Land Canal Boats – Lame ride through one Lilliputian village after another of different Disney stories. Felt like I was in a Christmas craft store …which, if you know me at all, had me praying for death. Very boring for little children and their parents. We kept ourselves entertained with the caterpillar who stowed away on our boat … until the ‘cast member’ called us on it and took our little friend away. Skip this one.
(12) Matterhorn – Definitely wanted to ride this one as it’s considered one of the biggies at the park. It’s actually taller than the park’s castle (which, since it should be the park’s focal point, I found odd). It’s intended to simulate a bobsled ride for its passengers and thus NOT a ride to take on with anyone except your child or significant other. The chairs seat two with the passenger in the back literally straddling the passenger in the front. (I have to imagine that this arrangement has made for many a comical situation in the past, maybe even the beginning of a few relationships.) Anyway, the ride was fun but VERY jerky. Gave me a bit of a headache, and I have a pretty high threshold for these things.
Check out their beautiful haunted mansion. It looks so familiar that I’d expect to be served Mint Juleps and grits when I went inside. And I’m actually FROM the South.
(13) New Orleans Influence – There is a whole section of DL called ‘New Orleans Square.’ It was replaced at WDW by ‘Liberty Square.’ Seriously, just like WDW, you have Main Street USA, Frontierland, Adventureland, Mickey’s Toontown, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland … and New Orleans Square. Wonder why WDW dumped the idea of using NOLA for its newer park … or why DL selected it as its one and only geographically-named ‘land’ in the first place. (There’s also one more land in DL called Critter Country, FYI.) New Orleans Square is pretty big. It houses ‘Pirates of the Carribbean’ (for whatever reason) and ‘The Haunted Mansion’ (looks like a Southern Plantation home so this one I get). The architecture mimics ours pretty respectfully but the food, well … can anyone ever replicate it?
You will NEVER find “fritters” or “pot foods” anywhere in my epicurean city. Nor would there ever be “steak” or “vegetarian” gumbos. Typically, the more exotic the meat, the more likely it’s going to wind up on the table.
Lots of things in DL are very much the same as in WDW … the Mad Tea Party teacups, the flying Dumbos (though the cars are over water), Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Peter Pan’s Flight, Winnie the Pooh, the Carousel (this one dedicated to King Arthur and not WDW’s Cinderella), the Tiki Room and the Jungle Cruise plus they also have old school rides for Alice in Wonderland and Pinocchio. Additionally, DL has Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain (the latter of which, my daughter’s favorite, was sadly under renovation for our visit) as well as the largely-ignored Treehouse (here it’s dedicated to Tarzan rather than the Swiss Family Robinson), Tom Sawyer Island and the Riverboat. Among the DL rides not found at WDW were Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes (operates on weekends only? Weird) and the Indiana Jones Adventure (it’s a ride, not to be confused with the show at Hollywood Studios). Clearly, this ride must bring in large crowds during the busy season as the large empty maze we navigated before boarding it was longer than the ride itself. But my son loved it. My daughter … not so much. Said the oversized snakes were too scary. Of course, my son also loves WDW’s Hall of Presidents (I know. Really?) which unfortunately for him, but not me, wasn’t at DL. Instead, they offer something called ‘Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln’ which I read is a one-animatronic-man-show but we somehow managed to dodge it. (Tough break, son!)
Like WDW, DL has now gotten into the business of expanding itself into another whole park called California Adventure, which is basically a compilation of some of the most successful rides of the other three parks at WDW as well as a few new additions. Among the familiar WDW attractions are EPCOT’s Soarin’ (with a specific California focus), Animal Kingdom’s ‘It’s Tough to be a Bug’ 3D movie and Grizzly River Run raft ride and Hollywood Studios’ ‘Muppet Vision in 3D’ and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. We forced (I mean, forced … threatened, begged, bribed) the kids to come with us. They’ve both ridden it at WDW so I don’t know what the big deal was. Anyway, it was, as always, lots of fun and no one vomited following the ride so I deemed it a success.
As far as new things at DL’s California Adventure, the best part of it was the Paradise Pier section of the new park. It features an outdoor, knock-your-socks-off roller coaster called ‘California Screamin’ – fast and twisty with no jerky motions (which I HATE, see number 12) and offering a beautiful view of the mountainous (well, it was to a New Orleans flatlands girl!) landscape surrounding the park. Another great ride on the Pier was Mickey’s Fun Wheel offering a different spin (pardon the accidental pun) on the traditional ferris wheel in that half of the cars weren’t suspended by a single connection but rather hooked to a rail that enables them to slide back and forth as the wheel spins around. (Anyone who remembers the Magnetic Gyro Wheel toy of the 70s and 80s knows what I’m talking about.) Truthfully, other than my irrational fear of decapitation on Space Mountain (see number 7), this ride is the one that shook me up the most. High altitudes + spontaneously sliding cars + large gaps in the doors to the car make for a very uneasy me. It was fun but I was pretty happy to get back down again.
After a nice dinner (and I mean nice, complete with wine) on Disney property, we cashed in our fast passes to watch the park’s night-ending show entitled ‘World of Color.’ I still think it’s weird that you need a fastpass for the show given that it appears outdoors in the center of the park. It’s a water and colored lights show featuring music and projections from Disney’s many animated features (and even a few live action ones like ‘Pirates’) over the years. Very impressive but the lure of the hotel pool was too great for my kids and we lost half our troops mid-show.
The Disneyland complex also now includes a Downtown Disney area outside of the parks featuring shops, restaurants and even a little live entertainment, much like its counterpart at WDW. I read somewhere that the monorail system does actually access this area from the parks, not that it’s really necessary with the parks being walking distance away. Still, it’s a neat way to get from point A to point B if you haven’t ‘monorailed’ before. And the hours for Downtown Disney are much more manageable… in that you can actually grab a bite or pick up that last minute Disney souvenir after you exit the park’s retiree hours during the week.
All in all, it was a great trip. I was raised on Disney and always happy to experience something new there. Of course, I am both a wistfully sentimenal, nostalgic person as well as a relentless critic in these situations so my brain often goes into sensory overload during my visits. I loved going to WDW as a kid and love bringing mine there now. I am equally glad to have had the opportunity to bring them to DL, where it all began in 1955. The long and short of it is that, if you find yourselves in Southern California with a couple of days to spare for the kids, you should really take in Disneyland. If nothing else than for the historical Americana of it all.