When I decided to take advantage of President's Day holiday long weekend to plan a short getaway, I had two distinct ideas in mind- both of which, not surprisingly, involved my favorite musical. The first was to go to London for the official opening of the musical "Come From Away." It would have been a unique opportunity to be part of an opening night celebration, but I didn't want to take advantage of my friends and I wasn't sure if they would want me to join them. Plus, I had just seen the London cast in Dublin and it really didn't make sense to take 2 consecutive trips to the same region.
The option that I ended up choosing was to finally see the US National Tour of "Come From Away". In a twist of good timing, the production would be playing in Costa Mesa which is just a short drive from Disneyland. I had been feeling like I was very overdue to visit the California Disney parks since my last trip had been in 2011 so I was excited for an opportunity to rectify that. At first, I thought a friend might join me which would have made the trip extra special but unfortunately the logistics didn't work out.
The onsite Disneyland hotels were ridiculously expensive so I booked a stay at a Fairfield inn that was in close walking distance to the parks. Renting a car hadn't been a fun experience on my last trip to the area, so I decided to use Uber instead for venturing back and forth between the resort and the theater. As the trip grew closer, I made reservations for a couple of Disney character meals to add some extra fun to my visit.
I was excited to see what had changed in the parks since my last visit 7+ years earlier when a major redesign of Disney California Adventure had still been in progress. When making my plans, I was disappointed to discover that my favorite night time entertainment, Fantasmic, would be on hiatus for the duration of my stay. With World of Color also being refurbished, that meant that there would be no traditional Disney evening entertainment options- but of course there would be plenty of other ways to enjoy the parks at night.
Because I had an early morning (8:30am) flight from Newark, I decided to stay overnight at an airport hotel the night before. Originally, I was going to park at the hotel but I decided it would be easier and about the same price to park at my local train station. Plus, when traveling in the winter, it seemed like a better idea to leave my car at an indoor lot just in case there was a random snow storm. When parking at the station lot after work, I noticed that it was way emptier at about 7pm on a Wednesday night than when I normally arrive there at mid-morning on a weekend.
Although I'd been to Newark airport many times, this was the first time I'd taken a train to get there. Hitting every single local stop, it seemed to take forever to get to my destination. Once I finally arrived at the NJ Transit stop, it was easy to follow the signs to the Air Train to the airport terminals. I was excited to ride the Air Train since I'm such a transit nerd and I usually enjoy airport monorails. But this one was very disappointing. The compartments were unusually small and claustrophobic… and it felt to be the only one in mine after dark. Also the journey seemed quite slow. I was relieved when I finally made it to the terminal. Airports are a happy place for me- even though they may be stressful at times, they are the gateways to adventures.
Despite the fact that my hotel was onsite at the airport, it wasn't advisable to walk there. I tried to follow the signs to the hotel shuttle pickup. It was a little confusing and a lot cold… and at one point I called the hotel… but I eventually was relieved to see one stop.
My hotel was very comfortable, with a welcoming fireplace in the lobby. I don't think many people stay there for more than a quick one night turnaround, though. My arrival coincided with the first day that Marriott's rewards program was renamed "Bonvoy" (which still sounds ridiculous to me) and the signs were a bit jarring. After getting to my room, I perused the room service menu and decided to order the Lobster Bisque soup to eat along with a yogurt I'd brought with me. I just wanted something light. My order was delivered amazingly quickly and the soup really hit the spot. It even came with a couple of rolls. My only (minor) complaint was that it came with an oddly small spoon.
By the time I finished eating, it was somewhere around 10pm. I had the bright idea that now that I was absolutely 100% committed to my trip, I ought to finally buy my theme park tickets which were available online with a great promo (probably because a lot of people were waiting to visit Disneyland until the Star Wars area opened later in the year). Frustratingly, I kept getting messages that my credit card information was incomplete even though it totally wasn't. I finally decided to try another card which worked, much to my relief. Lesson to self: don't wait for the very last minute to book trip essentials!
Once my tickets were purchased, I was ready to get to sleep since I had to be up really early for my flight. A large part regretted not choosing to go to London (and would continue to do so as I saw photos online posted by people attending the "Come From Away" London opening) but I was nonetheless low key excited to be headed to Disneyland for the first time in many years.
I woke up sometime around 5:30 and quickly got dressed, checked out, and took the shuttle to the airport. Once I got through security, I needed to get something to eat. I just wanted something quick and ending up buying the most expensive single serving bowl of Lucky Charms ever, along with something to drink. The first credit card machine at the store gave an error so I was directed by a disinterested worker to try another. (I ended up being charged by both machines, but it was easy enough to dispute the duplicate charge with my credit card.)
