Growing up, my grandparents had a condo in Fort Myers, Florida, that we would visit nearly every year. I always looked forward to those vacations–deciding between the big and little pools; watching Grandpa get in trouble for rattling the pipes when he turned on the faucet in the morning; endless games of euchre; having my picture taken next to a palm tree that was planted about the time I was born to see how our growth compared.
Some years we would drive down and other years we would fly. The first time I ever flew without my parents was on one of those trips to Florida. I was about 12 years old, and I took my responsibility for getting myself and my two younger brothers successfully through our connecting flight to Fort Myers very seriously.
When my brothers and I secured our driving permits, we started driving my grandparents down to Florida during Christmas break. It gave us extra time with them, it gave our parents a break, and hopefully it made the trip a little easier on my grandparents, who were no longer exclusively responsible for the 18-hour drive.
Especially when we were younger, a trip to Florida not only meant time with our grandparents at the condo and on the beach, it meant time at Disney World! We would go almost every year, and I certainly had my favorite rides and experiences.
As we got older, we also loved the other theme parks, especially Epcot and Hollywood Studios. But I have to admit, I hold special memories molded by the magic of Disney.
Despite having been to Disney World more times than I can count, I had never been to Disneyland. It always seemed less superior. (I mean, the world is bigger than any area of land, right?) I was more intrigued by the fact that Disneyland was Walt Disney’s original theme park, and the only theme park designed and built under his supervision. I assumed that someday I would visit.
It’s been many years since I’ve been to Disney World, and despite my belief that I would eventually experience Disneyland, it just never seemed to happen. There are simply too many places to visit, and Disneyland has never made it to the top of my list. In addition, Brian has little interest in Disney and no interest in battling children and long lines in order to experience rides he already knows won’t hold a flame to the theme parks of our youth, like Cedar Point.
While he certainly has a point about the rides, he has completely missed the magic of the rest of the Disney experience. There has been no way to convey to him the memories driving my desire to experience a Disney park once again.
Recently Brian had to go to LA for a work conference, and I was fortunate enough to have some available PTO so I could tag along. While we had some time together on our travel day, visiting a few Hollywood highlights and exploring Santa Monica Pier together, we had to spend the two days of the conference apart. We rented the car in my name so I would have the freedom to drive around and entertain myself while he was working, and I didn’t have to think twice about how I was going to spend one of those days–I was FINALLY going to Disneyland!
I woke up on Tuesday morning, pulled on my red and white polka dot shirt (which I have owned for years and never associated with Disney until I was packing for this trip and realized it was the OBVIOUS apparel choice!), slathered myself in sunscreen, and set off for Anaheim.
Whether it was my mood or that the world knew where I was headed, I’ll never know, but LA traffic was light and I was parked and on a tram to Disneyland before I knew it!
I already had my ticket so I headed toward the front gate, eagerly searching for the marching band I could hear performing just inside. I scanned my ticket, went through the turnstile, and found myself staring up at amazing Halloween decorations featuring all my favorite characters with the main train station in the background and a line of trumpeters wailing ‘Under the Sea.’ I had arrived!
There were people everywhere, but I had a plan. The Disneyland app is awesome and shows the real-time waits for all of the rides. I didn’t care if I made it to all parts of the park–I really just wanted to make it to all the rides of my childhood to see if they were as magical as I remembered.
My first stop was Fantasyland, which was directly behind the castle at the end of Main Street USA. As I was walking down the street, I was paying less attention to the contents of all the shops and eateries and more to exterior building design. I was remembering the scene from Saving Mr. Banks where Tom Hanks, as Walt Disney, talked about how he incorporated his father into the design. It was really neat to see it in person.
There were already people lined up for every ride, and I was definitely the only solo adult. I got over that right away and headed straight for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, beginning the circuit of childhood favorites–the Snow White experience, exploring Sleeping Beauty’s castle, the Mad Hatter’s tea cups, and the one I was really anticipating–Peter Pan’s Flight.
At the risk of sounding completely ridiculous, I am going to confess that for my whole 33 years of life, I have wondered how this ride works. You step into the pirate ship, Tink hits you with fairy dust, and away you go. There’s no track–I remember leaning way over and trying to figure out how we were flying over London and off to Neverland. This ride, maybe more than any other, has remained magical to me.
As my pirate ship pulled up, it was obvious to my adult self how the ride works. I was a little sad to learn there wasn’t actually magic at work, until I considered the impression this ride left on me as a child–an impression that lasted for decades. Maybe there is some magic here after all.
