Sunday, 20 December 2015

Christmas in Disneyland

Ashley and I were considering doing a trip to Disneyland next year, having let the post-Walt Disney World overload work its way through our system. The announcement that Star Wars Land was being built and therefore the Rivers of America, Mark Twain Riverboat, Tom Sawyer Island, Disneyland Railroad and Fantasmic would all be shut down for the next two years or so forced our hand. As of January, if we wanted to go it wouldn't be worth going until 2018 at the earliest. Therefore, as soon as we were done our shifts at work on Monday, we hopped on the bus to the airport, landed in Orange County about 10:30pm, hit the ground running to Trader Sam's, and then spent the next three days enjoying the parks despite the unseasonable cold snap.

It was our first Christmas together at Disneyland. I had experienced some Christmas decor a few years before when I went to Tokyo Disney Resort in November, but nothing quite as invested in Christmas as Disneyland USA. As holiday layovers go, what worked was a bit spotty. Haunted Mansion Holiday was a bust and we only rode it once (though I did see the Hatbox Ghost for the first time and he was great). I'm a bit past the peak of my über-Gothic Tim Burton fan stage, though I still like Nightmare Before Christmas well enough. There was too much in the way of painted cardboard flats, too much dissonance between the Nightmare aesthetic and the Haunted Mansion's, and just too much love for the Haunted Mansion itself. I'll take its regular form any day. I appreciate what Jingle Cruise was trying to do, but in the end the theme of "there's a bunch of garbage strewn around the jungle!" is just a bunch of garbage strewn around the jungle. The fruitcake jokes were too many, but the "Piranhanukkah" jokes were hilarious. It's a Small World Holiday was the best of the three.

The real winner in the Christmas sweepstakes was California Adventure with the ¡Viva Navidad! event. It's rare for me to get a genuine smile worked up. A smirk, yes. A wry grin, possibly. A sense of reposed happiness, absolutely. But a real ear-to-ear smile? Practically never. ¡Viva Navidad! did it. I love the little moments in Disney parks where a more genuine cultural experience can be had, and this street party of Mexican and Brazilian music, under the auspices of the Three Caballeros, was perfect. After the street party, we enjoyed some special food offerings and free crafts, and then got photos with the Caballeros themselves, which was hilarious. As they were due to appear for photos, a line of adults steadily grew. Minnie had the misfortune of being on before them, and one much older Latina beside me said "Who wants Minnie? Give me the Three Caballeros. I want the acción!" in her thick accent. When they came out, the line erupted with cheers.  

Our last trip in 2012 was in the midst of California Adventure's suite of renovations, and to ensure that we gave the finished product its fair shake we committed ourselves to stay there with a 1-park per day pass. Previously, we had been in the habit of popping in for a few rides and then popping right back over to Disneyland. Thankfully we came out pleasantly surprised. Grizzly Peak Airfield is a marvelous accent to a land we hadn't really explored before. We did our first (and second) runs of Grizzly River, which was a walk-on thanks to the cold snap. Prepared for the worst after Kali River Rapids, where we got absolutely drenched through to the skin, it was blessedly drier than that. Redwood Creek Challenge Trail was also a lot of fun and satisfied the need to get away from crowds and do some physical activity. We love national parks and Grizzly Peak tapped into that a nicely as practicable in a theme park. Soarin' Over California also worked a lot better here than in Epcot, and it's kind of sad that it's being replaced with a version that is designed to work for Epcot. Why not have the one in Epcot and the other in California Adventure?

On a morning hike through the Grizzly Peak Recreation Area.
Ashley stopped to look at the peak through a telescope.

Some views along Grizzly River.
Ashley investigating Big Sir.
Big Sir itself.
Me taking a peek through Tunnel Tree.
Ashley's ready to go!
Though we did see Cars Land, we didn't ride anything. The line for Radiator Springs Racers was longer than we were willing to endure and its FastPass return time conflicted with a dinner date we had with friends at Trader Sam's. That is the sort of situation where having FastPass+ would actually have been handy. In fact, this also being our first trip to a Disney park since Walt Disney World, we were really feeling the convenience of MagicBands, MyMagic+ and FastPass+. Larger crowds than we were expecting led us to fairly aggressive use of FastPasses on Indiana Jones, Big Thunder Mountain, etc. It would have been nice to pre-book some of those, especially for rides that don't have FastPasses like Peter Pan's Flight. By the time we got around to Tomorrowland, FastPasses for Hyperspace Mountain and Star Tours had already been sold out, and there was no way we were waiting in lines of an hour or more. In the end, the only "Seasons of the Force" attraction we did was the Path of the Jedi clip show.