Waiting at the airport wasn't the most pleasant experience, especially since the gate area being renovated. My flight was scheduled to depart at 8:35 but the incoming flight didn't appear to be scheduled to arrive until around 8 so it was practically inevitable that we'd be delayed. I am not thrilled when any flight is delayed, but it's especially painful on mornings when I get up super early and wish I could have slept in a bit. While we waited with little information, it was confusing hearing boarding instructions for the neighboring gate. I was very happy to finally board the plane at around 9 so I could sit down and try to close my eyes. We took off at about 9:45, putting us on track to arrive about an hour later than our scheduled noon arrival due to unfavorable headwinds. While I was eager to get to the parks, I was glad that I didn't have any immediate plans that would be adversely affected by the delay.
I flew into John Wayne Airport in Orange County which is closer to Disneyland and more intimate than LAX. Also I happen to hate LAX with a passion after a couple of unpleasant experiences so I'll gladly pay a little extra and fly from a slightly less convenient airport to avoid it. After landing, there was a mass cacophony of blaring sounds from cell phones to warn of floods when everyone switched their devices off airplane mode. I wasn't thrilled at the prospect of touring a flooded Disneyland but figured I'd just make the best of whatever weather came my way; I'd packed a foldable umbrella along with a light rain jacket and moisture wicking clothes.
After collecting my bags, I followed the signs to the ride share pick up area which was located atop of a garage attached to the airport. I had no problems getting a car, and it was about a 20 or so minute ride to the Fairfield Inn hotel where I'd be staying. I chose to stay at an offsite hotel because onsite hotels were crazy expensive and didn't seem that much more convenient. And all things being equal, I prefer to stay at Marriott brands for the points. It was a little early for check in but the hotel offered me a choice of a room that was currently available in a less desirable location or the one I'd originally been assigned. Since I just wanted to get to the parks, I chose the latter and left my bags in storage.
It was really easy to get to the parks- just a quick walk to the end of the block where there was a light to cross the street. From there, you had to go a little further along a driveway to the security gates. At 2:40 on a Thursday afternoon, there was unsurprisingly no line. Once I arrived at the main plaza, my excitement kicked into high gear as my long awaited visit to Disneyland had finally arrived.
Naturally, I turned left to enter Disney's California Adventure (DCA) because there had been way more changes to that park than to Disneyland (DL) since my last visit in December 2011. I'd purchased Max Pass with my tickets which allowed me to reserve FastPasses on my phone (instead of physically walking to each ride)- super convenient and well worth the $10/day I paid. As soon as I crossed the gate and received a paper ticket, I checked to see if I could get a FastPass for Radiator Springs Racers, the attraction I was most looking forward to, and I was excited to find something available for later at night. MaxPass also included unlimited PhotoPass and ride photos which made it an even better value.
Checking the wait times on the app, I saw that there didn't seem to be much of a line for Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: Breakout (hereafter to be known as "Guardians") which was the other new attraction I was most interested in seeing. When I'd heard that my beloved Tower of Terror was being re-themed to a Marvel superhero franchise, I was skeptical of what to expect since I have little interest in the Marvel universe and I had not seen the movies upon which it was based. But of course I was curious- and I knew I'd enjoy the ride itself since it still had the same vehicles and a similar experience of dropping from the top of a building. I ended up finding the attraction more appealing than I'd expected. The atmosphere had changed from creepy and scary to fun and humorous, but it still worked quite well with the mechanics of the ride. And any ride that features an animal sidekick (Rocket) automatically charms me. I'd be upset if they changed the superior Florida version (with its horizontal journey to the 4th dimension) but I otherwise find it interesting to have experienced the same exciting ride mechanism with several very different but highly detailed and effective themes.
On my way out of the ride, I happened to catch the tail end of the short "Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Dance Off!" show which looked cute. Hearing Queen music ("Don't stop me now") in a Disney park also made me very happy.
Before my arrival, I had all but concluded that I would buy a pair of purple sparkly Mickey ears to wear around the parks. But after having tried on several pairs and ruminating about how I looked in them, I decided that the sparkly rainbow ones actually suited me better. So I purchased a pair on my way out of DCA. I'd never worn Mickey ears before, and I found them to be a really fun accessory- although one that would probably be less comfortable in Florida's hot and humid summers.
Just a few days before my trip, I had decided that it might be fun to add a couple of character meals to my plans. I'd booked the first of these for Goofy's Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel at 4:10pm on my arrival day because, aside from being one of the only times available at that late date, I thought an early dinner might work well with my plans. And indeed I was quite hungry by then since I don't think I'd eaten much since my overpriced airport breakfast and whatever small snack they may have served on the plane.