I wrapped up my Fantasyland experience at everyone’s favorite ride, It’s a Small World. I don’t remember exactly what this ride looks like from the outside at Disney World, but at Disneyland, it’s absolutely beautiful! I loved hopping in my boat and traveling through all of the different cultures, which culminated with a beautiful display of giant postcard stamps from various countries. I even enjoyed listening to the song on repeat throughout, especially when all of the little kids in my boat were singing along with it!
After several hours in Fantasyland I made my way over to Tomorrowland. I tried to reflect on my experiences in this area of the park at Disney World and all I could remember was Space Mountain—the only ‘coaster’ and the one ride everyone wanted to experience!
The sentiment at Disneyland was similar—Space Mountain and Star Wars – The Adventures Continue both had lengthy wait times the whole day. I had purchased the front of the line option with my park pass so I could overcome the lines and see as much of the park as possible in my one day, but I didn’t end up using because it simply wasn’t possible for me to be on that strict of a schedule. You had to a request front of the line access through the app, it assigned you a time to show up at the ride, and then you still had to wait to get on. And you could only sign up for one ride at a time. There has to be a better way, Disney!
Basically all of Tomorrowland is focused on outer space, and to tie in merchandising and make it relevant to today’s audiences, this was all in context of Star Wars. I love Star Wars and enjoyed walking through the Star Wars Launch Bay exhibit and going on the Star Wars ride.
The one element of this section of the park that wasn’t related to Star Wars was the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, which is an updated version of the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride I remember from my childhood! Similar to Peter Pan’s Flight, this ride also perplexed me as a child. You got on the submarine and dove to the depths of the ocean to see all kinds of crazy marine life before returning to the surface.
Clearly you are actually in a pool—so how did they manage this magical moment? Using bubbles! The ride was the same but instead of the 20,000 Leagues Under the Scene theme, you were watching Nemo and friends via some pretty crazy animation using the windows of the ride as you coasted along under water.
The final two areas of the park I explored were Adventureland and Frontierland. Adventureland is all about exotic locales, and I didn’t have to wait long to go on the Jungle Cruise or the Indiana Jones Adventure.
As with some of the other rides I’ve mentioned, I could see the modern takes on some of my childhood favorites, like the Swiss Family Robinson tree house being transformed into Tarzan’s Tree House, and one of my all-time favorites, the pirate ride, being updated with elements from Pirates of the Caribbean.
The one activity I really wanted to experience was the Enchanted Tiki Room, which I also loved when I was a kid. I was really bummed that it was closed the whole day for some sort of maintenance. It will simply have to remain in my mind as a really happy memory!
Frontierland is all about the adventures of the Wild West, and while I enjoyed walking through the old west-style town and seeing the Mark Twain riverboat cruises, the ride I most remembered from when I was young was the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. It’s still a pretty fun ride!
I was more tired than I thought I would be after I finished in Frontierland. I thought maybe the number of people would diminish by the afternoon with parents getting small children home for dinner and bedtime, meaning more access to rides and fewer people to navigate. While I think that was somewhat true, what I didn’t anticipate was people coming over from the other park, especially teenage kids and adults, who wanted to experience Disney Halloween as it was starting to get dark.
As I was making my way out of Frontiertown, I stopped to check out the Day of the Dead display, which was also a small plug for the new Disney Pixar film Coco. I’ll have to add that one to my list!
Although I wasn’t interested in staying for the trick or treat scene, I did think it would be fun to experience the Haunted Mansion ride as part of the park’s spooky after-dark experience. I took the train around to the mansion, applied for the front of the line opportunity, and learned it would still be 45 minutes before I could even get in line–no estimate on when I would actually get to ride. I couldn’t do it–it was getting late and I needed to drive back to Long Beach so I decided to forego the Haunted Mansion and make my way back to our hotel.
Overall my day at Disneyland was everything I had hoped it would be–a stress-free day of rides and adventures that brought back lots of great memories from my childhood. While I couldn’t make it to every ride, and while I didn’t really get to see any Disney characters roaming around, the rest of my experience more than met my expectations.
Although I didn’t end up taking advantage of the front of the line pass portion of my ticket upgrade, the one thing that I did use–and that made the upgrade worthwhile for me–was the ability to get pictures. Since I was alone, I didn’t know how I would get a great picture of myself somewhere in the park. I really didn’t want to take a bunch of selfies, and I didn’t want to interrupt anyone else’s park experience for my photo opp.
When you have the photo upgrade, you can have the park photographers take your picture at different places throughout the park and load them to your account so you can download them on your phone or computer. I had one of the photographers take my picture in front of the castle, and I think the one photo perfectly sums up my experience–two thumbs up!
And, as with everything else at Disney, the photos they sent me were also touched with a little Disney magic. Enjoy!
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