After working for just over a month at the White Wolf Sanctuary, I had scheduled in some vacation time with my family. My sister and brother-in-law live in Canada, and they drove down to California at the end of August to meet up with my Mum and my partner who were flying in from New Zealand. My plan was to catch an early morning flight from Eugene, Oregon, and wait for a few hours at Los Angeles International Airport for everyone to arrive. Unfortunately, my journey wasn’t quite so simple – my flight was cancelled, and there was no room for me on any other plane until Friday (the solar eclipse had happened the previous day, and everything was booked with people getting out of the area), so a day that I had anticipated to be pretty cruisy turned in to something rather stressful as I tried to figure out how to get down to LAX.
I ended up arriving 20 hours later than scheduled after paying someone to drive me up to Washington to catch a flight from Seattle, missing the boarding time due to the heavy traffic (it ended up being an almost eight hour drive), getting put on later flight to a different airport in Los Angeles (meanwhile my luggage had been sent to LAX), and finally catching a shuttle to the hotel where my family were waiting. I pulled up just after midnight, more stressed and with a much lighter pocket than I had anticipated, and was bundled into a big hug right away. Phew. My sister told me not to worry – that tomorrow, at Disneyland, any stresses or worries I had would disappear straight away.
My mum has always told my sister and me that it’s been one of her dreams to take us to Disneyland. A couple of years ago, Mum travelled up to the USA from New Zealand to meet my sister for Christmas, and they went to Disneyland together (that was my sister’s first time visiting the park). This trip, Mum was even more excited because she got to have both of us there – and with our partners, which was an added bonus! I’d heard a lot about this place – the supposed Happiest Place on Earth – with mixed reviews; magical and joyful, versus long queues and too many people. I’m not really a crowd person nor do I have the most patient disposition, and as we approached the security lines I squeezed my partner’s hand, not knowing how we would find it (he wasn’t excited about the potential of standing around for hours in queues either). My mum, however, piped up that this was the quietest she’d ever seen it – we had arrived the week or so after school holidays, and had just missed one of their busiest times. Mum spent part of her childhood in California, and was no stranger to Disneyland, so I was really pleased to hear her say that.
We got through security, redeemed our tickets (a three-day Park Hopper pass, with a Magic Morning) and slowly got through the queue to the entrance. There was a constant Disney soundtrack playing, which really began to set the mood of excitement for me. Even the courtyard before the actual gates was impeccable, and tall banners showing Guardians of the Galaxy and other Marvel universe characters advertised this summer’s superhero theme of Disney California Adventure Park, a second theme park just opposite Disneyland. I enjoy the occasional comic, and have loved a lot of the Marvel movies, so the banners really sparked my interest – my sister told me to wait because we’d get there later. (“But I want to go nooooow!”)
As I was whisked into Disneyland by my family, my eyes widened – everything was so… Disney! And so beautiful! I grew up with classic Disney movies (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, etc.) so any time I spotted a poster for Peter Pan’s Flight, or saw a glass figurine of a Disney princess in a store window, a childish glee welled up inside of me. And suddenly, there it was – the blue and pink castle that I’ve seen in so many pictures! I was definitely a child again, and I wanted to see and do everything all at once. My sister was right; all of the stress and anxiety of the previous month washed away instantly. All the worries and grown-up-ness of adulthood disappeared; we were in Disneyland!
At my sister’s direction we grabbed a “Fast Pass” (which I didn’t quite understand, or care to at that point; I was too busy looking at all the wondrous shop fronts and rides and characters around me) for Indiana Jones, then set off to begin with an all-time favourite, the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. We zoomed between the zig-zag of queue railings (“There’s nobody here, this is amazing!”) and headed into a building that had a welcome, familiar log-flume type of smell. There was a relatively short queue to get through, which gave us a little time to admire the detail that had gone into transforming the room around us into a pirate’s cavern, and then we were in a boat and on our way. The ride was beautifully done, with so many things to look at. Two things really struck me; the way Disney could transform an indoor space to look and feel like an open ocean full of pirate ships under the night sky; and that the animatronics were done really well. I’ve seen animatronics that plummet straight down into the centre of the Uncanny Valley – you know, they look very human, but miss the mark and end up giving off this awfully creepy, sinister vibe instead. Disney do their animatronics very well – even their animals look great. I could definitely see why this ride is referred to as one of the best. During our time at the park we went on this one multiple times, always managing to pick up on different details.
