A Grand Adventure

After a decade in California, I finally visited one of its iconic places – Disneyland.  I had never been before and it was always one of those places that the Beloved and I kept saying we “ought” to go.  We’d just never seemed to get around to it.  Last weekend, she organized a big meeting in Orange County and in its aftermath we decided to spend a couple of days visiting The Mouse.

Now, as an adult without children, Disneyland is an interesting proposition.  Would it be too “kiddie” for us to really enjoy?  I’d been WDW when I was 11 and I remember it being a blast, but of course I was 11.  We discussed the different options and decided that if we were going to go, we might as well go all the way and stay on the property.  We opted for The Grand Californian – which is modeled on the craftsman style of many National Park lodges.  It was beautiful and decorated with an over the top eye for detail.  It sort of reminded me of places that you might see in Las Vegas.  You know, without the hookers.

The Grand Californian

We arrived on Sunday night and had “park hopper” passes for Monday and Tuesday that would allow us to go back and forth between Disneyland and the newer California Adventures theme park.

We started our day Monday with Chip-N-Dale’s Critter Breakfast and I mean really – can you resist giving yourself over to the spirit of a place when you have mouse-ear waffles and a five-foot chipmunk comes over and gives you a giant hug?  Of course you can’t.

He's the party chipmunk

We went to Disneyland on Monday and had a wonderful day.  Sunny and cool, we pretty much walked onto every ride we wanted to go on – whether it was a “big” attraction like “Splash Mountain” or something small and kitschy like the “Enchanted Tiki Room”.

Partners

We’d read about the FastPass option (designed to help you bypass lines during busy times), but really only needed it once in the two days we were there.  Pretty awesome.  We really enjoyed all the rides (with the exception of maybe the “Jungle Cruise” which was getting a little long in the tooth) – especially “Space Mountain”, “Splash Mountain” and the small but beautiful Winnie the Pooh ride (don’t judge me).

Thunder RR

Tomorrowland at Dusk

We ventured over to California Adventures on Tuesday.  This park is smaller than the Magic Kingdom, and has focused on newer, more intense rides like the rollercoaster “California Screamin’”, the scary “Tower of Terror”, and the delightful “Soarin’ Over California”, which were all excellent (of course the only one that made me queasy was the giant ferris wheel).  And the park’s not going to be smaller for much longer – there is a ton of construction going on and several new areas are going to open up in the next couple of years.

Mickey's Giant Wheel

And everywhere we turned, it seemed like everyone was having a good time, too. Happy kids out-numbered crying ones at least 50-to-1, and even bedraggled parents looked tired but happy in a way that I’d never seen at other amusement parks, and that made me think that maybe Disneyland really is the “Happiest Place on Earth”.

Dog's Life

And maybe that’s what distinguishes the Disney “experience” from those other theme parks — that Disney asks you to buy into that philosophy and become a part of it.  You’re not just a customer; you’re a participant in it.  And I discovered that I still have enough kid left in me that it was easy to put aside my been-there-done-that cynicism and have a grand time.

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40 thoughts on “A Grand Adventure

  1. When I was in college and I had my season pass, my friends and I would go and study while waiting in line. Then we’d scream for three minutes on whatever ride, and then go back to studying. I think Disneyland is the primary reason I passed my Critical Thinking class. Glad you guys had fun!!

  2. My 40+ neighbors have held annual passes for years. Sometimes they just go for coffee and people watching.

    The last time I was there (embarrassingly long ago), the original CA Adventures was in it’s initial “this didn’t work at all; let’s close most everything down” phase. I hear that it’s substantially improved since then.

    Now, I pretty much limit myself to the House of Blues in downtown Disney. Its an awesome venue because it’s well run and tiny!

    I’m completely envious that you stayed at the Grand Californian. That hotel is beautiful.

    btw: I still like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Peter Pan. And the age of the Jungle Cruise is kind of its “gimmick” these days. The only ride I don’t like? It’s A Small World. I’ve hear that’s been improved too but I don’t know if I could tolerate it.

  3. It sounds fabulous.

    I didn’t grow up with the Disney franchise, so I’ve always presumed it wouldn’t be a big interest.

    Now, a Star Trek theme park, I’d be all over :)

    • M-T: As a kid, I can remember watching “The Wonderful World of Disney” and recall it being pretty special. I wonder today if kids that can get it 24h/day on cable and the internet “get it” like that — though the incorporation of the Pixar movies into the Disney parks was genius.

  4. Our annual passes just expired last month. We’re going to renew pretty soon. I can’t wait. :)

    Love that place. Didn’t think I would love it so much, but we went for Steve’s 40th birthday (a couple of years ago now) and had such a fantastic time that we decided that we needed passes. :)

    I actually really enjoy CA Adv. Smaller crowds, good stores and booze! hehe.

