Just Published: Theme Park Insider: 2016 Year in Review
My family is predominantly a Florida clan when it comes to vacations. Yearly, we visit my grandparents in Tampa and usually take advantage of the opportunity to do one of the resorts while down there. At a running total of 5 trips to Disney World, 5 trips to Universal Orlando, 1 trip to SeaWorld Orlando and 5 trips to Busch Gardens (though this one I’m not so certain on because I can only remember a few times from when I was younger), it was high time to pick somewhere new. For many years now, I have been wanting to head to California to do Disneyland, but it was mostly in vain. However, my father is a high school AD and the yearly conference was held at the neighboring Anaheim Convention Center. Two birds, one stone.
Our flight down to LA was smooth and within minutes, we grabbed our bags out of the luggage center and hopped on a shuttle to the agency from which we rented our car. Pretty soon, we were on our way to the hotel.
The drive to the hotel was about 45 minutes and I was listening to music with my window rolled down, appreciating the warm climate, when all of a sudden, something piqued my interest. Disneyland Drive: Next Right. I took out my headphones to get a closer look and to my surprise a minute later, there was a Monorail track, complete with a Monorail, to the absolute right of my car. I always knew that DLR was a compact resort, but I didn’t know it was this close to the outside world, unlike in Orlando. As I continued to look out, I saw it all, the Matterhorn, Space Mountain, the entrance, and the big, looming Tower of Terror.
After the drive preview of Disneyland, we were right to our hotel and although we couldn’t see the parks from our room, we did see one of the off-site parking lots. Hungry and ready to explore, we were off to get a bite to eat. My parents always had a tradition that if there were a Jack in the Box (a fast food chain not found in IL) in their vacation spot, that becomes the first place they eat. Continuing said tradition, we left our hotel and took a 15 minute walk to fully stretch our legs from the plane and car ride. Along the way, we passed a Disney Welcome Center and realized that we could buy our tickets here. Unfortunately, the discounted tickets my dad got from his convention had to be printed up, so we only made lunch reservations for Carthay Circle while we were there.
The rest of the day went smooth as we relaxed, took in the nice weather and kept off our feet in anticipation of the next day. That night, my father printed off the three day park hoppers for my brother and myself while my parents opted for a two day park hopper. With time to spare, we decided to walk over to Disney and scope out a path for in the morning. 15 minutes later, we reached the entrance and were ready to head back when, on our way out a different way, a cast member directing guests to the Toy Story lot told us that afore lot was the one we could see from our room and that we could hop on the shuttle and just walk across the street to our hotel. Bonus!
Back in the hotel room, I set my phone alarm for 5:30, 5:45, 5:55, 6:00, 6:05 and 6:10, and nodded off, ready for the next day. Awaking at 6:00 sharp, I hopped into the shower and got ready while my brother followed suit. My parents would be joining us later because my father had to pick a day to attend the convention. At 6:45, the two of us stopped at the Starbucks in the lobby for a quick breakfast and found ourselves at the Toy Story lot by 7.
After a 10 minute shuttle ride, we were off to the original park: Disneyland. The park wasn’t supposed to open until 8, but our three day hopper gave us one Magic Morning to use. After going though the turnstile, I took a moment to reflect that I would be walking in the original Magic Kingdom for the first time. As I walked down Main Street, there it was, the castle. As breathtaking as it was, I just didn’t see it measure up (literally and figuratively) to the one I was so familiar with in Florida. Nonetheless, we took a right, off to our first ride: Space Mountain.
Review: To start off, the queue is superior in Florida. CA lacks the interactive games you’d find in FL, but since the ride had no wait, this probably wouldn’t matter so much. Also, I found that there was more walking outdoors with switchbacks rather than the themed queue, which also docks it some points. The ride itself, however, is much better than FL. As someone who will go on anything, but not a thrill ride junkie, I appreciated the smoother track. Also, the onboard soundtrack was pretty neat, but I missed the audio and visual near misses you find on FL. One thing I didn’t miss was the long speed ramp back to the park at the end of the ride. Winner: CA. 8/10.
Fresh and awakened from our first ride, we decided to do Buzz Lightyear since we knew that one gets long lines at FL.
