I’ve just had a bittersweet Best Week Ever, because I took a weekend away from my usual Orlando assignments to say adieu to some old friends in Anaheim. January 10th marked the last day for a number of Disneyland attractions before Star Wars Land construction commences. Some, like the Railroad and Rivers of America will return next year in an altered form; others, like the Big Thunder Ranch petting zoo, are gone for good. I’ll be covering the closing of these attraction in detail over the coming days, but for this Best Week Ever I want to stash the sayonaras; instead, lets focus on some other experiences I was able to enjoy around the rest of the resort during my 24 hours in Disneyland.
My trip was largely made possible by a ludicrously low airfare ($159 round trip!) I found on Frontier. While I was delighted to get such a cheap seat between MCO and LAX, the airline makes their money back through sky-high baggage fees and some of the least comfortable seating in the sky.
Friday 9:45 p.m.: 48 Hours at Disneyland Resort To Go
After a six hour flight and an hour drive through L.A. traffic, I missed Friday night’s Disneyland Forever fireworks by mere minutes, watching them explode over the back side of Cars Land as I walked towards the park. Instead, I made Disney California Adventure my first destination.
I was delighted to see that the Disneyland Resort had kept most of their holiday decor installed past the New Year. I have to assume it was just for me, because as soon as I flew home the decorations came down…
Since Frontier obviously didn’t feed me, I was famished by this time. A spicy Korean beef and rice bowl from Lucky Fortune Cookery was just the fix! This is one of my favorite items on this eatery’s menu, right behind the edamame with Sriracha sauce.
With Radiator Springs Racers still sporting a 40 minute single rider line, I didn’t get on any attractions that first evening. Instead, I caught the night’s second performance of World of Color, which was so sparsely attended that I was allowed in the middle of the Blue section without a FastPass.
I’ve softened slightly toward the current Neil Patrick Harris-hosted Celebrate! version of World of Color, but I still feel it pales compared to the original. However, if you haven’t seen the old show, the stunning fountain technology makes it still a must-see.
After the show, I was tempted to visit Trader Sam’s, but my body clock was insisting it was way past bedtime. A fifteen minute walk took me to my room at the Eden Roc Inn and Suites, located on Disneyland Drive just south of Katella Ave, right behind Tiffy’s Family Restaurant.
This motel is anything but luxurious, but I found my room clean and fairly comfortable, with a very modern (if somewhat sterile) look. There’s no free breakfast or other frills, but the parking and WiFi are free, and the price is right — I found my room only a week in advance on Hotels.com for under $100 per night.
Saturday 8:45 a.m.: 37 Hours in Disneyland Resort to Go
Waking up early on Saturday morning, I made my way back to Disney California Adventure before rope drop with a few minutes to spare. A tip for those staying in off-property hotels along Disneyland Drive: you can cut through the Grand Californian’s lobby to reach Downtown Disney on your way to the parks, but the hotel’s direct entrance to DCA is only accessible to non-resort guests after 11 a.m.
In the past, Disney cast member set up separate queues for guests seeking Radiator Springs Racers Fastpasses, but now there’s just a big mob that starts moving at rope drop.
The Radiator Springs Racers single rider line may not open right away, as the cast member seek to fill the standby queue. Just wait a few minutes for the singles line to open, and you should be rewarded with a wait as short as those at the very front of the herd.
After my morning race, I ran over to the Hyperion Theater for a coveted closing weekend FastPass for the Aladdin musical.
These Fastpasses were not connected to the rest of the system, so I was also able to snag one for Radiator Springs Racers, which doesn’t seem to be running out quite as quickly as it did a year or two ago.
It’s finally time to hop over to the Happiest Place on Earth! I was delighted to find my favorite Wookie is being featured on the current Disneyland park map.
As you might have guessed, my #1 priority at Disneyland was HyperSpace Mountain, the Star Wars-themed overlay of Space Mountain that is the centerpiece of the ongoing Season of the Force event. Obviously I wasn’t the only one, as the attraction was a hot ticket all weekend, with Fastpasses running out by mid-day.
I’ll be writing a detailed review of Season of the Force soon, but for now suffice to say I rode HyperSpace Mountain nearly half a dozen times over two days, and loved every second of it!
When it’s 45 degrees out, I always feel like going for a dive. So with only a 5 minute wait, what better way to kickstart my Disneyland day than with a swim with Nemo and friends on the Submarine Voyage?
My boat didn’t spring a leak and I stayed dry, if not exactly warm. Happily, the Haunted Mansion was still warm with holiday cheer, as the popular Nightmare Before Christmas season overlay was still installed for a final weekend. Later in the day the line would swell, but my touring plan took me there in time to enjoy a short 5 minute wait.
Bouncing back over to DCA, I took my second spin around Radiator Springs before soaking in my last-ever showing of Aladdin. I’m really going to miss this show, though if that Powerball comes through I could always head to Broadway or book a Disney Cruise to see it again.
Here’s a clip of the spectacular “Friend Like Me” scene, shot in 4K video:
On my way out of the show, I bumped into Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, and Frozone, all greeting as a group in front of the brownstone building that used to be themed to Monsters University.
I also ducked into the Animation building and was blown over to discover virtually no line for the Anna & Elsa meet and greet. They’ve also discontinued FastPass for this formerly in-demand experience. Could this be a sign that Frozen’s fandom is fading?
By now it was well past lunchtime, so I headed to one of my go-to DCA quick service restaurants: Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta. Sadly, the wonderful flatbread pizzas were replaced a while back with these expensive, sad-looking slices.
