Monday, November 22, 2010

Disneyland - Is It Just Me Or...? (Vol. III)

Is it just me or...
  • should the Plaza Pavilion be a place to eat rather than a spot to renew an annual pass?
  • are Disneyland ducks still among the luckiest on the planet?
  • can Toontown use a paint job?
  • should Davey Jones get out of the Pirates and go back to his locker? (Does anyone else miss the disembodied voice in the darkness: "Perhaps ye knows too much. Ye've seen the cursed treasure. Ye knows where it be 'id.")
  • is New Orleans Square simply gorgeous all decked out for the holidays?
  • has anyone else been jolted with surprise by a blast from the Monorail's horn as the elevated train rounds the bend into Fantasyland, headed for the Matterhorn?
  • was that the Wicked Queen peeking out of her window above Snow White's Adventures?
  • has the Dole Whip line gotten out of hand?
  • would anyone else just love to hop off the Storybookland Canal Boats and get an up close look at the miniatures? (I got to do it once---I was a sweeper; the incident involved a diaper tossed onto the streets of Pinocchio's Village; not pretty).
  • are the current Fantasyland costumes a little "poochy" in the pants? (and what's with the hats they give those poor cast members to wear?)
  • is this the window above the entrance to Club 33?
  • is a Plaza Inn pot roast dinner on a cool evening pretty darn good comfort food?
  • is an "edgier" Mickey Mouse about as good an idea as a gangsta rap album by Bambi and Flower? ("Yo! Ma homies an' me are gettin' wicked in tha thicket!")
  • does the fact that Disney had to put doors on its trams tell us the world has become far too risk averse and litigation conscious? Hundreds of millions of guests were able to safely and successfully board Disneyland parking lot trams for five decades without a need for doors.
  • do you bump the car ahead of you on the Autopia---even though it is forbidden?
  • does anyone else think the model of the Capitol in the Lincoln foyer is just too cool.
  • would you be worried if this guy tried to lead you deep into an untamed jungle?
  • is anyone else hungry for turkey, stuffing and all the fixin's?
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Monday, November 15, 2010

Disneyland - It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas!

We decided to hit the Park this past Friday, November 12, 2010 in an effort to kick start our Christmas Holiday season. I clicked a few cellphone camera shots, so you will have to excuse the quality. Nevertheless, they do give you a sense of the great decorations that have been carefully hung throughout the place.

We start, of all places, on Main Street, with the icy blue Sleeping Beauty Castle shining above the heads of the crowd. It was quite crowded, even though Southern California AP holders were blocked out. No matter, we were there to see the Park, not ride many attractions. There was a crowd around the Christmas tree on Main Street, near where this photograph was taken. The holiday music and sparkling lights had their desired and expected effect. To quote Paul McCartney: "Simply. Having. A wonderful Christmas time!"
Our dear friend Sleeping Beauty once again outdid herself with the Christmas lights over at the Castle. She could give Clark Griswold a run for his money. I took this shot at the west entrance to Fantasyland, along the little path from Plaza Gardens.
And in the courtyard of the Castle in Fantasyland, we have this cool blue view.It's A Small World was completely adorned in Christmas light finery once again. We made sure to jump on this attraction immediately after the fireworks and the "snowfall." It was great.
We weren't initially planning on watching the fireworks, but we ended up over by Small World at around 8:15 p.m. and the show was set to start at 8:40-ish, so we figured we would plant ourselves. We found a great spot along Small World way and were soon surrounded by a crowd of folks. My wife and I were there with our two daughters and two very dear friends, all of us ridiculously seasoned Disneyland veterans.

The lights went down and the show began. It was really well done, as you would expect.
But something else happened. As we stood there watching the glittering fireworks sprinkle against the black night sky and bounced to the holiday music of the show, we felt it.
I held my youngest daughter up so she could see, her small body nestling in my arms. My older daughter and her mom were beside us, along with our friends. The crowd was full of parents and children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, couples and acquaintances.

As the music died and the last flickers of glowing fireworks drifted down out of the sky, we felt the electric tingle of, what's the word I'm looking for?---magic. The kind that starts at your feet and rises up like a flood of water in a basement. The goosebumpy kind. The can't-quite-put-your-finger-on-it, but you know it's there, variety. It takes you by surprise, like an unexpected kiss from a first love. Especially when you are a veteran. Someone who feels they've "been there, done that." Not the type to buy into sappiness. Nope. You think you're immune. Over it. Cool, calm, collected. A smooth operator.

