Savings to date: $83,400!!!!
… no, wait … eight dollars and thirty … that can’t be right …
Savings to date: $834!!! That ain’t chump change. Of course, you could point out that we could have saved $182 by never going at all … and I’d call you a silly spoilsport. Don’t you like to have fun?
We had two things on our agenda, this being Friday, when the parks stay open later even during this off season. One was the Disney Electrical Parade, relocated to California Adventure from its original home on Main Street. The other was … gulp … it’s a small world, which was due to be taken out of its holiday trimmings in about a week. Oh, brother. I was approaching this ride with extreme reluctance, as I’ve explained how I was almost driven mad by it at the New York World’s Fair, where it first started delighting toddlers and making parents grit their teeth. But I vowed to ride everything I could ride for these reports (I’m not going to injure my knees on the roller coasters, though I’d love to ride them), so I figured we might as well get it out of the way.
We hadn’t eaten, so we walked the length of Downtown Disney to the Rainforest Café. It was about 2 PM, so we had high hopes of being seated, and quickly. (Last time we tried, around dinnertime, we were told there was a 45 minute wait. We’re not sufficiently urbanized to tolerate waits like that.) We were in luck. Taken right to a seat on the third (Aztec) floor, which was the only one open. There were a lot of people up there. This place is decorated to within an inch of its life. There are extremely huge aquaria on the bottom (Maya) floor. I’ve never seen so many artificial plants. They must have cleaned out a dozen Michael’s stores. There were waterfalls, and audio-animatronic elephants and gorillas close to us, and who-know-what-else on the other floors. Every ten minutes or so the pachyderms would bellow or the apes would hoot and holler and pound their chests and swing from limbs. The apes went on a little too long, I thought, and so did the little girl at the next table, who plugged her ears with her fingers. Service was a little slow, but the food was excellent. We shared the big appetizer platter, $16.95 or so, and it was too much for the both of us.
Varley’s Disneyland Tip #whatever
If you want the best food at the parks, you have to go to Downtown Disney or one of the hotels. But I guess most of you already knew that. Well, the tips can’t all be exclusives.
(D TICKET) The monorail station is right outside the restaurant, so we decided to ride it into the park. These trains are the fourth generation of monorails at Disneyland, the Mark V’s. (Mark IV and VI models run only at Disney World). I have learned that they are due to be replaced, and in fact the first train of the Mark VII models has arrived … and failed its initial testing! No telling when they’ll have it running. (These new trains will reportedly have a “retro” look. I found a picture of the one being tested. Looks great.) For now, only one train runs the route. We boarded, and I was surprised to see that the windows could be opened. All of them were, and later, passing through Tomorrowland, the engineer warned us to keep our arms inside, as some of the clearances were close. No kidding! At one point it looked like I could have reached out and touched the outside of the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters building. It’s more like an airplane than a train inside. If you can get to the head of the line, you can actually ride right in the front with the engineer. Next time I’d like to do that.
When the Alweg Monorail was first added to Disneyland, in 1959, it just threaded a complicated course through Tomorrowland and returned to the same station it started. Then they expanded the line to the Disneyland Hotel in 1961, and got new, four-car trains, the Mark II. They still follow that same route today, though the area it passes through has changed radically with the construction of Downtown Disney and the many alterations in the hotel complex. It loops out over Disneyland Drive and then passes behind the big box that houses the Indiana Jones Adventure, through the Esplanade and entrance plaza, then behind Grand Canyon/Primeval World (the former being the world’s largest diorama, on one piece of canvas 306 feet long; the latter left over from the Ford Pavilion of the New York World’s Fair) and some backstage areas you can’t see from anywhere else. Then past Innoventions, and into the spaghetti maze of tracks over Autopia, around the Matterhorn Bobsleds (yodel-odel-lay-he-hoo!), and finally coming to a stop at the Tomorrowland Station, right over the newly-opened Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. Getting off, you get a great view of the lagoon and subs from above. (It continues on through California Adventure and passes over the little Golden Gate Bridge, but we haven’t ridden that part yet.)