I always feel slightly awkward at character meals by myself- and this one was a little more difficult than usual because I often couldn't find anyone to take photos of me so I was stuck with selfies. But it was still cool to interact with the characters- society may say I'm an adult but every now and then, it's great to lose myself in a sense of childlike wonder. I ended up sticking mainly to the children's buffet since they had some really fun options like Crème Brulee Pizza and Peanut Butter and Jelly Pizza- the latter of which I loved enough to grab seconds despite my general ambivalence at best to jelly. The S'mores Chocolate Cake was a definite highlight of the dessert table, and I couldn't resist a trip to the station where you could make your own sundae. All in all, I'm glad I treated myself to the enjoyable meal, and it felt nice to get away from the parks for a bit.
After dinner, I headed for Disneyland to see the 6pm Soundsational Parade, about which I'd heard many good things. Since the park was not crowded , I was easily able to grab a spot just inside the park near the train station when I arrived at around 5:50pm. At 6:08, I heard an announcement that the parade was delayed and I braced myself for a followup announcement that it was canceled. But fortunately that was not the case. The parade was as wonderful as I'd heard… although I wish I'd been able to fit in a daytime performance since that would have been more conducive to cell phone photography. (or, alternately, I wish I'd thought of trying to use pro mode on my phone)
One of the things I love about Disneyland is that it's super easy to park hop- the 2 parks are right across from each other. So after the parade, I crossed over to DCA because it was finally about time for me to finally experience Radiator Springs Racers, a highly anticipated attraction which had opened shortly after my last trip to Disneyland. I paused at the entrance to Cars Land to pose for a photo by the iconic sign since PhotoPass pictures were included in the price of Max Pass. Cars Land itself was every bit as amazing as it had seemed in photos. It looked great at night with all the neon signs colorfully illuminating the area.
Radiator Springs Racers combines the technology used in Epcot's Test Track with the longstanding Disney tradition of creating dark rides based on films. The theming, which brings to life some classic characters and locations from the film, was done extremely well and it elevates the ride to a much more fulfilling experience than its Florida counterpart. For added excitement, the end sequence in which you're whizzing through a stunning recreation of the rock formations from the film sets you up to race against a vehicle on the adjacent track. Rooting for your car to win added an extra layer of fun to an already fantastic ride- and it was perfectly inline with the theme. I am not sure what the experience feels like if you lose since- spoiler alert- I retired from my trip undefeated. But it was sure great to win!
I took my time walking through Pixar Pier which is always more stunning to me at night, when the carnival lights reflect in the water. This area was still in the process of changing its theme to Pixar from a more generic California carnival theme. I'm not really sure the new theme is all that suited to the area… although I guess a case can be made that a lot of Toy Story 4 took place in a carnival.
One of my favorite spots in this area of the park was Bing Bong's Sweet Stuff, a candy store featuring a replica of the Inside Out character crying candy in his wagon front of a rainbow. He's one of my favorite Disney characters, and I love candy- so it was amazing to browse there… even if I never actually made any purchases. I could not, however, resist buying a "Jack Jack Cookie Num Num" at the nearby kiosk despite the fact that I was still full from dinner. I'd heard much about these deep warm delights, and chocolate chip cookies are my weakness. They were indeed fabulous- no regrets.
I hadn't had any intention of riding Toy Story Midway Mania but when I saw that the ride appeared to about ready to come back online after being down, I hung around the area and was rewarded with a quick entrance when it reopened about 15 minutes later. It's a fun, interactive ride- although I generally suck at rides where you aim at targets to earn points- but I don't think it's worth the long queues it often has (especially in Tokyo).
Crossing over to DL, I was able to ride the Matterhorn via MaxPass. I was done in time to watch the fireworks from near It's A Small World although the area was so crowded by the time I got there that I wasn't able to see much of the projection show. One of the fun things about Max Pass is that you can often obtain fast passes that are effective almost immediately. Such was the case when I checked for Small World so I was able to beat the crowds that had lingered from the fireworks. I'm one of the seemingly rare people who adores this attraction- and no visit to Disney feels complete to me unless I ride. Its appeal to me lies in the optimistic theme of celebrating diversity along with a nostalgic remembrance of how I always loved the dolls as a child.
Space Mountain had a long queue but no worries- I'd read that they had a single rider line and it worked great, allowing me to get on a vehicle pretty quickly. Afterwards, I headed to Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, another Toy Story themed attraction where you shoot at targets. By the time I was done, it was almost 11pm- which is 2am Eastern- and I was getting super tired so I decided to head back to the hotel even though the park was still open for another hour. On my way out of the park, I stopped to browse in stores and also to take a photo with Goofy.
The weather had held out nicely- I didn't get caught in any rain. It was chilly by CA standards but I was fine in a sweater and a light rain jacket. My sweater, which depicted Mickey and Minnie, had heart shaped buttons which was perfect for Valentine's Day! Speaking of which… I seem to recall a cast member giving me candy for the holiday but since I took the sparsest of notes, I can't confirm.
