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One Image that Explains the Problem with Disney California Adventure

The second gate at the Disneyland Resort continues to perform poorly and disappoint guests. With three-day, single park passes costing around $100 per day, it makes sense for most guests to skip Disney California Adventure (DCA) altogether – especially if they are on a budget.

While there are several problems with DCA, the most glaring is the problem of theming, and the problem is easily illustrated with one photo. Taking the photo from Grizzly Peak Airfield toward the Carthay Circle Theater, the Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout towers in the background and creates a dissonant sight line that doesn’t make sense in the theme park context.

Walt Disney thought that controlling sightlines was important enough that he built a berm and planted trees on top of it to keep people from seeing what was outside the park. The Walt Disney Company has repeatedly lobbied the Anaheim City Council to keep other hotels from rising above certain heights, so that they can’t see in and they can’t be seen from the park. The Jolly Holiday Café was built with two styles of roofs – one to fit the aesthetic of Main Street, U.S.A. and one to fit the theming of Adventureland.

Disneyland and its progeny have all been about theming when they work. The current regime seems to have forgotten its company history and the innovations that it brought to amusement parks. Theming is Disney’s strongest characteristic. They use it to keep stories cohesive, and they should be using it to keep the stories of their parks understandable.

With Pixar all over DCA and not just on the pier and the Little Mermaid’s huge fin- or footprint (depending on the part of the story you’d like to reference) on the opposite side of the pier, Disney California Adventure has a theme problem. Its name no longer matches its content, and it’s been caught in a no man’s land of California references that don’t fit in the Cars landscape, the impending arrival of Tony Stark’s Marvel land, which will likely incorporate the now poorly placed Guardians of the Galaxy attraction at least in name and zone, or many of its other attractions.

It’s time for the Disney Company to let it go and speed up the retheming of the park, which will necessarily include getting rid of Buena Vista Street and Hollywoodland, which is currently the default play place for Marvel superheroes, Monsters, Inc, and Mickey’s Philharmagic – none of which actually represent the heyday of Hollywood and together they present a dissonance that does the park more harm than good.

Even with a 90-minute wait at Radiator Springs Racers and not using any FASTPASSes, my wife and finished the park between the hours of 9 am and 6 pm. We didn’t ride the Incredicoaster (She doesn’t like loops) or Goofy’s Sky School. We also skipped all of the rides, we could find almost everywhere else – Ferris wheel, giant swings, the Zephyr…

Our 6 pm departure was facilitated by the lack of good, moderately priced food choices in the park. Corn dogs, hot dogs, and hamburgers get old. The Pacific Wharf Café and the nearby Mexican and Chinese restaurants weren’t appealing, and the pasta at the end of the pier just hasn’t ever been that great.

You can still find spectacular shows like “Frozen” and “the World of Color.” When you’re not on a budget and you’ve made reservations, the Carthay Circle and Wine Country Trattoria are still two of the best restaurants in the parks. For those of us that are on a budget, Disney California Adventure isn’t worth the price of admission. I keep hoping, but it looks like it’ll be another two decades before the park finds its footing – if it ever does.

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Disneyland 2019

Before heading to Oregon for my author signing at Second Chance Books, I thought we should stop by my favorite place…

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Disneyland Resort Photos at the Penguinate Table (A1) Lilac City Comicon 2019

Do you miss the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror or Bug’s Land at Disney California Adventure? If so, stop by the Penguinate table (A1) at Lilac City Comicon and see what photos we have to take you back to the great memories you formed while visiting the Disneyland Resort. Our photos focus on details of the park, are very limited and cost only $3.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was based on Rod Serling’s classic TV show. With its 1930’s design, it was the right fit for DCA’s Hollywoodland theme. When the Guardians of the Galaxy moved in, fans of the original were upset. While the new attraction doesn’t fit the Hollywoodland theme, it is arguably better than the TZ version.

To fix the theming problem, DCA is retheming Bug’s Land to feature Marvel characters. While few details on the new land have been released, it makes more sense for the Walt Disney Company to focus on their Marvel division. Marvel movies will continue to provide advertising for the land, and DCA will not be providing advertising for CBS Twilight Zone reboot.

