It’s been far, far too long since I spent any amount of free time at Disneyland or Disney California Adventure. Despite making multiple trips from my home in Florida out to Anaheim over the last few years, I was always absorbed by the latest and greatest attraction, show, or land being debuted in grand fashion.
But now with all those grand openings, well, opened, my wife and I tacked on a couple extra days prior to the 2013 D23 Expo to explore the Disneyland Resort casually, with freedom to discover and enjoy anything new that caught our eyes – and subsequently our camera lenses.
And with that, it’s also time to revive ParkSpotting, a series of photo walks through theme parks that has remained dormant since my last post nearly two years ago. (Yes, I hope to once again do this more often.)
Since Disney finished its 5-year improvement plan for Disney California Adventure, that park has been my first stop ahead of Disneyland for my last few trips. And so that is where we begin this new ParkSpotting Adventure…
Disney California Adventure
Without a big special event to attend, it was an opportunity for us to enter the park early in the morning for a fun, full day at Disney California Adventure. Buena Vista Street is such a welcoming place, no matter the time of day, with Red Car Trolleys chiming with plenty of energy.
But not all is as it once was on Buena Vista Street. The street’s quaint and well propped windows formerly evoked the splendid theme of early Hollywood era California life. But today it appears Disney’s need to move their products has taken over, replacing (for example) the carefully chosen classic items with an explosion of mass-produced plushes.
Then (June 2012):
Now (August 2013):
This presumably sales-mandated alteration has run rampant throughout Buena Vista Street’s windows. It’s one of those details that most guests won’t realize has changed, but they also won’t ever again get the full effect of walking down the well decorated street as seen on opening day.
I also discovered another Buena Vista Street favorite has gone missing inside Trolley Treats. They no longer produce gourmet flavored marshmallows there, a delicious snack I picked up every time I visited the park over the last year. In fact, I still have a sealed watermelon marshmallow in my home pantry, now a souvenir.
No longer (photo from earlier this year):
But Trolley Treats does still live up to its name with plenty of yummy goodies hand crafted there each day.
Our early entry into the park afforded the opportunity to obtain one of the most coveted items around: a Radiator Spring Racers Fastpass. The Cars Land ride is still the most popular in the park and until this day I never once managed to get a hold of a Fastpass for it, as they disappear far too quickly. So we lined up and succeeded.
Issued less than 30 minutes after the park opened, it was already telling me to come back three hours later. Within another thirty minutes, all the Fastpasses would be gone for the day.
And thus the wait time of this amazing year-old ride still regularly exceeds two hours.
Fortunately with the use of the Single Rider line, we hopped on multiple times, including a fun trip around together (for once) courtesy of our Fastpasses.
Lunchtime is a no-brainer in Cars Land: Flo’s V8 Cafe. The twist on comfort food is fantastic and the view of the Radiator Springs Racers mountain range is even better, especially when some of the local residents roll by.
I also noticed something I hadn’t before, a Flo’s V8 Cafe sign hiding behind the nearby foliage. It’s opposite the mountain range, so I suppose I simply never looked back, always struck with awe at the expansive sight.
Circling around the park, we spotted a few new-to-us details.
Even in this day of ubiquitous cell phones, Disney California Adventure still provides pay phone access.
And here’s a waterside photo op I never noticed before, though I’m sure it’s been there for years.
Just as we entered Paradise Pier, a little Disney magic happened as I remembered that Goofy puts on a daytime show, conducting the World of Color fountains. And just as I mentioned it, he emerged.
It’s like he came out just for me.
Continuing our grand circle tour of the park, I stopped for an excellent photo op of the one ride I’ve never been on: Grizzly River Run.
I always say “next time” for this one, not wanting to walk around with wet socks all day.
Over in Condor Flats, I was surprised to see a plane not re-themed to the movie “Planes.”
Though nearby I did spot a “Dusty from all the crop dustin’?” sign, which wasn’t placed there to promote the film but now fits in.
On our way toward the clear opposite side of the park, we came across Sofia the First for the first time. I find her big head and huge eyes to be slightly creepy, but the little kids seemed to love her.
Inside the nearby Off the Page store, I was surprised to see the limited edition “Storytellers” statue still available as well as a first appearance by a New Fantasyland collectible that belongs in Florida, Gaston’s fountain.
Then it was off to catch a performance of the “Aladdin” musical, a favorite of mine. I’m not normally a big fan of stage shows, but this one is simply fantastic. And continuing the trend of firsts, we sat in the Mezzanine (upstairs) section, offering a lovely overview of the Tower of Terror on the way up.
And as always, the show was excellent, particularly enjoyable from this vantage point providing a grand overview of all the action. (Though it was also particularly hot up there, especially after climbing all those stairs.)
Nearby we briefly visited the Monsters University dorms where Mike Wazowski was just wrapping up his last appearance for the day before the Pixar Play Parade rolled through.
And a quick pitstop inside the Animation building was definitely in order, to rest for a bit in its entertaining (and air conditioned) lobby and venture further into the Beast’s Library. It was the first time I’d visited this spot in many years and now I much prefer the comparable room in the Be Our Guest restaurant in Florida.
Speaking of restaurants, dinner at Carthay Circle is a must for every trip to the Disneyland Resort now. It’s among the very best cuisine around, with an ever-changing seasonal menu. But before making it into the dining room, it’s always fun to check out the rotating Archives display, now featuring old Pinocchio items.