But it swells around you nonetheless. It starts in the silence as the cheers die off. The lights are out and the "snow" machines start to make their hissing noises above you. The eyes of everyone around you---even your own---look skyward. A hum of anticipation resounds in the crowd like an echo or the proverbial rings in pond.
The blue lights come up and there against the clear black sky are tiny clumps of soapy bubbles, your logical brain informs you. But the people there will have no such logic get in their way. As the familiar strains of White Christmas gently caress you, and as the "snow" machines kick into high gear, you eyes begin to truly see.
The children reach up and lift their faces skyward. The parents, too. Against the black sky and sparkling under the show lights, what at first were just dumb old soap bubble clumps have now morphed into flakes of drifting snow.
Time slows.
The moment overtakes us. A silence, a joy, folds over everyone like a blanket.
Standing together in the crowd, it seems as if each person is alive to the "first snowfall" of the season. The music lulls and the flakes drift and the faces glow. Kids become gleeful and adults seem to bask in it---reentering their own youthful selves in the moment, without even trying.
Dropping my youngest to the ground so she can stretch her arms and dance in the snow, I see my wife. Her eyes are rimmed with tears as she takes in the scene. So are the eyes of her best friend, standing near her. This is real joy, heart bursting love. It is togetherness, family, peace, anticipation, excitement and tingly "magic," all happening at once.
We never saw it coming.
I felt the emotion welling in me, as though it were riding the cresting wave that had begun rising somewhere around my feet but had now fully engulfed my chest. I saw my wife, my daughters, my friends, my fellow guests---all of us---caught up in this instant, happily playing in the "snow."
As the music died and the machines clicked off, the last flakes floated out of the air. The electric moment passed like a supremely satisfied sigh. We adults looked at each other. Shocked and a bit taken aback by what had just occurred. Hadn't we done this a hundred times before? What in heaven was THAT?! And we smiled with satisfaction. My wife and her friend dabbed at the corners of their eyes. A bunch of old salty Disney professionals had been hit by wonder. Smack dab in the middle of Small World Way!
Go figure.

It may be a bit early, but here's wishing you all a very, merry Christmas!


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tower of Terror - Main Entrance Photos

Hello fellow adventurers and adventurettes. I have been a bit indisposed of late and apologize for the drop in daily posts. Hope to have the situation under control soon, but bear with me.

A great way to post quickly without having to engage in deep thought is to fire up some random park photographs.

Today we "drop in" on the Tower of Terror over at that other park across the way.

If you do not find the theming of this attraction to be on point and top notch, perhaps you have consumed a bit too much of Trader Sam's world famous Juju Juice (oh, my head!).

The fan window over the main entrance doors seems to imply some sort of "elevator" theme. I don't get it.

Next we find one of the tables in the lobby where a couple of guests left---apparently in mid-game and mid-drink. At least one was a smoker if the ash tray to the right is any indication.

The main lobby's ceiling is neatly detailed in the diamond square motif, betraying a Moorish influence and hearkening back to California in the 1920s.

We move to the main lobby fireplace and find comfortable club chairs. A doctor appears to have left his satchel behind, where it has been gathering dust and cobwebs like the rest of the place. The owl in the foreground is ominous, especially when set against the dead flowers around its base. It reminds me of one of Norman Bates' taxidermy specimens from the Bates Motel in Psycho. Someone left their trench coat draped over the check-in counter. These guests must have left in a hurry.

Next, a closer view of our owl friend, with the fireplace in the back ground. Looks like the grate of the fireplace is mirroring the elevator motif of the main entrance window. Love the Hollywood Tower Hotel monogram on the tapestry over the fireplace.

Finally, the front counter, with the hat, umbrella, trench coat and guest registry book left by someone in the middle of check-in. Love the fedora.

My youngest daughter loves this attraction. She has been riding it from the moment she met the height requirement. It is pretty funny to watch a tiny blonde girl boldly striding to her seat in the elevator while certain grown adults around her are looking more than slightly terrified.

When the TV set in the library bursts to life after the lightning strike and the lights have gone out, you are really pulled in to the "Twilight Zone." I sure do miss old Rod Serling. What a writer! It amazes me the acting talent that graced the Twilight Zone series, from a young Robert Redford, to Telly Zavalas, to Burgess Meredith, to Sebastian Cabot ("Jungle Book" fans will recognize his voice), to Sterling Holloway (the voice of "Winnie the Pooh"), to Andy Devine, to Carol Burnette (yes, THAT Carol Burnette), to Burt Reynolds.