With every theming change, details are removed or rethemed. Our small collection of photos has captured some of those items. Stop by our table (A1) and ask to see our Disneyland Resort photos. We look forward to seeing you at Lilac City Comicon!

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Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, Storytelling and Ken Anderson

Disneyland's Haunted Mansion

Walt Disney turned to Ken Anderson to work on the Haunted Mansion in the late 1950s. There had been other concepts before, usually one or two drawings and not much else. Anderson got to work and began coming up with stories for the mansion, which he referred to as the “ghost house.” Anderson came up with the design based on a building in Baltimore, and he came up with several different stories, especially suited for a walk-through.

There was Captain Gore, who killed his bride when she found out that he was an infamously blood-thirsty pirate; she haunted him until he hanged himself. There was the Blood family, whose ancestral home where they all died was transplanted at Disneyland. Anderson worked on various effects and storylines within those concepts, including one with the Headless Horseman and naïve guides, but none of them worked for Walt. The Haunted Mansion resisted cohesive story-telling.

Instead, it needed to be more like the Pirates of the Caribbean, which wasn’t developed at the time Anderson was working on the Haunted Mansion. Walt told his imagineers to think of Pirates like a cocktail party. People wouldn’t be able to hear all of the conversations going on. This was a good thing because it meant that they would have to come back to see it again. That approach worked for the Haunted Mansion, too.

While the façade of the Haunted Mansion was completed in 1963, the attraction wouldn’t open until August 9, 1969. The years it spent in development and the amount of time the mansion stood empty only worked in favor of Disneyland where it opened to large crowds and earned the hearts of millions of guests.

Celebrate 50 years of the Haunted Mansion with us and preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.” A wholly unauthorized look at the history of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland and what it can help us learn about becoming more creative.

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Disney Crowd Survival Guide: Quick Tips

Main Street USA Christmas

For those who don’t want to read the long version, here are the quick tips for dealing with crowds at Disneyland:

  • Put down the phone!
  • Step to the side.
  • Don’t spread out.
  • Find the empty areas:
    • Sneak peeks at Tomorrowland
    • Movie theater on Main Street, U.S.A.
    • Critter Country
    • Tomorrowland Skyline Terrace
    • Former boat dock near the Matterhorn
  • Say “Excuse me.”
  • Say “I’m sorry.”
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Eat something.
  • Be patient.

Click if you want the longer version. Click for more on Disneyland.

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The Disneyland Crowd Survival Guide

Partners statue in Disneyland

Disneyland attendance keeps going up, and even with increased prices and annual pass block out dates, there’s just no sign of attendance really slowing. It used to be that cast and fans could count on a slow down during the school year; that’s no longer the case. (Check out “Cleaning the Kingdom” to see how the expanded programs have affected maintenance.) With the slow periods getting shorter and farther between, it pays to be prepared with a plan for dealing with the crowds.

Aside from the increasing popularity of the park and its newest additions (Galaxy’s Edge, anyone?) bringing in more people, the individuals in the crowd are taking up more space. Americans are getting larger. Guests are using more wheelchairs and ECVs, and strollers now come in double-wide or double-long versions. All of this results in greater difficulties in maneuvering and the greater likelihood that you will run into someone.

The first thing to remember is that EVERYONE(!) is trying to do the same thing you are, and they have the same over-arching goals – have fun and get away from the cares of the world. They may have different smaller goals, like see all the characters or ride Haunted Mansion 999 times, but in essence, they are you and vice versa. No one is actively trying to keep you from accomplishing your goals.

You WILL run into someone. Someone will also run into you. How you and the other person react to the situation can make all the difference to improving the experience or causing an issue and not letting anyone have any fun. Disneyland is full of distractions: lights, details, characters, the castle… the list is long and diverse. Throw in a heaping helping of smart phones, texts and selfies while walking or driving a wheel chair, ECV or stroller, and you have a recipe for disaster and possibly dangerous collisions, especially as night falls and people become more tired lowering their reaction times.

