Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Happiest Place On Earth

Last weekend our family packed our bags and headed to Southern California to attend the annual family holiday bash.

My three daughters were very surprised to discover that their aunt and uncle were taking us all to Disneyland as our Christmas present.

The last time the girls had been to Disneyland only one of them was really old enough to remember anything about the park, and the youngest did not remember a thing.

I grew up living about 7 miles East of Disneyland and have been there many times. It was a great place to take girls on a date because instead of doing something like sitting in a dark theater you could actually interact with your date socially and more quickly determine your compatibility.

Where am I going with this trip down memory lane?

Needless-to-say I had been on most of the rides so many times I knew them well. In fact my daughters were amazed, or embarrassed, when I could sing along with the entire "Enchanted Tiki Room" show.

Well, I was all prepared for the same old thing and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Disney "Imagineers" have not been just resting on their past achievements.

It began with "The Pirates of the Caribbean" ride. There were subtle differences from when I last remember this attraction such as improved flame effects, conquistador's defending the fortress that is being attacked by the pirates and two pirates trying to drag out a large tapestry of loot.

The entire park was decorated in holiday splendor with all of the trees lit up in a multitude of colors and a gorgeous Christmas tree on "Main Street". OK, so that has not changed, but it has always made the kingdom feel all that more magical.

Heading toward the "Haunted Mansion" it was obvious that the spooks were embracing the spirit of the season with trimmings of black wreaths and scarecrows dressed as “Sandy Claws”. Coming from all around were the sounds of rewritten Christmas carols such as "Scary Bells", being sung by what sounded like the original cast of “Nightmare Before Christmas”. I figured they would continue this decoration scheme throughout the ride just placing little mementos of the movie around here and there and that would be the extent of the change.

I was wrong.

You could still see many of the “Haunted Mansion” pieces of the ride, but they did an outstanding job incorporating the “Nightmare Before Christmas” theme. I don't want to describe everything to you and ruin the sights, but it was worth the wait in line.

Disneyland now has these things called a “Fast Pass”. At some of the busier rides you can get a ticket near the ride that gives you a 1 hour window when you can return to the ride and zip past a large portion of the line. As long as you're good at planning your time, this works pretty well.

We tried this Fast Pass thing out with the “Thunder Mountain Railroad” ride. After getting the Fast Pass tickets we went to some Santa's village setup in “Big Thunder Ranch” at the Northern end of the park. They had a nice group of reindeer for the kids to see, and the restrooms there were not as crowded as any other in the park.

From there we rode the “Matterhorn” ride (is that what it's called?), which is always a hoot. My youngest was tall enough to ride everything in Disneyland, so we could all enjoy the rides without having to do the thing where one parent stays behind while the other one rides the rides.

“It's A Small World” was all decorated for Christmas, and the music inside of the ride was changed to have a Christmas flare to it. At night I think that this ride had the most lights and decorations on it then all of the other rides combined!

One of the longest lines was “Space Mountain”. Sheesh, I can remember waiting in lines this long for it back when it first opened. Apparently it has been redone and the new and improved ride is still drawing a crowd. Once you ride it you can see why. In the old days it was basically just a roller coaster in the dark, now the coaster itself did not feel like it changed much, but they added swirling star-like lights throughout and it has made it seem more fun.

We really had fun on the new “Buzz Light Year” ride as well. The neat thing about this ride was that you got to shoot little lighted targets while battling Buzz's arch enemy. There were only two laser gun things and my wife and I had our littlest one in the car with us, but luckily there was a lever for rotating the car too so I spent the time spinning us all around trying to give the ladies a better shot at the various targets. The end of this ride was great because you got to send a picture of yourself to an email account for free. I'll post our pictures here in this article a little later.

If you go to Disneyland you simply must make sure you see the fireworks show. Don't just watch them from anywhere in the park, make sure you end up at the North end of “Main Street” facing the castle. The entire show is created based on this viewing position. I don't want to give away too much, but let's just say that the fireworks show is in 360 degrees from that viewing location.

There is actually more to tell about, but I think you get the idea that we had a good time on this trip, I won't put you to sleep by elaborating any more.

Well done Disneyland, and thank you for making the Magic Kingdom fresh again for an old fan. Walt would be proud of what you have done with the place. Once again Disneyland has lived up to its motto as being “The Happiest Place On Earth”.

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