Review: The queues have no discernable difference, no neither park gets the edge in that field. However, I found that the ride was much more enjoyable in CA. Yes, I know that having the gun mounted is the only way you can screw someone’s aim up, but the cons outweigh the plusses in FL. On my last visit in March, I maxed out at 999,999 halfway through the ride. This time, I ended up with about 30,000 by the time the ride was over. Clearly, FL needs an update to what I think is a broken attraction. Not to mention that CA has a Zurg whose voice isn’t so deep it just sounds like robotic gargles. Winner: CA. 7/10.
From there, it was time to get ready to head over to California Adventure to grab Fastpasses for Radiator Springs Racers, knowing that they go faster than you can say Ka-Chow. Walking through the gates, we were stunned to find a big congregation waiting for the same thing. We waited in line for about 10 minutes until the park had officially opened and we soon grabbed our passes for 11:00. Figuring that Cars Land would get packed for the rest of the day, we decided to give Luigi’s Flying Tires a try. I can see why everyone gives praise to this new expansion. The layout feels like an exact replica of Radiator Springs from the movie and the various details and facades add to the charm felt in the first movie. Figuring that lines would get busy later on, we decided to try Luigi’s Flying Tires.
Review: Having heard polarized reception about people who either love or hate this ride, I decided to go in as objectively as possible. And I have to say, I enjoyed it pretty thoroughly. Sure the tires don’t go very fast and can get hard to move again, but it made the bumps feel all the more satisfying and had the most re-ride appeal. Probably not worth anything over 15 minutes.
After the tires, we decided to go to Flo’s for breakfast. Since I don’t eat big at parks, I opted for the kids waffles while my brother chose a scrambled egg meal. We both enjoyed our meals, though the waffles were a bit too crunchy for my tastes. However, I did appreciate that glass plates and metal silverware were used as opposed to the usual paper and plastic. From there, it was on to California Screamin’.
Review: This was my first disappointment of the trip. I just didn’t find the coaster to be that fun. Aside from the drops following the lifts, there was little to get excited about. The signature loop was average as was the rest of the coaster. And the on-board music was nothing special. 4/10.
After California Screamin’, we decided to do Mickey’s Fun Wheel.
Review: There’s not much to say here other than that the only version worth riding is the swinging one. While the enhancement does make this Ferris wheel somewhat fun, the views are challenged and there isn’t a lot worth seeing. 6/10.
From there, we decided to walk around the park with about 30 minutes until our FastPasses would be ready. Going through Condor Flats, we saw a short wait for Soarin’ Over California and went on in.
Review: This ride is essentially the same as it is in Florida. I’ve always wondered why the Epcot version stayed a copy when the ride is clearly meant for California Adventure. However, I still found it to be the calm, relaxing and enjoyable version I typically find over in Florida. Winner: Tie 8/10
Now that it was past 11:00, we headed over to Cars Land to do Radiator Springs. Busted. Racers was down (apparently, it had been pretty much the whole morning) and that our passes would be good for the rest of the day. Since we were in need of a break, we stopped at the Cozy Cone Motel. My brother and I split orders of the Churro Bites and Popcorn and both were good, but nothing special. After relaxing for 20 minutes, we hopped on over to the Tower of Terror.
Review: I was fully aware from online reviews that the CA version is a scaled back ride compared to the FL version and set my expectations accordingly. However, even with that mindset, I still could not help feeling a little disappointed. I missed having that stroll down Sunset Boulevard with the looming tower, the queue that winded through the abandoned gardens, and yes, especially going through the 5th dimension and having randomized drops. Even though the ride was still fun, the disappointment kept me from maximizing my enjoyment. Winner: FL 7/10
From there, we met up with my parents at the gift shop and with my MouseWait app, I saw that Racers was back up, so it was off to over there. My parents waited outside while my brother and I zipped through the FastPass line past the 120 minute Standby line. Just as we were approaching our load station, Racers was experiencing another difficulty and the vehicles kept being sent through empty, so we decided to just wait it out. Fortunately, the hiccup only took about 15 minutes and the ride was back up, so we were on.
Review: Wow, what a ride. Individually, no part is the best of its kind, but as a whole, this is a grand attraction. The massive ride exterior is very impressive, the animatronics are entirely convincing and the race at the end provides a great resolution. The best part is that this is a ride for everyone: little kids, thrill ride junkies, theme park fans and especially, families. Even my brother (who is entirely a thrill ride junkie and wouldn’t give a hoot about theming) admitted that he found the animatronics to be the best part. Unfortunately, on my first ride, Sheriff wasn’t working, but that isn’t enough to detract my rating. 10/10.
Walt Disney World
Tokyo Disney Resort