Fortunately, most of the time, people bumping into one another won’t result in injury. A step on the back heel that causes a bruise may be painful and result in a “flat tire” or a blown-out flip flop. However, as long as no one gets truly hurt, there’s no need for throwing shade or exchanging dirty looks – even if the other person doesn’t apologize. When you take on an attitude of animosity toward someone or toward his or her actions, you hurt yourself and your ability to have fun far more than you hurt the other person. Walk it off, and like Elsa, let it go. (Easier said than done if you’re tired, hot and/or hungry.)

When a stroller or wheel chair are involved, the pain can be greater, but it’s the ECVs that can wreak the most havoc. If you’re in charge of maneuvering any of these vehicles, pay attention. You must actively scan more than the immediate foreground because people who are walking will believe they can cut in front of you. They will overestimate their abilities, and you will hit them. Some people in front of you may change their mind and come to a sudden stop, you must be prepared for this, or you will run into them. (It happened to me.)  If you’re in an ECV, this could mean a trip to the hospital for the person you hit.

Regardless of how you’re getting around the park, put away the distractions. Do not text, call, iPad, iPhone, App, use an etch-a-sketch, read a paperback or anything else while you’re moving. Simply walk or navigate your vehicle and that’s it. If you’re doing it right, it will take all of your awareness and leave no room for the latest cat video on your social media feed. (If it’s that important, you’re friends will tag you, and it will be there when you get back online at your next stop.) Only use your electronic devices when you are stopped and to the side of the street or walking area away from the intersection or any openings.

There are times when you will want to stop in the middle of the street. DON’T. Unless you’re trying to get a scenic shot of the castle, somewhere in the middle of Main Street, U.S.A., do not stop in the middle of any walking area. Move to the side and let those behind you continue on unimpeded. Do not stop in entryways or on ramps.

Families will want to spread out and walk side by side. A group of six people quickly becomes a wall that blocks everyone else from getting where they want to go, especially when the children are holding the parents’ hands and running out to as far as the parent’s arms will extend. If possible, walk like the animals of Noah’s ark, 2 by 2, to allow others to pass.

As the sheriff at Radiator Springs says, “Whoa! Slow down. You aren’t racing, yet.” Great words for getting around Disneyland. SLOW DOWN! Rushing from attraction to attraction will lead to more accidents, and you’ll get tired more quickly. Pace yourself. Take in everything Disneyland has to offer by walking at a comfortable pace. This may seem like a contradictory recommendation, but slowing down allows you to be more predictable, which allows others to make better decisions. It also gives you more time to compensate for the other people on the route while mitigating possible damage from collisions and cluing you into the things that others may miss in their headlong search for the next great attraction.

The two most important words for anyone trying to get through a crowd are “Excuse me.” Don’t try to wheel your vehicle or self around a group that may or may not know you’re there. (They don’t know you’re there even if they all looked at you and wished you a merry unbirthday.) Your ECV horn is also useless. People don’t listen to electronic noises anymore (even if it’s their ring tone). There are a lot of other sounds competing for attention, and horns get lost in the cacophony. Slow down, say “Excuse me” and wait for them to move. If there’s nowhere for anyone to go, don’t bull your way through, just go slower.

The second most important words are “I’m sorry.” Sure, you can shorten it to “sorry,” but the “I’m” takes responsibility for the mistake. Far too few people are willing to take responsibility in the real world, don’t be that person in Disneyland. Even if it’s not your mistake, a well-placed “I’m sorry” can defuse a situation that may otherwise go sideways. Do not assign blame! “I honked, and you didn’t move” is no excuse for running into someone. Acknowledge the mistake and apologize. (This is not legal advice; it’s human decency advice.) If someone bumps into you, there usually isn’t any malice or intent in it. Even if there is, you shouldn’t let it get to you and ruin your vacation.

