Though my hotel was less than five miles away from Disneyland it still took almost an hour to get there courtesy of rush hour in Los Angeles. Seven lanes of bumper to bumper traffic were apparently insufficient to cope with the demand. During the journey I struck up a conversation with the bus driver, who told me that this traffic actually wasn't as bad as usual. I'll never complain about Dublin traffic again. A one day park hopper ticket set me back the princely sum of seventy dollars, proving once again that nothing in the happiest place on earth is cheap.
Gloria had warned me to start my day with the Matterhorn Bobsleds (#272), as the queue can build up very quickly. The ride was the first roller coaster in the world to be built with tubular steel track, a new innovation from a then relatively unknown engineering company called Arrow Dynamics. Two parallel tracks run in and out of an artificial mountain, with some interesting if not hugely elaborate theming therein. As coasters go this one is far from outstanding, but it does have its own unique element, namely a small lake which is used as a natural braking system at the end. I rode both tracks, though I can't say I noticed any significant difference between them.
One cannot visit any Disney park without making at least one visit into the famous It's a small world attraction. Ear plugs would have been useful to protect me from the worst of the famous theme tune, but sadly I'd left them in my hotel room. There may be just one moon and one golden sun, but the smile makes me want to kill someone, though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide... and then my mobile phone rang. I've got different ring tones assigned for different people, and guess what tune this one was? Needless to say this caused the other passengers in my boat no small amount of amusement.
The single most impressive feature of the park is the throughput managed on the rides. Coaster trains are dispatched at the fastest interval allowed by the ride blocking system; the boat rides manage at least sixty guests per minute; and the dark rides use an omnimover style system so that the queue never stops moving forward. It's a great pity that other amusement park chains can't seem to achieve this. Disney may be expensive to visit, but guests can certainly get their value for money.
As an off the shelf design, Gadget's Co-Coaster (#273) felt oddly out of place. The Imagineers have done their best, but it still looks like nothing more than an elaborate roller skater, complete with water effect that caught me neatly in the eye. Be that as it may, this unit was only the second installation of this design to open and the first in North America, so it did at least have novelty value for a while. Nobody could have predicted that twenty five more models would be sold over the subsequent decade.
Perhaps the best way to ensure a truly unique design is to develop it in house. Disney staff members created
Big Thunder Mountain (#274), and though the name has been reused each of the four installations is different. This model is the shortest, with just over half the track length of the more recent version in Paris. Nevertheless the ride duration is actually similar, since this one has a significantly lower top speed. This wasn't actually obvious when riding, despite the fact that I'd ridden the other one less than ten weeks before; clearly the designers here knew their business.
The Haunted Mansion ride uses a significant amount of space, but it has been cleverly designed so that most of it is in a building that cannot be seen from within the park. During the pre-show experience passengers are lowered to below ground level, where the omnimover system begins. Some of the effects within the ride were particularly impressive, in particular the so-called ballroom scene where lifelike projections of ghosts appear and disappear without so much as a flicker.
I was very surprised by the sheer length the Pirates of the Caribbean dark ride; while I didn't time it, it has to have been at least a quarter of an hour long. Though entirely indoors, the ceilings were high enough to momentarily make me think we'd splashed our way into another place. The music could have done with a rework, as the famous yo-ho-ho song does begin to grate after a while, but that is surely a nitpick; the overall experience is top notch.
Disney's California Adventure
23rd June 2004
Disney's California Adventure is a relatively recent addition to the Disneyland resort, having opened just over three years ago. The park has not seen the expected numbers of visitors for numerous reasons, chief among them being a distinct lack of attractions. The rides that are present for the most part are geared towards the teenaged audience, neatly ignoring almost all of the usual market for the happiest place on earth. Be that as it may, California Adventure does feature two roller coasters within its walls, including the seventh longest in the world. As such, there was absolutely no way I was going to skip it.
My first port of call was the Tower of Terror. The vast majority of drop rides are outdoor attractions, choosing to terrify patrons with the sight of ground a long way below. Disney has adopted a different approach, and the result is stunning. A beautifully themed queue area leads through the reception area of a replica hotel, albeit one that has clearly seen better years. From there, guests enter a service area filled with special elevator cars. The lighting and mood within retains a sombre tone echoed by the ride operations staff; please secure any loose articles; glasses, hats; loved ones.
