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Detour to Disneyland
By Pete Saroufim
ALL EARS® Feature Writer
This article appeared in the December 9, 2003, Issue #220 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
Haven't you ever wondered what it would be like to be in an entirely new Disney theme park while still possessing the Disney fascination you have from your years of experience? Well, I certainly did. I was ecstatic at the thought of walking down a road in a Disney park without knowing every last word of the show starting on my left or how much the turkey legs cost on my right. One more chance to get lost in the greatest place on Earth. So when my family made plans to visit my brother in Los Angeles, I assumed we'd detour to where it all began, where Walt's dream first came to life. A Detour to Disneyland.
There were a few things I was particularly excited about seeing in Disneyland. Being as inexperienced as I was, I decided to do something I hadn't done in a long whileI decided to listen to other people's advice on Disney. From what I gathered in the weeks leading up to the trip, Soarin' Over California is amazing, Indiana Jones is a must-see, and I would absolutely love staying concierge at the Grand Californian Hotel. Hmmsomeone also told me that Walt was going to be awakened this year to write the sequel to "Emperor's New Groove," so I figured I'd just go see for myself.
My first stop on my Disneyland experience was our hotel, the Grand Californian. After an hour-long car ride, which featured my mother and brother singing Eagles' songs in the back seat of our rental car, and my father trying to navigate a map while driving on a highway, I was certainly more than ready to have that Disney Magic sparkle its way back into my life. Upon entering the Grand Californian, I got exactly that. We were greeted at the front desk by a Cast Member named Linda who made us feel right at home (home as in Old Key West or the Contemporary's arcade, that is). Linda is one of those Cast Members to whom you send a box of cookies at Christmastime even though you barely know her, and then wonder if you could've done more. A Cast Member who has that contagious happiness about them that makes you want to stand up on the counter and sing "Out There" in front of 75 innocent bystanders in the lobby. It felt good to be home again.
Since there were very limited choices for Disney-owned hotels in Disneyland (three to be exact), I was expecting a lot from the Grand Californian, and if our entrance hasn't given it away, I was not disappointed. The rooms were well sized, the housekeeping was thorough, and being a guest certainly had its additional perks. While staying at the Grand Californian, you have access to an entrance to Disney's California Adventure through your own personal gate at 9:15 in the morning, 45 minutes prior to the official opening time. The Grand Californian also offers two restaurants, an expensive but nourishing buffet known as the Storyteller's Caf and a fancier restaurant called Napa Rose. There are also two pools (one with a slide) and an excellent gym and spa. However, the best part of staying at the Grand Californian was its very convenient location. Walking out one door puts you in the middle of Downtown Disney, just a football field away from the entrance to both parks. Walking out the other leads directly into the Golden State section of California Adventure. We checked our bags in with Bell Services and decided it was time to see what Disneyland and California Adventure were all about.
I've heard a lot of hype about Disney's California Adventure, and since it was a Disney park I was completely unfamiliar with, I was probably more intent on going there than I was to Disneyland. Our first stop in California Adventure was Soarin' Over California, a recently created attraction about which I had heard nothing but good things. This is a highly inventive ride that makes you feel like you are, well, soaring over California. You're strapped in to your seat, lifted off the ground, and stationed in front of a video screen that may be a good fit for the Great Wall of China. Images of beautiful California scenery appear in front of you as you also smell and hear California from what seems like hundreds of miles in the air, while weaving and dipping in perfect timing to the camera work. This truly is an inventive masterpiece, though I feel they are still at the tip of the iceberg with where this technology is headed.
After coming to a safe landing I was even more excited to see what else this foreign land had in store for me, but I was sadly disappointed. As I continued through the park I found less and less to interest me, and it felt more and more like I was not in a Disney theme park at all. I saw games like "ring toss" and "shoot the basketball into the little hoop" with overpriced tickets and less than rewarding prizes. I saw a plain old Ferris Wheel with carts rocking back and forth. I saw people selling cotton candy instead of Mickey Mouse ice cream bars. My park pass said Disney, but I felt like I could be anywhere -- Six Flags, our local Canobie Lake Amusement Park, or even a regular old carnival. Even my thrill-seeking brother was less than impressed with the offerings, the coaster California Screamin' included. The most fun we had after Soarin' Over California was looking in those weird mirrors that distort your imageand though they are a blast, I'm not sure they were worth the price of admission.
My spirit was undaunted, though. I had half the fun left to go, and there was no way Disneyland could disappoint. How could it? Isn't it just like Magic Kingdom?
Well, not quite. The first thing any Walt Disney World fan will notice upon entering Disneyland is that the castle is really not much of a castle. It's more of a dollhouse than it is the home of a princess. As I walked down Main Street with my mouth hanging open I feared that this might not have been such a good idea. Maybe Disneyland wasn't at all like the Disney I knew and loved.
Then I saw it: Pirates of the Caribbean. I could never go wrong with Pirates; I've done it a thousand times and I've loved it a thousand times. I figured it must be the same as in Magic Kingdom -- I mean, it's the same ride, right? I was very wrong. Surprisingly enough, it was even better. It was a much better paced ride with a lot more to see and more time to see it. Plus, it had one extra drop for the people, who like me, used to get almost all the thrills they could handle from Pirates. After Pirates my eyes lit up like only Disney can make them, and I was ready to see more.
Luckily enough, Pirates was not the only improvement that Disneyland had over Magic Kingdom. If anyone sees It's A Small World in Disneyland and compares it to the one that's stuck in Fantasyland, then they'll know exactly what I mean. In Magic Kingdom, Small World is jam-packed among rides such as Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan, just another ride with a dime-a-dozen exterior. In Disneyland though, It's a Small World is a magnificent display that would turn even the most inattentive heads. The front of It's a Small World in Disneyland looks like it belongs on a float in SpectroMagic, but has the bonus of being a ride as well.
While there were other even better improvements (particularly Mickey's Toontown!), there were also the disappointments of Disneyland. One thing I certainly noticed was the lack of organization. With more people in a more cramped area, you'd expect more Cast Members trying to keep order, but it was not so. The line for Pirates of the Caribbean was breaking out into the roads, and there was not one Disney employee or even a simple sign to help straighten things out. When Pluto made an appearance for some pictures, there were no Cast Members telling the kids to come up one by one, but instead, parents shoving their 6-year-olds toward the big furball all at once. That was one hounded dog.
On our last night, watching the fireworks light up the sky from the balcony of our hotel room, I realized that I was very happy that I made the trip. I was able to do something I had wanted to do for quite a long time. What I learned was that Disneyland is a great place to spend a day if you live in Southern California or are in the area, but just because you love Walt Disney World, don't think Disneyland, all by itself, is worth the cost of those plane tickets. To me, Disneyland does have that Disney magic, but you'll have to search a little harder for it. The next time I'm in California, I probably shall not Detour to Disneyland, but that doesn't mean it's not the place for you.
Pete Saroufim is a high school junior from Boston, Massachusetts. He began traveling to Walt Disney World at the age of 5, and has visited nearly 20 times since. When not in WDW, he spends his time playing basketball, soccer and volleyball, film editing, writing, creating web pages, and conquering demons with PlayStation2.
Enjoy Pete's other ALL EARSfeatures at: http://allears.net/btp/pete.htm
You can also drop him a note at: TheLebageek@aol.com
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.