For those who get annoyed with crowds, it’s important to schedule time to get away. This may mean going back to the hotel and enjoying the room, a nap or the pool. It could mean visiting a less crowded space in the park, like near the Wishing Well or the former boat ramp across from the Matterhorn on the “it’s a small world” side. Critter Country has expanded its Hungry Bear Restaurant footprint and, when it gets colder, it benefits from fewer people riding Splash Mountain.  The movie sneak peeks also tend to be less crowded places, especially when a film has already debuted. Check out the cartoons on Main Street, U.S.A. Do some shopping earlier in the day. Or just grab something to eat at one of the upscale restaurants (as long as you’ve booked a reservation). Some tours offer special parade seating, and the Tomorrowland Skyline Terrace, a dining option for the fireworks, is a great place to get away from the crowds.

People can be one of the joys of going to Disneyland. With the right attitude, good people watching skills, an increase in patience and a plan, your Disneyland trip will be even more amazing. Click for more on Disneyland. Check out the quick tips for crowd management. Leave a comment if you have any advice on dealing with the crowds when you’re at Disneyland.

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Photos from Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure

Pixar Pier sign

The Disneyland Resort is still trying to figure out what it needs to do to get more people flowing into its second gate: Disney California Adventure. Retheming Pixar Pier is the start of the Disney Company’s ambitious plans. However, it does nothing to change the equation on a higher level. Pixar Pier is laid out the same way. With the only space left to occupy being the place where the old Maliboomer used to be, it’s hard to see anything drawing more than Toy Story Midway Mania does now. The Incredicoaster did have a long wait on a night when there was no “World of Color.” Gone are the days of 20 minutes to get on the only inverted loop in the Disneyland Resort.

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Fantasmic! at the River Belle Terrace

Everyone loves Fantsmic! Water, video projected on water, fire, fireworks, special effects, magic, and a catchy tune make this one of the most popular attractions at Disneyland. Even after more than 25 years, people stake out their seats early and cause traffic problems on the Rivers of America to see Mickey’s imagination run wild as he faces off against some of Disney’s scariest villains.

More colorful than years before, Fantasmic! 2018 features new segments and a tighter script (especially the Jack Sparrow segment). While Mickey and the Sword of Truth no longer face Maleficent in dragon form (instead, he vanquishes her as the sorcerer’s apprentice), the whole show is well-produced and choreographed.

The best seats in the house (of the mouse) aren’t necessarily in the front at the edge of the Rivers of America where spectators are likely to get wet. Instead, the River Belle Terrace offers an elevated view above the crowds and away from the water. This dining package includes a lanyard and a menu full of great food to choose from. Better, you don’t have to stake out your seats because you’ve reserved them far in advance.

The corn chowder is spicy, warm, and tasty. It hits the right spot during a cool winter evening in Frontierland, and it fills the belly and soul with goodness. The tater tots are spiced to be addictive. (As someone who isn’t a huge tater tot fan, I couldn’t get enough of them and found myself popping them in my mouth even after I was full.) The beef brisket was good, too. The showstopper, however, was the Maleficent dessert: chocolate and spice in a raspberry sauce makes it amazing.

The tables may be a little wobbly, and the seating area doesn’t have any heating elements, but the views are positively Fantasmic! And Early show viewers can stay to see the fireworks form the comfort of their table on the River Belle Terrace. Check out my Disneyland page.

From the 2017 show
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Disney Magic: Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean Changes More Than the Red-Head

While everyone has focused on the controversial change to the iconic auction scene on Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean, people have missed a subtler and more astounding addition to the classic attraction. In the cave as guests transfer between the world of the dead into the world of the living pirates, a skeleton holds treasure while hanging from a rope above a living octopus. Barbossa’s assault on the Spanish fort can be heard in the background as the guest’s ship glides by the skeleton.

But wait, it’s no longer a skeleton. The figure has transformed into a full-blooded pirate with flesh and hair! The effect may be simple to create, the result is still astounding. It was so surprising that I had to ride twice to make sure I saw what I did and other members of my party didn’t see it the first time either. So, while Scarlett, who is available as a funny, powerful face character in New Orleans Square, gets all the glamour, this other more low-key addition to Pirates of the Caribbean proves that Disney can still make magic!