I finally got into a hotel room at 11:30pm. It was quite comfortable, with more than adequate space for a solo traveler. I liked that the room was decorated with artwork that had photos of some Disney rides- it made it feel less generic, although obviously it was nowhere near as magical as an official property. But it suited my needs and was only a fraction of the price of the official hotels- which are, for the most part, not that much closer to the park entrances. (the notable exception being that the Grand Californian has a private entrance to DCA- but the walk to DL is not much closer)
My first day in Disneyland had been a blast- I'd been able to ride my 2 most highly anticipated attractions without much wait and I'd found them to be well worth my excitement. I enjoyed just being in the parks and soaking up the atmosphere as much as I liked the rides and parade.
Although the clock said it was only 7 when I got up, my body felt like it was after 10 since it was still on East Coast time. I was excited to walk out of my room and be greeted by the sight of palm trees, a pool, and the top of some Disney attractions like Space Mountain. I got ready quickly because I wanted to be sure to get an early start to my one full day at the parks.
I arrived at Disneyland at around 8:20. There was a bit of a line at security, but nothing major. They were letting us in the gates although most of the park didn't actually open until 9am. So I just hung around Main Street. Almost immediately after entering the gates, I went on the online app and booked a 9:30am FastPass for Splash Mountain, one of my all time favorite rides. I was so excited when planning the trip to realize that it would be coming back from rehab on my first full day in the park. I still was disappointed in the lack of Fantasmic… or any real evening entertainment… but there was never going to be a perfect time when all of my favorites were open and I also had the time and money to plan a trip.
As soon as the park was officially opened (without any exciting ceremony as far as I can remember), I headed over to Big Thunder Mountain railroad. When I was ready to board the ride, a woman asked if her small daughter might ride in my row; it seems the woman had larger legs which made the lap bar not go down far enough for the little one to feel safe. Of course, I was glad to agree! The ride was extra fun because I felt part of their little family for the time being- it was truly a highlight of my trip. I raised my arms with extra gusto as I tried to share as much joy as possible with the little girl seated next to me.
After riding a couple of classic rides- Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion- it was time to head to my laughing place, Splash Mountain. I had a log to myself which would have made for an awesome ride photo… if only the camera flash had worked properly instead of putting me completely into a shadow. The ride recently changed sponsorship to Ziploc. I saw cast members handing out themed Ziploc baggies to guests entering the ride while I was on my way out, so I went over to ask for one as a souvenir.
The character of Moana speaks to me for many reasons and, I couldn't resist lining up for a photo with her since there were only a few others ahead of me. After using a FastPass for Indiana Jones Adventure and taking a spin on the Junge Cruise (which had only a 5 minute wait), it was around 11am and I finally decided I needed something to eat. I eventually settled on a Cheddar Garlic Bagel Twist from Maurice's Treats kiosk in Fantasyland near the hub. I wasn't full so I also stopped to get a special Mickey Celebration Churro which is described as "Warm chocolate churro drizzled with cookie butter topped with Mickey confetti and served with a side of red marshmallow crème and classic Mickey buttons." Churros are very popular at the parks but, as far as I can recall, I'd never previously had one. I enjoyed it but the one I got was rather messy and I'm not sure I'd get a similar one again.
Since I had a large chunk of time (ie the whole day) at my leisure, I figured I'd try to catch as many entertainment options as I could. The first of these was the 12pm "Mickey and the Magical Map" show in Fantasyland. It felt a bit similar to the "Mickey and the Wondrous Book" show in Hong Kong in that both shows involved Mickey being transported into various Disney stories due to his slightly mischievous sense of curiosity. There were also some similarities in the Disney stories represented, including a nod to the underrated "Princess and the Frog" (although the HK version had a more extended sequence) The similarities to the HK show (which was newer despite my having seen it first) didn't mar my enjoyment of this fun revue at all- it was different enough to stand on its own merit and it was frankly a relief to see a Disney show that did not include Frozen.
A funny thing happened en route to the show I headed to see across in DCA… actually there were a couple fortuitous diversions. The first was running into the Disneyland Band as I walked down Main Street- they too were headed toward the exit to perform a short set by the railroad. I always enjoy seeing the classic marching bands at the theme parks so naturally I stopped to watch. Then as I headed into DCA, I literally stumbled on the Red Car Trolley News Boys show which was fabulous- especially since it included the song "Seize the Day" from Newsies!
An unfortunate consequence of my detours was that by the time I arrived at the Paradise Gardens Park, I could only manage a mediocre spot for the 1:15 showing of Mulan's Lunar New Year Procession. I was excited that my trip would coincide with the DCA celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year, which is an event that only lasts a few weeks each year. Because we were ushering in the year of the boar, the 3 Little Pigs played a prominent role in the festivities along with Mulan and Mushu. The show was only 10 minutes but I really enjoyed it, especially the dragon and fan dances.
