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Friday, June 8, 2012

Solo Trip to Disneyland - February 22, 1998

This is a re-print of an original post to the ThompsonFamilyWeb site about a trip I took to Disneyland in February of 1998. It is completely unaltered from my original post.

I am a forty-year-old expatriate California resident and Disneyland fan. Growing up in Southern California I went to DL three or four times a year. I moved to New York when I was 29, but I still go to California at least once a year and always make a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth part of my agenda.

I was in California on a combination of business and pleasure. My parents and my younger brother Todd live in Anaheim, and since we all are in business together it makes it very easy to combine both. I was scheduled to be out there for 5 days, which made it easy to get everything accomplished I needed to and still have time for a trip to Universal Studios and, of course, Disneyland. Todd and I had gone to Universal the previous Friday, and we had decided on Sunday for our Disneyland trip.

The original plan was for all four of us to go. Todd and my parents would renew their Annual Passes and they would be able to get me in for the discounted "local" rate. The first to drop out was my dad, who had some work to do. My mom also dropped out at the last minute, figuring Todd and I would have more fun (and go on more attractions) without her. Then Todd almost bailed out as well. It seems that he got a bit of food poisoning at Universal (I told him not to eat the roast chicken. Did he listen? Nooo...). He spent the better part of Saturday recovering. By that evening he felt fine, but he was now behind on the homework he had planned on doing Saturday, so he would have to do it on Sunday. We decided that I would go in Sunday morning and we would meet at "Merlin's magic Shop" at 3:30. (Merlin's Magic Shop hasn't existed for years, BTW. It's where we used to always meet up when we were kids. We continue the tradition by meeting at whatever shop occupies Merlin's old space, to the right past the drawbridge as you enter Fantasyland. Currently it's a shop for Disney Villains.)

I wanted to get there right at opening, something I hadn't done in years. Todd drove me in and stayed with me while I got my ticket so I could get the local discount. While we waited in line I was talking to a couple of young kids, probably 6 or 7, standing in front of us. I mentioned that I had two kids, but they were at home in New York with their mother. "Then why did you come here?" one of the kids asked. "What, can't I have a little fun?" was my reply.

The CM who sold us my ticket mentioned that Todd would have to show his ID when we entered. We were glad she mentioned it since Todd had not intended to come in the park at all. It turned out not to make a difference as the CM at the park entrance never checked his ID. Once inside Todd toyed momentarily with the idea of staying, then leaving early and doing his homework that evening. He thought better of it and left anyway. As he walked away he quipped that he would be the first person that day to get his hand stamped.

So there I was, all alone in Disneyland. I've never been to DL by myself before and I was curious, not to mention a little concerned, about how I would react. I decided to make the best of the situation by going at my own pace and doing anything I wanted.

I was there before the "official" opening, so I strolled around Main Street. I had been reading a lot in the alt.disney.disneyland internet discussion group (a.d.d.) and in other places about how the quality of maintenance at DL had been deteriorating under the current management. I won't go into details about this here as I have made several posts in a.d.d. voicing my opinion in this matter and I don't care to get into that here. Suffice it to say that I did notice the results of maintenance problems on Main Street in particular (mostly chipped paint) but I was also pleasantly surprised by how little an impact it had, on me at least. I must confess that, had I not been looking for it, I wouldn't have paid it much mind. I might have noticed, but I don't think I would have been too concerned.

While strolling around shops I ended up in a photo store at the northeast end of Main Street. It was now about 10 minutes before opening. There is a door there that opens in front of the roped-off area, but it was, of course, locked. There were a few people standing by the door and I overheard one couple say that they go to that door every week when the go to DL and, by doing so, they are able to get in ahead of the rest of the crowd. I thought "why not?" and waited there as well.

From inside the shop I could see the crowd of people waiting for the rope to drop at the north end of Main Street, signaling that the park was officially open. Looking at the huddled masses yearning to be free to ride Space Mountain, my thoughts drifted back to my last trip to DL the year before. I was with my wife Andie and my then 3 1/2 year old daughter Natalie on that trip (Andie was expecting our second daughter, Charlotte, at the time). We managed to fulfill one of my childhood dreams on that trip by staying at the Disneyland Hotel. Being guests of the hotel, we were able to gain early entry. From what I've read the "Magic Mornings" program has changed since then, with more people allowed access and less of the park being open early. When we went, the entire park was open for EE and it was nearly empty. While Nat and Andie visited Fantasyland, Todd (always my companion on my yearly DL excursions) and I rode Space Mountain and then moved on to the Indiana Jones Adventure. As we crossed the park we could see people lined up behind the rope waiting to gain access. We waved and smiled, assured of the fact that those poor sots were duly jealous as we made our way to ride IJA four or five times.

As opening time approached a little girl who was celebrating her 5th birthday was pulled out of the crowd and asked to officially open the park. They gave a little speech (which I couldn't hear, being inside a shop behind a closed door), then they brought the little girl through the door of the photo shop to push the button that would start the recorded opening announcement. They let us through the door and, sure enough, I was ahead of about 95% of the crowd. There was a CM who held up a sign for the Indiana Jones Adventure, and since that was first on my agenda, I followed. I could see why they did this for IJA specifically, since many of the people were headed there and the queue entrance is rather difficult to find.

