Last month, work took me to LA. I flew in on a Monday, worked Tuesday, and flew out Tuesday night. Miss a chance to visit Disneyland once, shame on me. Miss a chance to visit Disneyland twice? Well…shame on me even more. So when I was scheduled for another day of work in LA this month, I booked my return flight a day later and headed to the original happiest place on earth.
I did not expect to be impressed. Which is what made it all the more sweet when I was super, duper impressed. Here are only some of the reasons why…
New Orleans Square is way cooler than Liberty Square. Perhaps this is just because I live in the Northeast and, thus, am not very taken by anything resembling, well, the Northeast. Or it could have something to do with the fact that I love New Orleans more than any other place in the world. But I think it is all about the winding ‘streets’ and the bead-strewn balconies. And the gumbo (which I did not get to try but which smelled really, really good.)
The counter service restaurants are awesome. I can not tell you how many people I saw walking around with loaded baked potatoes or bread bowls full of hot soup. Sure, Disney World has stepped up a bit–the waffle sandwiches in Sleepy Hollow are pretty great, and nothing will ever beat a Casey’s Corner hot dog nugget. But to get good ‘cheap’ food in Disney World–at least in the Magic Kingdom–takes some knowledge and planning. And, often, a trip on the monorail to get to Captain Cooke’s, the home of one of my favorites, pineapple pulled pork nachos. Drool…
The cast members are more laid back. No offense to anyone I personally know who works on the Jungle Cruise in WDW (sorry Lindsay) but my ‘tour guide’ on the Jingle Cruise in Disneyland was, hands down, the funniest tour guide I’ve ever had (though to be fair, I’ve never had you). On any tour ever. She was a bit sarcastic–something which does not exist in Disney World–and entirely entertaining. Additionally, other cast member interactions were equally down-to-earth. The boy at the entrance to it’s a small world admitted, quite bluntly, to hating holiday music. But, he said, it is better than the regular music that plays during every other part of the year. As I boarded Pirates of the Caribbean, a cast member overheard me say ‘god I hope they don’t put Santa hats on the pirates’ and she laughed and replied ‘oh god that would be awful!’ Thanks for keeping it real, Disneyland CMs.
Getting around is super easy. The on-site hotels are super on-site. Like walk out of your room, be in the park close. From my view from The Cove Bar on Paradise Pier, it looked like The Grand Californian was IN the park (because, well, it is). And speaking of Paradise Pier, California Adventure is a fifteen second walk from Disneyland. It is a farther walk from the bus stop to The Magic Kingdom than it is from California Adventure to Disneyland. And, finally, the piece de resistance: you can get a taxi back to your off-site room in minutes. From deciding to leave the park to being in my off-site hotel room, maybe seven minutes passed. And the taxi fare for two people was $8.75. Best money I spent all day.
Carsland really is Radiator Springs. This is the most well-done land I’ve ever seen. You really do feel like you are in Radiator Springs. Sadly, because of rain and cold, I did not get to ride anything in Carsland. But I did walk around and take dozens of photos. It is stunning in a true Disney magic way. So for those of you who’ve said that only Disney World is a true theme park–please, check out Carsland.
There’s more history in Disneyland. Ok, maybe ‘history’ is a stretch for a place built sixty years ago. But the Disney geek in me finds something awe-inspiring about being in the actual park that Walt created from start to finish. Like, he walked down Main Street. This was Walt’s rough draft. And I have to say, I’d pay a lot of money to read the rough draft of, say, Tom Sawyer. Or even the rough draft of Twilight (I mean, what did she cut out if that’s what got left in?) To a true Disney geek (which, apparently I am) a visit to Disneyland is less a vacation destination and more of a pilgrimage.
Pirates of the Caribbean makes more sense. It is also a much cooler ride. Yes, the whole middle part is almost the same, but the set-up is cooler. The croaking of frogs as you glide through the Louisiana swamp lulls you into a false sense of security before being plunged into the depths of the pirating world.
Disneyland just feels more real. I’m a huge fan of the real world. Disney World is not the real world. You can spend a week there and never once see any bit of the outside world. Everyone you meet is a smiling, waving Disney employee. The only food you eat is Disney-made. The only transportation upon which you ride is Disney owned. And everyone is a tourist. This is not so at Disneyland. When cast members asked where I was from, and I replied ‘Pennsylvania’, they seemed utterly shocked. You came a long way, they said. On the Jungle (er, Jingle) Cruise, the tour guide asked how many of us were from out of state. In a boat of maybe 25 people, three of us raised our hands. And the other two people were from Arizona. I know it sounds insane to call a Disney trip a ‘local travel experience,’ but really, that’s how it felt.
Christmastime is fabulous. I could write a whole post on how cool the Nightmare Before Christmas Haunted Mansion was. It was definitely the highlight of my visit, and I’m sad I only went on once. I could have done it over and over. It was more than just ‘hey let’s add some snowflakes and bows to this’ (though they did add bows to some of the headstones in the graveyard scene). Everything was changed, from the narration to every scene and room–even the ghostly banquet had a very merry (yet spooky) upgrade, complete with the smell of gingerbread.
All of that being said, there’s still something about the unmatched magic of Disney World. I spent one day in Disneyland; I could have easily spent two, but probably not much more than that. And there are downsides to Disneyland. Everything is outside, even most of the rides. Thus, if it is raining–like it was for most of my visit–half of the rides shut down (though to be fair, it rarely rains in Southern California). There are parts that feel very amusement-park-esque (as opposed to theme-park esque). Everything is smaller (Splash Mountain in Disneyland is adorable). And the restrooms are really hard to find (trust me; I circled Critter Country before finally breaking down and asking someone.)
And, perhaps worst of all, a visit to Disneyland is the tasting portion version of a Disney experience. It left me wanting more. So–who wants to join me in Orlando as soon as possible?