The Parade of Dreams was passing by as we debarked, and we caught the tail end of it. We’ll have to try again soon, as Lee doesn’t really have a lot of good pictures of it. The first time we saw it was in the evening and the light was bad.
Disneyland Trivia: The Matterhorn
Everybody knows that, on fireworks nights, Tinkerbell flies from the tip of the Matterhorn to what looks like Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Fantasyland … but she actually goes to a concealed tower near the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. How do I know this? Because the location of the tower is shown on Wikimapia, along with just about anything else you’d like to know about the park. So we know there must be a stairway to the top of the mountain. (Sorry to break it to you, but Tink doesn’t actually fly, she’s on a wire. And Santa Claus doesn’t have eight flying reindeer, either.) (The Easter Bunny, however, does leave colored eggs hidden all around your house. I’m still researching the Tooth Fairy.) So what else is up there?
Answer: A basketball court. No, really! Would I lie to you? Yeah, I know the Internet can and does lie, but I find this story persuasive, especially since the poster put up a picture, too. There are, in fact, two stories. First, the urban legend:
When they were building the ride the City of Anaheim had height restrictions on buildings. Sounds reasonable to me; Los Angeles for a long time forbade the construction of anything taller than City Hall, fearing earthquakes. Then some engineers and developers convinced the City Council (or paid them to believe) they could build quake-safe skyscrapers. (This proposition has yet to be tested.) There was one exception to the Anaheim rule, though, and that was “sports facilities.” So Walt told them to put a basketball court up there in the top of the Matterhorn. Again, sounded reasonable to me. We’d just toured Heritage Square, where our guide, Natalie, told us the story of the famous Mansard roofs of Paris, which came to be that way so they could qualify as attics for tax and zoning purposes when they were actually fully usable floors.
All hogwash, sorry to say. (Well, it is a good story, no?) What actually happened is there were these guys who dressed up in lederhosen and alpine caps and climbed, traversed, rappelled, pitoned, whatever mountain climbers do, all over the fake peak. Maybe they still perform, but I’ve never seen them. So there was this irregular conical space under the peak where they had lockers and such, for changing and relaxing between performances. One guy, bored silly, as so many Disneyland workers are—hey, many of the jobs are very repetitive—put up a hoop and painted a key and free-throw line on the floor. It’s not even big enough for a half-court game, as you can see, but it’s better than nothing. So next time you pass the mountain, if you hear the sound of dribbling and trash talk …
(E TICKET) it’s a small world. The façade of this most dreaded (for adults) ride in the park is a whimsical clock with a face that rocks back and forth. He’s wearing a Santa hat for the holidays, and though they’re not obvious during the daytime, the whole structure is strung with Christmas lights. The Disneyland Railroad runs between the clock and the main building. Every quarter hour the clock does its audioanimatronic thing, with a lot of little dolls like the ones inside coming out and running in a circle, doors opening, toy soldiers coming out and beating on drums … it’s not as elaborate as some Disney productions, but it’s cute. In fact, cute is definitely the operative word here at it’s a small world. (That’s how they always spell it, lower case, so that’s how I’ll do it, too.) After a short wait in line, we boarded little boats exactly like the ones I remember, with dread, from Flushing Meadows, Queens. And we were off, past some very good (real, not plastic!) topiary sculptures. Then into the dark.
