Monday, May 10, 2010

My Lousy Day at Disneyland

Being a life-long Disneyland fanatic, it's kind of hard for me to have a truly "lousy" day at Disneyland. Sure, my enjoyment can be diminished by huge crowds and long lines, hot weather and favorite rides being closed (or worse, breaking down just as I'm about to board). But overall, a lousy day at Disneyland is kind of hard to come by.

So maybe "lousy" is too harsh an adjective. Underwhelming. Disappointing. Sub-par. Perhaps those words more accurately describe the day at Disneyland I'm about to document.

Which, by the way, never actually happened. It's the day I would have had back in 1987, had I followed the advise of travel expert Steve Birnbaum.

I was around 2 years old when I first visited Disneyland (too young to form any solid memories of the place, but old enough for the Park to be permanently implanted in my subconscious as the Happiest Place on Earth.)

That first trip aside, for most of my childhood, Disneyland was a place I knew only from afar, glimpsing it on reruns of The Wonderful World of Disney...

...reading about it in books...

...or in the case of one particular attraction, hearing about it (over and over again...)

It wasn't until I was in my "tweens" that the family started making annual summer pilgrimages six hours west. We generally visited for one day, staying in the park from open to close.

Now, I never felt I needed a guide to get the most out of a trip to the Park, but when I first came across Steve Birnbaum Brings You the Best of Disneyland (1987), a travel guide cataloging every ride, restaurant and store, I thought it made a pretty cool souvenir. Birnbaum first began publishing its Disneyland guides in 1984, with a new edition every year since.

Birnbaum offers a sample itinerary to help overwhelmed first-time visitors maximize their trip. Disneyland trip-planning has become a bit of a science unto itself, and while there are a wide variety of strategies on how to use your time most efficiently when in the Park, Birnbaum's 1987 inaugural stab at it strikes me as just plain lousy underwhelming.

The step-by-step trip plan claims to be geared towards an "energetic family" with kids at least 10-years old (old enough to ride every E-ticket in the Park), and who are only visiting Disneyland for a single-day (so making the most of that day is critical!)

Before I go into Birnbaum's trip plan line-by-line, I want you to imagine you're FAR back in time, in the year 1987 A.D. An adult one-day ticket is $17.95. A few of today's more popular rides haven't appeared yet (Indiana Jones Adventure, Splash Mountain, Buzz Lightyear's Astro-Blasters, Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin, etc.) and Disney's California Adventure is just a big flat parking lot.

But most of the Park's signature attractions are there (Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Matterhorn, Space Mountain, etc.)

The guidebook for our imaginary 1987 trip.Who'd have guessed that 20+ years later, Disneyland guests would still be lining up to see Captain EO, while standard 35mm Kodak film would go the way of the dodo...

Also of note, in 1987, many classic rides that are currently retired (or significantly changed) are up and running, including the Skyway buckets, the Peoplemover, Submarine Voyage Thru Liquid Space, Mission to Mars, America Sings, Circlevision 360, and the Country Bear Jamboree (strangely, Star Tours, which opened that same year, is not covered in this edition of Birnbaum's book other than a brief tease as a coming attraction.)

So let's get started! Remember, we're an energetic family with 10-year old kids, and we only have one day to visit the Happiest Place on Earth. On your marks, get set... RIDE!

We're off to a great start. With only one day allotted, you definitely want to get in line before the Park opens (although I'm not totally sold on riding the Disneyland Railroad to get "orientated"...that's what we bought the guide book for, right? Save the Railroad trip for later... there's rides to be ridden!

We just barely stepped into the park and we're already window shopping? Let old ladies window shop--we're an energetic family with kids! Let's get moving!

Space Mountain is certainly the right kind of E-Ticket awesomeness to start things off... but what about its brand spankin' new neighbor, Star Tours? I guess we'll get back to that later. Matterhorn is a worthy follow up, but of the Fantasyland dark-rides, Pinocchio's Daring Journey doesn't hold a candle to Peter Pan's Flight, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride or Alice's Adventure Through the Looking Glass. But I guess we can hit those other rides later. After all, we've got all day... right?