I was among the first 500 or so people to ride IJA that morning, which was kind of neat. Once the ride was over, however, it dawned on me that I had no plan of attack beyond IJA. I stood there in Adventureland sort of lost for a minute, contemplating what to do next. I decided on Splash Mountain and headed in that direction. I very soon realized that I had gone in the wrong direction and was, instead, headed toward Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. "OK" I thought, "I'll do BTMRR". I walked up to the queue area and found it closed. There was a CM there, however, talking on a phone. She hung up and I asked if the ride was opening. "I'm opening right now" she replied. And so I was the first person to ride BTMRR that morning. Well, actually me and a train-load of other people, but I was the first in line and that counts, doesn't it?

After BTMRR I went on Splash Mountain. Todd had said that he noticed that the WDW version wasn't as "busy" as the DL version, whereas I had remembered them being pretty much the same. Well, I had just been to WDW a few months earlier so it was fresh in my mind and I have to admit that Todd was right. The DL version does seem to have "more going on" as Todd put it. After Splash Mountain I went on the Haunted Mansion, something I hadn't done in quite some time. Interestingly, the sound system in my "Doom Buggy" and all those near me weren't working so I couldn't hear the narrator. I think it was working in other cars because I could sometimes hear it in a distance. I also wanted to go on Pirates of the Caribbean, but it was closed. PotC was closed on my last DL trip as well (it was being PC'd).

I then decided to make my way across the park to Tomorrowland. I knew that most of Tomorrowland would be closed for the re-modeling but I wanted to see how it looked. Besides, I wanted to ride Space Mountain. The entrance to Tomorrowland from Main Street was fairly complete. I have to say that the entrance along with the new Astro Orbiter looks very cool. I seem to recall reading somewhere that the AO had originally been elevated but it was found to be too intrusive and brought down to ground level. If this is true I can certainly see why. The AO looks pretty cool, but sitting there right at the entrance it would certainly intrude into Main Street if it were taller. I also noticed that the design on the tail of one of the Astro Orbiter Rockets appears to be a hidden Mickey.

Most of Tomorrowland looked like one big construction site. From the stairs on the way into Space Mountain I could get a pretty good view of all the work. From what I could see it appears that the new Tomorrowland is going to look great. One quick Space Mountain note. The Music was being used the last time I went to DL, but it didn't really impress me. This time out, however, I was quite impressed with how much the music adds to the ride's thrills. After SM I went on Star Tours and mentioned this to the CM on duty. He told me that they had just finished an improvement to the SM sound system and as a result the music did indeed sound much better. I don't know how accurate this info is, but there you have it.

It was past noon when I got off of Star Tours and the park was getting a bit crowded. It may have been a Sunday in February, but it was the first nice weekend day after several weeks of El Nino-induced rain, so I assume a lot of folks were coming out to enjoy the weather. I was feeling a bit hungry and, since I also wanted to do some shopping at the DL Hotel, I decided to go there for lunch. The monorail was out of service on account of all the construction going on for the new park (still planned on being Disney California Adventure as far as I know) so I had to take a tram. Actually, it probably didn't take any longer than the monorail would have, considering there was no wait.

I went to the Monorail Café for lunch and had a chicken quesadilla that wasn't bad. The placemats have a "Where's Waldo" style map of DL with Mickey hidden somewhere. Well, I must admit that I found Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Pluto, but not Mickey.

After lunch I did a little shopping. The two main things I wanted to get were some fudge and a gift for Natalie. She really loves to play dress-up and I was certain I could find something she would love at one of the hotel shops. Well they did have some stuff she probably would have been thrilled with, but they were all crinoline and lace and would have been nearly impossible to transport home to New York. I did eventually find lots of gifts for the girls in my life in other places, but for my DL purchases I settled for two pounds of fudge, one for my dad and one for my wife and me to share when I got home, and headed back to the park.

I still had some time to kill before Todd would arrive. The lines weren't too long, but waiting in a line even for 30 minutes by yourself can be excruciating, so I decided to just hang out for a while. I recently read a post on a.d.d. by someone who wrote that they were tired of hearing about what a great place DL is to "just hang out". While I understand the sentiment, DL is a great place to hang out.

3:30 rolled around and I went to Merlin's Mag- I mean the Disney Villain Store - to meet Todd. When Todd showed up the first thing he asked was "So, what have you been on?" I told him Indiana Jones, Big Thunder, Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain and Star Tours. He nodded, thought about it for a moment, then replied "Well, you want to do it again?"

The reality is that we didn't quite "do it again". We hit IJA and SplM then went on ST. While in line for SM, however, we decided to bail. The line was a bit long and it was beginning to get late. On our way out, however, I convinced Todd that we should ride the Matterhorn. I say convince because the last time Todd and I rode the Matterhorn he didn't want to, complaining that it's too slow. Well, we rode it anyway and he was absolutely right. I suggested we could make the ride more thrilling by getting out of the bobsled and pushing. The major overhaul they did many years ago when they changed the bobsleds to be pairs seemed like a good idea at the time - after all, the line now goes twice as fast. But it also seems as if the bobsleds go twice a slow.

Regardless, I was in a nostalgic mood, and in the pre-Space/Splash Mountain Star Tours and even BTMRR days of my youth the Matterhorn was the biggest thrill of the land. So we piled ourselves into a couple of bobsleds and hit the slopes. And you know what? It was fun. I think it was because I wasn't expecting much. No, it wasn't exactly IJA or TZToT or even Space Mountain, but it was fun and even a bit of a thrill. It was the perfect topper of my day at Disneyland. After all, if a trip to DL (especially a solo trip) isn't about re-capturing your youth, what is it about?

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