Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

I always said that if I ever lived in Southern California, I’d get a Disneyland yearly passport. I’d heard that they gave Southland residents a special deal. Well, it took us a while, but we finally looked into it.

Disneyland and California Adventure Part 1: Greetings from California

Such a bargain! If you live in the right zip code, you can get what they call the Southern California Select (means cheapest possible) Annual Passport for $129. That’s $258 for the two of us. That gives us 170 days that we can visit at no charge. The blockout dates are: all Saturdays and Sundays, some Fridays, Christmas and New Years weeks, Spring Break in March, the whole month of July, and most of June and August. Well, boo-hoo! Nobody in their right mind would want to go to Disneyland in June, July, or August unless that was the only time they had available. It’s too damn hot, and it’s jam-packed with sweaty people desperate to have a lot of fun. Also, the weekends are the least pleasant times to visit because of the crowds. It seemed tailor-made for our needs.

We have so far used the passports four times, in two months. One-day admission to both parks is $91. Ouch! That means we would have paid $728, just so far, and we intend to use the passports many more times. That means that, so far, we’ve saved … $4,700.00!

No, wait, that can’t be right. Ah ha! Move the decimal point. $470! Still not too shabby, and from now on every time we visit we save 182 more dollars. I’d call that an E-ticket, squared!

But that’s not all!!!

If we do need to go to the parks on one of the blackout days, say if friends are in town and that’s the only day available to them, we pay only $40. That’s less than half.

And there’s more!!!

We get a 10% discount on food in the parks, and in the Downtown Disney complex, where there are better restaurants. Also, 10% off merchandise. Not that we buy much of that.

In fact … I don’t really see how they profit from this deal. They seem to want you to come back again and again, which leads me to think they intend to make their money when you buy stuff inside the parks … but unless you buy a lot of souvenirs, which they’re already giving you a 10% break on, I just don’t see how they can do it. Disneyland is a labor-intensive operation, and it would seem to me that, the more people there are in the park, the more employees would be needed to look after them. With all the deadheads like us arriving every day (and I see a lot of these passports being given to the cast members at the turnstiles), it would seem to be a losing proposition. However, they’ve been doing this for many years, so there must be some advantage for Disney that I’m not seeing.

I thought that, since we are soon to become real authorities on all things Disney and Californian, I’d write a little guide to our experiences there, and Lee would post her usual lovely pictures to illustrate the guide. Reviews of rides, tips, etc. This won’t be an organized guide, like you get from Disney or people who are writing books about the parks. This will be things as we experienced them, haphazard, peripatetic, and personal. You’re welcome to come along if you wish … upon a star.

Varley’s Helpful Disneyland Tip #1:

Move to Southern California and buy a passport. You wouldn’t believe what a difference it makes. We have already found that we’ve had about all the fun we can stand after about 4 or 5 hours. So we stroll around casually, riding only what we want to ride, trying to pick the shortest lines, and when we start to tire out … we go home. Last time, we pretty much concentrated on Fantasyland. Next time, maybe Toontown.

Varley’s Helpful Disneyland Tip #2:

I knew that people in wheelchairs (and up to 5 people in their party) could go right to the front of the line, but now helpful cast members at the Haunted Mansion and Alice in Wonderland have assured me that “visible evidence” of a disability is enough to get you moved to the head, too. Crutches or a cane qualifies. I’ve been using one for almost a year now, and we have a disabled placard to hang from the rear-view mirror. It’s legitimate, I’m not faking anything, and though I’ve never yet asked to be moved to the front of the line, am I supposed to refuse, stand in line as a matter of principle? Am I counseling you to bring a cane and fake a disability? Absolutely not. That would be between you and your conscience. (But you might consider breaking a leg. It doesn’t have to be your leg. Go with five friends—better make that close friends—and draw cards. Low card guy is held down and has his leg broken by the other five. I call this Disneyland Roulette. I’d also advise practicing my card manipulation skills before doing this, to remove that pesky little one in six chance.

Varley’s Helpful Disneyland Tip #3!

There must be 1000 websites devoted to one aspect or another of Disneyland, Disney World, and the various other Disneys outside Paris, in Tokyo, and Hong Kong. There are even pages devoted to the various types of trash cans used in the parks.

I recall that years ago there was a site maintained by a man who used to work picking up the garbage at the parks, and he even had a history of the receptacle designs that had been used over the years, including one named PUSH, which was on wheels, robotically controlled, and followed people around pleading for garbage.

I’ve visited a few of these sites as references, to learn more about the park. I think my favorite is Yesterland, maintained by Werner Weiss, as fanatic a Disneyphile as exists anywhere. Its main mission is to preserve the memory of attractions that are now just history, but there’s all sorts of other stuff there, too.