Disneyland was simply a wonder. In New Zealand we have one relatively small theme park, Rainbows End, which can’t even compare. Having only been used to this, I was pretty blown away by the huge, big-budget fantasy world that was Disneyland. It was great having people who were already clued up on how best to get around the park, and we utilised Fast Passes really well – you can hold one Fast Pass per hour, it gives you a timeframe to come back and use it (e.g. 12:00-1:00pm), and during that time you are able to skip the main queue and get up to the front. We would grab a Fast Pass, head off and do a bunch of rides, come back at the allocated time, and then go and get another one. Alongside that I loved going through each of the themed stores (not spending anything on the first day, just getting an idea of the wide diversity of trinkets, merchandise and souvenirs available), absolutely fawning over the picture-perfect princesses and other characters wandering around, and eating far too much candyfloss. I ran after Alice in Wonderland, who was late to tea and simply couldn’t stay; saw Gaston showing off in front of a bunch of girls; almost cried when Belle and the Beast were on the carousel together… It was truly delightful. Although some of the rides were closed for maintenance, you don’t see or hear any construction while the park was open – nothing took away from the immersion. Every now and then you would walk out onto a street corner and find the fire brigade’s brass band playing, or a quartet of singers would wander along waving their hats, or Micky and Minnie Mouse would be giving hugs near a café. I’m a girl who reads fantasy books, loves movies with happy endings, and enjoys Live Action Role-Play as a hobby – I utterly adore escapism from reality, and Disneyland ticked all the boxes.
By the end of the night (the park closed at 11pm) Mum had gotten tired and headed home a little before the rest of us. We stayed on to do a couple of other rides to see how they differed in the night-time (I highly recommend Big Thunder Mountain Railroad!), and as we were making our way to the exit we heard music coming from over the lake so we walked over to investigate, only to find a moving pirate ship (whaaaaat!!!) with Jack Sparrow (whaaaaaaatttt!!!!) on board fighting some baddies whilst trying to rescue a poor girl who was strung to a rope! The ship sailed past us, and then there was Micky Mouse on stage fighting the evil queen who turned into an actual dragon! There were firebombs, explosions, lasers, cartoon pictures projected onto water fountains, and then another huge boat carrying all of the characters we had seen that day singing and waving to us – it was incredible! When we went home and told poor Mum she just about cried that she’d missed out – we vowed to take her back the following evening.
On the second day I awoke with some pretty sore feet, but there was no time to complain; we had a Magic Morning pass to use. Magic Mornings get you in to Disneyland earlier than the usual tickets do, and while not all of the rides are open you can get some good ones under your belt before the gates welcome the general public. We decided to try the Matterhorn Bobsleds, which turned out to be unexpectedly great, fast fun, and some others. I was content with the idea of wandering around looking into things I hadn’t yet seen, until my sister reminded me that there was a whole second park – Disney California Adventure – that we were set to go explore! Getting a Park Hopper ticket is essential if you’ve come a long way; it allows you to go back and forth between the two parks as many times as you like. Thus, off we went to a whole new world.
We made a beeline for the new Guardians of the Galaxy ride. This park definitely had a different theme going on – there were tall buildings everywhere, and somewhat tense superhero music playing in the streets. I was waiting for Spider Man to come flying off some roof, or for Captain America to come barrelling around a corner with his shield raised. The Guardians of the Galaxy tower (previously the Tower of Terror) loomed overhead, and as we got closer we stepped out onto a road – there was Groot standing and taking photos with people! I. LOVE. GROOT. I nearly passed out from sheer excitement. He looked amazing! And he was so sweet, patting peoples’ heads and sometimes trying to taste their hats! We wasted no time getting on the ride, but I made a note to make Groot one of my priorities of the day.