At some point in the morning, I'd decided to make a relatively last minute reservation for a late sit down lunch. Practically the only option available was Wine Country Trattoria which was cool since I was in the mood for Italian. When the show was over, I still had over an hour before my reservation (which I believe was for 2:45pm). I decided to take another walk to Cars Land so that I could see it in the daytime. When I got to Radiator Springs Racers, the single rider queue seemed short so on a lark I asked the cast member how long the wait was. When she said that it was 15 minutes, I immediately jumped into the queue! It turned out that the single rider line was practically a walk-on even though the regular line was quite lengthy. I was glad to be able to contrast the experience of riding at night compared to riding during the day- both were totally fun, just with a slightly different feel.
I went to lunch a little early and had to wait a bit to get seated even though the restaurant seemed empty. The bread with olive oil and balsamic was most welcome and it took the edge off my hunger. My Spaghetti Bolognese with Meatballs, however, was decidedly mediocre. I probably wouldn't eat there again.
I was getting a little worn out of the parks so I decided to explore the Downtown Disney area which I'd essentially rushed through the previous night on the way to and from my character dinner. My pictures show that I also stopped briefly in both parks; I'm not sure why but I can only assume that I was doing some shopping. At about 5pm, I went back to my hotel for a couple hours to drop off my purchases and take a little break. I was feeling really good about having already accomplished most, if not all, of my absolute "must do" experiences.
At about 8pm, I headed to the parks again stopping briefly in DCA to ride Guardians again- the new theme was super fun and I wanted to be sure to ride it a bunch of times while I could. It was raining ever so lightly- enough to deter crowds but not enough to make it feel miserable; it was cool by California standards but nice compared to East Coast winters.
I was excited to head over to the Jolly Holiday Bakery Café for dinner; this Mary Poppins themed quick serve restaurant had opened mere weeks after my previous visit. I ordered the Specialty Toasted Cheese Sandwich, one of the special menu items for the "Get Your Ears On" celebration which wasn't listed on the mobile ordering menu on the app but was fortunately available at the counter. Described as "Swiss, Jack, and Fiscalini cheddar cheese with crispy pancetta and blackberry jam [on the side]", it was served with a small bag of potato chips. It was fabulous! I'm not even generally big on jam, but it added a pleasingly tangy touch when I lightly dipped the sandwich into it.
Of course, I couldn't dine at a bakery without also purchasing a treat from the baked goods section. The items in the display case all looked tempting but they didn't include descriptions. I ended up choosing a cookie with a penguin on it that matched the stained glass windows. It was absolutely adorable but it turned out not to be the best choice for me because it was apricot flavored which is not my favorite.
As I was eating outside at the café on the end of Main Street, the nightly fireworks show started. It's always a treat to be able to sit outside and enjoy the music and the pyrotechnics. By the time they were over, it was around 10pm. Feeling refreshed, I spent the hour before the park closed going on a slew of rides with little or no queues including Matterhorn (single rider), Space Mountain (also single rider), and Buzz Lightyear AstroBlasters. On my way out of the park, I stopped to buy marshmallow wands and cake pops to bring back to the hotel room. It was a sweet ending to a fun and full day at the parks.
My original plan was to wake up super early and take advantage of the 8am DL early entry that was included in my multi day park ticket. However I'd gotten a lot more done than planned the previous 2 days and frankly I was also feeling tired and lazy. So I slept in a bit and didn't even leave my hotel room until around 9am. That proved to be the Worst. Decision. EVER. Because by then, the security line extended all the way to Harbor Blvd and it took nearly an hour of standing amid a claustrophobia inducing crowd to reach the front. I was so relieved to enter DL at 10:15. Clearly, this day was going to be many orders of magnitude more crowded than my previous days- both due to the holiday weekend as well as the fact that it was a beautiful day with a sunny and clear sky.
Feeling quite overwhelmed with all the masses of people, I decided to hop onto the Disneyland Railroad for a leisurely ride around the park. The only downer was that the Primeval World dinosaur display was under renovation so that part of the ride went through a dark tunnel instead.
My morning had admittedly not been all that exciting but it perked up in a big way when I went into one of the stores on Main Street and saw that overnight, they'd magically restocked the Disney cat leggings I'd been coveting for months! Obviously I bought myself a pair…even though it meant carrying them around in my bag all day. No way was I going to take even a slight chance that they'd sell out of my size!
