The thought of traveling with a group of people can create a lot of apprehension among those of us with social anxiety. But for our first trip to Disneyland, I took–what was for me–a leap of faith (or craziness? Aren’t they sometimes the same thing?) and invited our friends to join us. (more…)
Here’s the story of Lance+Jeff and Brian and Phil at Club 33…and how we almost ruined our chances of ever returning.
First, an introduction for the Disney laypersons: Disneyland’s Club 33 might be the holy grail for the most intense fans of Disney Parks. And somehow, we got in.
After six-plus years of being together, it’s always nice to step back, assess the BIG PICTURE, and come to the same conclusion: my husband is quite the catch.
Now I present the best way to cap off your work-week, a series of photos of Lance enjoying Disneyland. What better way to enjoy the Happiest Place on Earth than with such an adorable guy? (Cameos by two other handsome gentlemen, Brian and Phil.)
Well, I know all those pics put me in a better mood. Happy Friday, everyone!
Christmas was just a few weeks after we got back from Disneyland, and I was scrambling at the last minute to come up with some stocking stuffers for Lance that wouldn’t break the bank.
I’d already purchased some “legal enough for eBay” Disneyland and California Adventure attraction posters, like the Enchanted Tiki Room and the Peoplemover, for Lance, since he nearly bought them for himself while we were in California but was too indecisive about which one he wanted.
Still, I felt like I hadn’t done enough to commemorate/hadn’t beaten the dead horse of our Disneyland trip enough.
What to do, what to do…
I’m one of those assholes who still likes High Fidelity after all this time, and the most important lesson I walked away with from that movie is how awesome (read: not lazy or cheap) a thoughtful, carefully-edited mixtape can be. (Too bad I didn’t see these cassette tape-themed USB devices before Christmas, ’cause they really would’ve been the kicker.) Not everybody holds this view; mixtapes probably seem outdated in the Playlist Era. But like a Christmas card, I believe that giving something tangible adds just a little weight to your intentions.
Let’s go down the track-list, shall we?
1. “California (Tchad Blake Mix)” by Phantom Planet:
This was an easy, if outdated, one. Even though I don’t think either of us have watched an episode of “The O.C.” in our lives, Phantom Planet’s decade-old anthem to heading west is still what plays in my head whenever I wait to board a plane to the Golden State.
2 and 3. “Walt Disney’s Dedication to Disneyland” and “All Aboard! (Main Street Station!) from Disney’s Happiest Celebration on Earth:
Now that we’re in California, who better to welcome us than Walt Disney? To fully complete our transition into the lands of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy, let’s board the Disneyland and Sante Fe Railroad, the E.P. Ripley, at the Main Street Station.
4. “The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room” from Disney’s Happiest Celebration on Earth:
One of our favorite attractions at the Disney parks, the perfect example of what sets Disney apart from their theme park competitors. Who would think that a show about animatronic birds, flowers, and tikis would still survive–and thrive!–fifty years later in our jaded, cynical times? A pure delight, through and through…and it helps that they sell Dole Whips right outside.
5. “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye” from Disney’s Happiest Celebration on Earth:
Okay, this might actually be our favorite Disney attraction, a sister attraction to “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull” in Tokyo DisneySea. An exceedingly well-executed adventure in the footsteps of Indiana Jones as he attempts to escape the destructive gaze of the god Mara.
6. “Welcome to Radiator Springs” by Joe Louis Walker from The Music of Cars Land:
I expected to be ambivalent, at least, to California Adventure’s Cars-themed area since I’m very lukewarm on the films, but like most visitors, we were completely sold by the mid-century-beauty of Radiator Springs. Cars Land is filled with ’50s and ’60s background pop-rock music, mixed with originals like this song written for a drive down Route 66.
