Travel Issue: Disneyland for Haters
Think you’re too cynical, sophisticated, debauched or underfunded to visit the Happiest Place on Earth? This one’s for you.
Thu, Jun 25, 2009 (midnight)
Photo: Travis Jackson
I am of Disneyland. My love for Walt Disney’s 54-year-old theme park can move (space!) mountains. In fact, my love for Disneyland is so perfect and so complete that I don’t really mind if you hate it.
Somehow I’ve managed to acquire a number of friends who steadfastly refuse to go to Disneyland, and who question why anyone would want to go there. They’ve created obstacles for themselves—some are material, some ideological—and they toss them up whenever I try to sell them on the Anaheim theme park:
“It’s too crowded.
Way too many kids and strollers.”
“It costs a fortune.”
“It’s just not my kinda thing.”
“I don’t trust the Disney Company. It has a birth canal that shoots out Jonas Brothers.”
Actually, that last one’s mine. I overcame it, and I think you can overcome your obstacles, hater.
Look at me: I photograph roller derby, collect vintage smut, curse more than the second male lead in a Mamet play and have a 120-proof liver. If I can cultivate a life as a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, sepia-toned pervert, and keep these tendencies in check while posing for pictures with a high-school kid in a mouse suit, then you put aside whatever it is you’re holding against Disneyland and get in line for the Matterhorn bobsleds with me. I will hold your place.
And so, to the haters, I address this little mash note. Everyone should visit Disneyland at least once. One obstacle at a time, I’m going to help you to get there.
‘It’s too crowded.’
Well, yeah, it’s Disneyland. Despite the fact that a new Disney theme park opens every six to eight minutes, there’s really only one Disneyland. It’s the only one of the so-called Magic Kingdom parks that Walt Disney ever walked in, and you can see his footprints everywhere. There are huge “souvenirs” of his travels; Disneyland has attractions named for Matterhorn Mountain and New Orleans Square, places that Walt visited and loved. The petrified tree he gave his wife as an anniversary gift sits in Frontierland. And Disney cast members keep a lamp burning in the Main Street Fire House apartment where Uncle Walt would sometimes spend the night.
Even if people don’t know these things, they can somehow feel the presence of the lord of the manor. If you visit, Walt will come. Hell, Graceland receives more than 700,000 visitors a year, and it doesn’t even have teacups you can spin in.
Believe it or not, you can also feel the difference between 40,000 and 45,000 people on a single day. You stand a better chance of visiting a less crowded Disneyland if you visit on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday; if you plan your visit for September or October; and if you avoid the months of July and December like a vole-borne plague. If you do choose to visit during the summer months, try arriving later in the day and pacing yourself: Disneyland often stays open until midnight, and many of the families with young children leave after the 9:30 p.m. fireworks show. You’d be surprised how many big attractions you can knock off in those two and a half hours.
Try to make wise use of “Fastpass,” the free ride-reservation system that allows you to bypass the long lines at some of the more popular attractions. Upon arriving at Disneyland, check out the wait-times board at the end of Main Street; it lists all the attractions with wait times over 15 minutes. Any wait under 30 minutes really doesn’t need a Fastpass; any wait over 30 minutes does. Remember that nearly every Disneyland attraction has an indoor queue with air-conditioning and cool stuff to look at, and in those queues a half-hour passes like nothing.
‘It’s too expensive.’
Single-day admission for adults is $69 for one theme park and $94 if you’d like to scoot back and forth between Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. (You would, but more on that shortly.) The price drops a bit if you get a two-day “Park Hopper”—a somewhat better deal at $143. That’s $71.50 per day, or more precisely, “Seventy-two dollars a day? He’s out of his goddamn mind.”