Tower of Terror is one of the newer attractions at California Adventure that I can endorse without, pardon the pun, "reservation."

Have a great day, wherever you may be!


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Disneyland - Quick Tips

  • Arrive early, no matter what time of year you come to the Park---if you want to get a lot of attractions in.
  • When there are two lines into an attraction, always hop into the shorter one---especially if there is a large, empty gap where people think the other side is closed. Believe me, if a line is closed at Disneyland, you will know it. There will be ropes, chains, trash cans or other objects clearly blocking it off. If it's open and way shorter than the other side, take it!
  • With FastPass, like the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, choose wisely. Pick the two or three FastPass attractions you do not want to miss and get your FastPasses in the morning and around noon. Don't wait until the afternoon, as they may well be "sold out" by then for the more popular attractions.
  • If something should go wrong during your visit, be sure to bring it the attention of a cast member---they are there to help and make things right, especially if the issue is something that Disneyland caused or contributed to, even accidentally. Case in point: our son at age five went with us on the Storybookland Canal Boats and sat in duck poop. The attraction hostess sent us over to her lead, who promptly provided us with a special card that allowed us to go to a merchandise location and get him a new outfit---no charge. We never forgot that.
  • Eat when no one else does. Have an early lunch at 10:30 or 11:00 a.m., why wait until the noon hour when most everyone else in the place decides they are hungry, too? Just means longer lines. Try a 3:30 or 4:00 p.m. dinner---or 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. if you can hold out until later. You will be able to get better service and seating, with much less wait time.
  • Know the Park's flow. If you do arrive early, most folks march immediately toward Space Mountain, Indiana Jones and Fantasyland. Make your decision which direction you intend to go and head there immediately. If you do not get to Fantasyland within the first 30 to 40 minutes after rope drop, you will already be "too late" for rides like Dumbo and Peter Pan. The lines for these popular attractions fill up immediately and pretty much remain full for most of the rest of the day. Late, post-fireworks tip for folks with kids who can stay up late without turning into maniacal urchins: if you line up at the rope that is put up between the Carousel and Mr. Toad as the fireworks are starting, you will be among the first in line for Peter Pan and Mr. Toad when the rope is finally dropped after the fireworks show ends and the Disneyland Fire Department gives the "all clear" for entering back into this section of Fantasyland.
  • Ask for the back row on Big Thunder when you reach the cast member at the top of the stairs. It is the best seat in the house.
  • If you are a regular visitor, make friends with some cast members on attractions you like. Ask for them when you go back. It often pays to know someone! I had a few Jungle groupies who would get front row seats when I saw them waiting to board. Now, no one is going to give you a free pass to the front of the line, but they will give some insider tips and it never hurts to have a friend on the "inside."
  • Grab a seat at Village Haus on fireworks nights. There are plenty of open chairs and you get an up close view of the show. Sure, you will miss out on the portions of the display that occur at the front of the Castle, but you also avoid the maddening crowd on Main Street---and the show is still great (with a little added ooomph! to the booms as the fireworks ignite)!
  • The River Belle Terrace is usually not too crowded at the dinner hour (most folks either don't notice it or think it is an exclusively "breakfast" location).
  • Catch Billy Hill and the Hill Billies over at the Golden Horseshoe.
  • Ride Jungle Cruise at night!
  • If you are going to the park with a group---from school or from work or some other gathering or family reunion, then definitely ride the Jungle Cruise all together! The boat will hold 40 or so of your friends and family and, with the right skipper, a boat full of people who know each other can make things interesting!
  • Spend a night or two at the Grand Californian if you get the chance. Nice. And when you wake up, you're already at Disneyland!
  • Check with the Guest Relations cast member at the information post on the west side of the Hub near the entrance to the old Plaza Pavilion for questions about attraction breakdowns, wait times and upcoming shows or parades.
  • Talk to a Disneyland Railroad cast member about taking a ride on the Lilly Belle.
You Jungle readers a hip to the scene, but occasionally we get a few folks in here who can use some simple, helpful tips.

Many happy returns to the Park is my wish for each and every one of you!


Friday, November 5, 2010

Disneyland - Coyotes in the Break Area - Santa's Helpers

You Disneylanders know the large wooden gates that are on either side of the walkway where Thunder Trail connects to Fantasyland. The northern gates lead to an access tunnel under the berm and into the back area.