Parking (Yes, really, parking!):

Disneyland and California Adventure Part 1: Parking Garage

Some people’s devotion to Disneyland is almost frightening. Not a sick tree can be cut down, not a Main Street storefront repainted, but that there’s a certain grumbling about it. For the most part, people don’t want Disneyland to change. They want it to be like they remembered it, way back when. Oh, they don’t mind stuff being added to it, they just don’t like to lose what was already there. When a “land” is refurbished, like Fantasyland was in 1982 (to generally positive reviews) or the New Tomorrowland in 1967 (mostly positive) and the New New Tomorrowland in 1998 (mixed, at best), there is always a hell of a stink. Where did the old moon rocket go? (Vanished in ’67, returned at a slightly smaller scale in ’98). What about the Mickey Mouse Club Theater? (Later the Fantasyland Theater, now gone and occupied by Pinocchio’s Daring Journey.) Every attraction, with the possible exception of the PeopleMover, has its fans. Even, believe it or not, that vast sea of concrete, 50% bigger than Disneyland itself, the Old Parking Lot. You can imagine the uproar when they built a huge, multi-story parking structure north of the hotel complex and started plowing up the old lot for this highly suspicious project, the California Adventure. Why, some people have kept their parking stubs all these years, you can see pictures of them online.

Well, the complainers have a point, I realized, as I read some of the postings. The parking structure, Mickey and Friends, is the least Disney building in the Disney Resort complex, and it’s the first thing people arriving in cars see. It’s just an ordinary, if rather large, parking structure, and the only sign of Disney is the names of the floors: Chip ‘n Dale, Donald, Daisy, Minnie, Mickey … maybe another, I’ve forgotten. (Then there is a ground-level lot, Pinocchio, for buses and RVs.) The structure is, in fact, so vast that you could end up walking farther to the escalators than you would have walked from the far corner of the old parking lot to the main gate … and, of course, back then there were those rather shaky old trams that came around and picked you up and, later, delivered you back to the area where you were parked. Now, after that long walk, you’ve only just arrived at the tram station. (With my disabled placard we are able to quickly turn to the left into the handicapped parking area, close to the tram stop … in theory. In fact, unless you arrive early, all those spots will be taken.)

Nostalgia about a parking lot? Believe it or not, it makes sense to me. }}{{So much of Disneyland is about memories. My very earliest memory of the place is of the parking lot, strangely enough. This was in the early ‘80s (I was in my thirties) and in Los Angeles for conferences about Millennium. The movie biz doesn’t work on weekends, so on a Saturday I hopped in my studio-rented yellow Camaro and burned up the highway to the place I’d been desperate to visit ever since Uncle Walt first amazed me with tours on The Wonderful World of Disney on the television (in black and white, back then!) in Corsicana, Texas. I parked, and in my excitement … I locked the keys in the car. Oh, man, what a way to start the day! Almost before I could really start to worry about it a young security guard came pootling up on a golf cart, and must have recognized my helpless look. “Happens all the time,” he said, and proved it by taking a slim-jim from his key ring, sticking it down the window, and popping that sucker open in about two seconds. Disneyland, as a training ground for car thieves! He had me show him the rental papers out of the glove box, matched the name to my driver’s license, and wished me a happy day at the Magic Kingdom. Heck, I was already having a happy day!

(Did it continue? You bet. When I walk under that train track and on to Main Street, I quickly become ten years old again, even today.) (Well, a rather decrepit ten, but in my mind I’m not growing a beard yet and have only begun to wonder about girls.)

Disneyland and California Adventure Part 1: Tram

So you’ve parked, and made your way to the tram stop … and these trams are a big improvement on the old ones. They’re beautiful! They’re about ten cars long, and pulled by a futuristic engine with a door in the front, that remind you vaguely of the monorail. They’re equipped to take wheelchairs, and as with so much else in the resort, they run smoothly and efficiently … though, like everything else, there may be a bit of a wait.

In a few minutes the tram deposits you on the backside of Downtown Disney, the third part of the Disney Resort complex. (Four, if you count the Disney hotels on the other side of Disneyland Drive.) You’re behind the Grand Californian hotel, which the tram recording informs you is in the famous “Craftsman” style. It is the only hotel that opens directly into a theme park (the California Adventure) without the need of a tram or monorail ride. We haven’t looked inside it yet.

You walk east past the usual Disney magic, such as incredible trimmed trees at Christmas time, and a lovely flower fountain, and a great display outside the World of Disney store, surely the biggest store in the world selling all things Disneyiana. A sad note: The next thing you encounter is what I think of as the 9/11 Tables. This are where polite but unsmiling security guards examine all your bags. They are nowhere near as thorough as the Homeland Security folks at airports, they don’t x-ray your stuff, and they don’t have you empty your pockets and take off your shoes and pass through a metal detector, but give them time. Just a few days ago a woman was arrested at Disney World carrying a loaded handgun. (“I forgot I had it,” she said, and in Florida, that’s actually believable, considering how easy it is to get a concealed weapon permit and what sorts of idiots they issue them to.) I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the next time we visit Disneyland, the metal detectors are there. Maybe bomb-sniffing dogs, too. I hate that shit, but I can’t actually say it’s unreasonable. Don’t you just know that Osama or any number of human-like pustules who believe in his fucked-up brand of Islam would really get a kick out of blowing up Disneyland?

Disneyland and California Adventure Part 1: tuckered out

Once through security you are in a place called the Esplanade. (I know this from WikiMapia, which lists the names of stuff in the resort with obsessive detail.) Keep going straight and you get to the area where buses and shuttles from the zillion other hotels in the area drop you off and pick you up. Turn to the right and you’re at California Adventure, turn to the left and you enter Disneyland. Almost everybody turns to the left.

NEXT: Why They All Turn Left

January 28, 2008

© 2008 by John Varley; all rights reserved