    • Grrrace — our only comparison is SeaWorld, which while nice doesn’t really come close. Whenever friends or family come and we go, we always extend to the year pass and go back and enjoy it, but we don’t really go out of our way to go there. I think we’d make more effort for Disneyland if it were closer.

  5. Great post Steve. Looks and sounds like you had a great time. My brother and I were just talking about Disney World in Orlando the other day. He’s a grandfather now and wants to take his grand kids. I’m so glad you can still find the child in yourself enough to have a good time there! That’s awesome.

    • Thanks Ladywise — we saw a LOT of grandparents taking tykes around in the park and it seemed that they might have been enjoying it as much as the kids. I think that’s the other thing Disney has done well — since it’s been around since the 50s, you now have generations that have enjoyed it and can pass it on/share with the next one.

      • I think the key is that they’ve gone for intense visual stimulation as well as rides. Even if you don’t ride anything, just looking around makes for a nice day.

  6. So glad you guys went to the Enchanted Tiki Room! Besides the fact that I am, of course, an annual attendee of Tiki Oasis… I just like some of the old kitschy parts of Disneyland. It brings back memories! Glad you guys had a great time. P.S. Did you do the wine tasting at California Adventure (and was it any good?)

    • Hapa — I figured you would like the Enchanted Tiki Room! And I think that air of nostalgia (now for several generations) is something that really gives Disney its charm.

      We ate at the “Napa Rose” restaurant at the Grand — which had very good food and a great winelist and had won several awards, but we didn’t get to the one in California Adventures — though we kept saying we ought to. Not enough days! :)

  7. “And maybe that’s what distinguishes the Disney “experience” from those other theme parks — that Disney asks you to buy into that philosophy and become a part of it. You’re not just a customer; you’re a participant in it. ”

    I think you’re right on the nose with that idea.

    Glad you had fun! I went as a kid and in high school, and haven’t been in a decade. Maybe it’s time!

  8. Never been to Disneyland, since it’s all the way on that other coast, but we do love Disney World. Never done it without kids, but it’s always been a blast with ’em. And seriously, how can you not enjoy a place with big old mascots walking around? Glad you had a wonderful time!

    • J — yes, you can see with California Adventures they’re building the multi-park layout like WDW, but because of space constraints I don’t think they’ll ever get THAT big — but they’ve succeeded in making it a 2-3 day worth of stay.

  9. Ha! Disneyland really is like a G-rated Vegas in a lot of ways. We’ve yet to take the girls, though. They’re still a little too young, so all that would come of a visit right now would be the chance to buy a lot of Princess crap, and I can get that at Target.

    I’m glad you guys had fun!

    • M — yeah, I can’t quite understand the families that are there with only kids in strollers — it seems sort of crazy. I can’t imagine anyone gets that much out of it.

      In a couple of years though P & P are going to be ripe for the visiting! :)

  10. Nice pic of Tomorrowland. Chipmunk hugs at breakfast, does it get any cheerier than that? So glad you two had a nice time. Also, is it the perspective or is the ceiling at the Californian extraordinarily high?

    • Tomorrowland was actually the area having the toughest time — oddly out of date for being retro-futuristic, but I did love that shot at dusk.

      The Grand’s center atrium/lobby area was 5 or 6 stories tall. Really nice.

  11. Darn it, Steve, you’re making me give up my hatred of theme parks and consider going back to Disneyland. My last visit was when my daughters were in preschool, which might explain why I hated it so much. They were terrified of the fun stuff, like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, or too short to go on them, as on the Matterhorn. But they did love the Small World exhibit, and we rode that over and over and over again until I thought the song “It’s a Small World After All” was some sort of indoctrination by Uncle Walt.

    Curiously however, my younger daughter went to Disneyland a couple of months ago with her 20-something friends, and she said they had a blast. I guess the best way to enjoy the place is to go without kids!

    • HG — yeah, preschool is right on the border of really enjoying DL, I think. I never quite understood the families that went who only had kids in strollers.

      I also think that the minimal lines really got to maximize the “Magic”. Also, being adults, we never had to logic out why it’s not a good idea to go on “small world” multiple times!

  12. Looks Like you all had a good time. I’ve only been to Disney once, despite living 22 miles from the Florida one….and having actual free access to any park whenever one of my friends is working…. I just have not gotten into it. But I have a girlfriend coming in the next few weeks. I’ll have to try it out again…just in case I am missing the point!

    • M — yep, I certainly think with getting in for free would help the enjoying of the parks! I wonder if WDW has the same “winter weekday” drop-off as the more “local” DL — or whether people are heading there all the time regardless?

    • Jenny — yeah, they’ve managed to keep the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride from getting so stale — but the Jungle Cruise didn’t have the right “kitschy” feeling to pull it off.

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