Back to shopping? Already? Seems like something you could do later in the day--you know, when the park is at it's most crowded, the lines are unbearably long, and you want to be indoors to get out of the sun?

Wuh? I thought we were energetic? I thought we only had one day? Three rides (four if you count our orienteering trip on the train) and we're already calling a time-out ? And if it's lunchtime, there's plenty of places to eat IN THE PARK (Town Square Cafe, Carnation Ice Cream Parlor, Plaza Inn, Coca-Cola Refreshment Corner, Carnation Plaza Garden... and that's just on Main Street!), but instead we're being steered to the nearby (but still a good walk) off-property Hyatt. Between lunch, the return to our own hotel, a swim and a nap, we're talking at least a good 3 or 4 hours, right?

Apparently more like five or six hours. But that's okay...we're fed, rested, and ready to make up for lost time! Ready... charge!

Wah!? Don't get me wrong--the (long gone) Tahitian Terrace and (still seating) Blue Bayou restaurant are fine places to eat, and every bit a part of the Disney magic. But we got to the Park before it opened, its now six-o-freaking-clock in the evening, and we've ridden a total of THREE rides (and one of them was Pinocchio's Daring Journey...) A sit-down meal is not the best use of our time!

Holy Mickey! We're now going to plop down and wait for a parade. This has got to be the laziest energetic family of all time.

Plant it, folks. We're loitering around after the parade ends to watch the fireworks. You know, fireworks, being typically displayed high in the sky, can be viewed from almost anywhere in the park, even while waiting in line for a ride... but we'd better stick to Mr. Birnbaum's plan so we get the most out of our day.

Finally, we've rediscovered something you may remember from about 12 hours ago... RIDES. Big Thunder Mountain, Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean are all must-see attractions, but its now the end of a LONG day, our ONLY day at the park, and look at all the stuff we missed:

Jungle Cruise
Enchanted Tiki Room
Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse
Country Bear Jamboree
Mark Twain Riverboat and Tom Sawyer's Island
The Golden Horseshoe Revue
EVERY Fantasyland dark-ride (except Pinocchio...)
It's a Small World
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
Mad Tea Party Teacups
King Arthur's Carousel
Submarine Voyage
Circlevision 360
Rocket Jets
Mission to Mars
America Sings
Brand spanking new Captain EO and Star Tours(!)
Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln

HERE'S what we DID see, thanks to Mr. Birnbaum's insightful itinerary:

Disneyland Railroad
Space Mountain
Pinocchio's Daring Journey
The buffet at the nearby Hyatt (?)
Tahitian Terrace Restaurant
A parade and fireworks
Big Thunder Mountain, the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean

I haven't looked at a new edition of Birnbaum's Disneyland guide in years, so I don't know if his strategy has evolved at all... or if its always 1987 in Disneyland.


Stac said...

Plus, if you're like me, you have a few favorites that you have to hit at least twice (Haunted Mansion, Pirates, and India Jones for me, personally). If we tried this BS with my nieces and nephews there would be much knee high, extremely loud rioting.

Brother Bill said...

Stac: Right! Birnbaum's plan seems more suited for an older couple who's more interested in shopping, eating, and people-watching.

Kevin Kidney said...

Great post!! Our family had the same book - we bought ours the first year it was published (and the second year too). I enjoyed it mainly for the descriptions of all the attractions, although I recall some sort of "warning" regarding the Tiki Room's loud thunder and scary finale. I suppose those energetic 10-year olds of the 1980s were also big wimps!

If my Dad had written this book, he would've advised that the first thing any family should do upon arriving at Disneyland in the morning is to make a beeline for the River Belle Terrace and plop down for a big leisurely breakfast of eggs, bacon and pancakes - with multiple refills of coffee - while the children scream to go on rides.

Brother Bill said...


I bought the book every year for awhile, then at some point decided this was bordering on obsessive and got rid of all but the 1987 edition.

I seem to recall getting Mickey waffles on Main Street before the rest of the park opened...? It couldn't have been while the rides were open---would be very hard to concentrate on that waffle.