After happily making my purchase, I headed back to the Jolly Holiday bakery for an early lunch. I wasn't all that hungry since I'd had an iced rice krispie treat in my room for breakfast so I just ordered the tomato basil soup which came with a breadstick- both were very tasty. My dessert purchase was much better suited to my palate than what I'd had the previous evening. This time I ordered the Mickey Mouse Club Hat Dessert, which I'd been disappointed not to see in the display the previous night. This ridiculously adorable and scrumptious treat was described as "chocolate truffle mousse dome with vanilla bean crème brûlée center, Mickey ears, and Mickey Mouse Club logo" It was another special item for the "Get Your Ears On" celebration and I was thrilled to finally be able to enjoy it.
I posed for some photos at the hub before exiting the park. Unfortunately, the castle was under rehab so pictures from that area were not as iconic as usual- even if the Photopass photographer hyped up the scrim over the castle as being the original concept art from before the park opened. I mean, it was certainly cool to see the artwork- but nothing can replace the experience of seeing the castle itself. I've often said that no Disney trip feels complete to me until I walk through the castle so I definitely felt a void.
Since the park felt crowded and I had limited time, I went back to Downtown Disney and spent some time lingering in the World of Disney store planning my future purchases. I then walked to Harbor Boulevard and ordered an Uber to go to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts so I could see the "Come From Away" touring cast for the first time. I had toyed with traveling to Seattle for the opening the previous fall but unfortunately a previous commitment kept me from being able to go. This would be the 4th cast of the show I'd see (following Broadway, Toronto and Dublin/London) and I was super excited for the show! I'd booked the matinee thinking that the afternoon would be a good time to escape the parks during their peak crowds and that was definitely the case.
After about a 20-25 minute ride, I arrived at the theatre at 1:30 which gave me a nice amount of time to post a pin with my hometown on the map in the lobby, use the restrooms, and check out the merchandise booth. I bought the t-shirt with the tour cities listed on the back for myself, and another for a friend back home.
It was fun seeing another set of actors put their own spins on the iconic roles of Ganderites and Come From Aways. The theatre, which I had been to previously, is much larger than any of the venues where I'd previously seen the show but it still seemed to play well. I think the actors had to be a little bigger with their performances in order to reach the furthest audience members, but nothing seemed too much for me in my front row orchestra seat.
After the show, I figured the best place to call an Uber would be from the place where I'd been let off. On my way over, I noticed that there was some kind of event outside where they were serving pizza. I saw the actor who played Oz standing a bit off to the side and I figured I should go over to him because my friend Lisa, the daughter of the real Oz, is always telling me to say hi to her fake dads. It goes against my introverted nature to walk up to strangers, particularly performers, but I braced myself and went over to him. I was relieved that he was quite friendly although I was a bit short on time since I'd already ordered the Uber. I took a selfie to prove to Lisa that I met him before going back to my hotel.
After dropping off my stuff in my hotel room, I headed back to DCA at about 5:30pm. Prior to the start of the show, I'd pulled up the Disneyland app and booked a 5:45-6:45 pm FastPass to Guardians so I didn't have to wait in the huge line. Being able to book FastPass even if you aren't in the park (as long as you crossed the turnstiles earlier) using the app is a great perk of the MaxPass ticket add on.
After the ride, I wandered to Pixar Pier and ordered the Chicken Sun-dried Tomato Pesto from the Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta counter serve. I actually enjoyed this dish more than my pasta at the sit down restaurant the previous day and it was less than half the price. It wasn't earth shattering incredible, but it was at least a decent value.
I wasn't all that hungry when I was done but nonetheless I wanted to stop to get a treat at the Lunar New Year kiosks. I chose the Purple Yam Macaron with Crème Fraiche which was another adorable and tasty Disney treat.
I'd read that Disneyland was celebrating Black History Month with performances by gospel choirs all day for that day only. Unfortunately, I hadn't paid attention to the fact that the event ran from 11am to 7pm and I arrived at the theater… at 7:05pm when it was already over. I was disappointed because I'd really wanted to see some of the unique event which lied a bit outside my comfort zone since I am always interested in multicultural activities.
Slightly bummed, I headed over to Disneyland where crowds were getting lighter than during the day due to the weather getting a bit chilly. I rode Roger Rabbit's Car Toon spin (FastPass) and posed for some fun pictures by the tea cups. Splash Mountain had long lines earlier in the day when it was sunny but now it was practically a walk on so I really didn't need the FastPass I'd booked much earlier. Once again, I got my own log. (although some people had tried to get in the same one as me so I waited for the next one) This time the flash worked perfectly and I had a much better photo than the previous day.
On my way out, I saw a red rose cake pop in the display case and decided I wanted to try it. The line was short, but it took freaking forever to reach the front of it. (it may have only been 10-15 minutes… but that's a long time for a line for a snack) The coating somehow had a bit of a berry taste and it wasn't quite as good as it had looked; I prefer the original cake pops which have a lighter coating.