The southern set of gates lead to the back area behind Village Haus, Pinocchio, Snow White, Carnation Plaza Gardens, Rancho de Zocalo and Big Thunder. There is a makeshift break area back there, with a picnic table. Also, if you head into the Village Haus building, you can grab a snack at the employee window and then head downstairs to a break area deep under the building.

The open air break area is unique because your 15 minutes is spent with the howling coyotes of Big Thunder just to the other side of the fence, who set off in chorus each time a train rolls past. You can also hear them clearly as you walk along Thunder Trail near the Thunder Ranch Barbeque, but they are particularly noisy for the cast members on their break.

I remember an early morning Fantasyland opening shift in November when the night crew were still in full swing at the end of their shift. As I was coming on before Park opening, both sets of gates near the break area were open, and along came a chain of vehicles and lift trucks, parading through on their way from the backstage area north of the Park and off toward Fanstasyland and Main Street and regions beyond.

It is particularly awesome this time of year, as the Disney crews get ready to spruce up the place for the Holidays. You can imagine the small army of folks who scurry around after normal operating hours in order to hang miles of garland, strings of lights, thousands of wreaths and, of course, Main Street's massive Christmas tree on Town Square. We are about a week away from Disneyland's debut of its Christmas season decorations---which go up about 10 days before Thanksgiving and remain for the duration of the season.

I must say, modern Disneyland does an amazing job of decorating the Park, both for "Halloween Time" and for Christmas. If you have not made it here during either of these seasons, you must make it a priority to do so; you will not be disappointed. Annual Passholders and locals are well aware of this---which is why there are so many block out days during the Christmas season (as they'd pack the Park 'til the ground could no longer be seen). Christmas is actually as busy as, if not slightly busier than, the summer season. Well worth it.

Bundle up, grab some cocoa and hie thee hence to Disneyland for the decorations. Believe me, hundreds, if not thousands, of cast members are scurrying around as we speak to get the Park ready. You should see Disneyland's attic! Boxes and boxes of bulbs, ornaments, strings of lights, wreaths, etc., etc. It must be fun to have to drag that stuff down and begin the long process of decorating...

Allow me to be among the first to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and a Merry Christmas. Darn, looks like the malls already beat me to it!


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Disneyland - Dead Head on a Slow Night

Despite the title, this is not an entry about Jerry Garcia or "Truckin'" through the Jungle.

Jungle develops its own cool vibe as night falls. The crowd thins and the queue empties to a trickle. The lights of the dock flicker gently while the sounds of the Jungle intensify. Drums, bird calls, flowing waters.

As the attraction slows into the end of its normal operating day, boat after boat is taken off line and sent back to storage or, more likely, to either the spur side or catwalk side of the unload dock. You will see empty boats along the catwalk in the middle of the river.

The few remaining skippers are able to take more leisurely cruises through the rivers of the world---without boats immediately ahead of or behind them. Between trips, empty boats form a mini traffic jam along the dock, with one sitting at "load" and two or three in line behind it.

This was a time I enjoyed. Nights on Jungle. Especially in the summer. The air was warm and alive, even if the guest count was down to near nil. When things got this slow the chances increased that you would hear two words that rang in your ears as sweetly as "Mark Twain!" sounded to Samuel Langhorne Clemens. To a steamboat captain, "Mark Twain!" was music because it meant your vessel was in navigable deep water. To a Jungle skipper, the two words would be called out to you from the lead in the Jungle office: "Dead Head!"

Dead Head.

Okay. These two words rhyme, Mike, but I'm not getting why they are so special.

Allow me to explain. A "dead head" is an empty Jungle boat that is dispatched from the load position, sending its skipper on a solo trip through the jungle. When more than a few minutes pass while a group of boats are lined up at the dock waiting for guests, the lead will occasionally send the lead boat out with no guests aboard.

If you are the skipper of that boat, you put down your P.A. mike, tilt back your hat, lean back against the bow railing and push the throttle handle forward ever so smoothly. The engine raises its voice a bit and soon you are watching the empty dock recede behind you as you and your boat embark on a tour of the Jungle alone, at night, mano-y-junglo.

The first thing you do is turn off the exterior lights along the boat's canopy. The inky, green darkness settles around you and the accent lighting glows dimly along the river's edge. The "ancient Cambodian shrine" glows silently before you, while the Bengal tiger's roar sounds as loud as you've ever heard it. With the engine throttled just above "idle," you chug up river like Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. The archway leading to the Sacred Bathing Pool of the Indian Elephants glides overhead and there you are, alone with your thoughts and a trumpeting elephant with its own "private shower." There are lights, but it is pretty dark for you and your boat. The trees along the shoreline form a dark canopy. You feel far from everything---smack dab in the heart of Orange County.

