June 2012 Disneyland Trip Report – Part 1

Today marks the grand re-opening of Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim.  Unfortunately, Danny and I aren’t there to witness the spectacular event because we just got home from Disneyland a week ago.

This vacation was planned before we knew what the exact opening dates would be for Carsland and Buena Vista Street.  When we found out that June 15th would be the official re-opening day, it was too late to change anything.  If it were just Danny and me on this vacation, we would have happily pushed our trip back by ten days.  However, this time, it was a big family vacation.  It wasn’t just our schedule that would have to change.  My grandma, mom, sister, sister’s boyfriend, aunt and two cousins were joining us.  It was the Disneyland vacation that my grandma always wanted to take with all of her grandchildren.  Something Grandma had talked about wanting for 20 years was finally happening.  We’d all been to Disneyland separately, but this would be the largest group in which any of us had ever toured the parks.

Instead of trying to reschedule our trip, Danny and I crossed our fingers for early soft openings or passholder previews and planned a great vacation.  My birthday would fall in the middle of our trip and we had a fun day planned for that.  The rest of the vacation was framed around sharing our favorite parts of Disneyland with Grandma.  She hadn’t been to the park since taking my mom and aunt in the early 1970s.

Vacation started for Danny and me at 8:00 AM Mountain Daylight Time, when our cab picked us up to take us to the Billings airport.  Simultaneously, in the PDT, our family were piling in to a gigantic van, to drive from northern California down to Anaheim.  Nobody wants to read about our flight or their drive, though.  I will say that the Disneyland Express bus service between the local airports and the Disneyland resort and Good Neighbor hotels is very convenient.  It seems pricey when you compare it to the free Magical Express service that Walt Disney World offers to shuttle its guests to and from the Orlando airport, but when compared with a cab, it’s downright economical.  Danny and I bought round-trip tickets, which sell for $32 each.  We had a coupon good for $5 off each of our tickets, so our total cost for transportation to and from Disneyland was $54.  That’s about half of what a one-way cab would have cost us with tip.

We arrived at our hotel, the Anaheim Portofino Inn and Suites, shortly after the rest of our family.  The nine of us would be sharing three family suites of one King bedroom and a living room with a full pull-out couch.  Danny and I shared a room with one of my cousins for three of our four nights (the rest of the family drove back home the day before we flew out).

Although Danny and I were anxious to get to Disneyland, we waited for everyone else so that we could get a group photo when we got in to the park.  Right away we learned our first lesson in traveling with a big group: everything you want to do takes three times as long.  We had to wait for the people that were showering, napping, or having lunch to be ready to go.  Then we walked the 3/4 mile walk from our hotel to the Disneyland gate.  We made it inside Disneyland just as the Soundsational Parade was making its way to Town Square.

Tinkerbell Waves from Mickey’s Soundsational Parade

We stopped to watch the parade, then headed to the Hub so that we could get some photos.  Surprisingly, there was no Photopass photographer in the area.  This didn’t bother me much as I find the Photopass photographers’ skills to be inconsistent.  Some of them take obvious care to set up nice shots and know their equipment well.  Others seem to just point and shoot without much regard to how the photo will turn out.  Danny and I almost never have Photopass photographers take our pictures, let alone with their own cameras.  We’ve certainly never purchased a print of a photo taken by a Photopass photographer.  Since handing our camera off to a Photopass photographer wasn’t an option this time anyway, we did a little quid pro quo with other park guests.  I often offer to take pictures of other guests when we’re touring the parks, but rarely ask others to take pictures of Danny and me.  Today was an exception.  A very nice lady took a few pictures of us, and given the equipment she had to work with, (my old Nikon Coolpix S620) I think she did a good job!

Family Portrait with the Partners

 

At this point, it was getting close to 5:00 PM and Danny and I were hungry.  We hadn’t eaten in over ten hours and it was time for an early dinner.  Luckily, we were only steps away from the new Jolly Holiday Bakery, which we had been looking forward to visiting.  Not everybody was thrilled with the offerings on the Jolly Holiday Bakery menu, so we split up for dinner.  I intend to write a more in-depth review of Jolly Holiday Bakery over the weekend, so I won’t get in to the details here, but I will say that the five of us that had dinner here all enjoyed our meals.

Afterward, we had some trouble meeting up with the rest of our party.  Rather than waiting around for them, we headed over to New Orleans Square for a ride on Pirates of the Caribbean.  My grandma has trouble with her knees and hips and uses a walker for her worst days.  We knew that she wasn’t going to be able to do all the walking that a Disneyland vacation entails (Danny and I logged as many as 13 miles per day on our pedometer during the visit), so we procured a wheelchair for her before the vacation.  I know that a lot of people think that wheelchair users get special treatment in the Disney parks, but our experience wasn’t changed that much by the wheelchair.  I imagine this is even more true for Walt Disney World, where there are more accessible queues and fewer alternate entrances.  In the case of Pirates, we waited at least as long at the alternate entrance as we would have for the standard one.