It’s very much as I remember it, which is to say, awesomely clever. They say there are 700 animated dolls here, and I’d have said it was more than that. These aren’t like Mr. Lincoln, and no one intended they be lifelike. Mostly they rotate, move up and down, move their arms, and wink their doll eyes or move their doll lips. But the effect is enchanting, and so colorful you feel like you’re in the middle of an explosion in a paint factory. There are whimsical animals. And … of course … that song … sung in many languages. Over 100 countries are represented. And it’s all decorated for the holiday season with candy canes and candles, tinsel, and lights … but only in the Christian countries, I’m happy to say. How many ways can you say “Merry Christmas?” A bunch! And blended seamlessly in with … that song … is the second most maddening song ever written, i.e., “Jingle Bells.” Later, “Deck the Halls” also made an appearance in the final, grand hall, that was so ornate and … well, just gigantic, you really wanted to stop the boat and get out for a bit, in spite of … that song. But you are swept along and out into the real world again … so far as Disneyland can be counted a part of the real world.
Paradoxically, the “small” world is one of the largest rides in Disneyland, in terms of the structure that houses it, and also one of the longest, at 14 minutes.
All in all, I’m glad I saw it. (I’m not sure Lee was. She kept complaining about … that song … for quite a while afterward.) But it turns out this was the last chance to see it for some time. I knew it was going to be de-Yuled, as it were, in a few days, but I have since learned that the shutdown is going to last almost a year, to mid-November, when it will no doubt be Christmafied again. It seems the old ride was long overdue for some massive maintenance, being over 40 years old. They’re going to tear out all the boat paths and rebuild everything from the ground up, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if they have some new tricks in store, in which case I’ll have to embark on the voyage once again at the end of the year. Oh, well. Nobody said this was going to be easy.
We headed over here after the boat ride. This is the newest of the lands of Disney, and the only one located outside the magic circle of the Disneyland Railroad. It’s short on rides, and is basically designed for the smaller visitor. Three of the attractions are play structures with Disney themes: Goofy’s House, Donald’s Boat, and Chip ‘n Dale’s Tree House. We walked by, but there’s really nothing for us there. Pluto’s Dog House is a food court, and the Gag Factory is a souvenir store.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a straight architectural line here. Everything bulges or sags. You expect the buildings to leap and squat, or quiver like Jell-O. Everywhere you look there are joke signs, bulgey car with eyes for headlights that you can sit in, a jail with rubber bars you can squeeze though. The tiny tots adore it, and I find it’s fun just to walk through and admire the incredible attention to detail that’s gone into all this.
There are only two actual rides in Toontown: Gadget’s Go Coaster, and Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin. The first is literally impossible for me, short of a double amputation. The cars are big enough for a small adult and a child. Too bad, as like all Disney stuff, it is imaginatively designed, and I’d like to have seen the sights along the way. It’s small, and slow, but probably quite a thrill for the under-6 set. I had thought it was based on the “Inspector Gadget” TV show, which I’ve never seen. Turns out to be based on a character from “Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers,” a TV series I’d only vaguely heard of. I learn that the Gadget of the title is one Gadget Hackwrench, pilot, mechanic, inventor, and daughter of Geegaw Hackwrench, a good friend of Monterey Jack. The things you learn!
(C TICKET) Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin is basically a newer version of the old dark rides in Fantasyland, but instead of cars that simply follow a track, these yellow Toon Taxis spin around and around. You can control them, though it’s hard work. I prefer to sit back and let it spin. You ride through scenes from the movie, and it’s over pretty quickly, like all these rides. One nice thing is that the line, which can be quite long (15 minutes when we were there) winds through other scenes from the movie, too. At least there’s something to look at along the way. Lee and I were witness to some sort of drama between two girls and a boy ahead of us in line, about 15 or 16, involving a lot of cell phone chatter, that culminated in one of the girls leaving just as they were about to board the car. Soap opera in Toontown!
I take it back. I said there were only two actual rides? There are actually three, but it’s easy to forget about the third one since, every time except the first time I visited Mickey’s Toon Town, it was not operating. This is the Jolly Trolly, the cartoon version of the various types of transport on Main Street. Like everything else here it’s slightly off-center, with oblong wheels that make the whole thing rock side to side and back and forth. I don’t know if it only runs on certain days or if it has mechanical issues, but next time I see it wobbling down the street I’m going to climb aboard, as who knows when I might get another chance?