Instead, I tried the new-to-me four cheese ravioli. I really enjoyed the flavorful filling, bright pesto sauce and properly al dente pasta, all of which comes in an ample (and attractively presented) portion size; the quantity of pine nut in the tomato salad garnish was particularly impressive, considering how much those cost per pound at retail.
Of course, a meal is always better with music, and the Ellis Island Boys don’t disappoint with their jazzy turn-of-the-century tunes.
The Cove Bar recently reopened with an expanded seating area, but it seems it wasn’t enough. The popular watering spot had almost an hour wait well before 5 p.m., which is when I usually start my serious drinking. I guess everyone really loves those lobster nachos!
If you want some shellfish sans alcohol without that long wait, do what I did and he’d to Disneyland’s Harbour Galley outside the Haunted Mansion (which by now had a very healthy queue).
The baked potatoes that were featured here have moved back to Troubadour Tavern, but the soups are still served. The bread bowl of lobster bisque that I ordered there was loaded with lobster meat, which can’t be said of the similar soups I’ve had from Walt Disney World quick service locations. Granted, the meat was mostly from the less desirable legs instead of tails, and the broth could use a good shot of sherry, but it made for an excellent light dinner.
My meal gave me a moment to study my evening’s activities, as represented by the Fastpasses I’d collected:
Even more amazing, I also managed to squeeze in a DCA parade…
…and a showing of Mickey and the Magical Map…
…before finding my spot for Fantasmic. If given a pass for the Blue section, do your best to maneuver yourself behind the technical control desk. This lighting rig may look like it will ruin your view, but once it lifts up into the air for the show, you’ll have the perfect perspective.
I hang my head in shame to admit that, following Fantasmic and the fireworks, I abandoned my final Radiator Springs Racers FastPass and headed to pass out in my hotel. In my defense, by that time I’d been in the parks for over 13 hours, and had walked the equivalent of a half-marathon!
Sunday 9:45 a.m.: 12 hours at Disneyland Resort To Go
My final day at Disneyland was mostly devoted to documenting the last day of the closing attractions, but I also made time to revisit other favorites around the original park. Here are some of the day’s highlights:
For starters, I began the day by experience my first enhanced security check, as I was “randomly selected” to empty my pockets and pass through a scanner. The process was fairly quick and painless, and the third-party security officers were pleasantly polite, so I have no complaints. In fact, I’m happy to say that didn’t observe the upgraded security procedures significantly impeding my progress at any point during my visit.
There’s nothing cooler than seeing “free range” characters roaming around Main Street USA in the morning!
The pre-opening crowd may look big, but don’t be intimidated. By arriving early and hustling (safely) as the rope dropped, I was able to experience all of the Fantasyland dark rides in only 25 minutes. That’s less time than it would take to ride only Peter Pan if you arrived just 15 minutes after opening.
The Matterhorn’s new Yeti may be a marvelous mover, but the bobsled ride is still murderous on middle-aged backs. One ride per trip is enough for me!
The Jingle Cruise in Disneyland was a real joy. There is much more added decor in the Anaheim version as compared to Orlando’s overlay, and the script was given a sharp delivery by my skipper. I’m so glad I got to see it before the Jungle Cruise closed for a lengthy refurbishment, which should rebuild the loading dock for easier boarding.
You know it’s cold out when the characters from Agrabah (“where the heat is intense”) are all bundled up in their winter wear.
I caught a couple sets from the Silver Dollar Six, a musical group that performs in the mornings at the Golden Horseshoe. They first play on the outdoor balcony above the entrance, then perform on the stage inside before the Laughing Stock Company makes their first appearance of the day.
The Silver Dollar Six play vintage western tunes with old-fashioned instrumentation, such as “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and Ennio Morricone’s movie themes. They incorporate some humor and audience participation into their act, but it’s obvious that they are more capable as musicians than comedians, unlike the much-missed Billy Hill and the Hillbillies. Even so, the low-key show is a pleasant throwback to that style of entertainment.
While watching the show, I ordered my (and Walt’s) favorite snack, a small side order of chili, and was shocked to discover how much the portion has shrunk. The price is only $1.49, so you may want to order a double.
By the way, those Silver Dollar Six players sure do get around. I spotted them a little later cavorting with Cruella de Vil and other characters as Main Street firefighters.
Here’s something else that caught my eye: as has been previously reported, these new point of sale terminals have begun popping up on mobile vending carts around the park. They look suspiciously similar to the MagicBand and ApplePay scanners now found across Walt Disney World, but for the time being none of the ones I found in Disneyland were enable for RFID-based payments.
As the sun set, I decided to warm up with a world-famous fried chicken dinner at the Plaza Inn. I wasn’t the only one with that idea, as there was a 25 minute wait, but it was well worth it.
I can’t feel I’ve had a complete trip to Disneyland without a visit to the Enchanted Tiki Room.
The submarine lagoon is simply lovely with its nighttime lighting.
I had to take one last lap on Autopia, before it too went down for refurbishment.
Now it’s time to say goodbye…with a final viewing of Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary nighttime spectaculars.
Here’s a hot tip: before the first Paint the Night parade, position yourself along Main Street USA near the photography center or Coke Corner. As soon as you are permitted to after the the last parade float passes, step into the center of the street. Cast Members will set up ropes delineating a crosswalk between Coke Corner and the photo shop; you want to be right up agains the rope on the south side of the crosswalk, so that no one will be allowed to stand directly in front of you during the show. You’ll still have to occasionally swivel 180 degrees to see the projections on the buildings behind you, but you’ll have an unobstructed view of the all-important effects on the castle itself.
I hope you enjoyed following my 48 hours at Disneyland Resort! Share some of your own favorite Disneyland memories in the comments below, and check back soon for more details on the resort’s recently closed attractions, plus much more!