We got in to the ride very quickly – possibly a bit too quickly, actually, because there was so much to see along the way I didn’t have time to soak everything in. The premise was that the Guardians of the Galaxy had been taken prisoner by the infamous ‘Collector’, Taneleer Tivan, and we were going to view them in their display cases. Of course, should a sneaky opportunity to break them out arise, we would take it!
As I’ve mentioned before, I have a pretty decent anxiety issue. This doesn’t stop when it comes to certain rides. Anything that tips you upside-down? No way. Ridiculous heights? I would have to work myself up to it. Getting in to the GotG ride itself took us up staircases and through corridors, into large rooms with multiple doors and across raised platforms – I assumed that this is what they used the old Tower of Terror space for. As we finally sat in our seats preparing for the actual ride it reminded me greatly of the new Star Wars motion master in Disneyland (which was excellent, by the way). We buckled in (not to worry; just a procedure), and prepared to fool the Collector by helping the Guardians break out of their prison. But, smoothly, of course. Without any adrenaline. Just a nice, fun movie without anything crazy…
WELL. Turns out I had been a little misled about what the ride would be. My dear sister had nodded along with my original theory, too, despite the fact that although she had not yet been on the ride (it’s relatively new) she had read up about it. I had to laugh at the photo that was taken halfway through (my expression conveys exactly how I was feeling), and as my sister pointed out; if I’d known, would I have gone on it?
In saying that, I got talked into going on it again that day – and it actually became one of my favourite rides. On top of everything the Guardians of the Galaxy ride already has going for it, there are six possible soundtracks with slightly different visuals, and other randomised aspects of it – so it’s likely you’ll experience something different each time you hop on. I definitely learnt to love it by the end of the day.
My other favourite part of this park was Cars Land. This is going to sound terrible, but I’ve not actually seen any of the Cars movies so far (I know! It’s a priority now that I’m home) – but walking into this area made me want to watch them right away. Disney have done an incredible job of it; from the buildings, to the rides, to the themed diners, to actual cars driving around with singers and dancers following them, to the scenery – it was amazing. It was as if we had truly hitchhiked to this fun, hip hidden gem of an area in the high desert. Radiator Springs Racers is a must-do – unfortunately while we were queuing up the ride broke (even more unfortunate for those actually on the ride!) and we found that this sort of interruption was quite a common occurrence for this particular ride. I’d recommend getting a Fast Pass for it early, as they tend to run out later in the day. After we went on it as a group, we decided that splitting into Single Riders (which gets you on much faster) was a good idea – we didn’t get to go in a big group, but two of us would usually get in the same car, and we would often end up ‘racing’ each other too, which was fun.
This park closes a little earlier than Disneyland itself, and by the end of the day we had time to skip across to take mum to the show she had missed the previous night. Oh, I managed to snag a hug with Groot, too, and was not disappointed.
On the third day my feet were definitely feeling the strain of two days of stomping across concrete for over twelve hours. I’m glad we had a three-day pass – we now had time to do rides that we had missed out on, or really wanted to repeat, and also head over to another area we hadn’t visited yet; the Downtown Disney District. (What!!! More!?) This is a long promenade of shopping and food venues. I got a bit head over heels with the thought of all the souvenirs I could bring back for friends, and my partner had to gently bring me back to earth by reminding me that we’re on one permanent income at the moment. I did treat myself to a couple of things though – definitely worth it!
All in all? Disneyland is definitely a magical experience. They want you to spend money, of course, but this is not a necessity after you purchase your tickets (get accommodation close by and you can go home for meals). The little touches everywhere bring so much to the place – those of us who had never been to the park before were awarded with “1st Visit” badges that we displayed proudly (and we were given such a warm reception!), every single staff member is smiley and helpful (one lovely security guard had a chat with my partner and I one night and ended up getting us straight on to a ride we hadn’t been on yet), and the characters are perfect. I would go back in a heartbeat – and I’m pretty excited that there are five other parks around the world to explore. If you want a good breakdown of the different parks, pop over to my friend’s blog – she visited all six parks recently for her honeymoon.