7. “Space Mountain (New Daytime Track)” by Michael Giacchino from Disney’s Happiest Celebration on Earth:
Lance I both love Oscar-winner Michael Giacchino’s work on Up, Ratatouille, Lost, Alias and Fringe, so of course we’d love this thematic mashup of The Incredibles and Star Trek for a truly retro trip around the cosmos.
8. “World of Color (Orchestral Theme)”:
World of Color is the beautiful, breathtaking nighttime show (how?? It’s just water and lights!) in Disney California Adventure, and its intro/finale music is heartstring-plucking Disney magic at its best.
9. “Dance With Me Tonight” by Olly Murs
How could I not select this as the big finale of our Disneyland playlist? Our good buddy and Disneyland companion Brian hand-selected this song for his DisneySide video about our trip (it’s above and you should totally watch it!), and it seemed like a perfect musical fit to our trip to the Happiest Place on Earth.
I try to avoid being a stereotype, so I go out of my way to dress as shabbily as possible, listen to alt-rock instead of Kylie Minogue (no, I do that too. Whoops…but at least I had to look up how to spell her last name!), and I definitely do not pay much mind to interior design. All of these things are what I have Lance around for.
However, one particular element of design I find really fascinating is light. John Hench, one of Disney Parks’ most–if not the most–influential Imagineers, wrote extensively on color and environment in his book, Designing Disney. These things help to create the fantastical, immersive atmosphere that separates Disney parks from the everyday [Proofreader Mom, is that the right use of “everyday”?].
So, of course, the use and design of interior and exterior lights is very influential in establishing and maintaining a very specific mood, just as important as the design of buildings, the employment of background music, cast member costumes, etc.
Disney Parks the world over provide a opportunity to see a great variety of designs in a contained space, as Imagineers strive to provide not only an authentic experience–like in the case of 1901 Lounge in Disney California Adventure, which is inspired by high-rolling Hollywood executive lounges of the 1920s and ’30s–but also a “plus”-ed version of whatever they are representing. It’s not enough to look like an elite tinseltown club, 1901 has to look like something straight from a movie, everything a slight fantasy.
Above: I love these globe lamps in the 1901 bar area!
I am by no means an expert on light fixture design–I’m sure there are lots of scientific and artsy-fartsy terms for all of this stuff–but these diamond-shaped lights are amazing, probably my favorite of any I’ve seen in a Disney park.
Is there any space in the Disneyland Resort more beautiful than the Carthay Circle Restaurant?
Here’s a sneak peak inside and around the exclusive (ooh, ain’t we fancy?) Club 33, which I’ll discuss in a future post:
As I mentioned, the variety is seemingly endless: from Victorian French Quarter to a bar on the edge of exploration to the neon glow of Route 66. Beautiful!
What could be Mecca for Disney fans but Walt Disney’s original Magic Kingdom, Disneyland?
I’d been discouraged from visiting Disneyland before. “It’s so small. You’ve been to Disney World; you won’t be impressed.” And there’s the never-ending East Coast/West Coast rivalry, trying fruitlessly (wait, wait, I’m setting up something good…) to compare the apples-versus-oranges natures of the Anaheim and Lake Buena Vista resorts.
After my Adult Disney Renaissance (a term I think is attributable to @macabresalad over at Food*Fitness*Fantasy), I read up a lot on the creation of the Disney parks, and I kept feeling drawn toward California. Regardless of how much more expansive and operationally impressive Walt Disney World is, I became obsessed with seeing this little nugget of a park, the park that changed the amusement and entertainment industry forever, the park that’s rooted deep in the history of a corporate canon so engrained into my psyche.
I was fortunate enough to sucker two of the best fellas and Disney parks companions a guy could ask for into attending our first Disneyland visit with us. The promise of a Club 33 reservation didn’t hurt none, I’m sure! (More on that in a future post.)
When Lance, Phil, Brian and I walked under the Disneyland railroad archways and through to Main Street, U.S.A., it was like we were escape artists pulling off our biggest trick, slipping out of reality. It was early December, and the park was dripping from head-to-toe in festive decorations, Christmas background music carrying through the air, characters greeting in Town Square in holiday garb…there was an energy in the air I’ve never experienced to such a degree before.