On this evening, I thoroughly enjoyed the summer tomato soup, incredibly moist thick cut pork chop (likely the best I’ve had), and the simple but sufficient chocolate cake to finish the meal.
And with our 3-course meal came Fastpasses for one of the best sections for World of Color. But with a little time to kill between dinner and the show, we opted for a spin on Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree – while the Disneyland fireworks burst in the background! Another first.
World of Color is still the perfect way to end an evening at Disney California Adventure, even after an exceptionally long 15 hours spent inside the park.
I still find it strange that my last year’s worth of trips, at least, have been spent visiting Disney California Adventure first and then remembering that there’s that good ol’ Disneyland park across the esplanade. That would never have happened just a few years ago, but it definitely shows how important Disney’s investment was to the second gate.
Disneyland, however, is still the perfect park. It’s the park that Walt personally created. It’s the park that no other has ever duplicated in quaintness and an extra special feeling that can’t quite be defined. It’s just Disneyland. And that’s where I headed the next day.
Though our collective Inside the Magic team extensively covered the development, construction, and opening of Fantasy Faire, this trip was my first chance to see it in person, making it my first stop on the way in. I was surprised to see just how hidden it is when approaching Sleeping Beauty Castle.
Then I was momentarily distracted by mountain climbers ascending the Matterhorn, a sight duplicated nowhere else in the world, certainly not at the parks where I’m from in Florida.
I was up again far too early and in need of some sustenance, so I figured trying my first Fantasy Faire twist should do the trick. Bad mistake.
The cheddar garlic bagel twist had a great taste but was incredibly dry, leaving me beyond thirsty. I mistakenly didn’t order a drink and the plan was to just peek into Fantasy Faire before rushing over to Fantasyland to catch the first performance of Mickey and the Magical Map, another new-to-me part of Disneyland. So I did that, parched, stopping only to wonder where a man obtained corn on the cob in the middle of Disneyland.
Arriving to the Fantasyland Theatre, I washed down the bagel twist with a healthy dose of water before snagging a great seat for the show.
Mickey and the Magical Map is a fun medley of Disney songs mixed in with some high-tech sorcery. The performers are wonderfully talented, hitting all the right notes with their live singing, and even the “mapmaker” background dancers were enjoyable to watch. It’s a show I look forward to seeing evolve in the coming years, swapping out the less entertaining sequences (like the character-lacking “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride”) with even more upbeat live musical numbers.
Continuing this trip’s many first-time experiences, I had to check out the first integration of Marvel into Disneyland in the form of Iron Man Tech at Innoventions. I had not stepped foot into Innoventions since my very first trip to Disneyland more than ten years ago, so that alone should speak to the draw of Marvel characters.
Much like climbing to the second floor of the “Aladdin” theater the day before, entering Innoventions from the second floor provides a great overview of Tomorrowland, though it also quickly reminds onlookers of the sad state of the former PeopleMover track sitting dormant for so many years.
Inside Innoventions I was surprised to find a few familiar elements from the “Project Tomorrow” Spaceship Earth post-show from Epcot.
But I basically ignored everything except Iron Man Tech, an impressive display of all the incarnations of the Iron Man suits, available for viewing up close.
The static displays left me wanting more, eagerly awaiting the first Marvel-based ride to some day enter Disneyland. I could already visualize these suits coming alive.
Back over to Fantasy Faire, it was time to explore the new area more closely. And still thirsty from that bagel twist, it was also time for my first Boysen Apple Freeze.
Scrumptious. I love Red’s Apple Freeze / LeFou’s Brew, but I think the Boysen Apple Freeze cuts back on the tart sweetness just a little bit, making it go down even better.
Fantasy Faire is much smaller than I’d pictured it in my head, but packed with fun details. Figaro is cute. Rapunzel’s stone tower is tiny. And Clopin’s Music Box provides quite a workout to make it work.
But the gem of Fantasy Faire is the Royal Theatre. For all the commotion surrounding the closure of the classic Carnation Plaza Gardens to be replaced but this new “princess” area, this was the most enjoyable time I’d ever spent in this space at Disneyland. The vaudeville-style performance of “Tangled” was absolutely hilarious, making a Disney Princess story truly appeal to all ages. Storytellers Mr. Smythe and Mr. Jones really steal the show with their wild antics and sheer talent.
And most enjoyable of all was the smattering of silly faces I captured during the performance, summing up the tone of this not-to-be-taken-seriously version of the new animated classic. Huzzah, I say!
And afterward, Flynn Rider and Rapunzel come back out for meet-and-greets, but not before taking a brief stroll through Fantasy Faire, past her tower – one of those quick moments that makes a highly-themed area like this really come alive.
From there my time at Disneyland was cut short. I spent a couple hours in a very special “club” (more on that soon) before running off to begin my D23 Expo adventure, marking the end of a casual couple days in the parks before another big special event began.
Both of the parks at the Disneyland Resort are special places, ones that deserve to be enjoyed slowly. I haven’t allowed myself that opportunity in quite some time, always traveling to that side of the country with specific goals in mind, covering this or that. So it was nice to take a step back, for once, and just take in the familiar along with plenty of firsts to once again appreciate the worry-free magic of the Happiest Place on Earth.
Hopefully this particularly extensive photo post makes up for nearly two years of neglecting my ParkSpotting adventures, which I plan to resume more regularly in the near future.