(A TICKET) Two attractions you must visit are Mickey’s House and Meet Mickey, and Minnie’s House. They are located, conveniently, right next door to each other. In fact, you can’t enter Mickey’s place without going through Minnie’s.
Minnie’s place is a small bungalow. You quickly get to the kitchen, where you can operate the dishwasher and stove, and open the door of the fridge, which contains nothing but cheese, including cheese-chip ice cream.
Then it’s out the back door, through a little garden, and presto, you’re in Mickey’s place. How convenient, for an unmarried couple! I envision mousarazzi hanging around the front door all the time, so that when the Mick’s in the mood for a little of that hot rodent lovin’, for a taste of Minnie’s Yoo-Hoo, he has to sneak out the back door.
First thing Lee noticed was that Mickey doesn’t have a kitchen! Does Minnie cook all his meals, or does he order out? The upstairs is apparently Pluto’s place. Mickey ain’t that great a housekeeper, with a closet stuffed as badly as Fibber McGee’s. But he does have a laundry room, complete with old-fashioned mangler. You think he washes Minnie’s delicate underthings? (Jeez, I have to stop obsessing about mouse sex!)
Then there is an extensive trophy room full of souvenirs from his career as a big Hollywood movie star, and a workshop with teetering paint cans. And at the back is a screening room that is continuously showing his greatest hits. At specified times Mickey himself will be there to absorb your adulation and have your picture taken with him. Well, he deserves it, don’t you think? This whole place was financed by him, after all. Walt didn’t have any money when he went west.
Disney’s Electrical Parade, Presented by Sylvania
Just doesn’t quite have the flavor of the Main Street Electrical Parade, does it? But you can’t call it that anymore, it hasn’t gone down Main Street since 1996. And if sponsorship by a light bulb company is what it took to bring it back, so be it.
We knew how bad the crowds could be for a Disney parade, so we resolved to get there early and stake out a position. I thought a good place to be would be in the Paradise Pier area, near where it begins, between the roller coaster and Pizza Oom Mow Mow (closed for refurbishment). With half an hour to showtime, there weren’t many people in that area yet, and we were able to get a park bench. We’ve got a little wait here, so let’s learn a little about the parade and have a few educational diversions, shall we? Or you can go ride the Orange Stinger or the Jumpin’ Jellyfish, if you prefer …
For those of you still with me … the Main Street Electrical Parade was an offshoot of a show at Disney World on the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake called the Electrical Water Pageant, which opened in 1971. Here’s a video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8u92dPpcd0A&feature=related) of it with the original music: Sounds a bit familiar, I’ll bet. As you can see, it’s fairly primitive, the floats are two-dimensional, and these days you can see stuff almost this impressive, in terms of lights, on many a Christmas lawn and house. Later they changed the music (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkgTW73I-lQ&feature=related), using the themes from many Disney movies: It was very popular, and so within a year it was imported to Disneyland, except for the water part. There is no lake anything like that size in the California park, so they put the electrical dioramas on parade floats. They used the same music, which I knew was called “Baroque Hoedown,” but I didn’t know it was composed by Jean Jacques Perry and Gershon Kingsley. Here is Perry performing it live (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXBoaD519P8) (sorry the sound sync is so bad).