Pulling back on the throttle, you bring your boat to a crawl as the squirting elephant rises up and sprays your bow. Don't forget that guy! Many a rookie skipper (and even a veteran or two) has cruised along past the elephant in the waterfall---which magically triggers the squirter to start his routine---and forgotten to stop or slow their boat. The result is that your boat slips along beside the squirting elephant, which proceeds to douse you and the entire right side of your boat, with almost pinpoint precision. If you ever see a Jungle skipper come back to the dock with his or her shirt dripping wet---they forgot to stop after the bathing pool. Oops.

But not you. You're an old skipper. Been through this jungle thousands of times. As the elephant rises a second time, you push the throttle and chug ahead---quite dry, thank you---to the now extremely noisy gaggle of baboons off to your right. An explosion erupts in the waters ahead of you and there are our gorilla friends ransacking the safari camp. This scene looks really cool at night with all your boat lights off.

Derailing is a concern with an empty boat---or even a full one.

There are several spots along the river where it is important to throttle forward and avoid at all costs any slowing or dilly dallying. One of these spots is the stretch just after you turn past Schweitzer Falls. You remember to give the boat gas through this particularly dark section until you are just abreast or slightly past the first African Bull Elephant over to the left of your boat. His bellow is very loud when you are out there alone. And his mother-in-law's answer off to the right is even louder and longer.

Back in here, I would often open the door where my radio was located and bend down to take a listen. Sometimes you would catch some radio traffic, but usually not. Tonight? Nope. Nothing. Oh well, Hi Zebras! Hello Lions!! And there's that lost safari still caught in their embarrassing predicament, lo these almost 40 years. You wave to the poor guy on the bottom, have a snicker with the hyenas and prepare to throttle through the turn leading into the hippo pool (another spot ripe for a derail if you are not careful!).

Hippos surround you. It's too much to resist. You lift your .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver and hold it straight out, pointing just over their heads. You quickly cap off two rounds---which is very loud when there is no one on the boat---and when you are not holding the gun high above your head over the canopy, as you would normally do, but are pointing it straight out just below ear level. Ah. That felt good. Another vessel saved from sure hippo destruction.

Making the turn into headhunter country, you lean on the throttle again until you get to the skull canoe---which looks pretty realistic in the night. If you go too slow through this turn in the river, your boat's rear guide will slip off the rail and you will be stranded until help arrives to get you back on track. Sure, in the old days, most skippers had a pretty good sense of how their boat worked. They would stride back to the box where the guide sits and do their best to try and lift it back onto the rail by themselves. Sometimes it worked. Crisis avoided. You would never do this with guests on board though. For one thing, the boat is just too heavy to handle. For another, you never leave the controls!!!

Natives dance in the dark ahead of you like a Bruce Springsteen song. Soon you are attacked by an angry tribe to your left. They rise from the darkness and create quite a noisy scene. Unfazed, you stare them down until they crouch back into the bushes.

The backside of water. There's something you don't see every day. Here is another potential derail zone, so keep your boat moving until you get to the piranhas. After they attack, you round the bend to old Trader Sam. Your eyes glance up at the two green lights in the shield near Sam. All clear. If you saw red lights flashing there, you had better stop. That means the rail switch ahead of you has been thrown to allow a boat to be taken off or brought onto the main line. Should you fail to stop your boat and keep plugging around the bend toward the dock, your front guide would slip off the track and you would derail---in the pool right before the unload dock, as your lead looks on in horror and disgust from the track switch station at the end of the unload area. The radio would erupt: "Ops 1, this is Jungle Control: Jungle is 101." More sweet words to an old Jungle skipper's ears, "Jungle is 101." It would take at least 15 minutes to half an hour to get a repair team dispatched to address the derail and get the attraction back up and running. One or two of you would be sent to man the queue and advise guests that the attraction was down. The rest might earn a quick break.

Because you are not a rookie, you cruise past Sam and round the final bend leading to the unload dock. You wave at the skips standing at unload and bring the boat to a stop. While waiting there, you pop open your revolver, discharge the two spent rounds and reload for the next trip. Believe me, you will carry this rare dead head trip with you for a good long while.