I’ve been trying to put my thumb on it for awhile, and I’m sure my eventual conclusion is nothing new: there’s such an emotional investment in Disneyland by the majority of its guests, locals who have been attending since they were kids. Disneyland is their land. They have a special sense of ownership over it, and they treat it with respect. Disneyland is not a once-in-a- or few-times-a-lifetime experience for visitors like Walt Disney World is; it’s part of the community. Disneyland often meets the standards these return visitors expect. In the same vein, people who go to Disneyland, for the most part, go because they love it, not because they feel compelled to lug their kids to a big resort as part of the American Dream/Requirement.
There are loads of live entertainment: jazz musicians in New Orleans Square; Mary Poppins, Bert and their big brass band in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle; the Mickey and the Magical Map stage show and the vaudevillian Fantasy Faire Royal Theatre productions; the bands under the tent of the Big Thunder Ranch Jamboree.
…and that’s not even counting Disney California Adventure!
Disneyland is chock-full of attractions, doubling(?) the number in Florida’s Magic Kingdom close to the point of claustrophobia, though I’d like to think of it as cozy.
That’s actually how I feel about the whole park. It feels cozy, like a warm blanket or a cherished stuffed animal from your childhood. It feels like a home away from home, a truly idealized mix of fantasy and nostalgia, both for Americana and the pop culture icons of my youth.
I have so many other thoughts on Disneyland, on California Adventure, and our whole experience which I’ll elaborate on soon, but for this post, I just wanted to share how immensely enthralled I was by the whole park. Disney’s California operation is a park-based experience, unlike Florida, which is an all-encompassing resort experience once you get off the airplane. Now, I’m not saying one approach is better than the other; as mentioned above, it’s apples-versus-oranges, and which coast is better is based on your personal preferences.
What I want from a Disney park right now is the in-park experience, the attractions, the entertainment, the “show.” I was disappointed with our most recent trips to Walt Disney World, where we easily knocked out most of a park’s attractions in a half-day. I was concerned after our visit to Tokyo Disney Resort that the American Disney parks had just given up on the park experience by comparison in favor to finding new ways to milk their guests out of money.
I think about this inaugural Disneyland trip every day. Disneyland assuaged my fears and made me a believer again.
I’ve had a couple of conversations recently about the importance of staying “on property” at a Disney Parks resort. For those not in the know, Disney owns and operates a ton of their own hotels at their resorts in the U.S.: three in California and, like, 45 or something down in Walt Disney World. The phrase “on property” means you’re staying at one of these hotels and not, say, the Best Western in Downtown Disney or the Holiday Inn in Kissimmee.
There are several tangible benefits to staying “on property,” including the very significant free transportation to and from the Orlando International Airport and Extra Magic Hours (where on-property guests have access to the Disney parks a few extra hours longer than off-property guests). The Mighty Men of Mouse podcast did a good job at boiling some of these costs down by the hour in one of their most recent episodes, demonstrating how much money you’re saving/losing with these features.
Disney resorts’ theming is also tangible (most off-site resorts are not going to have an extensive Pacific Northwest theme, for example), though not quite as quantifiable.
Now, before I continue, I want to preface by saying that this is my opinion, based on my own biases, budgets, and preferences. Lord knows I spend money on extravagance in different ways, so believe me, this is all about how I perceive the value of Disney resorts.
A lot of people prefer Disney resorts over off-site because of the above, quantifiable factors. Many people (just read TripAdvisor reviews) also believe that on-site, particularly Moderate- and Deluxe-tier Disney hotels, offer a level of service and dedication to theme that creates an enveloping sense of magic (not so quantifiable). And that’s great! Who wouldn’t want an experience, particularly with a company built on pixie dust, to feel magical?
But how much is that magic worth to you? I personally struggle to justify spending $200+ a night for something as immeasurable as “magic.”