With limited interest in Star Wars to begin with, our adventures in the original Magic Kingdom mostly stayed to the west side of the park. Naturally we put a lot of focus on Fantasyland and those attractions that would be disappearing for the next few years. Matterhorn Bobsleds is one of my favourite attractions (but is it in the top five? Wait and see!) but with it being down during our trip in 2012, I actually hadn't ridden it in over nine years. I was finally able to, and it was Ashley's first time. Not only that, but it had the new effects, animatronics, and bobsleds. The effects and animatronics were excellent, but the new bobsleds made it even more uncomfortable for a 6'4" tall person like myself, whose feet can't even fit in those little foot holes. The Mark Twain Riverboat was ridden around several times, dinner was had at Big Thunder Ranch, we had fun with Farley, and several goats were pet. There's no sense reiterating how we lament the ranch's going off to Yesterland.

Basking in the sun.

He's just lying there like nothing is going to happen.
Goodbye Big Thunder Ranch. Your buckets of meat are amazing.

Enjoying a view of the river that will soon no longer exist.

Though our last meal at the Blue Bayou was underwhelming and the restaurant as a whole is overrated, we did give it another go for the Fantasmic Dining Package. The meat was still done much sooner than it should have been had it actually been started after I ordered it, and I could have done without the glowing diamond tchotchkes in our drinks had I know we were being charged $10 for them, but it was made up for by the great seating for Fantasmic and the cushions we got to sit on. The centre view for the dining packages is excellent... Even better than the offside position we had previously had for the dessert package in 2012. Now that we've done the full-price one, we'll be doing the River Belle Terrace or Aladdin's Oasis next time. Either way, we'd definitely do the Fantasmic Dining Package again. It is extraordinarily convenient if you're like me and love Fantasmic but hate waiting for it.

Unfortunately we only saw some of the fireworks from our position. High altitude winds forced them to stop the show at the Frozen segment. That's better than the other night when they couldn't do it at all. With two attempts under our belt, we've yet to see the full Disneyland Forever show live. From what we did see, I'd have to judge that the 50th anniversary fireworks were much better. Remember... Dreams Come True was a much more robust celebration of Disneyland itself than Disneyland Forever's medley from randomly chosen films. I'd go so far as to say that, in general, the 50th anniversary was handled much better than the 60th. I don't just think it's nostalgia talking: the 60th feels much more slapped together and without real direction. Looking at my past photos, Ashley observed that even the castle looked better for the 50th.

All these people waiting for a show that will never come.
Sadly, three days just isn't long enough. Two days in Disneyland and one day in California Adventure is too breakneck a pace to really feel it deeply. The last time I did a three day trip - my first trip in 2005 - I was so overwhelmed that I almost instantly began planning my next trip the following year. Financially that's just not an option right now, which is also why it was a three day trip rather than a four day trip. We really could have used that extra day though! Our trip began with a nightcap at Trader Sam's on Monday and ended with breakfast at Tangaroa Terrace on Friday. After a nice walk around the grounds of the Disneyland Hotel (where we were not staying), we hailed a cab and began our long journey back home... Alas.


  1. I don't tend to spend much time in California Adventure, and we didn't head over there at all for our visit last weekend. Now I'm regretting it, because ¡Viva Navidad! looks really excellent.

    1. ¡Viva Navidad! alone was worth going over to DCA. Our love for Grizzly Peak is more particular to our love for national parks, but ¡Viva Navidad! is a heck of a good time for anybody.

      In the final tally, we decided that DCA is a good half-day park. After a late lunch at ¡Viva Navidad! we were kinda' done. It was good to give it a chance and to find the fun things we hadn't before, but it still doesn't hold up for a full day (where standing in line for 75 minutes to ride Radiator Springs Racer and 50 for Toy Story doesn't count as time well spent). And there's still the issue of "if you like Grizzly Peak you'll love Yosemite and Sequoia!" or why see theme park California when you could just go see real California.

    2. You'll like my first planned Disneyland Dilettante post in 2016, then.

    3. Well, I look forward to it then!