These guys were pioneers of using synthesizers to play music people could actually recognize as music. Before that, electronic instruments been used mostly for spooky, atonal, basically very weird sounds. There was a good reason for this. Early Moogs and synclaviers, though a great improvement on the huge, clumsy machines that came before, were the very devil to play. Each sound had to be hand-crafted—attack, decay, sustain, release—using patch cords and a blizzard of dials and faders, and only one note could be played at a time. Harmony was achieved with multiple tracks. So something like Wendy (then Walter) Carlos’s Switched-On Bach took forever to lay down. A lot of people felt that synthesizers would never be used much in live performance. As you saw, Perry proved them wrong. Now keyboards are so user-friendly and versatile that any decent player can create a whole orchestra, as this Japanese woman known to me only as springharu2007 shows in this delightful little clip. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58LQ59lvSOI&feature=related
But back to the parade … when they brought the concept to Disneyland it was one of the most high-tech music shows ever seen. The thing is, each of the floats plays its own music, which blends seamlessly into the “Baroque Hoedown,” and radio signals alert the computer that runs the show to key in that music on the many stationary speakers along the way, so everybody gets the same show, no matter where they are. This completely eliminates the most annoying thing, to me, about a parade. A neat band comes marching into view … and marches right past you. About the time you see just their backs, they begin to play. Can’t happen at Disneyland.
Still waiting. With the pizza place closed the choices for food in this corner of California Adventure are rather limited. We thought we’d get something at the Burger Invasion … but it turns out that’s just a McDonalds. Bummer! For some reason I just hate it that Mickey D should have anything to do with Mickey M. But there was a corndog stand, so Lee and I shared one, and a lemonade. Beside us was a woman from Chicago and her young granddaughter. They’ve been to Disney World, but this is their first time in California. Lee got to know them pretty well while we were waiting.
Well, I see it’s 7:44, and guess what? The crowds are underwhelming. I’m astonished. There will be no one standing in front of me, and I’ll be able to view the show from the comfort of my bench. In a minute the gate opens and I can see the illuminated floats inside, led by the giant Blue Fairy, or whatever she is. It’s beginning, right on time!
It’s all I remember, and even nicer without the jam of the crowds. Its described as something like “millions of glittering lights,” while it’s actually only half a million, according to the literature, but who’s counting? Nobody but the guy whose job it is, when one light burns out, to go through the whole float testing each one until he finds the bad one, I’ll bet. (I’ll also bet you have to be around my age to get that joke, as they haven’t sold those kind of Christmas lights in ages.)
And on it rolls. The train driven by Goofy, pulling the big bass drum. The Alice in Wonderland group of floats playing “A Very Merry Unbirthday,” with those little … what the hell are they? Snails and bugs. Real popular with the little ones, as they will come bopping right up in your face and make the most rude sounds. Cinderella. The pirate ship with Captain Hook and Peter Pan dueling. The Dumbo circus, with a calliope played by a manic lion and pulled by a hippo, and a giant pink elephant. All seven dwarfs with a mine train full of jewels. Pete’s Dragon. And finally, all in red white and blue, To Honor America, with dancing girls dressed as sort of sexy versions of Revolutionary War soldiers, high-kicking like Rockettes. We fell in line behind them and began to follow them out, as the park was officially closed now. It struck me that these girls had to be in damn good shape, as it was quite a ways to the end of the line, and they were doing a lot of high-kicking.
Suddenly we were intercepted by a line of cast members holding a rope. Caught, rounded up, headed out, like little dogies! Nobody does crowd control better than Disney. Next thing we knew we and a lot of others were being detoured around the Grizzly River Run, a water ride and the only mountain here in California Adventure. (I rode something like it at a park in St. Louis, and was amazed to find myself waist deep in water at one point. I couldn’t have been wetter if I’d jumped overboard. Luckily, it was a hot day.) Eventually, after a serpentine route through the Condor Flats area, we rejoined the parade route at Sunshine Plaza, and saw the wisdom of the diversion. The crowds were much thicker here, and as the dancing girls of the Continental Congress were just going by, it was beginning to break up. We’d avoided a log jam of considerable proportions, and were able to make our way out to the trams and board the second one that came by (or was it the third? No matter, they arrived every five minutes or less).
Varley’s Disneyland Hint # Whatever plus 1
Watch the Disney Electrical Parade (Presented by Sylvania) from the starting point. All the crowds are at the other end!
© 2008 by John Varley; all rights reserved