It was super crowded for the nighttime spectacular, even though the fireworks were cancelled due to weather so they were just running the projection show. I decided to escape the crowds and see Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Since it was impossible to walk down Main Street, anyone like me who was headed in the direction of the park exit were directed to pathways behind Main Street that are usually not open to the public. It was fun to be somewhere I wasn't normally allowed to be and to see at least one of the Jungle Cruise boats parked in the water to my right.
The pre-show area for Lincoln displayed props and video related to the recent Mary Poppins returns movie… which most of my Disney friends hated but I'd mostly enjoyed. As I eventually was seated in the main theatre, I counted only 10 other people in the large space. Before the show began, another 7 trickled in. Lincoln, a pre-cursor and distant cousin to Epcot's American Adventure, is clearly not the most popular attraction. But it's a tradition for me to pay homage to this historic attraction which had its roots in the 1965 World's Fair. Plus, I always need to see the Michelle Kwan portrait on my way out.
I noticed a line forming to wait to meet Minnie in her celebration costume so I got in the queue. I started chatting with a couple people near me in line who were obviously Disney fans. I think they were talking about wanting to go to Tokyo Disneyland, which is a natural topic for me to pipe in with. Too bad they couldn't see that I was actually wearing a fleece from the park under my rain jacket. Anyway, as we were about to get to the front (which took awhile because the first group took like a million photos), one of the guys asked the couple behind me and then me if we were planning to still do rides. Unlike the others, I was still going to stick around a bit so the guy offered me a special FastPass from club 33 and said that it could be used for 6 instant FastPasses for any ride. Wow! That was super cool… and even though I didn't make as much use for it as I'd have liked, it was still a really magical moment.
After taking my photo with Minnie, it was around 10:20 and I only had about an hour and a half left of park time. Before heading out at midnight, I managed to ride Indy (my own FastPass), Big Thunder Mountain (using the Club 33 FastPass), Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Pinocchio, Storybook Land Canal Boats, and Alice in Wonderland. (Unfortunately, most of the rides I wanted to do didn't have FastPass but they all had very short lines) In essence, I did most of the kiddie rides which I would have experienced first thing in the morning if I'd managed to get myself out of bed. So it turns out that I probably didn't miss much by sleeping in. I might have managed one more ride before leaving but there was a weird unexplained delay while I was in the short queue for Alice.
I was really exhausted and ready to flop into bed when I got back to my hotel at around 12:30am. Unfortunately, my key didn't work- none of the lights on the door illuminated so it seemed to be an issue with the lock rather than the key itself. I had to go all the way back down to the front desk to ask someone to address the issue… and then sit on the ground in the chilly outdoor corridor while waiting for someone to come to fix the lock. It wasn't the most magical end to my day, but things happen.
For my last day at the parks, I wasn't going to make the same mistake as I did the previous day of starting it by getting stuck in a 1 hour security line. So I left my hotel at 7:30am even though the parks didn't open until 9. I ended up at the DCA gates at 8am, but at least I was towards the front of the line. While waiting, I passed my time by messaging my friend Lisa who was in London at the time.
When the park finally opened, I headed to Cars Land. There were 2 rides there I hadn't yet experienced. They were both slow loading and, although they were cutely themed, the rides themselves were fairly generic and neither had FastPass. But I figured I should at least try them so I headed into the queue for Luigi's Rollicking Roadsters. As I expected, it was cute but not something I'd need to do again.
I'd gotten a FastPass for Soarin on the app and since I was a party of 1, I ended up pretty much just walking onto the ride. And then I headed over to the Grand California Hotel where I'd made reservations for 10:25 for Mickey's Tales of Adventure Character Breakfast. I really enjoyed the camping themed costumes worn by the characters at this meal. I was able to find someone at another table to take photos of me with them. I'm not thrilled with the results because the guy was tall and filmed from an angle looking down- but hey, at least it's something and I'm super grateful that he offered to take them.
Storytellers Cafe is a lovely venue; I'd eaten dinner there on a previous trip. The food from the buffet was very good although I was disappointed that I couldn't find the matcha green tea sauce that I'd read about in online reviews. I love anything matcha; I even enjoyed the matcha beer I had in NYC later this spring. I went back to the buffet a few times in case I'd overlooked it or they'd been replenishing, but I never saw it.
I had a little time after I ate to walk around DCA and pose for PhotoPass pictures before I headed to the taxi pickup area on Harbor Avenue to get an Uber to head over to see "Come From Away" one more time. I mean, it wouldn't make sense to travel all the way across the country, in part to see the show, and to only see it once. I almost always rate my Uber drivers with 5 stars but I had to ding one off for this guy because we drove over a curb at one point… and I think there was another maneuver that felt slightly questionable although I can't recall what it was.