The ride itself; well, car goes up, car goes down, car goes up some more, car goes down some more. Having said that, the intensity of the drop motion was quite surprising, though miraculously enough it was still apparently not too severe for the four year old twins in our elevator. Perhaps the most telling feature was the simple seatbelt arrangement, with none of the rock hard shoulder bars found on typical drop rides. The resulting freefall felt great. My only regret was that the experience wasn't a bit longer; the whole drop sequence could not have taken more than twenty seconds. As an aside, commentary on the Internet suggests that the original Tower of Terror in Orlando is considerably better than this version. If that's the case, well, I'll be booking a trip to Florida as soon as possible!
I had an interesting conversation with one of the cast members about whether a ride like this was suitable for a Disney park. Much to my surprise there are apparently very few children who opt out of the attraction, but a surprising number of adults do, including one man who'd recently been bungee jumping. People are frightened of different things, but surely a controlled mechanical thrill ride shouldn't bother anyone who is prepared to put trust their life to elastic cords and disinterested operating staff?
The park is also home to a space shot ride, here christened Maliboomer. Unlike its magnificently themed brother, this ride is for the most part an off the shelf attraction from S&S, albeit with the usual embossed logo missing from the seat mouldings. This appears to be a Disney corporate policy, as none of the rides anywhere in the park show manufacturer plates. The only exclusive feature of this model is clear plastic "scream shields" which have been fitted presumably to insulate the rest of the park from unsavoury sound effects, particularly the colourful metaphors typically generated by first time riders.
The queue was arguably just as much fun as the ride itself, as I got to enjoy a live comedy show from two teenaged children who were doing their best to push their father on to the ride; I want to hear my daddy scream like a girl! One becomes accustomed to seeing parents trying to force their children onto rides, which is never a good idea; one bad experience and the child will be put off the things for life. However, children pushing around their parents is okay in my book, and these two succeeded. The scream shields may have muted the invective, but it was still hilariously audible for those on board!
Mulholland Madness (#275) is a slightly tamed version of the usual wild mouse design from Mack GmbH, with some of the hills modified to be less steep. It is quite possibly the only such coaster I've seen running the absolute maximum number of possible cars. Better yet, there was a single rider line which allowed me to completely eliminate the posted three quarter hour wait.
This brings me neatly to California Screamin' (#276). Though themed to look like a wood coaster this ride is definitely a steel one. It opens with a moderately powerful magnetic launch section, which leads to what I'm going to describe as act one; a collection of gradually descending turns taken at a reasonable speed but not fast enough to terrify, at least not yet. However, a magnetic lift section leads into the really fun bit of the ride; some more turns, a vertical loop, and a series of airtime laden hills that give the best wooden coasters a run for their money. While this ride wouldn't make all time favourite coasters it nevertheless ticked all the required boxes, making it a very clear nine out of ten.
The real star attraction in the park however was a simulator. Soarin' over California is a simulated glider ride, with a screen covering the entire field of view, smells, and wind effects. All passengers have a completely clear field of view for this ride, allowing them to get the full effect, and it has to be said; it's stunning. The only bad news was the wait; apparently two hour queues for this ride are not unusual. Investing in existing attractions is never an easy choice for park management to make, but a few more ride units would definitely help here.
In an attempt to get out of the heat I wandered into the Who wants to be a millionaire show, and much to my surprise this turned out to be great fun. Part of this was due to modifications made to the TV show format; phone a friend for example had been replaced with phone a complete stranger, and so on. Most of it, however, was due to the standard of presentation; it was full of humour and constantly moving to keep things interesting. The only caveat for me was the questions, which had a definite American bias. I'm not sure that many foreigners would be able to put the first four American presidents in the right order, and I'm confident that none would be able to convert the abbreviation into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Be that as it may, both contestants today were locals so perhaps the park has different quiz banks.
The Sun Wheel was my first encounter with a ferris wheel with swinging gondolas. Waiting half an hour for a wheel is almost unheard of, but I passed the time chatting to a friendly golf course superintendent from Phoenix named Mark. His young daughter was doing superb impressions of Buzz Lightyear; To infinity and beyond! with unbounded energy and conviction. The swinging motion didn't do a huge amount for me, but it was still interesting to try once.
Disney's Electrical Parade was passing by, but after a brief look I went back to the water front to take some photographs of California Screamin' at night. It took a lot of time and effort, but I was very pleased with some of the photos I managed. Unfortunately, I wasn't paying attention to my watch, leaving myself less than ten minutes to get from the far side of the park back to the shuttle bus. I'd have preferred not to finish such a relaxing day with an undignified sprint, but I managed it with almost thirty seconds to spare.