Wednesday, January 16, 2013

In which I make it to Disneyland

And so here I am, walking my way up Harbor Boulevard from my hotel.  (And trying to walk somewhat slowly this time.  The last time I did this trip, I sort of wore out my feet by the end.  I'm going to be trying to save them as much as I can this time, which will involve checking out that shuttle bus service that runs in Anaheim.  But for today, I'm still walking in, and it's rather scenic.)

It's also pretty warm.  My general procedure for winter touring is to bring a bunch of t-shirts, plus a pullover and a light jacket.  The combination is plenty to keep me warm at night when the temperature drops, and gives me some flexibility during the day.  But right now, it seems kind of hot, and I debated leaving my jacket at the hotel.  But I knew I'd want it later that night, so I kept it.  Maybe it would be a good time to think about getting a locker at the park, which I haven't done before.
You can tell I'm not all that into this, right?
And as I walk up towards the esplanade between the two parks, it hits me:  There's a real feeling, and indescribably something that I always feel as I reach this point.  I've written before about the magic of entering Disneyland, and the extent to which this feeling is deliberately cultivated.  It becomes real in a way it hasn't been before.  Over to my right, past the busses, I can see the monorail beam and the outlines of Space Mountain and the Matterhorn looming up.  It feels different than the rest of my life.  It may be small hints of other things—maybe the distant aromas of popcorn and candy, or the faint and distant bits of music just below my hearing—but there is a thrill of realization that I'm really finally here, and soon I'll be walking under the berm and into the Happiest Place on Earth.
This is where the magic starts to happen
And soon enough, I'm at the turnstiles.  Where there is a small surprise waiting for me.

Entrance procedures have apparently become more complex since last I visited.  When the cast member at the gate scans my ticket receipt, it generates a ticket as usual, but she then asks to see a photo ID.  This I was not expecting, so I have to fumble around to find my driver's license.  I didn't quite catch what was going on at the time, but from watching other people go through the same process on later days, I know that she apparently entered my name from my driver's license so it could be printed on the ticket.  Anyone with a multi-day ticket had to show photo ID and the ticket every time the entered the park, and the cast member working the turnstile had scan the ticket and then check that the ID matched.  If the ticket scan indicated that the guest was re-entering the park for the day, they then had to use black light to check for a hand stamp.  (I'm not sure why they still need the handstamp if the ticket scan is valid and they require photo ID to use ticket, but this turned out to be the procedure.)  In general, this whole process had the effect of balling up the lines to get in something fierce, and made it something of a pain to "park hop" (move from one park to the other in one day), as my ticket allowed.

Now apparently it turns out that there is a thriving black market on multi-day tickets that Disney is trying to cut down on. The cost per day of a Disneyland ticket goes down quite a bit as you purchase more days, so some people purchase the maximum number of days, use part of them, then sell the remaining days at close to full price.  I understand Disney wanting to shut that down, but things really were slowing down at the gate.  At Disney World, they used to print your photo on your multi-day tickets when you first bought them, and I was wondering why they didn't just go back to that.  I just read online that Disney did start photographing guests on first entry on the first weekend after I left, although I think the photographs are being stored by Disney and brought up at the entrance kiosk when the ticket is scanned rather than printed on the tickets.  I just hope the procedure is smoother.  At least with the photographs I wouldn't be fumbling with dragging out my ID as well as my ticket every time I went in, and having to stow it again inside the gates.

What to do first once I made it on to Main Street?  First:  A FastPass to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  (For those not in the know, a FastPass is a ticket you get to a popular attraction which allows you to enter the attraction later in the day through a shorter line.  Generally you can only hold one of these at a time, although there are ways to wiggle this around a bit.)  Then I stowed my pullover and jacket in a rental locker, and marveling that I was wandering around quite comfortably in a thin t-shirt in January.  It occurred to me at this point that I could get a second FastPass in the second park, Disney's California Aventure, while I waited for the Big Thunder pass to come available.  (At least, I probably could; the systems were not connected in the past.)  I thought it might be a good idea to try to get a FastPass for the new E-ticket in the newly constructed Cars Land, the Radiator Springs Racers. I also thought it would be a good idea to get a pack of Dramamine, since I was planning riding some wilder stuff than I often do, so I tried the shops on Main Street, which should have carried it, but seemed to be out.  I went ahead and crossed to DCA (fumble, fumble with photo ID to enter the turnstiles) and found that no one there seemed to have Dramamine either.  Apparently everyone else had the same idea.  And there were no FastPasses for the Radiator Springs Racers left for the day.  (It turns out these go very quickly in the morning; the ride is very popular.  And rightly so; when I finally get to that point in my adventures, I'll explain why it's a blast.)

Although seriously, the scene with the reindeer images in the
Polynesian room gives me the creepy vibe that Santa ran into
a bunch of headhunters.
So back to Disneyland (grumble, photo ID, grumble) and over to "it's a small world" holiday edition, which I'm terribly fond of.  I love the cute little international dolls singing "It's a Small World", and I like it even better when it's filled with Christmas decorations and the dolls occasionally segue into "Jingle Bells" (or "Jingle Shells", if you happen to be passing the underwater scene with the mermaids) or "Deck the Halls."  It's all very festive and wonderful.

The line for Small World was somewhat long, but while I was waiting, I saw a Meet-and-Greet with Princess Merida from Brave taking place next door.  I never feel much need to actually meet the characters or get my photo taken with them, but it's kind of cool to see them wandering around the park, and it's fun to see how enraptured the kids can be at these things.  (Besides, I don't want to see the looks I'd get as a 41 year old single man with no children in tow who wanted to meet the princesses.)

Princess Merida from Brave
Despite the park being pretty crowded, I did pretty well for the rest of the day, seeing quite a bit with judicious use of FastPasses and Single Rider Lines.  (More on this later.)  But after the sun set, things got cold fast, and I was pretty soon retrieving first my pullover, then the jacket from my locker.  I made a lovely dinner out of quick-service at Bengal Barbecue, and even stayed pretty much on diet with a spicy Bengal Beef skewer and a "Safari Skewer" (asparagus wrapped in bacon), and hot tea.  (I know, weird choice, but it was getting cold out there by evening, and I just couldn't face a soft drink with ice in it.)

I went on Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters, and I think I may have beaten my high score, making it to Level 3 with 795K points.  (Of course, the high score for the day was over 3 million points.)  The ride takes a picture of you and offers to email it to you, but this time (as usually happens to me) the email never came.  I followed a large group of young men onto Pirates of the Caribbean who were (I'm pretty sure) passing around a pot brownie before getting on the ride.  They joined in enthusiastically on the "yo-ho, yo-ho"s in the chorus of the theme song, and I was sorry I didn't remember the rest of the words well enough to keep it going through the rest of the song.  (I figure it might have taken them by surprise.)

After I stood on Main Street and watched the 9:30 Christmas fireworks show 'though, I decided I was pretty worn out for the day, and my feet were already feeling it.  (Not good.  Must be careful.)  The park wouldn't close until midnight, but I opted to head back to the hotel for the night and turn in, and sleep 'til I felt like getting up.

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