After Pirates we met up with the rest of our party, who immediately detoured to the smoking section near the Rivers of America.  I expected that maneuvering the wheelchair would eat up a lot of our time and that touring the parks with it would make everything take longer.  The reality is that the wheelchair didn’t change things much at all, but traveling with smokers did.  More than half of our party were smokers and it seems that someone always wanted to stop for a cigarette break.  If you’re reading this and you’re thinking about a Disney vacation with smokers, seriously consider what you’re signing on for.  Danny and I like to mosey and take our time in Disney parks.  We don’t mind at all just hanging around for a few minutes, but not in the smoking sections.  We like to soak up atmosphere, not secondhand smoke.

When we left New Orleans Square, we headed to Fantasyland.  My sister wanted to ride Peter Pan’s Flight and so did a few of the others.  Some of our party weren’t really feeling the line, so we elected to wander around Fantasyland instead.  The plan was to meet up near “it’s a small world” after everybody else was done with Peter Pan.  We would ride the ride and then see The Magic, the Memories, and You afterward.

It became clear that the line at Peter Pan’s flight was going to take so long that we wouldn’t have time to ride “it’s a small world” before the show was supposed to start, so those of us that were waiting decided to just go ahead and ride the ride anyway.  It was then that we realized that we would have to split into smaller groups if we wanted to cover any significant amount of ground for the rest of the vacation.

I know that some people say that the new additions of Disney characters to “it’s a small world” in Disneyland are misplaced and not keeping with the spirit of the ride, but I really like them.  I think it’s cute that the characters were worked in to their respective countries and done in a Mary Blair-esque style.  We’ve ridden “it’s a small world” in Disneyland several times since the new characters and scenes were added and I’m still not sure we’ve spotted them all.

I should mention here that Grandma was seriously impressed with how capably Jo and the other CMs at “it’s a small world” handled her wheelchair.  Unlike many Disneyland rides, “it’s a small world” has a wheelchair-accessible boat that allowed us to wheel her straight on to the boat without her having to transfer.  They did this with the help of moving ramps and a hydraulic lift that lowered the chair into place on the boat.  I think that she was more in awe by how quickly and easily she was loaded on to the ride than she was by the ride itself.

When we exited the boat, we were just in time to meet the rest of our group and watch The Magic, the Memories, and You.  I really like the use of the “it’s a small world” façade for this show and wish that the Magic Kingdom in Florida had a suitable alternative viewing location as well.  Perhaps they’ll get one in the new Fantasyland expansion.  It’s nice that the crowds get kind of spread out for Disneyland’s nigttime spectaculars.  It’s not easy to see the slideshow, the main fireworks show, and Fantasmic! all in the same night, and it definitely thins out crowds to put all three attractions in different areas of the park.

After the show, everybody was tired except for Danny and me.  They all headed back to the hotel while Danny and I went to the front of the park to watch Magical, the nighttime fireworks show that replaces Remember … Dreams Come True in the summer months.  Magical is nowhere near as good or as special to us as Remember (which is the fireworks show Danny and I saw on our first date), but it’s still Disney fireworks with some impressive plussing.  Everybody enjoys seeing Tinkerbell fly, but there are shouts of glee when Dumbo does the same.

When Magical ended, we wandered around the park some while the post-fireworks crowd exited.  We did a little window shopping and just enjoyed the atmosphere of the hub and Main Street, U.S.A.  When we’d had our fill, we walked through Downtown Disney and over to Trader Sam’s at the Disneyland hotel for a nightcap.

We like the food and drinks at Trader Sam’s, but the atmosphere is always a little more somber than we’d like.  The bartenders tell their scripted jokes but never seem in to it.  The indoor bar was full of people quietly slumped on their stools like zombies, so we elected to take seats on the porch outside, which was sparsely populated with families keeping their kids up way past bedtime.  The torches outside are a nice touch, though.  There was some kind of live musical act packing up when we got there.  It seems like there should be a nice BGM for this area when nobody is playing live, but the music that plays there is a little dull.  I would love it if they would adopt the background music from the former Adventurer’s Club or Adventureland in the Magic Kingdom.  Even cooler would be if they would create a new loop of Pacific Island-sounding covers of Disney songs.  Give me something that makes me want to hula, especially after a drink or two!  Our second round was a Kona Fire Rock Pale Ale for Danny (which he found passable but not great) and a Ginger’s Pear-adise for me (which is an established favorite of mine).  We were getting tired at this point, so we closed out and walked back to our hotel.  We’d be back in Disneyland early the next morning.

 

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