Look at it this way. The Manhattan Express roller coaster at New York-New York is $14 per ride, with a $7 option for a second ride. For the sake of comparison, let’s say that Disneyland’s most expensive attractions are half that at $7 apiece, and repeat rides and second-tier attractions are $3.50 across the board. By my count, there are no fewer than 10 attractions at Disneyland that are worth $7 a pop:
Pirates of the Caribbean
The Haunted Mansion
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
The Enchanted Tiki Room
Indiana Jones Adventure:
The Temple of the Forbidden Eye
And 10 rides worth $3.50:
Peter Pan’s Flight
Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
Roger Rabbit’s Toon Car Spin
Alice in Wonderland
The Mark Twain Riverboat
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
It’s a Small World
The Disneyland Railroad
Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters
Snow White’s Scary Adventures
That’s a full day right there—and you’ve just spent $105 without visiting any attraction twice or crossing the promenade to visit the $7 attractions at Disney’s California Adventure. Even if you don’t manage to hit Space Mountain twice or DCA’s Soarin’ Over California once, you’ll still come out ahead—at least until meal times come around.
Disney’s sit-down dining options are overpriced and underwhelming. I recommend eating light snacks inside of the parks, but getting full meals outside the parks. There are dozens of chain restaurants within walking distance of the main gates, most of them at the Downtown Disney and Anaheim GardenWalk outdoor malls.
By the way: The Blue Bayou, the “veranda” restaurant inside Pirates of the Caribbean and the only sit-down restaurant at Disneyland that I can wholeheartedly recommend, is much cheaper at lunchtime. Their deep-south menu is pretty respectable, and if only the restaurant served wine—like the members-only Club 33, just upstairs—it would be perfect.
Uncle Walt didn’t want beer or wine sold inside Disneyland. He didn’t want the headaches associated with liquor sales and didn’t care for the unsavory aspects that booze brings to amusement parks. But Walt himself indulged after work—he was a scotch man—and if he were still around, I don’t think he’d mind if you tied one on at Downtown Disney’s Uva Bar, staggering distance from the main gates. Nor would he give a damn if you crossed the promenade to Disney California Adventure, which serves liquor and actually has a pretty decent patio lounge, the Cove Bar at Ariel’s Blotto. Grotto. I meant Grotto.
‘I hear Disney’s California Adventure isn’t worth the money.’
Disney’s California Adventure isn’t that impressive considered alongside Disneyland. That’s its biggest problem: DCA is right alongside Disneyland. Absolutely nothing could compare. But DCA does complement the older park nicely.
DCA boasts the world’s longest roller coaster with a loop (California Screamin’), the world’s only river-rafting ride with a spinning drop (Grizzly River Ride) and a flight-simulator attraction that ranks with the most innovative and frankly breathtaking of Disney’s attractions (Soarin’ Over California). It’s got a superior Twilight Zone-themed drop ride (The Tower of Terror), a 3-D shooting gallery/dark ride hybrid (Toy Story Midway Mania) and the world’s only Little Mermaid-themed bar (the aforementioned Ariel’s Blotto). This kind of stuff would stand out in a theme park that wasn’t right next door to the most beloved theme park in the world.
‘Let’s say I do this. Where do I stay that doesn’t have screaming kids around the pool?’
If you’re looking for the boutique-hotel experience next to Disneyland, you could do worse than the Hotel Menage. It offers free wi-fi and has big-ass plasma-screen TVs on the walls and deep lounge sofas around the pool, and the rooms are bedecked in sleek, modernist jibba-jabba. The rates are pretty reasonable, especially on midweek visits.
‘I’m afraid of getting trapped on It’s a Small World. It happened to this guy I know.’
Oh, just sack up, for chrissakes. A few singing dolls aren’t going to kill you. Besides, Mary Blair’s set and character designs for the 45-year-old attraction are still timely and eye-catching. The “lowbrow” art of Shag, Mark Ryden and others is unimaginable without it.
‘Disneyland is just not my kinda thing.’
I’ve heard that from countless friends who have since changed their minds. For better or worse, Walt Disney imagined Disneyland as an American version of Tivoli Gardens—a lushly landscaped family park with a little something for everyone.
“I know more adults who have the children’s approach to life,” Disney once said. “They’re people who don’t give a hang what the Joneses do. You see them at Disneyland every time you go there. They are not afraid to be delighted with simple pleasures.”
Disneyland is a living piece of American pop art, as prominent a strand in the tapestry as Elvis or Star Wars. Millions of very different people—from Frank Sinatra to Barack Obama to Gwen Stefani to the Shah of Iran—have walked up Main Street, gazing fixedly at Sleeping Beauty Castle. They saw something there that they liked. You might, too, hater.