Full disclosure: the only time I’ve even stayed on Disney property was at the Boardwalk Inn, a wonderfully themed hotel and one of Disney’s deluxe resorts. We were able to stay there because of a very reasonable conference rate. Without that, we could never have afforded to spend the $450+/night a Standard View room goes for. The lobby was great, the music, the smells, the surrounding boardwalk area. Fantastic, don’t get me wrong. But, in my opinion, the room and the bathroom were small (and Lance and I are not big people). And, I’m just gonna lay this out there: regardless of how thematically appropriate it is, I want a standing (not tub) shower in a $450+ hotel room.
Effectively, Lance and I are shut out of the deluxe resorts for budget reasons. Even if we could afford $400+ night hotel rooms, I couldn’t justify the expense to myself. It’s not worth it to me.
Even the Moderates (your Port Orleans, your Coronado Springs and such) are often over $200 a night (and might drop down to around $150 with a discount at the right time of year), and these are for hotels that have exterior entrance to the rooms. Yes, these are basically well-themed motels. Granted, they have food courts and gift shops and many of the services you’d expect of a hotel, but if I can’t access my hotel room from an interior hallway, then it’s still a motel (this all goes for the Values as well, which are usually very reasonably priced at about $85-125 a night, but with a balanced dip in amenities/services). You can put lipstick on a pig…
Part of what I struggle with regarding Disney hotels is knowing that I can get more of what I’m looking for at off-site hotels for the same rate or cheaper. And if I can’t get it for cheaper elsewhere, I can usually play the points/best rate guarantee games with chains like Hilton or Sheraton and get similar accommodations off-site for a much cheaper price. For example, if I were to book for this upcoming Saturday, Port Orleans–Riverside, a Disney Moderate hotel, would be $190 before tax. The Doubletree Lake Buena Vista, with the same TripAdvisor score, is $96 before tax (and if you use Priceline or Hotwire, you can get a rental car in Orlando for less than $50 a day). And with Hilton, Hyatt, Sheraton, Holiday Inn, and more, I could save a significant amount more via their loyalty points programs. (And thankfully, I can redeem Sheraton’s Starwood Points for stays at the Swan or Dolphin hotels located on Disney property.)
Probably the only way to “play the game” to really get bang for your buck at Disney itself is by renting Disney Vacation Club points from a DVC member, meaning you can stay at the villas at some of the Disney Deluxe resorts for a great savings compared to the rack rates (say, $125 for an Animal Kingdom value room versus $200+). You can rent points through more established companies (usually at a higher price per point) or, if you know a DVC member, you might be able to negotiate a lower price. We’re looking into renting DVC points, even through a broker website, for a one-night stay on the tail-end of our Disney cruise next year, but the process is a little messy and it seems like you give up a lot of flexibility as a renter.
This all basically comes down to: how much am I willing to spend for that “magical” component, that Disney Difference? Each person has to answer that question for themselves. I’m not arguing for Disney to lower their prices–they’re a business, after all, and they can charge as much as they think the public is willing to spend (they aren’t gouging you if you agree to spend that amount, regardless of what my cartoon above suggests), but for me, as a Disney fan, the extra hours in the parks, the transportation, the theming, is not worth the extra hundreds of dollars per night. The magic of their hotels is not a make-or-break for me in visiting the parks.
So, that’s me. What about you? Am I crazy? If I really want the magic, should I just suck it up and stay at the Disney Value resorts I am willing to pay for, regardless of amenity disparity between those and off-site hotels for the same price? Am I really saving any money after rental car costs? Am I undervaluing immersive magic just for a standing shower? (This might be true.) Obviously, Disney fans are passionate and I’m sure there are a lot of opinions about the value of the Disney resorts.
If you’ve got thoughts, please share in the comments!
[Tip of the hat to Estelle from This Happy Place Blog for sharing her thoughts on this topic and post.]