While I was waiting around for the doors to open, a guy started to talk to me and I realized it was the actor who played Bob in the show! I'd also seen him hanging around the lobby the previous day, and I guess he recognized me since I'd been in the front row. He was very friendly, but when I mentioned knowing Lisa and realOz, his face totally lit up and he was even friendlier. Asserting that Lisa is the best, he asked to take a selfie with me to send to her… and then I took one with my phone as well. I really don't go out of my way to meet actors but I enjoyed chatting with him. I saw him again after the show in the lobby and stopped to say goodbye- but I had to wait for him to take a selfie with a service dog which was so sweet! (As a follow up: I happened to run into him in Pittsburgh in April and he remembered me. By the time I saw the tour again in Chicago in August, I was compelled to wait for him after the show since it had become a habit to see him- plus I had to let him know I saw a video Lisa had shared with me from his recent trip to Gander! He remembered me again and gave me a big hug.)
I was about 7 or 8 rows back this time, which allowed me to have a better perspective on the show. I like sitting in the front row for a more intimate connection with the performance, but sitting a little further back provides a better overview of the Tony award winning staging. I enjoyed the tour cast just as much as the previous day- probably a little moreso since I hadn't downed a soda right beforehand this time so I didn't spend the last minutes eager to use a restroom.
Since it was a 1pm curtain, it was done by 3 and I was back at my hotel by around 3:30. I took a short nap and then snacked on the marshmallow wand I'd purchased the previous night before heading back to the park. I was super tired and didn't really feel like going back but there were a few things I wanted to buy- including Class of 2019 themed Stitch plushes for my nieces (who were graduating college and high school) and the cat leggings for Lisa- my fellow purple Disney cat lady.
My first stop was a final visit to Guardians; I may have gotten a FastPass for it, I'm not sure. Afterwards I headed to Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, which I hadn't had time to ride in the morning. The line took much longer than posted- probably about an hour. I think it was partially down. At any rate, it was a cute ride- but totally not worth that long a wait. Afterwards, I headed into the single rider line for one final spin on Radiator Springs Racers- that wait was probably under 15 minutes and certainly well worth it.
I walked over to Pixar Pier in hopes of riding the Incredicoaster, an attraction that has been in DCA since it opened but which had recently been re-themed to The Incredibles. I have always enjoyed Disney coasters but this one goes much higher and is outdoors so I find it intimidating and as a result, I'd never ridden it. I tried to summon up the inner moxy that has allowed me to set off on adventures like helicopter hikes and rafting in New Zealand, but it was useless. I think if I'd had someone to ride with, maybe it would have been easier. Or not. I lingered around the ride entrance for quite awhile before coming to peace with the fact that it just wouldn't happen. Not that night, anyway.
By then it was almost 8pm. I completed my shopping and set upon finding somewhere to eat dinner. But nothing appealed to me. I was totally craving macaroni and cheese… and eventually I had an epiphany there was a Panera right in front of my hotel. I love their mac and cheese… and it's a heck of a lot cheaper than theme park food! I decided that I didn't really need to do any more rides and I was happy to sit in the quiet restaurant, away from the hubbub, and just enjoy my memories of the whirlwind weekend.
I found my time in Disneyland to be much more enjoyable than my recent trips to WDW. Part of that was most assuredly due to the fact that even though it was a bit chilly and occasionally drizzling, the weather was much more conducive to walking around outdoors than the oppressive heat and humidity of Orlando in August/September. But I think my feelings were just as much due to the more intimate feel of a resort where you can just walk everywhere without the hassle of buses or monorails. The overall vibe was just more relaxing. And it's certainly a bonus to have a theatre located just a short Uber ride away! (I regret not realizing that the Hello Kitty Café is also in the same general area as the theatre. Sigh)
My flight home was at 6:55 am so I got up at around 4am…which sounds ridiculously early until you realize that's 7am Eastern, the same time I'd be getting up the next day for work. And then it seems a lot more sensible.
When I got to the airport, it was still just a bit before the kiosks opened at 5am for check in. Security at the small airport was a breeze so I had tons of time to kill before my flight. I decided to stop for a sit down breakfast at California Pizza Kitchen. The bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on focaccia bread was really good. And then I just waited at the gate.
The flight was blissfully uneventful, landing in Newark at around 3pm a few minutes ahead of schedule. I gathered my luggage and boarded the claustrophobic AirTrain which was crowded with many other travelers. It was a lot colder out than in California, but after a NJ Transit train ride and a short drive, I was home where I could snuggle with my cats. Even though a part of me still wished I'd gone to London, I'd thoroughly enjoyed my trip and I was very glad to finally return to Disneyland after far too long a break.