“The Big Picture” Goes West

by Joshua Olive
AllEars® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the May 1, 2012 Issue #658 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Joshua OliveIn 2011, I planned a trip out to California. There was absolutely no way I was going all the way to California without planning to spend some time at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. What an absolute treat!

As a larger individual — 6 feet 6 inches and hovering right around 400 pounds — I've been spoiled by the accommodation Walt Disney World provides to people like me who are just built on a larger scale than most. I have to confess that I had some worries about how I would fit into a park that was built in 1955, when people were a lot smaller. I'd read reports of boats getting stuck on "it's a small world" (this is the original version, built for the legendary 1964 World's Fair) because the waterway just wasn't constructed to handle boats riding as low in the water as they often do with today's guests filling them. I'd heard about how small some of the Fantasyland ride vehicles were — especially for some of the Disneyland-specific attractions like the Casey Jr. Circus Train and the Storybook Land Canal Boats. But being an intrepid adventurer, I decided to try as many ride vehicles on for size as I possibly could, and I have to tell you that I came away from this experience with a smile on my face. I'll definitely be making that trip again!

Let's start on Main Street USA. Growing up, I never really thought much about or appreciated Main Street USA at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom; it was just that place you had to run through to get to all the good stuff. As I've gotten older, I've really come to appreciate Main Street more and more, much like I've grown to appreciate Epcot's World Showcase. It's a beautiful glimpse of a bygone era, and nostalgia just envelops the place. At Disneyland, Main Street embodies that sense of nostalgia even more. Their Main Street somehow feels more real, more genuine. The coffee shop with its little outdoor seating area on Center Street never existed at Walt Disney World that I remember, but I wish it had. The Plaza at the end of the street is a world unto itself. The bakery where you can watch the Cast Members work (and smell the incredible pastries and cookies) is infinitely more homey than the maddening busyness of WDW's Main Street establishments.

Then there were the vehicles. While I didn't take the opportunity to test out any of these — mostly because I was shocked to see so many of them — Main Street was crawling with A-Ticket transportation vehicles. I remember when the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World did more of this sort of thing (now you're lucky to catch a horse and trolley in action if you show up mid-morning), but the tradition is alive and well at Disneyland, and there were multiple horse-drawn vehicles, jitneys, and double-decker buses ferrying guests from Town Square to the hub and back.

From Main Street, the various lands fan out from the central hub in more or less the same way they do at WDW. Most of the attractions are located in the same areas (Space Mountain would be very odd in Adventure Land!), but then you get to new things like New Orleans Square and Toon Town, neither of which we have at WDW. The similarities between Disneyland and WDW's Magic Kingdom are extensive, but the differences are pretty interesting too — Disneyland's terrain has hills that significantly change the landscape, and areas like New Orleans Square are filled with all kinds of twists and turns, side streets, and hidden nooks and crannies. It's a thrill to just wander around and lose yourself in someplace so familiar yet so surprisingly new.

I could go on about this for hours, so let's just skip to the attractions, shall we? Even when attractions are "the same" at WDW as they are at Disneyland, that doesn't always mean they're identical. This is truer the further you go back; more recent attractions like Soarin' and Star Tours are the same. Older attractions like Peter Pan's Flight, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and "it's a small world" are completely different, and they're all worth investigating!

I tried to board as many attractions as I could during my visit, and here's the good news: I didn't have trouble fitting into a single attraction vehicle. That's not to say that they were all comfortable or that I had room in them for company, but if I wanted to go on them, I could. I was by myself for most attractions on this trip, but on the whole, it was a wonderful experience! Some of the older dark rides I don't think would have accommodated me and another person, which is a bit of a drawback, but they're all worth trying!

For a full list of the attractions I tried and how they worked for me, check out my trip report in the At Large section of the site HERE. A few attractions that bear noting here are:

  • Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage – Aside from making me pine for the old 20,000 Leagues under the Sea attraction at the Magic Kingdom, I had no issues with this attraction, which surprised me. I thought the spiraling staircase might be problematic and I thought that legroom would be an issue. I was wrong – I had no problems on this attraction at all. At my height, the portholes through which we look out into the lagoon were a bit low, but there was plenty of room to lean forward and see everything that was going on. Great attraction! I was lucky enough to ride it with a family from Australia, so that just added to the theming.
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye – This one hurts the knees every bit as much as DAK's Dinosaur, seeing as how they're identical vehicles, but the ride and the story are infinitely better, making it worth the pain. And the queue for this attraction is incredible too — it's worth taking your time in.
  • Splash Mountain – The single file seating on this attraction was a little tight, but much more comfortable for me than our side-by-side seating at WDW, which is murder on the knees. Disneyland's version of Splash Mountain also has a creepy little scene the Florida version doesn't have — after Brer Fox catches Brer Rabbit, as you make your way toward the lift hill for the big splash, you pass through a small scene with a couple of mother animals singing a wistful song to their children about how Brer Rabbit is about to meet his fate. It was great.
  • Casey Jr. Circus Train – There are several seating options on this attraction as every train car is different (including a monkey cage for the smaller set), so just about anyone of any body type should be able to find a comfortable seat on this charming little ride.
  • Storybook Land Canal Boats – This was like the Jr. Jungle Boats (including bad jokes); it's a cute little ride, but it's a little unnerving when, as you go to exit the attraction, they ask everyone to stand up at the same time so the boat doesn't rock and no one gets pitched into the water.
  • Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin – An absolutely fantastic modern dark ride, this attraction is a must for any fan of the movie. It has some of the zaniness of the old Mr. Toad's Wild Ride we used to have at WDW, and I highly recommend it. I had no trouble at all with the ride vehicles on this attraction.
  • Sleeping Beauty's Castle – Disneyland's castle houses a walk-through attraction, the story of Sleeping Beauty told through little vignettes, and I thought it was extremely well done. The darkened hallways are reminiscent of the caves/tunnels on Tom Sawyer Island, but INSIDE the iconic castle. That was an unexpectedly fun diversion, but it may be difficult for anyone who has trouble with low light conditions or stairs (or the mixture of the two!).
  • Tom Sawyer Island – Speaking of caves and tunnels, Disneyland's Tom Sawyer Island has a lot more of those than WDW's version has, and it's clear that many of them are intended strictly for the small fry. The ceilings were very low — often less than 6-feet high, I'd say — and many of the passages were extremely narrow. The Pirate overlay they have is interesting, and it's fun, but I wouldn't trade WDW's Tom Sawyer Island (with a fort you can still go in!) for anything. I love that place!
  • Fantasmic! – I hate to say it, but Disneyland's version of this far outshines WDW's. The staged fight between Captain Hook and Peter Pan up in the rigging of the Columbia-Sailing-Ship-Turned-Pirate-Frigate as it comes around Tom Sawyer Island was just incredible, much better than the Pocahontas story we are treated to at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Oh, and their dragon makes ours look like papier-mache. The one upgrade WDW has over Disneyland for this attraction is that WDW has seating. In Disneyland, you just have to find a spot around the Rivers of America and hang out to catch the show, similar to how you have to find a good location around the World Showcase Lagoon to watch IllumiNations.
  • The Matterhorn Bobsleds were closed for refurbishment during my visit this time as they replace the ride vehicles. Their ride vehicles were identical to the ones that WDW's Space Mountain used to have, and the rumor is that their new ones will be just like the ones that WDW's Space Mountain has now. I also understand their yeti still works!

There are countless other attractions at Disneyland that you should absolutely take the time to enjoy. I recommend trying them all! If you're a fan of Walt Disney World and you enjoy the inclusiveness of the attractions there, you won't be disappointed in Disneyland — you'll enjoy the attractions there just as much as I did. And that goes for Disney California Adventure too, although I'll chime in with my thoughts on that park in a future article.

As a side note, I have to say that the maintenance and upkeep at Disneyland puts the Florida parks to shame. Splash Mountain is a great example of this. In Florida, Splash Mountain rarely has all the effects or audio-animatronics working at the same time. The projected image of Brer Rabbit hopping over the hill doesn't even always work, and that's just a video loop (one time, the projector bulb was flashing up the words "replace bulb," which is terrible show), but the upkeep of the attraction in California was stellar. In the finale scene with the big paddleboat, every figure in that room was immaculate. The patterns of color and even the individual feathers on the chickens were perfect. And this sort of attention to detail and commitment to maintenance is clearly visible all over Disneyland.

All that said, if you have the opportunity to experience Disneyland, it is absolutely worth the trip!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Guest Columnist Joshua Olive, 37, is 6 feet 6 inches tall and hovers around the 400-pound mark. He's been a BIG fan of Walt Disney World since his first visit in 1979 and he just keeps on coming back. A proposal writer for a government contractor by day, Josh is a musician, an actor, a photographer, and a comic book store owner the rest of the time. He served as a peer reviewer for PassPorter's Open Mouse, a Disney guidebook for people with any type of special needs, written by AllEars.Net's Deb Wills and Debra Martin Koma.

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Walt Disney World At Large:

Other "Big Picture" features by Josh Olive:

Walt Disney World Attraction Seating Photo Gallery:

Disneyland Attraction Seating Photo Gallery:


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.